Tag Archives: family

The my writing process blog tour

If you saw my last post, you know that I’m sharing my experiences at the writers workshops I’ve attended over the past year. One of the many, many reasons that I love attending workshops is that I meet amazing writers who are also terrific people.

Jane Ward is one such writer/friend. I’m proud to say she is a front-row-seat-convert thanks to me. She has invited me to participate in a blog tour called the My Writing Process Blog Tour. I’m honored that she considered me worthy. Smooches Jane! You can read her writing process story here.

Jane Ward

Jane Ward

First, I’ll tell you a little bit about my talented friend. Jane Ward is the author of Hunger and the New York Book Festival award-winning novel The Mosaic Artist.  Yes, she rocks. She is currently at work on her third novel, The Welcome Home. A former baker and caterer, Jane now cooks on video for allfood.com, a recipe database cited on several online newspapers, and also regularly contributes articles to them. Her blog, Food and Fiction, is equal parts food memoir, cooking and baking discussion, and collection of food industry profiles and trends. (Jane’s friend Carla Panciera invited her to join the blog tour and you can find her entry here.)

Below I have answered the few questions required by the blog tour. By reading on, you’ll get to know a little bit more about what I do (and sometimes what I don’t do.)

1. What are you working on?

I spent the “Summer of Ellen,” as I affectionately call it, attending several writing workshops and not doing a ton of actual writing, just learning about writing.

The pieces I workshopped were:

– A 100-page excerpt from my novel in progress called The Alligator Purse. It’s a family saga, with a political backdrop, lots of secrets, and a fabulous purse.

– “In the Dust of Elephants” is a short story about a Somali man whose daughter is gravely ill. He participates in a hunt to get ivory dust from the tusk of an elephant because he believes it will cure his daughter.

– “The Dust in His Pocket” is a short story focused on a pre-teen boy who can’t find his grandfather. His only clue is a broken hourglass that contains dirt from all the places his grandfather has travelled.

And, yes, I seem to have an affinity for all things dust right now. I considered calling my novel The Dust in the Alligator Purse, but somehow that seemed a tad too much.

2.  How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Uhm, it’s not finished or published. Oh, besides that. Ah.

I think the fact that a woman is writing about a presidential run is a little unusual. Also, that the book has a strong political backdrop but the story isn’t about politics. It’s about mother-daughter relationships and the cycles–good and bad–that are repeated in families. And it’s about holding other people to higher standards than we hold ourselves–and how that can absolutely ruin us.

Also, an American woman writing from the voice of a Somali man–probably not a current trend in most literary works.

3.  Why do you write what you do?

I’m writing this novel because I won a contest. The prize was a consultation of the first 10 pages of a novel with a literary agent named Rachelle Gardner. I kind-of, sort-of raced off a smart-arse haiku and, holy crap, I won. Which would have been so fabulous if I actually had 10 pages written. Ahem. (Please don’t ask me WHY I entered the contest–that is still a mystery to even me.)

Getting 10 pages written was my obsession but I had no idea what to write about. None.What.So.Ever. That is, until I heard a story on the radio about a woman who had her purse stolen. She chased the thief down to get her purse back. And I thought, “what the hell was in that purse?” Angels sang, glitter spewed, and The Alligator Purse was born.

“In the Dust of Elephants” was inspired by another contest about hunger in the natural world. I didn’t want to have my characters hunger for food, so I needed something else, something more dire. My family spent some time living in India. While there, two of my children got sick with unidentifiable illnesses. Thankfully they were both fine but it was a scary time and I knew I would do anything I could to help them get well. I wanted to write a story in a foreign setting and Somalia seemed to make perfect sense because I needed an elephant to wander through the story.

“The Dust in His Pocket” is really a tribute my grandfather. The grandfather in the story is not at all who my grandfather was, but the special relationship he has with his grandson mimics our relationship.

4.  How does your writing process work?

Process. Hmmmmm, that sounds like a bad word. Can you tell I don’t really have a process? Ergh.

