Friday, January 29, 2010

Books I've Cherished

I'm following Zetta's lead and taking the Diversity Roll Call: Paradigm Shifts assignment posted over at Color Online:

Several books come immediately to mind when I think of works that shifted the way I see things--that made an impact on my life's decisions: SISTER OUTSIDER, by Audre Lorde; THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET, by Sandra Cisneros; MEAN SPIRIT, by Linda Hogan; WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME, by Marge Piercy; The FREE RENUNCIATES trilogy by Marion Zimmer Bradley; SHATTERED GLASS, by Elaine Bergstrom; and WILD SEED, by Octavia Butler.

All of these are adult books that were written before there was a category for YA. But I certainly read them when I was a YA, and they had a tremendous impact on who I became and how I saw the world around me.

SISTER OUTSIDER began my journey into looking at the world through a Black feminist lens. It opened me up to works by June Jordan, bell hooks, Dionne Brand, Cherie Moraga, Joy Kagawa, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Jeanette Winterson, Dorothy Allison, the rest of Ms. Lorde's writings, and many other unapologetic feminists of colour -- women whose words gave me ways to express aspects of myself I'd never thought could be valued.

THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET was the first book I read in print that seemed so utterly accessible. It showed me my heart, my innermost thoughts and feelings on a page where someone else wrote the words. I was simply amazed that this was possible. I loved the characters in this book -- felt like I knew them; that most of them were family.

MEAN SPIRIT blew my world apart. The writing, the magnitude and scope of the events Ms. Hogan described, and the sheer devastation of what this particular community experienced was a shattering revelation. I had read lots of non-fiction about the history of the Americas, and spent long nights chatting with First Nations friends and colleagues, and I thought I was pretty knowledgeable on the issues and topics. But when I read this book, I realized what a difference it makes reading about these types of events through story. Through fiction. And through the eyes of characters that live and breathe on the page. It was an ambitious undertaking, and Ms. Hogan did it masterfully. In my opinion, this book is one of the most brilliant and under-valued gems of fiction--multicultural or otherwise. It should be a MUST READ in every class that looks at literature by marginalized voices, and any and every class that studies American history.

WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME was shoved into my hands by a close friend. "READ THIS," she said. And I did, non-stop from the moment I opened the book. I had never read a work of feminist science-fiction before this book. I was amazed at Ms. Piercy's imagination, and her feminist commentary woven throughout the narrative. It was the first time I discovered that feminism and a social commentary could be merged with not only fiction (I'd discovered this with Audre Lorde's book), but with science-fiction. I was hooked.
The FREE RENUNCIATES trilogy and SHATTERED GLASS were books I read rather close together. Like Piercy's novel, both of these books showed me how magical feminism threaded through fantasy could be for young readers like myself. It was the first time I was seeing kick-ass heroines who needed no saving, who were out there finding their own destinies and who were shaping the world around them. SHATTERED GLASS was the first feminist vampire novel I'd ever read. The protagonist was a strong woman who was unashamed of her own sexuality and sensuality, and matched the men around her in power and ability. The concepts Ms. Bergstrom used in this novel, i.e. "vegetarian" vampires (who don't prey on humans) are the same ones Meyers later used in her mega-hit series.

And last (but certainly not least!), is Butler's WILD SEED. This book was a merging of all of the above, and really set the bar for every feminist, socially conscious fantasy/sci-fi novel I've read since. I found this book at a center for LGBTQ folks during a meeting, and started flipping through. By the end of the meeting, I was a third of the way through and could not put it down. I smuggled it home, read it that night, then smuggled it back the next day. Bad, I know. But such is the power of Ms. Butler's work. In WILD SEED, I saw characters and story and socially conscious narrative elevated to well beyond an art. I was completely absorbed in the story of these two "lovers." Their story was as epic and sweeping as any romance novel or Bollywood film, but there were layers of profound insight and revelations that struck at the very core of my belief systems. It's a book and experience I've absolutely cherished.

All of these books and authors have influenced my own work in some way. I am indebted to all of them, and so many others for breaking ground, fighting tirelessly to make way so that stories like mine and those of other marginalized voices could make their way into the world.

