"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

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.