"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, May 31, 2008

The book is now officially out !

Hurray ! Everyone listen very carefully, as this is Ifeanyi Amadi talking, well, writing. My dear authorly mother is out there living her life, and I couldn't resist sneaking in to shout out the news to the whole world. It is my story, after all.

Finally, today is the big day ! The book is out. Go and get it. Come on! Well, no, wait until you finish reading this post, and then, do rush to the nearest bookstore to buy Amadi's Snowman, yes?

You'll see that the cover of the book is gorgeous. I really love the way Dimitrea, my second mother the artist, worked with colors. It's sunny and warm, just like back home. And the way she painted that snowman up in the sky is so much like what I imagined when I tried to make sense of things, in my very unique way. I'm not saying anything more, because, well, because you have to buy the book, of course! How else will you find out what that snowman is doing up in that Nigerian sky, and what he means to me in the story ?

Oups ! Mom just arrived and caught me at the computer. She doesn't mind. She's smiling. She even asked me to say thank you to all who where involved in the creation of the book : the publisher, Jennifer Bunting, the editor, Audrey Maynard, and her assistant, Karen, the lovely publicist at Tilbury Publishers, Sarah McGinnis, and of course, Dimitrea Tokunbo, for bringing the book to life with her colorful art. She also said to not forget the people to whom the book is dedicated : her husband, Michel, with very special thanks to her friend back in Enugu, Theresa Madubuko, who read several millions drafts and answered just as many questions, and Uma Krishnaswami, who is her favorite teacher in the whole writers' universe.

I'm glad to report that she ended this sloppy thank you moment with a big kiss to me, because after all, if it weren't for me, there would never have been a story in the first place, and no story, no book.

Now, it is my turn to thank my authorly mother for making me famous. Imagine, me, Ifeanyi Amadi, hero of a book that will hopefully be read by many children all over the US, and I hope, back home, and who knows, maybe even all over the world. Isn't that something? Of course, as a pretty exceptional Igbo man of Nigeria, I deserve nothing less, but no matter. I'm totally thrilled to have my own book, and so, I say : "Dalu, mama imela." It means "thank you, Mother, well done," in my Igbo language.

So, please, if you live in the US, run to the nearest book stores - no, scratch that, run to ALL the book stores in your vicinity, and also those not in your immediate vicinity, and look for my book, and make sure you turn the cover so it faces all the prospective buyers who happen to walk by the shelves. And if you don't live in the US, the book is available for order on amazon.com and barnes and noble.com.

You can leave comments on this blog for me, if you'd like. I promise to reply.

P.S. Watch this space in the coming months. Mother the author is preparing a virtual book launch on this very blog. It should take place sometime at the end of October and there will be interviews, virtual school events, a tour of other blogs, AND books will be given away ! Hurray!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Global Bookshelf : The Expat Arc, by Danielle Barkhouse

Today, I want to talk about another book by a fellow blogger and expatriate.

Before India, Danielle Barkhouse was a trailing spouse in the US and in the UK. Upon hearing the news that her husband’s work was taking them to Chennai, formerly known as Madras, in Southern India, she started writing a blog which she refers to as her "free therapy" outlet. It begins before she leaves the US, and continues throughout the whole first year of the family's life in India (and the family includes a much-loved golden retriever,) allowing the reader a glimpse into the various stages of culture shock. She has now published the blog content, after some editing, and the book is titled: The Expat Arc. An expat's journey over culture shock.

Danielle Barkhouse is a Canadian with a no-non-sense, down-to-earth approach to life - now that I think about it, I realize that most Canadians I know seem to share that quality. She has a good, often very funny voice, spunky and full of personality, and most of all, I found her to be unwaveringly and refreshingly honest, and that is the thing that impresses me the most about her blog, and now, her book.

