I’m delighted to welcome author Joanne C. Hillhouse to Emma the Little Bookworm today to shine the spotlight on the main characters in her novel, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight …
Please introduce the character in terms of job, relationships, family etc. …
The main characters are Selena and Michael – when we meet Selena, she is jobless and Michael having washed out of the West Indies cricket team is working as a schools’ coach for girls’ cricket. In terms of relationships and family – Selena, an immigrant to Antigua, an English speaking island in the Caribbean, from the Dominican Republic, a Spanish speaking country, is living with her baby boy and her two sisters, one of whom is still in school; which is how she meets Michael, since he sees promise in her sister and comes to talk to, and instantly falls in love with, her. Selena, already in what feels like hostile territory to her (given the attitudes to immigrants from the DR) and recently separated from the father of her child, is not here for it. Michael’s family is his Uncle Wellie, who has been a father figure to him given that his own father rejected him before he was born (it’s a class thing), his embittered mother, with whom Selena bonds over familiar hurts, and his cousin who is from the side of the family that doesn’t fully embrace him.
When did you create them?
I would say late 1990s…especially after visiting the Dominican Republic in 1999.
Did you write the book to accommodate the characters or the characters to accommodate the book?
I was interested in the dynamic between the sisters – sisters who are very different, and in the way, in a relationship, two people are experiencing the same moments in very different ways. So it was definitely character driven but I don’t think of it as writing the book to accommodate the characters or vice versa, so much as my discovery about my characters shaping the plot in the most natural of ways – I tried not to get in the way of that. In a way it became as much a conversation between them (Michael and Selena) as between my characters and me, as the story moved forward, chapter to chapter, with alternating character points of view on the evolving relationship.
What do you like most about them?
I love their love, I love that it didn’t turn out to be an easy love, but that it was real. I love that they were willing, especially in the case of Selena, to let go of that love when it hurt, and also fight for it without losing herself – that she learned both forgiveness and resolve. I love that in the case of Michael, there was growth almost in spite of himself. I love that he took his time wooing her and that he made me care so much that I was really pissed at him when he messed up. I just loved their journey.
What do you like least about them?
Well, they both frustrated me at points – the ways of self-sabotage – but it gave them room to grow if they wanted to, so I can’t even hate on that. We are all flawed.
Did your early readers/editorial team like them to start with or did you have to change them in any way?
People have always liked him more than her, but apart from trying to understand and where possible add texture, I didn’t change either of them in response to likeability or lack thereof. Reader frustration with my women characters – Selena in Dancing, Nikki in Oh Gad! – has been a part of my experience writing women that I embrace. I’ve had readers, usually women, tell me they’ve wanted to smack either or both of these women, or throw the book across the room. It doesn’t make me want to change a thing. Tears, laughter, anger, frustration, these are all reactions that speak to the character being real for the reader, why would I want to change that. Besides, I feel like more women on the page and in life need to cop to our messiness, and I reject this idea of women on the page or in life having to be unerringly likeable, when all we should demand of each other is to just be human. I think she’s very human.
Do they have any similarities with anyone real?
Of course…also, of course not!
What are your plans for them?
On the page, well I let them go when I finished writing them, but I imagine they’re out there still dancing and trying to match each others’ rhythm. A local bookstore actually ran a next chapter competition because so many people kept asking for the next chapter; the winning piece is actually included in the anniversary collection. I chose to share them rather than a more recent book (my teen/young adult novel Musical Youth, my children’s picture books With Grace and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure) because I’m hoping that more readers discover them. So I hope they find their way on to the shelves of people all over the world.
Would you be friends in real life?
If you’d like to know more about Selena Michael, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight is out now. Here’s the blurb …
Young Dominican single mother Selena Cruz is trying to make a new life for herself in Antigua, dealing with prejudice, poverty, and her interfering sister. When she meets handsome cricket coach Michael Lindo, her world is turned upside down.
The course of true love is never smooth, and Michael and Selena’s story is no exception as they try to bridge the gap between their two cultures and their personal expectations of love. Romantic and delightful, this novella by Joanne C. Hillhouse looks at immigration and cross-cultural relationships in a warm and very human way.
Dancing Nude in the Moonlight was first published in 2004, and it is reissued here along with selected poems and stories from Joanne C. Hillhouse’s wide collection of work.