Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Celebrating Boipuso

Today, 30th September, is Botswana’s Independence Day. I spent today at the kgotla watching dramas on social issues that affect our country. We had choirs and speeches and then a traditional lunch of pounded meat (seswaa) and boiled corn (samp). An overall lovely day.

Botswana is 42 years old today. Much like a middle aged person, she is re-assessing what she has accomplished and correcting her course. We are all working towards Vision 2016 with the mighty pillars that tell us what our country will be like when it turns 50. A country free of new HIV/AIDS infections, employment for all and no more poverty are among some of the lofty goals to accomplish in only eight very short years. I, for one, don’t underestimate what this country can do. As speakers at today’s celebration reminded the audience, the Botswana at the time of independence with only a handful of schools, a few kilometres of tarred roads and a capitol city that looked more like a stop along the road cannot compare with the country that we now live in. We have much to be celebrating today.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Rules of Submission

Submitting work to publications, for many writers is frightening. I think the biggest fear is rejection. You put something out there that is from deep in your soul and then a stranger judges it not worthy. It is difficult to get past that, but to be successful writers we must.

I have some basic thoughts about the submission process that have been reinforced lately by a rejection that I received. I had submitted one of my most successful stories to a literary magazine. This particular story won an international prize, was published in a prestigious literary magazine in South Africa, and was recently included in an ESL short story collection published by Oxford University Press. Despite all of this, it got a rejection and the editor was kind enough to include the four editors’ comments (who were unanimous in their decision). According to them the story was “written too abstractly, without names or continuity of time”. Another editor found the relationships between the characters confusing. A third felt that the story was not complete in and of itself but rather a slice from a longer story. And one just flatly didn’t like it.

What I got from this is that everyone has an opinion and they are entitled to it. Sometimes the opinions are useful, sometimes not. But editors are people who know their magazine, know what they and their readers like, and that is what guides their decisions. What I mean by this is, an editor’s decision is nothing more and nothing less than his or hers educated decision taking into consideration their readers’ views. That’s all. It is not an indictment on your writing. And sometimes they are wrong.

I have some rules about submitting.

1. At no time should only one story be out in circulation.

When you submit one story and then sit and wait for the decision on it, you are setting yourself up for guaranteed craziness. I always have my stories out in the world. As I write this, I have 23 stories out to magazines and three out to contests. This is a buffer. So if I get a rejection today- I have so many others out there that I still have hope. In this way, rejections are not harmful. Submission is rejection medicine.

2. Stories should be constantly out there.

Why should you leave stories sitting in your computer? They should be continually out there trying to earn for you. I continually look through my stories seeing which have been resting for too long. There are so many markets. Duotrope is a fantastic resource for finding markets for your work. Keep your stories in circulation. Pay attention to guidelines and rights that they are buying.

3. If you know that your story is good, leave it alone.

I recently got another rejection for a new story, and again the editor was kind enough to send the readers’ comments. In this case, they were very useful and pointed out important places where my story needed work. I immediately edited the story and then sent it out to a different market. Your story might need a slightly different type of magazine. The nuances in magazines are myriad.
When I get a rejection, I read through the story. Tweak it if it needs it, but if I think it’s good and how I wanted- I send it out again. I have many stories that have been rejected, but have gone on to find good markets. You alone know what you want from your story. I admit guidance is important and most writing can always do with some edits, but if you know that your story is honest and true, let it alone and send it on its way. Don’t throw it to the side after one rejection; even after 20. Publishing fables abound of manuscripts rejected savagely and then going on to great success. Love your work and it will love you back. Leaving your stories in your computer to rot is doing no one a favour.

4. Editors are people with opinions.

That’s just it. Editors are people with opinions. Those opinions are guided by many factors. I recently finished a quite dated collection of Jeffery Archer short stories. I bet you that any story in that book sent out to any big name mag i.e. The New Yorker, if the name was withheld, would get a rejection straight away. It is not the writing style that is currently the flavour of the day. Fads and famousness play a role in publishing like everywhere else. I’m thinking of a certain wildly famous African writer. She is a good writer, but not always to the extent that she is adulated. She, by name only, will be grabbed up by all editors. The point I am making is that editors are just people. They have no magic eye. They choose stories based on preference. Don’t give them god-like powers they do not have, and likely would not like to have bestowed upon them.

So that’s it. My last words- send those stories out! I am proof to the fact that rejections, actually, do not kill you. There is a wonderful quote I have near my computer- “You’re only willing to succeed to the same degree you’re willing to fail” Wendell Meyers.

Let’s fail spectacularly- shall we??

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The False Hope of a Robin

Ronnie never liked trips to the hospital. It was always a mixture of revulsion and fear. The combined smells of disinfectant, urine, and floor wax made her stomach unsteady, but the fear was all about her mother. What she would do to remind Ronnie again there really was no hope of her ever having a mother from storybooks. Though her head had long accepted the fact, her heart, in hidden folds and pockets, held out with hope waiting to be quashed when her mother talked to unseen people or shouted wild public obscenities at her father for being himself.

“Good morning, Mr. Wallace,” the too friendly nurse said. “She’s in the sun room waiting for you. Shall I take you?”

Ronnie’s father smiled a weary smile. “No, I think we’ll be okay.” He took Ronnie’s hand and they made their way down the shiny corridor. He looked at his daughter. “I’m sure she’ll be fine today.”

Ronnie looked at her father’s worried face and said the only thing she could. “Yeah.”

