Friday, October 30, 2009

Interesting Book-y News

I am off today to collect the Boy Giant Teenager from boarding school/prison. It is apparently the boy's 16th birthday today. I've been operating from the fact that he's 13 and the sister is 15 but apparently time has passed- that of course has implications on me that I would not like to scratch at. In Botswana, unlike in America where I grew up, 16 is not such an important birthday since children here cannot get their driver's licences until they turn 18 , unless you are one of the Giant Teenagers who believe that President Khama upped the age to 21. Their mother told them she read it in the newspaper. It really does pay to keep up with those current affairs.

But that is not what this post is about -this post is about book news. If you recall a few days ago I wrote about not being very loyal to a particular publisher, it seems I'm not alone. John Le Carré has also recently swapped publishers. This interesting article in the Guardian speaks about the history of writers changing publishers and agents, sometimes under quite unfriendly terms.

And what about ebooks and the royalties for authors? I've mentioned before about fighting for higher royalty rates for ebooks. It looks like publishers, on the other hand are trying to squeeze the writer for no reason except that they can. Apparently in America the standard royalty rate for ebooks is 25%, Macmillan has sent out a new standard contract with ebook royalties at 20%. In this article from The New York Times, literary agent Richard Curtis feels that already 25% was too low and suggest taking into account the small set up costs authors should be making 50% of ebooks. Considering the slashing of the price, 50% seems fair.

Something to think about this weekend. I am off to the beautiful Tswapong Hills. Have a great weekend- I intend to!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why do they treat writers like this?

My writing friend sent me an article from the South African Sunday Times. It's an article in which they ask South African writer Michiel Heyns, author of the much acclaimed Bodies Politic, what he would be if he weren't a writer.

In the article, he certainly takes the magic out of this writing life we live. He talks about rushing to get to a reading where he find 15 people, 2 or 3 at best have read his novel he's there to discuss. He is thanked by the organiser, who also has not read the book, and is given R250 as compensation. He goes to lunch which costs R480 and drives home covering a distance in total of 147 km. There he finds an urgent request from the Sunday Times to write the very article I was sent and he's told there will be little time as the deadline looms and no compensation. In the end, he comes to the conclusion - " What I would be if I weren't a writer is somebody who got paid." My friend highlighted that bit since when she put it in the post I was being frantic about not being paid and she thought I'd find it very applicable. It arrived on the day a big sum of money arrived like magic in my account and all of my money worries disappeared (for now) ... but still. I think most of us can relate to Mr. Heyns' frustrations.

I wonder- do we allow people to treat us like this? Is this why people think they can waste our time having us speak to non-readers about our books knowing they'll not buy them? Why do we write for free? What if we put our collective foot down and said, "No more." Would things change? What do you think?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Courtesy that is the US Embassy in Gaborone

My daughter is hoping to travel to the United States next year to visit her aunt and cousins. A writing friend just recently went to Germany and nearly missed her flight because the visa was not ready. She ended up in a mad dash collecting the visa only minutes before the plane was to leave. I don't want that to happen so I thought I'd call the US Embassy in Gaborone to see what we need to do to get a visa and how much time we need to complete it all. Since I live 200 km away from Gaborone I thought phoning would be the best way to deal with the issue.

So I called the US Embassy. First, you get a robot who tells you a lot of things, none of which are applicable and insists that you must wait or press 0. I waited thinking the robot had a plan and would take me somewhere. Don't wait, you're not going anywhere. The robot lied. You don't actually have an option -you need to press 0. Perhaps robots didn't learn the definition of the word "option" in robot school. Or perhaps it's an in-house joke for bored Embassy staff, or a money raising exercise for Botswana Telecoms for as you wait in robot purgatory, the money is click-click clicking away on your phone bill. I did learn from the first robot that the US Embassy in Gaborone is a dandy place to work because you knock off at 1:30 on Fridays. Can't beat that, unless of course they cancelled Mondays too.

When you press 0 you get a human, but as soon as you mention visa you're sent straight back to robot land. There you will get an American voice (I struggled to decide if it was male or female) of a person who is slightly annoyed with you and all of your enquiries. S/he demands straight away that you must listen until the end of the tape. S/he also tells you that s/he is not going to entertain discussing visa appointments with you on the phone. Not now. Not ever. And "calling repeatedly will not change the situation". I don't believe that last bit. I'm sure there is a threshold at which if a person called the American Embassy the robot would give in. S/he would collapse under the pressure of the calls and have to discuss the issue with my visa appointment over the telephone. Like for example if I called every 30 minutes for eternity. I don't like blanket statements like that, made by humans or robots. If I had time I might just put that bossy robot to the test. But I don't.

Apparently they have "limited consular staff and can't attend to all enquiries", but they can knock off on a Friday at 1:30pm to beat the traffic and get out of the city for the weekend. Anyway, it's all about how you prioritise things.

