Friday, April 30, 2010

Bontekanye Botumile Interviewed

For the past two weeks I've been covering self publishing in my column, It's All Write, in The Voice newspaper. Today's issue features our best selling children's author Bontekanye Botumile. She speaks about the process of self publishing her books in Botswana.

Here's the link to this week's column. Last week's column on who should consider self publishing can be found here.

Don't forget to join the It's All Write Facebook page here.

Next time we meet here I'll be writing from Egypt. I leave Sunday. Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

And the Winner is...

The winner of a signed copy of Kwaito Love is Miriam!!!
Miriam please send me your postal details to so I can get the book off to you.
Everyone- thanks for entering!!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

When Life is Full of Busy-ness and Nothing Seems to Get Done

Busy, busy, busy but not much forward movement. April started yesterday and I've been informed today is the 27th (!?!). I have done very little writing and that always makes me feel nervous, but I'm trying to tell myself I'm off to Egypt on Sunday and I will have a solid month of no interruptions.

My brain this month is jumping all over- let's follow some of its most recent stops:

**I've been reading I Know this Much is True by Wally Lamb. It's a huge book and I usually veer away from such whoppers. I tend to think the writer is being over indulgent to creep up to those heavy page numbers. In this case, I was wrong. I had expected Mr. Lamb to accompany me to Egypt, but we'll soon be finished with each other. Loving this book, hoping the ending does not disappoint.

**Last night I watched a documentary about the Bloods and the Crips, the notorious gangs of Los Angeles . Two facts I found shocking: 1) Children in South Central LA suffer more post-traumatic stress syndrome than children in Baghdad, and 2) 15,000 people have died because of this war and yet the silence is deafening. It's as if the people of that state want to just wait until all of the black men kill each other. It's a sort of passive genocide. Where are the peace keepers? Why is the United Nations not called in to help these people?

**Just finished reading this by literary agent Rachelle Gardner. I thought it was slightly disingenuous to say publishing does not partake in market research. They research their market in a backward manner. They put out a book, for example a vampire book. It takes hold and then they look all over for lookalike vampire books (ignoring all else) to put out a pile of them until the readers stop buying, and then they stop and wait until another fad catches on. Of course writers and publishers like to pretend they are above the fray by saying things such as-

There are integrity issues with publishing that may not apply to other businesses. Market research implies the author/publisher would change the product to suit the whims of the consumer, something that goes against the grain of writers and publishers.

This is a bit humorous considering some recent publishing faux pas like the white woman on the cover of a book about a black character because people apparently won't buy books with black people on the cover. Is that not tailoring a product for the market? Perhaps I'm not understanding the issue.

** Today my main concern was Senor Ramon's sterilisation operation. It is over and everyone is fine. Here's a recent photo of Senor Ramon (top) and his mother, Sergeant Catman.

As you can see my mind is all over- which is fine for now.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Win a FREE, Signed Copy of Kwaito Love!!

I just got my copies of Kwaito Love, my new romance novella published by Sapphire Press a new imprint of Kwela Books. I think they are beautiful and in celebration I am giving away a free copy of Kwaito Love. Just leave a comment below stating that you'd like your name to go into the hat. I'll leave the draw open until Wednesday the 28th April then I'll pick a name and let everyone know. So - Good Luck!!

Kwaito Love is going to be sold through the True Love Romance Club in True Love Magazine in conjunction with Leisure Books in South Africa. Get next month's copy of True Love Magazine for all of the details. If you are a lover of romance this is the club for you!

My second book for this imprint,provisionally called He Can't Be the One, is set to come out in August.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Race and Writing

A warning- this column intends to step on people's toes, so please raise your feet.

I am a white woman with a black name. The rough draft of me was finished in America, while the final edits are being done in Botswana. I often find myself in situations I call "the lekgoa moment", it is that blank stare or awkward pause when the person I am meeting is trying to reconstruct their idea of me with the reality before them. I try to tell myself that it is their problem not mine, this usually works. I try to maintain that point of view in my writing too. Still it is hurtful when a person loves me to death as the black writer, and then meets me and suddenly has no more time for who I really am. It's happened numerous times and always with South Africans or people in the publishing industry who want to "uplift African writers". I tell myself it is their issue, but it's difficult. I suppose the same happens for black writers with white names- maybe. It's crap- racist, sucky crap, from any direction it comes.

