Friday, August 24, 2012

J.L. Campbell's Jamaican Distraction

Pack your virtual suitcase and journey with me to a sun-drenched land full of music and friendship... as well as abuse, deceit, and infidelity.

One of the fabulous benefits of blogging is becoming friends with men and women we might be unlikely to meet with in real life. I am delighted to be interviewing author J.L. Campbell here on her Friendship-Is-Forever blog tour.

J.L. Campbell is a proud Jamaican and the author of Contraband, Distraction, Dissolution, Don’t Get Mad…Get Even, Giving up the Dream and Hardware (pen name Jayda McTyson). Campbell is always on the lookout for story making material, loves company and can usually be found lollygagging on her blog at http://thecharacterdepot.

1) Give us the Cliff Notes guide to Jamaica; size, population, education, government, taboos. Most Americans are aware of ganja, reggae, and Usain Bolt, or if they have been lucky enough to visit as tourists, the stunning beaches and luxurious hotels. Your characters are born, live, work, and (presumably) die in Jamaica - gotta be a very different view from that of tourists.

Jamaica is just over 50 miles wide by 146 miles long and lies 550 miles south of Miami. Just over 2.5 million people live here. Education goes from infant (3 years) to university level and is supposedly free. We have a constitutional government, several political parties and citizens that are rabid about their politics. Men get away with a lot more in terms of relationships than women do. I would add that a fair number of Jamaicans are homophobic.

Tourists, of course, don’t get to see the ghettos where many Jamaicans live. I haven’t showed this side of Jamaica in Distraction, except to make reference to the origins of a couple of the characters.

 2) In Distraction, you start each chapter with a quoted proverb in Patois, then a translation. For example, one is:  Nuh hang yuh basket higher dan yuh can reach it.  (Don't live beyond your means.)  What language(s) does a Jamaican grow up speaking? Yolanda's into watching TV - is it "regular" American TV, are there channels or programming from other countries? What's the heaviest cultural influence?

Most Jamaicans grow up speaking Patois, but English in the language that is taught in school and it’s supposed to be our first language, but in truth, it isn’t.

When I was a girl we only had one television station. Things have evolved way beyond that, so most kids watch American cable TV. One of our biggest cultural influences is the music. Reggae music is the one thing that’s not been diluted. Yes, we have artistes mixing things up with a little rap and jazz, but for the most part reggae music is alive and well and sometimes having a not-so-nice influence on some of our children by way of lyrics that encourage violence.

3) Is there enough support in the islands for a writer to make a living from local support, or is it necessary to reach American/English-speaking readers to be "successful"? If so, what benefits or compromises does this entail?

There aren’t a lot of publishers in Jamaica, so after looking around, I realized I’d have to look outward. A journalist can make a living, but not a fiction writer. There is a myth that Jamaicans don’t read. Many of us don’t, but a fair number of people I know, do read. However, the financial climate does make it challenging for people to buy books. Though I love paper and ink books, I’ve had to take the sensible route and get a Kindle, which is more economical. I’d love to be a household name in Jamaica, but for now, the reality is that I have to work my way from the outside back in.

In terms of compromising, I chose to write Distraction using American spelling. I did this knowing that the North American market would be where I’d be likely to sell the most books. I’ve also had to thin the Patois out a bit so that readers won’t stumble over the language.

4) Do the Caribbean writers all support one another, or is there island rivalry? How about male vs. female writers?

I’ve forged virtual relationships with other Caribbean writers, but there really isn’t much of an organized support system. The writers I know are focused on finding places to get their work published, rather than competing with each other.

 5) Love, lust, and unhappy marriages are universal, it would seem. In Distraction you offer us a triad of women friends who are each involved with two men (and those men themselves may be involved with others). Wholly fictional, somewhat true for Jamaica as you know it, or...?

Until you mentioned it, I didn’t consciously think about the fact that these women are all seeing two men. Yikes! This isn’t the norm, but it does happen, especially with our men. They are known for juggling several women. Dunno how they do it though, considering the financial constraints.

6) Your characters seem to be tossing around a lot of money; $3,000 dropped in one shopping expedition, $5,000 (plus another $5,000 in two weeks) to get a junker car repaired. I'm considered American middle class, but *I* couldn't drop $5,000 in one check any more easily than I could fly. Is this inflation? From the description of the homes/lifestyles, these people would seem to be upper middle class... Do average working people in Jamaica have this kind of money? (packing figurative bags as I type)

Thanks for that chuckle, Beverly. It’s very expensive to live in Jamaica. The value of the Jamaican dollar to the U.S. is 90:1. When put into perspective, to spend $J 3,000 shopping is just over $US 34.00 and that $J 5,000.00 works out at just about $US 56.00. It’s possible to live on say $US 1,000.00 per month if you have no debts and no children, but I would point out that many Jamaicans live on a lot less than this amount.

7) I found it interesting that one of the women experiences a possibly interracial pregnancy, and the worry/damage it would cause if the baby was born with skin too light. Yet there wasn't a big deal with either lover remarking upon a difference in skin tones during the love scenes, or of the female friends chiding her for crossing a color line. Is this something you wrote deliberately, to make a point, or is it that most people in Jamaica couldn't care less about skin pigmentation?

I didn’t think about the question of colour when I was writing the plotline for Dionne/Alex. In Jamaica, it’s no biggie. Some groups do tend to stick to their own race in relationships, but many of us live by our our motto, ‘Out of many, one people.’ That said, people do stare at interracial couples on the street, but there isn’t usually any malice attached.

 8) Tell us why the reader will be rooting for star-crossed lovers Justine and Xavier.

Although Justine and Xavier belong to other people, they share a strong bond. They understand and support each other, knowing that their relationship is taboo. They aren’t fulfilled in their marriages and find happiness with each other and I know many readers like the thought of characters having a possible happy ending.

9) Besides Distraction, are there other books which feature these characters? What's up next for J.L. Campbell?

Oh yeah, for this tour I’ve written a prequel which consists of 13 stories that show where the characters were before they took the stage in Distraction. Some of the characters do show up in Retribution, which is Justine and Xavier’s story. Other than that, I’m editing several other novels, including a couple of young adult stories that I’d like to see published.

10) What question have you never been asked in an interview that you'd like to answer (and your answer, of course)? 

Critique partners and readers have remarked on the depth of my characters, but I’ve never been asked how I achieve that. Simply put, when writing I become each character, be it man, woman, boy or girl. Slipping into each persona gives me a unique and close-up view of who my characters are and what they ultimately want to achieve.

J.L. adds:

As a bonus, at the end of this Friendship tour, there’ll be a main prize of a Distraction note pad & pen and a $10 Amazon gift card. The second prize is a paperback copy of Distraction. Stop by my blog sometime to enter the giveaway on the Rafflecopter.

In A Baker’s Dozen: Thirteen Steps to Distraction, you’ll meet Dionne, Justine and Kyra a year before Distraction takes place. This prequel is complimentary for the duration of the Friendship-is-Forever Tour, so download your copy from Smashwords.

Many thanks for hosting, Bev!

Find J.L.

J.L. Campbell on Twitter

Did you like this taste of Distraction and Jamaica? 
Are you rushing to pick up A Baker's Dozen?
Got questions for J.L.?