"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

When it rains it pours !

And I LOVE this monsoon showering me with happiness in the middle of India's winter - read lovely temperatures that allow long sleeves during the day, sunshine, a lovely breeze, and at night, a nice chill and no need for A/C. So, what am I so happy and excited about ? Well, not only did I get to post Kimberly Willis Holt's interview on this blog, yesterday, but something else happened that totally rocked my day. I finally met my teacher - even more than my teacher, I consider her my mentor - Uma Krishnaswami !

See ? Here she is, sitting on my couch. Yeah, yeah, I'm telling you, it's my couch.

Uma is in India visiting friends and family, and she came to Hyderabad for a couple of days and I spent two lovely hours with her, talking, talking, talking. Nooo, I didn't do all the talking. I let her participate, too. Uma is all I imagined her to be : vivacious, generous, and so incredibly modest. And she has the most beautiful hair. It definitely was my Christmas present, this year. And now, so no one can tell she was just sitting on some couch, looking pretty, here we are together.

Thank you so much, Uma, for carving out some time for me out of your busy travelling schedule. It meant the world to me.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kimberly Willis Holt speaks about Piper Reed Navy Brat

I’m so pleased to welcome [American] National Book Award author Kimberly Willis Holt for my very first interview on this blog.

Kimberly’s first novel, My Louisiana Sky, was an ALA Notable Book and an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults. It also received a Boston Globe—Horn Book Honor Award. Her second novel, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, won the National Book Award. Her novel Keeper of the Night was a "Best Book of the Year" selection from School Library Journal, Kirkus and Bank Street College. Please, visit her website at http://www.kimberlywillisholt.com/as it is totally charming, original, and fun..

Kimberly now lives in Texas, but she was a Third Culture Kid who moved a lot during her childhood. This interview is going to focus on her last novel Piper Reed Navy Brat (illustrated by Christine Davenier, Henry Holt 2007) the theme of expatriation, and how Kimberly’s life as a TCK has shaped her and continues to shape her writing.

look at Piper, isn't she irresistible?

Kimberly, tell us about Piper Reed Navy Brat, and what prompted you to write this book.

I’m a Navy brat. My dad was a Navy chief and served in the Navy for twenty-one years. I was born during a hurricane in Pensacola, Florida. After that we lived in a village outside of Paris, France. The other places I lived were Norfolk, Virginia, Alexandria, Louisiana, Barrigada, Guam, Bremerton, Washington, Forest Hill, Louisiana and New Orleans, Louisiana. We also visited Barcelona, Spain and Japan. We were gypsies.

For the last ten years, my editor has wanted me to explore that military childhood in my writing. I resisted because I thought it would be too autobiographical. But one day I heard the carefree voice of a nine-year-old girl. “I’ve lived everywhere,” she said.

This may sound strange, but that's the way stories come to me.
The main character's voice speaks. Many times the first
statement they make becomes the first sentence in the book. I’ve learned to listen to those voices and follow them. The day I heard Piper’s voice was the day I started writing the book that eventually became Piper Reed Navy Brat.

What, from your nomadic childhood, would you say had the most lasting impact on your adult life?

I was a shy girl, but being forced to be the new girl so often made me adaptable to many situations. That can be a huge asset in life.

Do you feel it was a privileged life, or not? And why?

I lived more places by the time I was ten than many adults only dream about going to. I’ve learned about other cultures first hand. In France, I attended kindergarten and learned to speak and read the language. On Guam, I attended fiestas with my Chamorro friends and learned to dance the cha-cha. During my high school years, my friends and I would sneak off to the French Quarter. Yep, I have had a privileged life. Not one with a lot of money, but a life filled with rich experiences.

If you had to live your childhood as a military kid again, what would you like to be different? What would you say was the best part about that life? And what was the worst, the hardest?

If I had my military childhood to do over again, I’d try to look at each move as a new rich experience. And I’d stay in touch with the friends I made along the way. The best part about that life was learning about other cultures. The hardest part was leaving people I cared about behind. As a child I usually saw my grandparents once every couple of years. But I’ve been fortunate to get to spend more time with them as an adult. All four of my grandparents were living in my mid-thirties and two are here today. So I made up for those years that I didn’t get to see them as often as my cousins did.

I read somewhere that you have two sisters, like Piper Reed. Would you say their experience was the same as yours? Or do they have different feelings about their nomadic childhood?

When people would ask my middle sister, the inspiration of Piper, where she was from, she’d proudly answer, “I’m from nowhere.” I wanted to be from somewhere. But Alicia embraced that life. She was fearless and made friends easily.

My other sister is eleven years younger than me. She was six when my dad retired from the Navy. While I attended college in Louisiana, the rest of the family moved to Texas. My youngest sister has lived in the same zip code most of her life. Her children attend the schools she attended. In a way, she had the childhood I wanted.

Any advice for parents of TCKs that you feel might help smooth things out for their nomadic children?

Make every destination an adventure, but make it home, too. My mom turned every place we lived into a home. She made pillows for the couches, wallpapered the walls, and planted flowers in the garden. My parents allowed us to have pets on Guam even though we weren’t allowed to take them when we left. We had cats, rabbits and turtles. My dad built a tree house for us. Because of my parents, I would forget that we were going to move.

At the same time we learned about the areas we lived in, usually on Sunday drives. I think one of the worst modern luxuries is a television in a vehicle. We looked out the window and learned about the world. That was our entertainment. That and playing silly car games or singing songs off-key.

My parents still cook foods that they learned to make while we lived in different destinations. My mom learned to make spaghetti from some Italian neighbors we had in Paris. We ate it every week, growing up. My parents sometimes cook lumpia and pancet that they learned to make on Guam. Fried rice is common in the states now, but there was a time that it wasn’t. When we lived in my parents’ home town for a while, my mom made fried rice for a church potluck dinner. She called it Guam Fried Rice. Well at the next church potluck dinner, half a dozen versions of the dish spread out among the chicken and dumplings and pink-eyed purple hull peas. My mom had introduced Guam culture to Forest Hill, Louisiana. That’s what moving around a lot does—it makes the world smaller.

You seem to have a pretty settled life nowadays. Do you ever get itchy feet, the need to go abroad again?

All the time! I love to travel and do. My daughter was raised in Texas, but she is aware of the world beyond this state. I think my military childhood is part of the reason why. My husband also traveled a lot as a boy. By the time he attended high school, he’d been to every state except Hawaii and Alaska. So he, also, knows the importance of travel.

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was twelve. I wrote a poem about a Viet Nam soldier. My science teacher encouraged me to show it to the creative writing teacher. He liked it too, and told me he hoped I’d enroll in his class the next year. I started the day feeling like a misfit and I ended it feeling very special. That’s the power of teachers. I was also lucky enough to have an eighth grade English who taught us to journal. Those teachers made me feel like I could be a writer. I’ve tried to find them in recent years, but I’ve had no luck. So if you will allow me to give a shout out to Mr. Kimmel, Mr. Norseth and Ms. Pratt—Thank you!

