About me

I'm a Caribbean writer. I'm contemporary. There's Boy Days, 90 Days, and oOh My Testicles! All on Kindle.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Kevin Hosein on writing and publishing in the Caribbean


Kevin, tell me about yourself, your writing.

What first got me into reading and writing was when my father’s friend lent me a game from the Final Fantasy series when I was a child. These games generally contained a great deal of reading and focused on plot and characters. I learnt words such as osprey, scimitar, tempest, behemoth and inferno by the time I was 8. The idea and thought stuck with me until I was into my early teens – I wanted to write a story like this. So I was first interested in fantasy. But that didn’t work out. It felt too much like I was copying off of other people. I wanted to write something of this world - of Trinidad - with those elements mixed in.
So I started off writing about magical realism. I love the idea of extraordinary things happening to ordinary people, and my writing has always been based around that. I like to sometimes just take a wacky concept and run with it. What if there was an angel of death in Trinidad? What if there was a underground passage beneath the Caroni River filled with giant turtles? It gives me this feeling that anything could happen in a story. Writing, to me, is an extension of any possibility in any world. Writing clears that foliage that probably hides ancient artifacts. Or maybe just dirt. Who knows?

What market would you work towards with regards to publishing?

The manuscripts I have written usually delve into magical realism. I also like to include elements of fantasy and science fiction. I notice that not many West Indian books seem to dabble in that. Why not integrate our own culture into one of these genres that have been marketed so successfully today? Why is there no Trinidadian novel about a folkloric legend manifesting itself into our reality and tormenting a small rural village? Why is there no Trinidadian novel about a time traveller or a science experiment gone wrong? Why is there no Trinidadian novel about insane serial killers playing mind games with the police?
Is it because stories like these have no previous version from which to observe? Or are they just not important enough? I believe it can be done and I believe it can be successful if done right. The Caribbean is a very interesting setting that has often unfortunately been often relegated to a portrait of a Carnival costume or a coconut vendor or a sandy beach landscape and a steel drum. All of these are intriguing but these are elements and surroundings that are ripe for magical realism.

I see you as an avid passionate reader and writer with great talent. Why aren't you published?

A number of reasons. The first would be that I’m not very confident about my work most of the time. I’m confident enough to want people to read it, but not enough to feel as if it deserves to be published. A second would be that I have little to no idea of what to do if I wanted to get published. The usual route insists you get an editor and an agent. But I haven’t dug deep enough to find any agents here. And I don’t know how I would get my work to them. All of this put my drive into a stasis and, up until last year, I had somewhat put that publishing dream on the backburner. But now, I am trying to edit my work myself and make an active effort to get published.

You've released a few of your manuscripts as pdf files that people can download while publishing your work on the Kindle is free. Why haven't you published an ebook through this medium?

When I used to dream about publishing, I dreamt about actually holding the book in my hand. A physical copy. Though I know with e-readers, the literary world is slowly shifting with the technology, I am still uncomfortable with putting in on the Kindle. I feel like it would be lost so fast in the online libraries. However, I know I should keep all avenues open. This would be an option for me sooner than later.

Ideally, what role do you believe publishers or any other relevant organisations should play for unpublished writers?

I believe that publishers do not make themselves public enough to encourage the passage of unpublished writers. The notion I get is that a writer has to pave his own way through the grassroots gatherings, such as open-mic readings, link-ups and self-plugging before they can be properly accepted into the literary world. To the few events that I have attended, I have felt like an outsider.

They don’t make it easy. However, if it were any easier, would the reward seem as great? Nevertheless, I think they are missing out on some talented writers by not properly advertising or reaching out to them.

When you think about Caribbean publishers what names come to mind?

The only ones that deal with fiction that come to mind are Peepal Tree Press, Potbake Productions and House of Nehesi.

Have you ever sent any of your poems, novels or short stories to them or a literary agent?

No, I haven’t. Not yet. I have, however, as of late, entered some of my stories and poems for competitions and publishing. I haven’t won anything lately but a few blogs decided to give me and my submissions some attention. Novel Niche has reviewed one of my novels, The Repenters. I have also read my stories at several venues, including the 100 Poets for Change event and Paper Based Bookshop. I was also selected as one of the top ten candidates for the Bocas Lit Fest prose submissions in 2012. I am currently editing one of my novels in hopes of submitting it to an agent or publisher in a few months.

I get the feeling unpublished writers are terribly unhappy with the support they receive from publishers, other writers and organisations. Am I right?

Unpublished writers, especially those who have not made a proper name for themselves in the literary inner circles, probably feel left out or cast aside. It may even put an acrid sting in their mouths. We usually have to scramble for every smidgen of information that is passing our way. We have to flock to every speaker or workshop for just a hint of what to do. We’re usually alone and unless we can link up with someone from the inside, we’re fighting this uphill battle by ourselves. It’s not a good feeling. We usually have to swallow our dejection and pick up the pieces at the end of the day. But I still hold out hope and I still want to get published.

