Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Dead Fish

My neighbor's neighbor just came by to "see the fishtank." I stood in the doorway with my bathrobe on and smiled and blinked. Really I couldn't believe he was standing there asking to see my fishtank, and he was wearing a smug look. His look said, "I know you don't have a fishtank requiring a snow shovel, I know you were just being nasty." He was just smiling and blinking, but that look was there, between the blinks. I spread my smile a little broader and responded, "Oh...didn't you hear? I thought M would have told you. The fish died. That was why I needed the snow shovel, well eventually that was why I needed the snow shovel. Not at first. They weren't dead at first, but after the incident...well...they didn't survive."

Oh yes, that smug look just sort of...leaked off my neighbor's neighbor's face. I could see his wheels spinning. He was thinking of something to say, and I was ready. He doesn't know who he is dealing with. I am a novelist, a professional liar.

Now this neighbor? He is not among my favorites. First off, he never waves hello. Ever. It leaves you feeling like you have germs. And I don't have germs. And a few months back, I was watching out my window for my son to come up from the bus and this neigbhbor drove by and I saw him slow his Volvo stationwagon and lower his window and I saw the boys, who had congregated on my lawn, all turn to face the car, and I saw their faces turn fearful. I opened the door as the neighbor drove away and called down and my boy and his friends ran up to the house to tell me that the neighbor had admonished them not to throw gravel at the street sign that he paid for with his tax dollars. And here's the thing: I am not a supporter of vandalism of public street signs, but if they were throwing gravel, I didn't even notice it and I was watching.

Since then, I've been waiting to put some sand in his underpants.

He said, "Your fish died? Convenient, isn't it?" I just stared at him and my smile faded; I was just blinking now.

"Convenient? What could you possibly mean?"

His eyes turned steely and his mouth was tight. "You know what I mean. Isn't it convenient that when someone comes to see your purported giant fishtank with who knows what manner of aquatic beasts within, that they have mysteriously died and are not available for viewing?" He raised his eyebrows. "Convenient."

My mouth dropped open. He thought he had my number, but again, he doesn't understand that I have created a story where 5 enormously fat girls are the greatest sex symbols of our time, and where an ancient Brahmin curse can fell one child in every generation. I found my penchant for grandiloquence coming on, but I held it in check in favor of a more punchy dialogue.

"First off, Mr. K,"
"Please, call me J"
"I'd rather not, I find that I do not like you."
"Excellent, because I do not like you either, Mrs. Hampton."
"Excellent, indeed."
"You were saying, first off?"
"I do not need reminding of my place in the conversation."
"Continue then, please. I'm all ears."
"You are not all ears, that would be far more innocuous. You are mean and heavyhanded. Coming to my house to mock me in my grief, are you not aware that there are small children here? Do you know what it takes to raise Trevally from the Great Barrier Reef in your own home? It is a labor of love Mr. K. A labor of love." (Now the Trevally I got from my novel, there are Trevally in there, so it was right on the tip of my tongue and I had already done a bit of research in case of questions, and I figured if he read my book, he might understand why I would have put them in my novel, being that I owned a pair, even though I didn't really). I then brought up some tears and turned my back.
He was silent for a while, but I did feel he wasn't done yet. And he wasn't.
"What were their names?" he asked suspiciously.
"Polly and Delilah."
"Unusual names for fish."
"Unusual? Sir, please tell me what usual names for fish are?"
He was silent. Because his comment was stupid.
I continued, "Polly comes from Penelope, her name was actually Penelope but we called her Polly and Delilah...well...she was a powerful woman. Penelope too. I named them for powerful women." I turned around dramatically and pushed my hair back from my face; I was hoping that my eyes were shining in the light from the front door. There was still snow on the ground so the light was particularly bright but not harsh. Good light. I had noted this earlier in the day. "You know, Mr. K, I have a love of naming things. Well...I guess you wouldn't know this. You don't really know me, but I think that is one of the best things about being a novelist, I get to name everyone and everything." I sniffed lightly and wiped my eyes, "I do miss my fish." I swallowed.
Mr. K, in the doorway, unprepared for Trevally and Polly and Delilah and the Great Barrier Reef just blinked and stood. He didn't believe me, but he wasn't sure.
"Where did you put the tank?"
"Well, I had to have a special pick up. It broke...you know...during the incident."

He coughed and hemmed and turned to walk away and turned back. Haltingly he asked, "What...actually..you know...happened?"