Would you tell us a bit about how it all happened?

After college, I did a lot of other jobs—radio news director, advertising, marketing a water park, working as a terrible interior decorator. Still words were a part of my life. I journaled and wrote long letters. Then on June 15, 1994, I made a commitment to be a writer. It’s been a wonderful journey.

So far, you've written novels set in Louisiana, Texas, on the island of Guam, and now, in Florida – all places that you know well. Do you find that you choose the setting of a book before the story comes to you? Would you tell us how that works for you?

Most of the time, the setting comes with the story. I hear the voice of the character. They tell me who they are and about their dilemma. As I begin, I usually know the ending. It’s the journey to the ending that I have to discover. That’s where the fun and the fear lives.

Setting is important to me. I try to make it a character in the book. I think setting shapes people. People are not the same everywhere. We may have universal feelings. We all experience joy and sadness, but place can give us distinct traits. And even that can effect what we view as joyful or sad. So it’s important to me as a writer to get the setting right. When I wrote Keeper of the Night, I returned to Guam to research. I couldn’t rely on the fact that I’d lived there for two years.

Will we read more Piper Reed adventures?

Yes. The second book, Piper Reed, The Great Gypsy comes out in August, followed by the third book in August 2009. And there may be more adventures. I hope so. In that way, I’m a bit like Piper Reed. I want to spread “Get off the bus!” around the world.

Thank you so much, Kimberly, for doing me the honor of stopping here to answer these few questions.

Thank you, Katia. It’s been my pleasure.

Well, that's it. Annette Gulati, you are the lucky winner who'll get a signed copy of Piper Reed Navy Brat. Please, visit Kimberly on her website and send her your mailing address mentioning how you won, so she can send it to you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Giving A Book Away !

One of the perks of having an author stop at your blog while on tour - other than the great pleasure of interacting with a children's writer, which as far as I'm concerned is more than enough - is that you often get to give a book away to your readers.

So, OK, this blog's readership is still rather intimate - nothing wrong with family, right, especially when you get to choose all the members :) - but that's OK. I'll bet there are a few expats - or others - out there who'll jump at the opportunity of receiving a free signed copy of Piper Reed Navy Brat ! If you're one of them, just leave a comment between today and Thursday evening, when Kimberly Willis Holt's interview will appear on this blog, and I'll draw one lucky winner !

Monday, December 17, 2007

Third Culture Kids

As I prepare my interview for Kimberly Willis Holt, I think I should have a post about the theme of expatriation, and what it means for our global children, these children who accompany their parents into other cultures : the Third Culture Kids.

"A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background."

David C. Pollock & Ruth E. Van Reken
Third Culture Kids

Wikipedia has an interesting article about TKCs.

One statement fascinates me because I find it to be totally true: "TCKs have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than they do with non-TCK's from their own country."

My daughter's best friend, whom I mentioned in my last post, came to visit us in France, last summer. In the TGV that was bringing her to the south of the country, they met another British family en route for their holiday destination. As the two families exchanged the usual introductory sentences, my daughter's friend's first question to the other children was : "So, how many countries have you lived in?" The other children looked at each other, a little puzzled. For my daughter's friend, the question was totally spontaneous and natural. In the short 7 years of her life, she's already lived in Australia, Singapore, India and now the UK. She was simply expressing what she knows.

My own seven-year-old has lived in New York, in Nigeria, in India, and who knows where we'll be going next - well, hopefully, we will sometime soon. During those years, she visited France, Spain, Haiti, New York and Florida in the US, Benin, Morocco, India and Sri Lanka. She left friends in Nigeria, some who then moved to Indonesia. She has friends and family in France, Spain, Haiti and the US. She now has friends in the UK as well. And that global network of hers will continue to grow along with her. She also understands, although still reluctantly, and definitely not without pain, that her life is a lot about saying good bye. As I mentioned in my last post, even my 3-year-old knows about it, now. This also happens to be the theme of a couple of picture book manuscripts I have, sitting in slush piles here and there.

Of course, the good thing is that with the Internet, Windows Live Messenger and Skype, it is easier now than ever to keep in touch with people almost anywhere in the world. Also, studies seem to show that most TCKs do rather well in life. Still, it's not easy, and the downsides of that life should not be disregarded, nor considered lightly.

To end on a humorous note, I found the following statements on several blogs and websites. I had to laugh, because practically all of them apply to us.

You know you are a Third Culture Kid when:

- You can't answer the question "where are you from?"
- You speak two (or more) languages but can't spell in them
- "Where are you from?" has more than one reasonable answer
- You feel odd being in the ethnic majority
- You have the urge to move to a new place every couple of years
- You have a time zone map next to your telephone
- You go into culture shock upon returning to your "home" country
- You flew before you could walk
- You have a passport, but no driver's license
- You speak with authority on the quality of airline travel
- Your life story uses the phrase "Then we went to..." five times or more
- You don't know where home is
- You run into someone you know at every airport
- You sort your friends by continent
- Your dorm room/apartment/living room looks a little like a museum with all the "exotic" things you have around.
- You automatically take off your shoes as soon as you get home
- National Geographic (OR THE TRAVEL CHANNEL) makes you homesick.
- Your second major is in a foreign language you already speak
- You feel that multiple passports would be appropriate.
- You go to Pizza Hut or Wendy's and you wonder why there's no chili sauce
- Your high school memories include those days that school was cancelled due to tear gas, riots, demonstrations, or bomb threats.
- Half of your phone calls are unintelligible to those around you.
- You know the geography of the rest of the world, but you don't know the geography of your own country.
- You realize it really is a small world, after all.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Much needed update on things to come...

It's been far too long since my last post, BUT I'm glad to report that I now see the end of the tunnel ! Translation is actually finished. I'm rereading the whole thing, and it is going smoothly as well. Almost there !

Plus, there is much in the pipeline...

I entered a contest to win a book, the other day, and I WON ! Little me, who never, ever wins anything. But the best of the best is that I discovered an author who grew up as an expat and a military brat. Kimberly Willis Holt won the National Book Award for her novel, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. That's the book I won, by the way. And now, she has another novel out with a global child as the protagonist. Piper Reed Navy Brat.

Kimberly is holding a blog tour, and, AND, AND, she kindly agreed to stop here on Thursday to answer a few questions. How fitting that my first author interview should be with an author who had the kind of childhood that inspires much of my writing !