As an expat who’s lived outside of her birth country practically half her life -yuck, imagine being old enough to be able to say something like that! - I’m quite familiar with said stages of culture shock (they have been assimilated to the stages of grief), even though I only recently acquired the vocabulary and knowledge to recognize the symptoms for what they are. I’ve also witnessed other people experiencing them. I don’t believe it is ever easy to analyze one’s emotions with the clarity and honesty that Danie Barkhouse displays throughout her book. It is often more convenient to either shut out the world just outside the door and become totally negative about it, or to fall into the other extreme, which is to make the conscious decision that you will like it, whether you really do or not. Danie candidly admits to having fallen into the first negative category while living in England, and recognizes what a waste of time and energy it is and decides she will not experience India in the same way. And she doesn’t.

“The difference between me and most other people is that I say the stuff most people think but don’t say aloud,” she declares, at some stage. To illustrate that point, here is her undiluted take about the way political correctness is transforming Christmas in the US:

"The day that we left Chennai, JB walked through the factory and about 60 people wished him a Merry Christmas. Or, as they say, Happy Christmas. We’ve received cards and gifts from many non-Christmas-celebrating people. We're talking about Indian Hindus. As we journeyed through the Dubai airport, we were in awe of the Christmas decorations. It was so beautiful. When we were there in November, several people had wished us a Merry Christmas. We're talking about Middle Eastern Muslims." She goes on to describe their arrival in New York, a primarily Christian country, where only two people wish them "Happy holidays." And she adds: "What the heck is our problem? We're so concerned about being "politically correct" that we've become anti-Christmas. [...] I've got to tell you, in case you’re missing the tone here, I'm beyond appalled. I resent America placing a big fat censorship on Christmas. [...] I have every respect for other cultures and faiths. We can have it all. I wonder what Hindus in Asia and Muslims in the Middle East would think if they knew the controversy over Christmas in America."

How is that for going straight to the point? It is entirely true that most people, in India, acknowledge, and even celebrate each other's religious holidays with a true spirit of tolerance. And there should indeed be room for everyone to freely celebrate their faith.

Another post is aptly titled “Miss Communications,” and I could have written it myself.

“You can't stick a girl in India with no way of communicating with the outside world. […] People have been relocating to and living in other countries all around the world for many years. How on earth did they survive before the Internet?”

Well, they survived the way we all do when we have to - and of course, they couldn't pine after our ultra fast ways of doing things, nowadays, since these didn't exist. But for having experienced it, I can tell you that it's enough to drive any girl outside of the boundaries of sanity.

Now, one may argue that Danie’s experience is that of the corporate expatriate, and not all expats work for corporations which provide their staff and their family with cultural trainings, shipment entitlements every three or four months, etc, etc. So, when she touches the potentially sensitive subject of the differences between expats (“There seems to be a growing attitude among expats of whether you're 'expat enough.' Twelve years as an expat is 'less expat' than 25 years with the kids being born all around the world. You might also be 'more expat' than someone else if your posts have been tougher. A post in India would make us 'more expat' than our England or US posts? Seriously. Expat is expat. You're still away from home”) she might find that some people want to push the discussion a little further. And "some people" is going to be me, for now.

First of all, there are those who don’t even know what “home” means, anymore. They may belong to a family with the father being from one place, the mother from another – or even two, as in my own case – with kids born in yet another place, or more, and so, where is home? For me, home is where my bubble, containing my daughters, my husband, and my books are. It’s not a country. I’m tremendously helped in that by the fact that my mother, who left Franco’s Spain in her mid-twenties to go in search of a better, freer future in France, always told us kids as we grew up: “My country is the country that feeds me, the country that allows me to work and where I can eat and not starve.”

