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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!

Beijing – Olympic Park and Panda Bears………

While we were in Beijing, we wanted to see Olympic Park. This was an interesting thing to accomplish.

I don’t know if all tours are run like this in China or if we just got some bad tour mojo….. but …. yikes. Our travel agent planned an itinerary for our day and a half in Beijing. We asked to go to the Great Wall – the section that you walk up and luge down. That did not happen. We went to the wall and walked up but we also had to walk down. That was a big bummer!

He also coordinated visits for us to see the Summer Palace and Ming’s Tomb. I ask you – why would we go to stuffy ole Ming’s tomb when we could see where Michael Phelps made history? Duh? And why would we go to the Summer Palace when we could see the Panda bears. I mean, really. Honestly, if we would have had more time, we would have so gone to Ming’s Tomb and the Summer Palace but time was short and we were traveling with three younguns who love to swim – so priorities, right?

When we got on the tour mobile, we asked to make some changes to our original schedule. OOOOOOOppppps. Apparently that is not acceptable – well, it can be acceptable if you are willing to pay more. Huh? We wanted to change two sites for two other sites. In America, we call that a “no-brainer” – in China it is apparently called an “increase in fees”. Got it.

We were also told that we were going to be charged more money because we were not going shopping. You read that right – n.o.t. going shopping. Huh? We did not ask to go shopping. And, shopping was not on our original schedule. But, now we were going to pay to not shop. Hmmmmmm.

Oh, and our tour guide was happy to take us by an ATM machine so we could pay in cash. Yeah, how do you think that worked out for her?

So, very long, very frustrating story short – we made the changes and only had to pay extra for the zoo fees. Now, that makes more sense.  And hubby had sense enough to suggest insist that our travel agent in Delhi be billed by our guide’s travel agency directly in Beijing – no cash transactions, thank you very much. So nice of you to offer though. tee hee. (Now you know I did not just marry hubby for his good looks.)

We quickly put it all behind us and walked in awe through Olympic Park. It is a pretty cool place. Most of the signage in China is in, well, Chinese – so it was fun to see this sign that we could actually read.

The bird’s nest was huge and fabulous…

And then, of course, the water cube. Unfortunately it was not open – but we used our imagination. 😉 I could easily imagine Bear, Flower, and Angel diving off the same block that Michael Phelps used. Can’t you?

And the fun mascots…

And how can you go to Olympic Park and not take a picture of the rings? You can’t, right?

There were some pretty awesome statues throughout the park. And if you stand at angle with the sun in your eyes and lean to the left and lift one foot up, this guy absolutely resembles Michael Phelps.

Her, not so much…

Not too sure what this symbolizes – but it looked cool enough…

Maybe he was trying to envision the swimming statue as Michael Phelps, too? What? He could be. Or, maybe, it’s just hard to hold a sailboat with no arms.

The sign wasn’t much help either…

Sure, it’s nice information to know, but it didn’t so much help on the interpretation side of things.

Travel in China is different than what we have experienced in the rest of Asia. Truly, not many of the people we encountered spoke English. This lady and her sister were so kind to help hubby negotiate with a vendor for a better price on the stuffed mascots. If you plan to visit China, learn from our mistakes, you’ll want to know this about shopping with vendors in Beijing (and perhaps all of China). It is wise to have money in smaller denominations. Otherwise the vendors are likely to give you counterfeit bills as change. Wanna know how we know that? Go ahead. Take a guess.

We tried to buy her sister a set of mascots too but the only thanks she wanted was a picture with our family.

Next, we headed over to the zoo. Fun Fun. We have seen a panda or two at the zoo in Washington, DC, but the Beijing zoo has at least a dozen of them. And here was another sign we could read.

And these guys were fabuloso!


The pandas also had this wonderful playground.

But this guy was just too tired to play. So cute!

Anybear, we did have a wonderful afternoon and hope to go back some time and see more of the historical stuff.

Storytime…………………

On a recent trip to the Taj Mahal, I met the most amazing tour guide. He was Muslim but really he was everything. I don’t think I have ever met a person with such an open heart and kind spirit. Really. His perspective on everything was open minded and cheerful. He prayed to Allah on our behalf in the dome of the Taj Mahal, he told us Hindu stories, he simply embraced all that is good in the world.

One of my friends asked him how Indians feel about the British – how they ruled – the after effects of their leaving – just in general.

He said that some people were probably resentful. And then he held up a bottle of water and said, “But if you give me a bottle of water, then take back a capful of water, I am still left with a very full bottle of water.”

This is my new perspective. I still have a very full bottle of water – and, yes, you can remind me of that if you see the need to! 😉

And if you need a tour guide the next time you are in Agra – Ali is the guy!

Ali
+91 93585 06021
ali_alltime@hotmail.com
furqan_agra@yahoo.com

401, Bibhab Residency
Near Hotel Amar
Fatehabad road
Agra 282 001

More Mumbai………..

Here are some more of the sites we visited in Mumbai.

This traffic sign was a little unnerving. Just in case you cannot read it, it says “Don’t touch unclaimed articles, they could be explosives.” Yeah, welcome to Mumbai. Of course, they are cautious – they have experienced real threats of danger and actual danger firsthand. But it wasn’t exactly the salutation I was hoping for. And, yes, I left all unclaimed articles very much untouched. Thank you very much.