As life would have it, this happened on the day that my little one - 3 and half - had to say good bye to her very best friend of two years - these two were truly inseparable from the moment they could communicate with a few words. The family is leaving Hyderabad and moving to London, and I feel so sad for my daughter, because I know it will be hard for her. This is the downside of expatriate life. There are many wonderful advantages : we get to travel a lot, we live in different countries, and we experience different cultures as well. It's very enriching and I don't imagine life any other way anymore. But, as for everything, it's not all about plane tickets, and exotic destinations ; being an expatriate also means that every two, three or four years, we have to move again. We pack everything up - actually, that's pretty good because we then get rid of all the junk we manage to pile up even in so short a time - change house, get used to a new environment, to new languages, new people and new ways of doing things, of saying them, of expressing them. And, just as important, it also means that we have to say good bye to people. I'm an adult, and my social skills are rather poor, anyway, so I'm used to that. But my heart breaks every time my children have to part with their friends. My older daughter went through that when we moved from Nigeria to India, and again last spring, when her best friend left Hyderabad. And now, it's the little one.

So, how serendipitous that I should discover Kimberly Willis Holt just now, as she's about to start a blog tour to promote her last novel, which covers precisely that theme. I'm so thrilled that a book out there is recounting this type of experiences. I cant wait to read Kimberly's thoughts about it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I am swamped !

I can't believe it's been 9 days since my last post. What can I say? I work, and work, and work, and it's not even fun work, it's the kind of work that pays a few bills, that makes me feel as if I contribute something to the household budget, and that's it. I was a bad girl and spent lots of quality time with my writing over the past several weeks and totally neglected my translation, and now, I have to meet a fast approaching deadline, and I cannot do anything else but trudge through one page after another. That's how it feels. And I shall now stop my whining, because who wants to listen to that? The good thing ? Only 3 and half more weeks to go. Grrr.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The DUMMY for my picture book is here !

I received the dummy for my coming picture book, Amadi's Snowman.

Oh boy, Oh boy !

I won't say anything more for now. I read somewhere about an editor reminding authors that they read blogs, too. In other words, refrain from disclosing too much.

Still, I can at least share the thrill of opening the envelop and setting eyes on the face of my boy for the first time. Of course, my boy having had to change names, and also to have his face created by another person, means that he's no longer my boy only. Still...

Let me add that the dummy is a bunch of sketches, rather crude drawings. But, it gives me the page breaks, it gives an idea about the artist's vision for my book, and, as mentioned above, it begins to give a face to the characters in the story, to show the settings, the action.

There is much more to come. Colors. The drawings will be refined. Still, it's one step along the publishing process.

It felt weird, surreal, to be leafing through the photocopied, stapled dummy, last night. I'd had it sent to my husband's office address, to make sure it didn't get lost or unnecessarily held up at the post office - our postman delivers mail on a bicycle, and we live all the way up a hill, so who knows on which day he might decide he just doesn't feel up to producing such an effort - so I got it in the evening. My 7-year-old daughter was with me, and she already wants to color it. I think I'll let her.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Right Brain or Left Brain?

Check that link and see whether you are right brain or left brain.

I see her turning clockwise, which means that I tend to use the right part of my brain more.

uses feeling - no kidding
"big picture" oriented - mm, considering how long it's taken me to apply the big picture concept to critique stories, I wonder. That said, I do tend to look far and wide when approaching issues. I think.
imagination rules - but of course!
symbols and images - OK
present and future - no past? Now, this I'm not too sure about.
philosophy & religion - yep, as long as it is religion outside of any type of dogmas. I prefer the word spirituality.
can "get it" (i.e. meaning) - Yeah? OK, that's good I suppose
believes - as in gullible ?
appreciates - as in grateful, or as in appreciates beauty?
spatial perception - not sure about that one
knows object function - huh?
fantasy based - oh, definitely
presents possibilities - I, as a person, or I present possibilities to others?
impetuous - mm, yeah
risk taking - yeah, that too.

But I'm missing "words and language" from the left brain.

I tried focusing to make the dancer rotate the other way, but couldn't. Then, I stopped looking at the image for a few minutes, and when I looked again, she did turn counter-clockwise, but only for a couple of seconds, and then went back to going clockwise and that's how she's still going. I've tried doing something else and going back several times. Definitely clockwise. How about you? Let me know. I'm curious.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ranting about Barbie !

On Sunday afternoon, we went to one of the big department stores that have sprouted all over Hyderabad over the past two years - I'm not kidding, this place is changing FAST.

First, we went to a music store and my 7-year-old ran straight to the DVD display and soon came to me with a Barbie movie in her hand... and a pleading look on her face.

Goodness, but I HATE Barbie! I would like to lit a bonfire and throw if not ALL the Barbies of the world, at least an enormous percentage - how about a good 50 per cent - of the white Barbie dolls in it and watch as all that sickly plastic melts into nothing.

Back to the music store: I tried to distract my daughter, to show her other movies - Hey, The Jungle Book is finally here! Remember the Jungle Book? Mowglie, Bagheera, the bare necessities of life? "This is for babies", she said with a look of disdain on her face. Shame on me, but I sent her to see her father, knowing he'd probably buy it. My husband, the black guy in this family, doesn't have, nor understands all my hang-ups about Barbie. And yeah, he bought it. And now, I hate myself. Let me add that we barely ever visit department stores. So, it's not like this scene would happen every week, or even every month. And since we don't receive any TV channel in our house - it's a choice - the kids can only watch videos and DVDs carefully chosen... usually. Later, I did tell my daughter why I don't like Barbie - in case she'd forgotten since my last rant on the subject - but even as I spoke, I tried to imagine what she might be thinking. "What is wrong with Mom? Why does she hate Barbie so much because she's blond and has blue eyes? Mom is blond and she's got blues eyes too. OK, her figure is not quite as shapely as Barbie's, and she's definitely older, but hey, Mom could be Barbie's mom, maybe!" Oh, dear!

Then, we went to the areas where they have all the toys, and the nightmare continued. There were about eight shelves of toys, one for Fisher Price toys for babies, one for craft toys, play-doh, beads, etc, and the rest, all the other shelves that represented the whole toy display for the department store, had guess what ? Barbies!!! And guess some more ? Not ONE brown Barbie. There was one white Barbie with brown hair and brown eyes - WOW ! - and all the rest were the usual sickly display of blond, blue-wide-eyed Barbies being a teacher, to a blond child of course, being a veterinarian, etc. Even the dogs are blond, for Pete's sake! And then Polly Pockets : same. All blond. We live in INDIA ! Where people have raven black hair, brown skin in all possible shades of brown, from very light to just as dark as any black person - some women and men, especially in the south where we live, have darker skins than my husband. What message does that send to all the children who look at these dolls and get them as presents, or they wouldn't be there, right ? Even the Indian Barbies are basically as light as the white Barbie, only they wear saris.

Maybe we should just avoid department stores. I'm only hoping my daughters - the little one who is 3 has started to become interested in Barbie dolls, as well - will not ask one for Christmas. Or maybe I should order a brown one for each of them right now and have them sent to me. That way, I won't be stuck, if/when the letter to Santa comes and it's too late to order brown ones and have them delivered all the way to India.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Brown Bookshelf

I found out recently about this wonderful new initiative : The Brown Bookshelf

"The Brown Bookshelf is a group of 5 authors and illustrators, brought together for the collective goal of showcasing the best and brightest voices in African-American Children’s Literature, with a special emphasis on new authors and books that are “flying under the radar.”"

