Friday, January 30, 2009

Left Alone

(The Search Engine Fiction prompt for this week is Empty Room)

The abandoned shed had the sharp scent of cat urine. Empty, save the absent cat and the two pigeons that swooped out the glass-less window when she entered. She spotted a nest in the corner and regretted having disturbed them; she hoped it didn’t have eggs. She was only borrowing their sanctuary, they’d be back. She hoped the cat would return too. She’d like to see it, likely a big tom from the strength of his markings. She missed having a cat. They’d had a big orange tabby when she was a girl- Shire- he used to lay an offering on the welcome mat each morning, a dead bat or a mouse. Once he’d brought home a tiny barn owl, she’d felt bad about that.

Her life cast in inflexible cement wouldn’t be including a cat. Ryan was allergic. Despite the irrational aspect of it, she held it against him. She hated weakness. No matter what her brain told her, her heart said strong people don’t have things such as allergies to cats.

Though she was miles from home, she thought she heard the baby crying. Could a sound be so imprinted on your mind that it played over and over again like a record on a broken record player? She hoped not. No, the baby was not crying. The empty shed was baby-less; its most important quality.

She slumped down onto the rough concrete floor. It was damp and cool and full of pigeon droppings and dried leaves blown in through the broken door. She didn’t care. She stretched her legs out in front of her and leaned her back against the wood wall. She liked the lighting, bits and pieces crept in through the holes between the boards, weathered and shrunk back from their original position. The light scattered on the floor like mosaic done by a crazy person. The silence of the empty room smoothed her jumpy heart; it allowed her thoughts to finally move again.

She decided she would not listen to Ryan; he had no right to comment. He was not at home all day with her. Crying and crying. Every day. Every hour. One demand after another. Swallowing her up. She tried to tell him, but he didn’t understand. He refused to understand. She was the victim, though she knew he’d not see it that way.

She’d been right, it was a tom cat. A big, midnight-black one stepped though the door. He wasn’t wild though; some fool had put a bell on his neck. He rubbed against her leg, and she ran her hand down his satin fur back as he arched up appreciatively. He stepped out of his domestic life retreating to the shed looking for a bit of relief, just like her. She lay down on the concrete floor and the tom cuddled up next to her.

She did the best she could, that was all that could be expected of a mother- to do her best by her child. She’d closed the door and left. If she had stayed things might have turned newspaper headline worse; she had enough sense to avoid that.

She stroked the cat and decided she’d wait for the moon to rise before she made her way home.

As the light glares on Zimbabwe, democracy in Botswana takes a hit

Those who read Thoughts from Botswana will remember that the Minister of Communication, Science and Technology, Pelonomi Venson- Moitoi, last year attempted to get a bill passed through Parliament that would require all journalists to be registered with a board appointed by her Ministry, therefore cutting the legs off the definition of free speech. Media workers and civil society shouted from the rooftops and Venson- Moitoi was forced to retreat. She promised everyone she would do widespread consultation as is the custom in Botswana and only then would the bill be brought back to Parliament.

But, in a move that does not bode well for our future under President Ian Khama, just before Christmas Venson- Moitoi snuck the bill into Parliament with none of the changes the media insisted be made. The opposition walked out in protest and the ruling party (the Botswana Democratic Party-BDP) passed the bill. Now it means even for me to blog here I must register with the board. If I fail to or if they deem me unsuitable and I do not get permission to write, I can receive a P5000 fine or jail time each time I post.

There is a sick smell in the air in Botswana. A wind is blowing which does not bode well for our “shining example of democracy”. For reasons best known to President Ian Khama, it was decided we needed a secret spying agency, this from the son of our first president who didn’t even want an army. Nevertheless, we now have the Directorate on Intelligence and Security (DIS). The DIS is made of a shadowy group of individuals. No one knows where their offices are. They do not carry any identification. They operate as they like doing things no one is aware of. Rumours say they tap our phones and monitor out movements. A tribunal was to be set up where people can make complaints against the DIS in an attempt to have some checks and balances in place. The tribunal was to be made up of people from the legal profession, retired high court judges, and all appointments were to be passed through the leader of the opposition. Instead, President Khama appointed BDP cronies to the tribunal and forgot all about the vetting by the leader of the opposition. The tribunal is nothing more than fluff, leaving Batswana in a very dangerous position.

