Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Me and Merry You!!

The overriding fear when I was growing up in America was the fear that someone, everyone, would find out I was different. I saw what being different got you. There was David Nico who rode my school bus every morning, who gave me a peek into what different meant. His parents had him when they were already old. By the time he was on the school bus, they were grey haired and bent. And to make matters worse, he kept geese as pets, and told people about it. And he wore outdated clothes. He was different and everyone made sure he knew it. It was daily warfare for David Nico. Tripping, spit balls, name calling, laughs into hands. But David Nico didn’t seem to care. He just went on being the way he was; he didn’t try to hide anything. I looked at him and wondered why. Why couldn’t he just try to be normal?

We went through some of primary school and all of secondary school together.  At university, where people should be free to lose all of that baggage accumulated in their childhood and remake themselves, I found David Nico siting in my Zoology 101 lecture that first day and I made sure to always sit far away from him, to never greet him. I didn’t want his stink on me. I was still petrified.

At home, I had a crazy mother for a long time and then an abusive stepmother and her dull, drug-taking children.  On top of that we were poor. Different, different, different. I would go to any length to distance myself from it all. I was a normal girl like everyone else. Maintaining my normalcy was exhausting and incredibly time consuming. Friends coming over? Oh no, let me come to yours instead. And will your mother come for parent’s day? No, sorry, she’s dead. Is that druggy girl your stepsister? I don’t know her; she’s lying if she says otherwise. You know how these druggies are.  It was tough but I was vigilant. I knew the punishment I would get if I didn’t keep up the fa├žade. The work was worth it.

Holidays, all of them, require normalcy. It’s a prerequisite. There’s a package of what you must do. Put up a tree. Buy presents. Put out stockings and wait for Santa. And there is the other package of feelings. You must be with your family, whom you love, of course, and they love you in return. You must be happy. You must be thankful and joyous. You might even sing Christmas carols and go sledding. It’s the normal, the right way, to be.

If you’re doing anything else, if you’re feeling anything else, it’s abnormal. Abnormal comes at a big cost. You obviously didn’t do something right. Something about you is wrong and because of that you should feel sad. You are wrong. You need to accept your punishment for not being normal. Holidays are tough on the abnormal; merciless.

I count myself lucky almost everyday now, because somehow I managed to break free. By a series of accidents, I managed to escape the normal boxes, both physical and mental. I didn’t even know I was doing it, or maybe somewhere inside I did.

I found myself here in Botswana. There was no way I could hide my abnormal any more. I was white and most everyone around me was black. And once I couldn’t hide that particular abnormal, it didn’t seem to make any sense to hide any of my abnormal. The endless struggle to keep everything in check just fell away and I realised how much of my life had been squandered on keeping my wonky walls in place. I realised it had all been an incredible waste of my far too little time. I could finally be me, all of me.

And that went for all of the normal around the holidays too. Holidays are defined any way I want now. It might mean camping at the Atlantic Ocean and swimming in the icy sea. It might mean playing Scrabble. It might mean eating watermelon all day in front of the TV. It might mean being with the family I choose, or not. It might mean sleeping all day. It might mean laying in the sun and getting burnt to crisp or eating pumpkin pie until I feel sick.

Normal is such a bully. Such a waste of time. Such a lie. Normal is like that king with no clothes that people lied to just to not be singled out and, just like that king, we only need to turn and look at Normal and say- “Nope, you don’t exist”- and poof!, just like that the honesty of it all can be seen.

If I had one wish for the people I love this year it would be to stop being normal. Stop being forced into those boxes no one fits inside. That road is so worn and so laden with tears and sadness. Don’t let these holidays bully you with their normal boxes. Step on them and crush them into the ground, they’re filled with nothing but air in any case.
This year let the holidays ring with Merry Me! And Merry You! -just exactly how we are.
That’s my wish for all of us.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Manic Depressive Life of a Writer

Up, down, up, down, sideways and back down again. It might be a rejection, it might be a critique. It might be a comment. Or a story that just doesn't work. Or one that does. A publisher who says yes. A robot who says no.  I find this writing life to be like a crazy, wild roller coaster.

Up there is a photo of some of my published books. One would think I could look at those and think- okay, I've accomplished a lot. I'm not a complete hack. I should be happy. But it doesn't work that way. For me it's about two things 1) where I am today and 2) where I want to be tomorrow. What I've done is, well, done. Today I'm a bit stuck. Not quite started on a new project, not having any smaller jobs to distract me from my bigger problem. So today's not one of the good days.

I've known manic depressives in my life and I always thought if I was ever one I would not take medication. I would accept the depressed times so that I could still have the manic times. And it's like that with writing I think. I'm in a bit of a depressed time right now, but I know it won't last for ever. Out there are those glorious moment when things will be perfect. Those crazy wonderful moments. I've had a few.