And they are not wasting any time either. They've already launched the "28 Days Later" campaign. During the twenty-eight days of Black History Month, they’ll be profiling a different children’s or young adult author. They are taking nominations until December 1. So, if you know a book written by an African-American author, old or new, well-known or not, that you've loved and would like to add to their growing list, visit The Brown Bookshelf website

It just happens that I met one of the five authors Kelly Starling Lyons at the last workshop conducted by Uma so it's really great to see her being a part of this. From the few works in progress she shared with us during the class, I could see that she has a strong voice, a style that is lyric, poetic, and her stories are full of heart.

I've also been a silent lurker on Don Tate's blog for a little while, now. I like his voice, too - only the blogger's voice, so far, but I know we'll be reading his author's voice soon. There is a no-nonsense quality to it, not to mention humor and obvious sensitivity. Well, he's an artist, right?

I've nominated "SHOW WAY" by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbott. Jackie Woodson is not really an author "flying under the radar," but that book, and the author's voice telling the text at the LA SCBWI conference, in 2006 - couldn't make it in 2007, sniff - have never left me, since that day. I also added NEW BOY by Julian Houston. Christopher Paul Curtis had already been mentioned. But this is great, because, as I scanned the list of books nominated, I saw quite a few, and authors' names, too, that I'd never heard of.

Good luck to you all, at The Brown Bookshelf!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cesar Takes a Break ! by my friend and critique partner Sue Collins Thoms

I'm so excited as I type these words. My friend and critique partner Sue Thoms's first picture book Cesar Takes a Break can now be found and pre-ordered at amazon.com.
I remember quite well the first time that Sue submitted Cesar's story to our online critique group. Cesar had it all: a mischievous personality with just a spark of diva quality to him, and lots of humor. He was irresistible, and we all loved him. Eventually, Meredith Wasinger, from Sterling, decided that she loved him too. They found a wonderful illustrator: Rogé, from Quebec, and now, the book will be released on March 4, 2008.

Just run to get your copy. I promise that you won't be disappointed. And do watch out for Sue Collins Thoms in the future, because that lady is incredibly talented. And I said this long before she was published, right, Sue? So that makes me double proud ! I'll post an interview of Sue in this blog, soon. In the meantime, look at Cesar chilling out. Didn't I tell you he's irresistible? Wait until you read about his adventures in the elementary school where he's taken up permanent residence, and you'll love him even more.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Workshop with Uma Krishnaswami

Those who know me, especially my writers friends, know that Uma Krishnaswami is waaayy up there on my list of favorite people in the whole wide world. Any writer who comes into contact with her is taken by her unique, in-depth teaching style, her warmth, her wisdom and humour, and most of all, her great patience and generosity.

I don't quite remember how I came to know about Uma. Most likely, I was searching the Internet for multicultural books and resources. Anyway, I read Chachaji's Cup and loved it. And I checked her website, and saw that she was available to critique manuscripts. The fact that she is originally from India, where I'd come to live, seemed like the last sign I needed to get in touch with her.

I sent her Ifeanyi - my independent boy who now also goes by the name of Amadi - and that was truly a new beginning for me. I was blown away by the depth of her critique! I'd had that same story critiqued before, but no one had gone through such great lengths to actually help me understand the structure of story, the importance of finding its heart, of focusing on a theme, and on the character, too. I mean, we can all read about story arc a million times, but if you are kind of slow, like me, it will take you ages to actually grasp the concept, or you might grasp that concept, but still struggle to translate it into your own writing.

Uma recommended that I take her online advanced workshop for children's writers, and I did. The format is perfect for people like me: we all post one work in progress every two weeks, and the other participants in the workshop critique it. Then, Uma comes in and wraps up with her own critique, usually drawing on what's been said by the others and developing it further.

One of Uma's great tools, in my opinion, is the way she approaches the critique process. She insists that we step back from the text to look at the big picture. No line editing, no comments on the structure of a sentence, on the choice of a word, as these are things that may not even be found in the manuscript, in the end. That distance forces us to think in terms of story theme, story arc, voice, character. I've found it particularly enlightening, even though I still struggle sometimes to think along those big picture lines. It is so much easier to comment on word choice, on the flow and rhythm of a sentence.

So we are to focus on what works, and to say why. And this is preceded by a + sign.
+ I loved the way you show us your character's trepidation by describing her sweaty hands.

And we are to focus on what raises questions, and this is preceded by a ?
? I didn't understand why your character suddenly starts jumping around the bush. Was she bitten by a bee? Is she allergic, maybe? You might want to give us some hint beforehand.

And we are to focus on what needs fixing, what gets in the way of the story, and these comments will be preceded by a * sign.
* You switch POV at the end of the chapter. As your POV character leaves the scene, in pain and in shock, she cannot possibly know that the bee is still hiding in the bush, snickering happily because she finally managed to sting her.

No - sign used, as Uma says that what appears to be a minus to someone might actually be the seed of an idea which can be developed into something else. By using the - sign, we can give the writer the feeling that he's better off forgetting about this idea all together, when in fact, said idea might still be used, transformed, and in the end help push the story forward.

Finally, we are to give our overall impression. What is this work really about?

I'm currently participating in my third online workshop led by Uma, and once again, I'm learning something practically every day. Plus, it forces me to write. So, for those who love the process and want to learn from the best - Uma has since joined the faculty of the M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College - I highly recommend her classes and workshops.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

National Novel Writing Month

Tomorrow begins the National Novel Writing Month. I enrolled in the India chapter. I don't know what I can achieve, precisely during a time when I'm supposed to work full time on a translation that I've basically ignored for the past 6 weeks, but if I don't try, I'll never know. Even if I only manage to write 5000 words, it will be 5000 words, and with them, all the thinking, plotting, brainstorming that goes with the actual process of writing, so what is there to loose?

If I try to be realistic, I would like to write at least 500 words each day. It's got to be doable, come on. And 500 words per 30 days is 15000 words! And who knows, there might be some days when I'll be able to write more than 500 words. So, we'll see. I don't want to put too much pressure upon myself or I'll end up all deflated and depressed if I don't meet the challenge. Easy is the rule of the game, here. Well, the official one, anyway.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

And here It is...

"A tear on the face of eternity", said the poet Tagore.

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Of course, it's just another picture of the Taj Mahal, but that one was taken by good old me, so that makes it quite special, right?

The Taj Mahal is as magically beautiful as I hoped it would be. And the rest of the trip - Fatehpur Sikri, Barathpur and Jaipur - was great also. The north of India is very different from the South, where we live.

I really like that picture for some reason. The lady is holding her baby on her lap, the way Indian mothers and Indian ayahs - nannies - do it. Legs crossed, the child nested safely in the middle of that warm, perfect cradle. They feed them that way, they put them to sleep that way, slowly shaking one leg. I'd never seen that anywhere before, but I'm so used to it, now, that it feels totally obvious and natural - as long as you can sit like that for more than a few minutes, which of course I cannot.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Off to see the Taj Mahal !

