Sunday, December 27, 2009

Happy Holidays and 2010

Happy Holidays to everyone -- I hope you recieved what you wanted, both in goods, well wishes, inspiration, good will and love.  Here's to a bright 2010, which brings to all good health, success and a healthy measure of fun.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Books for Charity

In August of 2009, 86% of fundraisers at charitable organizations surveyed said that the economy was having a negative or very negative impact on their fundraising abilities.

It's the holiday season! Think of giving.... books of course... charities that giveaway books? Even better.

I stumbled across this ad for the the The Indigo Love of Reading Foundation. The organization was established to address the underfunding of Canadian school libraries and the literacy crisis. Love of Reading provides grants for the purchase of new books and education resources to high-needs elementary schools.

And boy, the ad is REALLY cute.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Burka Barbie

Barbie has had more than 80 careers -- everything from a rock star to a paleontologist to a presidential candidate.

A friend forwarded me a recent article – Muslim Wold: Barbie’s 50th Anniversary Islamic Makeover. According to the article:

“Wearing the traditional Islamic dress with a mesh eyehole, she went under the hammer along with 500 other Barbie dolls dressed in unique outfits at an auction in Florence, Italy, at the renowned auction house Sotheby’s to raise funds for Save the Children. The auction, held in late November, was part of the celebrations put on for Barbie this year as she celebrated her 50th anniversary. In her new look, Barbie also appeared in a line of stylish turquoise, lime-green, orange-colored burkas and regular head-covering Muslim veil, known as hijab. The set of multicultural Barbies, including the burka-clad one, was dressed by the Italian designer Eliana Lorena in a project backed by Barbie's owner, Mattel.“
I paused to collect my thoughts – so many were running through my brain – both about Barbies and Burkas. Barbie is actually a central character in my novel, SHOOTING KABUL. She is the beloved doll of Mariam, my protagonist, Fadi’s, younger sister. Mariam, like me, grew up playing with Barbie, impervious to all the body image controversies she is associated with. Part of the fun was dressing her up. Now the burka -- The whole subject of women covering is a loaded issue – it is seen as a sign of oppression, especially by those in the west. (Though on the counter side, Naomi Wolf would argue that women in the West are oppressed by body images as well – it isn’t easy being told you need to be a size zero and in a bikini.) But for me, at the end of the day, it is about CHOICE. Plain and simple. Women should have a choice to do what they want with their bodies – cover it up or wear a bikini. If Barbie wants to wear a bikini, she should, and if she feels the need to conserve her modesty, the burka should be her choice of fashion.
Of course, the auction drew controversy – sigh, wasn’t that expected?
Pro: Fan Angela Ellis, who has a collection of more than 250 Barbie dolls, thought it was a good idea to introduce a veiled Barbie. That way, children living in conservative Islamic countries would have a doll they could identify with. “Bring it on, Burka Barbie," Britain’s the Sun newspaper quoted her as saying. "This is really important for girls, wherever they are from, they should have the opportunity to play with a Barbie that they feel represents them.”
Con: Critics such as Barbara Kay in Canada slammed Barbie’s Muslim dress as a “symbol of oppression” and ripped Ellis’ commentary in an article recently published in Canada’s the National Post newspaper.
Barbie’s choice is at issue, and at the end of the day, she should be able to wear whatever she wants to…. Oh, and Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Final Week of 2K9 Grad Contest!

It’s the Final Week to Celebrate the Graduation of the Class of 2K9!
(And the final chance for you to win one of their great books in the 2K10 giveaway!)

WATERSMEET by Ellen Jensen Abbott
SHRINKING VIOLET by Danielle Joseph
CRASH INTO ME by Albert Borris
INITIATION by Susan Fine
GIVE UP THE GHOST by Megan Crewe
MY INVENTED LIFE by Lauren Bjorkman
NOTHING LIKE YOU by Lauren Strasnic

Contest Rules: For a chance to win one of the featured books, post a comment at the end of this blog:
(please include an email address so we can contact you for a mailing address, or check back next week for winners). To enter multiple times, simply tweet, blog, or Facebook about this post, and include a link in your comment. Winners will be chosen at random. You must be at least 13 to enter. The contest will be open until midnight Saturday. Winners will be announced one week from today.

Good luck!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pencil to Paper

Pencils didn't have erasers on them until 100 years ago because teachers felt they would encourage children to make mistakes.

Ask a writer when they started writing and most will pause a moment, slightly confused and cross eyed. You can see their mind whir and churn, travelling back to the moment they were compelled to pick up a pencil and put it to paper– it could have been a poem, an essay, a story, or diary entry. For the most part, most writers have, well, written, since they were kids. Once my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Hackworth, introduced me to reading, I was addicted to the written word, and soon after I was also writing shorts stories and poetry. We were lucky to have a writing competition at our school, Jubail Academy, and over the years I won quite a few of the prizes. In the 9th grade, our language arts teachers, Mrs. Cochrane started a novel writing club and six eager students (including moi) struggled with our literary masterpieces. It taught us that if we were organized and perseverant, we could actually write a book.