I looked him straight in the face and answered. "Polly was larger and more aggressive, she always was, but this time when I threw in the chum, she was at the bottom of the tank and Delilah got there first. Well...something snapped. In Polly. I mean mentally. Emotionally, you know. She came up from below and ran her teeth along Delilah's abdomen. I had gone to get the snow shovel because my own feeding jug had a little crack in it. I had thrown in the first bit of food when I noticed and I didn't want to make a mess, so I went to M's to borrow the shovel so I could finish feeding them, and when I got back...well... it was a red sea of pain in there...and I tried to use the snow shovel to break them up but...well..Trevally are strong, prehistoric creatures. They have seen worse than snow shovels." I gathered my lips together and turned them in. I thought it probably looked like being strong.

"Oh my GOD!" Mr. K was overwhelmed.

I nodded and sighed deeply.

"Is there anything I can do? For you? For your family?"

"Oh no, no thank you. We are doing well. I might get some new ones eventually. Not yet. When we have recovered and are well again."

Mr. K turned and walked down my front steps. He turned at the bottom and looked up at me, "Look...I'm sorry for coming over here like that. I just...sometimes I get wound up."

I smiled and waved like it was nothing.

"Okay then," he continued. He waved. He waved. "Good bye. I'l see you soon."

"Good by J." I called him by his first name. He turned around and his eyes were tearful. "Good by Sujatha," he replied, and walked out of sight.

I closed the door and turned back into my house. My reputation was safe. I was still crazy in a good way.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Perpetuating The Myth That I am Crazy

Today I had to dig out the car. Well, the car was in the garage, but I had to dig out the driveway. I spent nearly an hour looking for the snow shovel. I didn't find it and I went up the street and borrowed my neighbor's. She was kind and generous with her snow shovel. I trudged back down the street. On the way I saw her neighbor. He's my neighbor too, just further from me than from her, which is probably all for the best. He said, "You gonna dig out?" I said, "No, no, what would make you think that?" He smiled and blinked at me. I smiled and blinked back. I wondered if he would continue, you know...answer my question, 'cause I was in the mood for more of this. So, I just stood there in my boots and my big coat and my hat and gloves, two pairs, and holding a snow shovel, just smiling and waiting. Like it was a conversation rather than a bit of neighborly bullshit after a storm. "Sure did come down out there, didn't it?!" "Boy, makes you want to be a kid again." Another neighbor said that to me yesterday, the one about wanting to be a kid again. I said, "No. It doesn't. I was an immigrant child. We weren't allowed out in the snow." And then I just did the smiling and blinking thing.

This was true. We were not allowed out in the snow. Because it would be cold. The risk of pneumonia, frostbite, gangrene, malaria, genital herpes, who knew what could be living out there in that snow. Spores. Just waiting for the warmth of our innocent bodies to come to life, breed and spawn inside the swaddling of our bundled bodies. My neigbhor also just smiled and blinked. I know they think I'm crazy. I'm perpetuating that myth. It keeps it quiet during the day and there are fewer "playdates."

But this other guy, my neighbor's neighbor, he's a bold one. He answers me, he says, "Well...the shovel." So I looked down at my shovel and said, "What this? This isn't to dig out. This is for the fish tank." And his mouth actually opened, which was what I was going for. I smiled and batted my eyes, prettily I hoped, and said, "Bye then!" And continued down to the house.

And the only problem then was that he was still out there and he had stopped his own digging out to watch me walk back down the street, which was a problem, because I really needed to dig out, but I kind of liked the whole concept of the fishtank needing the snow shovel. My writer's mind was whirring with the details. Like...obviously this is a HUGE fishtank and perhaps it even has small sharks in it. And what on earth would have happened that would make me need a snow shovel for sharks...a dead shark maybe? Maybe to break up a shark fight? Anyway, I liked the idea and so I liked the idea of my neighbor's neighbor really wondering about it. And I knew the whole tale would unravel and I would just look mean spirited or even crazy in a bad way if I simply got to work on my driveway. So you see how I had gone and gotten myself in a situation. What a tangled web we weave... So I went inside and spent the next hour or so watching through the window for him to leave his driveway, but he was just working and working like a dog out there. I'm not sure about him; it seemed a little excessive.

I considered calling a service to come do the driveway, but that struck me as a bit much to perpetuate both the shark myth and the myth that I am crazy but in a good way. So instead, I just waited until nightfall, when I knew he would be inside eating or sleeping or something, and dug out the driveway in the dark.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tyrone the Houseguest

Tyrone is my new houseguest, and I believe he has Pepe in a twist. Tyrone is not blind so I will not talk about his pelvis, which isn't bulgy anyway. Oh. My apologies. Tyrone would like me to take that back, he insists his pelvis is bulgy, but in a very good way.

