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F*ck the Trolls

How my favorite author helped me crowdfund my tuition

By Stephanie RamloganPublished 3 years ago 9 min read

The first ever short story I wrote was shortlisted for a prize. I didn't even know what "shortlisted" meant! I had been writing my fashion and lifestyle blog for years, which had attracted the attention of some online and print publications, so I knew I could write, but my career was built around critical pieces about copycat designers and the colorism of the Carnival industry in Caribbean. The closest I had ever gotten to a short story before this, was a notebook my best friend and I wrote in when we were in high school. We each alternated writing chapter by chapter, a story of this girl who falls in love with a boy-band popstar at summer camp. Our classmates lined up to rent the book for half hour intervals during the lunch break. It was an unrealistic racy story of these young teenagers sneaking off to get frisky every second-- puberty porn if you must. Some twenty years later, a client of mine sent me details for a short story competition, saying she thought I would be great for it. I had never even read a short story at that point, but there was small prize money, and it was for Caribbean-Americans (my niche) so I thought it might be good out-of-the-box writing practice. I never expected to get as far as a long list, far less a short list! And when I read my story at the award ceremony, people rolled with laughter at my quirky characters; two young kids trying to steal a pack of nuts from their mom's workplace. The next year I entered the competition again, and I won first place!

These triumphs spun my writing career on its head. Writing fiction gave me a freedom I did not have in personal essays and articles. I studied Spanish literature for my undergrad degree, and was lustful for the magical realism of the genre. Fiction opened me up to the possibility of writing boundlessly, and I have been determined to make this my career. I was accepted to do my Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing for fiction last year, at a University in New York. To be honest, 2020 was the best year ever-- Until it wasn't. This story is about the amazing people who have had my back recently, so I'm not going to drown it in the piss pool of the pandemic and its ruthless claim. What I will say though, is that political drama brought on by the pandemic forced me to have to defer my Master's opportunity. It also sucked away the finances that were in place for me to pay for my tuition. I had to leave the US, where I had been living for four years, to return to my home country in the Caribbean, to sort out the mess. I'm still here now, scouring for the possibilities to get me back in school.

Much against my father's wishes I decided to crowdfund for my tuition. My father is a super traditional, Indo-Trinidadian man, meaning shame comes easily to him.

"You are not going to beg while your father is still alive!" he yelled, when I told him I was thinking of creating the fund. He has had a successful business career for most of his life, but in recent years things have spiraled into a real struggle. The truth is, he cannot afford to help me to pay for school. He sees it as his duty though, and not being able to do it has engulfed him in humiliation. He worries that people would judge him. He is horrified at the idea that they would know he fell from the graces of good-living. So when I did start my crowd fund, I hid it from him.

I had initially gotten the idea from another Trinidadian-American woman I know. I had reached out to her for advice on grants and scholarships since she had the right network for that sort of thing.

"I don't have any resources for MFA grants," she started, "but if your pride can take it, how would you feel about a crowdfund? I will pledge the first $500."

I'm not sure what you know about writers, but a cool $500 doesn't come that easily. Her generosity, and encouragement, were priceless. I told her I would think about it, and ran to call a friend.

"That's bloody amazing!" My friend said. She is a doctor, and I didn't expect her to be able to relate with a creative's financial dilemmas, but she was thrilled for me. "Do it!" she urged. "Set up the crowd fund and I will share it with some friends! They will contribute for sure. We all love your writing."

I'm one of those people who do not ask for help. I have gotten by painstakingly via my one man show, spending many nights curled up in frustrated anxious-thought orgies. To ask for money? My father's shame around this whole thing was understandable to me. How could I ask for money from my friends? How could I ask for money from strangers? But after weighing the other options, and finding myself still potentially tens of thousands of dollars short, I bit the bullet.

Within the first hour, my doctor friend, and the woman who had given me the idea had donated $580 combined. Throughout the rest of the day, the amount was growing a hundred at a time. The next morning I woke up to see an anonymous donation of $1500, which turned out to be from a good friend, and old classmate of mine, living in Canada. I called her immediately, because maybe she meant to pledge $15 and this was a typographical mistake.

"You don't even understand how much I believe in you," she gushed. "I am fully invested in your success. I hope you surpass your goal!"

