Tuesday, 31 January 2012

TV free and proud of it!

I don't have a television set.  Yep, I've admitted it!  I had one for years - a Panasonic - but I only used it to watch movies so, late last year, I got rid of it altogether.  (When he heard I'd done that, the eight year-old son of a friend of mine said, and I quote, "Gee!  That must be like living in Haiti!"  I tried to explain it was a choice  and that, in any case, many people in Haiti had televisions but these were not the ones on the news.  I gave up on the explanation when he started reeling off the names of all the shows I was missing.  lol!)

I'm still a huge movie fan, though, so now I watch DVDs on my computer and surf YouTube.  What all this means, of course, is that when anyone's ranting about Newt or about the latest antics of this inexplicably famous family, I generally have no idea what they're talking about and have to go searching if I'm the slightest bit interested.

You see, I long ago came to realize something about myself and it is this - I can sit and watch hours of Law and Order SVU or Criminal Intent without getting even slightly bored. Any writer knows, however, that this is NOT how books, novellas or even short stories get written.  They get written when writers sit themselves down and WRITE them!  That's right.  There's no magic formula, no spell, just putting the words down one after another in whatever degree of coherence you're able to achieve on your first draft.

Of course, there are all kinds of good reasons to turn off your tv or get rid of it and Ron Kaufman explains them to you and gives you some hints on how you can break your addiction here.  And, as Jen and Steve, point out, a No Televison policy means you save electricity while suddenly finding more time to chat with family members and take up other activities.  So there's much to be gained from going tv-less.  Television isn't the only thing to blame for the global epidemic of obesity but spending three or four hours every day sitting in front the tube sure doesn't help and, unlike computer time, at the end of it you haven't even gotten 1,000 pages to show for it!

If you're a writer worried about your productivity, you could do worse than turning off your tv set for a week and seeing what impact it has.  If you try it, come back and let me know how it worked out for you!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Pepperpot - The Dish That Keeps On Giving

Caribbean foods and dishes come in for star billing in my upcoming release, Jessamine, so I thought I'd share a few recipes for some of the dishes mentioned in the novel.  Today I'm going to focus on Pepperpot which was originally an Amerindian dish which uses cassareep, a preservative made from cassava, brown sugar and molasses.

I first heard about pepperpot years ago from Trinidadian and Guyanese friends.  It's not a dish we're now familiar with in the Virgin Islands but my attention was caught when I was told that, in the past, some people kept their pepperpot going over the fire for weeks and even months.  That's right.  They would put all the ingredients in a huge pot, set it to cook over stones outside and then keep it simmering for days - taking out bowlfuls for meals and replacing ingredients as needed.  That's pretty neat!  So, in Jessamine, the heroine, Arabella, thoughtfully prepares pepperpot for a family who's daughter suffered a horrendous attack.  (Nowadays, of course, most people cook their pepperpot on stoves though some die-hards say it tastes better when cooked the old-fashioned way.)

This would have been how she made it or like this.  And the pix below is how it would have looked.  The dark colour comes from the cassareep.

And if you want to see it being made, here's a demo -

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Versatile Me!

Thank you, Ro Goodman of Ro-alwaysinspired and Jean Vogler of Finding Your Gibbee for nominating Eugenia Writes! for its very first blog award!  As a new blogger, I'm really very touched!  This is what the award looks like -

ta-daa -

There are  a few rules going along with the award which are, as follows:
1. In a post on your blog, nominate 15 fellow bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.(15 isn’t mandatory, but it’s a nice gesture. Try and pick at least 5 )
2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.
3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
5. In the same post, include this set of rules.
6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

So, ahem, 7 things about me...

1.  The quickest way to worm yourself into my good graces is with a bag of Cafe Britt's chocolate covered coffee beans!  Yummmm!  I discovered them years ago in the airport in Aruba and have remained a devotee ever since.