Secondly, being an expatriate in a place where you find practically everything, where there are no power supply or communication problems to speak of is not the same as being in a place where you have to deal with this kind of problem practically on a daily basis; there may be power cuts, and the Internet may not work from time to time in India, especially when it rains, but as someone who spent over three years in Nigeria, where I routinely had to go entire weeks without phone or the Internet, I have found India to be quite all right in that regard. And I’m not even mentioning security problems, again like the ones we had in Nigeria, where the UNICEF office could be attacked by men holding Kalashnikovs, one of them beating an office driver so he would hand over the 4x4 car keys, and my husband, who was the primary target of one of the mentioned Kalashnikovs shouting at them to just take the bloody car and leave the driver alone (which they did, thank Goodness!), and yours truly only a few feet behind said husband. Now, this may be a rather dramatic example, but I’ve gathered so many others from other expats having lived in difficult places, not always that spectacular, yet harrowing enough to render life very difficult indeed. Of course, some might respond that UN people know what they're getting themselves into when they choose such career. Maybe. Their families don't always, though. And so, I would argue (gently) with Danie that in light of all that, well, perhaps it is easier to understand why some people may feel that they're "a little more expats" than others. I don't believe it is ever done in a spirit of spiteful competition, but rather coming from a place of experience where you can't help but compare situations and draw obvious conclusions. The reason I mention this is that I do, at times, get a bit annoyed at some expats when I hear them complaining endlessly about not finding a particular brand of cereals, or some such.

That said, I want to add that going through the stages of culture shock means that people may find their buttons pushed where, in any other circumstances - like back home where they don't have to adjust to so many new things and ways of doing them - they would have remained pretty much unruffled. Expats recently landed in a new place need to keep that reality in mind, and cut themselves some slack. It takes time - anywhere from a few months to a whole year. And this is where having a book like Danie's can prove invaluable, if only to provide reassurance that it is all normal.

In another insightful post, the author ponders the opinion that "living in India reveals your true character." And she goes on to say, with her usual honesty, that she's not so sure she likes what India is revealing about her own character. I would venture to add that getting out of one's comfort zone to go and live in another country, whether that new country is a hard duty station or not, is likely to help a person build their character, as long as they're willing to take a hard look at their own self. And Danie certainly is.

I totally recommend this book to any expatriate preparing to move to India, but not only. Anyone about to relocate in a new country, especially for the first time, anyone interested in the subjects of life in India, life abroad and culture shock, will find it instructive and interesting. Not to mention that you’ll get to laugh very often.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The gems one comes across in Hyderabad bookstores !

A while back, I wrote a post about the bookstore experience in Hyderabad.

Today, I had one hour to kill between two appointments, and, of course, I hit the nearest bookstore. I went there with no particular need or want. Just happy to browse. And it strikes me that this is probably the best way to approach life in India. Have no expectation. Go with the flow. And it is most likely that surprises will await you around some corner.

So, what did I find ?

I Heart You, You Haunt me, by Lisa Schroeder.

I was totally flabbergasted. There was only one copy, and of course, it was seating on a shelf with no obvious order or reason that I could figure out, but boy, that made my day! Lisa and I belonged to the same critique group, a while back, and her novel was on the list of books I meant to acquire while in the US this coming summer. I no longer have to wait to read it.

I got scolded for taking this picture, by the way ! Go figure :)

Second surprise : I've been looking for Barack Obama's "Dreams from my Father" for a while. I actually asked my husband to try and get it for me in one of the usually well-stocked bookstores of Khan Market, in Delhi. No chance. Well, I didn't need to go that far. Not only did I find it, but the book was even in the biography section ! I didn't take a picture, but I have it, it's right here on my desk. Yippee !

In the end, I left the bookstores with ten books ! All is well in the world, AND in India :)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

He's on top of it, and so am I... not ??

I found this You Tube video on Through The Tollbooth and I just had to post it here, because this sounds and feels soooo familiar, at the moment. I've had Steve Weber's Plug Your Book on my desk for months, I've even read parts of it, and underlined or highlighted entire sections. I went ahead, opened accounts on Facebook and MySpace, even managed to build a nice looking page on MySpace, but that's about it. I've been saying for months that I'm going to build a website, and, well, I have not. And all these widgets, avatars, and what not. I mean, how much time does a writer have to spend on that stuff? But then, when does said writer have any time left to actually write ??? Of course, this is an old dilemma, I'm sure. It just happens to be new to me :) Anyway, since I've been reviewing a few books, lately, and I was mentioning The Shrinking Violet Promotions blog the other day, this little video is totally "dans l'air du temps" - read timely.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Global Bookshelf : "Losing Kei" by Suzanne Kamata

One of the beauties of blogging is that you get to "meet" interesting people you'd probably never run into otherwise. Suzanne Kamata is an expatriate writer whose blog, Gaijin Mama, allows its readers a glimpse into the life of an American mother and wife bringing up twins on an island in rural Japan. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, and she is the editor of the anthologies, The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan, and Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with special needs.