The world looked at President Khama as the sole voice of reason during the Zimbabwe crisis; the man who stood up against others for the democratic rights of Zimbabwean citizens. Funny how he can fight so hard for our neighbours rights with one hand, and yet snatch basic human rights from his fellow citizens with the other.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reading Not the Realm of Couch Potatoes

I’ve always loved to read. Fiction was my world of escape. As an adult, I’ve found I have less and less time to read fiction, usually only before bed or on my free Sundays. With the whole ‘be active’ movement, sometimes you feel that spending 3-4 hours with a book is a bit couch potatoe-ish- you should be up doing something. Not anymore. A new study out of Washington University in St Louis, USA has shown that when we read fiction we are actually simulating the action of the characters in our brains. We take what we are reading and combine it with our own experiences and our brain believes that we are actually part of the action.

In an article on, the researchers found that areas of our brain respond to the action in the book.

“For example, changes in the objects a character interacted with (e.g., "pulled a light cord") were associated with increases in a region in the frontal lobes known to be important for controlling grasping motions. Changes in characters' locations (e.g., "went through the front door into the kitchen") were associated with increases in regions in the temporal lobes that are selectively activate when people view pictures of spatial scenes.”

I am so relieved. I can go back to my childhood of whiling away days with books and feel no more guilt. Perhaps I should read more books with characters running a marathon or participating in a triathlon- God knows my bum could use the exercise.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Interesting Skunk Fact

Did you know that a skunk fighting for its life sounds exactly like an alien? Especially when the skunk is fighting for its life at 4 am. I suppose unless you have proper equipment, sound is relative, and in actual fact I’ve never heard an alien, but I can assure you, at the very least, a skunk fighting for its life at 4 am sounds like what I believe an alien sounds like AND if you hear that noise at that time of the morning you will not easily forget it.

We are moved back to Mahalapye and this morning Chelsea and the African Sausage Dog decided to start the day early with that timeless game- “Kill a Skunk in 107 Easy Steps”. I’d almost recovered after four days of moving and unpacking and thought I’d wake up refreshed and get back to work, apparently the dogs had other plans. I would have stopped the whole thing and saved the skunk, but as mentioned above in the pitch darkness of 4 am I assumed, as all sane people would, that the dogs were killing an alien. I’m as brave as the next person but I know aliens have special weapons and everything and I knew I wouldn’t stand a chance. Thinking back now, it’s strange I didn’t wonder how the dogs were holding their own against the extraterrestrial monster and his high-tech weaponry- never mind- that is neither here nor there. The point of all of this is 1) I got woken up at an ungodly hour and 2) skunks are scary sounding and damn tough.

So I am moved. I have a new work space which I already love though no work has yet to commence there. To show you how committed I am (or cheap) I had paid for the Writers Weekly 24 hour Contest some time ago not knowing that the contest would take place on the same Saturday that I had to move 3892 boxes of junk I really don’t think I should be owning. Nevertheless, I got the topic Saturday night, slept on it, and woke up Sunday morning (before going back for yet another pile of junk) and wrote my entry. Okay, it is not very good and has a fatal mistake- one character responds to a nod that is pivotal to the plot that never actually happened (it happened in my head, but it seems I forgot to transfer that information to the page)- BUT I did write something. I was quite proud of my stick-to-it-ness, sort of like that skunk/alien I guess.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More Query Education

I have finished editing Claudia and she has been sent off with a kiss. This morning I found a very good query letter and some excellent advice from literary agent Jessica Faust at Bookends LLC. Check it out here. Of course if you have no publishing credits and no fantastic quotes as Bella does you can adapt the letter accordingly. It's scary how much of a role that one little letter plays in the success of your novel.

Other news off topic is that in the end I will have something submitted at this year's Caine. I had been all sad when a story of mine I really wanted submitted got edited under 3000 words by the online publisher so no longer met their requirements. Now my story The Christmas Wedding that won BTA/Angloplat Short Story contest in 2007 has been published and has been submitted to the Caine. Yeah! I love waiting for contest results (I know slightly masochistic)

And in that same vein.... I am off to begin packing. We are moving this weekend. I really must just get started instead of wasting time here. I've decided the thinking about moving is worse than the actual moving. (at least that is what I am trying to convince myself).

