Author Kristine Simelda of Dominica Launches ‘A Face in the River’

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Kristine Simelda, American-Dominican author of ‘A Face in the River’

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On Saturday January 23, 2016, I had the pleasure of attending the ‘official’ launch of A Face in the River by American-Dominican author Kristine Simelda. She has lived on the Nature Island for more than 20 years! Dozens of supporters and literary enthusiasts participated in this celebratory event, which was hosted by the fine folks at Romance Café on lovely Mero Beach. During this auspicious occasion, we had the pleasure of listening to Kris read a seasonally-appropriate and highly entertaining chapter from her book, entitled ‘Don’t Stop the Carnival’.

Throughout this beautiful afternoon in Dominica, we also chatted informally with the author,  bought   copies of A Face in the River   and then lined up to have Kris put a personalized note in each one. Under bright sunny skies with a pleasant onshore breeze, we celebrated Kris’s success while we listened to mellow background music provided by superb saxophonist Jussi Paavola.  We

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Renowned local saxophonist Jussi Paavola provided the perfect background sound for author Kris’s (right)enjoyable book launch.

also munched on tasty treats and devoured delicious Caribbean-French infused home-cooked meals at this renowned seaside restaurant.

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Gwendominica was delighted to have author Kristine Simelda sign her personal copy of A Face in the River.

When I got home that evening, I began to read this new novel, set on a lush, beautiful

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Author Kristine Simelda captivated the crowd when she read from her novel, A Face in the River, at her book launch.

Caribbean island.  Over the next two days, I was hardpressed to put it down! I became completely engrossed in the adventures and misfortunes of the protagonist, Krystal Sutherland, a divorced American businesswoman who leaves her comforts behind to follow her heart into  unknown tropical territory.  She quickly discovers that her preconceived notions about ‘life in paradise’ are more than a little off the mark! As an expatriate, I could readily identify with many of the main character’s challenges.  I was also intrigued by the fast-paced twists and turns of the plot and the colourful dialog that really moved the story along.

I  have since electronically linked up with Kris, and in advance of a face-to-face  literary chat in the weeks to come, she has graciously and candidly answered some of my questions about A Face in the River, and more, right here!

Gwendominica:      What/who/where was the inspiration for A Face in the River?

Kristine Simelda: I always say you have to have felt it to write about it. When I was trying to find a publisher who was willing to take a chance on an unknown author writing from a relatively unknown part of the world, I was pitching the book as a fictionalized memoir. No one was interested, so I finally published the book as “a novel” under the ‘River Ridge Press’ imprint, which is the name of my farm. Some folks might recognize certain aspects of the setting and  storyline, and the name of the heroine, Krystal Sutherland, does sound a lot like Kristine Simelda, but beyond that I plead the 5th [amendment]!

Gwendominica: Where did you write it, did you have a particular process, and how long did it take you?

Kristine Simelda: I wrote A Face in the River right here in Dominica, although I had to teach myself to type before I began! I had only written a few snippets of poetry previously, and was so ignorant of the process of writing a novel that I decided to tell Krystal’s story first.  I had so much to say that the original manuscript was 150,000 words long!

When my house burned down in 2000, the original copy went up in flames with it, so I had to start all over again. It took a couple of more years to resurrect the story, during which I managed to get rid of about 50,000 words. Then, while I learned about the craft of writing through workshops and constructive criticism, I edited the manuscript ruthlessly. Finally I was ready to take the next step and publish it as an eBook in 2014.

Gwendominica: How have readers responded to the book?  What kind of reactions are you getting?

Kristine Simelda: Everyone has been very supportive. The general consensus is that it’s a fast read and a great story. I’ve learned a lot [about the writing process] at seminars, by reading other authors’ works (good and bad) and especially from my invaluable editor, Elizabeth Brown.

Gwendominica: Do you think there is a market for ‘tropical fiction’ outside of the tropics?