I was stunned. She believed in me? What have I done that is so remarkable? I retraced my life, and my achievements. They all seemed miniscule compared to the booming careers of my peers and my cousins. In my thirties I have the savings of an intern. Just as the overthinking was bubbling, my own voice spoke to me from within. I had once given a lecture to a group of young women about Success, and I had told them about the currency in which they measure their value. I had said to them that I knew I was not in the business of making money, but that at least every week someone reaches out to me to say how something I've written has touched them. Every so often I hear from a stranger who tells me that I've been brave enough to say things they wish they could. My currency wasn't dollars, it was my voice; to give meaning. And with that piercing memory I felt the confidence to share this crowdfund with a wider audience.

I reached out on Facebook to the author Monique Roffey, who wrote my favorite book "The Mermaid of Black Conch." Ms. Roffey was also born in Trinidad, before moving to England where she lives now. This book, set in the 1970s, speaks of a mermaid who is captured in the Caribbean by greedy American fishermen, and rescued by a villager. She wrote scene by miraculous scene of the mermaid's tail rotting off of her into a slow sloppy mess, filling the bathtub she was kept in. She finagles rich Caribbean history into the story, speaking of the Taino tribe the Mermaid belonged to before travelling the seas of time, punished with a fish tail to conceal her sex, so that she may not experience the pleasure of a man. The book is a masterpiece, earning Ms. Roffey the Costa Award for Book of the year this year, the same week I boldly reached out to her to tell her of my crowd fund. Would you believe she replied?

"I'm really happy to help!" She began, " Send me the link and I'll do everything I can to circulate on my social media channels. Good Luck! This is a good thing to do. I also used a Crowd funder for The Mermaid of Black Conch and raised good cash to pay a publicist."

What? Monique Roffey crowd funded money for publicity for this amazing book that is now so famous! I had no idea and it gave me the gusto to keep pushing. The prize money she got for this book was £30,000! I was elated to see the universe working its karma. We spoke for a while, and she invited me to chat even more whenever I wanted. She told me that her mother too was embarrassed about her asking for this kind of help. She gave me tips, and assurance and did actually share and tag the link. Her kindness truly touched me. That whole week I was floored to see all the shares and donations made by people I barely even know! People were talking about how excited they were to see where I would go with this! Some spoke of how much my writing already means to them. I'm not sure that each of these friends and supporters will ever actually know that they warmed me up with a fire inside that for so long was burning low.

But one night, I got a direct message on Instagram from a fake profile. The person said that I was wrong to ask for money for school. They said that I was heartless to ask for donations when so many people were now unemployed in this pandemic. They called me spoiled and lazy and said that whoever had made donations was playing into my privilege. I was shocked. I deleted the message without giving it a second read, knowing that the mean-spiritedness had less to do with me and more to do with their own pain. But they struck a nerve. They pushed the right buttons for my insecurity to kick in. Am I really doing enough? Am I "lazy as fuck" like they said? Mind you this was at 1am, when I was just wrapping up a thirteen hour work day, so of course I was not lazy, but in those unguarded moments of exhaustion and lack, you just might let the trolls get to you.

The next day I stopped pushing the crowd fund. I was hurt and humiliated. I did not feel good to know that there were possibly more people like this, thinking that my tuition was a frivolous ask. I kept quiet for days, privately giving thanks to the trickle of donations that still did come in.

One morning someone shared a Guardian article with me, of Monique Roffey discussing her big book award, since everyone knows I'm a huge fan. In the article she was interviewed by a journalist who asked a lot about her home country of Trinidad and Tobago. My home country. Monique shared openly about her inspiration for the book. And even spoke of the crowd fund campaign that helped her get her book out there. I felt guilty to let her down with my shyness, when there she was exclaiming to the world that she asked for help and it got her to where she was. So I reached out to her again.

I congratulated her on all the amazing press, and told her about the hate message I received the night before. I knew she was busy, and did not expect a quick response. She was being interviewed like crazy that week! I could not turn anywhere without seeing her mass of blonde curls and her bright chunky scarves gracing literary journal covers. But she did reply. She said:

"When the dust settles message me, and I’ll Tweet again next week. I’m famous now. Maybe that will help . Fuck the trolls."

And with that succinct bad-ass energy, I got back to my feet and did exactly like she said. I look forward with great anticipation to starting school in the Fall of 2021; my first step to my own award-winning novel, inspired by all the mermaids who have given me so much magic in their selflessness towards my dreams.


About the Creator

Stephanie Ramlogan

A Trinidadian writer based in Brooklyn, writing about what it's like to exist between the Caribbean and USA, in the form of essays, articles and fictional short stories.

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    Stephanie RamloganWritten by Stephanie Ramlogan

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