Sunday, May 31, 2009

Good News!!! Good News!!!

I've been away for a week to Gaborone for a radio scriptwriting workshop. It was very good. The facilitator gave wonderful information about radio writing, but also information for writing in general. I learned so much about writing English scripts for the beginners in standard one, that I feel I need to go back and nip and tuck the 16 scripts I've already finished in that series- that was not such good news. Also I got to interact with people, some old friends I hadn't seen for awhile, some newly made ones . It made me realise how little I socialise nowadays, excluding my running commentary with Sgt. Catman, but to be honest he is not much of a conversationalist.

BUT this is a post about good news- and there was good news. Last week Tuesday the list of prescribed books for secondary schools came out. What I knew was I had one chance with a science textbook I wrote for junior secondary, form 1. Luckily, I was misinformed. Macmillan had submitted my book, The Fatal Payout, for senior secondary and it was chosen as the ONLY set book for literature! The science book wasn't taken, but that's fine actually because I'm so over the top pleased about my dear Detective Kate Gomolemo. There are four finished books in the series but only two are published. Since they've been doing so badly, I swore the other two would never see the light of day. Perhaps I'll change my mind now.

The other equally lovely news was that my writing partner's (She Who Will Remain Un-named) short story collection for junior secondary was chosen as a prescribed book too! It was funny because we were both sitting in the workshop when we found out. How that went is a funny story in itself , for another day perhaps.

So now, I have six published fiction books and five have been prescribed as set texts by the Ministry of Education. In this part of the world, where even in South Africa a best selling novel will sell 4000 copies , this is a jackpot. The primary school books for example, I might sell above 20,000 copies per title the first year. The new policy is to keep set books for 3-5 years, so I'll still be making fairly good royalties during those following years too.

What does this mean to me? I'm a full time writer. Lately I've been lucky with two television scriptwriting gigs in a row, so money has been regular and pretty good. Before that, it meant me doing piece meal. I might do a few radio scripts, write two or three articles for our national private daily Mmegi, some local magazine articles, the occasional international gig. It was constantly querying, constantly working on two or three articles, trying to run after government official for facts (this alone can take days in Botswana where PRO in Government of Botswana-speak means expert at dodging journalists), setting up interviews, researching, running up and down- basically a lot of work equaling piles of time consumed and usually a small pay cheque, leaving only a few precious minutes here and there for my fiction, the thing I most love writing, with the bulk of the time eaten up trying to earn a living.

Now these better royalty cheques will translate into time. Time for my fiction. Time to write anything and everything that I want. The big hammer of reality will finally get a rest. Not everything I put on paper must already have a market. That money equals freedom-freedom, what a lovely, lovely word that is.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday Fun

I'm not a photographer but the sunset outside my gate was so lovely I just wanted to share it. The picture doesn't do it justice, of course. Botswana and her big skies can't quite be photographed.

Now that you've enjoyed my sunset, stop over at Blood Red Pencil for some fun. Marvin D. Wilson entertains with those 'that's not what I meant to say' lines like: Drunk Gets 9 Months in Voilin Case (shame!) and Include your Children when Baking Cookies (if you are Hansel and Gretel's Witchy Friend that is). Very funny!

Enjoy your weekend, Ditsala!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Taking a New Direction

When I first started writing I submitted everywhere. It didn’t matter if I would be paid or not, I just wanted to be published. And I was published in many places. Then time passed and I thought I should make a rule that I will only submit to magazines that pay, unless there is some prestige involved. And that’s been my policy for some time. But now I’m wondering what the point is. I write short stories, I send them out and I get paid usually around $25-100 USD. This money is fairly useless to me because to get it to Botswana, most is eaten by bank charges. Nowadays I ask for Amazon gift certificates and then it gets eaten by delivery charges.

I have stories published all over the world and yet it hasn’t led to me getting an agent. It hasn’t really got my name out there in any sustainable way. So I’m not making money and I’m not building a name for myself. But I spend an inordinate amount of time writing and submitting short stories.

I’ll admit I do like to write a short story. There is something quite fulfilling in writing them and I doubt I’ll stop completely. I can’t deny that I have made a substantial amount of money from short story contests, and they actually DO get your name out there.