What stories have you heard about publishing?

There are the rejection stories from famous authors such as Bradbury, Rowling and Kipling that float about the Internet to give neophytes like me hope and reassurance. Reassurance that if I get rejected that it’s because of them, not me. A strange one would be from J.K. Rowling, who was rejected by editors until one of their children picked it up and read it. It was only then they realised the ‘magic’ of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I thought that was interesting.

A few years ago I attended a writing workshop headed by a Trinidadian-born author. She spoke about her journey to publishing and how it was just based around sheer luck. According to her, her first novel was being handled by her agent, who was sleeping with the person in charge of publishing at the moment. And, well, I guess they “gave birth” to her published book. So, to me, publishing isn’t so much about actual talent. Maybe one third. The other two-thirds are luck and connections.

If you remain unpublished, how would you feel about your work?

I’ve been trying to write a book since I was 12. I succeeded when I was 15. I wrote a manuscript that was 110,000 words at that age. Though it was loaded with angst, metaphors inspired by Slipknot lyrics, was extremely derivative of a Stephen King novel called “The Dark Half” and was overall utterly unsalvageable, I’m still proud I managed to write it. Writing it also helped me cope with my fickle emotions back then. I feel like I have to write it and when I do, I feel good. I can’t put it any simpler than that. Publishing, to me, is nice, but I don’t need it in order to feel good about my work.

Tell us what needs to be done to support aspiring, unpublished writers in the Caribbean.

More reading events for the youths and more visits by the proper spokespeople to schools and youth events. Many young people love to write and aspire to publish. Looking for some sound guidance or advice shouldn’t feel like scouring for Atlantis. If they know that the proper avenues are out there, more of them will keep that dream ignited. If they can see or hear someone speak from that industry, it won’t feel like they’re chasing an apparition. This is an elusive dream, yes, but it shouldn’t feel impossible. That just kills everything.

K. Jared Hosein was born and raised in the Caribbean island state Trinidad and Tobago. He is a writer and poet who has worked on his craft since his teenage years. In 2009, he penned a poem entitled "The Wait is So, So Long" that would go on to be adapted as a short film that would be featured and win a Gold Key Award at the NY-based Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Visit his goodreads' author page

Are you an aspiring, unpublished author? Share your thoughts and experiences with Potbake.com. Simply answer the above questions and email them to contactus@potbake.com

Advertising your book on a budget

I like giving away books more than I like the idea of spending money on advertising because I believe if a product is good enough it will sell itself. But in December 2012, for Potbake’s fourth birthday, we decided to offer free ebooks and spend no more than USD 100.00 advertising the offering. It sounds strange right: Avertising something that’s free? But I’ve since learnt that not because something is free means people will know about it. Imagine you’re in the grocery and you walk along all the aisles except the one where they happen to be giving out free samples of a wine or snack you really want to taste.

So, we had an offer and we knew our max budget, but I didn’t have a plan except to run the ads on Facebook and Google and share posts, tweets and pictures on Google+, Twitter and Instagram on the actual days of the offering. When I mentioned this to dad, he gave me something to think about: do movies just show up one day in the cinema? I thought about it and two weeks before I created an article on potbake.com promoting the offering (which turned out to be a great thing because as it turns out advertising an external URL on Facebook was a lot cheaper than an actual Facebook post; compare USD 0.05 to USD 0.65). We shared the link on the different channels we mentioned, got Retweets, Likes, Shares and +1s. Randy Baker was kind enough to post an article on the 15 December mentioning the free books. Then we scheduled campaigns on Facebook and Google with ads that linked to our website article rather than the links to the books on Amazon.com. This was important in terms of measuring the traffic the campaigns generated. If you’re an author or publisher it’s a pretty good idea to have a website, Facebook Page, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest account. This isn’t vanity and there’s no need to daily slave after maintaining these accounts, but you need to connect with as many people possible. I went along with no clear plan but hopefully the madness might make sense. The first step was to enrol the book in Amazon’s KDP Select which facilitates 5 days of free promotion and allows Select Members to borrow the book for free.

Advertising on Facebook


The first thing I learnt is that you can’t advertise to the people of the world. You need to have some idea of who might be interested, what’s their age, where are they from.  For example, I needed to advertise to folks who have some interest in an Amazon Kindle. But registering that interest to the world may yield a result in the millions so I targeted the people of the Caribbean interested in Amazon.com, the Kindle or Kindle Fire. Note: If the books were for sale, I wouldn’t have advertised to people with these interests between the ages of 13 and 17. While they might be interested, they would have less buying power. But the books were free. I included teenagers. Figure 1 shows that an audience of 105,580 from the Caribbean fit this profile.