Friday, January 23, 2009

Botswana Starts to Feel Global Financial Chill

During 2008, Batswana watched as world economies faltered, and smugly thought we were immune. But 2009 came carrying a doleful lesson for our arrogance; diamond prices have fallen and everyone is panicking. The Botswana Stock Exchange ended the year with big losses. Most mining companies are laying off staff, including all the big diamond mines. African Copper which runs the Mowana Copper Mine has suspended production for three weeks to give them time to drum up some money to get them through the 50% drop in copper prices. Tati Nickel Mine also affected by the mineral price slump is about to begin layoffs. According to newspaper reports, government finance folks in the various ministries have been told to cut budgets 25%. Our noble vision, Vision 2016, has been thrown by the wayside as we scramble to get footing. Government is attempting to save money by reducing their staff. The Botswana Defence Force (BDF) has announced recruitment has been put on ice for the time being. The economic stranglehold has even spread to education. Senior school admissions have been slashed from 66% intake last year to 47% intake this year, government says to improve quality but everyone can see it is to save precious Pula.

This sudden, drastic response is building no confidence. People are afraid for their futures. Rumours abound. One senior government worker speculated in a recent meeting that civil servants might have to go without pay. Others say the massive foreign reserves, prudently saved by past governments, have been a casualty of the blood bath in the international banking and stock market collapse. The government says no, but few believe it. Everybody is nervous.

So now we all wait. On the 2 February, Finance Minister Baledzi Gaolatlhe will give this year’s budget speech. Batswana will be glued to their radios and televisions hoping to hear that the government has the situation under control. Besides telling the truth about the situation the country now finds itself in, Gaolatlhe must let Batswana see that the government has things under control, they have a plan, and they have the best interests of the citizens at heart. He must restore calm because right now we’re all jittery, holding what little money we have with white knuckled hands.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Claudia’s Journey – Part 2

This morning Claudia and I received our first request to step onto the dance floor. If we are to be swept across the floor in an elegant waltz or if, once standing, our partner will be distracted away is yet to be seen, BUT the request has been made. If you remember from Part 1, I sent a query letter out to one publisher and four agents. This morning the publisher asked to see the whole book. Serious happy dance time!

Now I’m giving it one last run through. (Can a book be edited too much? I’ve found the answer is no) And I’m going to send it off. Yes or no, we’ve already made a big step, and I’m deliriously happy about that.

As I see this whole process as a learning curve for me and my readers, I wanted to let you know about a comment I received about the query letter. A writing friend of mine who has been very successful in her own career says I must sell myself more. I was surprised as I was even a bit embarrassed by going on about myself. She says I have it all wrong. I must put the paragraph about me first, especially for agents, as that will be a long term relationship with numerous projects (if we’re lucky) and they need to know who they’re getting. So, my friends, sell, sell, sell yourself. If nothing comes from this round of send outs, I will indeed implement that advice.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Time to Party!!!

Today is an historic day. An African will be sworn in as president of the United States. A dream translates into reality and a lesson should be learned by all of us- dream big. And too, the horrible, brain-killing, evil-coveting, greedy Bush-baby administration will be no more.

Today Thoughts from Botswana, since I barter in words, has decided to pull out some of the soon to be former administration’s own words for a last minute laugh at their expense. Here goes-

• Bush, 16 April, 2008 speaking to Pope Bendict XVI- “Thank you, Your Holiness. Awesome speech.”
• Cheney, 4 June, 2003-“Except for the occasional heart attack, I’ve never felt better.”
• Bush, 20 September, 2005- “We look forward to hearing your vision, so we can more better do our job.”
• Cheney to Senator Patrick Leahy during a debate in the Senate about Halliburton’s role in the wars, June 25, 2004-"Go f*ck yourself."
• Bush, 6 September, 2004- “Too many OB/GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.”
• Cheney responding to queries about his five draft deferments- "I had other priorities in the sixties than military service."
• Cheney’s response when an ABC correspondent told him that most Americans believe that the war in Iraq is not worth fighting- “So?”
• Bush, 5 August, 2004- “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

And what has been the effect on the American people thanks to all of this wisdom? This is best exemplified by teen beauty queen, Lauren Caitlin, when asked why she thought a fifth of Americans couldn’t locate the United States on a world map.
"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, um, some people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq and everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future."

Lord have mercy. The future can only be better.... right?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Andrew Sanderson- International Spy or raving lunatic?