Kristine Simelda: Most definitely! The First World has become so homogeneous that readers are dying for a taste of the really real world, stories about people and places just like wild, beautiful Dominica. Maybe it’s because I write from the Caribbean, but I feel a there’s a positive  shift  in literature  toward ethnically diverse characters living in far-flung places.

Gwendominica: What was the  biggest challenge in terms of creating this novel?

Kristine Simelda: Technology. I am basically a Stone Age woman. I haven’t had a TV for 25 years, don’t have an IPhone or a Kindle. Believe it or not. I lived without electricity for ten years before I installed solar power five years ago. Before that I ran my laptop from a generator. If it hadn’t been for the cyber gals (Wendy Walsh and Petrea Seaman) at Delphis Ltd, the manuscript for A Face in the River would still be molding in a bottom drawer.

Gwendominica:  What’s next, in terms of your writing plans?

Kristine Simelda: One thing is for sure: I’ll never run out of things to write about while living in Dominica!

I have lots of completed work in the queue, all of which is set in the Caribbean and deals with issues that are close to my heart. In River of Fire, a sequel to A Face in the River, an older and wiser Krystal copes with the fact that the island blows up on the first page due to a volcanic eruption caused by environmental terrorism.  Then she resurfaces as a sage old woman in the novella, Back to the River.

My most recent novel, Nobody Owns the Rainbow focuses on issues of class, love, family, and genetically modified horrors as perpetrated by foreign exploiters. I have also written a young adult novel, Rainforest Rescue, and have enough published short stories for a collection.

Meanwhile, I continue to submit short fiction to publications, revise older work, and wait to win the lottery. I have already begun to formulate novel number four, a romance/ horror narrative where the little gal stands up to the big bad wolf and all his kin.

Gwendominica: What are your other interests, hobbies, occupations?

Kristine Simelda: As a child, I was never much of a reader. My school mates recall a me as a wild and crazy misfit, a bohemian artist. In my middle years, I morphed into a go-girl who rode horses, bicycled around the world, and played a hard game of racquetball.

When I moved to Dominica, I discovered snorkeling and hiking. Then I settled down to farming and breeding large dogs when I landed here in the rainforest. These days, I still have my kayak, and my dogs, but I can’t think of anything more rewarding than settling down with a good book and a glass of wine in the evenings. (Well, maybe I can…)

Gwendominica: As an expatriate, do you have any words of advice for people who are thinking of making a big move to a little  tropical island?

Kristine Simelda: According to the epigraph to A Face in the River: “Consider, my friends, the high price of enchantment.”

Now that readers of Ti Domnik Tales know a little more about this engaging American-

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Now and then, Kris (in pink) enjoys taking a break with her friends at Romance Cafe, on Mero Beach.

Dominican author, you can follow the tropical adventures of her ‘heroine’ Krystal in A Face in the River by getting a paperback or Kindle copy through www.amazon.com  or the visit-dominica website.  The book can be purchased locally in Roseau at Jay’s Bookstore, Kai-K Boutique and Buy Dominica, as well as at Papillote Wilderness Retreat in Trafalgar. Follow her blog at www.kristinesimelda.com

Many thanks to Kris, for candidly sharing some background and personal anecdotes.  I wish you every success with your creations and eagerly await the release of  River of Fire, the sequel to a A Face in the River – and all of your other  forthcoming literary works!

 

 

 

Ti Domnik Tales Blog Has Published 100 Posts about Dominica, the Nature Island!

Dominica, the Nature Island as seen from the coastal waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Dominica, the Nature Island as seen from the coastal waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Mission accomplished!  The piece I wrote about Kalinago Culture and History was the 100th article  posted on Ti Domnik Tales blog. I have now realized my original objective with this significant posting about an important cultural aspect of Dominica.  When I created  this blog in March 2012, I was not sure how far I would get in terms of the number of published posts.  But as you can see, the fascinating topics about the Nature Island are virtually endless!

Therefore, I will continue to write about my experiences on Dominica, as there is much more terrain to cover! Postings may be more sporadic though, as I am turning my attention to my other blog which has been dormant for a while.