Many writers have a folded stapled sheaf of dog-eared pages – their first book, lying around somewhere. I wrote mine in the 3rd grade and it is titled “The Home Work Machine”, accompanied by crayon illustrations. Thankfully, I realized early on that drawing was not my strong suite. So the writing bug catches early, and for many it is an affliction of a lifetime. Unfortunately (or fortunately) there is no known cure…

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bell Tolls for Kirkus

Asking a writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp post how it feels about dogs - Ann Landers

Reviews... the word sends a chill down an author's spine (okay, I exaggerate a little) We authors, no matter how nonchalant, can't help but notice what others are saying about our book. You can ignore most, but it's hard to ignore professional reviews that appear in the media -- they have the power to affect  book sales and perhaps, even your career as a writer.   Interestingly, a paper titled "Is Any Publicity Good Publicity? A Note On the Impact of Book Reviews", by Alan T. Sorensen, a business school professor at Stanford university, shed some light on the topic.
The paper used detailed weekly data on sales of hardcover fiction books to evaluate the impact of New York Times book reviews on sales. In order to weigh the relative propensity of reviews to inform and to persuade, the analysis utilized a measure of review opinion obtained through a systematic reading of each review. The estimates indicated that in the case of bookreviews, any publicity is good publicity: even negative reviews lead to increases in sales.These findings were interpreted as evidence that book reviews serve largely to inform consumers about books’ content and characteristics (including the books’ existence). However, positive reviews can have a larger impact on sales than negative reviews, suggesting that reviews also have a persuasive effect.

So, there we have it -- reviews, good or bad can help boost sales! So it is with great sadness that I note that one of the venerable reviewers in the book industry, Kikus, is shutting down. Founded in 1933 by Virginia Kirkus, it is currently scheduled to cease publication at the end of calendar year 2009. Both, Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews, two venerable chronicles of the newspaper and book publishing industries, are closing as their owner, Nielsen Business Media, gets out of the trade publication business.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Contest Continues!

The Class of 2K10 continues it graduation party for the Class of 2K9 by givng away another round of books:

OPERATION REDWOOD by S. Terrell French
WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS by Fran Cannon Slayton
ROAD TO TATER HILL by Edith M. Hemingway
HAVEN by Beverly Patt
FREAKED by J.T. Dutton
BREATHING by Cheryl Renée Herbsman

The contest will be open until midnight Saturday, December 12 and winners will be announced about one week from today. For a chance to win one of the featured books, post a comment at the the 2K10 Blog --
Please include an email address so we can contact you for a mailing address. To enter multiple times, simply tweet, blog, or Facebook about this post, and include a link in your comment. Winners will be chosen at random. You must be at least 13 to enter. The contest will be open until midnight Saturday, December 12. Winners will be announced about one week from today.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

ARCs Have Landed

The largest publisher in the United States is The U. S. Government Printing Office.

Yesterday was a momentous day for me -- my ARCs, or advance reader copies, of SHOOTING KABUL showed up in the mail.  With my heart hammerring in the vicinity of my throat, I opened the box and pulled out a copy. Words really can't describe how amazing it is to see your mss in book format... so I won't used any. I'll let a picture show instead.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Making Librarians Cry

Library, Here is where people, One frequently finds, Lower their voices, And raise their minds — Light Armour McGraw-Hill, 1954, Richard Armour

I confess – in the last few months, I've made my school librarians cry. But let me back up and explain -- the back-story, so to speak.
Growing up in Saudi Arabia, part of an international expat community, our school, Jubail Academy was the center of our childhood universe. It was more than just a school – it was where we had our boy/girl scout meetings, sporting events, photo-club meetings, reading challenges, knowledge bowl sessions…. You get the picture. It was a beehive of activity, one supported and encouraged by the wonderful teachers and staff. A hub within the school was the two libraries, one serving the elementary school, the other junior high (the more racy stuff was on the junior high side – sweet valley high anyone?)

I, as Neil Gaiman said in his Newberry acceptance speech, was also a “feral child raised among the stacks.” I lived in the library, before and after school and during lunch. Although libraries are not child care facilities (and Neil says) our librarians were nurturing beings – always there with a smile, encouragement and good advice. Mrs. Hackworth, the librarian on the elementary side, taught me the mysteries of the Dewey Decimal system and let me help catalog books. It was here I discovered Roald Dahl, Beverley Cleary and Judy Blume. Mrs. Murray manned the junior high section and introduced me to books I would never have picked up on my own. She helped me do research for projects and questioned me when I needed questioning. Both embedded in me the passion for the written word and set me on the path to becoming a writer.

I met Mrs. Murray again at our Jubail Academy reunion, held this past summer in San Francisco. Her husband had been my algebra teacher and when I told them I’d written a children’s book and dedicated it to her, she cried. I didn’t mean for her to, it just happened. I later emailed Mrs. Hackworth a copy of the manuscript and told her she too was in my dedication. These past few days she read the book out loud to her husband, who was my reading teacher in the 5th grade. Her email mentioned how she took “emotion breaks” while reading – one of the greatest compliments a writer can receive. So thank you both for being the best librarians we could have.
Librarians are amazing – go hug yours today.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Contestants, Rev Your Engines

The Class of 2k10 has posted its first contest –

Grad Party Giveaway!
This month the Class of 2k10 is hosting a graduation party to honor the Class of 2k9 and celebrate their debut year. They're having a HUGE party on their blog and giving away a copy of ALL of the Class of 2k9 debut books! This week's list of books being given away are:

HEART OF A SHEPERT by Rosanne Parry
BULL RIDER by Suzanne Morgan Williams
JANE IN BLOOM by Deborah Lytton
MY LIFE IN PINK & GREEN by Lisa Greenwald
ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER by Ann Haywood Leal

It's easy to enter - just stop by a little later at Class 2K10's blog for details --