As she walked, Ronnie tried to pick through her memories to find the one she went to when she wanted to see her mother how she could be if her brain would only behave itself. And there it was. A warm spring day and she walked with her mother to the edge of a lake. They removed their shoes and dangled their feet in the still icy water. Her mother reached in her handbag and pulled out a plastic bag filled with dried bread. She held it out to Ronnie who reached in and took out a tiny piece. “Throw it in the water,” she said smiling. The minute it landed, a duck from across the lake swam over and scooped up the floating bread in its flat, yellow bill making a clack noise. They laughed together at that. They sat feeding the ducks, watching them scoop up the bread in their funny way. It was a nice, comfortable memory that gave Ronnie hope as she spotted her mother sitting next to an open window in the corner.

“Hiya Sweetheart,” her father said, bending down and kissing her mother on the cheek. He sat down next to her on the window’s ledge. “Nice day.”

Her mother looked at them with drug-induced flat eyes. Her hair had been combed to the wrong side, done by a nurse who didn’t know her. Someone had applied lipstick that was smeared on her bottom lip. Ronnie knew it was her mother, but a strange altered version, which was better really since that should be the mother that lived in this place.

“Yes, it’s a nice day,” her mother said to her father while all the time she looked at Ronnie.

“We brought you some things.” Her father held up a bag Ronnie knew contained Hershey bars and shampoo.

There was no response and they sat, all of them, looking out the window at the small garden at the back of the hospital. They had nothing to say that would help anything. Nothing but feather words and each of them knew they hardly stood a chance in the wind tunnel of emotions that raged around them. Long, heavy minutes pass. “Maybe I can take this down to your room,” Ronnie’s father said, never comfortable without action. He got up and disappeared before Ronnie could stop him with her eyes.

Her mother leaned forward and opened the window a bit wider. She pushed her face into the slight breeze and closed her eyes. Ronnie was scared. She thought she heard her mother humming. Behaviour that was normal in other people took on a tinge of crazy with her mother; this was one of them. It was perhaps a precursor to something worse to come. Ronnie held her breath.

Just then a robin landed on the window’s edge and Ronnie’s mother opened her eyes. She looked at it, and then looked at Ronnie. Slowly, she pushed her hand into the blue bathrobe she wore and pulled out some raisins. She dropped a few on the window sill and the robin came forward and ate them one by one; then it flew away.

Ronnie’s heart jumped. “Do you remember… that day…,” she started in desperation. Maybe she could pull her mother back from where she’d run to; the robin had given her hope.

Her mother put her finger to Ronnie’s lips; a hollow sadness filling her eyes. “No… please… don’t speak of it. Not today. I won’t manage it….”

Her father came back just then. “So, what have my girls been doing?” he asked with a forced jolliness, looking back and forth between them.

Her mother turned back to the window and Ronnie said to her father, “Maybe it’s time to go home.”

Cezanne’s Carrot Autumnal Equinox Issue

My story The Last Rhino in Mutare is now out at Cezanne’s Carrot.
What a nice collection of stories it is. I haven’t read all of them yet, though I will, but I agree with the editors that ‘On the Island’ by Nadia Bulkin is lovely. It is about an island, Reincarnation Island, where the animals are killed and brought back to life over and over. They retain bits of their former lives but are not always able to know from where those memories and yearnings come. It is written with simple language that creates vivid images. The kind of story I love most.
Here is an excerpt:
“The animals of Reincarnation Island ate shriveled red berries and dried chartreuse grass until the plane came overhead. The plane dusted the island with a white ash, and after fits of coughing and a burning in their throats, the animals died.
And then they raised their heads and took fresh breaths. They all had a strange desire to work out kinks in their necks but when they did, there were no aches. They’d scratch at insect bites that no longer existed. They’d lick cuts from prickly grass and lick only fresh healthy skin."

Another story is the flash fiction ‘Simple Rules for Coming Back From the Dead’ by Richard Lee. It cleverly depicts how one can come back to their loved one after death without frightening them. Again a heartbreakingly lovely bit of writing.

Here is an excerpt:

“There were other rules. Assuming the phone call went well, a date and time would be arranged for meeting. They’d meet at the cabin, of course. Not on an anniversary. On a Tuesday, say. Other than the call there’d be no omens, no portent. No mirror-writing, no his-or-her-favorite-song inexplicably playing. No finding his or her clothes lain across the bedspread in a perfect body-shape. No wind chimes or mousetraps sounding suddenly in the dark, death-empty house. The mousetraps were Hap’s contribution. Nothing, but nothing, scared him like a mousetrap in the dark. In much the same vein, personal conduct was to be closely controlled. Any appearing unexpectedly as one, oh, swung shut a door he’d just opened, any jump-cuts or close pans at all, in fact, even as a joke, were punishable with—well, not death, obviously. With some serious ire on the part of the living, then.”

I’m often over my head when it comes to finding literary magazines for submitting my writing. It’s a bit of hit and miss. I happened upon Cezanne’s Carrot at Duotrope, a fantastic resource for writers. What a great hit this was.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The World is Upside Down This Morning

I have a friend who lives in Ohio who has been without water since the hurricane hit Texas. It seems the weather system went all the way to Ohio and knocked out her electricity which runs a pump that supplies her house with water. A hurricane in Ohio? Today that doesn’t really seem that strange.