Gwendominica walks on red rocks at beautiful Pointe Baptiste, on Dominica's northeast coast - to be presented in a forthcoming post.  Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Gwendominica walks on famous Red Rocks at beautiful Pointe Baptiste, on Dominica’s northeast coast – to be presented in a forthcoming post. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

During the summer of 2014, I will be posting on: www.canarygal.wordpress.com

My Canary Gal blog focuses on  environmental  health  issues and personal experiences related to living with  this challenge.  In fact, I moved to Dominica so that I could better manage this increasingly common condition.  Watch for my travel diary as I spend a little time in” my home and native land” – as this Canary flies north for a few weeks.

I will post the introductory paragraphs on this blog for a short time only with a link to each complete piece on Canary Gal.  I do hope you will be able to join me (vicariously) for some Canadian  summer fun and adventure.  If you are curious about what happens next while I am “home,”  kindly click the ‘follow’ box which you will find midway down the right hand side of the page.

I would be remiss if I did not renew heartfelt thanks to my immediate and extended family, friends near and far,  faithful “followers’ (close to 100!) those who ‘like” me (almost 90!) and/or particular pieces, the people who care to share a comment or two and the thousands of  interested readers from around the world.  Your continued support means a great deal, and helps to keep me motivated to write about the wonderful experiences that form part of my  life on Dominica, the Nature Island.

With appreciation,

Gwendominica

Author

Ti Domnik Tales and Canary Gal blogs

 

 

Dominica’s Antony Agar: Australian Ringer, Caribbean Sea-Captain, Schooner Builder, Author

Antony Agar reads from his book Queensland Ringer at the 2009 Nature Island Literary Festival.

Antony Agar read from his book Queensland Ringer at the 2009 Nature Island Literary Festival.Photo taken by Celia Sorhaindo of Tropical Ties.

Over the years, I have met some fascinating people in Dominica.  One of them is a friendly long-time neighbour  named Antony Agar, who  has a most unassuming demeanor.   I have gradually  learned that he has done some amazing things in his life, to date.  To me, it’s the stuff of novels and he has managed to fictionalize some of his experiences, add real-life places for the settings, mix in a healthy dose of imagination and serve up two fascinating books (so far): Queensland Ringer (2007) and The Puerto Rico Connection (2009).

Although I had previously written a piece about Antony’s  original design and construction of a 100′ long schooner called the Carmela  (see Caribbean Compass July 2001, p.29), my curiosity was piqued even more after I read these two books.  I was prompted to probe a bit deeper into this humble man’s extraordinary adventures.  Antony kindly consented by giving me some background about his life and work.

Antony Agar as a recent high school graduate in 1955.

Antony Agar as a recent high school graduate in 1955.

After Antony completed secondary school in Barbados in 1955, he accompanied his mother Daphne Agar (a Dominican of British extraction) to England. He thought carefully about what he should do at that point. An English teacher at his Barbados boarding school had tried to talk him into going into journalism, as he  enjoyed reading and had a flair for writing.   But at the age of 18 or so, he resisted as he “thought it would be boring!”   As a young man,  he really had ‘adventure’ on his mind.

Antony took this picture of himself when he was a young ringer in Queensland Australia.  The photo was copied from an old slide.

Antony took this picture of himself with his new camera when he was a young ringer in Queensland Australia. The photo was copied from an old slide.

There were some immediate opportunities: go to Canada, where an uncle held a position as a mining engineer in northern Quebec; or head off to Australia where his maternal grandfather lived, in order to work on a station (known as a ranch in North America).

As he was already familiar with farming  on the family estate in Dominica, ‘down under’ was perhaps the more obvious choice.  He landed there in 1956,  where he took up increasingly responsible positions as a ringer (aka cowboy or gaucho in other countries) at stations in isolated areas of Queensland, Australia.