This blog will be quiet for a week. We're off to Delhi, and then on to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, and we'll end our little trip in Jaipur, Rajasthan. We've been in India for a little over three years now, and even though we've been around the country a bit, we are yet to visit what everyone rushes to see first : the famous Taj Mahal. I can't wait.

More after I return...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Book Question of the Week on Shen's Blog

Anyone interested in multicultural literature ought to read Shen's Blog. Over the summer, they had a fascinating 6-weeks series titled "Crossing Cultural Borders." And now, they've come up with an interesting game called "Book Question of The Week." This week, the question is about conflict and anyone is invited to choose a picture book title - it doesn't have to be a multicultural book - and play.

I chose Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami. I loved the atmosphere and lyrical quality of the book when I first read it. Now that I've experienced that longing for the rains to finally break the sky and bring an end to the blistering heat and dryness, I can appreciate it even better.

Want to think of a picture book title - before you know the question - and play bookish games with other book lovers?

This blog is 6 months old !

Already! And I'm so glad I ignored my reservations and went ahead with this project. It's been a lot of fun, and it has also somehow changed the way I look at every day life. As a writer, I tend to look at pretty much everything with a leech's attitude. Let's be honest: that's what writers are like. Everything can be used as fodder for a story. But creating this blog has turned this strong tendency into a way of life. Because I also have a big flaw - well, OK, maybe two or three, but we won't go there, today: I tend to live so much in my mind, in a world of my own making, that I sometimes forget to look at the world around me. Or I look at it, but in a passive way. I still struggle with the "how" and "when" and "ways" to channel all that energy and turn it into stories, but the process is under way. And now, I'm constantly on the alert, because what will not be used for a story can be used for the blog. So, once I got over the first few weeks' anxiety over being able to post something on a regular basis, I really started enjoying this blogging thing. And I've made new friends, too, and I'm sure it's only the beginning. So, happy anniversary!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Haleem in Hyderabad

Yesterday, I finally tasted the famous Haleem of Hyderabad.

During the holy month of Ramadan, most observant Muslims get up before sunrise to eat and pray, and then fast until the sun sets.

All over the city of Hyderabad, food stalls have sprung up to offer the famous Haleem, traditionally used to break the fast.

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Prepared with wheat, lentils, lamb, spices and pure ghee (clarified butter), it is cooked for at least 10 hours in a bhatti (an oven made of mud), until it gets its paste-like consistency.

Another example of modernity cohabiting with tradition in India, it is, this year, possible to order haleem on the Internet or over the phone. You pay with a credit card, and it will be delivered all over India in less than 48 hours.


I went to the old city thinking we were going to sit somewhere, order a portion of haleem, and proceed to eat. What can I say ? I was born and brought up in Europe, where one sits at the table to eat, and then lingers on as long as possible in order to digest and enjoy coffee and good conversation, and it would seem that the number of years spent abroad cannot have any influence on that particular habit. I'm forever surprised when I see people eat and go.

Anyway, we arrived in front of Pista House, THE best Haleem outlet, according to my friend, Piush, and it didn't take me long to realize that we were going to eat the famous dish standing in the middle of the crowd. We made our way through the dozens of motorcycles parked in front of Pista House, and there, as I looked around with big eyes, and started taking pictures - I know, the perfect tourist: must be a vocation -my friend swiftly caught the attention of one of the young men delivering haleem to the crowd, and before I noticed anything, the guy was back with two bowls.

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Here is our speedy waiter...


And here is my haleem...


So? Haleem tastes good. Haleem is also as rich as anyone can imagine. I was advised to squeeze lemon on the pasty mixture, and I did, then wiped my hand on the paper napkin, trying to get rid of the shreds of paper that stuck to my fingers, and I ate with the little plastic spoon provided. I really liked it, but I could never have finished the whole bowl.

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And here is Piush, balancing bowl and paper napkins.

There weren't many women, almost none, actually. They were probably home, cooking dinner. Because haleem is like an appetizer, something to break the fast. Later, everyone has a big meal at home.

Piush proceeded to order more haleem for all her friends in Delhi and Bengalore, so they could partake in the festive mood, and we left. I would have liked to stay longer, but the kids were waiting at home, my husband was on his way back from the airport, and my friend also has a child to take care of. But at least, I got to experience another little slice of real Hyderabady life. Standing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More thoughts and questions about anti-racist parenting from the point of view of a white mother

I've been reading more blogs written by multi-racial parents over the past few days. Basically, anyone interested in these issues, anyone concerned by them, parents of multiracial kids, parents who've adopted children from other races, seem to agree on a number of things: Racism is difficult to fight because it's everywhere, it's such a part of the social fabric that it permeates every aspect of life: it's on TV (and that's why we don't receive any TV channel in our home. We own a TV and we watch DVDs that we have chosen); it's in books; it's on the shelves of every toy store (I loved reading posts of parents sharing my concern about the supremacy of blond Barbies, and the dearth of dolls representing multiracial children,) etc.

Things start getting a little more difficult when the issue of whiteness comes into play. Basically, are white people capable of fighting racism? And it should be understood that the white people I'm referring to are not those who deny the existence of racism (that's another issue altogether), but white people who recognize that racism is a major problem and are willing and ready to do what's necessary to eradicate it from the world.

I'm a white person and I belong to that second category. I agree that white supremacy is hard to destroy. It sucks. The white supremacist approach to society allowed slavery and colonialism to happen. And it perverted the thinking of generations of people all over the world. If I cannot drive in the streets of India without seeing huge billboards advertising soaps or skin products that will make your skin "fair" - read lighter, whiter - it's because for so long, the people of India were made to believe that white was better, white was where the power/the money are. And they still believe it. It's everywhere. Before coming to India, I lived in Nigeria, where women destroy their skins in their attempts to make it lighter. For the same reasons. And I could go on and on. Yes, white supremacy has done some horrible things to the world. I agree. Now, what ?

I am white, but I'm not a racist. Or rather, I am white, but I'm not consciously a racist. By that, I mean that I understand how growing up as a white person in a dominantly white society is bound to have perverted some of my thinking, IN SPITE OF MYSELF. I'm aware and I want to fight my white outlook on things as much as possible. I want to live my life with open eyes, and an open mind and heart. I want it, first and foremost, because I hate injustice. Injustice makes me sick and angry and disgusted. That's who I am, who I've always been. Now, to that, I have to add the responsibility of being the mother of two bi-racial children who may, some day, face prejudice.

I read a comment somewhere that said : "being actively anti-racist for white people often means attacking their own privileges." This, to me, feels like an over-simplification of a very complex issue. I will not deny feeling sometimes defensive. It's hard, being part of a majority that's acted badly. Just ask the generations of Germans who came AFTER the Second World War. They had/have not participated in the Nazi horror, and most of them felt/feel? very much ashamed, but they still had/have? to bear that terrible legacy. Why? Because they happened to be born in the country where it all started, where it all developped, where it was all allowed to happen. Feeling defensive is natural and I'm also aware of that. But how could I possibly give a damn about seeing my white privileges attacked, if these privileges have the power to hurt other people, especially my own children?

