If you want to skip my rambling and get to the good stuff just scroll down!
For the interview I was a little more hesitant. We have all heard the Author Behaving Badly horror stories and now with the advent of GoodReads Bullies, I didn't (and still don't) want any internet drama. But after observing her on twitter (@eugeniaoneal) and reading Jessamine, I decided to give it a shot. After working with Eugenia O'Neal, I will let my guard down a little
Enough of my rambling. On to the interview.
Interview with Author Eugenia O'NealBackground:
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
- When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book? I began writing when I was in university and read a book I thought I could better. That first book was Just An Affair which actually became my second published book, after From the Field to the Legislature: A History of Women in the Virgin Islands.
- The stories I tell choose me which might sound airy-fairy but is true. I read or hear about something and it catches me and then the story idea comes and won't let go until I've written it out. I've got one idea right now that's been with me for a couple years and is definitely calling my name so I'll probably be starting work on it soon.
- Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
- Well, I love Jessamine and I couldn't get it published. I had an agent who sent it to publishers and they liked it but they said things like "it's too quiet" and "it's not commercial enough." After about a year of making the rounds my agent and I parted ways and it languished for a long time in my cabinet. Then I started reading J. A. Konrath's blog and reading more about indie authors and I thought what have I got to lose so I went ahead and self-published though it wasn't something I would have considered five or ten years ago. The publishing industry has changed, though. The big publishing houses sometimes reject good books for their own reasons but I always believed in Jessamine.
- I had to hire my own editor and my own book cover designer but that was great because I got to say how the cover should look. With traditional publishing, you get some degree of input but not total control. I've also worked much harder at getting reviews and doing online interviews than I did with my traditionally published books. The upside is that the royalties paid by Amazon and Smashwords are much higher than those paid by traditional publishers which means authors get the lion's share of the profits which is as it should be.
- Digital publishing offers opportunities that didn't exist before. If I'd chosen to self-publish ten years ago, the books would have been hard copies and there would have been no chance of my getting them in bookstores in the USA or the UK, or anywhere outside of the BVI. With Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing, my books are available in different formats from all major online booksellers - that's pretty important for somebody from a small island territory of about 30,000 people. It makes my books accessible all over the world.
- During one of our Twitter conversations you mentioned that St. Crescens had a history that is common among the islands in the Caribbean. Would you mind explaining that history to readers?
- Sure. Britain freed the slaves in its colonies on 1st August, 1834 and the profitability of the Caribbean's sugar plantations plummeted - there was a lot of competition from the bigger Spanish colonies which, after all, didn't emancipate their slaves for a few more decades and so didn't have the huge labour costs entailed, plus certain European countries had gone into beet sugar production in a big way. A lot of the planters, faced with a loss in profits, and with new labour costs either gave up or tried to impose laws aimed at getting the workers to remain on the plantations for little or no pay. The planters controlled the island assemblies so it was easy for them to pass these laws but, in some islands, such as St. Crescens, they found it hard to enforce the laws - the former slaves either went into the hills or they went away to other islands like St. Thomas where they could get other kinds of work or where they would be paid more. The trouble on St. Crescens began in 1878 - the same year that the people of St. Croix rose in the Fireburn, two years after riots in Barbados destroyed several buildings and a few years after the 1865 Morant Bay rebellion in Jamaica. These riots were all linked both to labour issues and to the planters' refusal to share political power with blacks - the same issues that preoccupied Jessamine's Leando Joseph.
- Your other two books Dido's Prize and Just An Affair are set in the real islands in the Caribbean. What made set Jessamine on the fictitious island of St. Crescens?
- I needed to manipulate the history a bit more than was possible if I'd used a real-life setting. A couple of my friends read it and thought it was Tortola and Tortola was certainly on my mind but so were Barbados and St. Croix. (The BVI has no Great Houses but Barbados and St. Croix do.)
- I would certainly do it again as I found it more liberating. In fact, I'm considering St. Crescens for another book - this time set before Julian makes the decision to return to the island. It would have different characters and be more of a murder mystery. I've been toying with the idea for a little while and gathering info..
- Arabella Adams was English but she was born in India? Why did you choose India?
- I wanted somebody who'd had an experience of a hot country and who felt uncomfortable in England. The British Civil Service in India was quite large and a lot of old India hands, as they were called, often found that returning "home" wasn't quite what they'd thought so it seemed like a good fit. I also wanted to hint at Britain's former imperial grandeur - Arabella went from one British colony that was considered the jewel in Britain's crown to another which had lost its importance and was in decline because the planters couldn't adjust to their new circumstances.
- Yes, very much a conscious decision as I wanted to highlight that both women experienced issues integrating despite the fact that St. Crescens is predominantly black. Race and ethnicity can both a bar to acceptance in any society but perhaps especially so in a relatively small island community.
- No, I actually like all my characters equally but if there's one I'd like to know more about, it's Ma Bett, the healer woman. She's a woman who knows a lot of secrets and her knowledge of plants and herbal healing goes way back to Africa and the Arawak/Carib past.
- You may have sussed me there but I adore history so Arabella's part was actually my favourite. The Caribbean was quite different in her time - there was an immediacy, a power and a grace to people's lives which I'm not sure is present now. Life was hard back then and poverty, disease and oppression were rife but now our societies appear to have bent the knee to the dollar and some of the innate nobility of character has been lost (or perhaps I'm reading things quite wrong and everything is hunky-dory).
- What project are you working on now?
- I'm working on a non-fiction book which is consuming a lot of my time and will consume lots more before I'm finished!
- Yes. It's called The Water of Sunlight and will be very different to anything I've published before in that it's the story of a young, drug-addicted woman's ascent from the abyss of despair after she's imprisoned and discovers her HIV-positive status. The Water of Sunlight will be out in October so please watch out for it!
- I'd like to say thanks for giving me and my books a chance. There are a lot of authors out there and, if you picked up my book, I hope you found something special. I'm on Facebook and Twitter so please connect with me there and I can also be found here and here. Bless!