At 12:00 AM, Christmas Day, the Facebook Ads went live at USD 0.07 max bid per 1,000 impressions, max budget USD 15.00. That day the campaign reached 47,462. Only 157 clicks. The next day I expanded the interests to include “iPad”, “Samsung Galaxy Tab” and “Toshiba Thrive”. The campaign reached 87,615 and generated 199 clicks but compared to the first day where Amazon.com’s KDP report showed that 203 free books had been downloaded, the figure had significantly dropped—although I had expanded the reach by thousands. Please note that I have no way of knowing or measuring where users, who downloaded the ebooks, saw the ad, on Facebook, Google or a Direct Partner: a big oversight on my part. Looking back I should have prompted them for feedback. If you downloaded the ebook you can still leave a comment here. Figure 2 shows the results of the Facebook campaign where frequency is the number of times the same person may have seen the ad.

 

Advertising on Google


Initially I had it in mind to use Google to target people who weren’t hip on Facebook and were more likely to perform keyword searches. My target audience were people in the Caribbean and were likely to search for “free kindle books”, “free ebooks” or “Caribbean writers” on Christmas Day. 72 clicks that first day cost USD 9.92. On the 26 and 27 I expanded the reach to Miami, Toronto, Brooklyn and London, wanting to target the Caribbean Diaspora and while the clicks measured at 147 and 183 respectively, the number of free downloads on Amazon.com didn’t budge much.


Figure 3 and Figure 4 show the number of impressions by ads and keywords respectively with the highest number of ad impressions going to the one with “Free Kindle Downloads” in the headline; a total of 42,283. Over a three day period, the Google Adwords campaign cost USD 47.95, at an average of USD 0.12 per click.

 

Advertising on other channels


I didn’t spend money to advertise on Google+, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. I depended on followers, acquaintances and friends, hash tags and writer and reader communities on Google+. Amazon Associates offers a URL Shortener service which embeds their products on Twitter. A post on Twitter from @potbake or @lyndonbaptiste looked something like: Get "oOh My Testicles!" free on your #Kindle: http://amzn.to/V8Z8ax. #freekindlebooks #ebook #amwriting #amreading. Folks follow these hash tags. Use them. I noticed spikes in downloads after tweeting the offers with the hash tags #amreading and #amwriting. Following the results closely on Amazon.com I followed with this tweet: Boy Days ranks #4,258 free in the Kindle store. Do you think we can take it to the top 100? Please RT. I threw out a challenge and asked for help. Users retweeted the post. Their followers would have seen it, so although the book doesn’t make it anywhere close to the top 100, the word’s spreading.

I also posted in relevant communities on Google+ using more hash tags because this service doesn’t have Twitter’s character restrictions. On Instagram I shared images and tagged them using the same hash tags. However I can’t say the results were fantastic. I guess sometimes you just got to spend money, even when you’re giving away something that’s free. Weird huh?

The results


I planned to document but not necessarily share the results. When I first published the promotion, Stephen Hall, a Bajan author, asked that I share something about the experience; and I promised to bare all, because I strongly believe in sharing anything that can help others even if I don’t know how the heck it helped me. It’s important to me that you remember this isn’t to let my left hand know what my right is doing. It’s to share my experience. If one writer or publicist benefits in terms of how they think about or plan a future campaign I will say sharing this information was worth it.

Here are the results: over a 3 day period I spent USD 77.95 promoting the offers: USD 30.00 on Facebook; USD 47.95 on Google Adwords. On the Christmas Day, 203 free books were downloaded. On the 26 and 27 of December, 161 free books were downloaded. I’ll share the lessons that immediately come to mind and update them as they untangle.
  1. You don’t have money to advertise to the people of the world. You need to have some idea of who might be interested, what’s their age, where are they from.
  2. Not because something is free means people will automatically know about it.
  3. As an author it’s a good idea to have a website.
  4. Create a Facebook Page, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest account.
  5. Promoting is a 24 hour job. A Smartphone is a pretty handy device. Get one. Keep it close.
  6. If you’re using Facebook to advertise, it’s cheaper to advertise links to external websites than Facebook posts. I got great results with a max bid of USD 0.07 for 1,000 impressions.
  7. Create your Facebook Ads at least one week in advance to the actual event. They take time to get approved.
  8. Being in control of your ebook gives you the power to promote it as you like through Amazon KDP and other services.
  9. Looking back, I should have asked users, who downloaded the books, for feedback on how they came across the promotion: which channel, which keyword, which ad?
  10. One U.S. dollar spent on advertising goes a long way on Facebook and Google. Don’t be tempted to overspend.
  11. Don’t rush the results. Don’t sit around refreshing a browser page hoping to see the number of impressions and clicks steadily climb.
  12. Stick to your advertising plan.
  13. Network with like-minded people. Help them expecting nothing in return. It’s okay to ask for help to spread the word.

