Housekeeping

Well, hello there!

We’re half way through 2014, would you believe it? Phew!

And this morning, we’ve been at some housekeeping here at the SAWWC blog.

  • First, I know some of you fantastic ones have already reached your reading goal for the challenge. If that’s you dear reader, please go here and tell us more about your reading.
  • Next, don’t forget to look through our freshly updated Reviews page. We have some really helpful comments along with some of those links (Thank you, Marilyn Brady!)
  • And finally, we’ve also brought our participant list for this year up to date. If you’ve signed up and don’t see your name on the list – email us at sawomenwriters.at.gmail.dot.com

For the coming weeks, we have more book giveaways and at least one guest post lined up. Is there anything you specifically want us to cover? Let us know! And in the meanwhile, Enjoy your Reading!

 

 

Book Giveaway: Madhulika Chauhan’s “The One Night Affair & Other Stories”

*This Giveaway is now closed*

This week, we’re giving away 3 hard copies of Madhulika Chauhan’s “The One Night Affair & Other Stories”. Deadline (Updated July 1, 2014): We’re extending this giveaway. The giveaway now ends at midnight PST Thursday July 10, 2014. Geographical Restrictions: None. About the Book With this short story collection –The One Night Affair –Madhulika, brings together seven stories tied delicately through the vulnerability and trickiness of the human heart in the backdrop of the Indian Landscape. The book has a collection of warm, touching and poignant stories which will take the readers on a literary journey across India. The book boasts of stories like The One Night Affair, Rupa, The Chemistry Book, Maruttuvacci – The life giver, Salaam, Condolence and Benjarong.   About the Author: Born in the luscious brass city -Moradabad and later moved to Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, Madhulika Chauhan has been working in the corporate world in various capacities for the last thirteen years. She has served as a Media Industry Analyst and a Senior Research Analyst in the past. Having encountered various people and undergone a plethora of experiences in this journey called life. Madhulika has now come up with her debut short story collection “The One Night Affair”. Apart from an active professional life she takes time off for her Book Club in Dalian. Currently, Madhulika is living in the exquisitely beautiful city of Dalian in China with her husband and son. To sign up: As with every other one, just leave your name, email ID (and your blog / website, if you’re reviewing or plan to review the work).

Book Giveaway: “The Jinni on the Roof” by Natasha Rafi

*Edited June 15, 2014: The author has 5 e-books to give away. So we’re extending the giveaway until midnight PST June 20, 2014*

Second book giveaway for the week, folks: Today we are giving away “The Jinni on the Roof” by Natasha Rafi. This is meant for very young readers and might be just the thing for the start of summer and the start of Ramadan. 

About the author: Natasha Rafi is a writer who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan. A former staff writer for The Toledo Blade, Natasha received an Ohio Public Images award for a story about special-needs children. She has also been a reporter for Money magazine, a foreign correspondent, and a contributor to books about Asian Americans. Natasha lives in New York with her husband and two children. She loves to travel and bring different cultures to life in her stories.

Deadline: This giveaway will be open until midnight (Pacific Time) June 6, 2014.

Geographical Restrictions: None.

About the book: Eight-year-old Raza is too young to fast, but he longs for the delicious parathas the grown-ups eat before dawn. The aroma of the flaky, golden bread tempts him. He cannot wait for the children’s breakfast, but he’ll get into trouble if anyone finds him up this early. Lying in bed, Raza hatches a plan. Will he get away with it? This is a delightful tale about a mischievous boy who learns the true meaning of Ramadan – patience and empathy. Age range 4 -8 years.

To throw your name in the (figurative) hat: Leave your name (your blog, if you’re reviewing) and your email ID in the comments. If we receive more interest than copies available for giving away, we will pick a name randomly. We will contact you via email for more details.

 

Book Giveaway: “Ganges Boy” by Archana Prasanna

And today, we are giving away five signed hard copies of  “Ganges Boy” by Archana Prasanna.

