"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.