Yesterday, Thabo Mbeki resigned. There are many things that Thabo Mbeki has done that I’ve questioned. The whole sweet potato/ginger cure for AIDS and his months of silent support for his crazy neighbour Mugabe, for example, but under it all I truly felt he was a man of integrity, though guided by misplaced loyalty in some cases. He is neither self serving nor corrupt. This cannot be said of Jacob Zuma. I fear for a South Africa, and more importantly for me, a Southern Africa, where Zuma and his lunatic friends like ANC Youth League President, Julius Malema, take over. Somehow Mbeki’s departure especially with his recent success in Zimbabwe makes me sad, and not a little bit scared.

This morning I heard that one of my favourite Mail and Guardian columnists John Matshikiza is dead. He died eating a meal alone in a restaurant at the young age of 54. From the obituary I read in The Sunday Times, he led a strange up and down life, disappointed with the greedy path former freedom fighters had chosen to follow, a path that left the people they so bravely fought to free far behind in the dust. Matshikiza was a voice of reason and sly humour, but now he’s gone.

The other bit of madness this morning is that Wall Street is to be socialised while working Americans haemorrhage. Fat cats will walk away free and clear while the average American has sleepless, tortured nights wondering how they will pay their exorbitant healthcare bills, their mortgages, and escalating food and fuel prices. They wonder if they will have a job tomorrow. And still their leaders lie. As the house of cards built by the greed of the rich, defended by the too short lives of young men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and numerous other battlefields, and held up with Chinese money wobbles in the wind, George W is in hiding and John McCain and his Republican Robot have the audacity to tell everyone that the foundations of the economy are sound.

Perhaps it is just another Monday, but this morning the world seems a very precarious and uncertain place.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Things to Do When Waiting to Write- Handy Tip No. 2: Study the Psychology of Garden Creatures

As a service to other writers, I’d like to continue with a blog feature I started some months ago that assists writers in finding productive ways to use those spare moments when not writing.

Outside of my window where I write I have a bird feeder and a bird bath. To make practical use of my time, I have begun a psychological study of the birds that frequent them. You can learn a lot about a bird by watching how it takes a bath.

The most aggressive bathers are red winged starlings. They are seasonal visitors and come en masse. They jump in the water and in a frantic way wet themselves completely to such an extent I often wonder if they’ll manage to get their sodden bodies back into the air. They don’t care about anything except for the joy of the water. They have a raucous disregard for all around them. They talk and wet each other in turns. It is a wonderful thing to watch.

Opposite to this are birds such as the diminutive blue wax bills that will only enter the water when there is barely any left, just enough to cover their tiny feet. They will play, but only in a prescribed way when all dangers are gone.

The most cautious of all are the doves. They hardly ever land on the bird bath at all, instead looking at it longingly from a safe branch. When they do come to the bath, one squawk by another bird has them dashing off in fear. If they find the bird bath empty, they will perch on the edge nervously looking in every direction for fears that don’t exist and in their braver moments dunk their beaks in only for a quick drink, nothing more. Their aching need for the water is palatable but their fear outweighs it. It is a sad thing to watch.

Then there are birds such as the crested barbet. There seems to be consensus that they are the bosses. They’re not aggressive, but the minute they land on the edge of the bird bath all other birds clear out.

Some birds only come for food. I put out dry bits of brown bread for the birds if they can get it before Buster, the African Sausage Dog. If I handed a slice of bread to Buster, he would drop it on the ground and look at me like ‘What do you think you’re doing- that’s not food’. But if I put bread out for the birds and Buster sees that the birds like it, he will carry as much as he can to the end of the garden, dig a hole and bury it. He doesn’t want it, but those birds are not going to get it either. Buster is psychologically deep and, I fear, flawed.

It’s quite astounding what one can learn from these garden creatures, so different but then ….so like us.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How Not to Look for a Snake

I was sitting at my computer today searching for things to occupy my time and keep me away from the science textbook edits, I heard Buster, the African Sausage Dog, barking. I looked out the window and saw him at the hedge near the gate but couldn’t see what he was up to.

Buster is a fearless, if slightly stupid and misguided, warrior. Size is a concept he has yet to completely comprehend. He fights donkeys and, even though they kick him away as you or I might shoo away a fly, he goes back for more. He jumps on the backs of goats, in his mind much like the leopard he imagines he might be, until with a quick turn the goat flicks him away.

This afternoon the tone of his bark suggested that he had something that I should investigate. So, armed with a rake, I went outside to find out what my little friend had found. I looked and looked but could find nothing.

See, what I discovered this afternoon, is that sometimes we search and search, but we need only to step back a bit and attack the problem from a slightly different angle for us to realise what we’re really up against.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Would it be good to see me again?

(This is for this week's Search Engine Fiction Prompt)

Today, my mind is crowded with people.
They push and shove to the front.
Loves from a time long gone,
But still present in my thoughts.
Pain and joy tossed but not mixed
Each playing their same cutting role.
And I wonder

Today, am I in your memories too?

An Italian boy caught by the rhetoric,
Catholic guilt tying his brain and hands.
I pulled and stretched him,
To make him into me.
But when I was gone,
He bounced back into His shape
And I turned away in disgust.

Today, am I in your memories too?

So insecure in her blanket of bravado
Hiding, her flaws peeking out at the corners,
Revealing the lie of her strength.
And I punished her for it.
Tolerating weakness was never my strong suit.
And yet when she chose to leave,
I stamped my feet in fury.

Today, am I in your memories too?