Yesterday’s Sunday Standard featured this picture on the front page and yet again inside its covers. This is Andrew Sanderson. According to Sanderson, these marks are from electrodes that were attached to his body by Botswana security agents during torture sessions where they wanted to extract information regarding his espionage activities in the country. Sanderson told the reporter that he had been arrested by the Botswana Police for staying in the country without proper documentation, but according to Sanderson he is a spy for the Zimbabwean government working under the Zimbabwean ambassador to Namibia, Chipo Zindonga, and that was the real reason he was arrested and allegedly tortured. His mission, according to the paper, was to search out the bases in Botswana where MDC is training a secret army to overthrow Mugabe. At the time the article went to press, Sanderson had escaped from police custody and was in hiding waiting for his contacts in the Zimbabwean High Commission in Botswana to get him out of the country.

The alleged life story of Sanderson reads like a Robert Ludlum book. He has apparently worked in the past for Botswana’s Diamond and Narcotics Squad and was double dealing with Military Intelligence. According to him, he knew much about the drug trade in the area from the time that he himself was a drug addict. He apparently inherited over a million British pounds from a dead aunt, after living on the streets of London eating from dust bins, and decided it was cheaper to live in Namibia where he could follow his preferred life of drugs, drinking, and games with prostitutes. This is where, according to him, he met a certain prostitute who hooked him up with the Namibian ambassador who gave him his latest gig as Zimbabwean Spy.

In the article, the reporter claims that during the interview Sanderson asked to use the phone and he apparently called his contact in the Zimbabwean High Commission in Botswana. They discussed his getting out of the country. According to the reporter, the ambassador hung up and called back on a ‘secure line’. Sanderson was instructed to get to Lanseria in South Africa and they would help him from there.

So that’s the story. For those outside of Southern Africa, there is much animosity between Mugabe and our President Khama who believes that Mugabe has taken power illegally and has spoken out clearly about this. Mugabe, in turn, has alleged that Botswana is allowing MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai free access to the country where he is putting together troops to get rid of the Old Man. This is from where Sanderson’s story emanates.

I’m not sure what to think. At the very least, if Sanderson is Mugabe’s spy, it is yet another indication of Mugabe’s deteriorating sensibilities. It’s obvious Mr Sanderson is a few pennies short of a dollar. Again, why would the Namibian ambassador be the Big Zimbabwean Spy’s main contact? It sounds suspect at best. The Botswana government has trashed Mugabe’s assertions that they are assisting in overthrowing his regime.

Sanderson ends the article saying, “If I fail to make it out of Botswana and they kill me, you will have an even better story.” According to the reporter, Sanderson then 'burst into laughter'.

Meanwhile- more than 2000 people have died in Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic, not because cholera is not treatable and preventable, but because Mugabe can’t manage the healthcare system and because the doctors and nurses cannot continue to work, for all practical purposes, without pay. The Zim dollar is nearly useless as most shops now accept only US dollars, Rands, or Pula so being a civil servant paid with a big pile of Zim dollars is like being paid with a roll of toilet paper. Schools have not opened for the new school year either. Mugabe clings to power while the people die- some fast and some agonizingly slowly. Makes me almost hope Sanderson is telling the truth and within my country a powerful army is being built; but I doubt it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Join Claudia’s Journey- Part 1

I realise I’ve had it relatively easy here in Botswana. I’ve sent manuscripts directly to publishers and they have accepted them. No agents, almost 100% success. I know that is not the big, bad book publishing world outside of our borders. Now I am, once again, jumping into the pool with the sharp-toothed sharks (as opposed to those gentle dull toothed sharks) and I thought I’d bring my faithful readers along with me.

I have a book I wrote about four years ago entitled Claudia’s Lanchaster’s Adventures in Love. I initially sent it out to publishers and agents as a mainstream adult novel. It got rejected ten times- actually two agents never responded at all, four publishers also never troubled themselves, and four others kindly rejected it. So I called it my wallflower novel (no one wanted to dance with it), put it in a drawer, and moved on.

Recently, I dug it out and gave it a read though. I like the plot and love the characters and I felt like I betrayed them a bit. It needed some work, but I thought I’d give it a go.

I scrapped about 10,000 words in total, in some cases whole chapters. I changed a whole lot of show to a little more tell. Moved some chapters forward and others back. And it is now a young adult romance. Lean and mean and ready to dance.

So now the process begins.

I’ve worked on the query and synopsis. I’ve also researched agents and publishers. I think Claudia and I are ready. I’ve chosen one publisher and four agents. I’ve sent them the query below. Now it is time to see if any bite. I know the odds are against us, especially in these economic times- but I’m an optimist.
Wish us luck! I’ll keep you posted.
(Feel free to guide my wayward ship- all advice is highly appreciated.)