Save The Dates

The organization that I mentor for, Girls Write Now, is having a series of readings* throughout the spring. You are NOT going to want to miss them, I promise. Besides the amazing teens who will be reading (including my awesome mentee who is working an a kickbutt poem right this MINUTE), check out this stunning array of guests who will join us:

Friday (each reading is on a Friday), Feb. 26th: Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of WENCH
March 26th: Nami Mun, author of MILES FROM NOWHERE
April 23rd: Lizzie Skurnick, author of SHELF DISCOVERY
May 21st: Ru Freeman, author of A DISOBEDIENT GIRL
June 18th: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of THE THING AROUND YOUR NECK

All events are at The Center for Fiction, 17 East 47th Street (between Fifth and Madison), NYC, 6-8pm.

Please join us on any or all of the above dates, and help support a really special organization.

*Curated by Maud Newton

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Protecting Kids Through Honest Dialogue

A Facebook friend posted this link to her profile. It was devastating to go through some of the posts on the organization's blog and see just how prevalent child sexual abuse is in India, and the possible reasons for that. I know it's far higher everywhere than most people think, but every time I read/hear of a new case where a child is silenced or shut down, or a perpetrator is let off the hook with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, it tears me apart.

When I worked at the Children's Aid Society years ago, I went to court with a pre-teen who had been repeatedly abused by her father since she was about six. She had run away and was staying with her older sister (who accompanied us to court). The courts made the pre-teen return home to her father because her statement "lacked credibility." While it's possible she was making it all up, and I suppose she could have doctored the photos of scars and bruises, and her sister's testimony could have been in conspiracy, the evidence that children do not make this sh*t up if nothing is happening in the home is overwhelming. My kids make stuff up all the time. But this kind of stuff never even enters their radar.

I've been thinking a lot about protecting my kids and everything that means. I know some people think that protecting children means keeping certain books, films, etc. away from them. If the books are ADULT books, I agree with that. But if the books openly discuss issues in an age-appropriate way, I don't think they should be kept from the children they are meant to educate. I do think parents and care-givers have a responsibility to discuss the material with their children, however. Reading materials are not a substitute for discussion.

As someone who grew up in a home where NOTHING related to sex or the body was discussed openly, I have to say that open and honest dialogue around these types of things (in a non-threatening, age-appropriate way!) has to be one of the single most important protections for our kids.

Here are some helpful, non-threatening books I've found that address various issues kids may face -- from trauma to protecting themselves from unwanted touch:

A Terrible Thing Happened
Please Tell: A Child's Story About Sexual Abuse
My Body Is Private
Your Body Belongs to You
The Right Touch
I Said No!
Some Parts Are Not For Sharing

If you know of other great books or resources, please leave them in the comments.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


My last post got more hits than I've ever had since I began this blog. I'm thinking that, as hard and painful as the topic of race is in this country, people really want to talk about it--or at least watch others talk about it. It's an old wound, it's a festering wound, but maybe more and more people are okay with peeking at it after so long of either denying it or pretending it didn't exist--or didn't affect them.

I had to hurry off that last post because of urgent cuddling time with my sick munchkin. But I'm kind of glad I had to hurry off. It's exhausting, all this race and representation talk. When the discourse is among like-minded folks, it can be energizing, inspiring, revitalizing. But when you're constantly having to search for the right words--the words LEAST likely to be misinterpreted, LEAST likely to be taken in offense...sometimes you just want to say, "Okay, forget it. I'm gonna go fold laundry."

But me--sometimes I can't help myself. Sometimes I see people saying the most effed up stuff and I look at who they're saying it to: often those who don't have the words to defend themselves, or those who are (in Ms. Zetta's words) "the most vulnerable members of my community." And I'm reminded of my parents--intelligent adults who were reduced to stuttering fools when they couldn't find the right English words to deal with police officers, bank officials, school principals. And I have to say something. Because I do have the words. I CAN put sentences together in ways that make sense, and because of that I have the responsibility to speak up. And while I reallyreallyreally want to use wordsmithing to tell stories, to heal and transform myself (and, if possible, others), to write new worlds into existence, I can't just walk away when I know that what takes me a few minutes to articulate might never make it out of the mouths of those who need the words most.

So, I'm striving to find a balance between my two passions: working for social change* and working on my own creative pursuits. Some days I do a great job at the balance thing and allow myself to indulge in some back-patting. Other days, I watch myself get ground up and have to scrape the remnants up off the floor, as I tsk-tsk and bombard myself with I-told-you-sos.

But always...always there is laundry. And thank goodness for that.

*Though I often wonder if, given the current state of the world, any of us really have the luxury to NOT work toward social change...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Who Gets to Represent?