A lot of my story ideas/inspiration used to come from contests. The creative world is often too immense for me to come up with my own ideas. I’m a Pisces afterall and if I hold on too tightly to one idea, I fear losing all the others. Although, I am getting much better about it. Many of my earlier story ideas came from someone else saying “what about this” and me answering back, “Yea, but no, not that exactly. What about this instead?”

To keep the writing process blog chain going, here are some other writers you should know, and who will (I hope) let you know a bit more about themselves.

Virginia Pye – River of Dust
I met the talented Virginia Pye at a James Rivers Writers Workshop taught by Nancy Zafris. River of Dust is a fabulous story set in Northwest China in 1910 and chronicles the lives of a missionary couple whose young son, Wesley, is kidnapped by nomads right before their eyes.  During our workshop lunch, I squeezed myself in between them and soaked in every single word they said. I may have accidentally, on-purpose rubbed against them both in hopes of some of their tremendous talent falling off of them and onto me.

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M.M. Fink – Forget We Met
I also met M.M. at the James Rivers Writers Conference. (Yes, it’s a good conference. You should go. Find out about it here.) She is beautiful and asked a lot of smart questions and is super talented. At first, I didn’t think I could like her that much because, well, did you read the last sentence? But she is so talented and so kind that you can’t help but like her a lot. Her first novel  is Forget We Met is the story of a young woman who comes home to the Louisiana playhouse in which she was raised to claim her future in the theatre and the man she’s always loved, but ends up discovering lifelong betrayals, the father she never knew, and herself. She has an agent for it and the book should be coming out in the not so distant future. (Fun fact – she let her readers pick the title. For reals.) Her second novel is called Canary Falls and I think she just finished writing it.

 

And finally, I’d like you to meet

Tara Lindis-Corbell
She is an emerging writer (like me) who I met at the One Story Workshop in NYC. There are a couple of reasons I’d like you to meet her. She’s talented. She’s funny as hell. And it’s about time she updated her blog with a new post. (You’re welcome Tara.) She also inspired me. She has two young children and she still gets up  every.single.morning.before.they.do and writes. She said she does that because she’s grumpy if she doesn’t. Amen sister. Tara is working on a novel that deals with family dynamics, the trickle down effect of environmental shifts on our every day lives, and a missing cat. She also has a funny story about a voodoo doll on a bicycle. If she doesn’t tell that story, I will be forced to tell it for her. It’s hysterical. Fun fact – it’s a true story.

Tara reading at One Story

Tara reading at One Story

That’s it for now. Happy reading and writing!

Oh my, I didn’t expect that I needed a disclaimer…….

When I started telling people I am trying to write a novel, most people were very excited for me. They ask the story line. They congratulate me on being brave enough to tackle writing a book. Some even offer to read chapters for me.

It’s all very fun.

But then, just the other day, a neighbor asked me, “soooooo, are the characters based on anyone I know?”

I was actually startled by the question. The Alligator Purse is most assuredly fiction. Neighbors, friends, and relatives need not worry.

But I guess this is something that all writers should consider when working on their books. People will start to get nervous that you might uncover some deep dark secret about them and reveal it to the world. Or that you will exaggerate their quirks for a laugh.

I personally cannot imagine writing a “tell-all” type book. That tabloid mentality does not appeal to me.

But that doesn’t make this t-shirt any less funny. 😎 You can get it on Amazon.

So, if you know me, don’t worry. You won’t be in my book. At least not on purpose. 😉

Oops – I forgot one – Momastery….

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the blogs I have been following. I completely forgot about Momastery – which is actually ridiculous because Glennon is all sorts of awesomesauce.

Glennon is a fabulous writer who puts thoughts like this into real sentences…

“I am confident because I believe that I am a child of God. I am humble because I believe that everyone else is, too.”

Glennon is  a recovering alcoholic and bulimic and a recovering mother and wife. She doesn’t pretend that parenting isn’t easy and she celebrates that it’s not impossible.

She has a tremendous sense of humor and isn’t one bit afraid to say what she really thinks.And it’s extra loverly that what she thinks is pretty fair and balanced and full of compassion and acceptance. What I love most about her is that she turns thoughts upside down and inside out before she spits them out. Plus she coordinates very generous things for people in real need.