I write. I write what comes to me, what my head creates. This last week my first romance novella came out, Kwaito Love. It is about an up and coming fashion designer in Johannesburg, Mpho, who falls in love with a famous record producer, Thabang. Kwaito Love is one of two books launching Sapphire Press, an imprint of Kwela Books, it's an imprint targeted at a black, urban, female audience. My second book for this publisher was recently accepted as well.

When it was announced that the book was out, I got a comment from a South African that my book was accepted only because of my surname; the publisher assumed I was black. Apparently in the world that is South African publishing only black people can write about black people. I knew this to be at least partly wrong since with my second acceptance everyone knew I was white, but it still gave me an ugly, sick feeling in my stomach. What would have been worse would have been if in fact I was black and someone told me the same thing. That kind of upliftment I would think is nothing more than a serious slap-down and an insult to the writer's ability. I took it in the same way.

Last week was the premiere for Morwalela, a television series with only black characters, in which I was one of the scriptwriters. People have been congratulating me on the series, and not one Motswana has mentioned anything about the fact that I am white and am writing about black characters. Not one.

My book ,The Fatal Payout, currently a prescribed book for junior secondary schools in Botswana, is about a black woman detective who solves a crime and goes on to start a relationship with a black male engineer. No one has said a word. Everyone knows I'm a white woman, but it seems they accept that I can write about men and people who are black.

Recently there was a long, arduous and infuriating discussion on UK writer Vanessa Gebbie's blog about writing about "the other". I did not get it at the time, but I think I'm starting to understand. I think perhaps the point is otherness. I'm not saying I'm better or worse than anyone else, but I don't see myself set apart from the people I share my country with. Maybe that is what makes such writing awkward and often patronising- the writer is an other. I'm not saying I'm black. I'm not saying I understand everything that goes on here, why would I? I was forever lost by the actions and motivations of the white Americans that surrounded me in the place of my birth, why would I suddenly be Ms Insightful here? That's not it.

In my second romance novella for this publisher, I have three white, Afrikaner characters. The readers cringed at my stereotypes, at my flat characterisation. For me, they were now "the other" and I was struggling, trying to pull them into three dimensions. Until I could connect with them, and remove the otherness barrier, I would never be able to write them as believable characters.

I know writing for a South African audience is a schlep. Everyone is political. Everyone has a heavy, historical chip on their shoulder. No one there is free from race issues. I thought I accepted this. This past week made me feel sad. I felt sad for my new book that I'd been so happy about. I'm not trying to pretend I'm someone I'm not. I'm a writer. I make up characters. I make up stories. That's it, nothing else. If I've succeeded, then readers will connect with my books, if I haven't- then they won't. That's all that really matters anyway.

Now, if I can only convince myself of that.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Column

Blog readers outside of Botswana and not my friends on Facebook may be missing my new column in The Voice newspaper. Here are the links for last week's and this week's column. Let me know what you think!
Last week's column is HERE.
This week's column is HERE.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Morwalela Premiere!

Last night, 12 April, was the premiere of the first television series I had the opportunity to be a part of, Morwalela. I wrote it with another Motswana writer, Wame Molefhe. We put in a bid for the job and got it even though we were up against people with much more script writing experience than us- which was not that difficult since at the time our combined television writing experience equalled zero. The drama series was developed by an HIV/AIDS NGO in Botswana called PSI.

Although getting a book published is a process of compromise, television writing is a soup made with many cooks and in this case more so than in others. We wrote the scripts quite some time ago. We wrote 13 -thirty minute episodes, the final product is only eight episodes. The director is billed as the writer, I guess since he had to adapt our 13 episodes to fit into eight. I don't know, I'm only guessing as no one spoke to us about this.

Last night there was a live viewing at the BTV auditorium in Gaborone for people involved in the production. It was nice to watch the first episode with a roomful of people who worked to produce the series. I liked to see characters Wame and I created in our minds up on the screen in flesh and blood. Because we were not involved in the adaptation of our scripts, I think some of our initial motivation and thoughts were lost along the way and that was a bit sad, but I think this is the nature of the television game. It is a collaborative process and one can't be precious with their words. I thought the final product looked pretty great.