Zetta just pointed me to this post on Read Roger. I was in the midst of writing a response when I realized it was becoming more of an essay. So, here are some of my thoughts, rather quickly as I have a sick kid on the sofa (asleep right now, but...):

My guess is that if this publisher (Bloomsbury) released books written by authors of colour, they would feature PoC on the covers because they would likely be ABOUT race. But then again, we'll never know, really, because all of the books I've seen by Bloomsbury--books with characters of colour--have been written by white authors (this was the first book I found on their current list, after going through about eight pages on the site, that was clearly written by a PoC--and it does feature a PoC on the cover).

This: "would Liar and Magic Under Glass have been published if their authors were not white...?" is a great question. I've also wondered about the reverse: If a book like A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT were written by a white author, would it have found an agent or publisher?

In answering questions for an interview recently, it dawned on me that many books clearly for and about children/teens of colour seem to fall under "educational," while much of the fun, romance, and adventure reads feature all-white casts, written for a clearly-targeted white audience, by white authors.

Two thoughts on that: 1) Must we consistently get lumped into the "to study" category? And 2) While I'm glad that Bloomsbury is publishing books with characters of colour, I resent the implication that I should be *grateful* for this, as if publishers are doing PoC a favour by representing the world as it truly is. And as if white authors are doing children/teens of colour a favour by doing the same thing. Why aren't people expected to reflect the world with all its true colours?

When white authors write characters of colour, their careers are not hindered. In fact, they may get the traditional pat-on-the-back response whenever the privileged represent those they have privilege over. When authors of colour write books featuring white protagonists and all-white casts, their careers are not negatively impacted. I am not applauded or thanked when I write white characters in my books because I am expected to.

When authors of colour dare to feature protagonists of colour, or people their books primarily with characters of colour, our challenges to getting published are vast. If we do somehow manage to get published, our books are "educational," or about race and "other"-ness -- and we are almost never lead titles. Many of us struggle to get a second book published (Mitali Perkins waited over ten years to have her second book published), and to get the marketing and publicity support we need to reach our audience. (This last bit is probably true for the majority of authors, regardless of race or background, but it is definitely compounded for PoC).

I'll post more on this later, if I can. Right now, I have a sick little munchkin to attend to.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Thoughts on Avatar

I wasn't sure I wanted to go, really, and fought feelings of not wanting to support another Dances With Wolves type of film that exalted the redemption of White Male Saviour. And Avatar certainly had that. I went fully expecting to hate it because of everything I'd read from respected colleagues and friends. And I'm far from being a Cameron fan -- though my guess is that, as usual, he had tons of input from plenty of other creative minds (who will, most likely, never get credit for it).

Could be that my expectations were so low, but I came out of the theater loving the movie. That's right, I said it: "loving." The movie was visually stunning--which I expected. After all, a budget of four hundred million dollars and a shooting location in Hawaii should buy you some pretty shots, shouldn't it?


But I found the film to be slightly more than the racial cow-patty it has been in some discourses. It absolutely has that element--I'm not disputing it. That part DID annoy me. And maybe if I had gone in not knowing I'd encounter that, I'd be more enraged. But as it was, I went in expecting to be offended. But I was far less offended than I thought I'd be.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not excusing the inherent white male fantasy in the film. There was a most gag-worthy scene where these gorgeous, neon, jelly-fish type of "seeds" from a sacred soul-tree drifted onto the main character, Jake Sully, and settled on his skin, covering his arms, face, and torso and creating a very Jesus-like image. And of course, it was the white male channeled through the Na'vi who rode the biggest dragon in to save the day. So, if you go, DO be prepared for that. And the argument that all the main PoC characters are painted in blue throughout the entire film is totally valid. But, again, I went in knowing all this, so I wasn't surprised and didn't feel the need to retch as soon as I got out of the theater.

So, having said all that... there were some things I was truly impressed with -- not just because my expectations were significantly lowered, but because no one has really touched on these in a lot of the conversations I've been privy to:

1) The women were kickass. Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana) was FIERCE. If this was a film I could take my girls to (can't, they're too young), I would LOVE for them to see Neytiri. Why can't we have more Neytiris on celluloid? On covers of books? On television? She was strong, full of integrity, beautiful, sensual, confident, protective, nurturing, and did I mention FIERCE? Her number one priority was her people. She didn't just see this exotic white boy and fall madly, deeply in love; completely and utterly giving up her own destiny and her people. Her allegiance was clear from the first moment she met the outsider -- who, for the record, looked *exactly* like her people because he was a hybrid, an inter-species mix of human and Na'vi. Neytiri is totally my shero. She could fight. She knew how to tame and ride a horse AND a dragon. And she didn't need anyone to save her. In fact, she was the saviour, in the end. NOT the white male.