My kids are what matters, much more than my need to voice politically correct ideas and to feel good because I know that I’m right. What I want is for them to be happy persons, well balanced. I don’t want them to be eternally angry at the world because I don’t think that will make them happy. Not to say that a healthy dose of angry criticism is not sometimes - often? - necessary. But anger is not the emotion I want to instill into my children’s souls at such a young age. And I’m weary of hammering concepts – however proper and correct they may be - into their young brains. I'd prefer a softer approach.

So, once more, I’m NOT rejecting the concept of being actively anti-racist. Of course not. Rather, I wonder what being an active anti-racist parent actually means? How do mothers/parents go about being actively anti-racist in the BEST, LESS DAMAGING way for their children, without being too forceful and obvious, without the subject of race becoming an issue? I mean, we are all part of the human race, and ideally, that should be the beginning and the end of the discussion.

For some people, it may seem as if I’m taking the easy way out. I'm not so sure. I’m searching. I’m questioning. I’m spending time writing in this blog, reading. If I look around our home, I also realize that we have created an environment which is as multicultural as it can possibly be. My husband and I have travelled and lived in many countries and it shows on our walls, in our furniture, on our books and CD shelves and even in our wardrobes. Is that enough? I'd like to think that it is, but of course, I can't be sure. Time only will tell. In the meantime, I can only keep searching and wondering. Most probably I’ll blunder my way along, but isn’t parenting (white, brown, black and all the shades in between) a massive and humbling circle of trials and blunders, anyway?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

My first video : it could only be someone singing !

I found this on Mary Hershey's blog and after watching it three times, I decided I needed it right here, on my blog. First, because I've never posted a video, so I had to at least try - I can't believe I found the way to copy the link and I'm still not entirely sure it will actually appear on the blog. But most of all because this little film is immensely inspiring, it makes your eyes all misty, your heart goes boom-boom-boom, and it's about a guy singing opera. Now, if there is something in life that I love as much as reading, writing and books, it's opera. I just had to have that video handy and ready.

Monday, October 8, 2007

How does a white mother best prepare her bi-racial children to face issues of racism?

I've been guilty of procrastinating an awful lot, lately. I have a good excuse, mind you. The number of interesting blogs out there is simply mind blogging, euh, no, boggling. Anyway, I came across an interesting new one - for me - titled My Sky - Multiracial Family Life

Of course, the question raised was bound to hold my interest: how important is racial identity?

I could not help but add a comment, and as I wrote it, I realized, once more, the extraordinary magnitude and complexity of the issue: are white people as aware as they should be of the need to actively fight racism?

Actually, having now lived in India for a while, with a Black husband who's had to deal with the blatant racism of people barely darker than he is, I wish I could widen the debate, because the white/non-white approach seems to reduce it. But of course, that would make things even more confusing... as if they weren't already.

There was an interesting conversation on the same topic on Alvina Ling's blog, last year.

My interest in the issue is two-fold. First, I can't imagine not fighting racism for simple human reasons. Racism is NOT acceptable, period. The fact that I married someone from a different race had basically no incidence on that statement. I was always shocked by racism. Did marrying a black person make me more aware of racism in general ? Frankly, I'm not sure. We met in New York, ten years ago, and lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which was home to a wonderfully diverse population of artists, mixed-race couples, same-sex couples, etc, etc. Whenever we went to France, I never felt that people were bothered or shocked to see us together - now, I'm NOT saying that France has no problems of racism, far from it. But, again, I never felt directly concerned or threatened by any particular racist attitude towards us. My take on the issue was basically that racism must be fought at all costs, and that means racism coming from anyone. I read books about that because I'm curious. And that was it. But then, of course, I realized that if we were to have children, I would have to think long and hard about how being bi-racial might affect them. I'm the type who searches for answers in books. I always have. I have dozens of books on races, racism, color issues, and raising bi-racial children, on my shelves. And so, I started approaching the issue a bit differently: as the mother of children who may suffer from racism, some day.

This is where things become far more complicated. Because it's very, very hard to get out of one's white skin. Even when that white skin belongs to a person whose natural inclination is too denounce and cry in outrage against any form of injustice, and racism is one of the worst forms of injustice there is, it is extremely difficult to view the world through eyes that are not coloured by our whiteness. It takes an active decision. It is a conscious choice. And even then, we'll need to fight a natural tendency to overlook things, to maybe shrug and overlook a situation that we'll think is borderline, but that the person who is not white will judge hurtful or unacceptable.

But as a mother, I want to protect my children. Of course, I want to prepare them for the times they might have to fight prejudice. But I don't want to traumatize them with heart-breaking stories of slavery and inhuman suffering. Not before they are a little older, a little stronger. I do realize that avoiding an issue in hopes that it will not present itself is not a good option. I have read to them all the books I could find about diversity, about the beauty of living in a world with children of different colors. I tell them frequently that their skin color is gorgeous. When I comb their hair, I tell them how I love all those lovely curls. And I suppose that the fact that we live outside of the US, in an expatriate and multicultural community, also makes it easier for us. And yet, when I read posts like the aforementioned one, I can't help but wonder if I'm doing enough.

Time shall tell, I suppose. My second-grader asks more and more questions, and probably, questions about race will soon pop up, and I'll know the time has come to tackle that issue. But, frankly, I'm in no hurry. And I don't know if it's because I'm a mother who'd rather avoid painful, difficult issues, or because I'm a white mother who'd rather avoid painful, difficult issues.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Cybils 2007 : Nominate your favorite books

Nominations are now open for the Cybils 2007. The only literary awards by bloggers, they're seeking nominations in eight genres:

Fantasy/Science Fiction
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction: Middle Grade and Young Adult
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Young Adult Fiction

The books must have been published in 2007. And we can only submit one title per category. Anyone with an email can participate, and we have until November 21 to post our favorite titles.

I'm off to work on my own list. Not so easy, when you live thousands of miles away. The books I read are not necessarily books that came out this year. I don't get my books at the library or in bookstores because the latter tend to carry mainly hugely successful books - of course, Harry Potter, all the Enyd Blytons, pretty much anything by Roald Dahl, and Meg Cabot is also very big, around here. So, I tend to browse on Amazon.com, I jot down titles that I gather in conversations with other writers, or while reading blogs, and these books are not always the last ones that came out.

I just finished A Wrinke in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle, which I thoroughly enjoyed, even though I'm not usually a big fantasy reader. I've read three Junie B. Jones, and going over The Magic Tree House series with my daughter - in a French translation because I want her to develop her reading skills in French, too. I also read Younguncle comes to Town, by Vandana Singh, and loved the light humor, the Indian setting, and the wonderful cast of characters - the baby is especially irresistible, and I like the mother who speaks in Capital Letters, the grand-father who rides his cow as if it were the fastest horse alive, etc. None of these were published this year. No matter, I will try and participate.

