Tag Archives: beneath a marble sky

Connecting with Authors….

by Ellen Weeren
@EllenWeeren/@AReasonToWrite

In just the past few days, I have spoken with 4 well known authors. Shaken their hands, asked them questions. Gotten super inspired. And I now have signed books from all of them. Yea!

And just how did I do that, you might wonder. (If you don’t wonder that, stop reading now. 😎  )

Well, I attended a panel discussion at Fall for the Book at George Mason. The discussion was focused on the definition of literary fiction v. genre fiction and if it’s even important to make the distinction between two any longer. The answer was basically that it’s nearly impossible to define literary fiction or appropriately capture its essence. Outstanding writing will be discussed without prompting from scholars and its words will be devoured – no matter what you call it.

My own definition/measuring stick will be that if a college professor picks up The Alligator Purse and discusses it in her classroom or if a book club can’t stop talking about it, then I will consider it Literary Fiction. (She says crossing fingers that one day that will happen.)

These three fantastico authors were at Fall for the Book…

Alma Katsu  – Alma inspired me because she was first published after the age of 50. There’s still hope for me! 😎 And her writing has gripped me – here is the start of her novel The Taker:

“Luke Findley’s breath hangs in the air, nearly a solid thing shaped like a frozen wasp’s nest, wrung of all its oxygen.”

That is some fabulous prose.

Louis Bayard is very simply a tremendous writer and a professor at George Washington Univ.

I also love the opening of The School of Night:

“Against all odds, against my own wishes, this is a love story. And, it began, of all places, at Alonzo Wax’s funeral.”

Now, I am curious as to what is going on.

and then there was Julianna Baggott. The movie rights to her latest novel Pure have already been purchased. She writes across genres and audiences. And, she speaks in poetry. The way she expressed her thoughts was beautiful. I can only imagine the prose in her stories will be scrumptious.

This is what Julianne said on her own blog about the panel discussion. She asked if it was worth her time – she sold fewer than ten books and her child was sick while she was gone. To that I say, “Thank you for coming. When you signed my book, you wrote Best of Luck With Your Writing, Imagine Wildly.” I don’t know if inspiring me was worth missing her sick child. But I was inspired and so were many others.

Mark Athitakis was also on the panel. He is a book critic and manages a guide to DC area readings. You can find that here. I hope one day that he will review my book.

Yes, you are right. That is only three authors. The fourth was one of my absolute faves – John Shors. He wrote the magical historical fiction about the Taj Mahal called  Beneath a Marble Sky. And, if you’ve been following for a while here, you might remember this review. His new book is called Temple of a Thousand Faces and you can preorder it here.

John was kind enough to call our writers group and share his insights on writing. Why did he do that? Because he is awesomesauce – that, and we asked him to.

It is amazing to me just how approachable some authors are. They share a unique understanding of how challenging this writing journey is. And they are eager to see other authors succeed. They want to encourage and enlighten them/us/me.

So, if you are thinking that you really missed out on some great opportunities – have no fear – American University is hosting a visiting writers series and you can get inspiration from some amazing authors. You’ll find the calendar here.

When Pages Come Alive……..

Right before we left the United States, I read an amazing story about the family who built the Taj Mahal. It was Beneath A Marble Sky by John Shors. It’s historical fiction. So he took the facts and filled in the blanks. If you ever think you will visit the Taj Mahal, please read that book first. The pages will come alive.

So, we jumped right in and visited the Taj Mahal this weekend. This will probably be a long one – so go ahead and get yourself a cup of coffee. Or a beer – or whatever.

First – the drive. The Taj Mahal is about a 3-hour drive from Delhi. That is if there is no fog and no traffic. We got both. The fog was so thick that it was like driving through pudding. Vanilla pudding, but pudding none-the-less. Fog should only be an issue in the winter months. In the summer months, it’s the heat. So, pick your poison.

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It took a little much, much longer than expected. But we made it in one piece.

The Taj Mahal is located in a town named Agra. Forget everything you know about towns. Agra is congested and narrow and dirty and, did I mention congested? There are monkeys and cows and goats and people and cars and bikes and buses everywhere.

We hired a guide to take us through the Taj Mahal and its sister monument the Agra Fort. I highly recommend this. He was 500 rupees for the day – which is about $10 – we paid him more than that. It was worth every penny.

For example. He knew that you cannot park near the Taj Mahal. It used to be that you could park right in front of the monument grounds – but they are now worried about pollution. So, you have to park in a lot and either walk, ride a bus, ride an auto-rickshaw, ride a horse drawn carriage, or ride a camel drawn carriage. Which one did we pick? You got it – bring on the camel.

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This was probably the slowest (and smelliest) way to go. But I thought it would be the most authentic. Yes, my son loves me very much for that. Apparently, India has taught him that he is acutely aware of smells. Especially bad ones. This cost 300 rupees – about $6. We paid for both sides of the cart. You do not pay them until the return trip to the car. That way they will wait for you.