I’m not sure I can truly measure the results just yet, but it feels pretty great to have given away all those books for Christmas. People have contacted me on Facebook, Twitter and other channels saying “Thanks for the free books!” and that’s worth a lot more to me than money. Randy Baker who was kind enough to promote the event with an article also reviewed Across The Caribbean­—a review which reflects the spirit with which we produced the book. I’m thinking about all the Kindle users who happened upon the promotion and now I’m imagining the glee of turning into a grocery aisle and saying, “Oh boy… free samples.”

Do you have any ideas you'd like to share? Post them as comments.

On the 2013 Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize

Dear Bocas Lit Fest, your website says that the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize is for emerging writers. But, to be eligible, the writer must have had at least one piece of creative writing of no less than 2,000 words published.

But what exactly does "published" mean? "Published" is rather vague. Is an article on a personal blog "published"? Or a letter to the local newspaper? If a website accepted and posted my story do I qualify? If I don’t then has it struck the organisers that a host of "emerging" writers across the Caribbean have automatically been excluded from this competition?

In conversation with an emerging writer I asked her opinion. She said, “I'm concerned about this idea of exclusivity. How can they expect all emerging writers to have published stories already? Doesn’t it seem unfair? Especially to writers in the Caribbean who need opportunities like this—it’s like they’re just deflating ambition. I think the problem lies in the fact that it gives false hope. When you think something good is finally happening in the region it just turns out to be a whole lot of hot air”

I believe this matter needs clarification before the competition ends on Sunday, 30th September, 2012 at 6 PM. Thank you.

Are you an emerging writer? Please share your thoughts below. I’ll update the article to include your views. Hopefully the Bocas Lit Fest has ears.

Behind prison walls with Ryan Ramoutar

Author Ryan Ramoutar sat opposite us wearing a jersey, three-quarter pants and handcuffs. Because it was a “special visit” we met on the second floor of an admin building in a cramped, air-conditioned half wall, half glass office, Ryan on one side of the table, his aunt, fiancé and I on the other. A lean man of twenty-five with chiselled features, he appeared terribly shy, but conversation and a nervous chuckle came easily. Occasionally, he shivered. During the interview, the door remained open and prison officers glanced in. Two seats away, Ryan’s aunt dabbed her eyes while she listened. Whenever I glanced down to scribble, he joked with his fiancé, “How are you?”, “Do you like my haircut? I tried something: I combed it to the side like a Chine’e.” Gradually, we became a family of four and an interview I had difficulty preparing for became an unstructured yet flowing conversation.

Lyndon: Ryan, it’s great to finally meet you. I’d like to congratulate you on your first book. Your aunt also mentioned you secured several O-Level subjects.

Ryan: It’s nice to meet you too. Yes, I did Human Social Biology and Principles of Business and Office Administration, passing with ones and twos. I had to study on my own as the subjects inmates can sign up for are limited to Mathematics, English and Social Studies. Hopefully this opens new doors for other inmates. I also hope to pursue advanced studies in Sociology, Communications and Caribbean Studies.

Lyndon: Tell us about Ryan Ramoutar.

Ryan: I was born in Princes Town. I passed for Cowen Hamilton Secondary School, a seven year school so I was off to a good start. My dad committed suicide when I was ten, then my mom left, so I grew up with my grandparents and aunts. I used to do trade: joinery and tiling. I was getting money. I eventually dropped out of school at 17 and began working for a security firm. I hoped to get into the army under a special programme. Along the way, I strayed and now I’m here in prison. I’ve been here for the last eight years. As a boy I used to write in a notepad. Three years ago I decided that instead of watching walls and wasting time in prison I should write a book about my personal experiences.

Lyndon: Pretend you’re a salesman and I’m a customer: sell me Breakable Moments.

Ryan: The read will quench your thirst. It’s a cross genre: crime and romance. According to my foreign publisher, it’s a gun powder smelling romance. I used many adaptations from my life in order to give the realistic imagery to the readers, and the rest—well—it’s all about my wild and creative imagination.

Lyndon: What’s the message?

Ryan: Originally, Breakable Moments was supposed to be an autobiography. I wanted to let out the pent up emotions of a past relationship. [Glancing at his fiancé] Not you eh, babe. I especially wanted to highlight the small factors that could push people over the edge, such as a poor boy getting a girl pregnant and needing money for an abortion. I wanted people internationally, not locally, to understand what leads to crime in a third world country.

Lyndon: What are some other “small factors” that come to mind?

Ryan: Pursuing money for a better life. Love. Friends.

Lyndon: It’s interesting that you specifically highlighted an international audience. Do you think we locals even understand how these “small factors” contribute to crime?

