Friday, March 11, 2011
Last Summer, I was often in his office, arranging the picturebooks on the shelves and talking to him about Caribbean children's literature. He was so interested in Caribbean children's books and I often showed him books I was reading. I still have the packet of pretty origami paper he gave me when I was tidying his desk that Summer. He was a reader of my blog and expressed a lot of interest when I told him I had started Anansesem.
Dr. Sipe's areas of expertise lay in children's and young adult literature, early childhood education and emergent literacy. He was an avid reader of children's and young adult books and dedicated his life to studying the ways children develop literary understanding as they talk about and respond to books. He has certainly inspired me on a professional level. I don't think he even knew how much I valued him being my adviser.
Dr. Sipe was also such an amiable little man. He always had a smile and a compliment ready for you. He was quite a character in the School of Education and in class often made us laugh because of the witty, off-the-wall or sarcastic things he would say. GSE students often talked about his children's and young adult literature classes as being the "fun" classes offered at the School. It still hasn't fully registered to me that he is gone. I know many of us at school will be mourning his death and sharing memories of him in the upcoming days.
I am once again reminded to be thankful to God for life. I have to trust that despite the painful things that happen, there is always reason to be hopeful and much to celebrate in life. My thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Sipe's family and with the people of Japan.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Two great interviews in a row, hooray! Today, it's Joanne Gail Johnson that I'm welcoming to the blog. If you know anything about Trinidadian children's literature, indeed about children's literature in the English-speaking Caribbean, then Joanne Gail Johnson is someone who needs no introducing. She is the author of such well-known children's books as Ibis Stew? Oh, no! and Pink Carnival! as well as Sally's Way, Digger's Diner, Go Barefoot, The Scottish-Island Girl and The Donkey and the Racehorse. The Editor of Macmillan Caribbean's Island Fiction fantasy series for tweens and the Regional Adviser of the Caribbean South Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Joanne is no stranger to the world of Caribbean children's publishing. Joanne and I have been exchanging emails for some time, talking about the very issues she discusses below. At a certain point it just seemed like her insights and knowledge were way too valuable and relevant to keep all to myself. So here she is! By the way, how cool is it that I am finally interviewing an author from my own country? Joanne is the first author from Trinidad that I've interviewed! But I digress. To the interview.
Thanks for agreeing to do this interview Joanne, I really appreciate it.
You're more than welcome Summer. The work you have done in such a short space of time - especially in listing over 500 Caribbean children's titles on your blog from as early as a century ago - is of great service to us all and very inspiring. Thank you!
Although I could be interviewing you about your writing/books (and I would like to do that some time) today I actually want to spend some time talking about another aspect of your work, i.e., your role as Regional Adviser for the Caribbean South chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Please tell us a little bit about the SCBWI and the work of the Caribbean South chapter.
What I can add is that I found the SCBWI online in 2003 when the internet started to become not only a professional, but a household tool. I already had a few books published with Macmillan and over the years had spent so much time and money on legal fees and buying 'how to' books to educate myself about the business of it all. I thought, "Ahh, now this is what I needed from the start!" and my next thought was, "I'd really like to share this with others in the Caribbean and especially Trinidad!" because people were always calling or stopping me to ask how to write/ illustrate or get published a children's book they had in mind. I then offered my volunteer services and was invited to become the founding Regional Advisor of our Caribbean South chapter. I encourage writers and illustrators to explore the SCBWI online. In this capacity, I may be contacted via our chapter's blog: http://scbwicaribbean-south.blogspot.com/
You and I spoke privately before about publishing issues in the Caribbean. You have some strong views about self-publishing as it pertains to Caribbean literature. Please share.
Self-publishing, once dubbed "vanity press" for obvious reasons, features more importantly than ever as an option and is a major part of an evolution that is changing publishing, media in general and how we communicate our ideas with others. I am in favor of it in essence and use it myself. Self-publishing is put to good use when it is relevant however, it may also circumvent the necessary growth and development not only of individuals but of our local and regional publishing industry.
Situations that I consider 'relevant' are
2. personal stories/ self-help industry
3. tie-in media product around which a business is envisioned
4. guru/ expert in anything as a supplement to seminars and workshops
5. an idea in any field or genre so off the wall, that no one will invest in it at first, but yourself
If you self publish to impress a publisher with the finish and look of a book, this only shows one's lack of exposure to the business. The only person you're impressing is yourself. Editors and publishers work in books. There is an industry standard for manuscript submission - once this is met it is accepted as professionally 'impressive'. With self published books, in most cases a publisher may say, "If it's been published already, why should we publish it again?" The idea that a self-published book may work as an advantage in manuscript submission applies only if you have a second, completed manuscript, that may be deemed of of greater creative value, which you have not yet published.