Twenty years older than me
A different world, a different life.
I craved his security, he hungered for my attention.
Talk and promises of more than I was willing to give.
‘Will you call me?’ he asked when I left.
‘Yes,’ I said cruelly
Knowing I never could.

Today, am I in your memories too?

Her mind tortured with drugs and cruel history.
Behind the ugly, steel shield was the tenderest heart
So greedy to be loved, only that, nothing more
And she might have been cured.
We tried, didn’t we?
In our own anguished, distorted way.
We failed despite our best effort.

Today, am I in your memories too?

If I am, if I am in you mind, is it pleasant when I pass through?
Or is it only an ache that you feel?
Do you think of me with love?
Or do you wish we never met?
Do you wonder where I’ve gone to?
Do I rumble around in your thoughts,
Appearing at odd moments,
Without warning, laying your heart flat with the loss?
Or has my time with you blown away
Like the dusty bits of an old tattered picture
Long forgotten.

Blogging Kudos

I’m new to this blogging world so I was ecstatic when Ms Karen, a long time blogger, added my blog to her award list. The rule, as I understand it, is to pass the award on to others. Keep in mind that I have, very slow, expensive dial-up so I don’t read a lot of blogs, but the ones I do I love.

One of my favourites is Vanessa Gebbie’s blog. She is a very accomplished writer in UK and writes about her writing and life experiences. Lately her blog has gone all wonderful as she’s uncovered her biological sisters after searching for her parents for a lot of her life. It really is the most incredible and heart warming story. Stop by and give it a read.

Of, course I’m a big fan of Selma in the City. Selma lives in Australia. She’s a wonderful writer, her prose on most any topic sings. She is such a kind and giving person, when reading her blog I sometimes think I’m doing an anthropological experiment about how such people are, as I am rarely kind and hardly ever giving. It’s like taking a peek into the other side. What a sweetie!

Petina Gappah is a force that cannot be ignored. I’ve never met her in flesh and blood, but I’ve been told it is an experience one does not forget. Her blog on her writing and, of late, the crisis in her home country of Zimbabwe, is biting and brave. She is an exceptional writer with a razor sharp intellect. I’ll not be surprised if her name will soon be on all book lovers’ lips. Watch this space.

No list of blogs I love and read religiously would be complete without Ms Karen. Ms Karen is snort-tea-out-your-nose funny. She writes about her family and the experiences that she has in such a quirky way. Her fiction always takes thing from a slightly skewed position which is delightful.

Another very generous blogger is Molara Wood at Wordsbody. She was operating from London but now from Lagos. She uses her blog to promote African writers and artists on the continent and in the diaspora. She is exceptionally knowledgeable about what is going on in the Africa writing world it is astounding. She's also a very fine writer.

A blog I’ve found recently through Search Engine Fiction is One Open Book. He is attempting to sift through the gunk that piles up in a life and get to the bare truth. His writing often cuts to the bone, painful and invigorating at the same time. I love reading his writing just before bed so that the thoughts can swirl around in my subconscious as I sleep. Very nice indeed.

Like I said I am new to this blog world. I think it is a wonderful thing. I love the interaction, something in my isolation in my small village in Botswana I crave. I look forward to finding new blogs along the way. Thanks folks!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Songs Lost to Technology

Since I wrote last week’s Search Engine Fiction prompt, I’ve been thinking about Lake Geneva and I can’t do that without Bob Seger blaring in my ears. Lake Geneva to me means windows wide open, hair flying everywhere, hot nights and cool stars, and Bob Seger blaring on the 8-track with ‘Still Like That Old Time Rock and Roll’, ‘We’ve Got Tonight’, or ‘Turn the Page’ . Then it got me to thinking about how music in the history of my life has been lost because of the changes in technology.

There are songs which only exist for me as records. Elton John, John Denver, Carol King, these are record artists. Rumours and Hotel California were record albums until my sister recently sent me CD’s (what a treat that was!). And what about Jesus Christ Superstar- how many hours did I spend pouring over the cover? In my life those songs belong on LP’s.

Then there were 45’s. They are the exclusive technology for the Jackson 5, the Partridge Family, and the Archie’s. Didn’t we love that little red transparent Archie’s 45? I think it came from a cereal box if I remember rightly. 45’s with the ‘A side’ we all knew, and the surprise packet ‘B side’.

And then there are the 8-tracks. Bob Seger, of course. The Rolling Stones, Queen, and Billy Joel. Those big fat tapes you had to push into the slot with a bit of muscle until you heard the click. After 8 tracks went the way of the dinosaur, cassettes took over. Cassettes to me mean John Prine, Mango Groove, Lauren Hill, The Boss, and Oliver Mtukudzi.

I’m only just entering the world of the CD. With me I’ve brought Corinne Bailey Ray, Jimmy Dludlu, and Nora Jones. We’ve hardly gone far along our CD path and my children are teaching me how to pile a million songs on one CD in MP3 format. I’m not taking to it easily, but I’ve been like that with all of the others too. I had an 8 track player when there grew to be people who would say with a screwed up face, “What’s that?” It’s hard for me to leave music technology behind because, unfortunately, I end up leaving all of the old songs and their accompanying memories behind too.

2008 BTA/AngloPlatinum Short Story Winners Announced

On the BTA/AngloPlatinum Short Story Contest website it says that, sadly, this year will be the last year the contest will be run. No further details are given. Perhaps AngloPlatinum is planning to find another way to support writers and we will see a re-vamped contest much like SA/PEN did this year. Let’s cross our fingers!