In fact, I'm trying to remember if there was a negative female portrayal at all, and my mind is drawing a blank. The scientist, the pilot, Neytiri, her mother . . . all intense, powerful, principaled women.

2) The spiritual sensibility woven throughout the film. The idea of ancestral connection really resonated with me. This is a concept I grew up with as an Indian woman, a Sikh woman. It's a concept indigenous peoples all over the world are intimately familiar with. And it's a basic Truth of life that the west is only now, perhaps, beginning to embrace. But nonetheless, it's an important concept that should, in my opinion, be incorporated into daily life.

All of the spiritual threads hit home for me. The idea of real, biological connections between the earth, animals, plants, and humans; the concept of Earth as mother (there is an old Bollywood film called Mother India in which Dharti Maa -- Mother Earth -- is repetitively enforced throughout); the idea of energy flow among all living things.

And the fact that all of the spiritual elements were led and upheld by women were another point of resonance. Something I rarely see in mainstream media in any form. In fact, spirituality that is not reduced to a tool of capitalism is something not often portrayed in mainstream media.

3) The exalting of collaborative effort over individual gain. This was a value of the Navi (who seemed to be a mix of indigenous cultures from all over the globe, but a most identifiable similarity was with the Maasai of Eastern Africa--the dress, body type, jewelry, etc.). Connection was a sacred belief. That we are all a connected, bonded network, and what happens to one, affects us all.

5) There was some obvious critique of colonization. Those of us who are aware of the horrors of colonization and imperialism were, in all likelihood, not shocked by the destruction of Pandora at the hands of the colonizers. But for people who never have to face these realities, it very likely was a revelation. And there were clear references to the Bush agenda and approach to foreign relations throughout.

When I left the theater, I caught an older white woman's conversation on her cell phone: "Oh, my gawd, it was horrible. SO depressing, I can't even talk about it." [think Long Island accent]

I wracked my brain to find where the depressing part was, and the only thing I could come up with was the devastation of colonization. Because to me, the end was somewhat inspiring. And the whole film was about resistance--relentless, unceasing resistance which culminates in ultimate victory for those under siege. How unusual to see that in a Hollywood film--particularly when the enemy is a depiction of the American military (for contrast, see this site for a detailed timeline of Paramount's casting decisions for the upcoming film, Airbender. The villains are all PoC, and the heroes are all white).

In the end, this is the way I see it: if we want films (books) to truly and accurately represent us, we need to own our own production houses (publishing houses). There are enough of us out there who are gainfully employed that getting together and starting something could be a reality. But, instead of doing that, we spend all of our energy elbowing our way into the Big House.

This is one film from the Big House that actually got some things right. It got some things wrong, too, but that is to be expected when we are not at the reins, no? It wasn't an independent production. Its aim was to appeal to the masses. And yet, it still portrayed some unpopular ways of looking at life, women, spirituality, American militarism, the Bush agenda, colonization and imperialism. When we're looking to others to represent us, then we have to keep fighting for them to get it right. OR, we can say, "You know what? Fark you. You keep screwing up, so I'm doing my own sh*t."

And since none of us have done that yet (on the scale of Twentienth Century Fox), I'm going to say that I loved this film for what it did get right. Plus, I am a serious sucker for awesome special effects. I was able to get over Keanu's gawd-awful acting and the White Male Saviour concept for the Matrix trilogy for similar reasons.

But the stuff that Avatar did get right is now being viewed by the masses--teenagers who are addicted to female heroines like Bella from Twilight (please don't let my daughters ever try to emulate her), construction workers and wall street types who couldn't give two craps about spirituality, waitresses and lawyers who spend more money on their fingernails and hair than they do on healthy food. All kinds of people are going to see this movie, and it is showing some important perspectives not normally portrayed on the big screen. Or any screen, for that matter. And I, for one, think that is pretty cool.

There is so much more to say on this film and the issues it raises, or doesn't raise, and I'd love to engage in dialogue with others who've seen it. Feel free to comment or email.