I take issue with the wave of self-publishing in the Caribbean because for the most part these authors are doing themselves and their talent a disservice.The feeling I get is that many are working to circumvent the process of professional competition and know-how. This concerns me because it primarily means lowered standards in general for our children. And yes, of course there are exceptions. My opinions and observations are not absolute.
At one time I believed self publishing was the only way to address what was once a dearth in Caribbean children's books. I have changed my mind about this. Now I have a sense there is a preferred stance of hopeful writers/creatives that sounds sort of defeatist to me. Many talented writers don't even know about, understand or want to try the standard industry process of query letters for example, even if it means getting rejected. This may reveal that we are not thick-skinned enough for the world stage and want some kind of preferential treatment and protection - very unprofessional! There is even such a thing as a 'good' rejection letter i.e. getting professional notes from a working editor in an established publishing house. Getting rejected by a professional who takes the time to tell you why may offer clues about the direction of growth needed. This may be of greater service in building a long term career based on one's craft, than just going straight to press on the steam of your own guaranteed approval and authority. Really, I know you asked me to keep my answers short but this topic could be an entire seminar!
The SBWI does not refuse self-published members but makes a differentiation for reasons of safeguarding quality. The SCBWI does not promote or award self-published books. If the sales are particularly good, this may warrant a second look but this is very seldom the case. We have collectively agreed to remain open and keep an eye on the way technology is influencing this change for better and/ or for worse.
You and the Caribbean South chapter of the SCBWI have taken a strong stance against self-publishing in the Caribbean context yet you yourself have a self-published title. How do you explain this contradiction?
As I explained in your third question, it has its relevance. It is not simply a matter of being against self publishing, it is understanding the playing field and making the best choices for your career at each stage. I sincerely believe we have talent right here in Trinidad who would get properties signed with established publishing houses IF they knew how. Earning such a success puts one on equal footing with your peers anywhere in the world; self-publishing does not.
The main thing in my case is that I got my first book published with Macmillan by sending a query letter in 1998 and going through the industry standard. At that time there was no internet, no Google Search! How blessed we are now as writers to have these tools! I sent my query snail mail! and got back a reply a couple months later with an expression of interest. The person I submitted to had left the post and it wasn't until the next year that I actually met an actual person face to face.
I had had rejections and trial and errors before that success. Earning knowledge through experience gives one clarity about the business of books and debunks any illusions we have about how things work. We take rejection so personally some times. I hear many people lamenting and claiming "victim" when really, in a competitive market their offering is either ill-timed, poorly submitted, or just not as good as the next. Teaching the "know- how" and "how to" of it is part of the work of the SCBWI. I would rather see our writers get contracts from established publishers and enjoy the benefits and prestige than have to start up their own businesses - unless they really, really want to! Because then, we hear all the complaints about the reality of that situation too, when they have no distributor or marketing support for their self published book.
Pink Carnival! but declined in the end because after a number of books, readers and anthologized stories I wanted to give myself the freedom to produce the book as I envisioned it and under a new imprint Meaningful Books. I also already had ten years of experience working with a big name like Macmillan and it was interesting to see what I had learned and there were still mistakes made. We are always learning. Mistakes in publishing, especially picture books are very costly. My new imprint is a part of a wider vision and goal to publish a very specific kind of book that does not really exist in the book market and that is an adjunct to my workshops with children, parents and teachers - again, as a part of a business goal. As I see it, a true publisher will actually publish others, and one of the imprint's goals is to do just that. I already have a second title produced and have identified a book by another author that I'd like to put out; it is a matter of resources and timing.
What are your views regarding independent ("indie") versus established publishing houses, either in the Caribbean or internationally?
One of the main problems I take issue with is that book publishers, in Trinidad anyway, are often book sellers and interest groups with 'sure thing' Ministry / text book hook ups. It's not a matter of ethics only but of end results - my concern is that it significantly reduces creative quality for our children generation after generation. And not to mention it limits and suppresses fair play in the market and stunts competitive creativity which is exactly what we need. We would do well to encourage Indie presses yes of course, but not to call a self published book, nor a book seller's press "independent". If an entrepreneur loves books and values her audience then let her invest in her vision and take a risk and then there should be healthy market support for such a venture and government and private sector should be a part of ensuring that such a risk is at least potentially viable.