“I only planned to go for two years,” he recalls. When he returned to Dominica in 1959 with the intention of running his family’s estate,  he only stayed for a couple of months as his mother was comfortably managing the farms on her own.  So he went back for another five years!  “I enjoyed the life as a ringer,” he admits. The remoteness, vast cattle stations that stretched on and on for miles and miles, unforeseen challenges, the camaraderie among the workers, and the adventure suited him well. “It wasn’t a huge shock to live there.”

Antony recollected that in those days, there was no electricity on his family’s estate in Dominica, but most homesteads on remote  Australian stations had generators. ” And back then all the work was done on horseback. Nowadays they have helicopters and motorbikes!” he remarked.

After he finally returned to Dominica in 1963, he never went back! “But I think of Australia a lot,” Antony admitted with some nostalgia.

He wasted no time in starting a dairy farm along with limes and bananas on the family estate. Although he loved the land, boats had always been a part of his  life in Dominica. He owned a Carriacou (Grenadian Grenadines)-built cargo schooner in the 1970’s.  It was called the Mayflower C.  As a sea-captain, he regularly transported agricultural produce from Dominica to Barbados.  Unfortunately, one day the anchor let go and it went aground. He couldn’t find another one to buy at that time so  he got an idea that perhaps he should build a schooner himself!    He

The Carmela was designed and built by Antony Agar. The vessel is 100' long on deck with a 25' beam, a 12' draft and a 10' deep cargo hold. She operates with a crew of four. She was sold to a St. Lucian businessman several  years ago. Photo taken by Maurice Agar.

The Carmela was designed and built by Antony Agar. The vessel is 100′ long on deck with a 25′ beam, a 12′ draft and a 10′ deep cargo hold. She operates with a crew of four. She was sold to a St. Lucian businessman several years ago. Photo taken by Maurice Agar.

then advertised in boating magazines for possible plans. While in limbo about boat building designs,   he picked up a pen and started to write “for something to do.”

“But Hurricane David squashed all that.”  The family home in Dominica was completely demolished by the fierce category 4 tropical cyclone in August 1979.  It took a very long time to rebuild it.  Years passed and Antony started thinking about his dream-boat again.  He researched boat plans again, including a set from

The Carmela under construction.  What a frame!

The Carmela under construction. What a frame!

the Smithsonian Institute.  However, they didn’t exactly suit what he had in mind.   Antony want to build a cargo schooner much the same as his previous boat, only larger.  Eventually, he came up with his own design.  Then there were many unanticipated hurdles during its construction.  After a very traumatic two-day launching, he managed to put his 100′ long schooner called the Carmela (named after Carmel, his Canadian-born wife of more than 45 years) into the sea off Rockaway Beach near Roseau in 1992.

The Carmela first operated as a cargo vessel and then later became a charter boat. Photo taken by Maurice Agar (Antony's son) off of the coast of Martinique during the Gli Gli expedition in 1997.

The Carmela first operated as a cargo vessel and then later became a charter boat. Photo taken by Maurice Agar (Antony’s son) off of the coast of Martinique during the Gli Gli expedition in 1997.

Once she was in the water,  he and his crew  sailed to other islands with “what little pieces of cargo did not go by  [container] ships” in those days.  However, the large boats began to accept smaller shipments, which reduced the demand for this special service.

One of the outstanding memories of that era was the Carmela’s participation in an expedition called the Gli Gli   in 1997. A group of  indigenous Kalinagos from Dominica sailed for 800 miles in a traditional dug-out canoe to South America to retrace their original ancestral voyage a thousand years earlier. The schooner, as the mother-ship, provided support for crew and housed all the necessary equipment.  Antony recalled that it was a very successful journey which took over two months. One of the highlights was the delight on the children’s faces when they first saw the schooner as it sailed up the Waini River in Guyana.  They had never see such as vessel before.