Ryan: The majority don’t. They are driven by the media, and the media shows you what they want.

Lyndon: As we’re on the topic, what do you think can be done to address crime?

Ryan: We need programmes that integrate individuals at an early stage, from preschool through primary to secondary school, programmes that address the small factors.

Lyndon: What drives you as a writer?

Ryan: Inmates, officers, family, friends, my fiancé. It feels good when people give me the kudos. Now I help teach English. Sometimes while I’m reading an inmate would shout, “My pores raising, boy!” and I feel like my writing is doing something, it means something.

Lyndon: I’m very curious: when and where do you write?

Ryan: I write in my cell. It’s no problem because there are lights in the cell. I scribble in different notebooks, notes, plots, character sketches, writing, rewriting. There are five of us in the cell.

Lyndon: Five! I always thought there were two to a cell. I have been misinformed by movies. As a writer how do you manage?

Ryan: There’s always talking, quarrelling, cursing but after eight years you learn how to blank out the noise, brush it off, now I can write as if I’m alone. But yes, sometimes I read to them.

Lyndon: At least during the first draft of a story I think writing is a very private affair. I imagine that as a writer in a tight space and in the constant presence of others you must get many suggestions.

Ryan: Yes. While I may note them I stick to my plot. Even before I begin to write I know what happens.

Lyndon: As a writer in prison what do you lack most?

Ryan: Research material. And a laptop [chuckles]. NALIS runs the prison library in the MSP (Maximum Security Prison), but here in remand the library is wish-wash. There are encyclopaedias and textbooks but they are old and only skim the surface. Some James Patterson books will be great.

Lyndon: There’s a poster in the corridor that compares reformative and retributive theories. Under reformative theory “patience” and “guidance” are noted as key elements. Having said that how has the prison authority responded to your accomplishments as an author?

Ryan: They haven’t met my expectations. There was talk of a launch, only talk. I would have also expected that my accomplishment would have spurred a programme to inspire other inmates who would like to get published, perhaps even through the prisons. They do it with poetry but it isn’t for personal gain.

Lyndon: And the inmates’ response?

Ryan: They call me author. They call me bright boy. My success has inspired the older heads. I think it has showed everyone it is possible to accomplish great things inside prison.

Lyndon: How have national bookstores responded to your publication?

Ryan: I’m a bit disappointed at the response. I was especially disappointed when a big bookstore rejected my book. It piqued my curiosity. I wondered if it is because I’m a prisoner.

Lyndon: There’s something I wanted to say earlier. I was a bit disappointed that there was nothing about prison life in Breakable Moments.

Ryan: Being in prison and writing about the reality could have caused problems and disturbances I rather avoid. I will get there gradually.

Lyndon: Was Breakable Moments censored?

Ryan: Yes. It was scanned by an Acting Supervisor and approved by a Programme Officer. But I go into prison life in my next book, Kiss of a Killer. Of course the prison and characters are fictitious.

Lyndon: I remember my own experience when I first held my book 90 Days of Violence. I thought I would sell 500 copies in the first week. What was it like for you with Breakable Moments?

Ryan: I was real’ excited. When it was first published my aunt sold about 90 copies. That included 30 copies to The National Library. I thought it was going and done in a flash. I told my aunt here, “We need to print more copies.” But sales slowed. I don’t think locals have interest in local works. When they think about buying something from a local writer, they think the smallest amount is asking too much money for “something local”.

Lyndon: Looking back is there anything you would change about Breakable Moments?

Ryan: No nothing… but there are some typos, so maybe the editor.

Lyndon: Tell us about Kiss of a Killer.

Ryan: Romario Conor is ex-military and an assassin for the Columbian mafia. His job is to oversee the mafia’s business, kill those who don’t keep their end of the bargain. The real trouble starts for Romario when a young American woman witnesses a murder committed by two high-ranking members of the mafia. He’s ordered to take her out but develops feelings for her. In turn the mafia orders a hit on both Romario and the girl. I personally admire this book because Breakable Moments is my first try and I was able to do more in-depth research for this book.

Lyndon: Where can we get copies of Breakable Moments?

Ryan: Breakable Moments is available at NALIS, Mohammed’s Bookstore, Princes Town, R.I.K. Booksellers, Ishmael Khan, Book Specialists, and online at Amazon.com and Smashwords. There’s also my website. Geneva Hosein, my fiancé, can be reached at (868)355-0824; and my aunt, Delinda Sadar, at (868)396-4555.

Lyndon: Given your restrictions, publishing Breakable Moments must have been a challenge?

Ryan: It was indeed. But I kept at my goal, thanks to my family, my fiancé and some prison officers who worked with me to gather information on publishing.

