Book & Movie Reviews, Interview

Author Interview with Desmond Hall, author of “Your Corner Dark”

Thank you to @HearOurVoicesBT and @simonteen for an advanced copy of Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall and the chance to interview the author!

Synopsis

American Street meets Long Way Down in this searing and gritty debut novel that takes an unflinching look at the harsh realities of gang life in Jamaica and how far a teen is willing to go for family.

Cover of Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall

Things can change in a second:

The second Frankie Green gets that scholarship letter, he has his ticket out of Jamaica.

The second his longtime crush, Leah, asks him on a date, he’s in trouble.

The second his father gets shot, suddenly nothing else matters.

And the second Frankie joins his uncle’s gang in exchange for paying for his father’s medical bills, there’s no going back…or is there?

As Frankie does things he never thought he’d be capable of, he’s forced to confront the truth of the family and future he was born into—and the ones he wants to build for himself.

Author Interview with Desmond Hall

Adira: Congratulations on your debut novel, Your Corner Dark, Mr. Hall! 

I saw in your talk with Madeline Dyer for 2020’s YA Thriller Con that one of the inspirations behind this novel came from the loss of your uncle in Jamaica. I’d first like to extend my condolences for this personal loss. I know as an artist, drawing on personal pain is sometimes a source of inspiration. But, how were you able to balance grieving while also going through the writing process of telling such a detailed story about gang culture, police brutality, and political intrigue without being sucked back into that headspace?

Desmond Hall: I really like what the great actor Francis McDormand said about her art. She felt she had to figuratively pick at her wounds to keep them fresh, so she’d be able to access her pain, and apply it to her work. She actually dreaded the closing of her psychological wounds. This is a type of method acting that I think applies to writing as well. 

A: So often, the way that many people get introduced to Jamaica is as a country that’s akin to “paradise.” In my course on Globalization and Transnationalism, we watched the documentary Life and Debt, which spoke about how often we as tourists are never seeing the “real” Jamaica or partaking in the actual culture when we come to this island to visit. This made me think of how when reading your novel, readers are introduced to another viewpoint of your homeland that lingers just under Jamaica’s surface in the form of gang culture. Why did you feel that this story was important to talk about as a Jamaican?

DH: Your Corner Dark is a specific story, but also a universal one. The book touches on police brutality, gang culture, defining masculinity, and political intrigue. Those topics are just as relevant here in the States. I’m just telling the truth that I know. 

A: In your talk with Dyer, you mentioned that the title of your book is the Jamaican equivalent of the saying, “between a rock and a hard place.” In true fashion, Frankie is stuck between two worlds. On the one hand, he is a student who aspires to be an engineer and create things that will ease the hardships of he and his neighbors’ lives. Yet, Frankie is also living in a world that wants to box him in and make him become a part of gang culture even though everyone around him acknowledges that Frankie is “too smart” to go down this path. How did you balance telling Frankie’s story between these two realities while making it believable? 

Author Photo of Desmond Hall

DH: I think one of the keys is Frankie’s interiority. We get to know how he experiences the angst of having a father who he feels doesn’t understand him. We understand Frankie’s fear and admiration for a dangerous and charismatic uncle. We sympathize with the evil acts he feels compelled to commit. We also get to feel his shame when he ventures into a social class above his rank, and gets intimidated by sushi.  

A: One of my favorite parts of Your Corner Dark is the usage of Jamaican patois, the “unofficial language of Jamaica.” For me, the richness of this dialect draws from hearing Jamaicans speak their language out loud, similar to how I feel about hearing African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) being spoken. This got me thinking about Nate Marshall’s poetry collection, Finna, where he mentions that AAVE isn’t necessarily a dialect that’s meant to be written down but is meant to be spoken. Did you find a similar issue come up with your characters as you shaped their dialogue?

DH: I’m not familiar with Mr. Marshall’s thoughts on the matter, but I do believe It’s important to note that a lot of Jamaicans speak the Queens English as well as patois (Patwah in Jamaica). We have a lot of fun with the language, verbally, and in written form. In fact, a lot of the newspapers run social commentary cartoons, and the characters often speak in a thick patwah. 

A: I mention this because, at one point in the story, when Frankie hears Leah “chat patois,” he is shocked because he says that some Jamaicans aren’t comfortable with speaking in patois. As a reader who is not an #OwnVoices reviewer, I was unsure if this was indicative of the class issue between Leah and Frankie, which is a topic that comes up several times, or if there was a variation of the dialect that Frankie, a person from the country would speak, versus Leah, who is from the city. 

The Jamaican upper middle class has a tendency to be very conservative, even to the extent of reviling Rastafarians, even though Rastas are featured in our tourism advertising. This disdain also extends to speaking patwah. It’s similar to how some Americans look at the southern drawl (Dolly Parton actually points this out!). Frankie is aware that Leah is from the upper middle class as most kids are in his fancy school, and he worries that Leah may harbor some of those upper middle class tendencies. 

