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.

Music: Coco Mbassi, Soul Artist

Coco Mbassi

It’s quite a challenge to describe the range of emotions Coco Mbassi‘s music carries me through. You know how, sometimes, a song moves you even though you don’t understand the lyrics? I’m hinting at the universality of the musical language. She does it.

CM_SiseaI was in Cameroon the first time I heard her music. Seating in a packed truck, I was exhausted, sleep deprived, and stuck in one of Douala’s notorious traffic jams. The radio was on; my mind was off. Na Pii hit the waves and the atmosphere changed; so did my mood. At the time I had no idea what the song was about, but it touched where it hurt and made it better. I enquired about the singer, then I learned that the song spoke to our soul’s resilience. Someone had translated the comforting lyrics for me. Before I left, my cousin kindly offered me her copy of Coco’s latest album at the time – Sisea.

CM_sepiaCoco embodies cultural diversity through her eclectic musical style and lyrics, and her linguistic fluency shines through her songs. She describes her music as a “tree with deep African roots and branches that extend some towards classical music, some towards soul, gospel and jazz, and others towards Latin music and even pop music.” She sings about life, love, social justice – promoting cross-cultural understanding and respect. She sings in English and Duala, just to quote a few.

Coco_Serge NgandoCoco’s music is a family and love affair. She writes most of the songs, and co-produces the music with her husband, Serge Ngando Mpondo. Trained in jazz, Serge Ngando excels at the bass, double-bass and the guitar.

I don’t want to make this post too long, because I want you to get to her music as quickly as possible; that’s the good stuff! Please, enjoy. 😉

For additional information about Coco Mbassi’s music and to get in touch with her, visit:

CM_Album Jóao Coco Mbassi’s website
o Facebook
o YouTube
o itunes
o MySpace
o Soundcloud
o Twitter

Her latest album is Jóa. The singer thoughtfully translated the lyrics of her songs in English, with a recap in French. Her music is also on spotify. Enjoy!