Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guest Author: Joanne Hillhouse: Second Acts

 Joanne C. Hillhouse is the Antiguan and Barbudan author of several books, including, in the past year, Musical Youth, 2nd placed for the inaugural Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean fiction, and the 10th anniversary edition of her second book Dancing Nude in the Moonlight.

Shortly after landing a publishing deal for my first book, The Boy from Willow Bend, I landed a deal for the second, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight. My chapter as a published writer had begun.
A few years later, on the heels of a blunt letter from the publisher, both books were technically out of print; remainders sold off, though, thankfully, not pulped thanks to local bookstore Best of Books buying up all the remainders.
Talk about Murphy loving to kick the stool from under a writer just when she’s taking a step up; I was just back from a promotional event, my first in the U.S., was in the midst of discussions with a high profile regional publication re a possible review, was feeling like maybe I was finally getting some traction, when the crash came.
To say that this was one of the darker chapters in my journey as a writer would be an understatement. Years of knocking on that closed door certain that everything I wanted was on the other side of it; finally squeezing through only to discover that nothing really is ever as you dream it; adjusting the dream to the reality; and then that feeling that, that’s it you had your shot, the dream is dead.
The human spirit, of course, doesn't know how to stay down, so I eventually dug myself out of the dark, tried to figure out not only what to do next but what I could have done differently. I kept writing, tried to understand my legal position (re reversion of rights), and researched and reached for opportunities (such as the one that reinvigorated my writing dreams, one that wouldn't have been possible had I not been published by a well-established publisher, so thanks for that). As I worked on and submitted new material, I explored how to reposition both books in the marketplace. Most importantly, I tried to shake off my feelings of failure, tried to stay positive, and tried not to feel the cruel irony of readers telling me, to this day, how much they loved a book that the publisher had lost faith in.
That said, I was able to draw on their affirmations, and this is the power of reader reviews. Sure sometimes you have to endure detailed breakdowns (read: takedowns) of your storytelling deficiencies; but when they love something they also don’t pull any punches. And this book was loved by those who had read it enough to either tell me to my face or post their impressions online, it had even had a drink, Moonlight Samba, created in its honour, giving leverage to my efforts to pitch it as a fan favourite with untapped marketability. Even so, it took some time. And I was on a break from actively figuring out my next move when I picked it up and read it one Sunday afternoon; my first time reading it since the painstaking pre-publication editing process, nearly 10 years earlier. Maybe I needed to be reminded of why I had been drawn to these characters enough to write them in the first place because, after reading it, I fell in love with Dancing again and hit on the idea of pitching a 10th anniversary edition which would be part Dancing and part other writings, new and previously published shorts. I floated this hope to another writer who had been encouraging me to do a short story collection for some time.  She introduced me to one of her publishing contacts (via email) and I made my pitch. That was 2013.
Somewhere on the borderline between 2014 and 2015, the book debuted, quietly, its existence a testimony to the possibility of second acts. And I am again reminded that nothing is ever as you dream it but you keep dreaming anyway. Let the uncertainty, the fact that nothing, including the nature of dream fulfillment, is set in stone, fuel you.


Liane Spicer said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Joanne. Nothing is ever as you dream it, but you keep dreaming anyway and you keep writing your stories, because that is who and what you are.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Definitely, Joanne, we have to keep dreaming. A writer has to have thick skin, strong back, and unlimited optimism. Keep dreaming,keep working, but be practical and realize there is no port of gold at the end of the rainbow. The gold is found in nuggets on your journey. Collect as much as you can and enjoy the journey.

Joanne said...

Thanks for the feedback, ladies. And rest assured, a pot of gold has never been my goal (I'm not romanticizing the writer's life at all). One of the reasons I decided to share this story, however, was as a reminder to myself and others on this zigzagging, potholed journey (that can leave you winded and make you feel like just sitting where you stand) that if you keep moving, you never know what might be around or over the next bend.