Oh--one more thing: if you're going to see it, you MUST see it in 3D. The cinematography is something to be experienced.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Helping Haiti Heal

The Debs are putting together a prize package of all our debut 2009 books in hardcover, many signed by the author, for the Helping Haiti Heal fundraiser this Saturday (tomorrow), at 2pm. More info is up on The Leaky Cauldron. Please help spread the word. And, if you'd like to win a package of thirty-plus YA and MG books for your school or library, please consider donating.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The fantastically awesome Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, author of EIGHTH GRADE SUPERZERO, has a brilliant "not-trailer" up on her website. I am posting it here, with permission. Enjoy!

Salon Article on White-Washing

Great article on about the Magic Under Glass controversy (a historical YA by Jaclyn Dolamore), featuring quotes from our own Ari of Reading In Color. Glad Salon took up the issue.

I feel for the author--her first book, no less--who is the one caught in the middle of all this. I remember that feeling of getting an offer after so many rejections, so many years of slogging, and thinking, "YES, finally!" Only to be mired in something like this? Ugh.

I have more to blog about, but wanted to put that up before the day got away from me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Humour; Links

Here's a blog I discovered late last night. Diana is one of my more recent followers, and she describes her blog as being "entirely about myself. I might pick up the occasional issue and argue it weakly, but other than that, it's ALL ABOUT ME." I was cackling out loud, even when I climbed into bed. Particularly over the post about the "Ass pastries," and the one called "Tan." THANK YOU, Diana.

Canadian blogger, Niranjana Iyer, has a wonderful review of SHINE here. I love that she caught so many of the layers I consciously incorporated into the text. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing, Niranjana!

And author Melissa C. Walker posted about the cover for SHINE here. I believe Melissa is the first blogger to ask me whether *I* liked my cover. I know I must not have been asked about this before, because I really scrunched up my face when I was answering. Most people want to know the story behind the cover, but rarely do I get asked how I feel about it. Thank you, Melissa, for giving me the opportunity to put it into words :).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Yearning for Freedom; and Some News!

So many things to blog about today. I was originally going to come here and do a post about my thoughts on the film Amelia, which I saw last night. But because there are other, more timely issues to blog about, I'll just give you a quick summary:

To put it in a nutshell, it was an interesting film. I was mildly interested in watching it at first--not sure which aspect of Ms. Earhart's life would be broached and/or sensationalized. But when I found out that Mira Nair directed it, I was immediately more interested. I kept thinking, as I watched, about how colonization is so much more than the invasion of nations. It is the thorough and devastating invasion of bodies, minds, and souls. Specifically, I thought about the colonization of women's bodies, minds, and souls.

Amelia Earhart was a wealthy white woman who ran with the politically elite. Her husband was George Putnam, as in G.P. Putnam & Sons--the mega-publisher. Earhart had dinner with the Roosevelts. She could afford flying lessons. And yet, she was still a woman in a patriarchal, sexist world. She was still often treated like a child (something PoC encounter on a regular basis), and many decisions were made for her by the men in her life, often "for her own good." She bucked many conventions of her time and she yearned to be free. Something so many of us can relate to.

What caught me by surprise was how sad I was at the end. I knew what the ending was, and history has recorded how Ms. Earhart died, and still, I could not stop the flow of tears. Here is my favourite quote from the movie: "Everyone has oceans to fly, as long as you have the heart to do it. Is it reckless? Maybe. But what do dreams know of boundaries?" --Amelia Earhart, 1897-1937.

Another quote that has resonated for me on this particular day is "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle." That one is from Martin Luther King, Jr. And how ironic that today I should read about yet another furor, online, over the whitewashing of a book cover. Once again, it is the Bloomsbury team, deciding that a cover with a white model depicting a protagonist who is "brown-skinned" will sell more books, that is at issue. Several posts have been written on the topic already: Ari's heartfelt, powerful open letter, Susan's post/s, and the post and ensuing discussion over at The Story Siren.