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We spent most of the time in the car because we just did not have that much time to get out at each stop. But, the slums are very big and overwhelming even in drive by mode.

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But of course, there is beauty too. These are the hanging gardens. If you are in a hurry, you can really skip this part – but if you just want to take a short walk on pretty grounds, this is a lovely place to do it. They have a few shrubs that are cut in to the shapes of animals which were fun to see and some beautiful flowers.

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As we were driving near one of the train stations, we saw walls and walls of graffiti. There are some very talented graphic artists on the streets of Mumbai.

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This is one of the train stations. And it is true that there are compartments that only women ride in.

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We also passed by this flower market.

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I have more to share – but I know too many photos make a slow computer, so come back soon for More, More Mumbai.

Putting it all on the line…………

On our recent trip to Mumbai, we managed a quick tour of the city. This was by far my favorite stop. The laundry district….

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In this area, thousands of garments are washed every day. It was an amazing array of colors amidst a very gray and drab backdrop.

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India is such a land of dichotomies – really, call centers are changing the way America’s operates (and the world for that matter) and yet, here is laundry being done the old fashioned way. And even though I can imagine a million ways to do it better – this does work.

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I could have really stayed here all day and watched this process unfold – but, alas, I had a battle of the bands competition to get to.

Casting stones…………

While I have been trying to decide whether our cook is dishonest or whether our guard is dishonest or whether I really even care at all, I have been living in a glass house and tossing a few pebbles of my very own. It seems that I have become what I hate the most – T.H.A.T. parent. My imperfection came through loud and clear not too long ago and I sincerely offer my apologies to anyone who I have dubiously dubbed “that” parent in the past. I am now dining on my previously heartfelt declarations of “how could they” and “why would they” and am suffering the indignity of my own recent indiscretions.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to Mumbai for a swim meet. There wasn’t a lot of time left for sightseeing beyond the edges of the pool deck. So, when some friends of ours invited us to go on a bus tour of the city, we jumped right on. We don’t really have plans to return to Mumbai because there is so much we want to see outside of India. That meant that the tour sounded like a good way to take in a few sights quickly. We could at least say we had “seen” Mumbai. We landed in Mumbai in the early afternoon, went to the hotel, washed our faces, and started the tour.

It took a little bit longer than we thought it would. Traffic in Mumbai is crazy. So we got to dinner late. Very late. Bear and Flower were spending the day with host families so they were not with us. But Angel (our youngest) had no choice but to tag along. In her full glory, she fell asleep right in the middle of a battle of the bands competition at the Hard Rock Cafe Mumbai at ten o’clock at night. We even sat in the bar area – just to make it more ridiculous.

I have cast many a stone at parents who “find it necessary” to keep their young children out late at night. I can only imagine what I would have said about myself had I seen me drinking a glass of wine with Angel asleep next to me. Tsk. Tsk. I managed to successfully navigate my 7 year old through a bar at 10p at night in the midst of music playing so loudly that she surely lost some of her ability to hear – and yes, people were smoking and drinking and gyrating. Gasp. It was not my finest hour. I will be casting those stones no more.

The other adults with us ate super fast so that we could scoot out as quickly as possible. But I did manage to finish my glass of wine first. And yes, I bribed her to be good with a teddy bear from the gift shop. He can keep her company while I leave her completely unattended to accept my mother of the year award. Brittany Spears nominated me so I have no choice but to accept. 😉

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When Pages Come Alive (part 2)………….

If you haven’t read When Pages Come Alive (part 1), you might want to start there.

Across this river is where Shah Jahan had intended to have his own mausoleum built. It was barely started. You can still see the outline of bricks – but not much more than that. He had intended to build it with all black stones. He wanted to connect the two buildings with a bridge. But it was not to be. (And, yes, Angel was tired of having her picture taken.)

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This next picture has nothing to do with the Taj Mahal – but there is a very nice man there who will help you feed the chipmunks. We gave him a little tip to say thank you. Yes, this is just like going to Disney and spending a day at the hotel pool – it is one of the things my kids will remember most about being in Agra.

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There are two identical buildings on either side of the Taj Mahal. They both look like this. If I remember right, one is for prayer and the other for ceremony. Don’t quote me on that.

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On to the Agra Fort. Only 20% of the fort is open to visitors. The remaining 80% is used by the military. The fort was built during the lives of 4 different rulers. One king had a grape garden for wine making. Yummy. Another king was married to three different women – a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Christian. Very open minded for a king from so long ago – well, minus the having three wives part.

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This is the chamber where Shah Jahan was imprisoned and the view of the Taj Mahal he was given.

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The ceiling in this room used to all be outlined in gold and looters took care of that . Sadly, this little section is all that is left.

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One last thing, this is how they clean the fort and the Taj Mahal. They spread mud on it and then clean off the mud. That makes perfect sense. And shhhh, don’t my kids that cleaning something by smearing it with mud first is an effective process. They can be literal thinkers, remember?

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Well that is our visit of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. There are surely a few little tidbits here and there that I have forgotten. So, I’ll probably write more later. If you have any quesitons, just ask me.

Oh yes, and the Agra fort has a lot of monkeys. Don’t get too close. Hell hath no fury like a monkey scorned.

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