Locally and regionally, we seem unperturbed by the consequences of business monopolies and have not yet made the connections between this and so many of our problems. In this climate the cultural creatives and artists cannot truly serve society as in developed countries. Breaking into a global market we then re-import to the Caribbean our own culture, may not be right in essence, but in my opinion, it is the route along which an individual will get the best opportunities - and in most entertainment and art fields this applies I think. Even Walcott and Naipaul have suffered in this machine - who is the rest a we?! West Indian authors of poetry and adult fiction have been getting a fair shake with Peepal Tree Press and Egg Box Publishing for example - both based in the UK. Children's books may be deemed less important and 'easy' so we may not be expected perhaps to produce the relative genius of a Beatrix Potter, Shel Silverstein, Enid Blyton or Doctor Seuss for our times and culture. Truly independent publishers here would want to discover and publish unique talent, as a sincere and serious mandate.
What are some of the things that aspiring and self-published Caribbean children's authors need to know in order to successful navigate the often messy world of publishing and does the Caribbean South chapter of the SCBWI provide professional development to help with that?
You once shared with me some very interesting information about book piracy and illegal book publishing cartels in the Caribbean. How serious is book piracy in the Caribbean, particularly as it pertains to Caribbean children's/YA books? What can I, as an individual, do to stop or prevent book piracy in the Caribbean?
Yes it's true. Anyone who is in book sales or publishing in the Caribbean knows it. I saw some counterfeit work out of Guyana at a CAPNET conference a few years ago. The quality was amazing! Side by side there was no way to tell. It's not a problem easily solved, I mean the musicians suffer this plight and look at the way bootleg DVDs are culturally accepted. Until we understand that someone's sister, cousin, neighbor, husband etc is earning a living off intellectual property and copyrights it remains an abstract issue from Joe Public's point of view. And we're not very good on making white collar crime a crime anyway so I think this is one of the ways internet purchasing from publisher endorsed sources may help and of course most publishers have a 'official' distributor - at some point it is always going to be a matter of trust in our book sellers to be honest and vigilant. Just be a savvy consumer I guess!
In our opinion, what would it take for Caribbean children's books to become bestsellers globally?
Well we are already you know. A book that sells on the internet is being sold globally and a book that sells 5,000 copies in the publishing world is already a 'best seller'. I know of course what you mean is a block buster hit perhaps. The reality is, NOBODY knows this answer. JK Rowling and her editors and publishers were not expecting the success she's had. It was unprecedented. Media tie in in the largest growing aspect of children's books and of course our market is just not rigged for these kinds of media and retail avenues and intersections. Well, except as it involves the corporate giants and their agendas. We have so much work to do; it is not a matter of individual talent.
I do believe that striking a chord in the North American/ U.K. market is the best bet - and artists in the developed countries on both sides of the proverbial pond know it and play it that way too. In many cases we are not aware of how much has already been done - what we may think of as new is not necessarily so. I've seen this first hand as an editor looking for teen fiction. It is important to investigate your idea before you invest in it. So many of the stories are similar and yet each author believes his own to be unique and special. Even so, a good story well told is something that never gets old. Networking is crucial - to really break through an author will need a good agent who believes in her work and commits herself to its success. A good agent will wheel and deal aggressively because her commission depends on and goes up when she gets the best deal possible for you!
Perhaps someone reading this is interested in joining the Caribbean South (or the Caribbean North) chapter of the SCBWI. What steps do they need to take?
It's easy! Just go online www.scbwi.org; Everything is there. You can join and pay online and then request to be listed under the Caribbean South chapter if you are not living in our region. My work is as a volunteer and the organization is a non-profit one so you will see that the content you receive is far out weighs the value of your annual membership.
Joanne, thank you so much for sharing your time and insights with us. As a new member of the Caribbean South chapter of the SCBWI myself, I look forward to working with you!
Thank you for the opportunity Summer, you have much energy and talent to offer. I trust that we can all work together to create events for our regional chapter that will in time attract international interest and opportunities for our Caribbean talent in children's books.
