Judge, 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

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Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 4

Production Quality and Cover Design: 5

 Plot and Story Appeal: 4

Character Appeal and Development: 4

 Voice and Writing Style: 4

 

Judge’s Commentary*:

 I enjoyed the insight you gave into the different cultures in South Africa. I also thought your use of different ‘voices’ in your stories captured the flavor of the characters you created. I found some of the stories, such as Akere powerful, while the stories Walking School and Belinda left me a bit baffled. They seemed to end abruptly, leaving me wanting more, or at least wanting to understand the theme of the each story. I thought some of the stories could have been rounded out more, such as Stolen and Shadow Kids. Because of your obvious knowledge of South Africa and what has gone on there, your stories have the potential to illustrate and call attention to situations those of us who don’t live there know nothing about, hence the rounding out and expanding on the themes in some of the stories, such as the ones mentioned above. However, having said that, I found your writing evoked powerful images of everyday people, trying their best to find their way in life, dealing with the relationships they are given or seek out.

Winners will be announced soon.

Mother’s rights

 

A story I wrote in Lydia Yuknavitch’s ontologies workshop in May 2017

The hamster runs on the treadmill in her cage, faster and faster. Her body leans into it. She wills the treadmill to take her to a real place, but it doesn’t.

It started innocently enough; she thought they had a good relationship until she read in Megan’s diary that they didn’t get along. Now she was trying to warn her against a boy.

“You don’t tell me what to do. Devon said that you will want to influence me against him. He said that all mother-in-laws are alike.”

“But… he’s bad for you.”

“How would you know? You married a man just like him.”

Megan flounced out, leaving devil mother claustrophobic, clutching at her chest, the yellow feather in her cap wilting. She yearned for Megan’s respect but had the cold knowledge that she had not achieved it.

She was in limbo – permanent blue skies, white clouds and duwweltjies underfoot (round, multi-pronged South African thorns); had arrived there by her desire to please a man who was hostile to all who stretched out a hand towards her.

He went to work, came back, ate, and watched television. Any interference with this routine was the spur for aggressive questioning which had her scurrying to lies to protect herself.

In Megan’s eyes nothing withered a grown-up’s value faster than crying at  a hiding.

“Please don’t do that.” Mother’d been taught to placate a man from a young age, making micro-decisions about the best responses to avoid more punishment.

“Bitch!”

A young girl of 22 killed and burnt by her 27-year-old ex-boyfriend because he loved her. A model killed in a toilet. A woman shot in the back of her head by her police-man husband because she left him. Constant fear for her survival and for Megan’s.

Papa society had tied Mother’s arms to her body. Or had it? Hadn’t she participated in building her cage? She couldn’t reach Megan. All she had learned in 40 years of marriage could not be forwarded for Megan’s benefit. It choked her, this need to tell, to warn. Stay alive!

“And he does work,” Megan shot back, hugging the door. “He has his own business and he’s doing fine.”

If she was alive devil mother would hug her patience. Every morning husband Eric walked Megan’s bag to the taxi, handed it over and headed home to sleep.

The clown rides his bicycle. Up the side of the drum, fast, to gain momentum then upside-down. The crowd says aaaahhh. He reaches where he started, a perfect circle. Over and over he performs his trick. It never gets out-dated.

Megan’s great aunt took over motherly duties. She saw Eric with an old school friend. She aimed to tell Megan but…

“It’s our time now. You had your time so don’t interfere.”

“But-”

“We know what we’re doing. Don’t worry about us, worry about yourself, old, decrepit and still working to support a man.”

Megan’s aunt sighed, the deep sigh of one beaten. Every twenty years or so, a new generation of young ducks pecked at the same seed, their eye on love and romance. The will to believe so strong it overrides reason.

The hamster runs on the treadmill in her cage, faster and faster. Her body leans into it. She wills the treadmill to take her to a real place, but it doesn’t.

The hopeful writer’s grey hair snaked down her back. She wanted to speak to young women. A conference to influence the next generation of mothers. She talked and talked, they clapped and clapped. It was imperative that they absorb her wisdom, she thought.

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I enjoyed this workshop so much. The best!