I did not take pictures of all the vendors who were literally on top of us as we walked down the street. Our guide told us not to look at them, not to buy anything, and not to talk to them. I guessed pictures might not be the best idea. See that college degree did pay off. I am thinking! I did learn a new word. Nay – I am not sure how you spell it – but you say it like this – Nay, Nay, Nay, NAY, NAAAAAYYYYY. And you walk quickly. And hold your kids hands. It’s not dangerous but you want them to know that no is, in fact, no.

And yes, your kids will probably want most of what they see. So it is helpful to tell them before hand not to even bother asking. Because, it turns out that it is not so helpful to have them asking you for things when you are trying to shoo the vendors away. It’s a little bit of a mixed message and the vendors can smell the want in the kids eyes.

This is the entrance to the Taj Mahal. It cost 750 rupees (about $15) to get in per adult. Children under 15 are free. You have to go through security. Yes, they pat you down. The only electronics allowed are cell phones and cameras. No ipods, MP3, or game boys. Cell phones and cameras. That’s it.

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There are 22 small domes on the entrance representing the 22 years it took to build the Taj Mahal. Another reason for a guide is that he will know just where to take all the good pictures and can shoo away the professional photographers who will charge you money for photos. You are allowed to take your own – you do not have to pay for them.

The Taj Mahal cost 32 million rupees to build. Twenty thousand people worked on it everyday that it was being built. This is what you see when you walk through the entrance. The Taj Mahal was meant to seem like it was floating in air. Job Well Done Shah Jahan. Floating it seems.

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It is very hard to describe how it feels to see the Taj Mahal for the first time. It is overwhelmingly majestic. It looks so soft and when you know the story of the love behind it – well, you can almost melt into its beauty.

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The grounds surrounding the Taj Mahal are beautiful as well.

This might have worked out better with a professional photographer. But it was fun trying. If you do it right, it looks like you are touching the tip of the Taj Mahal.

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The Taj Mahal and its surrounding monuments and temples are all symmetrical. The only thing that is not symmetrical is Shah Jahan’s tomb inside the Taj. His daughter buried him next to her mother after her brother stopped the building of Shah Jahan’s own mausoleum and imprisoned him. She understood their love and knew that they should spend eternity together. Awwww.

The pillars on the Taj Mahal look like they are perpendicular to the ground. They are not – they are bowing out at a 93 degree angle. This is so that from a distance it looks like they are straight up and down. Our guide also laughed that this was so that if the pillars fell, they would not fall on the monument. I am guessing that could be true. How they knew to do that so long ago and how they measured that angle? Maybe there is something to this whole math thing.

This picture was taken on the bench that was built for Princess Diana’s visit. So, I have now sat on the throne of a Princess in the Mausoleum of a King and Queen. Okay, maybe not, but a girl can dream, can’t she? Bring me my crown.

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The decorative flowers in the walls of the Taj Mahal are all semi-precious stones (like lapis lazuli, jade, crystal, turquoise, and amethyst) that that have been laid into the marble. The carvings are in one big slab of marble. So if they made one mistake, they had to start all over. I was amazed that you had to cover your shoes when you walk in the building (or take them off) but you are allowed to touch any part of the walls you want. Shoes not okay – oily, dirty human hands – bring them on. Okay. It was shocking how smoothly the stones fit into the marble.

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The rules said you are not allowed to take pictures inside the Taj Mahal. So I did not. I wish I had. But, rules are rules.

Follow me on to the next post – I am going to continue this so that there aren’t so many pictures for you to load in one post.

TWeNTy-FiVe DaYs and CouNTiNG….

Yikes, that’s right. Twenty-five days and counting. My furry children (minus Queso who has found a wonderful temporary home) leave on Sunday for India. It’s a little weird that my furry children will get to see India before my non-furry children, but so it goes.

We saw Slum-dog Millionaire this week. It has a very creative story-line but it is definitely not a advertisement for tourism, much less for taking up residence, in India. But it did pique my sight-seeing interest. It’s really not that different than any story about any child surviving in a slum would be. There are some parts that are very hard to watch. But, we have our own neglects in the United States – India appears to be no different. And because there are (a lot) more people, there are (a lot) more poor people.

I have also read Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors, which is an amazing tale about the era in which the Taj Mahal was built. It’s a magically written historical fiction that could paint a picture of the Taj Mahal and its history that even a blind man could imagine and see. Even if you are not moving to India, you can appreciate the intricate relationships of families and parents and siblings. It is a love story of action and impatience and imagination – it is the love story not just of a husband and his wife, but of a father and a daughter, a sister and her brothers, a princess and her best friend.

My book club was fortunate enough to be able to talk with John Shors. He was so gracious with his time and insights and he shared with us that this book took five years to write. You can tell. There is not one single moment in it that lets you drift away from the plot. There are graphic instances that are dealt with precisely – no violence for violence’s sake. It’s fabulous! If you have time, read it.

So, anytaj, we spent some time with friends this week who will probably not see for quite some time. It was great and Monday begins the great paperwork battle of my life. Coordinating utilities, medical info, and school records-  verifying our vaccines are, in fact, all done (please God, let them be done), – packing, unpacking, and repacking – and who knows what else. There is a lot to do with only twenty-five days and counting – backwards to the 26th. Yikes.