About the author: Archana Prasanna is a Washington, DC native, but has experienced living in England and India. Growing up around the world has been a source of inspiration for her writing. Archana has an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Virginia Tech and a J.D. from Syracuse University. She began writing news articles that appeared in The Washington Post, pr.com, and The Collegiate Times. Ganges Boy is her first novel.

Deadline: This giveaway will be open until midnight (Pacific Time) June 3, 2014.

Geographical Restrictions: Since the author is giving away signed hard copies, this giveaway is open to readers in the United States .

About the book: Archana Prasanna’s Ganges Boy is a profound coming of age tale, set against the backdrop of the fascinating city of Varanasi, India. Kabir is an orphaned adolescent slumdog struggling to cope with the loss of his murdered mother. He tries to navigate the harsh reality of street life before getting submerged in a foreign world of luxury where he is forced to discover his own self-identity. The riches of his new life are overshadowed by the greed and immoral behavior he witnesses. This is the story of good and evil, riches and poverty, and the fight of a boy to keep his ideals no matter where he is. Kabir’s journey is emotionally engaging as his colorful experiences give insight into the lives of street children in Varanasi.

To throw your name in the (figurative) hat: Leave your name (your blog, if you’re reviewing) and your email ID in the comments. If we receive more interest than copies available for giving away, we will pick a name randomly. We will contact you via email for more details.

 

Book Giveaway: “Starcursed” by Nandini Bajpai

**Edited May 21, 2014: We used http://andrew.hedges.name/experiments/random/pickone.html , entered the names in the ordered that you commented and the giveaway copy goes to: Vijaya. We will get in touch with you via email shortly.

Once again, thank you all – Valerie Oliphant, Ag, Megan, Kimberly G. Giarratano, Vijaya, Marcia Strykowski, Naheed Hassan – for signing up for this giveaway.**

 

**ETA: this giveaway is now closed. We will be picking a name out of a hat (or bag, whatever) soon. Stay tuned. Thank you to everyone who took the time to sign up!**

And next up, another book giveaway.

We’re giving away one copy of Nandini Bajpai’s other novel, Starcursed.

Deadline: This giveaway will be open until midnight May 14, 2014.

Geographical Restrictions: This giveaway is open to readers in the United States, India, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

About the book: Starcursed is a historical romance about an astronomer’s daughter set in 12th century India. 

To throw your name in the (figurative) hat: Leave your name (your blog, if you’re reviewing) and your email ID in the comments. If we receive more interest than copies available for giving away, we will pick a name randomly. We will contact you via email for more details.

Nandini Bajpai's, "Starcursed"

Nandini Bajpai’s, “Starcursed”

In the ancient city of Ujjayani, the stars align to decide the fate of two starcursed lovers…

Born under the curse of Mars, brilliant and beautiful Leelavati, daughter of the famed astronomer and mathematician Bhaskaracharya, knows she can never wed. But when her childhood friend, the handsome and rich Rahul Nagarseth, returns from sea, their attraction is rekindled under stormy monsoon skies.

As Leela, forced by fate to relinquish Rahul, finds solace in teaching at her father’s observatory, a fleeting alignment of the stars is discovered that can help overcome her curse. But Rahul is called away on a war to defend his kingdom. Can he return in time or will she lose him forever to the will of the planets?

Set in turbulent twelfth-century India, agaist the backdrop of the savage wars waged by Muhammad of Ghor and his band of Turkis, Starcursed is a sweeping tale of science, romance and adventure that will transport its readers to another world.

We’re back! Guest Post: “On Reading, Writing and the Magic of Stories”

Well, hello everyone! We’re back after a long-ish break. And with a Guest Post by Renita D’Silva, whose second novel, The Adopted Daughter  was released in March. In this post, she talks about love of stories and recommends a few reads. Read On:

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I have always loved stories, the world of fiction my utopia. I was a chubby girl, teased mercilessly throughout childhood and into young adulthood for being overweight. Escaping into make-believe provided comfort, a welcome retreat. I was in love with stories but there weren’t many story-books to be had in the tiny village in the south of India where I grew up. My parents made sure we had plenty of books even though we couldn’t quite afford them: yellowing, loose-leaf second-hand books; educational, every single one. Story-books were considered frivolous even though I fell in love with stories in the first place because of the fairy-tale volumes my father got me when I was six and just starting to read. Those were the first and only gifts of story-books I received from my parents, but they were enough to get me started.

