Monday, June 3, 2024

Q&A with Desmond Hall


Photo by Tom Kates



Desmond Hall is the author of the new young adult novel Better Must Come. He also has written the YA novel Your Corner Dark. He was born in Jamaica and lives outside Boston.


Q: What inspired you to write Better Must Come, and how did you create your characters Deja and Gabriel?


A: So many children in Jamaica and all over the Caribbean are left with relatives, friends of the family or by themselves if old enough--while their parents venture to the “first world” to find work. The reason for this is that the parents can oftentimes make more in two years of work in “foreign” than they can working 10 years back home.


The parents often send home a barrel—usually a 55-gallon round container—filled with everything from cooking oil to blue jeans to cell phone covers and more. And here’s the catch—the kids who get these barrels filled with stuff are sometimes shamed if they complain about missing their parents.


Why? Because they received a barrel filled with stuff that others don’t have. But of course, those kids would gladly trade ten barrels to have their parents come back home. I know this from the research and because my sister and I were “barrel children.”


So, I thought it would be interesting to explore the way a thriller could be rendered if one of these “barrel kids” came across a dangerous opportunity to improve her life while her parent(s) were away in “foreign.”


In addition, Jamaica is an island of strong women. And Deja is based on a some of my cousins who shall be nameless. And Gabriel is based on the lives of a couple of my uncles and some other cousins who made “unfortunate” choices.


Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The original title was “Barrel Girl,” but my editor charged me to top it. So…I did what I did with my first book—I reached out to family back home.


They got to talking and brought up a song title that was also a slogan for a political campaign during a time of great upheaval in Jamaica. The country was literally splitting apart back in the 1970s, and the body count was high come election time.


However, there was a slogan that promoted the idea of a better future. Better must come. I think the promise of a brighter future is so important for Jamaica and the world at this point in history. And for Deja and Gabriel.

Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I always plot out a story before I type a single word. (Blessings to the “pantsers” who just sit down and start writing without knowing their characters or story.)


So, since I’m a passionate plotter I knew the ending, but it didn’t end up being the ending in the end.


Better Must Come has more than 20 set ups and payoffs and because I plotted so much and layered so much into the first and second acts, there were several ways to go as far as creating a compelling ending.


And I have to say I think this is key to the writing process. When you set up the ending much earlier in your manuscript “you open the gap between expectations and results,” as Robert McKee would say. And when you do that, you really increase your odds of creating a compelling and rewarding ending.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the novel?


A: It’s a thriller, so I hope they’ll be turning pages so fast that their wrists will hurt.


I also want readers to come away with an understanding of some of the economic issues that have shaped Jamaica’s destiny.


On top of that, it would be great if readers grasped the level of physical and psychological pain that children encounter because of the widespread abandonment problems birthed by said economic issues.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just finished a draft of a WWII novel where a group of teenagers in Denmark rise up to battle the Nazi forces who’ve invaded the country. And speaking of endings, this one will rock you.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m also working on a social justice style middle grade novel. It’s a time travel story where a brother and sister discover the true meaning of their power to change the past when they venture back to the Tulsa Massacre.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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