Tyrone is my friend so I do not peek at him through the refrigerator. Though he has been my Bikram instructor, and therefore I have seen him in skimpy clothing, I honestly have not peeked. Tyrone is my friend. He is my houseguest only because there are 24 inches of snow outside, not because he was put out of other lodging in the cold of December. He is always welcome here. He is Fun in a Snowstorm. FIAS.

Today we made Jazz Hands cookies and ate soup and bread. I looked up and caught Pepe peeking at us through the crack between the refrigerator door and the box, but of course Pepe is blind. I don't know why he bothered. I asked him to join us, even to decorate cookies in his own, Braille-infused way, but he just sidled out of the room, blushing like a girl, tittering like a fool, and ambling like a crab. Sideways. If only Pepe could see himself, he would know how ridiculous he looks behaving like that. Just sit down and have some soup Pepe, Tyrone will not bite you!

I believe if I had told Pepe that Tyrone would bite him, he would have been at the table lickety split. How he knows that Tyrone is 6'4" and looks like Mr. Clean is beyond me. Perhaps the blind use a particular proprioceptive process to discern the heights and girths of those who are speaking.Using this logic: Tyrone's voice falls from above=tall. Tyrone's voice is resonant like a bell=powerfully built.

There are also these Mr. Clean-like aspects of Tyrone: Black, double earrings, shaved head. So, though I do not believe Pepe has felt Tyrone, he clearly knows. And he is blind, so there are other sensors at work.

Frankly, it intrigues me. Pepe grows more outrageously mysterious day by day. And his subwaist/superthigh fermentation process continues. I believe now that some of the bulginess is gaseous, rather than solid. An emission of his yeasty regions. I find myself wondering if his jeans will explode like a soda bottle left in a hot car, or if his skin will rise like dough, puffing him up...a blind Violet Beauregarde...

If Tyrone is trapped here again tomorrow, we are planning on writing the score for our show: The Tip Tap Trifecta & Cavalcade. When Pepe hears the music, he will not be able to resist joining in. And then our show will have not only horses, leprauchauns, **jazz hands** and fanfare, but also a rolly polly blind man tittering, tottering and sidling like a crab. Mayhem will ensue. Hilarity. Hijinx. A show for all ages, performed by land and by sea, in retirement homes and elementary schools. Around the globe.

And if Tyrone is trapped again the day following, we will formalize our plans for world domination; Tyrone has a Mac.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pepe the Houseguest

I have a houseguest whose names is Pepe. This is ridiculous enough, but it's worse. He wears pants that are too small in the entire pelvic region, front and back; really too narrow describes them better than too small and if you can imagine, this makes his name, Pepe, even more ludicrious. Somehow, he does not have a muffin top in these pants. I think that it is because his pelvic region is bulgier than normal human proportions. So his waistband suits his dimensions. It is an unusual body. I have examined it furtively, through the crack between the refrigerator door and the box. It is so odd, this narrowness of pants and waist, yet bulgy, feminine pelvis. His legs are thin too. He is only pelvically bulgy. I have caught my children looking at him oddly. For them it might be other things. His tendency to sing songs he claims are Chinese opera, maybe... The songs sound like Spanish, but they are definitely not Spanish. They just have a Spanish sound with Chinese operatic qualities. This is very unpleasing. My daughter, she of the long eyebrows and deep silences, makes a dramatic face and archly leaves the room, trailing her crochet yarn behind her. My son, of the decidedly more joyful cheeks can barely contain himself. He looks at me first, his face near bursting, runs away and is howling all the way up the stairs. I smile and stick my head back into the refrigerator to examine his odd physique. In fairness, he sings his Chinese opera this way because of the poor voice quality on his computer. He doesn't know better.

It is not my fault he is here. Okay...it is my fault he is here. DH tells me so, and he is right and being a real sport about it. I think he finds the juxtaposition of himself and Pepe as working in his favor. Which it is.

But it is not my fault he is here except that I told him he could stay. But at the time, I only thought he had a bulgy pelvis and really who cares? I did not know he ate only at 1am and 4am and that he was unable to get wet. Any part of him. Unable to be wet.

I think this is why I am so fascinated with his bulgy pelvis and narrow pants, just the thought of what is going on in there piques my curiosity as a storyteller. Frankly, this is why I don't tell him to leave. I am waiting for him to ferment completely, just to see what happens.

You might be wondering how I dare to write a blogpost about Pepe, considering he is my houseguest. Well, on top of everything else, Pepe is blind, which is why I had to say he could stay when he found himself without alternatives in a cruel December. Pepe is blind, and he has a computer, but the voice quality of his reader is so poor that it sounds like his Spanish/Chinese opera, which is why he sings as he does. He doesn't know any better.