How about you? Of all the books published in 2007 that you've read, which are your favorites? Go add your choice(s) on the Cybils blog.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

We have an illustrator !

Finally, I can share this news. I've had to bide my time while waiting for the contract to be signed and everything to become official, but now it is, and so I can shout it out : Dimitrea Tokunbo is working on the illustrations for my picture book.

Dimitrea is half Nigerian on her father's side, and American on her mother's side. How is that for serendipity striking again ? I see some kind of cosmic harmony in this Nigerian connection. It just feels right. And Dimitrea has a multicultural background, and that, to me, feels like life coming full circle.

Last, but far from least, she has an interesting illustrative background. Check out how she describes herself, below. How is that for poetry? I just love the way her words sing.

Well, actually, there is more : Dimitrea is also involved in The Children's Theater Company. Here is the CTC mission statement.

Is that great or what ?
And you'll find Dimitrea somewhere in there if you scroll down.

Now, I just have to wait to see how She sees my Ifeanyi Amadi. I also have to let go of my baby as she works to give him a face, a body, and the physical presence and expressions that she, the artist, will be coming up with. More to come on that, I'm sure.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Good Bye, Ganesh... until next year !

After more than ten days of poojas, Ganesha's festival ended yesterday. Roads had been cordoned off. Most buses didn't run, and the few auto-rickshaw drivers who ventured in the streets charged double, even triple. The whole city resonated with the pulse of the beating drums, and everywhere, trucks, big and small, carrying Ganesh statues, converged towards the lake Husain Sagar, where huge cranes awaited the statues to immerge them in the water.

I try to imagine the botton of the lake, today, and think about something that my 3-year-old daughter said, not long ago, after she'd finished her lunch. "The bread, the ham and the cheese are inside my belly and they're all talking to each other now." Maybe all the Ganeshas are having a conversation. Or maybe it all looks like an underwater dump, crowded and dirty. A desolate factory full of broken statues piling up in the darkness.

I sound gloomy, and it's a shame, because I really like Ganesha and I also want to remember the joy and cheerful spirit of that festival. Here are a few more pictures, some hastily shot while driving... oops !




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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Vignette from India: Ganesh Chaturthi Festival

This Saturday, it was the festival of Lord Ganesh, celebrated on the birthday of the God with an elephant head. Ganesh is the God of wisdom and prosperity. He uses a mouse as his vehicle, the mouse representing our ego and the need to control that ego, has a broken tusk, and loves sweets.


During that festival, statues of Ganesh or Ganesha - some of them as high as 30 meters, which would be about 80 feet high - are installed in street corners and in homes, and those shrines are heavily decorated with lights, flower arrangements, etc.

Everyone is happy to show their Ganesh, and we had young people run after us and invite us to wander into back alleys so we could admire their statue. Of course, we then took pictures of everyone. The wonderful thing with digital cameras is that we can show the pictures on the spot. Everyone loves that, and there is always a friendly jostle as they elbow each other to be able to look at the pictures. My husband has even started printing some of these photos shot in the streets, so he can give them back to the people - usually children and young people - who so gracefully posed for us.

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Prayer services - called Poojas - are performed several times a day. After 1, 3, 5, 7 or 11 days, these statues are transported on decorated floats to the nearest river, lake, beach, and immersed.

Why immerse these statues in water? I wondered. Here is what I gathered: all bodies of water (rivers, lakes, the sea) are sacred to Hindus. If you were to keep the statues of Ganesh in your home, or on the street corner, poojas would have to be performed everyday. Neglect is not tolerated. And so, once the poojas are over, the statues are immersed in water.

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That last picture shows young people on their way to the lake for the immersion of their Ganesha. This is a joyous affair, and the procession is accompanied by drum-beats, songs and dancing.

As so often, here, in India, I watched all this with mixed feelings. Curiosity and fascination, of course. I love that Indians honor their culture. I love the mystical quality of these traditions. But then, I also looked at these men entering the filthy water of the lake and swimming in it. I looked at the piles of plastic bags on the shore, and I couldn't help but feel sad. Someone told me that in old times, the Ganesha statues were made of mud, of clay, and when immersed in the water, the mud, the clay dissolved in the water. Earth returned to earth. Same for the coconuts, the fruits offerings, the flowers: all biodegradable. Today, there is a whole industry behind the making of these Ganeshas, and they are painted, and all these statues end at the bottom of the lake, and it's definitely not good for the environment. Not to mention those plastic bags that contain the offerings to Ganesha. Once the puffed rice, the saffron colored powder, the fruits, etc, emptied in the water, the bags remain there.

There must be a way to strike the right balance. Yes to keeping old traditions alive, but while doing that, remember also the realities of today's world, one of them being that we need to stop using the planet as a dumping ground. Right now.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I found the solution...

I ERASED that sentence. CUT, and NO paste. Gone. No more m's to send the tongue on tripping trips. And you know what ? I think it works. I hope... Well, I sent the umpteenth last version to my editor, and we shall see.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

One "m" too many ?

Here comes a perfect example of what I was moaning and ranting about in my last post. A tiny sentence. Just a few words. But after months and months of seeing it written a certain way, and finding it just fine, I just can't wrap my teeny weeny mind around its new appearence, or rather, its new sound. Anyone want to chime in with their thoughts ? Does that sentence bother you ? Do you see, hear, what I mean by "one m too many?"

The sun burned high in the sky by the time Amadi reached the first stalls.

It used to be :

The sun burned high in the sky by the time Ifeanyi reached the first stalls.

In this case, it's not the number of syllables that bothers me, but "time" and "Amadi" being so close together. My tongue trips over all these "m" sounds.

So, I keep coming up with alternatives. Only, now, I find myself changing everything around, even moving dialogues, and I'm freaking out. What ? That's what writing is all about ? I had no idea!

Anyway, here a few samples of my writing wanderings.

- The sun had climbed its blazing path up the sky when Amadi reached the first stalls. (Huh???)
- The sun burned high in the sky when Amadi reached the first stalls. (Obviously, that would be an easy alternative, except that I don't like it. But don't ask me why.)
- Amadi felt the sun beating down on him as he reached the first stalls.(And when doesn't one feel the sun beating down on them in Africa, if I may ?)
- The sun beat down on Amadi's shoulder as he reached the first stalls.(Forget about the sun beating on anyone's shoulders. Cliche. Obvious. Boring.)
- The sun had almost reached its zenith when Amadi reached the first stalls. (repetition of reached. Bad.)
- Amadi squinted at the sun, as he reached the first stalls. Almost midday. (Mm...?)
- As he reached the first stalls, Amadi squinted at the sun high in the sky. Almost midday. (Not sure. This is a contemporary setting. Kids don't look at the sun to find out what time it is. Either they have a watch, or in Amadi's case, they ask someone who has one. Right? Amadi, what do you say?)
- Amadi squinted at the sun, as he reached the first stalls. (Would he squint at the sun? Ifeanyi Amadi, where the hell are you ??? You just took off towards the market, and now what ? Will you squint at the sun ? Or not? How dare you write in my blog while I sleep, and remain totally mute when I need you to say something ! Anyway, upon reading the sentence again, I realize I don't like "squinted at". Too many d's and t's.)
- As he reached the first stalls, Amadi squinted in the sunlight.(there is no reason for the squinting being there. I mention the sun to give a sense of the passing of the time. It's almost midday. But in fact, I don't want Amadi too aware of that.)
- A little while later, Amadi reached the first stalls. (Pff!)

