June 15, 2011

Stepping Out in Faith: Marcus and the Amazons

Since last week Friday, I've been posting about my new e-book, Marcus and the Amazons.

Now, here’s the back-story…

The idea for Marcus and the Amazons, started on Friday, March 4, 2011, when my son, who is now a film major at Miami Dade College, told me that one of my “adopted” sons, Patrick Pollack, had always wanted to illustrate a book for me. When Andrew said it, I felt very foolish and wondered why I hadn’t thought about it before.

My daughter, Christina, had designed the cover for Twelve Poems and a Story for Christmas  and my eldest child’s partner has already designed the cover for my next children’s book, Anancy’s Christmas Gift.

So, I said, “Sure, I’ll think about it.” The only problem was I didn’t have a story in mind. As I hurried to drop him off at the college (I was already late for George Lamming’s keynote speech at the University of Miami), I did what I’ve always done when I face a creative crisis: I plugged in my Bob Marley playlist on my iPod and let the magic happen.

It did.

The first song on the playlist was “Rat Race”: “Some a gorgon, some guinea- gog, some a jacket,” and I thought about a children’s book with mice or rats as the protagonists and antagonists. I kept playing the idea over in my head and then, quickly forgot everything as I entered the auditorium where George Lamming was about to speak.

Lamming was brilliant. He is one of those rare public intellectuals who does not “phone in” the lecture, but is always deeply engaged in extending the themes of his work. I listened intently to the lecture, but it wasn’t until he read the “Ants Section” from Of Age and Innocencewhere heexplored the idea of ants as a recurrent trope in Caribbean literature that my ears perked up: “The ants are a symbol of fragility, a symbol of vulnerability, yet it is the most triumphant symbol of persistence, of the refusal to die.”

In the Q& A that followed, Pat Saunders mentioned how other Caribbean writers such as Patrick Chamoiseau, and Édouard Glissant had used ants as metaphors in their work. Now my brain was on fire. A circle had been made whole again. For just as Lamming’sInthe Castle of my Skin had played a part in the inspiration of Benjamin, my son, he was again planting the seed in my imagination for Marcus and the Amazons.

And then, my son called. Classes were over early and he needed a ride home. Bob Marley was still on my car radio. I picked up my son at the college, went home, gave a reading from Who’s Your Daddy? at a Food for the Poor fundraiser for Haiti at FIU, and scribbled an outline of the book that night.

I woke up on Saturday morning and replayed “Rat Race.” With the idea of either an inter or intra species war on my mind, I began researching ants in Google and Wikipedia. When I discovered that Amazon ants enslaved Formicas, I now had a conflict. That the Formicas were the common black ants and the Amazons were a different color opened up a world of possibilities. I also reread an interview by Bob Marley about war and the cycle of revenge if blood is spilled in a war. I gathered all the notes on top of my desk and finished my weekend chores, had dinner with my family, and went to sleep.

On Sunday, March 6, 2011, I woke up at about eight, had a light breakfast, and plotted the story. First, I needed a name for the hero. I looked across to my books. Marcus Garvey stared back at me from the cover of Colin Grant’s Negro with a Hat. I had always wanted to write a book about Marcus Garvey, and Kamau Brathwaite had once suggested that I should write a book length poem about Marcus Garvey. Maybe that will happen in the future. But for now, I had the name of the main character, Marcus. But don't let the name fool you. Marcus is NOT Marcus Garvey. Marcus Formica is a composite of all my heroes throughout history. And Marcus, which means "warrior," seemed a fitting name for my courageous hero.

Next, I needed the name of the antagonist.

I thought about the Civil Rights movement in North America and then, I thought about Kamau Braithwaite’s Barabajan Poems and Captain O’Grady was born—a marriage of Caribbean and North American history. Because, yes, our fates have always been intertwined.

Plus, I now had a livication: For Kamau Brathwaite.