At first glance, Claudia is a fat girl with nothing to offer and Albert is the “Stutter Boy”, but cursory looks are not where true love can be found; both have learned that the important things lie deeper than that. A chance meeting brings their troubled lives together. Kind Claudia and handsome Albert will struggle through bullying, Ramona, the worst mother in the world, and a murder, before they find the love they are destined for in the arms of each other.

Claudia Lanchaster’s Adventures in Love is a young adult romance targeted at the 15-18 year age group (49, 000 words) set in America. It is the love story of two anti heroes, characters many young people will identify with.

I am a full time writer living in Botswana. I have seven published books; one non-fiction book published in the United States and the rest published here in Botswana. Two of the books are part of my Detective Kate Gomolemo series; The Fatal Payout (Macmillan 2005) and Murder for Profit (Pentagon 2008). My children’s book, Mmele and the Magic Bones, was short-listed for Macmillan UK’s African Writers Prize in 2008 and was published by Pentagon Publishers the same year. It has since been chosen as a set book by the Ministry of Education for standard five (primary).

I have won numerous writing prizes most notably first prize in the BTA/AngloPlatinum Short Story Contest 2007 (South Africa), twice winning highly commended in the Commonwealth Short Story Contest, and in 2007 I won the Orange/Botswerere Award for Creative Writing presented by the Ministry of Youth and Culture Botswana. My short stories have appeared in publications in Australia, the United States, UK, Canada, South Africa, and Algeria. I have a story in the upcoming anthology, One World, which includes writing by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Jhumpa Lahiri.

As you can see, I’ve had quite a bit of writing success here in Botswana, but I’m feeling as if it might be time for me to venture a bit further. I’m hoping Claudia will be my mode of transport and you might be our guide.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my query and I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Throw Away the Key

Search Engine Fiction is back for 2009 and the first prompt is - throw away the key. Here's my flash fiction story.

Keeping the key safe and the goods locked up was the number one priority, at least according to her. “There’s nothing more sacred that a woman has,” was her mantra.

She’d handed her key to my grandfather, “the one special man”, and together they partook of the goods for three weeks until he was shipped off to the frontline and unceremoniously gunned down by a German with a stronger destiny. She locked the chest up tight after that because “the right man only comes along once”.

My mother fared no better. She met my father and within hours she’d given him her key. He stuck around a few days, and then said, “I need to get some cigarettes”; 35 years later he’s still looking for the right brand. My mother waited the nine months it took for me to find my way here, and then died in a bathtub of crimson water, her wrists slit open, evidence to my Gran once again of the sacredness of the goods. “She gave it away to easily.” A thinly veiled warning for me.

I waited patiently for 35 years for fear of making the wrong move; waiting for the special man created by destiny only for me. Gran’s gone now, but her words resonate in my head. Nevertheless, I gave her plan half my life and it didn’t produce much. Today is the day for a change.

Today’s my birthday, my true birth day, a day of transition. Time to see what is inside that sacred chest. It is time to throw away the key.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Oprah and Orgasms

I was watching Oprah the other day and it was all about sex. (Yes- I watch Oprah. Don’t lie you do to) There are people who don’t seem sexual to me; like Oprah. I know she has Stedman and everything but I don’t know, I just can’t picture it. And then there are all of the rumours about her and Gail, but again I can’t see it. I could see Gail and Stedman together…but that is an entirely different story and actually I have gone off on a tangent which I am prone to do.

The point of this post is to express my shock at what was said on that programme. The doctor there gave some astounding figure- 6 million or something (big numbers boggle me- I don’t know how the Zimbabweans are coping with their billions dollar notes- 1 million , 10 billion, I mean really.) women in America who have never had an orgasm. Apparently, many think they might be but are not sure. Of course, as Oprah rightly pointed out, there is nothing like that. If you have orgasms you know it. If you’re wondering, you are not having orgasms.

My husband who frowns on all things scientific or research based responded by saying, “They're lying”. He doesn’t believe anything scientific types say. This doesn’t bode well in a family where his wife is a former science teacher and both of his children are studying pure science and planning on embarking on scientific careers. Nevertheless, he doesn’t trust those numbers. If it is true, I, frankly, find the whole thing sad.