Today, Pepe is making dinner. I plan to feed the kids on the way home from school and then just come home and see what happens. Their directions are not to eat anything Pepe gives them, but to smile and nod and say, "mmmmmm." We can do this because Pepe is blind.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Future of the Bold and Audacious Novel

There is an audacity in writing that I admire and aspire to. It is a particular touch that really is very moving to me. We see it very rarely these days. It is clear that American publishers, responding to American readers, are extremely cautious in fiction. Books that go on too long can not be published, certainly not until you have a tried and true following. This is sad on many levels. Writing to satisfy an audience whose tastes are whetted by Real Housewives and whose attention spans grow shorter and shorter from more and more instant gratification will only give the literary novelist an ulcer. It won't be pretty. We will lose the magic.

Already I wonder if it would be possible for Salman Rushdie to have published Midnight's Children in today's market, as a debut novelist. It was actually Rushdie's second novel, but his first novel, Grimus, was largely ignored, so he surely didn't have a big following yet. I really doubt such a sprawling, exceedingly long, abstract novel (which also won the Booker Prize in '81 and the Best of the Booker, as well) could be published now by a relative unknown. The absence of that book from our literature would be a terrible void. I fear we are on our way to a literary world with patulous holes where the lasting magic would have been.

I have read a lot of beautiful, beautiful books, but there are few that throb with the kind of bold audacity I am referring to. There will always be beautiful books but it is those raucously courageous ones I fear for. Right now, off the top of my head I can think of three of this specific genre: Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin (which absolutely, beyond a doubt changed my life and made me a writer), A Confederacy of Dunces (which I read when I was quite young and ought to reread just to be sure I am right...but I know I am right), and The Yiddish Policemen's Union (which I didn't know I was going to love in the beginning, but which turned into one of the most wholly satisfying, fantastically robust, gigantic, prodigious and overall amazing reads of my entire life). These authors took great literary leaps and wrote books that will resonate forever. So here's the thing: John Kennedy Toole committed suicide because this book was rejected and rejected and rejected. After he died, his mother found the manuscript and sent it in with a long letter and it was published to great acclaim. Helprin? I read an interview with him once where he was asked why, as a highly educated man, he chose to work as a dishwasher while writing this book. He replied to the effect that it is better to work as a dishwasher and to retain your literary integrity than to work on an advance for an unfinished book which then your publisher gets to weigh in on and demand changes to. Once they have paid you, they own your work. He said that now publishing houses have even less integrity and that the author who works on an advance is almost certain to have to make these types of concessions. At least that is how I interpreted what he said. It really struck me as a pearl to hold on to. Chabon is Chabon. He won the Pulitzer Prize, he has written successful screenplays; maybe he no longer has to worry about hearing, "No. You can't write a book that is purportedly in Yiddish about a fictional Jewish town in Alaska which has one fabulous riff after another and which amounts to a literary crime novel of Jews." Maybe they just don't say no to him anymore. Maybe Chabon has earned carte blanche. Thank God he has earned it with beautiful work, not just work that sells a lot of copies. He might be one of our few corners of refuge.

I can say that when I finished As It Was Written, it was nearly 800 pages. Too long, I guess. But it was THAT book that I always say was driven by Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. I worry that one day he might read that he inspired me so and therefore go pick up my book and read it and wonder..."in what way could my book have possibly inspired this one?" Though I hope he would like it all the same. But the truth is that all that wackiness, all that tangential audacity, all those riffs for the sake of riffs, (because I love to write), gone. One after the other after the other, CUT AWAY GONE. And it was those elements that made me cry with ambition when I read Helprin, that he wrote like someone who just loved to write. I believe there is beauty and worth in that kind of bold storytelling, literary explosiveness and vigor.

Anyway, it is a fear of mine, a horizon with no books that make us shriek in disbelief. "HOW DID HE DO THAT??!! WOW!" Maybe I am one of the few who reads that way, who looks for that in a book. But for me and those of my ilk, I do worry about what the future holds.

Just a thought for today.

Peace, and as always, send the muse!

S

Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Covers



So here is my long anticipated book cover. I hope you like it. I must say I do like it, despite my having some thematic arguments against the Taj Mahal style windows. I think in the end, the image is quite lovely. For a long while, it had a different font, multicolored block print; and a Bollywood looking woman where the sari now is. I took HUGE issue with the Bollywood woman, and large, if not huge, issue with the mulitcolor pastel font. And Thomas Dunne did change it and I am grateful. I quite like the fonts and colors for the title and my name now. Especially my name. AND I like the lower case letters. I think they look more magical and interesting. This was the original cover:

Note the Bollywood girl, her silly, red costume jewelry, her simpering expression and her purple eyeshadow. She begged the shopper to ask, "I wonder which of these five daughters is the stupid one..."