Lyndon: You mentioned a foreign publisher for Kiss of a Killer. Why the move from a local publisher?

Ryan: If I had the knowledge I have now, I would have used a foreign publisher for my first book. Producing the title is free, and it’s internationally edited, designed and published.

Lyndon: You sound remarkably impressed with international publishers. Can local publishers compete or meet your expectations?

Ryan: I think you can. If publishers arrange with writers to produce titles for free and receive payments for services as the books are sold as soft or hardcopies over time.

Lyndon: I always ask writers to share tips.

Ryan: Expand your vocabulary; in my cell I have lists of words stuck to the wall with soap. Find the right word for the right situation.

Lyndon: The officers are signalling that it’s time to wrap up. It was a pleasure, Ryan. I had fun.

Ryan: Thanks for coming, Lyndon. I’d like to thank you for your support and encouragement. I look forward to seeing you all again.

Interview with a Lioness

Potbake.com: Boneyfide Lioness. Is that your real name?

Boneyfide Lioness: My real name is Colleen Williams. "Bonafide" is another word for genuine, authentic… the fact it is spelt 'Boneyfide' is because I'm slim.  I'm a warrior, and I see myself as a Lioness, hence the second part of the name.

Potbake.com: Where are you from?

Boneyfide Lioness: I was born in Trinidad, West Indies but currently reside in Boston, Massachusetts.

Potbake.com: Tell us more.

Boneyfide Lioness: I was born in Port of Spain; I lived in Diego Martin, and went to Girls’ RC School.  I was sexually abused starting at age 9 so my focus was to get out of that situation and escape from Trinidad.

Potbake.com: When did you begin writing?

Boneyfide Lioness: I started at the age of ten. I had a little journal and I jotted down everything that happened in it.  I kept up with keeping journals over the years and it was my journal writing that expanded into the book I have today.

Potbake.com: As a child, which books made an impression on you?

Boneyfide Lioness: I was not reading that much, I started reading more when I became a teenager.

Potbake.com: What inspired you to write Who Feels It Knows It?

Boneyfide Lioness: I had a lot of abuse in my life growing up. My life has always been painful with a lot of obstacles to overcome.  This book was a way for me to deal with my pain as well as to inspire others—especially abused women—to look for the way out. I came out stronger, so can you. 

Potbake.com: Why that title?

Boneyfide Lioness: People are always telling me they know what I'm going through, but I always respond by telling them, "You can’t know if you don't feel it."  Or, in other words, Who Feels It Knows It.

Potbake.com: What’s the message?

Boneyfide Lioness: That there is a way out of abuse, and that it can make you stronger. Everything that happened in my life made me the warrior I am today, and that you can be that warrior for yourselves and your children as well.

Potbake.com: Is Who Feels It Knows It more fact than fiction?

Boneyfide Lioness: 100% fact. It is based on my life experiences, and how I have interacted with the people in my life who have affected me. My parents, my former husband, all those who abused me, and ending on a positive note with a new relationship.

Potbake.com: Emotionally, was writing this book challenging?

Boneyfide Lioness: The memories that I had to face in order to write the book were extremely painful: all forms of abuse, neglect, being cheated on and more. I had to relive all of them in order to write this book.

Potbake.com: What books influence your life most?

Boneyfide Lioness: I read a lot of inspirational books. I always try to figure out how people got over the things that they went through, and I try to incorporate what I learn into my own life.

Potbake.com: Who’s your favourite author?

Boneyfide Lioness: Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life.  This book is very inspiring to me on a personal level—it has helped me to stand up and take control of my own life.

Potbake.com: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Boneyfide Lioness: Sandy Daley, the author of the book Whose Vagina is it, Really?, is helping me with my Who Feels It Knows It, assisting me with editing and publicizing it. I look up to her as someone who is reaching out to people in the same way I am, writing about personal experiences to empower women.

Potbake.com: Please finish this sentence, "An empowered woman is..."

Boneyfide Lioness: An empowered woman is strong, intelligent, and wise. She has worked hard, she demands the best, she stands for something, she's not easily fooled. She knows what she want and what she has to do to get it.

Potbake.com: Do you see writing as a career?

Boneyfide Lioness: No, it was a way for me to process the pain of my past, but I don't want to pursue writing full time.

Potbake.com: What did writing this book teach you?

Boneyfide Lioness: Through the process of writing my book, I realized who my real friends are. I saw who was out to just use me and who was really there to stand with me and support my endeavours.  I learned that I did have a happy ending—even though while I was going through the pain I didn't see an end in sight.

Potbake.com: Do you have any advice for other writers?

Boneyfide Lioness: When writing don't hold back—let everything out. Let the readers be engaged in the book! You have a message to send and a story to tell. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable; that will let readers know that you can be trusted, that you are authentic.

Potbake.com: As we're on the subject of writing, you write best when and where?

