Spotlight

[Meet the Author] Gomes-Mckie Takes the Helm: Interview with New Regional Advisor of the SCBWI Caribbean South Chapter

Summer Edward interviews Marsha Gomes-Mckie

Marsha Gomes-Mckie
In the field of children's literature, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) can be considered the gold standard of professional associations. Founded in Los Angeles, USA in 1971, and with chapters in every American state and over 70 countries, the SCBWI plays a strong role in children's publishing worldwide.

In the Caribbean region, an active chapter of the SCBWI once existed. Headquartered in Trinidad, a small cadre of illustrators, writers, and activists from various islands started meeting in 2005. With Trinbagonian children's book author Joanne Gail Johnson at the helm, the group was known as the Caribbean South Chapter of the SCBWI.

In its earliest incarnation, the Caribbean South Chapter was both a writing group and a grassroots professional development organization. Members worked out a culture and a modus operandi for producing and championing children's literature at the local level. But by 2007, after a promising start, the Caribbean South Chapter had fallen into stagnancy.

Now fresh life is stirring in the Caribbean South Chapter; a new Regional Advisor, Marsha Gomes-Mckie, has been selected. Born and raised in Trinidad, Marsha Gomes-Mckie admits that she has always been "a twister of words" and that she embraced art at an early age. A member of the 'Women in Art' group in Trinidad, she is also the founder, author, and publisher of Family Matters, a fledgling values-focused ezine which supports Trinbagonian mompreneurs. Gomes-Mckie is married with one child.

I recently chatted with Gomes-Mckie about her new position, children's publishing, dirty ducks, and more.

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SE: You were recently selected to be the new Regional Advisor of the Caribbean South Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), succeeding Joanne Gail Johnson. How do you see yourself performing in this role?

MG: I have high hopes for this position. The SCBWI RA position gives me the opportunity to get more involved in the process of getting a manuscript off your desk and on to a book shelf. More than that, it gives me the opportunity to shape the industry, to be involved in discussions that would impact writers and illustrators worldwide. 

SE: What are your plans and hopes for the Caribbean South Chapter and how can people get involved?

MG: My plan in the first year is really to build awareness of the SCBWI and encourage writers to finish their manuscripts so that they can take the next step. Many times writers and illustrators don’t see how they can make an immediate living off of their craft, so they keep busy with other jobs that pay the bills. It would be a great accomplishment to just get more persons taking the time to write daily and querying publishers for contracts. To change the industry we have to show that there is potential for children's literature once more. 

People can get involved by contacting me at info@marshagomes.com or following me on Facebook. The Chapter also has a blog at http://scbwi-caribbeansouth.blogspot.com/ and I alwys ask perosns to check www.scbwi.org or weekly updates.  

SE: ‘Caribbean South’ can be interpreted variously. Which islands make the cut and how are you going to bring members from various islands together? 

MG: The SCBWI divides the Caribbean into two regions - Caribbean North and Caribbean South. Caribbean South begins in Trinidad and ends in Anguilla and Caribbean North looks after US Virgin Island up to Cuba. The Caribbean South Chapter has been blessed to have two advisors in a row coming from Trinidad. We currently have members in Barbados, Aruba, Anguilla, and the Netherlands Antilles. 

My biggest challenge at this time is promoting SCBWI within the chapter. I have been able to keep in contact via email, a closed Facebook group, and even Skype, but I plan to visit the islands as well when they have literary activities or fairs. Nothing is better that a face-to-face visit.

SE: You wrote a story 'Duck in Red Boots' that was published in Island Garden, a 2007 children’s anthology edited by Trinidadian children’s author Joanne Gail Johnson. What was the best thing about writing that story?

MG: Duck in his own special way is fussy, but he's also funny. I love to add humor to my work, which makes the story flow easier. The best thing about writing 'Duck' was that I was able to create a universal character that any child could relate to. Duck is different and there are always days when you feel to be different and want to do it confidently like Duck does. 

SE: Yes and Duck is quite fastidious isn’t he? What made you latch onto that quality? Cleanliness I mean. Are you a neat freak yourself?

MG: Most children want to be dirty and I made Duck border on the ridiculous, for emphasis and understanding. The funny thing is that Duck was written three years before my daughter was born, and she is very much like Duck. She is always washing her hands and asking for a change of clothes; I usually say to her "Don’t worry, you can get more dirty than that." Then she looks at me with this expression that says: Why is this woman standing between me and the sink? I find it quite ironic and absolutely hilarious at times, but I encourage her differences even if it means I have to wash clothes more often than I used to. 

SE: I have some neat freak tendencies myself. Lucky for me, I don’t always end up in the mud like Duck does.

MG: I am fastidious in some areas; “putting everything in its place and every place in its thing.” So I may not end up in the mud either. 

SE: And do you have other stories on the boiling pot? 