I agree with Zetta's sentiment on her blog, "I don’t have time to respond to all the ignorant remarks...", particularly because there are so many. But I do LOVE that there are bloggers out there who see this issue as something that affects them, and are taking it on themselves, or as allies. Brava to you! The only thing that really irked me in the comments I read was the suggestion that those who are outraged about the cover should somehow be "nicer" in their outrage. Let me just point out that sometimes PoC, women, LGBTQ folks, the working class, and other people who've had their voices marginalized, get angry. When you're being battered on a daily basis, you're bound to get a little pissed. And then, if you see people you love--your little brother, your cousin, your mom, your child, your grandpa--relentlessly battered as well, you'll not likely reach out lovingly, softly, compassionately, to "teach" someone that their silence is not only NOT helping you, but that it is helping to keep the very systems in place that bruise and batter you every single day. To tell people who've had long histories of violence, subjugation, brutality, colonization, and/or slavery, that it would be better for them to be "nice" about their pain and outrage at being erased yet again -- because they might hurt someone else's feelings, otherwise -- is really another way of saying "shut up." It truly is. Audre Lorde's famous quote, "Your silence will not protect you" comes to mind; the extension of that being, "Your silence will not help others."

The other thing I wanted to blog about today, that I really shouldn't put last -- but I've written this post in the order things happened today -- is this: some of you know that I am writing in another genre under a pen name. Well, today, I received an offer for my first full-length novel in that genre, and I couldn't be more delighted. I will not reveal my pen name on this blog, nor provide any more information than I just did, but suffice it to say that if you do discover my alternate identity, I will not deny it's me :).

Wishing you all a thoughtful, reflective MLK, Jr. Day as we celebrate one man's message and his life's work.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Toronto Pics

Here are a couple of pics from the Toronto book signings at Chapters/Indigo bookstores...

This was me at the first signing, signing my little fingers off...

That's R.J. Anderson, author of FAERY REBELS; Megan Crewe, author of GIVE UP THE GHOST; and Me at the first signing in Yorkdale Mall

And here are the Eaton Centre Debs! L to R: Lara Zielin, author of DONUT DAYS; Me, author of SHINE, COCONUT MOON; Rhonda Stapleton, author of STUPID CUPID; and Megan Crewe, author of GIVE UP THE GHOST.

Both malls had surprisingly heavy traffic, given that we were after the holidays, and the Eaton Centre was jam-packed. Great fun was had by all, and we got to meet so many wonderful people. Next time, I will eat lots of butter tarts!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Toronto Recap

I am back from the book signings in Toronto. I am still exhausted from the whirlwind that was two book signings, an agent meeting, an interview, and trying to squish as much family and friend time as I could in there. Clearly, this was a work trip, because the family time flopped on each occasion.

But the best part was meeting people. I met readers who were smart, adorable, warm, and SMART. I met authors who were incredibly supportive. Canadian children's/YA authors really come out to support their own, man. Among the authors to stop by were Mahtab Narsimhan, Adrienne Kress, Helene Boudreau, Bev Katz Rosenbaum, Cheryl Rainfield, and Debbie Ridpath Ohi just to name a few. Both signings had a strong show of support from the local talent. Of course, my fellow Debs were a wealth of information as usual (you ROCK, Megan!!), and I felt like I'd known them all forever -- even the ones I met for the first time. In fact, Rhonda Stapleton has a great, fun post on the signing up on her blog. It wasn't until I was reading her post that I realized I never had a butter tart!! That's a butter tart in the pic, above. It is making my mouth water RIGHT. NOW. If anyone is coming down from Toronto, please bring me some butter tarts.

The only two things I wanted to make sure I did: 1) eat Sri Lankan food, and 2) eat a couple boxes of butter tarts, and I didn't get to do either. Though I have noticed that most of my "must do" lists begin with the word "eat..."

My best friend from high school came to the second signing at the Eaton Centre, and a close friend from third grade showed up at the first signing. Both a total surprise! I had a lovely sit-down with two college friends who've done some pretty amazing, socially conscious film work since we all graduated from film school--one is a producer of documentaries and commercials, and the other does camera work for documentaries around the world (I'm so proud of you guys!). My kid brother came and hung out with me, which was SO fun (wish I could've spent more time with you, D!). And I have to give a shoutout to the reader who told me, "I checked your book out at the library, read it, then RAN to buy it from the store..." You totally made my night, Li!

The Indigo/Chapters staff was amazing, attentive, and so behind us every step of the way at both Yorkdale and the Eaton Centre. My Canadian publicist, Larissa, came to Yorkdale, "flapped" the books (which, I learned, is when you put the cover flap over the first few pages of a book so that it opens to the signing page--a small thing, but it makes a huge difference when you're signing many books), and hung out for the whole signing. We chatted about "vacationing" in remote locations and why this seems to be popular with some husbands. Larissa has been a total dream in this whole process. I also got to meet the rest of the S&S publicity folks this time around, and they are a slick, efficient, attractive bunch (just ask my kid brother who wasted no time chatting up one of the pretty associates), not to mention they are all super nice.