AnyMomastery, I am honestly a little late in joining the bandwagon but if you haven’t seen her work, check it out soon.

Fleeting…………….

A friend of mine in Delhi died this week – unexpectedly in her sleep. She is unfortunately the second person I know this week who died – young – unexpectedly in her sleep. Both women left behind husbands and children and family and friends who are having a hard time believing that their loved ones are really gone.

Their deaths are a big reminder that our time here on earth is fleeting and that we better pay attention to how we spend it. India taught me that but I have been slowly letting myself forget it. Yes, shame on me.

Repatriation (returning home after living abroad) is an interesting experience. A lot stays the same and a lot changes. And finding out how you fit back into all of it is as wonderful as it is challenging.

Lately, I have been a little too caught up in some things that really don’t matter in the big ole grand scheme of things.They certainly aren’t things I would choose to spend my last bit of energy in life being consumed with. And, I know we all do it, get caught up in things, but still…..

One of the ladies who died has been getting a lot of posts on Facebook. One of her friends wrote this….

“Never take your friends for granted.  Hold your friends close to your heart cause you might wake up one day and realize that you have lost a diamond while you were too busy collecting stones.”

It is a lovely reminder to not take anything for granted………..especially friends……….especially life.

Sit on your b.u.t.t. for Life………..

Yesterday I posted about the Walk for Life happening in Delhi on Sunday, February 7th. I am sure some of you pulled out those calendars and marked the date, got your tennis shoes out, rallied friends and neighbors, and probably even went for a quick warm-up lap around the block. Heck, you probably have your pledge sheet completely filled out. (Show off. ) For the rest of us, not so much.

If you are anything like me, this things are great in t.h.e.o.r.y. Signing up is easy – it is a certainly a cause that has affected all of us in one way or the other – and it even sounds like fun.

But what if…
I am tired that day
A child is sick that day
It starts too early
It starts too late
I need to wash my hair
It’s raining
It’s not raining
It’s hot
It’s cold
It’s crowded
The sky really is falling
and on, and on, and on…..

Some of you even thought you were off the hook because the 8,000 mile commute is just a tad too much of a commitment. Nay-sayers.

Well, have I got the solution for you. While some of the less sane more dedicated among us Walk for Life, (there is even talk of some over-achievers people Running for Life – whatever), the rest of us can Sit on Our B.u.t.t.s. for Life.

There is a way to make a difference from that chair you are sitting in right now.

Log on to the payment gateway in the CanSupport website: www.cansupport.org or www.walkforlifeindia.org .

There are no two ways about it. Cancer is awful and we all know just how bad it can get – parents lose children, children lose parents, loved ones lose loved ones. Families suffer. Friends suffer. Strangers suffer. It stinks.

Unfortunately, many, many Cancer patients in India are left completely without any medical, psychological, and family support – they are left to battle in the fight of their lives without any help at all. In a word, they are often abandoned by their family, their friends, and their country. It is devastating to hear the diagnosis of Cancer and it is unfathomable that someone would have to face it alone. But that is just what happens. Families are overwhelmed as much by the cost of cancer treatments as by the stigma associated with the diagnosis. So they simply step back and retreat.

And even though early detection can mean all the difference in survival, most cancers in India are discovered much too late for effective treatment. People here have just not had the opportunity to learn enough about the disease to prevent it and fight it.

So CanSupport steps in and helps where others cannot or simply will not. They educate, they coordinate, and they hold hands and hearts.

So yes, even from that comfy chair, you can make a difference. I do have my tennis shoes on but I am ready to use the keyboard if I trip on my laces standing up. 😉

P.S. And I promise not to bug you about this again – have no fear, my blog is not turning into a Jerry Lewis Telethon – but unless you are buying pashmina scarfs or carpets, a little bit of money goes a long way in India. You truly have the chance here to ease someone’s suffering without sacrificing too much yourself. Thanks for thinking about it!

