August 15, 2014

Gardening, Novels, and Happy Endings



Two great things happening yesterday and today!

Yesterday,  I stopped by the Creatively Green Write at Home Mom and talked about how writing a novel is like growing a garden.  Wenona is such a great host, and I want to thank her!!
You go through much of the same convolutions when writing a novel as growing a garden. You start with such vigor and high hope, but it doesn’t take long before reality sets in and you’re like, "This is real work!" But you put your head down and go and things start to happen and you get excited.

Today, I'm featured in the August issue of Bewitching Book Tours Magazine, where I answer questions like "Are you gay?" and "Are you Christian?"  A minefield, to be sure! But I think it's best to talk about these things, especially when my characters bring it up for me. Here's a little bit from that interview.

Deep Down Things is a tragedy. Why don’t you write happy endings?
My mom asks me that all the time, as do a couple of my sisters. I fear I was born with a broken funny bone. I find things funny, but they’re usually English geek kinds-of-things—Monty Python, Terry Pratchett. The things that most people find funny, I usually find incredibly sad or incredibly angry. One of the reasons why, I think, is because the basis of a lot of humor is stereotyping, reducing someone to one dimension, and my goal in writing is to find the complexity of life, to express lived reality. That’s why I’m drawn to the genre of literary. (Not at all to insinuate that the other genres are anything less!) I don’t think of my endings as dark—what I often try for is closure without resolution, which is the way life is. There’s always a tension when I write between the messi-ness and meaninglessness of life and the creation of a satisfying piece of art.
I'm so honored to hang out with all these great book people!  There are so many out there who are passionate about reading and about books and they put their money where their mouths are ~ they keep the conversation going.  Thank you!


August 13, 2014

How to Write 'Crazy'


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I'm hanging out with Roxanne at Roxanne's Realm today for the Deep Down Things Virtual Book Tour.  My guest post is about how to write crazy. How do you write crazy?  It's quite a challenge. Here's an excerpt:
What we do as writers is try to portray in words what it feels like to be alive. In some cases, we’re trying to show what it’s like in extreme situations ~ what it feels like to die or to go crazy. Sometimes this comes from experience, but sometimes we have to extrapolate from we know and we’ve heard from others. (Good fiction often needs research, just like nonfiction.)
 ...
See, that’s the problem. How do you portray “crazy”? We use the term to discount someone and push them away and try NOT to understand them, but as a writer you can’t do this. You’re trying to show the specific ways that their thoughts prompt their antisocial actions. But, unless they’ve become catatonic or had a severe break, you have to make this understandable to a reader. With Jackdaw, I wanted to show that he’s rational, but his rationality has gone beyond. He makes what seems like a logical decision, but that decision is horrible (trying not to spoil the ending for you).

I hope you'll stop by! I'm so honored to be there!

August 11, 2014

‘Deep Down Things’ Online Book Tour Begins Today!



Today is the day!! The first day of the online book tour for Deep Down Things, the novel!*  

First of all, I would like to thank Roxanne Rhoads at Bewitching Book Tours for her invaluable expertise and assistance with this.  She’s the hostess with the mostess and someone who gets things done.  Even when I’m dragging my own heels. Thank you, Roxanne!

I’ll be posting every day about the great places I’m stopping and the crazy things I’ll be admitting to.  Ahem.  There’s also a $100 gift card giveaway and there will be a Goodreads book giveaway and more.  It’s fast-paced and fun and I’d love it if you’d stop by and say hi! And, if you’ve been looking for a good read, you might check out Deep Down Things.

My first stop of the the tour is Lisa’s World of Books. I’m so thankful to Lisa for letting me stop by, and I’m with her on the wonderful summers (and I imagine the short winters) in Michigan.  You gotta have something to keep you going, and reading is it!

An excerpt:
Deep Down Things is a tragedy. Why don’t you write happy endings?
My mom asks me that all the time, as do a couple of my sisters. I fear I was born with a broken funny bone. I find things funny, but they’re usually English geek kinds-of-things—Monty Python, Terry Pratchett. The things that most people find funny, I usually find incredibly sad or incredibly angry. One of the reasons why, I think, is because the basis of a lot of humor is stereotyping, reducing someone to one dimension, and my goal in writing is to find the complexity of life, to express lived reality. That’s why I’m drawn to the genre of literary. (Not at all to insinuate that the other genres are anything less!) I don’t think of my endings as dark—what I often try for is closure without resolution, which is the way life is. There’s always a tension when I write between the messiness and meaninglessness of life and the creation of a satisfying piece of art.
Thank you again, Lisa, and everyone out there! 

If you'd like to pick up Deep Down Things, it's available at IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other wonderful online retailers. And you can also talk to your local bookstore to order it in.

* A hat tip to all the great friends who are so patient as I go through the convolutions of promotion.  Thank you so much! You are the stars that shine brightest in my sky!