At about that time,  he and his family decided to offer tourism and excursion services from Dominica. The Carmela was subsequently remodeled so that it could be used as an overnight and weekend charter boat.  But then the global economy started to downturn and their new venture was no longer lucrative.  Several years ago, the Carmela sailed away from Dominican waters when she was sold to a St. Lucian businessman. After so many adventures on his hand-built schooner, Antony was suddenly a captain without a ship!

“I was very much at loose ends after having sold the boat.  It was probably already in my mind to write a book,” he reflected.

When he started writing

Queensland Ringer is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young cattle rancher's experiences in Australia.

Queensland Ringer is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young ringer’s experiences in Australia.

Queensland Ringer, which was published in 2007,I thought I might make it into two books, but I never did.”It actually took a couple of years to write it, while his wife Carmel, a retired teacher, proofread and provided encouragement.  Antony chuckled when he remembered that  part of the challenge was “learning to operate the computer!”  Happily, as he went along, it became easier.  Although it  was over 50 years since he lived in Australia, he enjoyed recalling his experiences  as a stock man (cattle rancher) in the  late 1950’s/early 1960’s.  A number of his fictional characters were”based on people [he] knew.”   It was a special honour to have Australian artist John Cornwell create the unique cover design.  After the semi-autobiographical book was released, Mr. Cornwell wrote to Antony to tell him how much he enjoyed the book, as he felt that the Australian outback was portrayed very accurately.

Antony and his wife Carmel have been married since 1967.  Photo taken at a family gathering in Antigua in March 2013.

Antony and his wife Carmel have been married since 1967. Photo taken at a family gathering in Antigua in March 2013.

Other positive reviews of Queensland Ringer can be found on  Lulu, where the hard copy and the e-book are available for purchase.  Residents can also borrow it from the Roseau Public Library in Dominica and the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

As soon as his Australian adventure story been completed, Antony immediately set his literary sails in a different direction.  The Puerto Rico

The Puerto Rico Connection is an intriguing murder mystery which is set on a number of islands, including Dominica.

The Puerto Rico Connection is an intriguing murder mystery which is set on a number of islands, including Dominica.

Connection is an intriguing murder mystery which is set in Dominica and other Caribbean islands. Antony had always like to read mysteries and he had held onto an idea for a long time about how he would begin the book.  “Once I started it, it just came out.  I didn’t have any plan,” he confesses.  As a seasoned sailor, he was fascinated with a scenario where a fugitive stows-away on a schooner and suddenly tries to hijack the captain.  He incorporated this “vision” into this novel which evolved from Antony’s imagination.  While the settings and cultural context accurately reflect life on several West Indian islands, the characters are completely fictitious.
The production of this book was again a family affair, with Antony’s wife Carmel working alongside as proofreader and cousin Dr. Lennox Honychurch creating the beautiful cover art island scene.

When I read The Puerto Rico Connection, I was at enthralled  with my vicarious boating excursions  to different islands south of Dominica.  I particularly enjoyed identifying a number of places that the protagonist visits on Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia.  I got caught up in the fast-paced plot and the suspenseful twists and turns scattered throughout the book.  It made me want to sail away for a few days (but under less fearful circumstances)!

Residents of Dominica can borrow this book from the Roseau Public Library.   It is also held in the Dominican Collection of the reference sections at Roseau, Grand Bay, Marigot and Portsmouth branches. Other interested readers may buy the hard copy of this book at Lulu.

As to other plans, Antony says  he is “keen to see what happens next.”  There are some short stories in the works, which are set in  both Australia and Dominica.

If they  turn out to be  anything like Queensland Ringer and The Puerto Rico Connection, then  they will be well worth the wait.  I  am eager to read what I expect will be captivating short stories  by my  extraordinarily accomplished  and completely unassuming neighbour, Antony Agar.

*With special thanks to Celia Sorhaindo of Tropical Ties, Wendy Walsh of Delphis Inc. and Elise Johnston-Agar of Agar & Johnston Architects for their invaluable assistance.

** Heartfelt gratitude is extended to Antony for sharing his story, reviewing the draft for accuracy and for sourcing a few more photos!