27 May 2008

Memorial Day Weekend

On Memorial Day me and my liberal buddies sipped Fat Tire beer out in the garden while our organic veggies that we bought from the local farmer's market were grilling on the barbecue. We mused giddily about a post-Bush Obama presidency and about an America we can soon be proud of for the first time in our lives. Yes, we are unashamedly Obama's voter base. We don't notice race or gender. We are graduates of top colleges. We drink fair trade coffee (note: we are not the Starbucks' crowd!). We eat fair trade dark chocolate. We pay attention to food miles. We drive small Japanese cars. We wake up to NPR's morning edition. We love Jon Stewart. We hate Monsanto, Rupert Murdoch, people with bumper stickers that say "God Bless America", and WalMart.

How optimistic are we? It's hard to say. We know that this is the year for the Democratic Party. It's a no-brainer. Yet, we fear the racists. If Obama loses the election, what a shameful day it will be for America. Oh, how could we then be proud of a country that proves how little progress it's made? How painful to know that something as superficial as a few pigments would have determined a disastrous outcome. Yes, race isn't just color, I know. But in Obama's case it is. He is culturally white, having grown up in a white home. He sought out, consciously to develop a black identity later in his life. So, he is truly biracial. What better candidate to unify a country as diverse as ours?

So me and my buddies soaked up the California sun and ate delicious food. The scent of jasmin filled the air and the humming birds and monarch butterflies fluttered about among rock roses. It was the kind of atmosphere that made you feel good and optimistic. I smiled with pride as I pictured Barack Obama taking the oath of office.

21 May 2008

Have you read my book yet?

I need a break! Wait, wasn't this spring supposed to be a break? Heck, you might think that once your baby (aka book) has found a home, your nurturing of it is over! Oh no! Once that baby hits the bookshelves, your work has only just begun. Sigh! If only they told me this before I became a writer. Oh well, I like my target audience - young teens. So, it's been fun going to schools and telling them about PATH TO MY AFRICAN EYES. Juggling my time between school visits, writing, gardening, and home projects, it's been one heck of a busy spring.
One of the most shocking revelations to me as I go from class to class is how few kids have heard the name Nelson Mandela. Then again, considering that many of them tell me that Martin Luther King, Jr. freed the slaves, I guess it isn't that surprising. What is happening to our kids? I blame it on eight years of GW. No child left behind, indeed! LOL.

I've had some pretty enthusiastic audiences who were pretty jazzed to have an author talk to them. They were full of questions.
Heres a sample of a question and answer session:

*What inspired you to write this book?

I grew up in South Africa, which is very much a western country. For a long time we had a white government which practised a system of racism called apartheid. After South Africa became free, black people had access to economic opportunities, resulting in a growing black middle class population. In recent visits to the country of my birth I observed that the kids of these wealthier black families are now attending formerly white school. These kids are becoming culturally 'white'. They seem to reject the traditions of their tribal relatives. It got me thinking about how confusing it must be for these kids. I, myself, as an Indian, growing up in a white dominated country, but surrounded by Africans, experienced quite a bit of confusion about my identity. The theme of identity confusion seemed like an interesting topic to explore.

*Is the book autobiographical?

Oh no. Thandi grew up in post-apartheid South Africa. She's had a privileged upbringing and a secure family life. I grew up under apartheid and all through my childhood I believed I was inferior. My parents still feel they are inferior to whites. It took me a long time to figure out the absurdity of this. But a lot of the struggles and challenges Thandi faces in a white dominated society are familiar to me too. So, in the book, I have used personal experiences, but the story is complete fiction.

*How do you go about writing a novel?

When I have an idea for a book I spend a long time thinking about my main character. My stories tend to be character driven rather than plot driven. I think of a character in particular circumstances and then it's easy to give him/her a problem to wrestle with. Once I've got my character and his/her problem nailed I draft out an outline in a notebook. I write down what the main idea for each chapter will be. I get together with my writing buddies and we have a brainstorming session. This leads to more ideas. Then I start my first draft. Once I've got a chapter written down my brain begins to churn out new ideas to add. I usually think about the story all the time - when I'm gardening, cooking, driving - so, when it's time to write the next chapter I'm ready to go. Getting feedback and being in a critique group is really important to me at this stage. My writing buddies tell me whether my ideas are working or not. You see, it's very hard to be objective - for me anyway - about my own writing. With each new chapter the story keeps developing. By the time I've reached the midpoint the rest of the chapters flow easily. In other words I know what the big idea for each subsequent chapter should be. Actually constructing the sentences may sometimes become challenging. Sometimes I think about all the lovely things I could be doing instead of sitting in front of the computer. When I'm really having trouble I get a hold of books that are similar to what I'm writing. I look for writing styles I admire and read them for inspiration. Good books with strong characters and clever language always fire me up again.

After a completed first draft, I usually go through several revisions before I feel the manuscript is ready for an editor to look at it.

Yes, yes.
Writing. Why do we do it?