A: In your talk with Dyer, you also mention that Your Corner Dark is your “love letter to Jamaica.” What is the one thing you want your readers to take away from this story?

DH: I want them to understand more the complexity of Jamaica. Seven days and six nights at the resort won’t show people the real Jamaica, even with excursions. 

A: Your background as a screenwriter really shines in this novel! As I was reading Frankie’s story, I was in awe of the fact that so much of the story’s content’s felt as if they are primed to be on the “big screen.” Have you thought of turning this book into a screenplay?

DH: It’s funny you ask because I’d originally written this story as a screenplay, and back in the day, it was a runner up in the IFP Screenwriting contest in NYC.

Over the last few months, we’ve been having meetings with a few TV producers, so we’ll see. 

A: You also mentioned that you moved from Jamaica to Jamaica, Queens in New York City. Does this shift in geographical location have any bearings on the types of stories you write about?

DH: I think all my experiences come into play when I write. I remember talking to the great screenwriter, Budd Schulburg. I asked him how he came up with that great line from the awesome movie, ON THE WATERFRONT. “…I coulda been a contender…instead of a bum.” He said he was in Gleason’s boxing gym, and overheard a palooka saying those words to his manager. Mr. Schulburg said he quickly jotted down the line because he knew he would use it in a script one day. That day didn’t come until many years later, but he knew to catalogue the encounter. Essentially, he was telling me to draw from all my experiences, and use anything relevant to help render the story I want to tell.  

A: What are some of your writing influences or authors you deem as “must-read?”

I’m moved by Richard Price, and how he imbues crime stories with so much humanity. I wish I could be as harshly real as James Baldwin or as deep as Toni Morrison. 

In the YA space, I love reading Jason Reynolds and Courtney Summers.

A: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

DH: 

-Grubstreet is a great writing school. 

-There’s a famous quote about how published authors are the ones who didn’t give up. 

-The SAVE THE CAT book(s) are quick and easy ways to add the power of story structure to your arsenal. If you want a more in depth way, take the Mckee Story Class, and buckle up. 

Thank you so much for your time and for the opportunity to interview you, Mr. Hall!

Author Bio

Desmond Hall was born in Jamaica, West Indies, and moved to Jamaica, Queens. He has worked as a high school biology and English teacher; counseled teenage ex-cons after their release from Rikers Island; and served as Spike Lee’s creative director at Spike DDB. Desmond has served on the board of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the Advertising Council and judged the One Show, the American Advertising Awards, and the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival. He’s also been named one of Variety magazine’s Top 50 Creatives to Watch. Desmond lives outside of Boston with his wife and two daughters.

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Book & Movie Reviews, Reviews

What Gets Left Behind – A #BookReview of #UntilWereFish by #SusannahRDrissi

Thank you to @RandomTTours and Mrs. Rodríguez Drissi for my finished copy of Until We’re Fish!

Blog Tour Dates for Until We’re Fish

In a virtual talk with Harvard Book Store, Susannah Rodríguez Drissi says of her title, Until We’re Fish, that “fish are bounty…they speak of potential.” For her, the loose translation of her title means “until [the characters] are able to claim a space for [them]selves and feel like [they] belong,” they will always feel like “fish out of water.” And nothing can be more accurate for the three main characters, Elio, Maria, and Pepe, as the reader follows them on their journey into adulthood over a span of thirty years in Cuba. 

Cover of Until We’re Fish by Rodríguez Drissi

Set from 1958 to the 1990s, Until We’re Fish by Susannah Rodríguez Drissi, is a coming-of-age story. Elio, Maria, and Pepe grow up during the tumultuous years of the Cuban Revolution. As the novel unfolds, each character is forced to make hard choices as they wrestle with the futures they desire for themselves while living in the unfair world that the revolution creates.

As a girl, Maria dreams of freedom and moving to Chicago after spending years reading the Sears catalog. However, Elio, her neighbor, only dreams of Maria and owning a Schwinn bike. In direct competition with Pepe, his friend and rival for Maria’s heart, Elio holds out hope that Maria will be his.

Author photo of Rodríguez Drissi

Rodríguez Drissi’s prose is distinct as she narrates the lives of her characters. This author’s descriptive portrayal of Cubans trying to fight to survive succeeded in drawing me in as a reader because I could picture revolutionary Cuba during the 50’s going forward. And as a lover of languages, having the author use rich references and imagery to her home country and the novel, Don Quixote, helped build suspense about what choices her characters would make regarding their lives and fleeing Cuba. However, it also drives home the point that the Cuba mainland Americans imagine pales compared to the world that native Cubans inhabit or for the world those who immigrated left behind.