Some years ago when I was still in my 30’s and had little care about wrinkles and the effect of gravity on important parts of my body, I read that you must have at least three orgasms a week to stave off wrinkles. Apparently you can look ten years younger if you do. I, in an uncharacteristically fortuitous manner, added that to my ‘To Do List”. I don’t know if at the age of 45 less one day I look ten years younger BUT I do know that the woman on Oprah who was also 45 and admitted that she’d never had an orgasm in her life, definitely looked ten years older. My god! That seriously gave me a fright! And that is the point of this post- whatever you do- three orgasms a week, Ladies. If it means a trip to the chemist for a “back massager” so be it. I’m telling you if you saw what I saw you’d be very serious about this.

There was the funny bit when Oprah asked the husband of the non-orgasm-er what he thought about the fact that his wife had been faking it for 20 odd years. He said he wasn’t sure, but he did know that he knew what he was doing in the sack.
Well do ya’ now? I’m thinking NOT.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Now for the good news about rights...

My second part of the rights article is up at Blood Red Pencil. This post talks about the rights we should try to sell as writers.

Ascension Contest

I was going to write about orgasms today but Jason Evans over at The Clarity of Night has said I can post my entry for his contest on my blog. Orgasms must wait for another day. (Will that bring all the people looking for pornography to my blog? That's kind of fun!) So here is my entry. The picture to the left was our prompt. Also click on the link above to go and read the other entries or to enter yourself.

Perks of the Job

The Woolworth’s window reflects the knife-edge pleats in his trousers and the crimson belt cinching his waist creating the allusion of wide shoulders; Jomo nods approval. Initially the handcuffs gave him a lot of excitement, but the flash wore off. The unassuming dependability of a straight pleat and tidy red belt should not be discounted.

As he walks his circuit, security gates clang shut, one after the other. People trickle out of the mall shouting, “Tomorrow, Jomo!” until he’s alone.

His favourite time.

He walks one leg at a time of the giant X of the ground floor; up one side, down the other. Bookstore, jewellery shop, cheap clothes boutique, expensive one. Things Jomo has no use for.

The ground floor finished; it’s now time.

During the day, he only uses the stairs. Happiness should not to be squandered. He approaches it slowly, drawing out the anticipation, listening for the confident noise of it, a smooth, slight metallic clinking. Uncertainty before stepping on thrills him. Would he miss and be pulled from his feet? Not today.

Carried like a king; raised in the air. A gift given, expecting nothing in return; little of that seen in Jomo’s short life, and he is appreciative.

At the top, the machine’s innards gobble up the stairs- would he be gobbled up too? One step and he’s saved- yet again. He heads off on the first arm of the second floor’s mirrored X, smiling, for there’s still the ride down.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What Rights Am I Selling?

I have a two part post at Blood Red Pencil about rights. The first part is up today and the second part tomorrow. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

David Slater-A Music Man Who Has Made His Mark

(Picture from Mmegi)

This week’s Botswana Guardian had an article about music man David Slater. In the lead just before the interview it said, “He is boring. He has added ‘very little’ to the music industry in this country”. I didn’t get it. It appeared as if they might be repeating Mr. Slater’s own words since in the article his humble nature came through, but it wasn’t clear and that cloudiness, at least to me, came off as an insult because David Slater has made a profound contribution to music in all forms in this country.

Mr. Slater ran Maitisong, a theatre at Maruapula School in Gaborone, from 1987, retiring from the job in 2007. While there, he started the Maitisong Festival which allowed Batswana to have access to classical music as well as famous performers such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Johannesburg Orchestra, Cape Town Ballet and Sibongile Khumalo, among others. He helped develop the talents of numerous musical Batswana both within Maitisong and as a committee member of Botswana Music Camp. For his efforts in music, he was awarded a Presidential Award.

According to the Guardian article, he has now started his own entertainment company, called David Slater Music. The company organises musical and cultural events in Gaborone. He started the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House with Alexander McCall Smith to provide a place for classical musicians to perform.

The very exciting news from the article was that McCall Smith has written an opera which is currently being set to music and they hope that the world premier will take place at the Opera House in Gaborone, hopefully performed by Batswana musicians, which will be a fantastic opportunity as the world’s eyes, gaga for all things Alexander McCall Smith-ish, will likely be focussed here. What a coup that will be!