Live 2k10

Euclid is the most successful textbook writer of all time. His Elements, written around 300 B.C., has gone through more than 1,000 editions since the invention of printing

The Class of 2k10 (debut authors with books coming out in 2010, of which I'm one) just launched their website. The group includes 23 authors with fantastic Young Adult and Middle Grade books, covering a gamut of genres -- mystery, paranormal, fantasy, romance, contemporary... The Class of 2K was founded by Greg Fishbone in 2007 with the idea that debut authors could band together to make their publication journey easier. This years group hopes to continue in footsteps of our predecessors. Check out titles that will be appearing in your local bookstore soon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy (on Thanksgiving)

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, one which my family loves -- it’s a time to gather with friends, family and loved ones we haven’t seen in a while. All the political ramifications of Plymouth rock, Pilgrims, Native Americans and history aside, I admit, it’s so much about the food!.
Wherever we were in the world at the time – Oxford, Kuala Lumpur (we didn’t’ roast a bird that year but did find a place that served it!), Paris, even Cairo, we've celebrated Thanksgiving. In Cairo I somehow roasted a huge turkey in our tiny gas stove. We had all the fixings - mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, gravy, caramelized sweet potatoes, rolls and corn) except cranberry sauce. Nowhere in Egypt, alas could it be found. Luckily we had a friend visiting from San Francisco and the only thing we told her to bring was cranberry sauce. We invited all our friends – Americans, Canadians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Germans, the Scott and the Russian – and had a great time. Despite the tough times these days, let Thanksgiving be a day for celebrating what is important, giving thanks for what we have, and working towards a better tomorrow.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Green Ham, the Lorax and Bald Boys

Dr. Seuss wrote the book “Green Eggs and Ham” on a dare made by his publisher Bennet Cerf who bet him $50 that he could not write a children’s story using ONLY 50 words; 49 of which were one syllable words. He succeeded.

Okay, raise your hand – who hasn’t read CAT IN A HAT by Dr. Seuss? I’m sure most hands went up – I don’t think you can escape childhood without reading such classics as GREEN EGGS & HAM, THE BUTTER BATTLE BOOK, THE LORAX or HORTON HEARS A WHO.
Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel, passed away in 1991 from cancer and I found it an interesting coincidence when I heard of Umm Yousuf’s story – she has a four year old son who is undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. While at the bookstore she’d been looking for fun, cheery books for her little boy and picked up a Dr Seuss title called MY BOOK ABOUT ME.
It has an unusual interactive twist -- you make it up as you go along. On each page there's something new to complete, from "I weigh ___ pounds" to "My teeth. I counted them. I have ___ up top. I have ___ downstairs." It gets children to name their home country, to recognize and draw in the color of their own eyes, learn their telephone number and address, to name favorite clothes, foods, and colors, and more. Umm Yousuf paused at the page with the bald boy. Her son had lost his hair while going through chemo, and she thought it was a shame that, of all the kids, it was the bald one who had a sad face. So she wrote the publishing company a letter: Dr Seuss style letter of course!

Beyond the Grinches, the Hortons and Who’s,
Came a page in a book that I wouldn’t choose.
Strolling in the book store I came across my favorite section,
I looked up and down, of the rack, of this Dr,’s collection.

There was a book I hadn’t seen before, I grabbed it right off that shelf,
It was called, “A Book About Me” By Me Myself!

I thought this would be nice for my son, age four,
I opened the book and began to read more.

It looked fun and exciting, another masterpiece of his,
As we have many of his books because of the whiz that he is!
Flipping the pages I came to page four,
And what to my surprise I dropped the book on the floor!

That book, “A book About Me” By Me Myself,
I put that book right back on that shelf!
There is a part of this page I wish I could go and delete,
For I’m afraid we don’t even see on Mulberry street!

A kid picks their hair color, length and their style,
But there is one little boy who hasn’t a smile.
All but one is smiling, and by this I am appalled,
All of the kids look happy except the one who is bald!

Usually getting another Dr. Suess book is a best buy,
I just left that book and started to cry.'
My son who has cancer would be sad to know,
The boy who is sad has hair he can’t grow.

So I am asking the author or the one with authority,
To make one little sick boy their priority.
Just as the red, the purple and the long hair,
Please put a smile, on the one bald, and be fair!

I was happy to hear that Random House sent back a gracious letter saying they plan to "change the boy's rumpled grimace into a nice bright smile". A great ending to this story.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


The volume of water in the Amazon river is greater than the next eight largest rivers in the world combined and three times the flow of all rivers in the United States.

Writing and completing a novel is phenomenally fulfilling, personally. Having your agent sell your book is exhilarating and numbing at the same time -- someone loves your book as much as you do -- loves it enough to acquire it. Seeing a galley of your novel on its way to becoming a finished product is an emotional rollercoaster -- it seems like it was only months before it had been a figment of your imagination. But being Amazoned, that took me by surprise -- Seeing what once inside your head now listed for pre-order is indescribable -- its a little like standing in your underwear in public. You are fully exposed -- but in a good sort of way.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Class of 2K10 Book Trailor

Bestselling books that got rejected - a lot - before they made history: Dune by Frank Herbert, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrice Potter

2K10, a group of debut novelists with Young Adult and Middle Grade Books coming out in 2010, just launched their book trailor. So many great reads!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Evening with Greg Mortenson