The only library in our village had few fiction books: old, tired looking tomes with missing covers and wood-lice ridden pages. I devoured all of these many times over. There were Enid Blytons nestling amongst Mills and Boon romances, Sidney Sheldon and Harold Robbins novels, a couple of Agatha Christies and Erle Stanley Gardners and two books that quickly became and still are my absolute favourites: a much thumbed copy of ‘Gone with the Wind’ and a falling apart edition of ‘The Thorn Birds’ with notations in a spidery scrawl in the margins and only a few of the pages missing. I never quite trusted any of the priests after reading ‘The Thorn Birds’, I must say, watching their interactions with the nuns and the choir girls with a vigilant eye, my innocence irrevocably shattered.

I could never get enough books to feed my imagination and perhaps this was why I started writing. The books in that library with all those pages missing, characters I bonded with only to be cheated of the ending- well, I was frustrated and on dreary monsoon nights when rain rattled on the tiles and I struggled to fall asleep, I wrote my own version of happily-ever-afters.

Even though story books were hard to find, there were stories aplenty in our village. My grandmother fed us thrilling tales to dissuade us from doing things: ‘Don’t go near the well. Don’t you know there’s a ghost in there?’ ‘What ghost?’ we would ask agog. ‘Arre, haven’t I told you about Mrs. Fernandes’s ghost, how it haunts the well ever since she went searching for her husband one stormy monsoon night and the terrible wind blew out her candle and she walked right into the well and it swallowed her whole? Her husband was in the arrack shop while this was happening. He never drank again, not a sip. Not arrack and not water, swearing he could see his wife in every drop wailing to be rescued. He died of thirst.’

I would sit on the cool kitchen floor beside my grandmother and her friends, ostensibly doing homework, my ears peeled back and flapping as my grandmother regurgitated gossip along with mouthfuls of crimson paan and her friends chewed over this latest nugget of information as they chewed spiced betel leaves.

All those stories and bits of gossip steeped and stewed in my head and it was not until I was an adult that I fully understood what the ladies had been oohing and aahing over. I was standing in a queue one day behind a man with a lady on each arm when I suddenly realised why all the ladies in the village had smirked knowingly when the priest refused to serve Pedru communion when he turned up at church with his wife and her ‘sister’, why the two women were always fighting whenever we walked past the tiny hut Pedru shared with them and assorted children.

Families and their potential for deceit, keeping secrets from the ones closest to them; children and the way they absorbed everything without really understanding much- these were topics that fascinated me. And they made their way into my stories. I wrote about a village like the one I grew up in, knowing that villages were perfect environments for festering families and brooding secrets. It was only after I had finished my first novel and was thinking of sending it out that I encountered the problem of ‘market’. Was the market for ‘Indian’ novels, ‘Asian’ fiction, saturated? Several agents rejected my book claiming this very thing.

I didn’t consciously set out to write a South Asian tale, to be honest. For me, my first book was an account of a woman stripped of her memories. Born and raised in India and now living in the UK, I escape every so often in my head to my past, pulling out a memory at random, using it to ground me, anchor me. My memories make up my identity; they are part of the fabric that makes up my life, the touchstone by which I measure myself. I wondered what would happen if I could not escape in my head to that secret place of reminiscence. The idea grew, took hold, wouldn’t let go. And so, I penned the tale of a woman who cannot access her memories, cannot take comfort from them, cannot let them soothe her like her mother used to once, cannot think of her mother even. She is stripped of her identity, her past. Who is she? And thus, ‘Monsoon Memories’ was born.

My second novel, ‘The Forgotten Daughter’ is also about families and the secrets they keep from each other. It is the story of three women leading three very different lives and how they deal with the consequences of the difficult choices they have to make and the convoluted way in which their paths converge. And yes, two of them live in a small village in India where everybody knows everyone else’s business and the third grows up in the UK unaware that life is going to throw her a punch, that she will have to make decisions and embrace a culture she has not given a thought to up until now.