2.  I don't like hedges or topiary of any kind.  Looks creepy!

3.  I hate being asked to name my favorite book or author because I have so many which is why one week it might be Anne McCaffrey, another week Jamaica Kincaid, or Jerome K. Jerome.  Yes, I read anything once it's good so I have a whole slew of favorites!

4.  Guineps, tamarinds and mangoes are my favorite fruits.

5.  Busy Signal and Junior Gong (one of Bob Marley's sons) are my favorite contemporary reggae artists. 

6.  I went to piano lessons for a good part of my childhood but discovered early on that, while I love listening to music, I do NOT love making it!

7.  I love old Caribbean furniture - the beautiful dresser drawers, the armoires, the tables with the beautifully carved legs, all of it and I wish that more modern carpenters had that kind of talent and skill.

Ten of my favorite blogs:-

Monday, 23 January 2012

My Top Writing Tips

As an author, I'm always learning from other writers about the craft and the business of writing.  Just because you can write a coherent sentence doesn't mean, ok, now you're ready to publish a book.  Maybe you're having trouble coming up with an idea, plotting out your book or getting it before the public so here are some tips that work for me.

1.  Write every day.  Even it's just for half-an-hour, get your writing in because that will help strengthen your voice and the more words cover the page, the better you'll feel about your writing life and your ability to get it done!

2.  The time to listen to the editor in your head is NOT when you're writing, it's when you've got a complete draft in front of you and you're ready to edit.  When you're writing your first draft, don't worry about choosing the perfect word every time.  Don't worry if the plot is making sense.  Once you've got your story down you can go back and rework, cut and paste, delete, add, etc...  "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." - James Michener.

3.  There are some writers who write by the seat of their pants.  They have an idea of where they're going with their story and know who their characters are and what they want and they sit down and pound it out.  That's great!  I'm not one of those - the first thing I need to do before I start the story itself is outline it.  I don't do a chapter-by-chapter outline but my outlines can run five or six pages where I name the major characters and summarize the plot.  This is not something set in stone - as I write or later as I edit I can change things around if the story needs it but I do need to have a map for where I'm going.  A novel is like a new country and the outline is my map to help me get around.

4.  Carry a notebook around with you ALL the time.  Having the notebook is particularly important for when you're on the bus, at the doctor's office or wherever you can fill in some waiting time by brainstorming.  Notebooks also come in handy when you've got a great idea for a story as you're standing in the checkout line at the supermarket or you're on the ferry heading to another island.

5.  Read in the genre you want to write.  If you're interested in writing a thriller, read thrillers - read widely and pay attention to what works and what doesn't.  Thrillers are written very differently to romances, for instance.  The sentences in thrillers tend to be shorter, the descriptions snappier, the dialogue more terse than in romances.  Make notes as you go about what you notice about how the characters are developed, about what happens to them, about the major plot points and where they come in the story.  This isn't so you can copy what some author is already doing but so that you get a better handle of the stylistic characteristics of your genre.  (Of course, you have cross-genre books but that's another topic.)

6.  Get involved in author's groups and in social media.  Writers in the Caribbean, particularly on the smaller islands, usually don't have access to writing conferences, workshops and seminars.  Attending a conference usually involves plane tickets and hotel reservations but the internet has changed all.  Even if you're living on, say St. Eustatius or Tortola, you can still participate in online groups and reach out via social media to other writers and to readers, too.

7.  After you've finished your manuscript, don't start editing it right away.  Give it a couple weeks or even a month before you go back to it with your red pen.  Waiting before editing gives you more emotional distance from it and makes you more likely to see what works and what doesn't.  You might want to brush up on your writing skills while you wait by reading Strunk and White's Elements of Style or Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King.

8.  Stumped for ideas?  Pay a visit to your local bookseller and see what's hot right now in the book industry.  Read outside your preferred genre, ask your friends what they're reading, check publisher websites to see what's up and coming.  Or, take a break from books altogether and go fishing, visit a new art gallery, check out the next exhibit at the nearest museum.  The objective is to get out of your rut so you can recharge your creative energies so go outside your comfort zone - learn to SCUBA dive, go camping, whatever...