All of this from a man who has ‘added very little to the music industry” in Botswana? I don’t think so.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Perfect Writer

I’ve been researching a bit about synopsis and query writing as I’m about to send my young adult romance, Claudia Lanchaster’s Adventures in Love, back out into that scary place-Submission World. The research has pushed me into a bit of a funk. (Or it could be the rejections I got this morning. For some reason the magazine sent the rejection five times. Maybe it’s me, BUT I’m thinking they really don’t want me to submit again)

It seems the success of your novel rests precariously on the properly placed word in a query letter, a bit of writing that rarely exceeds 100 words. The query letter is the first contact you make with the agent or publisher to hook them in. According to the people I’ve been reading, these folks are inundated with emails and if you have a passive sentence or an “awkward turn of phrase” you and your beloved novel are heading for the scrap heap.

I’ve spent about five years fiddling with Claudia (that sounds a bit pervy- not meant to be) but it looks like I’ll need to spend just as much trying to create the perfect query letter. Then, of course, there is the whole nightmare of a synopsis. “Include the themes” – to be honest, five years on and I’m not quite sure what it’s all about. “Give us the gist of the story with plot twists- but don’t go into details”- okay… understood (?). “No hyperbole”- so delete that whole bit about Oprah’s Book Club and greatest book since the Bible; but that was my favourite part. :(

It’s all quite frightening. If you go by what they say, us writers are expected to be perfect. Misplaced metaphor- My God, and she calls herself a writer? Run-on sentence? Is she joking? Redundancy? (A new buzz word that is seriously getting up my nose) Does she know nothing at all?

I’m not perfect at anything. My desk is a little dusty. I’ve never worn a size 5. My eyes need three different pairs of glasses to accomplish all the things they must. I once, for no reason at all, fell off a chair inside of the bank manager’s office. I often think I’m about to play a high E and instead get a C. My hair is neither curly nor straight. I’m just not perfect, I never have been. 45 years down the line, I don’t see perfect suddenly making an appearance in my writing world. I just try my best. In a way I guess it’s better my future agent and future publisher and I all get on the correct page straight away.

So my imperfect query letter will be sent. And if they can swallow that, it will be followed by my imperfect synopsis with the three highly imperfect chapters. And if things go my way, I will one day see Claudia (in all of her imperfectness, created by this imperfect writer) sitting a little bit crooked on shelves in bookstores all over the world- that is, of course, in a perfect world.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The End of the World Can Make a Person Pretty Lazy

I’m trying not to take this whole Yellowstone thing very seriously and from the look of my poll (see right) neither are any of you. If you concentrate on all of the things that can happen that would make today the last day of humanity, for me at least, I become pretty inactive. What could I possibly do with this day? Almost everything on my list of things to do require a future for the human race. Even something as simple as making my bed. I mean, really.

This is why I always hope I won’t have a near death experience. I know how people say things like, “After that I really appreciate every day; I live in the moment” – do they really? I’ve always suspected they’re just saying it because it’s expected. I know that wouldn’t be me. For me it would be more like, “So this is the kind of crap shoot I’m in- what’s the point?” My productivity would take a severe hit.

Carrying this thinking a bit further brings me to the realisation that to progress each day, to sit down at the computer and write a story, to clean up a few chapters in a novel, to do research for an upcoming article, I need to believe that no harm will come to the world and that I am immortal.

Simple enough. Okay then, back to work.

(Evidence that I’m a stupid fool or an eternal optimist is mounting against me I’m afraid.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

This and That

Back to work and feeling much better. I have far too much Protestant work ethic to sit idly- one of the many reasons I hate long holidays. I do like fun, but done in reasonable lots of time. Two, three weeks is just too hedonistic for me.

In the last two days I finished the first drafts on five radio lessons; English for standard one. It is very difficult to write lessons in English for children you know do not know much English. I did a lot of ‘sound stories’ which becomes a problem when you have specific objectives to cover.

I’ll admit- though I really don’t want to and swore I would never do it- I wrote a song to the tune of ‘Are you sleeping?’ I’m not proud, but I was damn desperate. Fifteen minutes is an exceptionally long bit of time for teaching good morning, good afternoon, and good evening. Have mercy on me. Anyway we’ll see what my producer thinks. Cross fingers. I did write a poem I was a bit proud of to teach prepositions. Here it is for your enjoyment or vicious slashing, whatever your mood calls for:

Yesterday I slept in a box
Soft and nice, all filled with socks.
Today I swam in the deep blue sea,
Just Fred, my friend, and little old me.
Now I’m resting under the bed,
Hiding from my big pal Fred.
He’s nice and jolly, but here’s the problem
I’m just an ant, and he’s a big green goblin.