The contest has been running since 1994 with over 15,000 entries from all over the SADC region. I, personally, must thank both AngloPlatinum and Beulah Thumbadoo and her staff as I was one of the recipients of the contest having won last year’s first prize and the Platinum Prize for Creativity for my story “The Christmas Wedding”. The win has been an important push to my career, and I hope it will do the same for this year’s winners.

This year’s winners were a culturally diverse and exciting group. In first and fourth place was author of So You Want to be an Au Pair in the USA, Cynthia Jele. Her story “Finding Joe” scooped the R25,000 first prize, while another one of her stories, “The Art of Formation” won fourth prize. “Finding Joe” is set in rural KwaZulu-Natal and is about a young girl’s quest to find her estranged father.

Zimbabwean film maker and former director of the Zimbabwean International Film Festival, Rumbi Katzeda, scooped second place with “Billboard Smile” about a young girl trying to make her way through the rough streets of Harare.

Third place went to Jabulani Welcome Mzimela for “Called to the Cross”, while the Platinum Prize for Creativity, which is a piece of platinum jewellery, went to Natasha Moodley for “Kaserne City”.

Congratulations to all of the winners!!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Remembering 9/11

I was at Selma in the City reading her post about 9/11. I attempted to make a comment and realised I had more to say than could fit in her box. Her post is lovely, please stop and read it.


That day I was running around. I still owned my printing and publishing business and it was one of those typically frantic days. I finally sat down at my desk; it must have been about 6 pm and caught the tail end of the radio news. I was sure they got something wrong. It couldn’t be right. Two planes crashing into both Towers? What were the chances of such an accident? I logged on the internet and found that, indeed, Radio Botswana had it correct. I immediately started calling. Calling friends and family in the States. What was happening? Were they okay? They were luckily fine, but everyone was frightened. It was still the early hours. No one knew what it all meant or if it was over.

I came to Botswana the way I've made my way to most places- I was running away. Though running gets a lot of bad press, I’ve found it effective for solving a wide range of problems. I found a strange comfort here. I was now in a place where I would forever be an outsider which somehow made more sense to me than being in a place where I was expected to fit in but never could. So I dug a deep hole in the hot Botswana sand and threw all that was American about me inside. I covered it up, stamped hard on top, and walked away, assured that I was finally free. I was free of my mangled past. I wanted nothing more to do with the Reagan/Bush America that I had bashed my head against for so long. I didn’t want to be associated with them. I’d finally learned the real truth of the American Dream my father worked his short life to never achieve. I wanted to work from a clean mental slate.

But as I sat hypnotised by the CNN images of the toy planes crashing into the toy towers, something moved in me. How could I despise a place that in its theoretical foundation provides space for the freedom I’ve longed for my whole life? The attack was not against the real America- that’s what I realised- and neither was my rejection of my birth country. The true America had been hijacked by the corporate greed of a few. The hijack is still in progress. The hijackers insulting the American people with talk about their patriotism and allegiance to a flag like a puppet master behind the black curtain. That greed was what the world hated. That was why thousands died that day.

Of course 9/11 in retrospect is the pivot from which Bush and Co. get their moral justification for their carnage. It continues and continues and the puppet master is now on a fulltime contract. I don’t know if Barack Obama can clear the mess away. I’m not sure the people will allow him to pull the curtain aside too far; it will be painful to see. Perhaps Obama doesn’t have the courage to look behind it either. I think everyone can see that the real America is being wiped away. I’ve found an unsteady peace with my American past and as I think today about that horrible day, I mourn for my battered country.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Unbridled up for $50,000 Literary Prize

Jude Dibia is young, handsome (as the picture clearly tells us) and, hopefully for him, soon to be rich. His book Unbridled is one of two up for this year’s Nigera Prize for Literature along with Kaine Agary’s Yellow- Yellow. The Nigeria Prize for Literature is sponsored by Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas. According to The Sun Online, the prize “aims to celebrate excellence in literature as well as bring writers to public attention. The prize, which was reviewed upwards from last year’s prize of $30,000, rotates yearly among four literary genres of prose, poetry, drama and children’s literature”.

One can have a lot to say about the petrochemical industry in Nigeria, but we must give kudos to such companies that single out the arts. In Africa, being a writer is a tough job. Few overseas publishers want to speak with you and locally the book buying public is prohibitively small. This means few authors can write fulltime. They must squeeze it into the little time remaining after trying to earn a living. These big money prizes give African writers a chance to breathe and the companies that sponsor them should be congratulated.

Companies are inundated with calls for corporate sponsorship on a continent with many problems to fix. It is heartening that these companies can look beyond and see the critical role of the arts in society.

In Botswana, we have the cell phone company Orange, which sponsors our bi-annual Botswerere Awards for creative writers, musicians, artists, actors and dancers. In South Africa there is the Sanlam Prize for children’s literature as well as the annual BTA/AngloPlatinum Short Story Contest. These are just examples, but the point is these companies are doing an important thing and others should join in their effort.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sweet Mischief

Margo repositioned the towel around her neck. It was rolled up with ice inside and fixed with a rubber band at the front like she was wearing a big fat bow tie. She felt the welcome relief of the melting ice running down the centre of her back. She flipped over the three potato pancakes in the deep fryer then leaned over to Rita, “Are we on then?”