Boneyfide Lioness: When I am alone and near the beach or river—anything with water.

Potbake.com: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Boneyfide Lioness: Yes I would expand the book and go into greater details. I finished writing the book and I felt I still had more to say.

Potbake.com: Expanding years of journal entries into a book must be a nightmare.

Boneyfide Lioness: What was important was to get the message out there that no one should accept the fact they are in any way responsible for abuse, and that there is a way out if you look hard enough. As far as me going into more detail, here is an example.  The poem As I Leave You was dedicated to my former husband. It just said bits and pieces of what happened. It was more terrifying than I let on. The pain was too much to bear, so I did not go into all of the details when I wrote each journal entry.

Potbake.com: The editing process could test the relationship between writer and editor. What was this phase like?

Boneyfide Lioness: It did have its moments but a lot of the conflict came from me not understanding what my editor was trying to say to me.

Potbake.com: Let’s talk about publicizing your book. Does it come cheap?

Boneyfide Lioness: I don't know. Does it? *Smile*

Potbake.com: How do you plan to get the word out?

Boneyfide Lioness: I have been informed by my publicist that she will be sending me to interviews and such. Travel will also be in my future.

Potbake.com: Free marketing. Writers love those two words. Except social media any recommendations?

Boneyfide Lioness: I would say having friends I know in the business—I am thinking they would be there for me, they will help me as well as I help them, as word of mouth is one of the greatest marketing tools.

Potbake.com: How can people connect with you?

Boneyfide Lioness: They can stay informed by Liking my Facebook Author Page or following me at @EmpressColleen on Twitter.

Potbake.com: You stirred painful memories to write Who Feels It Knows It. Share a fairytale.

Boneyfide Lioness: A fairytale moment that is actually true—I always said that one day I hope a man can come and take me out of this mess and accept me for me and realize that I did not cause all this abuse on myself. He really came and did just that. I wrote about it to close off my book—you can refer to the last 2 poems, Mr. & Mrs. Undefeated.

Potbake.com: In closing you’d like to?

Boneyfide Lioness: I would like to thank Sandy Daley for being such a wonderful friend and encouragement while editing and publicizing my book. And I want to thank Robert Gibson, my husband, my angel—he has been there for me showing me the happy ever after of fairy tales, and he truly has been the one who has made my dreams come true. He has been the one who kept me going when I was ready to give up and the one who showed me that I could love again. He is my Mr. Undefeated.

Santana: The same old story?

Leroy is the latest short clip from Roger Alexis, the master puppeteer who brought us I’m Santana The Movie. Leroy is a terribly rude six-year-old whose mother believes he's a saint. The action is straightforward and packed with social commentary. Mr. Alexis has an eye for the subtle. Stereotypes are here to stay. Mr. Alexis knows this. He has embraced them, and his characters aren’t shy.

At the beginning of the clip, Leroy's cigarette-smoking mother (who, by the way, doesn't wash underwear properly) sends him to the parlour for a half-pack [of cigarettes] and thus begins the young puppet’s adventures. He trots along, singing merrily, reaches the parlour, stands and stares at the Chinese shopkeeper who ignores him. A familiar and favourite face from the Santana movie comes in and places an order, skipping Leroy who isn't happy and rains obscenities on the Chine’e man.

At one point Leroy tells him, “I doh wa’ no dog meat y’u know!”

The shopkeeper eventually gives in to the bullying and sells the cigarettes to the underage boy. On his way home Leroy cusses Patsy and confirms that Narine hasn’t returned since leaving her in the movie. At Santana’s house, Leroy doesn’t only gape at Santana and Janice making love but comments on his prowess. Santana eventually catches Leroy. While he’s raining taps on the little boy, Mr. Maxwell, an old timer, who sounds as old and British as he looks (kudos to the voice actor who has the slow drawl spot on) intervenes on poor Leroy’s behalf, but to no avail for the little devil soon turns on him too. And another cuss-out starts. 

Mr. Maxwell follows Leroy home and complains to his mother. Leroy pretends he’s a saint. Marva blindly defends her son, proving that gone are the days where strangers could carry home news on children. Right? The clip ends with Mr. Maxwell and Marva slugging the choicest beeps at each other, and Leroy, the little devil, facing the camera sniggering at his role models.

I've been intrigued by Mr. Alexis's work since Thou Shall Not Horn where Santana walks inside and, sniffing the air, says "Janice, why this place smelling o’ sal’fish?" There was a spontaneity to the screenplay that worked well. From viewing The Fete and The Contemporary Sorcerer, there was no doubt about it: Mr. Alexis trusted his instincts and was more curious about filmmaking than story. The situations were real, light, local. This is what makes the franchise so successful. Caribbean people could relate. As the world expanded two things happened. Roger began paying more attention to story and delightful characters came to life. I like Pastor Stewart. When it comes to cussing he outshines Samuel L. Jackson, but much more than that, he’s a round character, perhaps better developed than Santana: the viewer has a sense of his ambitions, occupation, contradictions, vices, fears, family life.