I know- problem and goblin don't really rhyme; but kind of right?

Here is a new contest brought to you via Selma’s blog. Of course I won’t pass it by- I love micro word counts and prompts especially photos and here everything is combined in one. Yeah!

Now back to work. I need to drag out my children’s book set in Old Palapye. I’m writing it for a contest later this year. I finished it in November, but it is dead boring. I need to fish out its problems, and today I start.

Trying very hard not to blog about Israel- too many words out in cyberspace right now, mine are not needed. More I am praying that the Israelis accept the ceasefire agreement. Who would have thought Sarkozy would be the fellow to step up? He’s definitely gained stature in my eyes.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Two Great Books

I spent the holidays pushed out of my strict writing schedule (shock!) and managed to finish reading two very excellent books.

The first is by Kate Atkinson, who people know can do no wrong (word-wise) in my love blind eyes, and is her newest, When Will There Be Good News?. As I read it, I couldn’t stop seeing the image of a conductor in front of an orchestra, but in this case instead of the brass or woodwind section, Ms Atkinson has in front of her plot lines. She waves her stick towards one and it comes to the fore for a moment the other sections providing support at the back. Then an expert turn brings the second plot forward. Slowly this light, but expert touch nurtures each line until the grand crescendo where all plots merge into this fantastic conclusion where each stop along the way reveals itself for what it really was. Fantastic. I will say nothing else except that I think Kate Atkinson is one of the best writers alive today. (That line is NOT hyperbole)

The second book I received as a surprise gift from a friend who read in this blog that I wanted a copy of The White Tiger, but the ones here were shockingly expensive. People can be so lovely and generous and the gift warmed my heart. And what a lovely gift it was. One must really give kudos to the Booker Prize Committee for having open minds to what a true literary gift looks like. The White Tiger was a deserving winner.

My favourite parts of books are characters. Since I was a little girl I’ve lived with book characters. They’ve been such great companions and I’m always thankful for authors who add to my entourage. So I must thank Aravind Adiga. Balram Munno Halwai, The White Tiger, is a lovely character, albeit a murderer, but a murderer that one can easily befriend. Adiga lays plain the harsh brutality of poverty and servitude but no preaching is allowed, no pity either. He lets us into Balram’s world through a window of humour, my favourite passage into a life. In a letter to the Premier of China, Balram attempts to show him the true India. Despite all that might be construed as negative, the hopefulness of this novel makes one believe that Adiga is a true patriot. Lovely book.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Hollywood Hubris

In Botswana (I’m not sure if this is the same all over) we have loads of Chinese shops. In any Chinese shop you will find a bin of DVDs. There are some moral quandaries about copyright in the Chinese shops. You can buy a DVD for a movie at another shop at about P150, which is a lot of money since minimum wage is about P600. At a Chinese shop you buy a DVD with about 20 movies on for about P30. Because of this I’ve come to a decision. Any local productions should never be bought at the Chinese shops, we have a small market and if the industry is to grow we must be vigilant. As for Hollywood, I don’t think they include us in their market plan, if they did they might have made the DVDs affordable. So we sometimes buy Chinese DVDs of those movies. Yes, I realise my argument is weak- bash me if you must.

Anyway, yesterday my son came home with a Brad Pitt DVD. That is another thing that the Chinese do. They bundle a pile of movies on one DVD. So last night we decided to watch Babel. One thing, though, if you buy these DVD’s you have to accept that they may or may not work and many odd things can happen.

So we start watching the movie and suddenly it cuts away to this deaf, Japanese teenager. We watch for a bit and then decide that the Chinese buggered up as they sometimes do putting a karate clip in the middle etc. and we fast forward through it. We watch some more and there’s the Japanese girl again. We fast forward. Then we’re watching the ‘real movie’ and suddenly the Moroccan goat farmer has a picture of the Japanese girl’s father. Ooops!

It seems that whole Japanese part was actually supposed to be there, it’s part of the movie, though obviously a bit tagged on. We enjoyed the movie just fine without it. So the question begs to be asked- couldn’t they have saved quite a bit (and I’m sure the whole thing cost loads already with Brad Pitt and travelling to Morocco and all- according to Wikipedia it cost $25 million-Yikes!) by doing as we did and cutting the Japanese bit out completely? It just gets you wondering. It added very little to the story. It might have even saved so much money they could produce DVDs that normal people could afford.