The androgynous robot person then directed me to all sorts of websites, repeated very quickly so it was almost impossible for me to get the whole address, unless of course I was a robot too, which I'm not. I think s/he meant to do that. And then came the worst. In a very clipped and seriously "I'm done with you" tone the robot person said, "Thank you goodbye." One sentence. There wasn't even a comma. It was the kind of "thank you goodbye" that makes you feel like you should turn ass and run. S/he had no genuine gratefulness for my call, in fact s/he wished I hadn't phoned at all. The thank you reeked of insincerity. It was a sarcastic thank you. A Steve Martin kind of thank you. And the good bye could have been shut-up if words really expressed their intended meaning.

Needless to say I know nothing more about how to get a visa for my daughter and what's worse it seems there is no way to get the information. I looked around on websites and got lots of vague information about how strict it all was. All I wanted was a bit of human contact. I would have been happy with the normal belligerent Gaborone kind of help. Anything but that sexless robot person with an attitude.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Essence of Flash Fiction

I read an interesting interview with flash fiction writer David Gaffney over at Nik's blog.

There were some interesting points. Some I agreed with like:
"...making flash fiction stories is like cooking spinach; you fill a pan with enough leaves to feed an elephant then after a few minutes all you have left is a coating of thin green sludge on the bottom" And this: "Flash fiction don’t just cut to the chase, it cuts to the point of the chase..."

And some I very much disagreed with:
"...Maybe flash is a male thing like minimalism -there are no cushions or scented candles in flash fiction"
Male thing? No. no. no. Women also can be brief and to the point, sir. And I don't know if you met my 7th grade English teacher but he was a male and he couldn't find a brief point if it stabbed him in the eye.

Mr Gaffney has some very fun flash here. I particularly like the one about a windscreen that is set to the man's glasses prescription. That would be very handy, though of course a pain when you need a new prescription or want to sell the car.

I wrote a flash piece for the recently ended Chocolate contest over at Help I need a Publisher. I didn't win (Congrats to the winners!!) so in honour of Halloween, which in a former life was my favourite holiday ever- I mean costumes AND a bag full of sweets- I am posting my story below.It was supposed to 1) include chocolate and 2) be scary. I find children who kill, especially their parents, very scary. Possibly something I should have checked out....

The Etiquette of Chocolate
I awake thirsty and head to the kitchen. I pass Mama sitting; an empty box of chocolates on her lap.
But then I stop.
Something is wrong. Her head droops at an odd angle. Sticky steps forward and I see her bloody, sliced neck.
Are they still here?
Panicked, I back away-I must save my sister!
I turn back and she's standing in the hallway, her tiny face smeared with chocolate. “Oh Rebeca…. thank God!”
Light from the bare bulb flicks off something clutched in her small hand. Confused, I look at her, and then at the knife.
“She wouldn’t share.”

Monday, October 26, 2009

Let's make a Splash

Fiona Robyn is going to blog her next novel, Thaw, starting on the 1st of March next year. The novel follows 32 year old Ruth’s diary over three months as she decides whether or not to carry on living.

To help spread the word she’s organising a Blogsplash, where blogs will publish the first page of Ruth’s diary simultaneously (and a link to the blog).

She’s aiming to get 1000 blogs involved – if you’d be interested in joining in (Thoughts From Botswana is in!) email her at or find out more information here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Best in Blogland

Sorry folks not much to offer this week. I've been swamped with work and other miscellaneous headaches which has limited my time in blogland. But if you do nothing else please go and read this beautiful essay. I love the ending. Love, love it.

If you would like to read some beautiful South African poetry and look at some equally beautiful South African photography please check out the inaugural edition of Incwadi.

My Australian writing friend Selma is a fabulous storyteller. She sees magic and beauty everywhere. Here is a great one about the curse of the just dead Agnes Booth- a true story. Don't miss it.

Stuck for an interesting plot twist for your short story or novel- No Problem! Pick your genre - pick your twist ending. Just a click away.

And as my friend Porky would say....ttthhhhat's all folks!

Have a restful weekend, try not to work, and enjoy your loved ones and all of the blessings that surround you.
(that's written for you but also considering the monster of a week I had- it might be written a little bit more for me)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Power in Knowing How Things Work

I've been thinking about my vacuum cleaner. That doesn't mean I've been thinking about taking it out of the pantry and using it to cleaning up the cat fur. God no, not that. I've just been thinking about it. I've been thinking how easy it is to understand this vacuum cleaner. It is basically a bucket with a reusable filter that sits on top. The other part is the vacuum that pulls the dirt in. When I want to empty it, I unhook the bucket. Everything I vacuumed up is in there. There is no magical disappearance. I empty the bucket, wash the filter off ,and put it all back together. It's easy to understand and that's comforting for me.

This is not like the vacuum cleaners of my youth. They were scary, mysterious machines. They were metal and noisy and very sucky ( as in having a lot of sucking power). They had bags you put in and once something got sucked into that machine and eventually into that bag- it was gone forever. Forever. And it could seriously suck things. I would panic when it accidentally sucked up the drapes envisioning the whole house slowly being sucked into the metal stomach of the thing never to be seen again. You couldn't just open it and find what you were looking for like my current vacuum cleaner. Sucked things were gone. Those vacuums were not easy to understand.