In her first novel, Losing Kei, published by Leapfrog Press, Suzanne Kamata tells the story of Jill Parker, an American artist who marries a Japanese man. Unfortunately, try as she may to meet the demands of Japanese traditional society, and in spite of the birth of a beautiful son, Kei, she ends up divorcing. Thus begins her struggle to remain in her son's life, as Japanese divorce law does not recognize shared custody and the parent not granted custody is expected to disappear entirely from the life of the child.

The novel's protagonist is a complex, multidimensional character; she can move the reader to tears, one moment - especially when she expresses her passion for her son - and slightly irritate, the following. In fact, I could never quite decide whether I liked her or not. When I asked the author how she felt about her character, she replied that Jill Parker is "passionate, but imperfect. I wanted to create a character who got into trouble on her own, and then found a way to redeem herself. I didn't want her to be simply a victim. She's young and impulsive at the start of events, but she eventually gets her act together."

The book is much more than a fascinating introduction to Japanese culture. It is the journey to maturity of a sensitive, not quite "finished" young woman through an harrowing experience. Something that Jill realizes herself toward the end of the story: "I was born into a middle class family, in a prosperous, peaceful country. There was no obvious war to protest, no important cause that caught my attention. But I had wanted to suffer. I was so young then. Look what happened to me. I no longer had to borrow misery. I'd created it all by myself."

In spite of my reservations about Jill Parker, or maybe because of them, I enjoyed reading Losing Kei. It is a sensitive work, elegantly written, and always respectful of the culture it depicts.

Suzanne Kamata was kind enough to answer a few questions.

How did the inspiration for "Losing Kei" come to you?

I first read an article 10-15 years ago about expatriate parents who'd lost custody of their children to their Japanese ex-spouses and who were then denied access to their children. One of the parents interviewed was a woman journalist who, apparently, lost custody because she was a working woman. Her ex and his new wife gradually turned her son against her, so that he no longer wanted to have anything to do with his mother. I thought that this would be an interesting subject to explore in fiction. In Japan there is no such thing as joint custody, and this sort of thing actually happens quite a bit - to Japanese as well as foreigners.

What would you say has changed you about living in Japan?

I have become comfortable with being an outsider. And I suppose I have learned to appreciate a certain amount of frugality. Living in the U.S. is very comfortable - entire houses are heated, so you can go from room to room without being cold. Here, we heat one room at a time in winter, but it's more ecological, less wasteful.

How about becoming a mother in Japan? Do you find that you have assimilated aspects of your host country's culture, or do both cultures, the American and the Japanese, remain separate?

When I first came here, I said that I would never sleep with my children, and I thought that the idea of fathers bathing with their little daughters was perverse, but we slept with our kids till they were about four, and my husband has taken a bath with them until recently.
In some respects, I remain American. The Japanese tend to stick to traditional gender roles, but I encourage my son to help in the kitchen and read books that might be considered girly, and I like it that my daughter is proud of her biceps.

Thank you, Suzanne, and best of luck to "Losing Kei."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Princess Problem : there may be ways of circumventing it ?

For all the parents like me, out there, sick and tired of the whole Pink Princess thing - as if pink Barbies weren't enough - there is a good article on Anti-Racist Parents titled : "The Princess Problem : There is more than one way of being pretty" that shoots a much-deserved cyber bullet into the infuriating brainwashing that our children are exposed to, thanks to the mass-marketing of white dolls or white movie characters always getting the "enviable" part of the princess heroine.