The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family -- Balti Proverb
This past weekend I attended the San Francisco Gala event of DIL – Developments in Literacy. DIL is dedicated to providing quality education to disadvantaged children, especially girls, by establishing and operating schools in the underdeveloped regions of Pakistan. It has a strong focus on gender equality and community participation. Since its inception in 1997, the organization now operates and manages 150 schools, with an enrollment of nearly 15,000 students.
The key note speaker was Dr. Adil Najam, a professor at Boston University and a senior fellow at the International Institute for Sustainable Development. Dr. Najam served as a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), work for which the IPCC was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with Al Gore. His talk focused on the urgency to uplift the millions of poor in Pakistan by allowing them a chance to improve their lives through education. As I’ve mentioned before, he stressed the critical importance of educating girls, for when you educate a girl you improve not only her life, but that of her children and the community.
The special guest of honor at the event was Greg Mortenson, whose NYT bestselling book, THREE CUPS OF TEA, illuminates the importance of overcoming cultural divides and stresses that education is the solution to poverty. Greg's book has had a tremendous impact on me and my husband, who uses Greg's example in his class. We were looking forward to hearing him speak, but unfortunately, Greg was out sick. In his place stepped in Professor Abdul Jabbar, Board Chairman of Greg’s organization, the Central Asia Institute.
Professor Jabbar spoke candidly about Greg’s amazing work in building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He also shared a poem with us – a poem that was sent to Greg by an American soldier stationed in Afghanistan. In it, the solider, who’d just read THREE CUPS OF TEA, explains how he sits for hours behind a wall, listening to kids playing on the other side. As he marvels at their innocence, he ponders whether his gun is the answer to why he is there. He believes the only way to overcome ignorance is education. This soldier helped organize a fundraiser in Alabama to raise money for schools in Afghanistan.
It’s amazing how a book can spark so much change, little and large

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Book Galley

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

I got this in the mail today ---

I opened with eager anticipation and wasn't dissapointed... many long months ago, the words to SHOOTING KABUL formed in my mind and landed in a word document on my laptop. After a round of edits, here it is, a book galley, close to final book format, copyedited and typeset. Galleys are put together for multiple reasons -- they are given to sales and marketing folks, sent to reviewers, and to solicit reviews from magazines, newspapers and bloggers. They are not the finished copy of the book, and can still be tweaked.
It's been an amazing journey so far, the road to publishing, with lots more to come. I'll leave you with the first page of the novel.

Monday, November 2, 2009


The average American uses seven trees a year in paper, wood, and other products made from trees --this amounts to about 2,000,000,000 trees per year

Photo: gravlax/Flickr
Sad to say, when I open a book and turn the page, I never really think about the page itself – just the words printed on it. In the back of my mind, I know where the paper came from -- wood pulp, which is primarily from trees, which grow in forests. So when I saw a report by the World Wildlife Fund, I was horrified, as would be the Lorax.
The report reveals that a significant amount of deforestation in Asia's tropical forests is caused by the production of children’s books. Nearly a third of all of these books contains paper that was illegally logged in China and Indonesia. Paper analysis indicated that much of the pulp came from cleared areas of tropical forest that was home to endangered species like tigers, elephants and rhinoceros. To compound the problem, it is a known fact that the Asian paper industry seriously violates human rights contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
In Indonesia, some of the companies involved include Gold East Paper, Yalong Paper Products and Asia Pulp and Paper. They are leveling tropical rain forests at a rate that could make them disappear within 10 years. Another recent investigation by Greenpeace revealed that 88% of logging in Indonesia is illegal in some way.
Although only German children's books were tested, the investigation should raise red flags about book production worldwide, as paper is increasingly sourced from China. In response to the investigation, WWF Germany is calling on publishing houses to use paper certified as coming from sustainable sources or from recycled paper, and to give priority to paper bleached without the use of chlorine products. This call should go out to all publishing houses internationally. This may be another reason to seriously look at eBooks -- Kindles, Nooks and others could reduce the demand for paper -- illegal and otherwise.
One of the tested books had an environmental theme, and contained the prophetic words: "We are writing this in the year 2805. The human race has left the planet earth … nothing grows here anymore …"
Next time you open and book and turn the page, think about where that paper came from.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hunger to Learn

As many as 115 million children of primary school age are not enrolled in school.

Millions of children around the world don’t have access to education because their families are too poor to afford to send them to school. In most cases, these children would do anything to learn, for they know it’s the only way to better yourself and climb out of their desperate way of life.
In Bengal, India, one schoolboy is trying to change that. I saw Babar Ali for the first time in BBC's Hunger to Learn series. He is first one in his family to get a formal education -- he travels over an hour each way to school and on his return, presides over a school he put together for children in his economically deprived village. Today, he holds classes for over 800 students who don’t have access to any form of education. His amazing project is transforming their lives.
Read the full BBC story and watch a short video about Babar Ali and his school here: The Youngest Headmaster in the World
Source: BBC

Monday, October 26, 2009

Writer Connections

There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. -W. Somerset Maugham

Writing is a lonely pursuit and you can spend years, staring at your computer, creating imaginary worlds in your mind, translating them onto paper. When you’re brave enough, you venture out and meet other writers, the only other souls who understand what it is exactly that you do (and why you aren’t on the NYT best seller list YET) One of the best organizations for connecting and networking with writers is the SCBWI -- the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Our local chapter is headed by the amazing duo of Margaret Speaker Yuan and Colette Weil. I met them at a writer’s retreat they put together four years ago and their support and advice over the years has been incalculable.