Joanne has traveled the length and breadth of Trinidad reading to children of all ages, and recently visited St. Maarten and The Bahamas where she visited both primary and secondary schools. As a children's theatre facilitator, she has worked with UWI’s Creative Arts Centre, The Trinidad Theatre Workshop, and ran her own children's theatre company, The Hamelyn Players, for eight years. In the 90s, her company SUN TV LTD pioneered indigenous cable television in Trinidad producing over 700 hours of 100% Caribbean content; and in 2003 created www.caribbeanchildren.com: The First Ever Website for Caribbean Children. This year SUN TV launched its own imprint Meaningful Books with its inaugural title Pink Carnival!. Joanne’s work is generously supported by the Trinidadian NGO, Creative Parenting for the New Era.
Caribbean South Chapter of the SCBWI
Caribbean South Chapter of the SCBWI's Flickr photostream
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Thanks for agreeing to do this interview Nicholas, I really appreciate it.
Thank you, too, my friend! I was delighted to receive your request for an interview and am honored to share my work with your audience.
So tell us a little bit about yourself. What makes Nicholas Da Silva interesting and what inspires him?
I think what makes me interesting is that I’m a non-stop dreamer. I’m always dreaming up new ideas to explore whether it’s a new comic book story, a website experiment or a song that fuses multiple genres. I’m also a mixed-media artist who loves to create something different, something people haven’t seen or heard of before. I don’t find pleasure in doing something that has already been done. Inspiration comes to me in many forms. I think music probably is the most important influence on my work.
Let's talk about ZOOLOOK. This is a San Francisco-based new media agency that you founded. Please tell us more about it.
I founded ZOOLOOK back in 1996 as a means to self-publish and promote my work as an independent artist. Through ZOOLOOK, I utilize my design, music and animation skills to develop intellectual properties that promote a multicultural experience, a foundation of my background and upbringing. Some of the IP’s (intellectual properties) I’ve created include Dread & Alive, HITLESS and Cavedudez.
And of course there’s TGSNT™ (The Greatest Story Never Told). I am told that this is the world's largest digital online storytelling competition and you are its founder. I find this to be extremely cool. Please tell us more!
The Greatest Story Never Told was a global event I created to showcase all the great independent animators, filmmakers and storytellers who embraced flash as their storytelling medium. I really enjoy putting on this event because it brings independent storytellers from around the world together to share their stories to the masses. TGSNT actually spawned another IP for me with the creation of the Cavedudez.
As you know, I am all about Caribbean children’s and YA literature. That’s why I was so excited to learn about your Jamaican-inspired graphic novel Dread & Alive. I read somewhere that Dread & Alive is the first superhero graphic novel ever to feature a Jamaican protagonist. Okay so first of all, why Jamaica? What role does Jamaican history or culture play in the series?
I chose to write Dread & Alive because of my interest in Jamaica’s history, culture, music and its people. When I first began researching the history of Jamaica, I came across the Maroons of Accompong. I was surprised to read about their existence and their story of independence. The more I learned about the Maroons, the more my imagination began to take on a life of its own. Once I added reggae music to the mix, Drew McIntosh and the legend of Dread & Alive was born.
|D&A hero, Drew McIntosh is kinda sexy!|
Dread & Alive is a story about respect for all living things. I think it’s a story that is much needed, especially in these times of uncertainty. It’s also a story about one man’s quest to make a difference in the world by addressing problems that exist in our world today that don’t necessarily grab the headlines in mainstream news. The first issue was released on February 6, 2010, on the birthday of international reggae icon Bob Marley. Dread & Alive is geared towards 9 year olds and up.
Many authors speak of a personal relationship with their characters. Is there any behind-the-scenes gossip or insights about Drew McIntosh (the hero/main character) or any of the other characters that you'd like to share?
Drew and I are definitely alike. We both lost our fathers during a time when we were just becoming men. Plus, we share similar travel experiences during our childhood. Drew’s father was just like my dad. He loved to travel the world and experience other cultures.
I keep calling Dread & Alive a graphic novel series but in some places I’ve seen it described as a comic book. I always wanted to know… what’s the difference between a graphic novel and a comic book? Which label do you prefer?
Dread & Alive is actually a graphic novel that is being published as a comic book series. The reason for this is that the series is based on the first novel I wrote entitled Dread & Alive: Book Three, a.k.a. Night of the Animals. The difference between graphic novels and comic books is that the graphic novel is lengthier in size. Plus, the graphic novel has a more complex storylines similar to a novel whereas comic books stretch out a story within an issue.