One thing I liked a lot when I moved to Botswana was the way everything was closer to me and, because of that, much easier to understand. If you wanted meat, a goat or cow was killed, you cut off a piece of meat and cooked it. Easy, understandable. In America meat was a scary complex thing- how it got to the shop was mysterious. Special people had to go to school to cut the meat. You couldn't just kill a goat in your backyard and cut it up. It would go all wrong. You needed a specialist.

The same for building houses. In America you need to be a BUILDER. ( yes with capital letters). You couldn't just be a person who decided to build a house. In America, building a house was not easily understood. There was a lot of wood and various layers and certain stuff had to be stuck between the two layers and that sticking stuff was dangerous just by itself. Another whole group of specially trained people had to show up just for the roof. It was all kept very mysterious, the secrets held by the chosen few.

When I arrived in Botswana I was shocked to see people not only building their own houses but even making the bricks themselves. It was all very simple suddenly. You mixed sand and cement and some water and you got to it. I felt relieved somehow being let in on all of these things I grew up to know were very complicated and unable for the layman to understand. I think now, if push came to shove, I could actually build my own house. It would not be pretty, but it would fulfill the definition of "house". That's a pretty powerful thought.

Even things like gas became understandable. Gas wasn't some dangerous chemical moving through pipes underground originating from places unknown. Gas came in a bottle that you went and bought and threw in the car and then attached it by a hose to your stove.

There are many reasons why I decided Botswana might be a good place to make a home and the simplification of these complex things was not a small part of that decision. I like knowing how things work so that I can make a plan if I get in a bind. If you're left out of the information and everything is for experts, you lose power, you're dependent on the people who understand. It's nice knowing how things work. At the very least, if you suck up a kitten you can always find it again in the bucket.

Loyalty to One Publisher or Not?

Like I've mentioned before, here in Botswana and maybe even the whole of Africa, we writers don't work with agents. When I'm done with a book, I submit to a publisher. Of course if I want a publisher overseas I have to follow the agent route, but for now I don't see any reason to do that.
After my first book, I got a publisher that I was very loyal to. We've built up a good relationship and I still do a lot of writing for them, but that publisher has limitations. And too, there was a time when things got a bit rocky financially and I got a fright since all of my eggs were literally in one basket.

After that, I decided I would diversify. I would send every book (this so far has applied only to fiction) to a different publisher. I would look at what was best for that particular title. I've made mistakes in the past because of loyalty, so I didn't want that to happen again. As of now I have books either published, on their way to being published, or sitting at "yes we want this but we need a bit of time "-at six publishers.

I'm by nature quite loyal, but I realised after owning a business for ten years, not everyone respects that loyalty. Writing is a business. Yes, I will maintain my integrity but I need to make a living from my books. For the time being I think working with a few different publishers is working well for me. At the very least, I'm learning the ins and outs of this industry from many angles and that has got to be a good thing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Botswana Elections

So we voted on Friday. I went at lunch time and I was all alone, no queue. It was very hot so I think most people went in the morning. Everything was calm. The coverage on BTV was very good. My husband and I joked how whenever they showed the police at the polling stations they were sitting slouched in chairs, or reading SMSs in their cellphones or talking with other poll workers. So unlike the police the international media always show us at African polling stations. Those ones always look so scary with their machine guns pacing back and forth with angry faces. If it is true that most of the police are like that then maybe that's why voting is so problematic. Elections went smoothly and once again I'm reminded of how lucky I am to live in this country.

As for results, I'm a bit sad that BCP didn't pick up more Parliamentary seats (they only won four) but in many constituencies the margin was slim with BCP biting on the heels of BDP. In Mahalapye West, my area, Madiba Ward council seat went to BCP, this is unheard of in the Central District, especially in Mahalapye. There are other wins for the opposition with Mosolotsane going to a member of "mekoko" a former BNF member and Shoshong North and Mmutlane going to BNF. My husband's home village is a tiny little, used to be turn-off on the way to Maun until they changed the road. It's called Xhumo. This little village in Boteti also voted a BCP councillor into office. The comfortable bed BDP thought they had in the rural areas, especially in the Central District, has developed bumps in a few places. The odd thing is that in Gaborone where people were talking around every corner, BDP won all of the parliament seats save one. That was a disappointment. What's up with those city folks?

In the end the opposition got 11 seats in Parliament with one going to an independent a former BNF member Nehemiah Modubule in Lobatse. That's 12 opposition seats out of the 57 available. Not so great, but it's not the whole story as I've mentioned.

BDP is glossing it as a fantastic victory but everyone saw the numbers- BTV kept us completely informed and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has posted the results here. Five more years and the end of the BDP hegemony may well be over. That is if the opposition doesn't shoot itself in the foot which they are prone to do.