This past Saturday a group of 100 plus authors came together at the SCBWI Fall Conference hosted at Mills College in Oakland. The keynote speaker, Stephen Mooser, is President and co-founder of SCBWI. His talk, Getting Young Readers to Laugh, was a practical approach to writing for young readers and he outlined ways to inject humor into your work – which has helped him get the attention of boy readers and kept them reading.
Kelly Sonnack, a literary agent from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, spoke about Capturing a Child’s Voice. She brought great samples of how to get into a child’s head and write from their perspective – voice is one of the toughest things to nail down – it’s like riding a bike, difficult to figure it out, but once you do, it’s like you always knew how. Voice is what gives your writing it authentic fingerprint; it animates your characters with a unique personality that is an extension of your point of view. It grabs the reader’s attention hooks them into your story.
Sarah Shumway, Senior Editor at Harper Collins highlighted the importance of First Pages: Tips and Techniques. She discounted common convention that your book needs to jump right into action, or meat of the story; slower starts are okay as long as they hook the reader in and keep them reading. She read and critiqued a group of pages turned in by conference attendees. Grammatical mistakes are a sure fire way to get Sarah to stop reading – if you can’t use spell check she’s not going to waste time on your manuscript.
Luan Stauss, owner of Laurel Bookstore, provided awesome insight on how to work with local booksellers to promote your books. As writers, our job is to write great books, and in turn a booksellers job is to sell your books, which benefits both. According to Luan, Indies can support authors through hosting author events and handselling your book. Book an appointment with your local bookstore so that they know about you, their local author – it’s a win-win situation!
Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy have twenty years experience in the publishing industry and launched Blue Slip Media in March 2009. They gave great tips through their talks -- Niche Publicity and Marketing — How to Tap Unusual Markets and What to expect when you’re expecting . . . a Book: How to Partner with Your Publisher in Marketing Your "Baby". At a time when publishers are stretched thin and have limited resources to spend on marketing campaigns, it falls on authors to get creative – They spoke about effective press releases, targeted mailing lists, niche and local market outreach, and event planning. They stressed the importance of pursuing online media (Facebook, blogs, twitter, etc.) and tapping into personal networks. One of the best pieces of advice they gave was to act professional and Be Nice – it’s easier to catch flies with honey rather than vinegar!
So if you’re a writer, lurking at the back at your local café, isolated, alone, I urge you to join a writers group, such as the your local chapter of SCBWI. You’ll meet great people and have the opportunity to attend interesting, informative events.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Eyebrows & Chocolate

The word "chocolate" comes from the Aztec word "xocolatl", which means "bitter water"

I grew up eating Cadburys and it's delectably good chocolate. In order to portray a hipper image (since sales were slacking, dunno why) the company launched a new series of television ads, which are brilliant. These kids remind me of when I was ten... and just as geeky :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Nook n’ Kindle

The first eBook readers, Rocket eBook and Softbook, were launched in 1998

Sounds like a picture book about kittens! But no, it is the latest salvo into the eBook wars!

Competition has heated up with Barnes and Nobles Nookish entry! (The business side of me wonders if they whether the folks cooked up the name internally or hired a naming firm). More the better I say; the publishing industry is changing by starts, leaps, fits and bounds and eBooks are not only an environmentally friendly option (less dead trees), but they allow a new channel for book delivery (the author in me likes that).
My husband got me a Kindle, from Amazon, for my last birthday – I was sucked in by its aesthetics, ease of use and the fact that I could download a book in less than sixty seconds… like getting your reading fix instantaneously. (I will say that holding a real, dead tree utilized book is psychologically comforting, reminiscent of childhood and good reads.) The new Nook has similar features to the Kindle with a couple of additions – it has a color LCD mini touch screen (Kindle is black and white) and a unique feature called LendMe which allows the purchaser of a BN eBook to share that file with someone else. There’s no limit on how many times an eBook can be lent--only that you can lend an eBook to one person at a time, and just for up to 14 days. It's priced to match Kindle at $259, but unfortunately will not ship until November 30, cutting it close to the holidays.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Thousand Words

The word photography derives from the Greek words ‘photos’ - meaning light and ‘graphien’ - to draw

Source: Steve McCurry
I remember seeing this cover of National Geographic in 1985, while visiting Pakistan. As I read the story, I realized that the Pukhtun girl with the haunting green eyes, was just north of me on the Afghan border, in a refugee camp. Afghanistan had been invaded by the Soviet Union and the country was a war zone. Her face wasn’t the only thing that troubled me – it was the fact that she was the same age as me, and she had lost everything. A picture does truly paint a thousand words, and with a glance she told us the story of war, death, fear, hunger and loss. It was this picture, taken by the talented photo journalist Steve McCurry, which got me interested in photography. Steve is widely recognized as one of the best photographers of our time, known for his ability to capture the human spirit on camera, and his evocative, color photography -- this picture was chosen as National Geographic’s 100 Best. When I got back to school I joined Mr. Yurkovich’s Photo Club and immersed myself in the world of cameras, lenses, film and the darkroom.
I, along with thousands of others rejoiced when Steve McCurry found Sharbat again, 17 years later – they verified it was truly her by obtaining verification through iris-scanning technology and face-recognition techniques used by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Over the years thousands of people wanted to adopt her, send her money or help her in some way. Although I was glad she’d been found, I was saddened. She was my age, yet she looked a decade older. When Steve saw her again, he showed her the picture for the first time. She had never seen the picture, nor know that her face had become an icon. Sharbat and her family where given financial assistance, and she returned to a remote region of Afghanistan with her husband and three daughters. She used part of the money to educate her daughters, so that they have a better future.