Rita took the steaming hot plates from the dishwasher and stacked them in piles of six, the exact amount she’d decided were not too heavy or too light to finish the job efficiently. She nodded her head and smiled. “Yeah, no curfew. They’ve gone to Milwaukee to see Gran.”

Margo got back to the pancakes. It was dead hot, so hot she’d stopped sweating hours ago. She couldn’t wait to get out of there. It would be cool by the lake. Margo thought she’d likely strip off her clothes and jump in, that is if they didn’t find any rich boys.

Two hours later and they were in Rita’s mother’s station wagon heading for Lake Geneva. It was mid summer; the time when Chicago’s wealthy left the hot, sooty air of their city for the weekend to play along the lake. The parents would scamper off to the Playboy Club and their children would finish pockets full of money in the arcade along the lake.

“There! Park it there!”

“It’s so far,” Rita complained.

“That’s the point. Do you really want them to see this boat? It’s bad enough we smell like french fries.”

Rita parked the car. Margo pulled out her Lovehearts Perfume and sprayed herself and Rita. “Now remember, my name is Mischief. What name do you want?” Margo asked.

“I don’t care what you say; I’m telling them my real name. You never know, Margie, they might want to call us.”

Margo rolled her eyes. They’d been through this so many times. Rita had delusions that one day she’d meet one of these rich Chicago boys and he would fall in love with her. In her crazy dreams, they got married and Rita became one of the ladies stepping into Chez Pierre’s wearing mink on a humid July night. Margo tired of reminding her that no rich boy was going to marry a stupid poor girl from a no-name place in Wisconsin. These trips to Lake Geneva were not meant for that. It was research- nothing more.

Margo’s take on it was that the Chicago boys knew things. Things the boys in their town didn’t. Margo long realised that she and Rita were severely deficient in the important life skills parents and teachers loathed imparting, so she took it upon herself to find out everything. So after work on a summer Friday or Saturday, they would slip away to Lake Geneva to find things out for themselves.

Margo flipped her hair over and back again, unbuttoned two more buttons on her blouse and pulled it out of her jeans tying it high, just under her breasts. Rita checked the car was locked one more time then turned around. “Wow! Don’t you think that’s a bit much Margie?”

Margo started walking toward the beach front. “I told you my name is Mischief.”

As they made their way down to the arcade, local Lake Geneva boys tried to waylay them, but Margo and Rita could spot them a mile away. Margo turned and hissed at them. They got the message.

The arcade was crowded but Margo spotted the Herculean was free. “Come on,” she said grabbing Rita’s arm and pulling her over to the pinball machine. They just started the second game when the two boys made their approach. Margo knew straight away that Rita would take the tall one with his dark hair parted on the side. She kept a list of the characteristics of a good husband and hair parted on the side was point number 7.

“You girls are good at this,” the other blond, spiky haired one said. Margo was playing, so ignored him. Rita smiled and moved over to let Side Part stand next to her.

“It sure is hot,” Rita said up to him.

That was the sign for Side Part to ask if she wanted to take a walk on the beach. Margo still hadn’t said a word. She was already 1600 points over high score and wanted to finish the game. Besides, she believed a girl named Mischief wouldn’t just throw herself at a rich boy from Chicago. That wouldn’t be her style.

“What’s your name?” Spiky Hair asked.

Margo watched her last ball slip through the paddles. She turned to him. “Guess.”

He began a list of names while Margo turned and walked out the arcade and down the wooden pier. He followed behind calling out names while Margo kept walking ahead of him shaking her head. She climbed down the wooden steps of the pier to the beach underneath. The moon was out and it left a shaky trail of light along the water’s surface. Margo sat down at the edge. She took her shoes off and rolled up her jeans. The cool water move up and down her legs. Looking down the beach she could just make out Rita and Side Part. They were making out.

“So are you ever going to tell me?” Spiky Hair asked sitting down next to her in the cool sand.


“That’s your name?”


“I don’t believe you.”

“That’s your choice.”

They sat quietly. “I’m Jake. Jake Donaldson. We’re from Chicago.” Margo gave him a look she was sure Mischief would have approved of; a look of -yeah so what?

Jake tried conversation but, though Margo might have engaged him, she knew Mischief never would. She kept quiet and watched a too big yacht float by. Jake talked about his school and how much he hated it and how much he liked being here at the lake. Margo just nearly wanted to talk, but restrained herself.

He soon became quiet and Margo turned to him and kissed him full on the lips. Jake was surprised. She kissed him again and he kissed her back. Margo stopped for a minute. She was used to the local boys and their sloppy, wet kisses that made her feel nothing. This was something different. She kissed him again. The third kiss for the local boys meant a free pass for grabbing a girl’s breast. Margo readied herself. Jake obviously ran by different rules.

Jake pulled away. “What’s your real name?”

Margo hesitated. She’d been with Chicago boys before. She wondered if this one was different. She wondered if she should tell him the truth. Maybe this was not just research. It was getting hard for her to tell.

Just then Rita ran up to them breathless. “Let’s go.”

Margo looked up. Rita was holding her torn blouse together. Margo looked around and couldn’t see Side Part anywhere. She jumped to her feet. “What happened?”

Rita looked at Jake and back at Margo. “Let’s just go.”

Rita walked quickly to the car. Once inside, she started crying. “Who did he think he was anyway?”

“What? What happened Rita?”

“I’m not coming here again, Margo. Never. I don’t care if I just marry a local boy. I don’t care. I wish I wouldn’t have told him my name. The creep.”