In between the two signings, I had a three-hour lunch with my new agent -- who is smart, gorgeous, savvy, and way taller than she looks in her Facebook picture. Her feedback on my manuscript was completely on the mark. I'm excited about our partnership, and looking forward what we can accomplish together as a team.

I missed my kids and Hollis terribly, and am completely exhausted, but it was, overall, a very productive, exciting, fun trip. Now, I dive head-first into revisions and don't come up for air for another couple of weeks!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Megaliths, Mounds, and Peace

So I've been completely absorbed lately in the research for my paranormal novel. Part of what I'm checking out are ancient civilizations. Like, ancient. The kind that built megaliths and have sometimes been termed "moundbuilder civilizations" by archeologists.

It's amazing to me that ancient peoples all over the planet built and created structures that were identical and, quite feasibly, for similar purposes. Societies in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, South, Central, and North America all created -- often by hauling massive stones or earth for many, many miles -- giant megaliths, or something like megaliths. And many built what scientists presume to be ancient observatories for monitoring the movements of the stars and planets. Did you know that a thousand years before Stonehenge, there were Stonehenge-like observatories in parts of Africa and South America? And that there are pyramids in Central and South American, and China? I did not. Yet another reason I LOVE what I do.

Were these one people who roamed from place to place on the planet over thousands of years, setting up identical mounds, pyramids, and behemoth boulder-structures? Or did all the peoples of the world, at some point in time, revere the same things, follow similar rituals and rites, and look to the stars for answers?

If you want to check out some of the sites, here is a list of the world's archaeoastronomical sites from Wikipedia.

And here is one of my absolutely favourite bits -- there is a neolithic structure in Germany called the Goseck Circle. Here's what Wiki says about it:
The Goseck circle is a Neolithic structure in Goseck in the Burgenlandkreis district in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It consists of a set of concentric ditches 75 meters (246 feet) across and two palisade rings containing gates in defined places. It is considered the earliest sun observatory currently known in the world. Interpretations of the ring suggest that European Neolithic and Bronze Age people measured the heavens far earlier and more accurately than historians have thought. The site was made public in August 2003.
Here's an aerial view:

Site of the Goseck circle. The yellow lines represent the direction the Sun rises and sets at the winter solstice, while the vertical line shows the astronomical meridian

I'm sorry, but that is an ancient peace symbol if I ever saw one . . .

I don't know about you, but stuff like this gives me the chills. In a good way.

Peace, y'all!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Lyn Miller-Lachman's GRINGOLANDIA

GRINGOLANDIA is about Daniel Aguilar who, as a young boy, witnesses his father's capture by the forces of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile in 1980. The story begins with a tense, gripping scene where young Daniel has to bear silent witness to a nightmare and, as all children do when faced with traumatic situations where they are completely powerless, Daniel blames himself for his father's capture -- believing it was his inability to stay silent that finally gave away his father's whereabouts.

The novel portrays, with brutal honesty, how torture affects not just the person forced to endure it, but the entire family system, with a resounding impact. When Daniel's father, Marcelo, returns home five-and-a-half years later, after his release from prison, the whole family begins a journey of healing, discovery, forgiveness, and conscious awareness. Daniel is now a teenager with a very American life--not at all the little boy his father last saw. And Marcelo is not at all the father Daniel remembers.

The relationships in this book were deftly handled, and Miller-Lachman seamlessly threaded the connections between the personal and political. Political trauma always leaves personal wounds and the victims most affected are often those with the least power. I love that the author didn't shy away from the tough scenes, and I also love that Daniel was a regular guy trying to live a regular, teen life. He had a band, a girlfriend (a fierce, activist girlfriend, no less), and his desires and angst were just so believably teen.

Marcelo, as a character, was richly drawn, with depth and resonance--I've never known survivors of torture, but I saw my own father in Marcelo many times. I saw my uncles and so many of the men I've known throughout my life who have made similar, hobbling journeys back to their children. I saw the cultural rift between generations that hits so close to home for me as an immigrant whose first language is not English. And the doubts, insecurities, and anguish that come with being children of broken fathers were skillfully woven into the characters' interactions and throughout the dialogue.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about a chapter of Chilean history we don't hear much about, to anyone who is interested in the bonds and fissures of familial relationships, and anyone who wants to read an engaging, absorbing book with strong, believable characters. GRINGOLANDIA is a novel about roots and wings, belonging and family, home and love, and, ultimately, hope.