Well, Amadi is strangely silent and absent, today. Must be striking poses somewhere for his mother the illustrator, feeling all important. And I'm left with my m's. I think I'll go eat some ice cream, now. Or help my daughter find the piece of Lego she's looking for all over the house. Did I mention I also have a translation I need to work on ? But that's OK: deadline still far away so I have plenty of time to feel guilty about not working on that.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

What's in a name ?

Still processing the change of name of my picture book character. Amadi turned out to be much better than me at this. But I have good reasons. More than ever, I realize the importance of each and every word in a picture book text. I already knew that, of course. But now, I'm experiencing it in a very real - and confusing - way. Whenever I try to read the whole text with the name Amadi in place of Ifeanyi, it sounds all funny - funny as in strange, not as in laughing funny, even though that would also be a problem, as the story is not exactly comic. I was very careful to choose a new name that ended with the same sound, foreseeing such problem, but I also had to LIKE that name, and in the end, I was unable to find one...
a) which I really liked, hear a name that spoke to me, a name that seemed to adopt my Ifeanyi
b) which ended with the same sound
c) which had four syllables.
I do like the name Amadi. But it has only three syllables. I find that disruptive. And I'm having a hard time deciding whether it's me still unconsciously resisting this name change, whether it's just old habit - I have written some 57 millions versions of this story over the past 5 years after all - or whether, really, it doesn't flow the way it used to. And I can't ask my critique group because they've also seen and read the old version with Ifeanyi a number of times. Plus, we are still on break. But it reminds me, if I ever needed to be reminded, how crucial the music of the text is in a picture book. Sentences not only have to flow in a seamless way, they must carry an internal tune. And I can't overdo it. I need to read it, try to make some changes, let it rest, go back to it. That's the only way I've found to deal with this problem so far.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Being an artist : Joy or Pain ?

A post written by Disco Mermaid's Robin reminded me of another post I had started writing and saved - it was that mad time in July when I was being a mom 24/7 - and sure enough, here it is, in my draft box :

I'm reading books on the process of writing, at the moment. About three at the same time. That way, I can follow the kids moving around the house - and they move fast - and not have to worry about where I left the book. One in the bedroom, one in my office, one on the table in the dining/living room, always readily available. I thought I'd quote some of the thoughts I found interesting.

Art and Fear, Observations on The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland

"Often the work we have not done seems more real in our minds that the pieces we have completed."

That phrase certainly hit home. How easy it is to forget the thousands and thousands of words and phrases that we crafted, the drafts, the stories unfinished, to only remember the few pieces that are deemed good enough for submission, and to despair, to think it's not enough. But every single word written, whether it belongs to a completed story or not, participates in our process as writers.

The second chapter's title is the same as the book, and begins with a quote by Stephen DeStaebler.

"Artists don't get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of NOT working."

Jane Yolen would probably disagree (Take Joy) and yet, I think both approaches are true. My biggest challenge is to start ! To actually sit down at the computer to work on my writing, rather than finding every possible excuse to procrastinate - like this blog ? That's the painful part for me. Once I actually start working, I forget the time, I forget the world, I can even forget my family - well, not quite, but almost. And even though it's work, that work does give me joy. What's painful is the guilt I feel, the unease, the judgemental voice I hear in my mind, telling me that I ought to make time, I ought to organize myself better, I ought to write. I think that what Stephen DeStaebler means is that when the voice becomes strident, forceful, unbearable, the artist has no choice but to get down to work.

What I can add, after having been almost totally disconnected from the writing world for a few weeks, is that it's easy for everyday life to take over - especially when there are little children around, but not only - and muffle the voice of the writer. Which is probably why all books and quotes I've read about the creative process seem to agree on at least two things : the famous butt on chair rule - write everyday, no matter what, even if it's only for ten minutes - and find time to "being" as opposed to "doing" in order to reflect, to meditate if you are into that, or just do nothing, walk and look at the world, at the trees, the sky, whatever, the goal being to connect with our inner self, where creativity - our whimsical muse - is seating, waiting, or coquettishly playing hard to get.

Well, now that I know what to do, guess I just have to do it, right ?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I'm back...

... and don't ask me where these past weeks disappeared to, because I have no idea. I was sitting at the computer, posting pictures of India and fantasizing about peaches and saucisson, and next thing I know, I'm back at the computer, suffering from jet lag - I usually sleep, at 5 am - and even though I recall eating peaches, saucisson and so much more, I can't believe it's all in the past already.

Highlights of the summer ?

I went horse riding and I was actually riding the horse on my own, as opposed to sitting stiffly on some enormous polo beast and requesting that the young man holding him remains with me at all times, which is what happened the few times I tried, here in Hyderabad. Of course, I didn't have the proper gear, so I made quite an impression, riding with my bright pink Converse...

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I painted one of the bedrooms of our house from top to bottom in a lovely trio of shades - white, green bamboo and chestnut brown - and got so manic about it - we had guests coming and I wanted it ready AND perfect - that I was still at it at 9 PM, trying to see, on the ceiling, the spots that I had not yet covered with fresh white paint, and I still have pains in my hands, more than two weeks later. But the room looks really nice, doesn't it ?

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Look at the Palais des Papes, in Avignon, in the pinkish twilight : pure magic.

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I went back to Paris, the city where I was born and lived until I was 16, for the first time in more than ten years. I had forgotten how beautiful it is.

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We discovered the new project just launched by the city of Paris - after Lyon where it's been a smashing success : Rows of bicycles await customers, who pay a fee to rent them, and later leave them at another of the many parking spaces created around town. With the kids and the stroller, it wasn't an option, but I can't wait to try.

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Something else that definitely wasn't there last time I was in Paris: a Starbucks coffee ! Est-ce bien raisonnable?

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Lows ?

I was so busy redecorating, entertaining guests and eating peaches that I had to withdraw from the Enneagram online class I was taking. But there will be another class in November, and this time, I'll be there from start to finish.

I had to imagine my friends having an absolute ball at the SCBWI conference in LA, and then read all about it in their blogs, but that's OK. Next year...

I had to give Amadi a stern lecture about not using people's blogs - not even mine - without asking first.

I did not have a minute to write a single line. Bad, bad, bad girl. I have to get back to work. NOW !