My wish list- Moupo leaves BNF and BCP and BNF join and put up a real fight. If they would have been together this time they would have garnered close to 43% of the votes.
Doubt it's going to happen though...but I can still wish.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Introducing Catman's Kids

Today we get to meet Catman's kittens!

These photos were taken on Sunday and their eyes were not yet open. Below see all four kittens. I tried to put them in order of size but they are very unruly. The calico is the smallest and in many ways the stupidest. She is frantic to find a nipple to latch onto, but useless with navigation. There is an all grey one, a grey and white one, an orange tabby with white and the calico. Do not ask me which is male and which is female- that's how we got into this situation. I do know the calico is a female, since genetics dictate.

Below is Catman in typical ambivalent mother mode. The soundtrack for this photo is-

"Miaow, miaoooow, mm.., miiiaaaaooow, miaow, mmmiiiaaaooowwww!" In English I think that means- "Hey- milk machine get over here!"

This is a close-up of the grey one with white. The only photo I have where one of them stayed still and faced the camera at the same time.

Three kittens being contrary and looking away from the camera. I fear they've taken their mother's personality. (The grey one is quite darker- darker than Catman, he's the biggest too. )

....and The Catman herself. What is she saying?
"When will this be over?" -in her typical ambiguous way. Did she mean the photo shoot? The parenting gig? One never knows with Catman.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Best on the Net this Week

I'm falling in love with Ted Wilson at the Rumpus. This week he reviewed the Rockville Public Library. He has a feud going with Margaret the librarian over his refusal to recognise the Dewey Decimal System. Very funny.

I watched another interesting video on TED. Chris Abani, Nigerian author and poet, speaks about how small ( and sometimes large ) acts of kindness are what really define our humanity. There's a lovely bit at the end when he speaks about the Igbo and how they create their own gods but when those gods become too demanding and selfish they destroy them. He suggests its time we all do that. This video is full of stories, they will resonate wiht me for a long time.

If you have interest in the financial side of if a publisher decides to go with your book or not ( and you should if you want to be published) check out the fantastic series going on at Pimp my Novel where he's explaining the profit and loss accounting when it comes to acquisitions. Very interesting.

And the last one comes from my friend Colleen Higgs via TheOtherColleen. Go through the whole blog- it's hilarious! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe's Funeral

When I was a child I loved Edgar Allan Poe. One of my favourite stories was The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether. I've always been a sucker for a twist ending and that one has a doozey. Stories like The Black Cat and The Tell Tale Heart must have taken up residency in me as I find myself wanting to write the gruesome tale more and more. Poe was a fabulous writer and now is often described as the father of the thriller and detective tale, but like many writers he died penniless. He had a difficult life often so poor he could not afford heat or food.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth and in Baltimore, his birth place and mine, they held a funeral for him. His original funeral lasted only three minutes and was attended by just a few people. This time around they had to hold two funerals to cater for all of the people who wanted to attend.

I suppose it is a tribute and that's a good thing, but perhaps the better tribute is to not allow equally talented writers of today suffer a similar fate. It is not written in stone that poverty and writing must go hand in hand - is it?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Discovered Again

Discovered Again

I remember the beginning and I remember the end- but the middle is all muddled, a glass smudged with greasy finger marks frustrating me from seeing anything clearly. Did we ever go on a holiday together? Were we happy? Did we rage against each other? Did we lay like lovers do for hours drawing dream futures in our minds? Or did we know everything was finite with borders defined by how fucked up we were?

The Beginning
I had blond hair when we met. You were drunk and kept mentioning my eyes. Now you say I was wonderful. Was I? I don't remember it that way. The second time we met my hair was black. I'd been searching for someone else that blond night, but there you were and I always welcomed relief- chemical; physical- I didn't mind.

You've mentioned things I can't remember and I wonder what your pictures look like. If you let me see, maybe I'll know me a bit better. You wrote of coffee and a blue bean crusher pushes to the front. I can't quite get its meaning. I see it but nothing else. I know I loved you once, though.

I know it.

You're on my list when I make a tally.

I remember you said it was over and the words sliced bloody pieces from my insides; they echoed on and on and I couldn't get away from them so I ran as far as I could. I still dripped blood on the hot sand of my new home for a few days after arriving. I ran hoping distance would fix me and against sense it did in a way, at least it patched the worst bits. Distance stopped my body from aching for you- futile so far away- and time eventually stopped the tears too.

But I loved you -didn't I?

The End
We cried at the airport that day one of my lives, the third one, ended and a new one began. You cried and I fumed because for a week I waited in that dying city on the Lake hoping you'd say "Never mind, I didn't mean it", that you'd say "Don't go- stay" -but you didn't.

So we cried at the airport.
Too late- but oh so safe.

And Now
You are sorted out. And now you are sane. And I don't know you, you say. I would not recognise you in your new dress in hues of sensible sanity, you tell me. You have many plans and passions. You're a different person than the one I knew. You tell me.