Now that I had the conflict, protagonist and antagonist, I needed a complication of the plot, which I developed in Marcus's brother, Clarence, and then, a final twist that would move the story to its conclusion.

I had a first draft of the set-up by mid-afternoon. Exhausted, I went upstairs to get a drink of water and noticed a sign that my daughter, who likes to leave love-notes around the house, had posted on the fridge: “Success is not caused by spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.” I went back to work and finished working at about ten ‘clock that night. For the next two weeks, I got up at five every morning and wrote a chapter a day, and then I spent another two weeks polishing/editing. When the manuscript was finally presentable, I thought about a publisher…

That lasted for about two minutes after I read Joe Konrath's blog and remembered Marcus Garvey's words: “Where are our people…?” It was time to stop jestering.

I researched the pros and cons of self-publishing and realized that like all my other books, I’d already done the hardest part: I’d written the best book that I could write. The next steps would be easy. I proofread the manuscript twenty more times, sought the advice of experts such as Diane Browne, and sent the text to a copy editor.

After the copy editor returned the text, I worked with my son and Patrick on the illustrations, which had many "teachable moments" for all of us. Patrick had never worked with Adobe before and moving from an actual to a virtual canvas was a steep learning curve. He's also a bit of a perfectionist, as you will see with the illustrations, but the graphics are awesome. He's made the book better than I could ever have imagined.

I also wanted to give my "sons" a lesson in entrepreneurship, bringing a product to market on schedule and pre- and post-marketing. This is why I have also made this a profit-sharing venture.

After we had a last review session, in the tradition of Marcus Garvey, I restarted my company, Mabrak Books. Then, I signed up at Smashwords, so that I could have access to Barnes & Noble, Apple and iBooks. I also purchased an ISBN with them ($9.95) that I used when I signed up at Amazon’s Kindle and uploaded the book to their web site.

Smashwords and Amazon use different methods, so it’s important to follow their style guides. They also have excellent tutorials on e-publishing and marketing, which I highly recommend. I'd also recommend CJs Easy as Pie Kindle Tutorials for the excellent information about inserting images.

Yet at the last moment, I almost chickened out. The fear that every independent author confronts rippled through my brain: what if no one ever read the book? With a publisher, I stood the chance of wider distribution and greater publicity….fame?

Then I asked myself, am I writing for fame?Fame is an ego stroke. Was I writing for ego strokes? I was forced again to ask myself a familiar question in a new way:why do I write children’s books?

I write because I want my readers to experience something similar to what I felt during the early seventies when I was walking in my old neighborhood in Jamaica. As I was walking from Plumbago Path to Geranium and then to Orchid Path, Bob Marley’s “Natty Dread” was blasting from very house on the block:

Then I walk up the first street, (Natty Dreadlock)
And then I walk up the second street to see. (Natty Dreadlock)
Then I trod on through third street, (Natty Dreadlock)

I felt as if I was inside the song. I was trodding with Bob through Jamdown. A great love was shaped by that moment,and I hope my storytelling reflects that experience.

So, I've committed myself to self-publishing. And as an independent author/publisher, I’m putting my faith in the people who have always supported me by buying my books and encouraging me through the years. 

I will need all the help I can get on this one.

So tweet all your peeps, follow Marcus's blog, "Like" Marcus on Facebook, and buy copies: an e-book for every smartphone, tablet, laptop, Mac and PC in the circle of friends (and the friend's friends). And in as many schools and libraries as possible.

Marcus and the Amazonsis now on sale for $2.99

In the next few weeks, I will be posting about my experiences in e publishing. In the meantime, why not head over to your favorite online retailer and pick up a copy of Marcus and the Amazons?



Unknown said...

It's always fascinating to follow the process.I hope this is fantastically successful. Blaze the trail for the rest of us.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Give thanks, Hazel.
Yet even as I "blaze the trail" I cannot forget trailblazers like you and Diane...much respect.