Of late, all my angst over this subject has really made me consider what makes a compelling book cover. There are absolutely some covers that beg you to pick up the book and read it. Frankly, I don't think this one does that at all, though it is beautiful. I can't say that I would not pick up this book based on its cover, but I do think that my novel is full of mysteries and images that begged to be depicted, which weren't depicted. But that is the question: is it better to make a cover that depicts images described within, or is the magic something entirely different?

I wonder what it is that makes the perfect book cover...

Like this one for Zadie Smith's White Teeth: It is not a particularly interesting cover, though it is among my favorite books. It's another one with so many themes within that would have been great to see on the cover, but none of them is there. And I really don't remember how I came across this book. Perhaps it was just recommended to me, or perhaps it was the jacket flap description, because it couldn't have been the cover. Which in the end makes the point of not judging the book by its cover. But then...there are many books I absolutely did buy because of the cover. But I can't remember a single one. Right now, I am sitting here thinking of my all time favorite books: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, A Prayer for Owen Meany (which has an armadillo on the cover, which totally makes sense, but is absolutely the opposite of a compelling image) by John Irving...even if I think back to my younger days (John Irving does belong to my younger days) when I would be much more likely to judge a book by its cover, I don't know which of those books I loved I bought for their covers. Isabel Allende's earlier works, Amy Tan's earlier work, Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible. None of their covers make me gasp.

Okay, I just went in to find a picture of The Confederacy of Dunces to illustrate my point, but the covers are WONDERFUL. There are tons, and I have no idea where my copy is so I can't tell you that I didn't buy it because of its cover. I really don't remember. But here is a great cover for a great book: This book was published in 1980, 11 years after the author committed suicide, and it won the Pulitzer Prize and has been through many printings. I know I read it in high school. I imagine that back then, it would have been the cover and what was written on the back of the book that moved me.

I have noticed as I have gotten older a distinct shift in my reading from popular to more exclusively literary fiction, so one might think then that the cover would matter less. Readers of exclusively literary fiction tend to be more compelled by the jackets descriptions and the reviews, by the awards etc. Like I always buy the Booker Prize winning books and always the Pulitzers, and rarely are those marked by the complete fabulousness of their covers (except this Confederacy of Dunces maybe?--though mine was probably from the library cast off sale) but there is something magical about that glowing golden medal there on the cover. A Newberry, a National Book Award...check it out:


I don't know how people resist. So that is the next goal. To get a book cover, inspired or not, that sports one of those beautiful golden medals, and to let that medal be inspiration enough for someone to pick up the book and read it.

If you have any favorite book covers, let me know and I will post them here. I'd love your opinions on what makes a great cover.

Peace, and as always, Send the muse!!

S

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Blog of Lies

There's a guy named James Gurney who writes a great blog. I found it the other day in my search for great blogs to model mine after. There is no chance I can make one like his because he is an artist. He is the author/illustrator of the Dinotopia series of children's books, and he is an artist. And I think James Gurney writes a wonderful blog because he sees like an artist, so he understands instinctively what is too much and what is too little. And he fills his pages with stops and starts, places to land your eyes and rest for a while. It's a talent.

In general, I find blogs tedious, mine included. I really don't care to know everyone's every little thought, and neither do I care to share every little thought in a medium like this. I'd rather talk you to death than write you to death.

Also, being that this is such a public forum (google me and there it is) I can't just share everything, like about the certain someone in my family who has this personality that makes you want to take a 2x4 to his head every time he simpers how he doesn't want to eat too much and then loads his plate like the Himalayas, complaining all the while about how he is eating too much. Or the other dramas that are more poignant than ludicrous. How do you share those things in a forum where everyone can see everything.

And if not that, then it has to be something that can not hurt anyone. Or I could just tell you a story. Story after story after story. Perhaps you wouldn't be able to tell what is real and what was just a story.

I have been considering that. A blog of lies. A fictional blog. One that is disguised as the truth. And sometimes I would just tell the truth. And the reader would have no way of knowing one from the other. This idea holds promise. It is, perhaps, the very best foil for a novelist who has a real life that is just like anyone else's: full of the mundane rhythms of reality, and also its blood and guts and its great, shimmering glories. But I am a woman who doesn't want perfect strangers to know what she ate for dinner, because it is rarely glamorous and rarely thoughtfully prepared, and not at all worth mentioning.