9.  I don't always feel like writing.  On some days, I'd rather fritter away my time chatting to friends, catching up on the local and regional news, flitting from one website to the other, and so on but writers write, that's what we do so... whether I'm in the mood or not, whether I feel inspired or not, I sit down and I write.  It may feel awkward, it might not flow but, eventually, I'll have finished a page, and then maybe two or three.  Even if I go back later, and take out half of what I wrote that day, I'm still left with more than if I'd written nothing at all.

10.  Don't tell anyone the story until you've written it.  At least this is advice I wish I'd heard and listened to, early on.  I've found that if I tell my friends about any story or book I'm working on, I begin to lose enthusiasm for it - not because of their reaction or anything they've said but because, having said it, it's like I feel less need to actually write it.  That's difficult to explain but perhaps other writers will understand.  Another problem with talking about your story before it's finished is that your friends might have well-meaning suggestions which bear little resemblance to the kind of book you want to write but makes you start second-guessing yourself.

Well, that's it for now.  I hope you find these helpful!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

To Be Read

I spent some time last week organizing my shelves and thought I'd share a few of the titles on my To Be Read shelf - the ones I'm going to get to as soon as I finish Hunger's Bride (I'm on pg. 850).

1.  Sara Paretsky is one of my favorite crime writers so I'm really looking forward to getting to Hardball, one of her V.I. Warshawki novels.  In this one, Warshawki is asked to track down a man missing since 1967 when he disappeared during the racial unrest of that decade but there are all kinds of obstacles in her way to the truth.

2.  Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee came highly recommended and has certainly earned rave reviews from the critics.  I've tried to get into it a couple times but have to confess defeat so it continues to stare at me from the TBR shelf.  Disgrace is the story of a South African professor in exile from academia after an affair with a student is revealed who goes to live in a rural area with his daughter but becomes entangled in post-apartheid tensions and violence.

3.  I haven't read anything of Alice Walker's in a while so I picked up Anything We Love Can Be Saved, a collection of essays on her life as an activist.  I have a lot of respect for her as a writer so I'm looking forward to reading more about her life as someone with a deep desire to change the world for the better.

4.  Walter Mosley can write about grass growing and make it interesting so I'm looking forward to delving into The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, about an old recluse who is galvanized to jumb back into the sturm und drang of life by seventeen-year-old Robyn.  Peeped at the end, as I tend to do, and, yep, this looks set to be a great read.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Caribbean Classics

Like the Caribbean but don't know too much about its many writers?  Check out my list of some classic works and let me know what you think! 

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum!

So, me hearties, I hear tell you're wanting to writing a book on pirates, ay?  Well, you've come to the right      place, and no mistake!  That's right, me hearties.  Today I'm blogging about some of the best pirate books I know - the ones that came in right handy when I was writing Dido's Prize, my own take on the pirates of the Spanish Main.

1.  Perhaps the best book of all is Pirates! An A - Z Encyclopedia by Jan Rogozinski.  I picked this book up while browsing through the shelves at the Serendipity Bookshop and it has proven invaluable.  Almost every pirate you can think of - real or imagined - is in this book and it covers all time periods and locations so if you're wanting information on the pirates who roamed the Barbary coast or on Asian pirates, French pirates or English, pirate poems or pirate movies then this book should be the one you turn to first.

2.  Pirate, an Eyewitness Book is one of those Dorling Kindersley books that help to bring the past alive with gorgeous pictures and snappy text.  This gives you a lot of information about the kinds of foods pirates ate, how they navigated, the weapons they used, life at sea and much more.  It's also got sections on Caribbean piracy, pirates of the Indian Ocean, American privateers and others so it gives you a good overview.