A Charlie Brown Christmas……………

About a year ago, I was decorating our house for Christmas and getting ready to move our family around the world. It was an overwhelming time and it felt a little rushed. In many ways, it is mostly a blur. Immediately after Christmas, I literally stuffed all the decorations into boxes, shoved them in the closets, and checked one more thing off my to do list. Christmas – done and undone – check. Then I began really focusing on moving my family to India.

What I didn’t realize is that almost exactly a year later, I would visit Singapore all decorated for Christmas and I would hear Christmas songs in every store. That I would buy candy canes in Singapore just because I could – they just don’t seem to be available in Delhi. And that when I got home I would just stick them in the cabinet. Because we were treeless. I don’t think I have ever been treeless. In fact, we usually put up two tress in the U.S. – one that has decorations the kids made and one that no one is allowed to touch but me. But now, all of our decorations are in the U.S. – except for a few that I bought at a craft show a few weeks ago.

My parents got divorced when I was pretty young, so I often celebrated Christmas twice. My mother’s birthday is Christmas day. It’s always been a wonderful time of year for me. After I got married, we started celebrating Christmas three or four times – just depending on how many different groups of family members were gathering together. Christmas Eve with number one hubby’s family is a wonderful, cherished tradition. Christmas morning with most of my family is magical. Then of course, we have our own party of five celebration. Throw in a few parties and some cookie baking and a white elephant gift exchange and you have yourself a Christmas season.

Well, most of that simply cannot happen when you live around the world from the people you hold most dear. Even putting up decorations seems like just going through the motions. But not being able to put up decorations is really depressing. We will be home for literally 20 hours Christmas day – the rest of the time we will be traipsing around the world. We are counting our blessings and know just how very lucky we are. But, something is missing.

Until last night. Last night, number one hubby brought home this. Now you know how he earns his status. Today after school we are going ornament shopping. We might even make some hot chocolate and sing a few Christmas songs.

Charlie Brown would be very, very proud. (For those of you not familiar with Charlie Brown – he is a cartoon character and one of his stories is about how he finds this little twig of a tree and brings it to life with love and lights. He turns nothing into magic with the spirit of Christmas.)

P.S. Someone is probably curious – so I will go ahead and answer the question now – yes, there are over a million Christians in India and they celebrate Christmas. Lucky for us! There are stores that sell trees and ornaments and decorations. It’s just that the town won’t be all decked out in red and green – it’s a big difference! But it feels better now.

Document this………………

During the past two weeks, I have nearly used up my 15 minutes of fame. First, auditioning for a movie and then meeting with a lady who films documentaries.

Chances are very good that I will not appear in either film. But both opportunities have really been “life experiences” that I will not forget. In fact, I will probably bore you to tears by telling you these two stories over and over again.

The woman who is producing the documentary is Yasmin Kidwai. She found my blog and sent me an email. She is filming a documentary called “Indian by Choice.”

Here is what she wrote:

I just came across your blog. Very interesting. I am making a film-a documentary on Indians by Choice-People who have chosen to live in India-I could not find any information about you on your blog. If you think you fit into this film and would like to  share your experience with me  pls call me. Thanks…i look forward to hearing from you.

Yes, I heard that collective gasp – no, I don’t really “fit” the theme of the film because we absolutely plan to return home. Yasmin is really looking for people who have chosen to make India their home and not just people who have come here for work. (If that is you, please let me know – I can put you in contact with Yasmin.)

When I called Yasmin back, she realized that I might not be the right person and she ended our conversation by telling me if I could find a compelling reason to include us in the film, I should email her. Honestly, what she said offended me a little – what did she mean, compelling reasons? So, I wrote back to her – then I edited it and sent this:

This is me from A Reason To Write – India (a blog about our life in India). I called you this morning in response to your email about my blog.

You asked me to write to you if I could find compelling reasons to include us in your documentary. Please forgive me for saying so, but that comment took me by surprise. It almost came across as though we could not be sincere global citizens if we came here merely for employment.

