Friday, January 31, 2014

Author Interview with Bish Denham

The DMS was lucky enough to interview Bish Denham. Fairday reviewed her book Anansi and Company: Retold Jamaican Tales, and we are excited to learn more about this story. So, without further ado... take it away, Bish!
What inspired you to write the Anansi and Company: Retold Jamaican Tales?

Kind of a long story. A few years BEFORE Hurricane Marilyn tore through the Virgin Islands in 1995, my sister gave me for safe keeping, our old book of Jamaican Anansi stories. It was compiled by Martha Warren Beckwith who went to Jamaican in the early 1920s and recorded people telling Anansi stories. She then faithfully transcribed the stories in their original Jamaican dialect and published them in 1924. Hurricane Marilyn torn the roof off the family home and most of my sister’s books were destroyed.

It seemed serendipitous to me that the old brittle-paged book survived because I had it. So I began to try to read the stories, with the idea of translating and/or retelling them. They proved difficult to read; almost like reading a foreign language. But I persisted.

How long did it take you to write Anansi and Company?

A long time. First I had to decipher them, then pick a few, and rework them. Most of them are more like fragments of a few hundred words or less rather than real stories. They don’t have a true beginning, middle and end. From my first attempts to read the stories to this published addition, I’d say it took at least 12 years.

What were some of the tools you used to research the folklore for this book?

Lucky for me I had the source on my bookshelf. I found all of these stories in Martha Warren Beckwith’s collection, Jamaica Anansi Stories. Having grown up in the U. S. Virgin Islands I can “speak the lingo,” so writing the dialog in a modified dialect wasn’t hard.

What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Were there any specific authors who inspired you?

There will always be a very special place in my heart for the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. My mother read them to my sister and me which brings up many fond memories. As for authors who inspired me… the first author whose words made me cry was Jack London. I was about ten when I read Call of the Wild and the last few paragraphs of the book just made me sob. It still does. It was at that moment I realized the power words can have. Another inspirational author was John Steinbeck.

If you could live anyplace real or fictional, where would it be?

Why? Well, if I couldn’t return to the Virgin Islands as they were in 1950s and early ‘60s I think I’d want to live in Oz. Why? Because it’s the only true American fairyland. Besides, who wouldn’t want to be best friends with Ozma of Oz and Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man? PLUS, there are just so many wonderful places to explore. It’s a land of infinite possibilities.

If you could befriend a character from your book, who would you befriend? Why?

It would have to be Anansi. He’s just so spontaneous, and clever, and mischievous. He’s unpredictable. You can love him and hate at the same time.

What is your favorite Anansi tale? Why?

I like them all because each is so different. If I have to choose it might be “Miss Ophelia’s Daughter” because I can so relate to having a mosquito buzzing in my ear. Or maybe it’s “Eggs and Scorpions” because Anansi get’s taught a lesson. No wait, it’s “The Pea that Made a Fortune,” because we get to see Anansi in a different light – working hard to achieve a goal. Oh, heck, I can’t choose!

If you could transform into any kind of animal for a day, what would you want to be?

This one is tough. But, I think I’d want to be someone’s beloved dog.

Are you currently working on a book? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes and yes! Once I make Anansi available in print I’ll be working on publishing A LIZARD’S TAIL.
From the moment he hatches, Marvin P. Tinkleberry knows he is destined for greatness. For one, he has a marvelous, well-groomed tail. For another he can puff out his throat pouch in the most spectacular way. Maybe the other lizards in his colony don’t take him seriously, but he knows the truth. It lives in the marrow of his bones; he’s going to be a hero.
When a feral cat threatens the lives of all who live at Stone Wall in the Garden by the Sea, Marvin knows it’s HIS destiny to get rid of the fearsome beast. Travelling Over the Hill to find help should be as easy as snapping up a sleeping moth. But it doesn’t take long for Marvin to see that the world beyond Stone Wall is not the same as his pampered life back at the garden. From the deadly Sucker Cactus Forest to deadly mongooses, danger lurks around every corner and Marvin will have to decide if he’s willing to be the hero he’s long bragged about being.

 ☞ preview the book on Amazon 

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*Answer to Anansi's riddle
My father has a thing in his yard. The more you feed it the hungrier it gets. What am I? Answer: Wood stove/ fire ; )

Giveaway ends Sunday, February 16th

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  1. Nice job ladies! The picture of the beach is Cinnamon Bay on St. John, home of the St. John National Park Campground. I like the picture of the dog too. :)

  2. Thanks Bish! We're happy to have you. :) That's Jack and his oscillating fan. ~ DMS

  3. So interesting. I would love to see a picture of that old battered book. I love the illustrations in this one and I can't wait to check it out with my kids

  4. Hi, Jack!

    Thanks Heidi! I hope you and your kids enjoy the stories!

  5. Yay, Bish! Looking forward to reading this :)

  6. Wonderful interview and how wonderful that you were able to bring these tales to children everywhere.

  7. Oh how fascinating! That's quite the journey from start to finish on this one. And so agree. Would be wonderful to be someone's beloved pup for a day. (that pic is just darling what a face!).

  8. I love Bish's interview. How she happened to have the book and how it took 12 years to translate/re-work is an amazing story in itself. Anansi's adventures sound fun! Good luck with Mr. Tinkleberry, too! lol

  9. I love the U.S. Virgin Islands! I wish I grew up there. lol Anansi stories are fun. I actually took a class in college about trickster tales and learned all about Anansi.

  10. Hope you enjoy reading the stories, Sherrie!

    Kimba, You've hit the point of my effort. I think it's it important that Anansi is given credit for not only being a very old character, but also being the grandfather of the Uncle Remus stories.

    It was a journey, Herding Cats, and well worth it.

    Thanks ,Lexa! Mr. Tinkleberry is getting a bit antsy. :)

    Kelly, I grew up in the islands at the best possible time. Many things were still primitive (no electricity, no running water) but the sense of community and belonging was very strong. Everyone knew everyone.

  11. Wonderful interview, ladies! That's quite a tale about how the stories made it to you, Bish! I'm certainly glad they did. Thanks for sharing!

  12. An interview with Bish. My life is now complete. I shall forever be a starstruck fan of BIsh. She is the bestest.

    I've heard that Richard Branson has bought the Virgin Islands :)


  13. Great interview! Congrats to Bish! :)

  14. Wow, 12 years! That's true dedication. I love the titles of the stories and Bish's synopsis of her next book.

  15. An interesting interview and love the illustrations. I do so admire those of you who can write good children's books that encourage them to read.

  16. Meradeth, I'm very grateful that book has been "saved."

    Oh Gary... Richard Branson hasn't bought the islands but Jimmy Buffett is building a resort on St. Thomas. Does that count?

    Thanks for stopping by, Karen!

    Claudine, Now that I think about it, 12 years does seem like a long time. It's just that I did the work in bits and pieces.

    Thank you, Anna Marie. My hope is indeed to encourage children to read.

  17. Another super book about animals is on its way! Great news, Bish.

    1. Lee- I can't wait for Bish's next book! :) ~L

  18. I like this book. These are tales I've never heard of, so it would be a fun read.

    1. Donna- I know you will love these stories. :) ~L


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