Margo took Rita in her arms and let her cry her anger away. She watched the rich people pass by on their way back to their cottages and hotel rooms and thought how she’d almost made a mistake. Yeah, she thought, Rita shouldn’t come here again. Neither should Margo. But for Mischief, that was another story.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Presario, the new man in my life

I am really not one of those people who crave stuff, I never have been. As I’ve aged, stuff even begins to stifle my thought process. Because of this I’m feeling a bit guilty about my devotion to my new computer. I’ve only had it for five days but my obsession has grown worse since I found out his name.

Someone asked me the other day the computer’s model so I looked through the paperwork (though now I see it is written on the machine itself) and found out that it has the beautiful, drip off your tongue name of Presario. He looks like his name, my Presario. He’s dark and sexy and very efficient, but in an unnoticeable way, as an afterthought, no hard work involved. He prefers his time spent on more enjoyable things, my Presario. Lounging in the sun, drinking bright red cocktails with fruit and paper umbrellas likely plays a large role in Presario’s life. It’s a shame really he is stuck here working on TV scripts and science textbooks. I feel a bit guilty about that. As compensation, I will attempt to write a poem later. With a lot of imagery; palm trees and sweet scented breezes. He might feel better about that.

I love his keys the most. I love the feel of them on my fingers and the light click-click sound they make after years of building my finger muscles on the dusty keyboard of my iMac, where the ‘I’ key stuck or the keys of the family’s PC in which the whole bottom row had been wiped off so typing a v-b-n- or m was all a game of chance. No- Presario has sexy, inviting keys. I’m not sure yet if the keys have improved my writing, I have a feeling they might have.

He also had the most unusual game inside. It has sadly disappeared now; I think it was a welcome home present for Presario. It was a game where you get to be God over a small village of people who start as complete idiots. You move the people around to try and get them to learn the things that you as their deity know they must. You even get to pair them up to make babies, though sometimes that proves unsuccessful. I felt bad when that happened because instead of just saying, “No thank you, I’d rather not” the villagers would run away from their potential sex partners as if they bite. That has got to be hard on the ego. I had intended to teach them better manners but the time ran out.

The most wonderful thing about this game, much like the real world, when the computer was turned off and God (me- please try to follow) was no longer paying attention, the villagers still got on with things. When you’d turn the computer back on and check them, the babies would have grown up and the adults would have learned to plant crops. It really was wonderful. Sadly, I haven’t seen my village for three days now. I can only wonder what they’re up to, how their kids have grown, what skills they’ve developed, if they’ve cleaned up that dirty beach of theirs. Presario likely knows the answers to my many questions, but he’s keeping quiet about it. I’m not holding it against him though.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Parallel Universe of Donkeys

For people who have never been to Botswana I must explain a bit about how donkeys behave here because I believe it is behaviour that specifically occurs within the borders of this country. Donkeys are free to roam where they like in Botswana. I’m not sure if this is by law, but the donkeys’ attitudes make me think that they may believe that is the case. This attitude of entitlement is problematic, as you might imagine. Let me give you an example. If you’re driving down the A1 highway, the main road linking the south of the country to the north, going 120 kph a donkey will, for no apparent reason, decide to cross the road when you are a just few metres away from it. You will slam the brakes, squeal your tyres, and swerve dangerously trying not to bounce across the road like a pumpkin. The donkey, on the other hand, will then continue at its leisurely pace as if you are not sitting in your car thanking God for saving you and wondering if the life that just flashed across your mind is really yours since it seemed significantly duller than you remembered it.

Before I made my home in Botswana I liked donkeys given the amount of information I had on them. It mostly revolved around the nativity play. Donkeys, for me, were the beasts of burden that gladly carried the heavy weight of a pregnant Mary to the manger and then stood in the background with a slight, holy, smile on their faces, waiting patiently to bear witness to the birth of Jesus. I mean how could you hate such an animal that has only the goodwill of humanity deeply embedded in their little, hot donkey hearts?

Well, that has all changed. I hate donkeys. I believe that whole nativity story is a scam, likely created in the evil mind of a donkey because indeed evil minds are all that they have. I wonder if a donkey was even involved. It was likely a camel; I’ve met camels; they’re much holier, in my opinion.

I wonder sometimes how many donkeys there are in Botswana. It was once commonly said that there were more cattle in Botswana than Batswana. I imagine that it still true. But what about donkeys? Has anyone done a survey? I can accept that cattle outnumber me and my species members, but somehow the thought that donkeys are more than us seems menacing. What do they all want here? There are just so many donkey carts. What else are they doing? I fear for the worst.

A group of donkeys is a whole other story. It seems that in the donkey universe, which I believe is independent of ours; a tarred road is synonymous with a conference room. If a meeting is to be held, donkeys are called from far and wide to meet on a tarred road, usually the one leading to the village in which I live, Lecheng, and usually in the night. Imagine for a moment if you will the delight of happening upon a donkey meeting in the pitch dark on an unlit road. Now there is a heart stopper! Hooting, shouting, creative cursing- nothing will move them. They will occasionally turn and give you the ubiquitous donkey smile, you know it- that grey lipped one that just makes your blood boil, but they will not move. They are in a meeting. I had a friend who in complete frustration decided to move his car forward ever so slightly and give the nearest donkey a nudge, just to get it moving not to harm it in any way. My advice to you- don’t try it. The donkey gave a precisely executed back kick and put out my friend’s left headlight. And then of course got back to the meeting without so much as a second look.