You sit down at the computer and the story comes to you like it's been waiting your entire life. Or you get mentioned in a newsletter with a writer you really respect. Or you attend a prize giving where you win. Or a publisher tells you they're so keen you sent them a manuscript.Or you finally understand the plot of your latest book you've been fighting with.

Up and down and up and down. The writing life is a bit exciting like that. Sometimes not so nice, but always exciting.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Yikes! December is Nearly Gone!

Accidentally I found a list of my 2013 resolutions- this was a good and bad thing. I think resolutions are good to have, to help you reach for goals, to stretch yourself.  They're not good if you get to the end of the year and are demotivated by the fact that you've not accomplished many of them, which is sort of where I am now. Let's take a look at this list:

1. Get a book accepted by Mills and Boon
The main point of this was to convince myself that my romances might have some international appeal. I have a novel that is finished and has gone through a few edits, but it's not ready yet. My romances seem to have a natural length of about 30,000 words, this books needs to be 50,000. So resolution not accomplished, but I'm going to give myself big lee-way since I was sick for the bulk of this year. I'm about a quarter of my way to this goal so I get a 1/4

2. Finish If Not For This and find an agent for it
I've finished the novel. I have sent it out to agents. Now I'm waiting. So I'll give myself a 2/3 on this one.

3. Attend one writers' workshop and one writer's residency
I got accepted at Chateau Lavigny and was meant to go but couldn't because I couldn't sit or walk at the time. I did attend a poetry workshop at the Maun International Literature and Poetry Festival. I'd hoped it would be more writing poetry than talking about it, but I did attend. So I think here I get 1/2

4. Get a story taken at Take a Break
Take a Break is a great UK market for short stories. I've tried and tried to get a story taken to no avail. A friend brought me the magazine from the UK so I could get a better idea of the types of stories they use and I wrote two and sent them off. I never heard anything, so I assume they were rejected. In the end, I sent them to Drum Magazine in South Africa and both were accepted, so that's something . But still I think on this I get 0/1

5. Read three books a month
I read more than that thanks to being stuck in bed for some months, so I get all the points. 1/1

6. Write and submit one short story a month
I've checked my records just now and despite being sick for a big chunk of the year, I actually wrote a new story and submitted it in every month except February and this month December, which I might still do. In some months I wrote more than one. I'm quite happy about that one. 10/12 points I think.

7. Blog posts two per week
I failed miserably for this one. My blog has been the most neglected. 0/2 points

8. Do marketing for my books one day a week. 
Nope. I'm even surprised to see this on the list considering how much I hate marketing. I do occasionally put up a blog post or mention some news on Facebook, but mostly I'm useless.  0/ 1 points

So that was it. 15/26, 58%, not very good. Must try better next year.

BUT- I did get a new kitten named Bunny for Christmas, so that may push my score about at least 20-30 percentage points...right???

Monday, December 2, 2013

2013 Bessie Head Literature Awards

This last Saturday I was off to Gaborone for the 2013 Bessie Head Literature Awards. It was held at the National Museum's Little Theatre. This year's winners were:

In the novel category:           
Winner: Veronica Jane McLean for The Hot Chain
1st  Runner Up:  Jack Wachira Mithamo for  Prosperity Diamonds
2nd Runner Up: One Pamela Pusumane for The Girl on the Other Side of the Mirror

  In the short story category:                   
Winner:  Moreetsi Pius Gabang  for “Lesilo mo Maun”
1st Runner Up:  Wada Goitsemang   for “Uncle B”
2nd Runner Up: Tumisang Baatshwana for “Melodi”

In the children’s story category:       
Winner:  Margaret Baffour-Awuah   for “Two Frogs Go A’ Wandering”

It was a nice, chilled event. The guest speaker was one of the past winners of the Award, Cheryl Ntumy.  Since the Award win in 2009, Cheryl has gone on to have books published in South Africa as well as overseas. Her Cozy Bennett series for young adults is published by an imprint of Harlequin. The first book, set in Gaborone, Entwined, is fantastic. I cannot wait to read the next book in the series. 

(In photo (left to right): Chair of BHHT, Peter Mwikisa, winner in the novel category, Veronica Jane McLean, Cheryl Ntumy, and MC Goodie Tlokwe) 

At the event on Saturday Cheryl spoke about how the Bessie Head Award gave her courage to be serious about her writing. So much about life tells writers that it is a waste of time and that they should get practical. But prizes are important because they give writers hope that there are people out there who think their writing is good enough and there are readers out there who can connect what you're writing. 

I absolutely agree with her. For me prizes have always been a huge motivator. A stop along the way to check in if you are on track and to get a bit of a push to go on. 

The Awards will not take place next year as the Bessie Head Heritage Trust is assessing them and want to come back the following year with a new and improved model.