I guess I’m trying to re-evaluate my priorities though. It’s not really about the money. I just want some sort of sustain success. I’m a bit tired of the rollercoaster I currently ride. My fiction time is limited and I think it’s time I spend it on novels. I love writing books. I love the long term journey and stepping into that other world. Short stories are not long enough to give me that kind of a feeling. Though my books haven’t done so well to date, I do feel part of that at least is bad decisions made by me, mostly regarding publishers. It also has to do with too much time spent on short stories.

So it is time for a focus shift. I’ll still write the occasional short story but they will no longer be my focus. Getting my work out there will mean getting my books published, not forever trolling Duotrope looking for markets. Like most change, I feel scared and a bit sad, but more than anything I’m excited.

Monday, May 18, 2009

African Short Story Awards Announced

Lots of prizes for African writers to announce.

First, last weekend the winners of the first PEN/Studzinski Literary Award were announced and the book with the stories from the finalists was launched. My story Pulani’s Eyes was a finalist but sadly didn’t win. The winners are all South African which was likely to happen since out of the 672 entries only 155 came from non-South Africans. The winners are:

1st Prize: Where he will leave his shoes by Karen Jayes

2nd prize: Dr. Mamba by Andrew Salomon

3rd prize: (Two winners) The Visit by Nadia Davids and Survival Mechanisms by Ceridwen Dovey

Honourable Mentions went to:

NoViolet Mkha Bulawayo – Snapshots (from Zimbabwe!!! Yeah!)
Naomi Nkealah – In the Name of Peace
Isabella Morris – Bluette
Irene McCartney – Pauline’s Ghost
Congratulations to all of you!

Also just announced is the shortlist for this year’s Caine Prize.
The 2009 Caine shortlist is:

• Mamle Kabu (Ghana) ‘The End of Skill’ from ‘Dreams, Miracles and Jazz’, published by Picador Africa, Johannesburg 2008

• Parselelo Kantai (Kenya) ‘You Wreck Her’ from the St Petersburg Review, NY 2008

• Alistair Morgan (South Africa) ‘Icebergs’ from The Paris Review no. 183, NY 2008

• EC Osondu (Nigeria) ‘Waiting' from, October 2008

• Mukoma wa Ngugi (Kenya) ‘How Kamau wa Mwangi Escaped into Exile’ from ‘Wasafiri’ No54, Summer 2008, London

Two other entries were highly commended: ‘Devils at the Door’ by Sierra Leone’s Brian James, and Ghanaian writer Nii Parkes’s ‘Socks Ball’.

I’ve yet to read any of the stories so have no guess who might win. Congratulations to the short listed writers and good luck! My story The Christmas Wedding was submitted this year but failed to make the cut. My only response to not making it in contests is – I’ll get in there next year- so watch out!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Keeping the Present in Today

This beautiful Sunday morning I've been catching up on a few blogs I've not had time to read. One is from the lovely, artistic Kayt, The Pedestrian Crossing. She wrote about discovering some objects she'd long forgotten and how they pulled her to remember the lovely journey she'd made to the present. And then she had these wise words for her readers: Today is the only today that I get and anything that helps me pay attention to it is nothing short of manna from heaven.

This is the only 17 May 2009 I will ever get. Do I want to spend it with uncertainties? Do I want to spend it with regrets? Do I want to worry about three months from now? About next year? How wasteful and disrespectful that would be. Today is a gift, a present. Why do we squander this present? So wasteful. Today, at least, I'm going to enjoy my present and try my best to do that from now on.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Poetry Jam Session at the White House

I know I'm an Obama devoutee BUT who can't love a president who holds a poetry jam session in the White House? I mean really guys. According to The Guardian Obama is a poetry lover and has been spotted with a copy of currently battered Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott's works in his pocket.

Now everyone- in the spirit of the first White House Poetry Jam Session how many words can you find to rhyme with Obama???

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

An Award? I'm Blushing......