It sounds like you are looking for people who have chosen to live here for reasons other than work. My husband found a job that afforded him the opportunity to bring our family to India. He has worked with Indian people in the U.S. for many years and has tremendous respect for the Indian culture and ways of  life. He wanted us to be able to experience life in India first hand for so many reasons. He could have simply brought us to visit – but he knew that was not the same as living here. Immersing ourselves in a life so foreign to what we had been used to.

Mainly, it is good to see the world outside the bubble you are used to – wherever that bubble is. And India could not be more different from the U.S. in tremendous ways – some good, some not so great. It is important to understand that the world is not the same everywhere for everyone. I think by living in India our family has found more gratitude and more grace and has become more willing to reach out to those around us. We are coming to appreciate the world in new ways and embrace the differences. And where we do not have the understanding to embrace the differences, we are working to at least accept them.

My husband also came for the experience of working in the outsourcing industry – to understand how it is changing the world economy. India is changing the way America operates and the best way to understand that is to be here living it everyday.

You also asked about my writing. India has opened that door for me. It was our decision to move here that inspired me to follow my passion of writing. Moving to India has given me “A Reason To Write.” It has been amazing to chronicle our experiences here. To journal memories I do not want to escape me when we leave here. To relight my joy of the written word.

And, yes, we do plan to leave here. Our home is in the U.S. because our life long friends and our family are there. But India will never leave us. It is shaping who were are and how we want to interact with the world. You cannot live here and remain unchanged. And that is why my husband wanted us to come.

Best wishes on a very successful documentary. Please do not discount those of us who have come to live in India thru a job opportunity. Our appreciation of India should not be dampened by the means we used to get here. Thanks again.

Yasmin wrote back and invited me for an interview. I still don’t really fit the theme of her film but it was a real treat to meet her. She is a mother and a woman and a person trying to understand how foreigners come to love India and never leave it. I can appreciate all of that.

If you have been following this blog for a while you might already appreciate the irony in this post. Just in case you are new – here it is. When my husband asked me if I wanted to move our family to India, I asked him if that was a new street in our neighborhood. I could barely fathom it. Although I knew from the very moment he asked me that we would be moving, I just had a hard time accepting it. And now, well now, I am defending my right to be here, embracing all that India has given us, and absorbing the changes we are seeing in ourselves and in our kids. I guess that is just about as full circle as it gets.

Lights, Camera, Action…………

So, here is some of what has been happening in the land of living far away from home.

My family auditioned to be in a movie. Yep, all of us. Even hubby. I know, shut up! How fun is that? We did not get any speaking parts. But we were invited to be extras in a wedding scene for the movie.

We had to wake up at 3am yesterday morning and arrive on the set at 5:30am. Yep, that is very early. Nope, nobody was too excited about it – except for me. But my family loves me  – so they sucked it up and tagged along. I even convinced one of my friends to brave the pre-dawn hours and take a chance at stardome.

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When we arrived, we had to go to the wardrobe tent and have our outfits approved. Then we went to hair and makeup. The makeup artist put blue eyeshadow on my eyelids – I have not worn blue eye shadow since 8th grade – so if I make it into the movie – just remember – that was the decision of a professional makeup artist – not yours truly. They decided my hair was pretty much helpless and left it straight. Everyone else got some sort of fancy wedding updo. At least I will look like myself – well, myself with unusually blue eyeshadow.

Then we were taken to the set to wait. and wait. and wait. and wait some more. Angel asked me what time it was every 5 minutes – so that made the morning go much more quickly drag on f.o.r.e.v.e.r.

When we got to the waiting area, we were shown this sign…

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And they were not kidding. They actually did confiscate someone’s camera. She was none too happy – but apparently, the rules are the rules.

All in all, it was a lot of fun. I cannot give away too many details or they might confiscate my blog – but have no fear – I will have (much) more to share as soon as I can.

Challenges…….

Last night at our neighborhood swim meet, I talked with several people…………..

One family whose daughter just had her 2nd heart surgery. She is 6 months old. She has one more surgery to go.

Another family is recently divorced. Augh on so many levels.

Another mom just had a hysterectomy. Her daughter was sad she could not be there. Her other daughter passed away very unexpectedly just a few months ago.

