The Genesis of My Book

In a sense, the writing of my book was a long journey which began with falling in love. Thirty-seven years ago I looked up from my desk to see a slim, young man with handsome features walk into the office directly across from mine. With the door open, I could study his profile as he sat in a chair in my line of sight. He had skin the color of caramel, and jet black hair which fell over his ear and was long enough in back to skim the top of his white collared shirt. I tried to get back to work but every so often, I found myself looking up to confirm his presence. As he left the office, he looked over at me with deep, brown eyes under a canopy of long eyelashes. I won’t say it was love at first sight, but it was certainly attraction at first sight. Eventually, we were introduced, started dating, fell in love and decided to marry. A not so unusual story except that I was a nice Jewish girl from suburban Connecticut and he was a Muslim from Pakistan where marriages were customarily arranged by your parents. In those days, communication between the U.S. and Pakistan was difficult. A phone call had to be “booked” two weeks in advance and unless you had a lot of disposable income, your conversation was limited to five minutes. When my husband called to inform his parents he was engaged and wanted to arrange for our marriage in Lahore, there was a few seconds of stunned silence from his parents’ end, and then a very brief exchange of information that mostly related to the dates of arrival and departure.

I can still remember every detail of my wedding journey. My soon-to-be husband had flown home a few days ahead of me, and I had about a twenty hour trip to contemplate what might await me when I reached my destination. As the first foreign bride in his family and the only one to be chosen by the groom, would I be accepted? Strangely, I had few misgivings. Maybe it was because I had faith in my then fiancé’s judgment, or maybe it was because I had the advantage of existing in a time period when Pakistan and its people were rarely scrutinized in the media. It could be I was just incredibly naïve. Still, I had the same case of nerves most women have when they are faced with the prospect of meeting their fiancé’s parents for the first time. As I stepped into the main hall of the airport, I saw my fiancé in front of a large crowd of smiling people. At first I thought they were waiting for other passengers, but no, they were his parents, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins, there to welcome me!

From the first day of my marriage I was treated as a member of the family and over the years I began to feel as much at home with my husband’s family as I did with my own. After 9/11, I found the average American’s perception of Muslims and Pakistanis disturbing. About five years ago, a desire to enter the conversation about Islam and Pakistan led me to come up with an idea for a short story. When I discussed my idea with my husband, he commented that it sounded more like a book to him. I had doubts about my ability to write a novel. At that time I had only tried my hand at short stories, the longest one being a mere five thousand words. I couldn’t imagine writing fifteen times that number of words. But, both the story in my head and a desire to give this gift to my husband’s family kept me going. Five years later, Beneath a Shooting Star, was published.

A Lifetime of Books

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books, and when I think back over my life, each period of my development is connected to the books I was reading. Two of my early favorites were by Swedish authors. I was enchanted by Pippi Longstocking; a tomboyish, quirky character whose adventures were chronicled in a series of books under her name. And, as an identical twin, I felt a kinship with the identical triplets in Flicka, Ricka, Dicka. Later, I collected an American series about multiples, this time a duo of fraternal twins – The Bobbsey Twins.
As a child, my mother tried very hard to get me interested in music. When my sister and I were about eight or nine, she signed us up for piano lessons. Although I constantly had to be reminded to practice, she was pleased that I was so eager to go to my lessons. Unbeknownst to her, the only reason I went willingly was because my music teacher had a waiting room filled with wonderful children’s books for me to read while I waited for my sister to finish her lesson. The most memorable of these books was a complete set of Winnie the Pooh stories. Unfortunately, I lacked musical talent, and after two painful years, I was still struggling through a beginner book because I still hadn’t mastered note reading. When my teacher suggested that my mother might find a better use for her money, I was devastated. There were still so many fascinating books in her waiting room I had not even begun to read.
Growing up, my sister and I went to the library every week and checked out six books, the maximum allowed, which we quickly devoured. By the time I was in grade six, I had read every book in the children’s section of the library. With my parents’ permission, I was allowed to take out books from the adult section of the library. Occasionally, the librarian would steer me to particular books but for the most part, I was on my own. I chose books by roaming the aisles, and pulling out books whose titles caught my fancy. If the story summary on the book flap sounded interesting, I would check the book out. This led to some strange, and is some cases, questionable choices for someone my age. I can’t remember ever being forbidden to take any book out. In retrospect, this astonishes me since this was in the late 50’s and early 60’s when children’s access to the full spectrum of life’s experiences was curtailed by society. For example, all books on “the facts of life” were kept in a bookcase behind the librarian’s desk, under lock and key, and only relinquished to adults upon request.
I love a good mystery, a preference that was nurtured at ages ten or eleven by Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys mystery series. The summer after my second year in law school, I was doing legal grunt work in the law department of a mutual fund company. It was bottom of the heap, tedious, boring work with stress inducing deadlines. My roommate, and now long time best friend, was also a voracious reader. I can’t remember how the challenge came about, but we decided to try and read every Agatha Christie mystery in the Boston Public Library. And by the end of the summer, we did. Now my favorite mysteries are by authors like P.D. James, Tana French, Louise Penny, Tony Hillerman, and Ruth Rendell, to name just a few.
Currently, the books I read most frequently are literary fiction by authors like Anthony Doerr, Abraham Verghese, Ann Patchett and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Literary fiction informs my own writing style and I love the astounding way these authors use language. Occasionally, I will stray into other genres. I discovered the pleasure of magical realism when I read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and of course, I still can’t resist a good mystery.
I have a long list of books I would like to read and another list of books I want to go back and reread. And, every year there are authors I know and admire or new talented writers that take a universal story and remake it into something new, surprising and ultimately satisfying. It is comforting to know there will be an adequate supply to last me the rest of my life. And if I were to picture a perfect death, it would be in a chair with a book in my hand.