I was awarded a Kreativ Blogger Award by the world champion of the short story, Tania Hershman. Thanks Tania!
Along with the award I must list the top seven things that I love. This is problematic as I love lots of things but I'll try my best.
1. My husband and the Giant Teenagers
2. Chelsea, Buster the African Sausage Dog, and The Catman
3. Sunshine, by the ocean best of all, but sunshine anywhere
4. Floating in a swimming pool watching clouds drift by and vultures circle high in the sky until my skin wrinkles up and I've forgotten what time it is
5. Walks in the bush
6. Lasagna ...and cheesecake, if the world was perfect and kilojoules didn't exist
7. New books
I think I'm greedy with things I love because I keep thinking of new things I need to add to this list. So I must stop....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Adaptation of a Writer

I read an excellent post by John McNally at Emerging Writers Network via Tania Hershman's blog about why anyone would want to write short stories. He makes many very interesting points, but one thing stuck out for me. He talked about excellent short story writers who stopped writing. They were everywhere and highly successful, at least from writers' points of view, and suddenly they were gone. He mourned their loss.

In my relatively short time of writing, just over six years now, I have slowly seen myself change. Against my nature, I have accepted the status quo, in some instances I no longer fight it. I no longer have hope that I might change things. I feel sad about this and I wonder if perhaps these short story writers who have disappeared with their talent decided that perhaps they didn't want to adapt, they would rather do nothing if they couldn't do things as they wanted.

Publishers in Botswana publish for the school market. When I got my first Detective Kate Gomolemo book published, the publisher assured me that they would market it to a mainstream market as even I knew it was not suitable for schools. They didn't do that.

So I moved on to publisher number two and explained what I wanted with the second book. Print it dirt cheap, sell it everywhere newspapers are sold, and build that book buying public in the country. They also reeled me in with all sorts of yes words and then did what they'd always done before- marketed it, primarily, to the schools.

There are four books in the series. All long written. But I'll write no more and I'll not see another one published. I suppose in this sense I'm a bit like those MIA short story writers- if I can't have my way I won't do it.

But too, now I accept if I'm going to write books in Botswana, I must write for the school market. That's it. There will be nothing else until everyone gets in the boat and starts rowing together. I'm sad about giving in to this but, at least for the time being, those are the rules of the game. Survival of the fittest -no sentimentality allowed, no dreams out of the box- the conditions of the environment will make all decisions- and that's quite sad.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Priority List of Sickness

We woke up Saturday morning sick as dogs- even the cat. My husband soon recovered and attempted to attend a meeting and instead crashed the windscreen of the car. The cat managed to leave his litter box, leaving only me to suffer alone.

One thing I thought of between trips to the toilet, even during them actually, was how sickness is very greedy. As soon as you are sick, nothing else matters. Sickness will be the star. And as usual when I'm sick , I kick myself in the ass thinking why oh why can't I be thankful when I'm healthy? We aren't are we? We mouth the words but we don't really understand it until we are sick and then it is too late as health is gone. I guess it is our ungrateful nature (I'd hate to think it is MY ungrateful nature- alone).

I do the same with the people I love. Yesterday was Mother's Day. Being that my appointments with the toilet were fixed and frequent, my husband's offer to take me to breakfast had to be declined. He did stay, as he had all weekend, and rushed to the shops (in the car with the un-crashed windscreen) for anything I thought my stomach might allow for more than a few minutes. In the end, that was a better Mother's Day present than any he might have bought.

With both of my children at boarding school, I didn't expect to hear from them but my son sent a short message around dinner time admitting he only just found out it was Mother's Day and apologised for being late. It's difficult to remember such holidays without the help of television, which they don't have at their school.

Then just before going to bed I got a message from my daughter that defined for me my role in this whole mothering gig; I've had only a very loose handle on it for these past 16 odd years. I grew up without a mother and the remaining adults around me would only be able to be defined as parents if you chose the strict legal definition. Basically I've been winging it.

The message started with my 16 year old daughter's take on the manipulative nature of such days. I smiled. So like her to accept nothing on face value and instead to find the real meaning behind it all. She went on to explain how she didn't need a day such as this one. And ended saying how I had done a good job- look what I made- HER. And that's it isn't it? Look what I made -Her. A wise, critical, strong, kind young woman. That's certianly something to be grateful for.

I wish only one thing as I sit here contemplating if eating an egg on this not quite yet settled stomach is a sensible thing to do. I wish that I could be happy and grateful for what I have when I have it and not have to have it taken away before I can see how important it is. If I could truly be grateful, in my heart, in my body. I wish my gratefulness could take over my body like my sickness did so that I wouldn't have an option to think of a single other thing, for that is the very, very least that it deserves.

Now for that egg....