Although I did not pursue photography professionally, I still love taking pictures and photography plays a key role in my novel, SHOOTING KABUL.

Friday, October 16, 2009


The ancestry of all 44 presidents is limited to the following heritages, or some combination thereof: Dutch, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Swiss, German, and Africian
I had the opportunity to hear Barack Hussein Obama speak last night, while he was in San Francisco. It was a chance to see a man who’s beaten many odds to become President, and it was too good to pass up. President Obama is a lot of firsts - the first African-American President, first from the state of Hawaii, the first with a Muslim middle name, and a Nobel Prize winner to boot. Regardless of his politics, whether you agree or disagree, he is an impressive orator. Plus we got to hear Tracy Chapman, whose soulful voice and lone, throbbing guitar got everyone going.
Although I follow politics pretty closely (hey I have a husband who teaches the subject), I’m pretty much a voyeur and not that politically active (though I did run as my class vice president in high school, and won). Usually, when it comes to voting, I on focus on issues that are important to me and don’t tow a party or representative line - I’ve voted for both republicans and democrats at a national and local level (I voted for one of the Bushes… guess which one?)
I’ve always thought the best leaders, of any party, were those who could empathize with others– politicians who’ve seen their parents use food stamps are more likely to address poverty; those who’ve struggled for an education know its importance for changing a child’s future; those who’ve travelled know that people around the world want the same things for themselves and their children as we do at home.
Although I enjoyed President Obama’s twenty five minute speech, it was his last sentence that struck me the most – like most politicians he stated that he wanted to leave this world a better place for children in America, but where he differed was when he added that he wanted to leave a world a better place for children around the globe. It really struck me how his unique upbringing (having lived in other countries and having a diverse extended family) allows him to expand his vision of America’s place in the global sphere – we are a superpower, and our actions affect not only Main Street and Wall Street but Any Street around the world. Although I may not agree with all of President Obama’s initiatives, as our Commander in Chief, I have the hope he will leave us, and the world, a better place than how he found it.
PS. This is an excerpt from the Nobel Prize Committee as to why he was chosen:
…through his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples ... Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position ... Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts ... Obama [has] captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Two Ms. Pierces'

Studies have shown that American children who learn to read by the third grade are less likely to end up in prison, drop out of school, or take drugs

There’s an open secret in the publishing world that to get boys to read, the protagonist should be a boy. Historically, children's books abound with male protagonists who have adventures, save the world and accomplish mighty feats and reap the glories, whether they are Peter Pan, Charlie Bucket, Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Although I this is a blanket statement and I don’t agree with if fully (I’ve met lots of boys, and grown men, who love Ramona and Laura Ingalls Wilder) there is a tinge of truth to the sentiment. In WordHustler’s interview with Ben Barnhart, Young Readers Editor at Milkweed Editions, he states --
“Girls make up, by a wide margin, the larger audience of readers, and there’s a lot of debate about whether boys simply don’t read or whether they don’t read because publishers are only publishing books for girls. There’s also a rule of thumb that says girls will read books about both boy and girl protagonists, whereas boys will only read books about boy protagonists.”
Although girls are omnivores of the reading world, they need to have access to books that have nuanced female protagonists. These characters should reflect a host of personality types, face adversity, succeed and fail at whatever they strive for. At the end of the day, the key for an author is to create characters who resonate with the reader – readers, whether they are boys or girls, need to believe in the protagonists journey and take away something from having read the book.
I encountered Alanna when I was elementary school, and I was hooked. Here was a girl after my own heart – a girl who defies convention and becomes a knight. She has successes and failures, yet prevails through it all. Tamora Pierce wrote ALANNA: THE FIRST ADVENTURE in 1983 and it was a ground breaking series of novels. Within a year I stumbled across Meredith Ann Pierce's DARK ANGEL trilogy, about a young slave girl, Aeriel, who defeats vampires and saves the world. These are books both boys and girls should read – the character of the protagonists transcends sex, and their accomplishments are universal.
The two Ms. Pierces’ introduced readers to tough minded, multi dimentional characters who went for what they wanted, stumbled, failed and succeeded, but perhaps not in ways they thought they would, or should. They got me love reading and planted the seeds to write – so thank you!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Indian to Indian

One in every 130 people living in the United States today is Native American.

Last night, my nieces reminded me that today was Columbus Day. I got to thinking about Christopher -- a monumental, yet controversial figure. After five centuries, he has been variously described as one of the greatest maritime navigators, a visionary genius, a mystic, a national hero, a failed administrator, a naive entrepreneur, and a ruthless and greedy imperialist.
Soon it triggered a memory of when I was a twelve. While visiting my sister, who was a college student, we hopped on a bus and headed across Oakland towards UC Berkeley. One of the regulars on the bus, a dapper old lady – a social butterfly and self proclaimed bus monitor, looked at us and asked where we were from. We said we were Indian. She paused a moment, analyzed our appearance and asked, “From which tribe?” My sister and I looked at each other and it dawned on us that she thought we were Native American. “No,” replied my sister. “We’re not that kind of Indian,” we’re from India. “Oh,” she said, and wandered off.

