Personal Updates: Africa & Writing

I miss my laptop. The thingy died shortly after my return to California after barely surviving Cameroon’s humidity and rain, one fall, my cousin’s GED celebration while I was trying to get some work done (wine spill, cousin is 21), a weekend spent buried in rice while waiting for a local repair shop to be open — I found out there is no Apple store in Cameroon, and businesses are not good yet at advertising themselves online. After a perilous trip I was excited to find a technician who would look at it, not worried that he had to borrow special tools to open it. Anyways. The man gave me back a working computer and my data were still alive. So back to Davis, CA and the almost everything-proof computer saga: my laptop died while I was working. My local tech shop, however, assured me they would be able to repair it. That said, they added, I should hold funerals for the loss of my data. I took the news so calmly that I shocked myself… I had backed most of my documents, but not the most recent revisions of one of my manuscripts. Not sure Time Machine was on, and iCould is full. I should know better, of course.

Kribi, South of Cameroon. It’s also the setting of novel #1.

CAMEROON: I can’t express how much I love the place! I wish for the whole world to discover it, to enjoy its diversity of languages and cultures, landscapes and foods… People have a sharp sense of humor, are super creative regardless of their field of work, and are one of the most resilient peoples I’ve been graced to know, given all the conflicts the population is surrounded by and has survived. The place is not perfect. Living there and having access to decent amenities can be a challenge when the electricity and the water are temporarily out, but it’s all worth it in the end. I wasn’t there on vacation: my mom had been hospitalized prior to my arrival and things were not looking good. I have some years of experience under my belt caring for my elders, but this time around I learned how different caring for my mom was, compared to my father (when he was alive). I was not prepared for all that happened, but I am deeply grateful to have been able to make the trip.

My wild hair and I whipping that WIP in Cameroon…

WRITING: The novel I’m revising primarily takes place in Cameroon. I divided my time between cooking tailored meals for Maman, caregiving, and writing/revising (all night). Being home helped me fact-check, a second time, a few elements of the story. I am also excited to share some good news:

1) I received a scholarship to attend the Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop, which is a writers retreat hosted by Lorin Oberweger’s Free Expressions. Beside being an awesome and very successful freelance editor, Lorin is also an agent at Adams Literary. Literary agent Donald Maass will also be there and will lead workshops. The retreat starts Monday. Much, much has happened on my end, but I hope to be there…

2) To my surprise and to much delight, I was accepted in a summer writing mentorship program called The Avengers of Colour, and spearheaded by the extraordinary Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, whose YA novel, ACE of SPADES, will be out in 2020. Faridah generously shared her writing knowledge and answered all the questions running wild in my mind. She also helped me get my query package ready by critiquing my query letter, synopsis, and (twitter) pitches. I love working on a manuscript; however to be blunt and not so polite, I sucked at the querying business. Faridah demystified it for me and made it fun by sharing her own process. She also critiqued the first 25 pages of my novel. Needless to say that I learned much from the experience. This was only the second time that I worked with someone of African descent on this particular manuscript. I can’t stress this enough: representation matters in publishing. This isn’t just a hashtag; I can attest that it makes a huge difference for a writer of color, and particularly for one that is also an immigrant.

3) While abroad I connected with Nsah Mala, a multilingual Cameroonian writer and poet who became one of my critique partners. Nsah is also, at the time of this post, a PhD student in comparative literature, with an interdisciplinary project exploring how literature influences or impact the fight against climate change. I’m honored. The experience has been both surprising and excellent. In one instance he made me realize how ethnocentric one of my stories was in regards to the other Cameroonian tribes, and it was something I had not spotted. Beside being a rigorous writer and critique partner, he is also a great fact-checker. It has been such a gift to brainstorm on the cultural elements present in our stories, and to discuss our traditional children storytelling structures vs. the Western model. Dear agents and editors reading this blog, Nsah’s literary activities extents to children’s literature.

This has been a long post, so I will stop here. I will have more news to share in due time.

I thank you for reading. Please, don’t hesitate to share your good news in the comment section.

Children’s Book Review: Life Doesn’t Frighten Me

Life Doesn't Frighten Me by Maya Angelou and Jean-Michel Basquiat
Multiculturalism Rocks! Book Review:
Life Doesn’t Frighten Me
Author: Maya Angelou
Illustrator: Jean-Michel Basquiat
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori and Chang
Age range: 4 – 8 years

Story Summary:
I chose this book for my debut book review because,
for me, it has always served as an empowering read to
begin the new year.
 
As we embrace a brand new calendar year,
eager and hopeful, there‘s always a twinge of fear
resonating from the challenges or disappointments from
the year past. The disquietude of things both in and out of our
control. Life Doesn’t Frighten Me is a wonderful
reminder that, no matter what, we hold the power and
grace to overcome any issues that may confront us.
 
Told in soothing and embracing rhyme, as only Angelou
can, the reader is taken on a lyrical hopscotch journey
down the murky hallways of childhood fears and nightmares
– both real and imaginary (“Shadows on the wall/
Noises down the hall/Life doesn’t frighten me at all”).
Matched with the haunting and effectual illustrations of
Basquiat, this story is one both you and your child will
return to through the years.
“I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won’t cry
So they fly
I just smile
They go wild
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.”
 
This line reminds me of just how challenging it can be
for children to find their voice (“I go boo”) and courage
(“I just smile”).
Recommended for:

  • The future artist
  • The future poet
  • The future leader
Theme:
Perfect for little ones who are finding their own sense of courage and bravery.

Learn More: 
Maya Angelou Official Website
Jean-Michel Basquiat Official Website
 
Where to Buy:
Indiebound.org