August 6, 2014

'Look at This!'

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I love this idea: storytelling is nothing more than a collaboration between two people, one pointing something out and the other looking.  It changes the way you think about what you include.  Setting becomes more important, and you think about pointing to the outside versus the inside. 

Pinker's answer builds on the work of two language scholars, Mark Turner and Francis-Noël Thomas, who label their approach "joint attention". Writing is a modern twist on an ancient, species-wide behaviour: drawing someone else's attention to something visible. Imagine stopping during a hike to point out a distant church to your hiking companion: look, over there, in the gap between those trees – that patch of yellow stone? Now can you see the spire? "When you write," Pinker says, "you should pretend that you, the writer, see something in the world that's interesting, and that you're directing the attention of your reader to that thing."

 And there's a lot more interesting stuff he talks about. Read the whole article here.

August 5, 2014

The Summer of Harry Potter



This is the Summer of Harry Potter. Every night I read a couple chapters aloud to my eight-year-old twins, and we’re on the fifth book.

Both of them ~ but my daughter especially ~ won’t let me get away with missing it. They’ve been watching the clock. “Mom, it’s seven. Let’s go read.” Or “Mom, you didn’t remind us!” Or “Let’s go up early!” This is a biggie because my daughter is usually pretty lackadaisical about time and doing things when we’re supposed to.  I mean, she takes hours-long baths.

But it’s really launched them in their reading.  They had read before ~ my son especially was getting into it. But now they’re both reading a lot on their own. My son will just randomly be found on his bed reading, and my daughter made me stop at the county library to check out Boxcar Children mysteries, her favorite.

They are loving reading and storytelling. My daughter can spin a tale at the dinner table that, finally, we have to say, “Wrap it up, girl!”  My son and I sat around the campfire when we were camping and took turns telling stories we made up on the spot.

They’ll make Harry Potter jokes, and they’ll figure out the plot twists ahead of time, with or without prompting from me.  “Who is going to be this year’s Dark Arts teacher?” is a common refrain. When there’s a particularly vicious plot turn, my daughter says, “I’m going to rip Voldemort’s face off and kick him in the shins!”  When I read a particularly sad part, my voice cracks ~ or stops all together ~ and my son buries his head in a pillow, tears in his eyes.

I love it. I love that they love what I love, you know?

August 4, 2014

Oh, the Colors!

The miracle of color in the movie of Oz


I wrote this weekend!  I made progress on the YA novel! Woo hoo!!

It's been a long dry spell where I couldn't bring myself to get anything on the page, and there's nothing that'll drag you under faster as a writer than not getting the work done. As so many writers say: writing is what keeps me sane.

I'm drawn into the world.  When you first try to write, the world is wooden and dead to you, but the more you think about it and the more you write, the more it comes alive.  It's like the real world fades into the background and the world you're creating goes technicolor.  The world you're creating becomes more real than the real world. Writing is like reading only much moreso.

Hence, the Oz images.  Can you imagine?! Seeing films in black and white and then all of a sudden ~ Wham! ~ there is fabulous color for the first time?  It must've been just amazing.  The images on the screen not only matched the world around; they were moreso, a heightened reality.  Wow.

And that's what it's like to write.  You're inner world goes technicolor.

August 1, 2014

Nina McConigley Wins a PEN!

Nina McConigley and her short story collection Cowboys and East Indians

When I was just finishing up my undergrad in English, I took a graduate level Renaissance literature class. Such a lovely class.  It was taught by Susan Frye, and we learned a bunch about theater and material culture. 

But one day Susan said we had a visitor to class, someone who was thinking about going to graduate school at UW in the fall.  It was Nina McConigley.  She did come to UW and we went through our master’s in English together.  What I didn’t know then was that we would become fast friends and she would go on to become this amazing fiction writer!

And now she’s won the PEN Open Book Award for her collection Cowboys and East Indians!  You should totally check it out.  Even if you don’t normally read short stories, her surprising and insightful take on what it means to be from the American West from both the inside and also, in a weird way, from the outside will change how you view Wyoming and America.  She does what I try to do, which is to show her experience of the West, which is to say a view that is not often portrayed in books and movies.  We are more various and nuanced than often given credit for.