MG: Yes actually I launched two stories on Kindle last month which I am currently illustrating- Fred and Frank; A Tale of Files and A Christmas Caper. Fred and Frank are two Frogs who are best friends. One loves to eat flies and ones does not. The story carries the same message as 'Duck' – that embracing differences at an early age is good. 

A Christmas Caper is about three brothers who are as naughty as naughty could be and decide to hi-jack Santa on Christmas since they weren't going to get toys anyway. It’s a bit more action-oriented and targets older children but it’s funny and again borders on the ridiculous. It asks the question; if you were sure you weren't going to get presents for Christmas what would you do? The true wonder of this story will come out in the illustrations so I am looking forward to completing it. 

SE:You were a member of the Caribbean South Chapter back in 2005 when it was just starting out. What was the chapter like then? Do you have fond memories of that time?

MG: The Chapter was new. There were meetings and critique groups, and I also remember the Art Editor from Macmillan Caribbean visiting. He had an interest in my work and I thought, wow I am going to develop this area as much as my writing. 

Gomes-Mckie and Johnson at the relaunch
SE: Joanne Gail Johnson has been involved in children’s publishing in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean for a long time. What was it like working with her, both as former Regional Advisor and as your editor?

MG: In 2005, there was a writing competition hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Theatre workshop and I received an honorable mention for my children’s story 'Duck in the Red Boots.' My prize was one year of free membership to the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators. It was great but truthfully, that competition made me realize that my stories didn't have a very Caribbean focus and I have found that Caribbean competitions usually require that very Caribbean element that I didn't seem to have, so I didn't enter any more local competitions. I decided that if the Caribbean theme wasn't coming out naturally, I wouldn't force it. SCBWI gave me hope that I would be able to publish internationally. I held on to that dream and even when the chapter wasn't as active as before, I still remained a member. Joanne has always been a great help since I could always get honest feedback on my work. The best thing about SCBWI is that she and I were able to form a friendship and we continue to support each other’s efforts. 

SE: You’ve been a member of Women in Art of Trinidad and Tobago for many years. Given you have this artistic bent, do you see yourself acquiring the designation of ‘children’s book artist’ one day?

MG: Of course, as I said before the true wonder of any story comes out in the illustrations. I am actually registered as a writer-illustrator with SCBWI and my illustration portfolio can be viewed on their site. Each chapter is allowed to have an Illustrators Coordinator to work with illustrators and it is a position that is currently open in the Caribbean South Chapter. Even though I can illustrate I wouldn't want to wear both hats within the Chapter but I would love to wear both hats professionally.  

SE: The Caribbean South Chapter was re-launched on December 7th in Trinidad. Can you share with us a few highlights from the launch? 

An attendee skims SCBWI literature at the Chapter relaunch
MG:  The event really focused on the things that the Society could do for writers and illustrators. We discussed things like the history of the SCBWI, the value of being a member, the resources offered to members  such as the website's Members Area, the Illustrators Gallery, the yearly Publication Guide, and grants, awards, conferences, and networking.

In my talk, I also noted that there was one thing the Society could not do for members which is to write their manuscript. I encouraged writers to own their craft and honor the inner spirit. SCBWI will act as a guide, an excellent guide but it begins with the individual.

SE: In a nutshell, what advice would you like to share with aspiring children's authors or illustrators?

I would tell them to visit the children’s library and look for books that resemble what they envision their book to look like and zero in on those publishers. Publishers have a style and look and if you can find someone who prints that style there is a good chance you would be a match. 

Caribbean fiction writing has really been hit hard on the publishing end; I spoke to Macmillan Caribbean who noted that they were focusing only on textbooks at this time. Other Caribbean publishing may be doing the same. Even when they publish children's books, you have to market your books yourself on the side so that it would get a second print. We are a textbook publishing region because there is money in it.  

Therefore writers need to unite to get their work out. There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing, it just means that we have to have other conversations, e.g. marketing, promotion, distribution and much more. The SCBWI is open to all conversations and will work with the Caribbean South Chapter to develop the region.

SE: Are you interested in speaking to aspiring children’s authors/illustrators, teacher/librarian groups, or to children via school visits? If so, how can interested parties contact you?

MG: Yes, I am interested in working to promote the industry on all levels and can be contacted at info@marshagomes.com. Please feel free to contact me.

I am also interested in networking with bookshops, publishers, trade fairs, and any other medium, be it persons or organizations, that can promote the work of our writers. I am also working on a new site, www.caribbeanbooks.org, which is envisioned to be a place where Caribbean writers can showcase their books to the world.

Photo credit: La Red Graphic Studios
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About the Interviewer...

Summer Edward was born in Trinidad and lives in Philadelphia, USA. She is the Managing Editor and Kids Editor here at Anansesem. Her poems and art have been published in literary magazines such as tongues of the oceanBIM: Arts for the 21st CenturyPhiladelphia StoriesThe Columbia Review, The Caribbean Writersx salon and more. She was shortlisted for the 2012 Small Axe Literary Prize in the fiction category. She blogs at www.summeredward.com.


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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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