I'm not any saner. I'll say it first to avoid awkwardness. And you'll know me in a crowd. You'll smell the familiar about me, even through the long distance connections under oceans and through the packed heavy ground of continents. Looking at each other through computer screens. You'll know me.
Despite cursory inventories, I've not travelled very far in my head.
It is only that I've found comfort in my instability. I imagine your strict instructions would find that unacceptable. Not the right way to live for responsible adults.

And I've lied.

I knew where you were all along, only I wasn't sure if I wanted to discover you again.

I'm still not- but I did and here we are.

I guess finding the end of stories is part of my job description now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Catman and New Motherhood

On Sunday in the afternoon, Sgt. Viola Catman gave birth to five kittens, one unfortunately was dead at birth, but the others have survived. This is Catman who came to this home as a male, did a quick sex shift, and before reaching the age of one year ( she is only eight months as I write this) has become a mother. I shake my head in shame. It's my fault, of course. She was scheduled for sterilisation but I postponed the appointment because of lack of money and thinking she was too young to get pregnant anyway. She wasn't.

I watch her today, her first full day as a mother, and I can't help but empathise. Like me, Catman became a mother much to her surprise. I was not a girl who dreamed of babies in my arms. Even once married, neither my husband nor I spoke about children and yet suddenly there they were. Parenthood seems so important and so easily buggered, they should make the entry requirements a bit stricter. You should have to do all sorts of complicated things that go on for months with even the slightest deviation resulting in failure. Some of us just shouldn't be allowed-in that group should likely have been both Catman and me.

I've moved the kittens to a cubbyhole in the computer stand so that I can keep an eye on things. Catman forgets and gets up and walks away with kittens still on board and she drops them- one by one- as she makes her way out the door leading to freedom. I collect the screaming blind worms and put them back in their cubbyhole. We're like a kitten tag team.

When Catman comes back she doesn't rush to her kittens, instead she sits outside the cubbyhole and watches them. They cry for her and she watches; sometimes through thin mean-guy eyes, sometimes through wide surprised ones. She's not ready to be bullied by these less than day old cats. Where did they even come from? Who do they think they are? She will go to them when she pleases and leave when she likes.

That is something about motherhood that gave me a terrible fright too- the servitude. I didn't cope well with it either so I don't judge Catman. I did the mother thing. My kids have grown- still alive and in one piece- well, two pieces actually. I hope my ineptitude has not harmed them too much. I just couldn't be one of those women who gave herself to her children completely, lost in the definition of motherhood. I loved them, but I had to love them my way, not the prescribed, textbook motherhood way. I know I made the right decision because if I had taken the prescribed way I know sanity was not going to tag along with me.

Motherhood is coming hard to Catman, but it has brought us closer together. I feel we share something across species lines. They try to convince us humans that motherhood is instinctive too. It's a lie for humans and, I see now, a lie for cats too. Catman and I know.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Barrack Obama Wins Noble Peace Prize

God I just don't get the haters on this one. We lived through the wild, irresponsible, greed-powered, killing years of George Bush and Dick Cheney and we shivered wondering if the world would survive. On the day Barrack Obama was elected president of America I felt like we'd got to the other side of a mine field. I wept with joy that we were alive. But I'm not a fool. I never for an instant expected he had a magic wand and he would fling it through the air like Harry Potter and the world would be all lollipops and rainbows. Bush created a mess. Obama has to clean it up.

I'm shocked by the reaction of some people to the Nobel Prize Committee's decision. They think Obama has done nothing to deserve this honour. I ask - are you blind?

A good example is his handling of the economic crisis. When the American economy went into meltdown after eight years plus of unrestrained greed, he was only days in office when he calmly showed what he was going to do about it. The jittery world took their lead from him. One wonders who else - which other world leader days in office would have handled things so calmly and rationally? He reached out to other world leaders and did not dictate how they could stop the destruction- he engaged with them. He listened and he offered. They conversed as equals. Where does peace begin if not there?

Then we get the personification of publicity hound- Michael Moore, putting in his two cents. Congratulations -now do something to deserve it? WTF! Sorry I get emotional on this one. Yeah great idea let President Obama pull all US troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan today. Good idea Mike. And what will happen then. Obama has made a commitment to end these wars- but he is not reckless. He is not George Bush. He will engage and negotiate and listen - to all sides- including the generals on the ground who know the risks.

President Obama unlike any US president that has gone before him realises that we really do live in ONE WORLD. What happens in my country today WILL affect what happens in yours tomorrow. He is a true world citizen. Closing the borders and closing your eyes does not stop the bad guys from finding you- if nothing else 9-11 taught everyone that. Engage, listen, proceed with respect and calmness. Is this not the road to peace? Is this not Barrack Obama's way?

Here is Obama's reaction to winning the Nobel Peace Prize. He sees it as a call to action and I'm hopeful for what that means.

I congratulate you Mr. President. I know that your time as the leader of the United States is only a stepping stone to greater things. I wait with a heart filled of hope to see what your future holds.