But, for me, the quality faded as the clips came fast and furious. The characters’ impediments were always the same. And the solution was always the same: cuss, threaten or fight. When I saw Kizzy in the toilet, I had enough.

Then there was the movie. I almost fainted with delight when I saw Santana on a poster for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed it (For some strange-strange reason parts of the movie remind me of 4 Layer Cake with Daniel Craig). After, I caught up on the clips I had deliberately missed. I watched the movie again and enjoyed it twice as much, appreciating the second time around the contradictions with what characters said and actually did. For me, Mr. Alexis had redeemed himself. Today, it thrills me to think how far I'm Santana The Movie has reached and will reach.

Initially, I wanted to write a review for the movie but didn't. For one, I’d never written a movie review and didn’t think I could do justice to the marvel. Secondly I was more concerned with what would follow: the short clips, the sequel.

When I'm playing pool I don't focus on the current shot. I think about the next shot because that determines if I get to play again. Leroy is a shot that follows I’m Santana The Movie. The clips to come may tell us a lot about the direction Mr. Alexis plans to take the next movie. As a no-nonsense man with a flair for action, Santana played a crucial role in Leroy. Although he only featured briefly he remains a coarse hero.

Although we've seen new characters (Marva and Mr. Maxwell) and more of old characters, the impediments they face and their responses are more or less the same, and has been for awhile. Marva could very well be Pastor Stewart. Eventually the cussing will get old. If this trend continues for the next five years, we'll see the same story through a hundred different puppets. As is, the cuss-out segments are so elaborate and so extended they overshadow the moral messages.

13 ways to inspire students to learn more and like you more

I love people. And I love software. To get the best of both worlds I teach people how to build software. As a student and teacher I’ve met people who struggle with programming, and in every class, without fail, some get left behind. And as topics "get harder", more and more get left behind. Students get frustrated. Some drop out. Some stare blankly while one or two excel.

Whether or not teachers know it, most classrooms are managed with a tired, old bureaucratic approach, the same traditional approach which has doomed countless IT projects. Perhaps it was inevitable, given contractual considerations such as contact hours and course outlines. Classes are managed with strict deadlines; it’s difficult to revisit topics until the very end. Teachers are terrific advocates of notes or documentation. In the long run students “waste” a bulk of time conceptualising rather than implementing. Perhaps because of the dreaded word plagiarism, teachers view the class as—just that—a class rather than a team with individuals. In many cases it’s not the content that’s frustrating students, but the way the classroom is managed.

If the primary goal is developing the human resource through education this failing approach has to stop. Teachers and classes need to evolve. Here are 13 ways teachers can get the most out of students.

  1. If you do, stop thinking you're a god. You're a teacher, yes, but you’ll get better results if you see yourself as part of the team.
  2. The product isn't delivering the course content, that's an activity. A trained team member is the product.
  3. Stop saying things are hard. But admit when they are challenging.
  4. Stop reading from the bloody textbook. Team members can read. You understand the gibberish and you want them to glow with delight when you simplify and unravel the mysteries inside.
  5. Textbooks and notes from ten or twenty years ago aren't the only resource. There's content online that you can seek out and recommend: videos, podcasts, webinars, industry-relevant news. Communicate ideas in fun ways, such as drawings. Often times a different perspective helps.
  6. Before every session, interact with your team. In less than five minutes you could capture all problems and weave the solutions into the current session. This way your deadlines aren't compromised and the team has a much better chance of moving forward together.
  7. Trust team members. Challenge them. Ask questions. Encourage them to do the same and bring fresh ideas. They learn, you learn.
  8. Don’t just preach best practices. Lead from the front: use them.
  9. People forget, especially when they're learning a wealth of new ideas. Keep examples simple. Now isn't your time to look super-duper smart.
  10. From time to time, pair team members and let them work on mini challenges. They'll learn from each other and you're preparing them for real projects.
  11. It irks team members when they ask for feedback and get abstract, convoluted answers that do nothing but present more questions. When a team member asks for feedback on work they've actually done, please don't say "It looks good" or "that could work" or "that wouldn't work" or "why don't you think about it some more and get back to me". For crying out loud tell them exactly why it could work, wouldn't work or the exact direction to head in!
  12. If you don't know, say "I'm not sure but I will find out and answer your question after break or in the next class." Or ask someone in the team if they know. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
  13. Credit and encourage team members for their contributions. When you meet milestones, have fun, celebrate them with the team. It's as simple as saying "Well done, ladies and gentlemen, well done!"