The other day, only, I was reading Snow White to my daughters for the first time ever, it seems, and I started jumping words and whole sentences when I saw that Snow White was born with a skin white as snow, which of course made her the most beautiful girl. Problem is : my older daughter can now read, and what worked when she was little, not longer does now. She noticed something amiss, looked at the book, and caught me red-handed. I told her I was annoyed to see white people constantly portrayed as being the most beautiful, because it's an old lie, and everyone is tired of it, and if some are not, they definitely ought to be. I never know whether my reaction is a good one, when this kind of thing happens. I guess honesty is always right, and even if I don't convince them, right now, some nuggets of those conversation will hopefully remain lodged somewhere in their psyche. My youngest daughter has taken to saying all the time that she loves her Scandinavian friend's hair because it's smooth and platinum blond. I simply respond that her hair is different but just as beautiful.

To go back to the whole princess thing, it's hard, because I remember being fascinated with princesses, as a child. And living in a totally white world, I never even thought that princesses could or should be anything but white. So, there are two problems in one, really. First, princesses don't have to be all light-skinned and blond. And second, what's so enviable about the princess waiting helplessly for the prince to rescue her?

Anyway, that article mentions several titles of books that show princess heroines with brown skin. AND there is apparently a book that also discusses the whole Princess thing by asking a sound and much- needed question : "What does a princess do?" Indeed.

I can't wait to be in the US, this coming summer, so I can check these books out and buy a few. And they just reduced the baggage allowance on transcontinental airplane journeys. OK, that's totally off-topic.

To end on another off-topic, it is HOT in Hyderabad !

Friday, May 9, 2008

"Get off the bus!"

Two evenings ago, my husband brought me an envelope sent through the UN pouch, and I discovered an advance copy of Kimberly Willis Holt's last novel, to be published in August. I mentioned it before on this blog : Piper Reed, The Great Gypsy.

This is the second book in the series, and Kimberly signed it for me and my "Gypsies." I was totally thrilled and touched. What a lovely surprise ! I started reading it to my almost 8-year-old daughter, last night, and then finished reading it on my own.

Piper has a great voice, a really fun personality, and this totally childlike way of bringing everything back to her. Kimberly also has a great way of describing family dynamics, especially between siblings, and the dialogs are funny and very lively. It's the kind of book that one reads fast. Then, when it's over, you sigh happily and close the back cover with a smile on your face.

As an expat often on the move, I also empathized with Piper wondering "where is home?" And I loved her answer at the end of the book : " .... I decided I'd changed my mind about home. Home was not Pensacola, San Diego, Guam, or any of the other places we might have lived. In fact, home wasn't a particular place at all. Home was my family. Even if they didn't get my jokes sometimes."

As for those who don't know Piper well, yet, "Get Off the Bus" is her favorite expression and usually means that she's excited, happy or generally bowled over.

Thank you so much, Kimberly.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A blog for the introvert writer thrown into the promotion game

I just discovered a blog - thank you, Anastasia Suen - that was meant for me : Shrinking Violet Promotions.

This blog is for the introverted writer, and as the quote from Ursula Le Guin says in their sidebar : "Hardly anybody ever writes anything nice about introverts. Extroverts rule. This is rather odd when you realise that about nineteen writers out of twenty are introverts. We are being taught to be ashamed of not being 'outgoing'. But a writer's job is ingoing."

I'm in the process of discovering all the posts, but for anyone who might be interested, they are running a contest with a 1000 dollars grant for a SCBWI member to attend the Los Angeles conference in August. Good luck !

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Happy 1st of May

In France, we have a tradition of offering Muguet - Lily of the Valley - on the first of May. It is supposed to bring good luck for the year.

When I was a child, we would buy little bunches of muguet from young people selling them pretty much everywhere in the streets. The flower is pretty and smells heavenly.

I was talking about this tradition with my daughter, today, and feeling a little sad, because even though I could show her le muguet on the Internet, I couldn't bring to her the experience of smelling its fragrance. Maybe some day we'll be in France on the 1st of May. Or maybe I should buy some seeds and try and plant them so that we can grow them wherever we are.

This is a rare moment of nostalgia on my part. After all, our wanderings have allowed us to assimilate so many different traditions to our family culture, I can certainly let go of one. No big deal.

Still, I'm wishing Good luck and happiness to all who happen to read this post. Happy May 1st, everyone. May your wishes come true :)