Saltwater Redux

Next month marks a watershed anniversary for me. It will be 25 years since my very first book, Sweet Like Saltwater, was published. Related, it’s also precisely the 25th anniversary of my first blog post. Yes, I’ve been blogging since before the word “blog” was coined.  (Not really, the term was invented 2 years before my first foray.)

My first post was indeed about the impending publication of Sweet Like Saltwater:

This book is so very important to me, for a host of reasons. Of course, it officially made me a published literary author, and gave me the credibility and legitimacy I so desperately craved. But, more importantly, it transformed my personal interior emotional landscape in ways that are difficult to express. Unbeknownst to me, writing the book was my way of exorcising many unacknowledged personal demons having to do with my childhood experiences as a visible minority immigrant. Having laid it all out indirectly in the form of literary preciousness was just the kind of art therapy expiation that my self-correcting psyche demanded.

I came out of it a healthier, better person. It’s one of the many reasons that I advocate for everyone to adopt an artistic outlet, whether it be music, writing, or drawing, or something akin. Your brain wants –needs– to say something that conversation alone cannot convey. Trust me on this.

For a while after its publication, I became the archivist of my community. Elderly relatives would seek me out at family events to regale me with tales of their youth, in hopes that I would immortalize them in one of my stories. (I often tried to do just that.) More touching was how frequently younger people who shared my particular diasporic path thanked me for unknowingly expressing something of their own unexplored angst.

Many of the stories in the collection emerge from episodes in my late father’s life in rural Guyana, which I strived to give allegorical relevance to larger, modern themes. So, a particularly cherished memory is of when I first told my father that I’d signed a publishing contract. He engulfed me in a crushing bear hug. This was uncharacteristic of him, as he would usually question whether my artistic activities were taking me away from my studies, or whether following a pursuit that so clearly would never make me any money was worth its considerable time commitment.

But not that time. I like to think that he somehow understood the importance of the moment not just for me, but for his own legacy. I know he read the book. But I don’t know if he recognized himself in it.

Quite surprising to me, the book won the Guyana Prize (for Best First Work) in 2000. This is the national book award of the nation of Guyana, where I was born. It’s a big deal. The prize is considered one of the highest honours in the world of Caribbean literature. Winning it was an unexpected salve on the wound of expatriation, and set me on quite a dizzying journey of rediscovering the land of my birth, a place of which I knew nothing directly, but of which had heard my parents speak endlessly.

That experience was summarized in this Globe & Mail article, written after my return from the awards ceremony.

In 2014, the rights to the book reverted back to me from the original publisher, TSAR Books (now called House of Mawenzi Press). I will forever be grateful to the editor of that publishing house, Nurjehan Aziz, for taking a chance on me.

Here’s a little anecdote from those early days. I was living in London, Ontario, in the late 1990s when Nurjehan agreed to publish the book (after I had shopped it around unsuccessfully to multiple publishers). All of my dealings with her had been over the phone or via email. I was on my way to Toronto to attend a book reading by one of my favourite authors at the time, MG Vassanji. I emailed Nurjehan and said something to the effect, “This might be a good opportunity for us to meet. I really like Mr Vassanji’s writing, and I think you will too!”

She replied, “I’m glad you think so. He’s my husband.”

Unbeknownst to me, Vassanji was a co-owner of the publishing house. If you don’t know the name, Dr Vassanji is one of this country’s most decorated authors, having won multiple jaw-dropping awards, including the Giller Prize twice. It’s one of my secret joys that he also edited my book and even wrote the description on the back. I wish he would sign his name to that bit of work! Getting to know the generous Vassanji-Aziz family, hearing tales around their dinner table of exploits with Salman Rushdie and Shashi Tharoor was the injection of literary adrenaline I did not know that I so fervently needed at that time in my life.

There is a lengthy and, I think, amusing story about my adventure flying to Guyana to receive the Guyana Prize. I’ve been meaning to put it to paper for over two decades now. I will write about it in this space in coming days. I promise.

As noted, the rights to Sweet Like Saltwater reverted back to me in 2014. I immediately republished it as an ebook under my own imprint, The Intanjible Press. And now, I’m expanding that publication to include a new paperback edition.

(The rights to my follow-up novel, Divine Elemental, have also recently reverted to me. I’m going to repackage and relaunch that book soon, too. Outside of my child, it is the creation for which I am most proud. So do stay tuned for that.)

So, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of this very important moment in my life, I have dropped the prices of both the ebook and paperback editions of Sweet Like Saltwater, to the lowest that Amazon will allow. (I don’t really understand their pricing structure.) I encourage all of you to pick up a copy. If you do, please leave an honest review on Amazon. It really does help my ability to keep my publishing platform alive.

Readers in Canada, please use this link:

Readers in USA and elsewhere, please use this link:

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