A Writer’s Malady – Procrastination

Writing is difficult work. Every day you face a blank page that you must populate with just the right words to move your story forward. Unlike other jobs, there are few tangible rewards, no bi-monthly paychecks or praise from a boss. However, when the writing is going well, it is difficult to describe the high you get. Your brain is on overdrive, the words in your head speeding ahead of your fingers on the keyboard. You can’t believe how brilliant and moving your words are; this is award winning stuff. Time goes by at supersonic speed and suddenly you realize that the sky outside your window is darkening, you’ve missed an appointment, the pile of dirty laundry is still lying on the floor in a heap and you never took the components for dinner out of the freezer. Unfortunately, wellsprings of inspiration are an infrequent occurrence. Here is how it usually goes.

I set myself a schedule to write for four hours. I sit down at my computer, my mind as blank as the screen. I open up my document and read through what I wrote the previous day. I tweak a word or two and check the time. Five minutes have passed. I read the titles of the books stacked on my bookcase and study a hang nail on one of my fingers. I should take care of that, I think, and search in my purse for a nail file. Once I file the offending nail, its shorter length looks strange compared to my other nails and I take the time to remedy the situation. I look at the time, another fifteen minutes have passed. I write a couple of sentences, read them over, delete them. What I need is a something to drink. I go into the kitchen and make myself some hot chocolate – unfortunately I’m not a coffee drinker so that’s the best I can do for a brain booster. I sip as I stare at the screen. I write a paragraph and then review it. I do a word count, 185 more words. I look out the window and watch two squirrels chasing each other. Why are they doing that? It’s not mating season. Do squirrels chase each other as a form of play? I google squirrel behavior. Ah, it’s a way to establish or maintain dominance – good to know.

On bad days, there are endless ways to procrastinate and it can eat up a huge amount of the time that you’ve set aside to write. So how do I combat it? When my mind refuses to cooperate, I try free writing, putting down whatever words pop into my head even if it’s complete nonsense. Sometimes this will trigger an idea. Other times, I go back to previous pages and refine what I’ve already written and this can bring me to the next new sentence or paragraph. Or, I try writing about an event that happens later in the book. Writing ahead of where I am can sometimes make me think of what has to come before it. I often find that listening to music frees up my mind. If all else fails, I leave it for a while, exercising or running an errand. I remind myself that even Pulitzer Prize winning authors have gone through what I am going through and the only way to be successful is to keep coming back to the page until it is done.

Getting Ready for Company

I have an exciting week coming up. I will be touring, or rather Beneath a Shooting Star will be on tour, from February 27th to March 6th. This statement makes me picture my book sprouting arms and legs like Sponge Bob Square Pants and standing in front of readers, talking about itself. However, the reality is not as whimsical but magic of a high tech sort – a virtual tour via blog sites. Seven wonderful bloggers will feature my book on their sites with a synopsis, excerpts, reviews and in one case a guest post from me!

One of the bits of information I am providing to my tour stops is a link to this website. So in case company drops by, I want to freshen up my abode (Mom always taught me to tidy up before guests arrive) and provide some entertainment (another must I learned from Mom) in the form of some new posts.

The week beginning February 27th, there will be some new posts from me to celebrate my blog tour. I hope you will enjoy them. Thanks for stopping by.