But what if instead I apologized...told you that I was sorry for being away from the blog so long, but I had just been released from the hospital where I had been admitted for food poisoning. One might think it was just from my own negligence, that I poisoned myself with this habit of thoughtless preparation, with my failure to believe that the contents of the tupperware in the fridge was suspect. That indeed it had been in there for weeks and weeks, that in fact no one remembered when it had been prepared, but that I insisted it looked and smelled like perfectly good spaghetti sauce. Considering how little I like to think about food, one might think that I got food poisoning because of budget shopping, buying meat that was "a bit off."

But it wasn't that.

I got food poisoning because of a houseguest. It was my hospitality that nearly killed me. The Obamas recently held their first State Dinner, as you will recall, hosting the Indian Prime Minister and his wife. Well, my stay in the hospital was not due to iffy food preparation and handling, but rather because I am not skeptical enough by nature, and when DH suggested to me that I should think twice about inviting Kannan Chattarji and his entourage to the house for dinner in the days following the State affair, because of Chattarji's heavy dealings in the Indian Mafia, I should have taken him seriously. He is a shrewd and wary man, DH is, and I am a rather gullible and Pollyanna sort.

How could I have known that there would be a plot to kill him that would unfold at my own dinner table? How could I have known that when the madness played out, I would find myself eating from the wrong plate, falling apoplectic to the floor, and spending days near death in Reston Hospital?

In the end, I survived to tell the tale, but so did Chattarji, and so did whomever it was who tried to kill him. DH believes that it has something to do with the Real Housewives bound State Dinner crashers, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, but I do not. I prefer to think it was a plan wrought from internal conflict in the Chattarji hierarcy. One of his own, a climber caught up in a crime of ambition.

These things do happen, and they happen to regular people, just like you and me. When we let down our guard, the forces of evil enter and wreak havoc on our calm and peaceful lives. These moments are the grains that sow into stories. That time that something happened, and it seemed that it was not important, but in the end we discovered it was.

Maybe I won't have to lie to share those with you. Or maybe I will. Either way, if I do it well enough, you will never know.

Peace and, as always, send the muse!

S

Friday, November 20, 2009

Return to the Blogosphere

I am back. I went on a blog-hiatus of sorts, to begin my new novel in earnest; to attend my very first writer's residency; and, really, as it relates to the blog itself, I suppose I took a hiatus to think about what I wanted to share in this space.

I am not exactly sure I have come to definitive conclusions...

But I am back anyway.

I do have interesting things to report. In no particular order:

1. We have finally come to accord on the cover of my book! They went with a sort of Taj Mahal Window kind of theme, sort of stonework and Mogul windows, with things inside like: my title AS IT WAS WRITTEN; my name SUJATHA HAMPTON; a novel; and then a couple of images which I will leave till later to tell you about. We argued over these. Well, we argued over a lot of things cover related. I had very different ideas, but in the end, it's very pretty. The thing with the windows is a little funny, because the book is about Malayalees and the windows are totally Taj Mahal, which is...a different kind of Indian. But I think that Americans tend to see Indians as one way, with one kind of window, and with Bollywood looking women inside. But Malayalees have square windows and different looking women. But they know about selling books and I know about Malayalees, and in this particular case, knowing about selling books is more to the point. Like I said, in the end, it's a pretty cover and the Bollywood girl, peeking foolishly from her Mogul window with her purple sparkly eye shadow and her simpering expression, is gone. But to quote my dad, "Why did they put those windows? Didn't they read the book? It's about Malayalees." Still, it is pretty and I hope you like it. Many thanks to Karyn Marcus who fearlessly put her neck under the guillotine to make me happy.

2. I went to a writer's residency where I holed up in a little room in the Catskills and worked on my novel for three weeks. It was intensely gratifying. No interruptions, no distractions, nothing. I have never done anything like that before and all I wished was that I was in the middle or the end of my book, because if I had been, I would have finished. I was rather at a research stage and I spent a lot of time reading and thinking, which is important, yes, but...pages down makes you satisfied in a more...meaty way. I thought of a new title, I like it more, but I can't share it yet. Bad luck.

3. I donated a character in my novel to Capital Hospice where it went at live auction for $1900! I was thrilled. I know, its an odd concept to wrap your head around, but they approached me with this neat idea: would I be willing to donate a character such that someone could bid for the right to be in my new book. Basically, someone bids, and I name a character after the winner, and the money goes to support Hospice in the DC area. I thought about it and decided that, a. it's good karma, and b. even narratively, this is a good novel for it, because the story crosses international and generational lines. There is a war and I am writing about the most multinational/multiethnic/multilingual theater since perhaps the days of Ancient Rome, and so I figured even if...Ping Chou Lin bid and won, I could make it work without a problem. As it happened it is a lady named Judy Rhodes. We will see what I do with her. I did reserve the right to kill her if I needed to, and to basically do with her as I pleased. She is very nice though, so I might want to keep her around.