Dread & Alive is actually a multimedia series with some exciting e-reading options and music collaborations. Please tell us more that. What made you decide to go multimedia with this project? Do you plan to eventually publish the series as traditional hard-copy books?
Music was a key influence in writing the series so I wanted my fans to experience Dread & Alive the way I envisioned it. The music helps the reader feel the vibe of Drew McIntosh as he fights to protect the rights of all living things … humans, animals and the earth. I’ve actually written 2 of the 3 books that make up Dread & Alive…Book One, which chronicles Drew’s life growing up in the Cockpit Country and receiving the amulet and Book Three which follows Drew as the dreadlocked hero armed with his amulet and fighting the good fight. I’m currently writing Book Two. I will offer the 3 novels as a bundle this fall, just in time for Christmas.
In the Caribbean, as far as I know, an indigenous graphic novel/comic book industry is practically non-existent. The only other Caribbean graphic novels I’ve heard of are The Zabime Sisters and Ziggy Marley’s recent title Marijuanaman. Do you have any insights into why this might be so? Also, what do you think are the affordances of this genre?
I do remember Marvel putting out a three issue series on Bob Marley called IRON LION ZION. It focused more on his life but did so in a graphic novel way. I think Bob Marley’s legacy with reggae has made music such a focus in Jamaica for young artists. I think we will start to see more artists venturing into the comic book world. This genre has the ability to educate younger minds by offering entertainment that has bits of history embedded in it. Graphic novels stimulate both sides of our brain.
Please share with us your creative process. Do you work from an outline or is it a stream of writing/drawing?
I always start with a written treatment. I then create outlines from that treatment and add to it as ideas come to me. A script comes next which gets translated into storyboards for each page. Usually one chapter can equate to one comic book issue as in issues #1 and #2 of Dread & Alive. Research also plays an important part of my creative process. In creating Dread & Alive, the goal was to mesh cultural fact with fiction in an effort to tell a compelling story.
|Is it just me or is this illustration extremely cool???|
What sorts of books did you enjoy as a child? What are some of your favorite books today?
I was big into comic books and science fiction novels as a kid. I read a lot of Robert Heinlein novels. Any stories that took me to another planet peaked my interest. Today, I read a little bit of everything. My favorite author is Dean Koontz.
Yes indeed! We will see Drew and Brandy join forces with Casey Forrester as they try to stop Gryphon the hunter and his men from hunting an endangered tiger for profit. We will also see Shadowcatcher pursue Drew in his attempts to take back the sacred amulet of the Jamaican Maroons. As a shape-shifter who has the power to make the dead walk among the living, Shadowcatcher will start turning people into zombies and eventually build an army of zombies to go after Drew.
Wow, sounds exciting! And what about readings and appearances? Do you have any lined up and if so, where and when can Nicholas Da Silva be seen in the flesh?
I will be at San Diego’s Comic Con this summer as well as New York’s Comic Con in the fall. I’m also planning to attend the 10th Anniversary of the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC) on May 21, 2011. I was nominated for the sixth annual Glyph Comics Awards as a Rising New Star, which is part of the ECBACC.
Where we can learn more about your exciting career and where/how can we purchase the Dread & Alive books?
To learn more about what I do at ZOOLOOK and to view the different IPs I have created, you can visit my studio website at www.zoolook.com. To purchase comic books, music, t-shirts, posters and novels from the Dread & Alive series, you can visit www.dreadandalive.com and click on MERCH button. We deliver worldwide and ship orders in 24 hours.
Nicholas, thank you so much for chatting with us. I wish you all the best with Dread & Alive and everything else!
Thank you, again for this great opportunity. Much respect and success to Anansesem! One love, always!
Nicholas was recently nominated for the 2011 Glyph Awards in the Rising Star category for his work on Dread & Alive. He’s also been featured in Riddim Magazine (Germany) and is the only 4-time recipient of Web Designer Magazine’s HOT 100 honors (2008-2011). He is currently working on his next big comic book project, HITLESS, a spy-thriller/tragic love story that meshes fact with fiction. When Nicholas is not being creative, you can find him, an avid snowboarder, traveling around the world, looking for the perfect snow with his daughter. He also enjoys sampling cuisine from around the world, reading comic books, playing soccer and watching movies that don’t suck.
The supercool official Dread & Alive website
(longer bio and lots of cool merchandise including CDs and posters!)
The supercool Dread & Alive Facebook page
Nicholas Da Silva's Studio Website