Friday, October 9, 2009

My Favourites on the Internet this Week

Please- I beg of all of you- view this video. Author and Orange Prize winner, Chimamanda Ngozi Adchie talks about the danger of a single story. Fantastic , wonderful. Most important.

Writing a good short story is tricky business. It is not something most can do. One of the best things I read in blogs this week was this post at The Short Review by Chris Fowler the author of eleven short story collections. In it he discusses what he thinks makes up a good short story and I think he is spot on. Let it be a story proper, let it have a plot, let it be readable. Worth your time to read it if you are a short story writer or a short story lover.

I'm not a poet, or let me say that properly, I am a poet but quite a bad one, but I do love poetry and I love it most when it is read to me by the writer himself (or herself). I wish all poets would read their poems to me. My blogging friend poet, Robert W. Kimsey has done just that on his blog and I think all poets should do it. He has recorded himself reading his poem and it's lovely. I wish all of the poets I know in the internet would do that (...are you listening Sue? are you listening Maxine? are you listening Colleen and all her poet-y friends?)

And last but not least......If you have a cat you have got to go here. Very funny indeed.

Things to think and laugh about. Have a great weekend my dears!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Botswana's Elections

Next week Friday, 16th October, will be the national elections in Botswana. It's hard to predict what will happen. Never before has there been so much politically happening in the country. President Ian Khama is nothing if he is not controversial. I sway from one side to the other- first I think he's the best thing that has ever happened to Botswana and then I am thinking we are doomed- I spend the rest of my time shifting between those positions.

He has created a huge chasm in his own party. Recently Gomolemo Motswaledi took the President to court for suspending him from the party (the BDP). The suspension meant that he would no longer be able to contest his Gaborone Parliamentary seat. He lost at court since the Constitution of Botswana states very clearly that the President cannot be sued. It was a futile effort on the younger man's part and it backfired terribly. Not only did he lose the case- not once but twice, but he lost the wind in his sails along the way. The public were behind him- at first. But as he beat the already dead horse, we lost interest as Batswana usually do.

Batswana forget things. We get excited and talk and talk and talk and do nothing. And over a very short period of time we forget. Who even mentions Kalafatis now? Were his murderers sentenced? No. Did the case take place? No. Was there ever an investigation into the allegations that members of the BDF and members of DIS were handed over to a rich private citizen, a friend to the President, for his own personal manhunt? No. And it will all slip away and be forgotten.

Or will it?

We'll know after the elections if Batswana were moved by these events- enough to make a statement at the ballot box. Do I think the ruling party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) will be pushed from power? No, I don't. There are just too many people who don't understand how a true democracy works. They still operate from the position of the president being the kgosi- the chief who has their best interests at heart. The one you respect no matter what. The one you don't question. They don't view the Parliament and the President as people accountable to them, personally, which a representative democracy is all about. And, too, our opposition parties are not strong enough.

So yes, the BDP will remain in power. The critical question will be by what margin. If they sweep in with an overwhelming mandate, then we should know the message that we are giving them. We are saying "You're doing the right thing. Continue." We should know that what happens after that we, personally, are responsible for. We should not cry for help from outside. We will have made our bed, and we should sleep in it.

If instead the BDP slips through with a thin margin, then they will have been told. They will hopefully realise that Batswana do not want wild decisions and proclamations made without forethought. We do not want to be spied on. We do not want DIS agents moving around the country without impunity attacking and killing citizens. They will understand that Batswana want change. We want the Constitution changed so that the President is not given carte blanche to do as he likes immune from prosecution. A strong opposition in Parliament will send a message that Batswana are paying attention and we do understand the concept of democracy and that we will not sit by and watch our country fall apart.

Crossing fingers come next Friday we do the right thing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Gardens Can Make You Happy

I've had a bit of a tough few days. After having my son and husband around for the whole of last week, they both left on Sunday leaving me alone. Then my Facebook stopped working and on Monday my TV followed suit. I felt like the whole world had ran away and I was all alone. I'm not someone who feels lonely and suddenly there I was on Monday in tears. But now it is Tuesday evening and I'm back to normal though nothing has changed really. The TV and Facebook are still out, but I spent some time this evening walking around my garden taking pictures and everything looked so lovely that my funk just disappeared and I was back to normal. Since it made me so happy, I thought I might share my garden with you too.

I noticed yesterday that a masked weaver has decided to build his nests in a tree in our back yard. Yesterday a female came and he had just started his second nest. I'm not sure what she said but she seem very excited about it and now today he's abandoned his first nest altogether and is concentrating on the second one. His new home is in perfect view of my pool, so every afternoon after my prerequisite 150 strokes I float and watch him build away. It's very nice.

Below to the left is the only pomegranate we will get from our tree this year. It was loaded with blossoms but this is the only fruit that developed. It was neglected by our tenants and I was happy just to see it blossom as I thought it was dead. I expect next year it will be back to its former self and loaded with fruit.

