Yeah, I am.
I guess I should have brought it up to you beloved Kreyolicious readers some time ago. But, I’m the type of person…I like to keep my projects to myself. No, not because I want to be secretive, but because it’s always better, I think, to talk about something when it’s near completion, as opposed to while it is still in progress. After all, who knows, it may never go beyond the in-progress stage. But then, I’m the type of person who always feels an obligation to finish what she starts, and not to undertake what she thinks she may not finish.
This said, I am writing a novel, and guess what? You guessed it. It’s about Haiti. The said novel is actually drawn from one of my screenplays. I thought: I might as well. I felt that since I have a screenplay, the work is half-done, or partly done already, so why not give it that special spin? For those of you who are familiar with the screenplay form, you might know just what I mean. For those of you who may not be, here is the thing: A screenplay tells a story in images, and a screenwriter is supposed to avoid all bombast, all overly descriptive passages. A screenwriter has to tell a story in approximately 120 pages for a two-hour film, whereas someone like my late comrade Count Leo Tolstoy can sit and write a 1300-page novel with all sorts of flowery language describing human nature and human actions. Meanwhile, screen scribes like Tina Fey, Diablo Cody and Mara Brock Akil have to walk on eggshells so as to not violate the screenplay length. A script can’t go on forever!
Well about that novel, that Haitian novel, it’s definitely been an exciting journey. I’m finding that turning the script into a novel is making me revisit the story and the characters. It’s only actually helping the screenplay itself, because it’s making me see aspects of the screenplay that needed to be strengthened, for one. As a matter of fact, once I complete the final revisions on the project, I will do another revision of my screenplay’s final draft.
I’ve always thought of doing a book to go with the site, but I always thought it was going to be a photo book or a non-fiction project of sort, and that’s still under consideration (see I am telling you guys about yet-to-be-achieved plans).
It’s been a very exciting process. Oh, wait. I said that already. Well, it is. So exciting, that sometimes I feel like dropping everything else that was going on in my life. I’m some nerd, some dork; don’t you agree? Are you not in agreement? Now that latter sentence sounds more novelish and highbrow. Tee hee. When the novel writing was still in its early stages, I was already feeling that it was helping me gain this new perspective on the screenplay.
For the screenplay, I had to develop all this background, all this back story for the characters. This part has always been fun. For the novel, I had to elaborate on a lot. What I had to summarize in one word, in a sentence or two in a screenplay, I have to write long passages about in the novel.
It’s almost as if I had to reteach myself the art of the novel. When I was little, I always had this fantasy about writing a book. Then I discovered movies. My peeps would groan when they had to drive me to the library to return movies. After I watched countless movies, and learned the language of movies, I really didn’t think about becoming a novelist much anymore. I wanted to be a screenwriter really. So, basically all that information that I had read in these how-to-books from the library just evaporated, as I read Syd Field’s classic screenwriting books, Screenwriting for Dummies, and The Idiot’s Guide to Screenwriting. So when writing a novel, you have to spell out things for the reader, whereas with screenwriting you are depending on the viewer’s absorption of the images on the screen. The pictures, the expressions on the actors’ faces, the codes, the overall visuals—essentially tell the story.
Guess at this point, I should tell you something other than the fact that the book is about Haiti, right? I could describe this book in so many ways and from so many angles, and you’d think I was talking about several books. On one hand, it’s about Haiti in the 1980s (well, now you know it’s a historical novel). It’s about four women living in Haiti at the time, from the different strata of Haitian society and how their lives intertwine. One character is this girl from the boondocks who goes to the capital city in search of a better life. Another is the seed of the Haitian elite, and yet another is a member of the little bourgeoisie, and the fourth is the daughter of an exile.
As you can tell from reading this site, I love, I absolutely love to do research. I love to read about history. I know that part of a novelist’s job is to create this alternate world, but of course it must always be real. So I had to do a lot of research to know what was going on in Haiti at the time (the 1980s). One of the things that I came across was that in the 1980s, Haitian farmers had to deal with the slaughter of their pigs, and that was economically devastating. There were some hurricanes during the decade too, that killed people, and devastated farms. Since the background of one of my protagonist’s family is farming, I thought that was good to know.
And you know something? The more I read about Haiti’s past, the more I realize that the Haitians I grew up with, the Haitians I had around me, are nothing like the Haitians in Haiti. Does that make sense? Like, the Haitians in the United States are just a sample of Haiti’s population. Haitians are not this one-dimensional group of poverty-stricken, just-waiting-for-a-hand-out-aid-package that they’ve been portrayed as in the media, thank you very much. There’s been millionaires, architects, communists, military men, entrepreneurs, slaves who became kings and emperors, men that were born with nothing, who went on to become presidents. If Haiti hadn’t had all these periods in its history when so many had to go into exile, I wonder how things would be. All that brain in one place. But the brains are scattered. Doing these Haiti History 101 segments have been a real treat; each one has been an eye-opener. There’s been times when I’ve found out things that have made me just stand in front of an archive screen with my mouth dropped open, or in front of a book with my eyes fixated on a revelatory sentence. Sometimes what takes a reader to read in 5-7 minutes, I had to sit and research for 5-7 consecutive days, assembling different sources, citing them, thinking of the right angle approach, and everything.
Now I was talking about my novel and screenplay. How did we jump to history again? Okay, no matter. Back to the subject of the novel. Yeah, um, I’m really going all out with this. Would you believe that I’ve been researching book cover design, have been searching through archives for photographs that would make a great book cover, when I should really be studying?
My screenplay has a title, but I don’t know. I wonder if I’ll keep that same title for the novel. It would make sense to, and I would want to. I’ve played around with a few other titles. Not sure if they’d make the grade. I’m trying to avoid having the word ‘mountain’ in the title. So stereotypical. But then again, the word Haiti itself does means “mountainous land”—there’s no escaping that. But at the same time—
We’ll revisit this novel thing again. I just wanted to let you in the fact that I’m writing one; that’s all.
Are you writing a book? Are you writing a novel? Stop thinking about it, and get to it!