Another mom walked by crying. I have no idea why. She was smiling later. But not her normal, full-faced smile.

Another family’s grandfather just had his surgery delayed for the 3rd time because he has an infection in his toe. This surgery is to put a shunt in his brain. He likely needs to have that surgery sooner than later.

Another family is waiting for news.

You never really know the burden someone is bearing. How their hearts are bending and breaking and trying to mend.

As I sat with one family, we talked about how we take for granted living in the same house with our family. How we just assume that we will always be together under the same roof. That we will wake up and eat breakfast at the same table. Whether it is a hospital stay or a business trip or even a simple sleepover with friends, there are nights we will spend apart.

I am looking forward to getting my family all back together under one roof. It’s been too long.

For the love of toilets…………..

In an effort to get out and see more of Delhi, I took the kids to the Toilet Museum. They thought I was kidding. It is actually (kind of) funny that in a land where bathrooms are hard to find that there is a museum dedicated to all things toilet.

And if you are in the U.S. and you are thinking, “dang, now I have to go to Delhi, I must see the toilet museum,”  – fear not. In Wisconsin there is also a toilet museum. In fact, I think it is the world’s largest toilet museum. You can thank Kohler for that. And if I understood things correctly, there is also a toilet paper museum. No need for a passport.

If you don’t believe me – click this link for the museum in Delhi – http://www.sulabhtoiletmuseum.org/pg01.htm. I knew it was going to be good when the first line of the link said you should seek help if you have ever wondered what a toilet museum would be like.

I have to say it was interesting. For example, did you know that John Harrington invented the modern toilet. I just happen to love this guy! Yes, I heart John Harrington and that big fluffy collar of his.

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And did you know that the reason Americans call the toilet the John is because John Douglass was famous for making pottery basins for the toilet and he would sign them John? An artist must sign his work. Sign he did. See, now you will sleep better tonight because you know that.

This made me laugh. It is a replica of an outhouse type toilet used at construction sites in the U.S. many, many years ago. I don’t know if you can read the signs but the door on the top says “Management” and the door on the bottom says “Employees”. It’s disgusting and hysterical at the same time. And no, there was not a hole in the ceiling of the employee section.

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In Thailand, they are teaching elephants to use the toilet so that the tourists are not constantly side-stepping big piles of poo (not the technical term, but you get the idea). I once considered trying to toilet train our cats.  However, I spent what felt like years getting Number One Hubby to put the seat down – cats would require the seat to be up. I quickly checked “potty training the cats” off my bucket list. But this takes over-achieving to a whole new level.

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This is a picture of the man who loves all things toilet. He was charming and very informative. And, yes, that is a picture of Jennifer Lopez. She is apparently even famous at the toilet museum because at one point Ben Affleck gave her a bejeweled toilet. Now, that is love.

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There was a very detailed explanation of how this traveling port-a-potty works. I have to be honest, there were a couple of times when we all zoned out. So, I did not catch the whole idea behind it – but I think you can figure it out.

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This man in Seoul built his house in the shape of a toilet. Did you know that there was a World Toilet Association? You do now.

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And the award for the most expensive toilet goes to………..drum roll please…………. NASA. Shocking.

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Remember I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet, so you must do with this info what you will….

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This toilet has an incinerator at the bottom and makes ashes out of waste.

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And then there were the mascots – seriously – there are mascots. Can you guess their names?

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I didn’t tell you everything – I didn’t want to spoil all the surprises, just in case you decide to visit. The tour takes about half an hour.

It turns out that the toilet museum is not just about toilets. It is located on a campus where they are studying waste management. The curator offered a tour of that part of the facility as well, but we opted out of that seeing that section.

The tour was free, although I did give a donation at the end of the tour.

It might sound crazy, but we enjoyed ourselves and we laughed the whole way home. Now I have a whole new threat to level against them – if you aren’t good, I will tell your friends you went to the toilet museum – and LIKED it. And it was a fabulous opportunity for my children to see that if you are enthusiastic about your “work”, you will love your job and you will bring joy to other people. Who would have thought that we would make such great family memories at the toilet museum?