Below to the right is my jacaranda tree in the front yard in full bloom. We had fantastic winds on the weekend and on Sunday my whole front yard looked as if a parade passed throwing purple confetti. It was lovely.

This is a planter at the front of our house made from a truck tyre. The pansies and begonias are doing lovely.

And these are my baby marrows planted about a month ago. They've grown like mad. In the middle I already have some fruit. I suspect that October won't finish without me eating baby marrows from my garden. Yeah! Eat that Spar -trying to sell me a mouldy old pack for P19.95!

I hope my garden cheered you as it did me!

Are Vooks going to be Victorious?

With the advent of ebooks, it was only a matter of time before people started fiddling with them. Now the new excitement is about Vooks- video books. You download the ebook into your reader and every few pages a video comes along. Sort of like television breaks to show you what's happening in the book. For me it sort of defeats the purpose of books- to allow me to create the images in my mind.

Publishers are getting excited but literary agent Richard Curtis seems to agree with me.

Any reader who has been lost in a book would not dream of breaking the spell by clicking, searching, supplementing, accessing, googling, listening or viewing. Hell, any reader who has been lost in a book does not even want to break the spell by breathing

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Disposable Society

I had a friend who was a bit younger than me. She grew up in a wealthy Indian family in Durban and married into one of the most wealthy Indian families in Botswana. One day she was in a panic. Their car was very near to 100,000 kms and her husband was not making moves to replace it. I didn't know what she meant. She explained that cars stopped working after 100,000 km. I told her that they didn't but she refused to believe it. I told her the car I was driving was already close to 300,000 and my husband's 4 x 4 was well over 400,000 km and both worked just fine. She was shocked. She called her husband from the nearby factory they owned and he had to come to the office so I could repeat what I had said. They were amazed.

I am not a fan of getting rid of large expensive things I've purchased with hard earned money. I feel like they should be repaired not thrown away. I have almost every computer I've ever owned, except the broken one the thief stole and the one I sold with my business. I don't change cellphones. I don't believe in buying new curtains or lounge suites. My husband and I sleep on the same bed we bought shortly after we got married. My husband is much like me. Our stove currently has no oven racks since the Tenants From Hell stole them. In this case, as I love to bake and it is impossible to find replacement oven racks, I've wanted to buy a new stove. When I mentioned it to my husband that we should maybe buy a new stove my daughter was here and they both laughed at me as if I'd lost my mind. We would get the welder to make racks for the oven. The stove only cost P700 when we bought it, but nevertheless there was no reason to lose our heads. They were good to remind me of that.

I don't like the way everything is disposable nowadays. Just throw it away get a new one. It doesn't seem right. Why struggle with getting to know all of those new things? And where will the old ones go?

I feel the same about writing. I don't throw away anything. When I cut away lines from stories where they are not needed but I like them and I think they might have a use some day, I save them in a file. If I start a story and it can't seem to go anywhere after the first line, or first page, I save it in a file. I have half finished novels I never think of as failures, I think of them as waiting, waiting to grow legs so I can walk them to their end. I'd never think of throwing them away. Why? I put a lot of thought into them, I'm used to them, I know somehow they still have a use.

I'm not a clutterer, though, I don't keep little bits of things with no use- no- those MUST go. I save useful things and fix them, to get them up and moving again. I'm just not a fan of the waste of this modern disposable way of life.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Good News X 4

In the last three weeks I've had loads of wonderful things happening. The first I can't mention until next year, but it involves a contest that is very important to me and things are going very much my way. That's all I have been allowed to say. Top secret stuff this. But I can say it is a huge, big deal for me!

The second was an acceptance from Heartlines for my children's story The Witch on the Hill which will be used in their next collection. The story is about an old woman who lives alone so everyone believes that she is a witch, a common sort of belief here and quite sad. By accident a little girl discovers all of the rumours to be wrong and goes about trying to set things straight. The acceptance alone is a big honour but it comes with a big fat cheque of R10,000 for one story. I think that's about $1000 (US). And the story is short- 1000 words. That is good money this side of the world.

The third exciting thing is I have sent my short story manuscript off to Modjaji Books in South Africa. I knew Colleen Higgs, the owner of the publishing house, was looking for an editor to work on the collection with me and immediately I had a wish that it would be Colleen Crawford-Cousins who I met at this year's Cape Town Book Fair and fell in love with straight away -and my wish came true! She will be my editor! I was overjoyed. I know she'll pick my best stories in the bunch and help me polish them up to a beautiful shine. This will be the first book of mine that will be available also as an ebook so my friends in other place will be able to buy it. I don't know anything about the timeline for this project yet. Modjadji is a small publisher that publishes writing from women in Southern Africa. They have had fantastic success with their first novel Whiplash being shortlisted for the prestigious Sunday Times Prize and their first poetry collection winning the Ingrid Jonker Prize.