One of the absolutely wonderful things about living here is that I never run out of books to read. There is the library and there are bookstores and now with the advent of the Kindle, I can have hundreds of books on one machine and not worry that I will ever run out. When the Kindle first made an appearance, my husband was amongst the first to celebrate: no more lugging suitcases stuffed with reading material for his wife- twenty books for a seven day holiday; no more having to pay the fine for excess baggage because his wife had sneaked in two more fat tomes when he wasn’t looking; no more spending the entire flight nursing a backache and having to inconvenience other passengers by opening and closing the overhead bins  as his wife rummaged frantically through the many volumes she had mindlessly packed for the book she was currently reading; no more…you get the picture.

Stories. Love them, cannot contemplate a world without them. And here are some I have read in the last year that I absolutely loved:

Abraham Verghese ‘Cutting for Stone’

Alison McQueen ‘The Secret Children’

Jhumpa Lahiri ‘The Lowland’

Chimanda Ngozi Adiche ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’

Pettina Gappah ‘An Elegy for Easterly’

NoViolet Bulawayo ‘We Need New Names.’

Nell Freudenberger ‘The Newlyweds.’

 

About the author: 

Renita D’Silva loves stories, both reading and creating them. Her short stories have been published in ‘The View from Here’, ‘Bartleby Snopes’, ‘this zine’, ‘Platinum Page’, ‘Paragraph Planet’ among others and have been nominated for the ‘Pushcart’ prize and the ‘Best of the Net’ anthology. She is the author of ‘Monsoon Memories’ and ‘The Forgotten Daughter’. She is currently working on her third novel, set partly in India and partly in the UK.

Find her on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RenitaDSilvaBooks ||On Twitter: @RenitaDSilva ||Via Email: Renitadsilvabooks@gmail.com Or go visit her website: http://renitadsilva.com/

 

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Guest Post: Neha Chaudhary-Kamdar – Covering Up: Marketing South Asian Women Writers in America

About the Author: Neha Chaudhary-Kamdar finished a PhD in Film Studies, and is now running back into the arms of an old love: writing. She enjoys good books, good wine, good (and bad) cinema, the company of cats, and sometimes even the company of interesting people.

And now, onto the post.

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A few years ago, while I was a graduate student, I attended a reading and discussion at Northwestern University by a female South Asian writer of Tamil-Sri Lankan origin. She began by reading an excerpt from her newly released collection of short stories. And because I loved what I heard, I listened with rapt attention to everything she had to say after that. Though nebulous at the time, the desire to be a writer had already germinated in my mind, and I hoped I would someday create stories as skilfully as she did. (This was also before I spent more than two years working in literary publishing, learning how the process really works. At the time, therefore, my naïve view of the world had led me to believe all I was required to do was write fantastic fiction, and the agents and publishers would come to me.) So I listened to her, expecting to hear a fairytale about her experience getting her book published, a triumphant narrative that would reinforce my own writerly fantasies.

The story she actually told could not have been further from what I had hoped for. It was a story of the struggle to fit in, in the face of commonly accepted marketing tactics in the American publishing industry. A tale depicting the fight to find a niche. To be allowed a voice as a South Asian woman writer in America.

She began by drawing the audience’s attention to her author photograph, which struck me immediately as an oddly composed image. Wry, slightly awkward, it featured a person who looked and seemed very different from the woman in front of me. At first we couldn’t put our finger on what it was that made us feel this way, so we broke it down – the author in a silky, turquoise salwar kameez, looking into the camera. Behind her, draped as a backdrop, is a gauzy red sari.

“Actually, the publishers wanted me to pose in a red sari for the photograph,” the author told us. Perhaps the same red sari we saw in the picture, or perhaps another. But a red sari that fit comfortably into their notion of what a female writer of South Asian origin should look like. A red sari that played coyly into every exotic stereotype they expected their readers to assume.