Which is all to say, this is a good book, and you should buy it and read it.  An excerpt from the story “Curating Your Life” to give you a taste.
Our house was in a constant state of erosion. The plumbing backed up. Our outlets would shock us when we tried to plug in toasters, radios. The inverter refused to work when the power cut out, which was often. And lastly, we had discovered, when the monsoons began, that our house flooded. As the rains came in, mold grew like velvet contusions on our cupboard doors, on clothes. The whole house felt moist and sodden. We ran our ceiling fans twenty-four hours a day in an effort to keep things dry. But as our boss explained to us, Mrs. Prabha was one of the few landlords who would not only rent to foreigners, but also rent to boys and girls who were not married.
Mrs. Prabha rarely called to me. And when she did, she used my Indian name, not Rae, which everyone else called me. “Raema! Raema!” Her intonation rising like a loaf of bread. “Raema! You are leaving your fans on when you are not home. Raema, don’t do this!”
She only scolded me. To Mark and Kate it was “Are you settling?” To Kate, she offered cooking lessons, to take her shopping for the best salwaar kameezes, to take her to her astrologer (who had predicted a year ago she would be dead in five years). But on the few occasions when I would meet her at our large wrought-iron gate, she would look at me and tell me that she had a treadmill I could use. She told me I needed to get a facial. She didn’t think I looked as pretty, as the walking in the sun to and from work was making me more dark and tan
“Too dusky, Raema!” she scolded me.
The dampness that spread into our house, I felt inside of me. My very core since being in India felt gummy and thick. I lay in bed in the mornings and felt heavy-limbed and tired, even though since arriving I was getting, some nights, almost ten hours of sleep. In the evenings, before I climbed into bed, I would sit cross-legged on the floor on a thin bamboo mat that molded when wet. I would sit there and imagine the Wyoming sky. So blue. So clear. I pictured nothing but prairie filled with sagebrush, sego lilies, rabbitbrush, and endless open. I saw the Big Horns. The Absarokas. The Wind Rivers. The Snowies. I pictured mountain ranges like vertebrae, rising up after miles and miles of empty open range. I thought of dryness. Of how my nose bled in the winter from the altitude and lack of moisture. I slept most nights with a humidifier. I felt the air in India. While back home, I felt nothing — or perhaps the air felt so natural, you didn’t have to think about it.
Mark and Kate were from San Francisco and Boston. They were twenty-three and semi-fresh out of college. Both of them had worked one office job since graduation. I tried to hide the fact that I was thirty. That I was probably too old for the internship we all had at the Pink Lotus Foundation. I’d thought in the few emails we had exchanged before arriving in India, that I would have the upper hand. That I was the Indian.
The roommates kept blogs. They were members of all sorts of social networking sites. And that is how we met our circle of friends. A strange mix of people whom, in other circumstances, probably none of us would hang out with. Ferengis. All of us. There was Kit, who was studying dance and had a body so lean and muscled, I wanted to touch her. Her blog had pictures of dances she attended, temples she had visited. There was Hep, who was quick to tell us he was Canadian. He even had a small Canadian flag sewn onto his messenger bag as if to tell India he was not one of us — he was a more sympathetic creature from a land of maple trees and peace. I never really understood what Hep did. He was working illegally and told us that every six months he left India for Nepal or Sri Lanka to renew his tourist visa. But when he was in Chennai, he seemed to work at some sort of computer job. His blog featured him widescreen in Nepal, a mountaineer’s hat on his head, climbing rope wrapped around his arm like a lasso.
There was a group I called the Ivies. All strikingly beautiful. Sturdy, rosy-cheeked, and well put together. All had Ivy League educations. India hadn’t rumpled them as badly as the rest of our ragtag group. Whenever we met for drinks or for concerts, their linen pants would look pressed, their feet clean. They worked at non-governmental organizations and, I imagined, would head back to places like New York or Chicago. Places where good jobs would open like a ripe clementine. For them, social change was a profession, a year in India fitted in between undergrad and graduate school. By time they were thirty, they would be living in houses with granite countertops and in-home theaters.
There was the tech crowd. These IT-ers made U.S. salaries in India and were always suggesting drinks at five-star hotels and impromptu trips to Pondicherry where wine was easy to get. They spent most weekends at resorts near Mahabalipuram, drinking beer on the beach, weedy-looking boys in tight pants fetching them whatever they fancied. Their boring cubicle life that would have been reduced to a comic strip in the United States not only allowed them to live like sahibs, but to act like ones as well. For them, going native was the few minutes they negotiated for auto rickshaws. Their glee in saving ten rupees was trumped only by the fact that they all headed back to flats with sweepers that came in every day to scrub their shit from their toilets.
Lastly, there were the in-transits, people who came and went, who were passing through India on treks or travels. Studying yoga, coming to stay in ashrams, or just to bask on the beaches of Goa or Kerala. The in-transits wore a uniform that was a combination of East meets West — loose salwaar pants coupled with graphic American t-shirts, sari slips with fleece, jeans with ill-fitting woven tops. For accessories, they favored things made of shells, beads, and silver. They wore leather sandals with soles as flat as chapatis. After a month, I barely talked to the in-transits at parties. What was the point? They would be gone. And for the most part, they didn’t want to talk to me. They wanted to talk whitey with other whites. Because even though I was American, it was hard to say to a brown face that you hate Indian food, the streets stink, and that you think all auto rickshaw drivers are thieves.