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CREATIVE SPACE – AN EVENING AND AN EDUCATION WITH MARLON JAMES
Wednesday 1st May 2019

By Joanne C. Hillhouse


James signed books at the Best of Books the morning after

The literary event, An Evening with Marlon James was an education, which is good as there were a number of writers in the audience. The Evening, organized by HAMA Productions and guided by Brenda Lee Browne, who quizzed James, before opening up the discussion, was held at Sugar Ridge Resort. The Best of Books Bookstore was on hand selling books by James and by local authors, and also hosted the international bestselling, multi-award winning, Jamaican born, US based author for a book signing the morning after The Evening.

Both had a vibe of bonhomie, The Evening with a little more wine and finery.

But the takeaway for writers paying attention was substantive.

James spoke of grounding onesself in the story – “I research enough so that I can feel like I’m experiencing it (when I’m writing).”
He spoke of listening to one’s characters – “When your character comes, they’re now people and they don’t take shit from you,” he said. “I’m just trying to catch up with these characters who’ve gotten ahead of me,” he also said. He cautioned against projecting ourselves or our desires in to our characters.

He spoke of silencing censors, internal and external – “if you start thinking what will people think, the process of drawing from your head to the page gets corrupted.” And he brought it back to character: “we owe it to the characters to be honest.”

Also fielding questions about publishing – getting in, navigating the world of – James, who notably had his debut novel, John Crow’s Devil, rejected 78 times, emphasized believing in yourself and listening to the rejections that can actually help you. “One of the best blessings you will get is a rejection letter explaining why you’re being rejected.”

As for navigating the world of publishing, he pointed out the importance of choosing (or targetting) the agent or publisher who’s right for you and your work. “You want publishers who will keep your book in print,” for instance, he said. Again, he emphasized research.


Photo: Best of Books Bookstore

Beyond that, he said, it’s about continuing to “push, push, and just keep writing.” The rejections will come, but “it’s a brave thing and you just have to come to terms with rejection,” James said. So, he urged that anyone with the will to write and publish, keep submitting. Of course, making sure to send your best work even as you “take a chance, take risks, do the crazy thing” – part of that being aiming for the improbable whether it’s the dream agent or the dream prize. There is a taste, he said, right now for Caribbean writing or perhaps more specifically fresh and diverse voices which authors like James (successfully tacking the slavery narrative in Book of Night Women, the crime drama in A Brief History of Seven Killings, and now epic fantasy in Black Leopard, Red Wolf). “I had to get over this idea that the work isn’t good enough,” he said, indicating with that statement that he, too, has had to overcome the impostor syndrome with which many writers grapple.

Perhaps nothing some of these writers haven’t heard before but reinforcement is always good, and there’s no denying that hearing it from someone who comes from your part of the world and has climbed every mountain you dream of climbing, carries a certain weight; and for the new writers, no doubt it gave them a sense of purpose and possibility.

This sponsored post is part of the online edition of the culture-and-arts-focused CREATIVE SPACE series which gives local businesses an opportunity to boost their brand while boosting local art and culture. The original is posted at Jhohadli – blog of author/creative writer and journalist Joanne C. Hillhouse.


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