Lynn Joseph: ‘Writing is always first’

Lynn Joseph

Trinidad’s Newsday senior Reporter JULIEN NEAVES features veteran award winning author and attorney Lynn Joseph in his final Q&A on three Trindad and Tobago finalists for the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature. Joseph is nominated for The Truth Is.

The other two finalists are US Virgin Islands-based Tamika Gibson for her first manuscript De First Family and Danielle Y C McClean for her debut novel The Protector’s Pledge. The winner of the award, which recognises outstanding writing for young adults (YA) by Caribbean authors, will be announced on April 29 during the 2016 NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port-of-Spain.

1. Where in TT are you originally from and what books were you reading growing up? Diego Martin. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Enid Blyton books, the only ones that were available for us children of the Caribbean in my days.

2. What or who started your love of writing? My mother probably.

3. Tell me about balancing writing with your “day job”, family and other responsibilities.

Writing is always first. Even on days I am not writing, I’m thinking about my characters, plots, themes, dialogue. I don’t consider it to be about balancing, I do whatever needs to be done on a particular day, so if it’s working on a legal brief I do that, if it’s something to do with my sons I do that, but writing, it’s always there like bees humming in the background waiting for my complete attention.

I wake up and start writing and don’t stop.

4. Who is your favourite author and why? This is a tough one. I don’t think that I have a favourite author, per se. I am in awe of J R R Tolkien’s rich, fantastic imagination; have a weakness for Jane Austen’s romantic fiction; and love Paul Keens-Douglas’s witty humour.

5. What book(s) is/are currently on your night stand? I’m reading Incarceration Nations by Baz Dreisinger (amazing non-fiction about prison reform, and restorative justice in prisons around the world) and Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (YA).

6. Tell me briefly about your short-listed book and what inspired the story.

My story, The Truth Is . . ., is about a teenage boy from Tobago who lives in Long Island and is a top surfer on the cusp of turning professional.

He is dealing with issues of race in the US, and with figuring out who he is based on his multi-racial, multi-cultural background.

He gets involved with a cyber bullying incident that turns tragic and the story delves into how his search for self-identity correlates to finding his voice and speaking up (and doing something!) at last.

I was inspired by my own teenage son, who moved from the Caribbean to NY, and the issue of bullying is prevalent all over the world and I wanted teens to see how their own fears of not fitting in can be overcome to do the right thing.

7. What was your first thought when you heard you were short-listed for the Burt Award and what would winning the award mean to you? Very excited and I am honoured to be recognised by the Burt Awards committee.

8. We have three Trini female writers short-listed.

What are your thoughts on it? No comment.

9. What three characteristics do you believe are necessary to be a successful writer? Empathy, a child like sense of wonder, and of course hard work and dedication.

10. Finally what advice would you give to aspiring Caribbean writers? Read everything globally; read YA books if you’re writing YA, read in whatever genre you are writing and read extensively.

When you are finished writing your manuscript, print it out then throw up all the pages in the air. Pick up any random page and read it, that one page should be exciting, dynamic, and have energy–each page should sing all by itself, if it doesn’t revise, fix it.

Do that again and again for the pages at your feet. This is my favourite thing to do. It takes a long time, but it’s fun!

Who is Lynn Joseph?

Lynn Joseph lives in the United States and is the author of books inspired by local folklore, A Wave in Her Pocket and The Mermaid’s Twin Sister. Mermaid won the Américas Award for Children’s and YA Literature in 1994.

She has also authored award-winning picture books featuring the traditions and island life of Trinidad and Tobago: An Island Christmas; Jasmine’s Parlour Day; Jump Up Time: A Trinidad Carnival Story, and Coconut Kind of Day, a collection of poems that follows a Trinidadian girl throughout her day.

Joseph travels extensively and writes about the places she has visited or lived, including the Dominican Republic, which is the setting for her book, The Color of My Words, which was named an ALA Notable Children’s Book, an International Reading Association Notable Book for a Global Society, a Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, and a Jane Addams Honor Book.

It was also awarded the Américas Award for Children & YA Literature in 2000.

A starred review by Kirkus said The Color of My Words is “An achingly beautiful story.” Lynn’s YA novel, Flowers in the Sky, was published by Harper Collins in 2013 and features a 16-year-old girl who moves away from her sleepy, small town of Samana in the Dominican Republic where she is known as the “flower girl”, to negotiate life in fastpaced Washington Heights, New York, where she must find a new identity while renewing her bond with her beloved older brother whom she has not seen in over ten years.

Kirkus Reviews called it, “A tale that needs to be told.” Lynn was the recipient of the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature in 2015 for her novel, Dancing in the Rain, which will be published April 2016 by Blue Moon Publishing in Jamaica.

Lynn is an attorney who attended Fordham School of Law in New York, and the mother of two sons, Jared and Brandt.

Lynn graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts with a MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults.

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