4. I have enlisted the help of a movie making friend of mine, Dennis Hare, who enlisted the help of his friend Pamela Schott, to create a book trailer for AS IT WAS WRITTEN. More on that later, but it is a very interesting prospect and I look forward to seeing what Dennis puts together.

5. My cousin-in-law, Alice offered to develop a website for me. She is an immensely talented Mistress of Many Trades, and she came to me a few months ago offering much assistance with marketing ideas and strategies. I know nothing about these things and I am so grateful to her for her help. She is planning on using my book jacket as a backdrop and working everything out on there. It is exciting to consider building a website, because frankly it is hard to believe that I actually have need of one. Once it's built, it will be sujathahampton.com. But its not there yet, so stay tuned.

So, I have reentered the blogosphere and hopefully I can keep you entertained with cool things happening as I gear up for the February release of my novel, AS IT WAS WRITTEN, and as I go through the agonizing and exhilirating process of writing a new novel, yet unmamed, which will feature the lovely Judy Rhodes who is so delightful a lady as to make herself hard to kill.

As always,

Send the muse!

S

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Today I Interviewed Andrew Davidson

I interviewed Andrew Davidson today and it was wonderful. Well, I can't say that the interview was wonderful, but I can say the conversation was wonderful. I've never done an interview before in my life, and I already know I have a lot to learn from listening to the audio of it.

A. I have a weird voice.
B. I talk to loud.
C. I laugh too much.

This is all probably stuff my vast and rapt cyberfollowing already knows. This is even something I know. And yet, I didn't do anything to try to prepare for that.

I was really excited.

Andrew Davidson is the brilliant author of The Gargoyle, which came out in August of 2008. It is a beautiful story of universal love that transcends time, place and even social barriers. He writes with lurid confidence and then a gentle touch. The language is beautiful, the story is compelling, the images are beyond vivid. I really loved this book. So I was excited that I was getting the chance to talk to him, so I forgot that my voice is weird, that I talk too loud, and that I laugh too much. I will remember this for the next time.

I had prepared some thoughts, a few questions, noted some sections I wanted to ask him about, but I learned something else when I went back to listen to the tape.

4. When I get really excited about what I am talking about, I go out of order and I get sidetracked.
5. When he got sidetracked, I was thrilled to go wherever he went, which means I may or may not have remembered to ask the question I meant to ask.
6. I think the audio of the interview/slash conversation might sound like two really geeky bibliophiles talking about how jacked we get when we think about Tess. Okay, Andrew, no dis intended, I think geeky bibliophiles have it all going on and I was SO JACKED when you knew what I was talking about when I mentioned Tess and the "blighted star."

Meaning, when I do my first interview, I will have to remember to be poised and dignified. I was neither today. Andrew was very poised and dignified, but as he told me he has done thousands of interviews by now. Me? This was my first. As will be evident should you choose to listen to the audio. I will edit out my "Yah!" "I KNOW!" and "uh huh"s out of the written transcript.

So again, I get that wonderful feeling of having arrived at yet another place I always wanted to be. I found Andrew Davidson online and asked him to blurb my own novel, because I so loved his novel. To this request he very sweeetly responded and told me that he hadn't time to do that now, and through some further correspondence we agreed to do this interview. I really can't believe that I too am an author and I get to reach out to other authors (even authors whose books are really amazing) and ask them if I can talk to them. And that they might even say yes! Because I belong to that club!! And really there are only two clubs I wanted to be in: The Mommy Club, and The Author Club. And by God's grace, I got into both. So again I am replete with gratitude.

I will tell you more about the interview itself in a later blog, and I will publish the interview when I get it transcribed. It was really a great conversation for me, to talk to another person doing the same thing I am doing: writing books, struggling with similar problems and similar frustrations and having similar epiphanies. He was gracious and kind, and very forthcoming about his process and his literary muses, though I could have stayed on that subject for the whole hour and fifteen minutes we spoke. It was wonderful to talk with someone else who reads like I do, dissecting and stealing, lingering on a particular turn of phrase, a particular concept that was so perfectly put. Like I said earlier, when we began talking about books, Andrew mentioned Tess of the D'Urbervilles, which is one of my all time favorite novels, and I mentioned a particular line where Tess says they are "living on a blighted star." And he knows exactly what I mean, in fact it was he who reminded me of the exact quote. I told him that line informed one in As It Was Written, but I did it the opposite. In describing Dr. Raman Nair, I say he was born on a blessed star, and that choice of words was to oppose precisely the sentiment we feel when Tess is talking to Abraham, her brother. Her hopelessness versus Dr. Raman Nair's constant and abiding sense of good luck. I loved telling that to someone who understood how a line can last in your mind for decades, finding itself a reference point for all misery and hopelessness you have seen along the journey. Likewise, he understood how I have never since reading Tess, walked through a field of wildflowers and weeds without thinking of her.