The last big news happened last Thursday. Regular readers of this blog might remember my whole big mix-up with my first steps into romance writing. After that, out of the blue I got an email from Kwela, quite a big publisher in South Africa, inviting me to submit a romance novella to their new imprint Sapphire Press. I thought that was quite handy since I had a half written romance novella on my hands. So I quickly finished it and sent it off.

On Thursday I got an email from them saying that they don't have the reader's report yet, but three staff members read the book and "loved" it and they"definitely want to publish it" and "we all agree that you have a natural storytelling talent" (!!!). How's that?

This writing job is so unlike any other profession. You have weeks of desperation when you convince yourself you are crap personified and a poser and why don't you just hang it all up and get a "REAL" job, and then you have wonderful things like this happen and you reconsider, and you think about all of the ways that writing fulfills you, and you are content. It's a manic depressive life, and funny enough, that might be the very reason I love it so much.

Friday, October 2, 2009

My 3 Favourite Posts this Week

This week has been a holiday week of a sorts for me. We had Independence Day in the middle of the week, my husband was home from University and my son home from boarding school so I read less on the internet than I normally do. Still there was plenty happening.

My first blog post I'd like to direct you to is at Jude Dibia's blog. For those who don't know him, Jude is an awarding winning Nigerian writer. He asks in his post- "Does African Writing Take itself Way Too Seriously All of the Time?" This is an important question and an important debate. Someone in the comments mentions who are African writers writing for? That's another question that needs much discussion. I've mentioned here before that a reading culture in Botswana and in many other African countries is not strong. Could it be that we African writers are to be blamed? Are we writing to the wrong audience? Even if you are not an African writer I think your input is important.

Where writers write is always an interesting topic. This week Elizabeth Bradley wrote an interesting post about that. Great photos of writers' rooms are posted too. I love the quotes especially this one from Ernest Hemingway- It is none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.

Elsa Neal an Australian writer has been doing a fantastic series over at Blood Red Pencil. The first post was Building an Online Platform. Then Using Web 2.0 Content Sites to Expand Your Platform and finally Writing Your Online Platform. I'll admit I was one of the people who was very sceptical about this platform business when it came to fiction writers. Yes, for nonfiction writers I see it's point, but for fiction writers I wasn't so sure. Elsa explains things so clearly that suddenly I see the urgency of doing this correctly. I am seriously techno-challenged but I have already started building a website for my book, The Fatal Payout. It has been chosen as a prescribed book for junior secondary schools in Botswana and I thought I'd put some fun activities on the website for students to do around the book. I've chosen a free website place. I haven't gone too far yet but here's the start.

Hope you enjoy stopping by the links and have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Things You Can Negotiate

If you manage to get through the wall and your manuscript gets chosen by a publisher you will now be presented with a contract. The first and most important thing to keep in mind is that EVERYTHING on the contract is negotiable. Do not hand over your power. You are an equal partner with the publisher.

Publishers like to pretend as if contracts are written in stone handed down from on high. This is not the case. At any point if they don't want to budge and you are sure that point is important to you as a writer, remember you can walk away. Until the contract is signed by all parties either one can walk away.

Here are some points to remember when going through your contract:

1. Read and understand everything. You don't need a lawyer unless you feel insecure. Read and get clarification from the publisher, preferably in writing, about things that you don't understand. Sign nothing until you understand everything.

2. Always push for a higher royalty rate. Perhaps on a first book you might be cautious in this regard, but after that always ask for a higher royalty rate. You might not get it and then it will be up to you if you give the deal a pass. But always ask. Occasionally they will up it and that is always a good thing.

3. Check what rights they are taking. Be very clear on this. I have made mistakes in the past. I have books published in Botswana by publishers without capacity to take them beyond the borders and yet they hold world rights. Big mistake on my part. I should have insisted that they have rights only in Botswana no further. In this way I can sell the book to another publisher with a wider net. Now the only way other publishers can get the right to publish my books outside Botswana is to negotiate with the Botswana publishers. I'm not a fan of not having control so this doesn't work well for me. It may for you, I don't know, but whatever the case, be very clear what rights you are selling.

With short story collections, I am always careful to sell rights of that particular collection but NOT rights to the individual stories. Some publishers bulk at that. I have walked away from a deal because the publisher was not willing to accept that. If they want rights to each story then I would say some very big ( I mean big- like P10,000 per story) advance should come your way that is not deducted from royalties.

4. Be careful of all electronic rights. Try to get as much as you can cancelled from the contract. We as writers don't know what the future holds. Let the electronic rights have their own contract. Ebooks are sold for much less because print costs have disappeared. If the publisher is still paying you the standard 10% you will be making peanuts and yet the profit margin for the publisher has sky rocketed.

Despite what people may tell you, writers can read contracts. They can also negotiate better contracts for themselves. The most important thing is to understand everything and fight for the best deal for yourself. Though you might be thankful that the publisher is giving your book a chance, keep in mind that this is a business and the publisher is entering the negotiations with his or her interests in mind, if you don't keep your interests at the forefront of everything that you do- who will?