Tracey had her kids draw the winner for THE JUMBIES and the winner is Leslie Zampettis. Congratulations Leslie! Please send your address so Tracey can send you your prize.
Lifelong Dream Realized
I loved fairy tales as a kid. And I listened to a lot of jumbie stories. Jumbies are very tricky, very bad creatures in Trinidadian lore that will just as soon eat you as look at you. These were the stories parents told kids at bedtime. If you woke up in the morning with mosquito bites, you were told it might have been a soucouyant, a vampire-like creature who sheds her skin at night and flies around as a ball of flame to suck the blood of children. If you heard your name called at night, it might be a douen, a child-sized creature with backward feet and no face that would grab you and take you into the forest most likely to eat you. The lady that your uncle was dating might be a La Diablesse. You just had to get a good look at her feet to see if one of them was a cow’s hoof. And the strange sounds at night might be a lagahoo with his chains, or dragging his coffin through the trees.
Listening to these stories was not as traumatic as it may seem. They’re told with a wink so kids know (sort of) that this is all just pretend. And while jumbies were as fascinating to me as the tricky and sometimes vindictive European fairies I read about, where were the jumbie books? I guessed I’d have to take care of that myself.
After my first novel was sold, I was inspired by the Haitian folktale The Magic Orange Tree, a Cinderella-type folktale with a wicked stepmother, and just the right amount of magic. I set out to add Trinidadian jumbies to the framework of this story and create an entirely new fairy tale, one with a small brown girl as the hero (which, incidentally, had also never been in my fairy tales). It turned out that jumbies were not only tricky in the stories I heard, they were also tricky to write. It was years before I thought I had a decent enough draft. I workshopped this book, revised it what seemed like a zillion times, and sent it to my agent, who queried three editors. They all rejected it. My agent thought we should move on. I disagreed.
It was after 2005 and the kidlit market was getting tough. The thought of leaving my agent was frightening, even as an already published author. In fact, I read that it would be harder, since a new agent could see my track record and know that while Angel’s Grace was well received, it did not have huge sales. But ultimately, I had to do what I thought was right for my career. It took me a year to finally move on. One day, I penned a very nice letter and was agent-free.
The very next day, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
It turned out that waiting around in a hospital for surgery or radiation or chemo was time well spent researching agents and revising. The rejections were close-but-not-quite types, which left me encouraged. I attended the next NJSCBWI conference (with a new crop of hair). My critique partners were very encouraging, but the editor for my one on one critique told me that I should just move on. Again, I disagreed. I revised again and prepped a second round of queries.
At the time, Marie Lamba was a new agent at Jennifer De Chiara Literary. She was at the beginning of her career, and so was I. I queried her, along with about 11 other agents. Three of them were interested, but Marie called first. Our 40 minute phone call (which I took under the desk of my brand new job) was so amazing, that I decided to become her client immediately, even though you’re really supposed to give it a few days, and let the other agents know you have another offer. I got off the phone with her, emailed the other two agents and told them I was off the market.
Marie and I went through 3 rounds of revisions. They were not major, but it took about 6 months. When the book went out on submission I expected a long wait. 3 weeks later, Elise Howard, editor of The Graveyard Book, called. I didn’t care if anyone else was interested, I knew I wanted to work with Elise. There were a few more rounds of revisions, and then the book I had been waiting for since I was a little girl reading fairy tales and hearing jumbie stories on warm nights in Trinidad was complete. Today, the entire world can read it.
I created a jumbies “field guide” which is available at Algonquin YR. In March, it was the most downloaded page on their site. People were interested, and the excitement was starting to build.
You can win a signed copy of The Jumbies and some swag by commenting below (one entry), sharing this post on Facebook with the hashtag #TheJumbesAreHere (two entries), and sharing “RT and comment at [this post’s URL] to win a copy of #TheJumbies” on Twitter (one entry for each share).
A winner will be chosen and announced by Kathy on Sunday morning.