It was a great conversation, and I can't wait to tell you more about it and to share the interview with you here. In the meantime, if you are looking for a beautiful book to read, go get The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. It's another one that will last in your heart.


Peace, and if you are reading this, send the muse!

S

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Middle of Things

I started writing something and I just erased it all. I can't jump in like you know me, and though some of you were so kind as to come and tell me that indeed you DID give a rat's ass, I think I need to start at the beginning. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end to things. And sometimes, they get jumbled up and it's okay, and sometimes it is just time to tell the beginning. I think this might be one of those times.

My name is Sujatha. I was born in Albany, NY a little over a year after my mother arrived here from Kerala, India. My father saved his money for one year to bring her. My father arrived in Albany in January without a coat or any boots. This injustice appears in my second novel entitled The Beginning of Everything. I say injustice, because you'd think someone from the postdoctoral fellowship he was coming to join might have clued him in on the weather. And you can't even buy a coat in Kerala. Someone should have met him at the airport with one of their old ones out of the closet. Maybe that's just me; I'd have done that. So would my father. My parents were married two weeks after they met. I was raised by the best of people.

Many moons later, I find that I am living my dream. I'd say this is the middle, because, though a lot happened in between my birth in October in Albany and living the dream, it had better not be the end, because I have a lot left to do. So we will say that where I am right now is the middle. So this blog is about the middle. I think that is a fair representation of things as they stand.

I had a job I liked well enough, but all I ever wanted to do was write novels. It took me a long time to build the courage to go for it, and when I began, I used to write from 10pm to 2am, because I worked, and I had two babies, and my husband was in Iraq. So I can say I began my first novel writing three paragraphs a night. Many of these paragraphs sucked. So that is where i began, sucking in the middle of the night. There is a particular taste to your day when you spend your very worst minutes on the things that mean the most to you. For me: my kids and my book. It tastes like something washed up from your stomach, and it tastes like that all the time.

Shortly after my husband came home from Iraq I quit my job to write my book and I finished it in 7 months. Then I got an agent, then I sold the book. I'll tell you those stories one day; they're good stories.

That book, my first novel, is called As It Was Written. It releases in February, 2010 from Thomas Dunne Books. I like to say that it is the story of Dr. Raman Nair and his five fat daughters and the ancient Brahmin curse that follows them from India to the States. It is a literary fiction with a broad cast of characters, a big family of beautiful girls and all the craziness that erupts as these girls navigate their way through love and life. There is a story within a story, an ancient tale woven into the modern tale. It is a story about the redemptive power of love, I suppose. Certainly it is a story replete with love, but also betrayal, loyalty and family, the ties that bind through time. I'll tell you more about it. And if you buy it, I promise to find a way to sign it for you.

So there is the beginning and some of the middle. The middle is an ongoing story. I think that is what the blog is about. The middle.

Peace and love,

S

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Test: This Is Only a Test

This is only a test. Could it be possible that people could give a rat's ass what I am thinking and doing? I can't imagine that could possibly be true, so this is a test. It is only a test. If I were to tell you that I am sitting here, a few minutes past midnight, pondering the possibility that there are people out there who care to read my random thoughts, posted a few minutes past midnight (meaning they are probably not even lucid thoughts, not even well formulated, certainly not pithy or entertaining), is it possible you would chime in and say, "I care! I care, Sujatha! Please, blather on and on! Tell me the color of your nightclothes. Tell me whether your curly locks are all down your back or twisted into an unattractive knot atop your head like a young Punjabi boy! Tell me if your children are asleep and what brilliant thing you read to them tonight. Tell me, what was for dinner, Sujatha? Please...what was for dinner?"

And in case there is anyone who cares, the answers are as follows: I have not yet put on my nightclothes, but I am wearing entirely too much brown, which is always a mistake, because I myself am brown; my hair is indeed in the unattractive top knot, but, at the moment, I am not nearly as cute as any little Punjabi boy; my children are asleep and I read Mean Margaret, which is actually quite delightful; and we went out to dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill with DH's old college roommate and his family.

If anyone cares at all, I promise to be more entertaining in the future.

Peace and love,

S