Stubborn, arrogant, vicious, Mephistophelian (yeah that’s a thesaurus word- nice huh?) and grey. Botswana’s donkeys- you’ve been warned.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How Claudia Became a Bad Girl

(Here is my story for this week's Search Engine Fiction 'If Only..')

On the day the light appeared at the top of St. Mary’s steeple, Claudia was sure her prayers had been answered. Although her father looked at the red-gold light high up in the sky and decided the only cause could be aliens, Claudia was convinced that God had finally found time in his busy schedule to listen to her nightly prayers. Every night for two and half years, once the door was firmly closed, Claudia knelt at the side of her bed and made a deal with him; she would be a good girl for the rest of her life if only he would find her mother and bring her back home. Somehow she was positive the light was him saying the deal was on.

It showed up on a Friday night. Claudia and her family lived in the house at the corner, just opposite to the church so they were among the first people to see light. Claudia’s younger brother, André, looked out the window after hearing a noise. He was always thinking he heard stray dogs outside, so any noise had him rushing to the window. André believed that though their father had banned all dogs, a stray dog was a different story. Who could pass up an orphan? Claudia knew the answer was her father. That night, like all of the nights before it, there was no stray dog. Instead it was the beginning of the crowd that would soon begin to assemble on their front lawn.

“What’s that?” André said pushing the dusty curtains aside to get a better look.

Their father got up from the sofa where he’d been reading the newspaper to see what André was on about. “Well I’ll be damned! Claudia, get the camera!”

They rushed outside and joined the growing crowd. They flung their heads back like everyone else to look at the light. It was a glowing ball stuck on the very top of the steeple creating a giant, golden shish-kabob. Claudia smiled. She knew that God was just then working on her mother’s mind. He was sticking in thoughts and memories that would remind her that when she got in the taxi saying she was off to her sister Glenda’s, she had left behind a husband and two children who still waited for her return. The light was the sign that holy forces were at work.

Since God was keeping his part of the deal, Claudia immediately got to work on her part. She stopped fighting Mrs. Anderson, 14th in the parade of baby-sitters that passed through their house since Claudia’s mother left. She started taking better care of André and kept her room tidy and neat. Claudia knew enough that cheating in a bargain with God was not a good idea.

As the days passed and the light remained on the steeple, people collected from all over the state to stand in Claudia’s yard to look at it. Claudia found it odd that no one climbed up there to see exactly what was going on, but she suspected that they, like her, preferred to operate from a firm position in faith. The factual intricacies might just mix them up.

On a Tuesday evening, with a gasp from that evening’s collection of onlookers, the light went out. The crowd slowly drifted away. Discussions about the light fell back into memories only pulled out when relatives visited who hadn’t been there during the time. Claudia watched the trampled grass in their lawn unbend itself, and kept an eye on the road for her mother who was surely on her way home. Every day that the grass got greener, Claudia’s faith in the light got dimmer.

Claudia sat at dinner, more than a month later, another meal of burnt hamburgers and milky macaroni and cheese, Mrs. Anderson’s specialty, and Claudia’s father said out of the blue, “I wonder what the point of that light was anyway?”

André shrugged his shoulders.
Claudia looked down at her food, and then she said, “There was no point. Just a bunch of nonsense”.

Bush Fires

Yesterday a lot of the Tswapong Hills that surround the village of Lecheng, where I currently live, were on fire. Smoke could be seen along the ridges from Serule to Palapye. I dropped my daughter at Moeng Secondary School, the boarding school she attends in a valley deep in the hills and on two sides smoke could be seen. It was frightening. Today, we have no water since the man delivering diesel thought it not very wise to deliver in the middle of the fires, which was sensible. No diesel, no borehole pump, no water. I hope the fires are finished now. I don't see smoke from where I am. No water also makes us a bit vulnerable. It's good that by this time in the dry season most grass has been eaten or cleared away, that will hopefully slow down the fires if they come to the village.

One of my favourite things since living in Lecheng is climbing up into those very hills that surround the village. I'll climb high up and walk for hours and think to myself I may be walking on a patch of land that hasn't been stepped on since our ancestors walked the bush so many millennia ago, I feel a bit magical, as if I have secrets only for me, and then I'll turn and see a boy walking along the rocky top appearing out of nowhere herding two lost cows who have adapted some how to climb mountains and laugh at myself and my silly thoughts. I've wondered about those wayward cows up there in the hills. I know also that there are duiker and springbok up there as I've seen their faeces. There are baboon, rock dassies, and leopards too. I tell myself they all got away. Everything is fine. I just hope that is so.

I suppose, as my husband tells me, bush fires are part of the natural cycle. It is true that within days, where the dried brown grass was, fresh green will takes its place. But still a cold shiver runs down my spine when I see the fire eating up everything in its path and look at the wash of black burnt ash left behind in its wake.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Time of the Short Story Has Arrived (?)

In the UK recently a new short story collection sold the entire first print run of 10,000 copies on its first day on sale. Yaoza! that's really something. The publishers must be sitting up and taking notice now, throwing all their short story doomsday talk out the window. Could it be the time of the short story has arrived sooner than I even imagined? Should short story writers be jumping for joy, happy that their talent will finally be taken seriously? Perhaps.

(NB:Did I mention that the collection includes 800 words from JK Rowlings with some secret info on that bloody wizard of hers?