Susan

New Experiences

Since I’ve become a published author, I’ve had many new experiences. Sometimes I am taken by surprise by how much a simple thing can excite me. For example, I never would have imagined that receiving a list of the winners of my Goodreads giveaway would be so enthralling. Who were these seven women and one man? I studied the list as if by doing so I could discern their personalities and interests. One of them had the same, uncommon first name as my grandmother. Was this a sign that she would be predisposed to my book? One recipient had an address from a University town. Was she a student or a professor?  All of them came from states I had visited or driven through, including one person from a city where I had lived many years ago. It enabled me to place each one in a familiar setting which, strangely, pleased me. Autographing and packing up my books was such fun. I slipped a personal note into each package before sealing it up with a whispered wish that these strangers and I might find a connection through the story I had written.

 

Pay It Forward

Writing is a singular activity. You find an empty room and close the door or take your laptop to a cafe where nobody knows you so you won’t be disturbed. For the long hours that it takes to create a story, you are by yourself. This isolation is what makes the larger writing community so important. No matter how understanding our non-writing spouses, friends or family can be, if they are not writers they can not totally understand what we are experiencing. Fortunately, whether you live in a busy city or in a house that sits alone down a long country road, you can be a part of the writing community. There are local groups or online groups that you can rely on to advise you, commiserate with you or celebrate with you. And to be a true member of the community, I believe, you must be generous with your support.

A number of years ago I attended a writers’ conference and received some great advice from author Roxana Robinson. She told us, as writers, we should buy the literary magazines that might some day provide a home for our own work. Because, how can we expect others to support publications that send our stories out into the world if we don’t do it ourselves?

In my experience, writers are very supportive of each other. Though we may differ as individuals, we share the common bond of being engaged in the same daily struggles. A few years ago, I met Annie Kelleher, author of the Shadowlands series, at a writers’ meetup. Though we had just become acquainted, she offered to help me with a query letter I was struggling with. Recently, Nicole Blades, author of the soon to be released The Thunder Beneath Us, mentioned me and my book in her newsletter. So, I try to pay it forward by writing reviews for the books I read, and offering help to fellow writers when I can.

Yes, writing can be a lonely occupation, but I know that I am never alone.

Libraries – My Idea of Heaven

As part of marketing my book, I have been going to local libraries to ask if they will add my book to their catalog and/or allow me to do a reading for them. For me, bringing my book to a library completes the circle that started before I could puzzle out the words on a page. For it was the library of my childhood that fueled my interest in reading, and reading that turned me into a writer.

I must admit, I don’t spend as much time in libraries as I used to. They have made it too easy to download books onto my Kindle. But being back inside these special, physical spaces, made me realize how much I miss spending time there. As soon as I walk through the door, I feel at home. Although modernity has created new spaces within – work areas with computers, shelved audio books and DVDs – some things remain the same as they were in my childhood; the hushed atmosphere, the smell of inked paper, the rustle of pages, and the narrow stacks with their tightly packed shelves of books to explore.

I have been successful in persuading several libraries to purchase my book. And when I think of a book I have written sitting on their shelves, waiting for someone to pull it out; I am joyful. Because what I have worked so hard for is not a dollar in my hand, but my book in the hand of a reader.

It’s Book Launch Day!

After five years of hard work, it is finally my official publication day! I do feel tremendously excited but the capriciousness of technology has made this day less than perfect. Due to a systems problem, my eBook won’t be available for a few more days – probably by September 16th. So those of you who love to read on your Kindle, Nook or iPhone, don’t despair, your version will be listed on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iBooks very soon.

Life is full of glitches and we all have to learn to put our “problems” in perspective. So imperfect as it may be, I am thrilled to have arrived at this momentous occasion. Picture fireworks, a cake and a big cheer. That’s where I’m at.

For those of you who are sharing this occasion with me by purchasing a book, thank you so much. And please, let me know how you like it.

Diving Off the Cliff

There are all kinds of inaugural events and this blog celebrates two; my very first blog post – yes I know I’m showing my age – and my very first novel! And unlike Presidential Inaugurations, you don’t have to be a VIP to have a front row seat.

Writing a book has been a solitary occupation but now that I’m done, I see it as a very social occasion. At this point, it is all about the interaction between me and the reader. I look at writing as a conversation. I have created a story and characters to communicate ideas, feelings and points of view and last but certainly not least, to entertain. If I have no audience, I am merely talking to myself, and what’s the fun in that? Next to making people laugh, I can’t think of anything more rewarding then writing a book that has readers staying up late to finish it.

On the 13th of September,  Beneath a Shooting Star, my first novel, will be published and become part of the magical world of literature which has held me in its thrall since I was read to as a toddler. It is so exciting to visualize this creation of mine on someone’s bookshelf or in someone’s hand.

Now I’ve reached the nail biting part of the process where my novel leaves my protective custody and is sent out to be judged by the reading public. As I stand on the edge of my publication cliff, I hope my book will touch an inner chord in some of you, and you will be sad when you turn over the last page.