I would also highly recommend the Teacher's Guide to Gringolandia that Lyn has on her site. I learned more from reading that guide than I've ever known about Chilean history and the U.S.-backed coup to topple the Allende regime. Fascinating stuff.

GRINGOLANDIA is available for purchase here, and you can find more information about Lyn and her work on her website.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cybils Discussion

There's an interesting discussion going on at Black-eyed Susan's blog about the Cybils and, yet again, the dearth of a variety of stories by and about PoC (in particular, African-American stories that go beyond the usual historical narratives of slavery and victimization). Here is a part of one of my comments in the thread -- it is in response to another commenter noting how publishers seem to go for what kids *want* and not what might be valuable for them to read/see:
"Focusing on what kids *want* is about profit. For instance, my 8-yr-old wants chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But I, as her parent, am not going to give her chocolate three times a day because I want to feed her something nutritious, I want her brain to develop, and I want her to progress throughout her day with energy and vibrant health. The same is true for media images. Both my kids want whatever they see advertised on TV. They want to watch every popular film that comes out. I make the decision as to what they will get and watch based on what I think will, again, provide the ultimate nourishment for their minds, bodies, and souls.

Likewise, culture and media shape our children's perspectives. The images (or lack of) they see around themselves that reflect the world back to them inform their views of who they are and who they can be. If there are no images of young children of colour, that tells them they are invisible. If all they see are stereotypical images or images of victims, that is how they perceive themselves. Keep in mind that this is while white children get to see themselves reflected in the wide variety of roles available to them: in comedy, in drama, in fantasy, in history, as villains, as heroes, in joy AND in pain.

And, honestly, bloggers do play a significant role here. Bloggers have, however unwittingly, become creators of "internet culture" and images. Teens read blogs. My 8-yr-old goes online to do research for her projects. If all the books being reviewed are books written by white authors about the white experience (or by white authors ABOUT people of colour), then, once again, the world has become a place where people of colour don't exist, or exist marginally, stereotypically, or as historical victims.

I did a post about this some time back -- the fact that my 3rd grader believed Native Americans were extinct because all the books she read at school were about Indians that lived "long ago in tepees and wore feather headdresses." I couldn't convince her that Native Americans are alive and well and living among us today. She has never seen such depictions and so her world is shaped in such a way as to erase Native Americans completely from it. I have since done the research and found books that show Native American children in contemporary settings, but that is research *I* took on.
There is a place for historical fiction--personally, I love it--but there is such a need for more stories.

Bloggers don't create the problem, but bloggers can be an arm of publicity and marketing for a publisher and, as such, they can certainly be a huge part of the solution."
The rest of the comments are worth reading, too, if you have the time; and certainly weigh in on the discussion, if you have something to say!

Also, there is a great list of diverse children's and teen books of 2009 on Bildungsroman's blog. I loved the categories she came up with and all the different titles and voices represented.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


This is one of my all-time favourite quotes, EVER:
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and it will be lost. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open." --Martha Graham
I can't think of a more inspiring way to start out this year.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Frigid Climes

I am not looking forward to the frigid, blustery cold of Toronto, but I am looking forward to the warmth of family and old, dear friends when I go up this week for two booksignings. I remember shopping in Yorkdale Mall and blowing my paycheck on boots and then, a few years later, working retail at the Eaton Centre, still blowing my paychecks.

It feels a bit full circle going up to those malls, in particular, to sign copies of my first published novel. I hope to see some old friends I haven't seen in many years, and I hope to eat lots of butter tarts while I'm at it. If you're in Toronto, please stop by and join me in a butter tart, or several!

You can also check out a radio interview with me on Toronto's only South Asian channel, CINA Radio 1650am, tomorrow (Saturday) from 10-11am. If you're not in Toronto, you can still catch it online at tomorrow during the same time.

In other news, for those of you who aren't familiar with the Debs, where have you been all year? JK. The fearless leader of the Debs, Jackson Pearce, did a very cool video where she dispenses invaluable writing advice. Many Debs are in the video (including yours truly), as are other talented authors and a cutie toward the end whom I have never met and do not know. Check it out: