Thursday, April 26, 2012

Author Guest Post - Joanne C Hillhouse and Oh Gad!

Oh Gad!: A NovelOh Gad!: A Novel

by Joanne C Hillhouse
Paperback, 432 pages
Published April 17th 2012 by Strebor Books

A stirring novel about a woman facing cross-cultural odds and redefining everything she understands about her family, herself, and the country she’s never really been able to call home. Nikki Baltimore was born in Antigua but grew up with her dad in the United States. With each year, she’s grown further apart from her mother and maternal siblings, potters in rural Antigua. Her mother’s funeral brings Nikki back to the island, and, at a professional and personal crossroads, she makes the impulsive decision to stay after being offered a job by the ruling government. Soon, Nikki is embroiled in a hurricane of an existence which includes a political hot potato, confusion in her romantic life, and deepening involvement in the lives of the family she left behind. Will Nikki eventually find her place in the chaos and begin to plant the roots that have escaped her all her life?
Colorimetry welcomes Joanne C Hillhouse, author of Oh Gad!: A Novel

I can't stop staring at this cover!!  I love the flow of her writing, not to mention the premise of her book. I was thrilled (and humbled) when she shared the following with me:

Recently watching online an old vid of Charlie Rose chatting with Jamaica Kincaid, something she said resonated with me: I understood the book much better when I was writing it. It’s neither here nor there that I was born in and fictionalize Antigua, as does Kincaid; at that moment what I felt was a kinship born of being a writer in the uncomfortable position of having to explain one’s writing. Shouldn’t it explain itself? And how do I know what inspired me to write this book? The start of this journey is so long ago it is a vague memory now and anything I could say, now, should be quantified by Maybes.

Maybe I wanted to write about sisters, and mothers and daughters as I tried to figure out these relationships in my own life.

Maybe dealing with grief, I wanted to understand how you come to terms with it; and how in doing so you walk that thin line between sanity and clarity.

Maybe I wanted to figure out how you might connect with others when you’re still trying to figure out who you are.

Maybe the things beyond the individual control, when you’re a small person on a small island, frustrate me.

I don’t remember specifically why I started writing Oh Gad!

I do know that once started I was compelled to finish it, to get inside of these people.

And maybe that comes of me feeling outside of things; writing being a window I crawl through, and once inside run my palms over the furniture and move things around, and sit and sip coffee and listen for a while.

At this stage in the process, I’m more interested in why people choose to read Oh Gad!and what they get from it once they do. And so, the launch aside, my favourite moment of the past week, since the book’s debut, has been a discussion I had with a friend about the book.

Would she be reading it if she didn’t know me? She’s not a big reader, so who knows, but she said she would; she said she’s enjoying the slow reveal of these characters. And who are her favourites? Fanso and Nikki – Nikki is the lost protagonist at the centre of the tale, Fanso is the brother who is the only solid thing she can hold on to within a family in which she feels at sea. She likes how Carlene, Nikki’s in-law talks, she says, but not always what she has to say; and Belle is too happy for her taste; and Audrey, the big sister, reminded us both of a certain type of Antiguan woman – matter of fact and hardy and often times difficult to take if you’re too sensitive or too raw. I loved this conversation because she was obviously relating to, caring about these people and the outcome of their story as a reader, as I had as a writer. And so I shared with her that Aeden was perhaps the most fun character to write, how I loved him and his idiosyncrasies, fictional him anyway; in real life I’d probably want him to grow up as much as Nikki did. My friend called him a daddy’s boy, and maybe he is a little but I think he surprises in the end. But she hasn’t gotten their yet.

Her breaking her rules to share with me like this felt like a gift, a moment of reconnecting with Oh Gad! not as a commodity to be marketed but as the story of people I once felt drawn to enough to sacrifice years of my life to hanging out with them.

I’m reminded that I started writing them for the same reason I start writing any story, I am a student of human nature and whether experienced or observed it piques something in me. My friend and I mused, during that conversation that even people that know you well can get it wrong sometimes, can mis-read or mis-interpret your intent; and no matter how old we get even we’re trying to figure ourselves out as we change and our ideas and emotions evolve. I know I’m a bit wary of people who live in the land of Certainty, unmoved and unchallenged by the world changing around them, by the way they are changed by it. Wary, I think, because I can’t relate to it. Where I live hurricanes come every year and even if they don’t they tease you with the probability and so you live on the edge. And though the sun rises and sets like clockwork, even that is never quite the same; the colours mutable.

Oh Gad! is a colloquialism for the locally made pottery, something at once functional and artistic, beautiful and fragile. But maybe it speaks as well to the uncertainty that defines life in a small place and people trying to cope with grief, and love, and politics in all its deceptive force, and figuring out who they are and where they stand in all this.

One of my ‘favourite’ scenes in Oh Gad! happens on the beach, and in it there is tragedy and the hushed sound of a character – one of those hardy women referenced earlier – breaking, and a thread of understanding forming between the two sisters. It’s an odd scene for me to favourite but I do because it was an emotionally rough scene for me both as writer and reader, and I like scenes like that, that make me uncomfortable.

The characters in Oh Gad! are uncomfortable, uncertain,  for much of the book, and that makes them interesting to me; maybe that’s why I wrote them.
About the author:

Joanne C. Hillhouse is the author of Oh Gad! – a 2012 release from Strebor/Atria/Simon & Schuster. A University of the West Indies graduate and international fellowship recipient to the Breadloaf Writers Conference at Middlebury College in Vermont, Hillhouse also participated in the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute at the University of Miami. There she began work on her first book, The Boy from Willow Bend, which is on Antigua and Barbuda’s schools’ reading list. In addition to her second book, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Hillhouse has published in African, Caribbean, and American journals. She’s been announced as the 2011 recipient of the David Hough Literary Prize by the Caribbean Writer and previously won a UNESCO Honour award for her contribution to the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. That contribution includes her Wadadli Youth Pen Prize project – Joanne C. Hillhouse is a freelance writer and editor. For more visit

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