3.  Jolly Roger: The Story of the Great Age of Piracy by Patrick Pringle takes an in-depth look at the lives and exploits of some of the most famous pirates.  Captain Kidd, Henry Morgan and several others are discussed here as are the various pirate flags and the rise and fall of the Brethren of the Coast.  Pringle quotes extensively from original sources so the book gives a good insight into the language and tenor of the times.

4.  The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd is a fascinating look at the man behind the story.  According to Zack's research, Kidd was just a good guy gone bad whose arrogance and lack of political acumen cost him both his reputation and his life.  It's an amazing read!

5.  Last, but by no means least, if you're into pirates, John Esquemeling's book, The Buccaneers of America, should definitely be on your bookshelf.  First published in the late 1600s, the book is Esquemeling's account of Henry Morgan's sack of Porto Bello, Panama - one of the most audacious adventures in pirating history!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

What I'm Reading Now

I bought Hunger's Brides by Paul Anderson a few years ago after reading an excellent review of it somewhere.  I started it last November and am still reading it - in between time I've finished off The Loop, The Rose and The Beast, Zanzibar and a few other books.  Hunger's Brides is demanding - I hope to finish it this month but it may take me a bit longer.

Hunger's Brides is based on the real-life story of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a child prodigy born in Mexico of the 1600s who could read by the age of 3 and had mastered Latin by the time she was a teenager.  In Anderson's telling, she grows up with a native Indian child as her best friend and learns much of the secret knowledge of the Aztecs - their legends, culture, religion, etc.  When her grandfather dies she is sent to Mexico City where her learning causes a sensation.  She is the favorite of the Vicereine but, the Inquisition is raging in Spain, and, eventually, she is censored for her outspokenness.  She retreats into convent life while religious and political discord rages among Church officials, colonial representatives and Sor Juana's supporters.

Hundreds of years later, a brilliant grad student, Beulah Limosneros, becomes obsessed by Sor Juana's life and disappears into Mexico, searching for clues to the nun's life.  Later, Beulah is found, half-dead, the victim of a violent attack and her professor, Donald Gregory, the man with whom she'd had an illicit affair is implicated.

Hunger's Brides interweaves all these absorbing narratives together and is a masterpiece of vivid historical imagining.  It is also very long...

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Dido's Prize Giveaway!

Hi!   I'm giving away a paperback copy of my book, Dido's Prize, to the 25th person to become my follower so go ahead now and click on the Google+ button there on the left!  Good luck!

Dido, a slave on a Jamaican sugar plantation, runs away to join Henry Morgan's privateer fleet and find the treasure that will allow her to buy her family's freedom. What she doesn't bargain on is falling in love with El Negro, a pirate captain with no particular yen for a long-lasting relationship. As Morgan sails the Spanish Main, sacking first, El Puerto del Principe in Cuba, and then the great city of Porto Bello in Panama, Dido becomes a valued member of El Negro's crew. After the ships return to Jamaica, Dido thinks she will never see the pirate captain again, but he comes to her rescue when she is in peril. They flee deep into the Blue Mountains, but El Negro knows he will never be safe on the island. Together, Dido and her pirate, head back out to sea to find a place where they can live and love in freedom.

Monday, 9 January 2012

St. Lucia on My Mind

It's said that travel is inspiring and I couldn't agree more.  Years ago, I had the pleasure of staying in St. Lucia for several days and I was completely taken with the island's genuinely friendly people, gorgeous mountain peaks, beautiful beaches and quaint towns.  You can get an idea of just how lush and beautiful it is from these pictures that show the famous Pitons, the island's iconic landmarks.

We stayed in Gros Islet but then we moved out to a coffee plantation in the area known as Soufriere.  This is years ago so I can't remember the name of the place but it looked somewhat like this -

I love that Caribbean architecture with the shutters, wide verandahs and fretwork!  The plantation, itself, had been around in the same family for years and years and was actually a working plantation.  Again, it was the lushness of the place that really enthralled me.  The British Virgin Islands, where I'm from, are very dry - the rainy season comes and goes pretty quickly but I could immediately see why St. Lucia was dubbed the Helen of the West by the early colonizers!