Until We’re Fish is an authentic tale about survival, love, and coming of age in a world where nothing is a sure thing. Lovers of Chanel Cleeton’s When We Left Cuba and Next Year in Havana will enjoy returning to Cuba from the perspective of Cubans who were left on the island or chose to stay as revolution broke out.

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Book & Movie Reviews, Reviews

A #BookReview of #AUniverseOfWishes, A #WeNeedDiverseBooks Anthology – #BookTour

Thanks to Terminal Tours, I was able to get an advanced readers copy of the fantasy-themed short story anthology, A Universe of Wishes: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology. This anthology was edited by Dhonielle Clayton and included authors like Samira Ahmed, Zoraida Córdova, Kwame Mbalia, Tochi Onyebuchi, and many more authors of colors.

In her editor’s letter, Clayton talks about growing up as a reader of color and not seeing herself in fantasy novels. This was something that I could relate to. While I always had stories, like The Logan Family Saga by Mildred D. Taylor or The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake, to read if I wanted to see real-world images of myself in the 90s if I wanted to read a fantasy novel with African-American characters, my pickings were slim.

With the We Need Diverse campaign inception in 2014, the field of publishing has been opened up to the point where authors of color have been given the space to tell their own stories and even been granted acclaim for their work. Even though there is more work to be done in the industry, based on the annual statistics from the Children’s Cooperative Book Center (CCBC) and Lee & Low.

Reading through A Universe of Wishes, I was pleasantly surprised to read stories, like “Liberia” by Kwame Mbalia, where readers are shown a story of where the love of one’s family takes center stage. Having Mbalia speak to African-Americans’ collectivist nature and centering the magic of this cultural trait warmed my heart.

Likewise, reading “The Takeback Tango” by Rebecca Roanhorse, where a teen thief sets out to reclaim her planet’s artifacts, is reminiscent of my favorite scene from Black Panther with Kilmonger in the British Museum. Having Roanhorse show the power that comes from taking ownership over one’s heritage is what I love to see!

As a lover of Disney’s Tangled, “Longer Than the Threads of Time” by Zoraida Córdova was also a treat. However, like so many stories in this anthology, I wanted the stories to be so much longer. 

A Universe of Wishes holds all the magic a reader could want. Having authors of color flex their muscles and show creativity outside the normal realm of “suffering” that so many BIPOC writers are pigeonholed into to get their break in the publishing industry was refreshing.

If you enjoyed this anthology, I’d highly recommend looking into all the featured writers’ works and read Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton, which was one of my favorite short story collections of African-American folktales and fairy tales as a kid.

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Book & Movie Reviews, Reviews

Calling on the Ancestors: A Book Review of The Deep by Rivers Solomon

If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” —James Baldwin

When I was teen, I read this book called, Like Sisters on the Homefront by Rita Williams-Garcia, and in it, there’s a part that talks about how one member of the main character’s family is entrusted with remembering the ancestral history in it’s entirety. When this person dies, he/she/they must pass on their family’s history to the next generation until it’s time for them to relinquish their role. As I came to the end of The Deep by Rivers Solomon’s book, I was put in mind of this practice of remembering.

As the descendant of American Chattel Slavery, I am many generations removed from my ancestral home. There is no one who can remember who we were or where we came from before my ancestors landed on the shores of Charleston, South Carolina chained up in the hull of a ship. Sadly, there is no one who can really tell us how our forefather and foremothers ended up on those ships to begin with. I am much like the lost mer-people that Solomon’s main character, Yetu, has the task with “reminding” about their history.

For me, reading Solomon’s book feels akin to being taunted. African-Americans have forever been set adrift in the world and the more we try to establish ourselves with traditions and culture, the world steals it from us idea by idea, stitch by stitch, and one collagen shot at a time. Therefore, when I listen to the song Solomon based their book off of by Clipping, and hear Daveed Diggs ask if “y’all remember?,” I find myself growing frustrated because I don’t remember! I’ve hit a road block after a period of time and no amount of Ancestry DNA reports will set me straight.


This song by Clipping. was done as an homage to the Detroit Acid / Techno duo, Drexciya. The band features David Diggs of Broadway Hamilton fame. Clipping has said that they are currently planning to release more music based off of Rivers Solomons’ book in the future.

If you are looking for a short book or love Science Fiction books, PLEASE read this! I would also suggest reading The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark or The Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor.

“Vicissitudes,” Jason deCaires Taylor’s. Grenada, Museo Atlántico.

Likewise, if you are an art aficionado, please checkout Jason deCaires Taylor’s submerged artwork that is entitled, “Vicissitudes.” The work was done in honor of the African slaves that died during the Middle Passage and is eco friendly. Taylor, an Anglo-Guyanese sculptor, work is located in the Museo Atlántico, which is underwater near Grenada.

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