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Alexander McCall Smith in Time

Last week's Sunday Standard repeated excerpts from Alexander McCall Smith's lovely interview in Time. There are so many people with so many opinions about Alexander McCall Smith. I think he's lovely. I think he's done wonderful things for Botswana and Batswana writers and other people in the arts. People complain that his books are too happy, that his settings and plots are simplistic and portray Batswana as simpletons. I don't know. Do Mr. Bean and Adrian Mole mean that all British people are silly, self-centred idiots? I don't think so. Fiction, people- isn't this why we all love it? We can make the world we want.

In the interview when McCall Smith is asked about this he says:

"Fiction is able to encompass books that are bleak and which dwell on the manifold and terrible problems of our times. But I don't think that all books need to have that particular focus. If you look at music, do we expect all composers to write dirges? The answer surely is no. There are many other emotions and moods which music can deal with or engage with. And similarly with art. With painting one would expect that there are some which are dark and gloomy and threatening and other paintings that are filed with light and optimism.

But when it comes to literature, there's this curious argument put forth by an extraordinary amount of people that fiction must always dwell on difficulties, and if you write about a situation without dealing with all the difficulties that are attendant on the particular time or place you're writing about, that you're somehow not doing your job as a writer. That seems to me to be an extraordinary argument. My Botswana books are positive, and I've never really sought to deny that. They are positive. They present a very positive picture of the country. And I think that that is perfectly defensible given that there is so much written about Africa which is entirely negative."

I never knew Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe, I only learned it in this article. It makes me think a bit about Bessie Head. South Africa claims her as their own since she was born there and we claim her as ours since she wrote here. I wonder why Zimbabwe never tries to claim McCall Smith, or perhaps I've just never heard about it.

I was astounded to also learn that he writes four to five books a year. I also write quickly and often wonder if I'm not giving my writing the attention is deserves since I hear of people who take years to write a single novel that I could finish in less than six months. McCall Smith's take on his speedy writing?

"I use an analogy of which I have no actual knowledge — namely tightrope walking. I have never walked on a tightrope, and indeed know nothing about it. But I imagine that tightrope walkers don't actually look down while they're doing their thing, they look ahead, which is the sort of approach I take. If you look at what my commitments are, I'm doing either four or five books a year, which is breaking all the rules of publishing. And If I stop to think, "Well my goodness me, what am I going to do," I would fall off the rope."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

James Patterson Style

Perhaps I've not been paying attention, but it appears that the manner in which James Patterson writes his novel is an open secret. Apparently he comes up with the synopsis, teaches a group of writers his style, and then these writers write the book. One of his writers has now gone off on his own and the story about Peter de Jonge , his new novel Shadows Still Remain and his time with Patterson is in The New York Times.

Apparently Patterson books that are co-written in this manner do have reference to the fact that other writers were involved. One could say that the name James Patterson is like Mills and Boon, for example. It is a style of writing. It's no longer about him as an author. I suppose from that perspective it seems okay. But I think for the most part the general book buying public sees a James Patterson book and thinks, "I like that author" and buys the book. In that sense it seems wrong.

What do you think?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Joys of Being a Writer??

Last week Helen Ginger put this link on her blog. Lynn Viehl has a book in the top 20 New York Times Best Seller List and this is her royalty statement. It was one of the most depressing things I've ever read.

I have a good writing friend, author of 13 books, who is of the opinion that writers are always at the bottom of the food chain. Every time you turn around there is another thing that the writer must do. Make a website and maintain it. Hire your own editor. Attend every possible type of book marketing event known to humanity. I am currently vicariously following Petina Gappah's meteoric rise to fame. It is giving me nightmares and cold sweats. She is enjoying it and I am so happy for her, but if I had to go to cocktail parties with Zade Smith and sit on panel discussions with Micheal Ondaatje I think I would stop writing. It sounds all nice-nice, but I know me, I've lived with me for 45 years, and if I had a choice between that and Chinese water torture- I know which I'd choose.

The point I'm trying to make is I want to be a writer (a writer writes- right?) . I am actually willing to do my share but that share should not keep changing. And, though I know my books right now don't make much money (maybe because you'd have to be James Bond to find one on sale-ANYWHERE- that is another issue) but I sort of hoped that in the future things would get better, but now I wonder if that is even what I want considering what that is likely to mean.