Then one day while I was in Castries I went into an old church whose walls were covered in beautiful murals of biblical scenes and everybody in the paintings was black!  Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, etc..  It was amazing!  The scent of incense clung to the church's old wooden pews and solemn marble memorials written in French to people who had died in the 1700s and 1800s made me wonder about the lives of the dead.  That was when the inspiration for my novel, Jessamine, scheduled for release in June, hit!  The story, the characters, the plot came to me almost fully formed in that church and I couldn't wait to get back to my room to scribble out a rough, very rough, outline.  And now, years and years later, the story will finally see the light of day.

Eight Facts About St. Lucia
1.  The island has given the world two Nobel Prize laureates - Derek Walcott, the poet and playwright, and Arthur Lewis, the economist.

2.  The real-life murals in several of St. Lucia's churches have been painted by Dunstan St. Omer.

3.  St. Lucia became a French colony in 1643 but changed hands more than once until the British finally acquired it.

4.  The island gained independence from the British in 1979.

5.  St. Lucians have an interesting tradition of flower festivals, La Rose and La Marguerite whose origins go back to slavery.

6.  Many St. Lucians speak Kweyol, or French Creole.  Click here if you want to impress your friends with a new language.

7.  A St. Lucia folk song.

8.  If you're going to St. Lucia, don't miss the Friday night lime in Gros Islet.  If you're worred, this is a nice article about why you shouldn't be.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Books for Writers

I have three books on writing that I turn to every now and again because they are that good!  In no particular order, they are:-

1.  Self-Editing For Ficton Writers by Rennie Browne and Dave King.  This is a great book for helping me to whip my manuscripts into shape.  For possibly any number of reasons, my default tense appears to be the passive (see what I mean) and this book keeps me aware that I need to keep my writing fresh and vivid, not deaden it with dead wood.  If you want help tightening up your writing, keeping your dialogue realistic, and making your characters come alive - this is the book for you.

2.  Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway.  This was one of the textbooks for a college class and I still have it.  Burroway also covers chracterization and the importance of showing over telling but she goes into greater depth than Browne and King and also uses examples from authors as diverse as Jamaica Kincaid and John Cheever to make her points.  If you're having trouble actually thinking of a subject you actually want to write about or developing your themes, time spent with this book will help.

3.  On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner.  Gardner wrote 25 books and taught writing at various universities and this book is the distillation of his experiences as a writer.  If you dream of being a writer, read this.  He talks about honing new ways of seeing the world, abouit the hallmarks of good writing, how to balance work and writing, the disappointment of rejection and the pitfalls of success.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Women Writers of the Past

Few people know that African-American women writers were an important part of the literary life of both the Caribbean and the United States in the 19th century.  This website will take you a list compiled by New York's Schomburg Center which contains not just samples of their works but also their fascinating biographies.  Harriet Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, who spent seven years hiding from her owner in her grandmother's crawl space and Mary Prince, who wrote The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, are included.

Write On!

Often, people approach me to say they'd like to write a book but they just don't have the time.  Well, we've all got only 24 hours in a day but it's how we spend it that counts  I know writers who get up at 4:00am to write and I know others who get in what writing they can while their babies are napping.  There are writers who take years and years to write and then there are those who take a couple months off from working to thump out a manuscript.

What would-be writers are intimidated by, I think, is the idea that their first draft has to be perfect and ready for publication.  Trust me, it doesn't!  What's important is you getting the words down - fine-tuning the plot and fleshing out the characters can come later.  You can't edit and polish a blank paper but you can definitely work on your rough draft!

So, make the time!  If this is your dream, don't let it pass you by.  A page a day will net you a manuscript by the end of the year.  Let 2012 be it for you!