The programme is part of the national response to HIV/AIDS in Botswana. The hope is that the characters will help with behavior change in the country. It will be showed on BTV every Monday from 6:30-7:00 pm. If you get a chance to watch it, let me know what you think about it!
P.S. Curious about the title Morwalela? Morwalela means flood in Setswana. We were trying to think of a name for a fictional village and I remember being in our sitting room with my daughter and husband and us brainstorming ideas. We got a few, of which Morwalela was one of them. I took them to Wame- and the village and television series Morwalela was born.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Person Who Chose to Write

There are people who must write. That's not me. Or at least it wasn't me. I came to writing in a very convoluted, accidental way, the way I come to most things I end up loving. I came thousands of kilometers to find my husband, on a very circuitous route both physically and mentally. I came the same way to writing. I found it when I was looking for something else. It was a bit of sparkle under the leaves, below the mud. I could have passed it if I'd been looking for it, I wouldn't have thought to look there. I had to find it by accident.

Even the way I'm moving along my writing journey is meandering and unguided, a bit mad and untamed. I started writing about headaches and then a trip across the desert, then how to keep caged birds. Real life couldn't hold my words and they broke away and drifted through my brain and came out as a different reality, the one where I was in control. And then I wrote about murders. I wrote about tsunami survivors finding new love with their broken apart hearts. Later I drifted around and came back home to Botswana and found little girls hiding from school in dry river beds and murderous teachers killing their lovers in the desert. Lately, I step out of my life for months at a time and live a new life created by my wayward mind with each word put down on the page. I've travelled in my writing, even more than in my real life.

In my writing, I can be a white woman today and a tortured murdering husband tomorrow. A psychopathic son-killing mother the day after that. This afternoon I was a black lawyer trying to find a way to get the wife he'd thrown away back. I get to try on lives, real life doesn't allow for that, I only get to do that when I write.

Unlike real life where stories started by a conversation with a stranger on a bus never get a proper ending, I can start and finish a story in a single day and feel quietly complete. A single beautiful thing in real life flicks by in an instant and you hardly get a chance to accept its existence before it has joined your memories of the past, but in my writing I can stay stuck on a beautiful thing for as long as I like, I can stop time if I want to. Who can stop time in real life?

I could write a list of the pros and cons of writing, but it will tell me nothing. It will not lead me to a decision about anything. The depth of one pro may be so deep that thousands of shallow cons could get lost inside it. I am not a person who must write, I am a person who chose to write. I've fallen deeply in love with my accidental choice, I doubt I can easily walk away from that.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

....and it's back to work-sort of!

Hope everyone had a lovely rest. Today my plan was to get my exhaust on my car changed and since I knew it would take a lot of time decided the rest of my day would be full of tidying up details and little to no writing. Tomorrow I go to Gaborone for the job interview. Cross fingers for me, though I'm not yet sure what I want just yet. I guess cross fingers I figure it out.

It has been raining here in Mahalapye almost continuously for two days. Yesterday, Easter Monday, I woke up feeling pretty bad and spent most of the day in bed. Luckily I am just from a book buying splurge so started and finished The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and started Wally Lamb's I Know this Much is True, recommended by my writer friend Helen Brain. That hefty book will keep me busy for some time.

From early afternoon yesterday, I lay on my bed reading and just out the glass doors in the male morula tree was a big spotted eagle owl attempting to get some shelter from the relentless rain. He stayed with me the whole day until dark. Though the photo makes him seem miles away, he's actually quite near. I felt as if he was watching over me. Sort of hoped he had some mail for me from Hogwarts but it was not to be.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

It's All Write- My new Column is Born!

Last Friday the first instalment of my column It's All Write appeared in Botswana's The Voice newspaper. You can read the column here. (Click read more to get to the column). I've made a Facebook Page called It's All Write-The Column here. If you have a chance please join. I'd like the page to have lively discussions about writing in Botswana and around the world.

Hope you all are enjoying your long weekend and your holiday if you're celebrating one. My holiday is called St. Couch-Potato the Book Reader Day- I am taking the opportunity to worship devoutly. ENJOY!!!