As evidenced by the picture, however, this author had refused to be draped in a red sari. So they reached a compromise, the publishers and she: they let her wear a bright colored, silk salwar kameez, and draped the sari in the background.

Then there was the question of the book cover. Again, even though I had the book before me as she read from it, I was so drawn in by her prose that I hadn’t noticed the cover until she drew attention to it. And when she did, the image in front of me – a faceless, blouseless, brown skinned female body with a wet, red sari draped over its breasts – triggered a memory. I had seen this image before. It was on the cover of the annual sex survey issue of a national magazine in India.

The cover of this exquisitely crafted book was a stock photograph.

I lost a lot of my naivety that day. And at this point in my life, as I start publishing short fiction as a South Asian woman writer in the US, and start research for a novel, the questions of how I will be perceived and where I will be slotted take on gargantuan significance for me.

So I did a quick survey. I looked up book covers by South Asian women publishing in the US, and here’s some of what I saw:

redsari

Between the perfect curves of faceless brown bodies and the disembodied hands clasped daintily by the collarbone; between the painted lips oh-so-slightly parted in anticipation of being claimed by a man’s, and the jewelry resting on wrists and ankles; between the backgrounds of turmeric damask, peacocks, and the Taj Mahal, and the ubiquitous red sari, there may be enough material here for a semester’s worth of undergraduate work on textual analysis. But the bigger issue is that there seems to be a very clear tendency within American publishing to bracket the work of South Asian women writers as exotic, sensual, and ethnic. The women on the covers – the women selling the book – are not multidimensional individuals with stories and histories, desires and ambition. They are packages. Packages tied together neatly with zardozi and gold jewelry and beautiful saris, ready for immediate and easy consumption.

I can only imagine the disservice this does to the actual craft of the writers of these books. This cultural imagery projects a very specific image of what the book offers. And if you happen to be the kind of reader who loves good stories – not juicy stories about sassy brown women who put too much spice in their food and are not allowed to have sex, but just good, rich, well-developed stories about complex human beings – chances are you’d walk right past one of these books in a store, without stopping to look inside. Against our better judgement, we all judge books by their covers, it’s all we’ve got to go by.

Perhaps this is an issue specific not just to South Asian women writers in the US, but women writers belonging to any ethnic minority. Amy Tan, critical acclaim notwithstanding, has a couple of books – The Valley of Amazement, Rules for Virgins – that feature similarly exotic covers. Unsurprisingly, the one group that this marketing logic seldom applies to is male writers from ethnic minorities. Consider Abraham Verghese, a prominent South Asian male writer in America. His book covers often feature locales or landscapes that stand apart from scenes commonplace in Americana, but never disembodied brown men with the possibly wet and definitely translucent end of a dhoti gliding seductively along their waists.

Men, apparently, are just not that exotic. And that’s why they get to market their books as good stories and skilful writing.

I don’t know if there is a way for South Asian women writers publishing in the US to break out of this mould. It seems to me that the only women who are able to successfully defy the American publishing industry’s urge to package their stories as sexy, sari-clad consumables, are the ones who graduate from brand-name MFA programs (Jhumpa Lahiri is an example that comes to mind immediately). But in terms of numbers, that’s probably less than one percent of all aspiring South Asian women writers.

Do the rest of them – the rest of us – just continue to put out the best possible work, and hope that potential readers (and critics) will look past the cover and recognize the writing for what it is? Do we allow the cynic in us to take over, accept that the publishing industry isn’t a benevolent patron of the arts but a business like any other, and follow the rules of the game, no matter how unbalanced?

These questions are important because South Asian women writers have a lot more to offer than just a package tour of exotic bodies in seductive clothes. They have stories, and histories, and plots dripping with intrigue. They have complex characters that tread deliciously between nasty and noble: men who are fallible and repugnant and lovable, women who are sexy not because a piece of red muslin caresses their caramel skin, but because they are intelligent and bitchy and slightly crazy and not at all afraid.

These questions are important because South Asian women writers have a voice. They have a point of view. And if the veil is lifted, maybe we’d all see it.