Photo 1: White Shield, an Indian Chief, 1908 by Edward S. Curtis. Photo 2: Maharaja of Patiala’, Bhupinder Singh, source unknown.
So, I’m the kind of Indian Columbus was actually looking for when he set sail from Spain, hoping to hit the Indies. His charter was to establish a foothold for Spain in the lucrative spice trade, which at the time was controlled by the Arabs and the Italians. And he would have found us if he’d followed common convention and gone east, over land, instead of west, across the sea. But instead, he had the idea that crossing the Atlantic was faster – he believed that earth's circumference was smaller than commonly agreed upon, thus the route would be quicker. I wonder what would have happened if he’d found us, instead of the Americas, and not set forth the domino effect of exploration, imperialism, colonization, exploitation and the eradication of native peoples.
I just reread Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN. When I read it, years ago, they were simply words on a page – powerful and impactful for sure, but it wasn’t’ till I saw him speak at SCBWI LA, that the words transformed into a living reality of what the repercussions of Columbus travel plans were – so here was the other Indian that Columbus had mistakenly found. The reality sank into my bones and hit me viscerally. So we are connected, the two Indians, in an odd tenuous way -- and for what is worth, I’m very, truly sorry Columbus didn’t go east instead of west.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Saudi Sojourn

Camels have a reputation for spitting but they don't, it would be a waste of water. What they are actually doing is vomiting on you.

Whenever people find out that I grew up in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, they ask if I went to school on a camel. And sometimes… they’re serious. So for the record – we did not travel via camel to school. We actually had a school bus, the same bright orange one with the green seats that bounced when you went over a speed bump. The next question people ask is what I was doing in Saudi Arabia, camel, or no camel. Well, I moved to Jubail when my father, a civil engineer, was transferred there for work, when I was four. So, in the mid 1970’s, my family packed up our house in San Francisco bay area and moved to the Arabian peninsula, a newly industrializing country, flush with oil wealth.
Overall, there were pros and cons growing up in the Middle East, but the pros heavily outweighed the cons, and my memories are of an idyllic childhood -- we lived on compounds next to a long stretch of turquoise beach, where my girl-scout troop camped out. For kids it was wonderful – we had our own commissaries (with local and imported goods), swimming pools, tennis courts and dozens of playgrounds. We kids ran around like banshees from sun up to sun down, with school slotted in the middle. Our school, Jubail Academy, which I attended from Kindergarten to ninth grade, had the latest equipment (we were programming on an Apple IIe in the sixth grade), bright, motivated teachers and a library full of books (something I’ll have to talk about some other time). It was a very safe place, no one ever locked their doors – so it was kind of like Mayfield, USA – Leave it to Beaver right the middle of the desert. My best friend from the first grade is still my best friend, and we recently had an elementary school reunion, her in San Francisco, which over 130 students and faculty in attendance.
There were cons, of course – the ruling family of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, ran the country with a firm hand – especially since it was undergoing modernization and changing at supersonic speed. The Saudis have a culturally rich, and proud history and the rapid development of the 60’s onward was advantageous and traumatic at the same time. Taking a largely Bedouin society into the 21st century overnight was fraught with complications – we used to see Bedouin tents decked out with satellite dishes and range rovers parked next to them. Gas was 50cents a gallon and the highways were littered with broken down, luxury cars. Sadly, the expat community was segregated from the local population, though we did get to make friends with some locals who lived in our compounds. There were many rules and regulations, especially pertaining to women – you heard true, women could (and still cannot) drive. But in the end, it was an experience I would never trade in.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


The Hawaiian alphabet has only 12 letters

There really is one universal rule for writing that all writers agree to: BIC = Butt In Chair. At the end of the day, in order to produce your literary work of genius, you must actually sit and DO it.

Now, how you DO it, according to standard writerly belief, falls into two camps – either you are a Panster or a Plotter. The first group, the Pansters, sit down, crack their knuckles, and let it rip -- they allow their creative juices to roar forth, spilling onto the page. The characters in their head come alive and lead them down a merry path, unfolding the story as they go along. The second group, the Plotters, sit down and well, plot. They make outlines, bar graphs, charts, do character studies and perform extensive research.
Personally, I don’t think it’s that black and white – successful author are shades of gray in-between, lying either towards the Panster or Plotter part of the bell curve. You kind of need to have both in some degree - allow yourself to think freely, come up with amazing ideas… then create some form of structure that allows you get from beginning to end without falling off the deep end. Let me tell you, many a book has begun then wandered off into the dark woods, never to be heard of again.
I fall on Plotter end of the spectrum. Ideas percolate in my head all the time, and I take notes. I have random interest in various topics and I find that these ideas sneak into a story or character idea. But then, okay, so I’m a bit anal (it’s the accountant in me) I make dozens of spreadsheets outline chapters, develop character types, generate subplots and jot down critical elements. One of my favorite things to do is research. I love finding out the history, back-story and details of what I’m writing about, and although I may only use 5% of it in my book, the journey of discovering new information is immensely satisfying. BUT I’m always open to change, so if my character decides he is now a girl instead of a boy, or the plot needs a radical twist, I accommodate it into my outlines.

All writers have their strengths and weaknesses. Some create haunting, beautiful scenes – ones you literally fall into when you open their book. Others create passionate, multifaceted characters you love, hate, admire, love and related to. Some can’t plot to save their lives, others can plot but can’t find their voice (oh that mysterious thing that I still can’t figure out either.) My strength may be organization and plot development, but my greatest weakness, alas, is my grammar. I was an Accounting and Business major in college and took, like, one comparative writing class. I still don’t know what a dangling participle is. But the good news is that I have an excellent critique group with two English majors who sort me out. Plus my amazing editor of course (poor her). So the trick is to know what your good at, work hard at what you aren’t, and find a great critique group, or partner, who can point out your genius as well as your inadequacies.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Geographically Challenged

Antarctica is actually a desert, receiving the same amount of rain as the Sahara Desert

My husband teaches political science and one of his classes covers the politics of a particular region of the world. So, on the first day of class he hands out a map to his class – a group of accomplished college coeds. For the most part, they are a smart bunch, having worked hard to get into this esteemed institution. The map is blank, besides the outlines of a series of countries, and the students have fifteen minutes to fill out the country names. At the end he collects them, and that night we sit at home, having tea, looking them over. 

Approximately 10% of the kids do pretty well, the remainder either sends us into gales of laughter (no, Spain is not in South America…) or into horrified silence. It reinforces the fact that we Americans are woefully geographically challenged – it’s a sad fact that Jay Leno got away with doing a hilarious segment where he asked people on the street answer simple geography questions, and lord I was embarrassed for the contestants. Most didn’t know which states bordered their own. But it’s not JUST embarrassing – it’s a national crisis – kids are unprepared for an increasingly global future. Fewer than 3 in 10 think it important to know the locations of countries that appear in the news, and just 14% believe speaking another language is a necessary skill. The National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs Geographic Literacy Study, done a few years ago, paints a dismal picture of the geographic knowledge of the most recent graduates of the U.S. education system.

-- Even through Hurricane Katrina had recently swept through the south, causing death and destruction, 33% of respondents couldn't pinpoint Louisiana on a map.
-- Two-thirds didn't know that the earthquake that killed 70,000 people in October 2005 occurred in Pakistan.
-- 6 in 10 could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle East – and HOW long have we been at war there?
-- 47% could not find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia (It’s the most prominent bit, sticking out)
-- 75% were unable to locate Israel on a map of the Middle East. (Okay, granted it’s pretty tiny, while flying over it George W. Bush stated that his driveway in Texas was bigger…)
Do we not care because most of the world lies at the end of two huge oceans – the Atlantic and the Pacific? Maybe the rest of the world doesn’t seem that relevant - the nightly news no longer covers the rest of the world since Brittany’s latest meltdown and Farmer Buford's ginormous pumpkin are far more important. But, how are we to understand, work and play with others if we don’t know where they are and what language they speak? It really is something to ponder… As the world shrinks before us, how will we continue to grow and prosper when we lack even the most basic skills for navigating the international economy or understanding the relationships among people and places that provide critical context for world events? Time to open an atlas...

Friday, October 2, 2009

One Girl at a Time

There are more than 2700 languages in the world

I’ve taken the ability to read and write for granted -- the benefits it affords me are immeasurable… but in the back of my mind lurks a number – 33%. Nearly one out of every three girls and women in the world cannot read and write. After hearing Tererai Trent’s phenomenal story, I was again reminded of the number. As a girl living in Zimbabwe, Tererai was denied an education and married off at 11 – sadly not an uncommon fate. But Terarai had a passionate desire to pursue an education, and she wrote her dreams of attaining a PhD on a piece of paper and buried it in a tin box. And in the end she did. Her story has been told in the book HALF THE SKY: TURNING OPPRESSION INTO OPPORTUNITY FOR WOMEN WORLDWIDE by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

I’ve always know that when you educate girls, you improve the prospects of an entire community – fertility rates drop and women have fewer, healthier children; infant mortality rates decline as knowledgeable women have better healthcare practices; maternal mortality rates are reduced as women have fewer children and pursue pre and post natal care; increased participation in the labor force yields benefits for the society at large; educated women are more likely to send their children to school; education is also protection against HIV/AIDS infection. So education is not only the key to a brighter future, it is also a key to survival.

Sadly, we have a lot to do to increase educational opportunities for boys, and especially girls. Although the worldwide number of children not in school has declined from about 100 million to 75 million, girls still constitute 55% of all out-of-school children. Worldwide, for every 100 boys out-of-school there are 122 girls. In some countries the gender gap is much wider. For example, for every 100 boys out of school in Yemen there are 270 girls, in Iraq 316 girls, in India 426 girls, and in Benin 257 girls (UNESCO GMR, 2007).

So, when you educate a girl, the benefits are passed forward and multiplied to the nth degree – let us all hope for millions of Terarais in the future. Check out Half the Sky Movement.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cover Uncovered… and the Judgment

Like fingerprints, everyone's tongue prints are different

No matter what people say, a potential reader does judge a book by its cover, and I think this is especially so with kids. Unsurprisingly, people have done studies on the subject  - Do Children Judge a Book by its Cover, and found that as children grow older, they have definite opinions regarding color, detail, proportion, and space. The study concluded that males prefer bright colors, less detail, and deep space in cover illustrations while females prefer illustrations with more detail. So you want a cover that attracts a readers attention and gets them to flip open the book.
So needless to say I waited in great anticipation as the team at Simon and Schuster did their magic. During the process, I was tremendously appreciative of the fact that both my editor and the art director kept me in the loop on who they had chosen as the artist – the fabulous Yan Nascimbene, and showed me the first cuts. In order to make sure that the cover is accurate to Afghan culture and the look and feel of the subject matter, I made some comments, which were incorporated into the final design. In the end, I feel, it’s truly a collaborative effort. And here it is...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jumping In...

A square piece of paper cannot be folded in half more than 7 times

I remember the huge sense of accomplishment I felt when I finished reading my first book – It was a tiny thing, 5 pages with colorful illustrations, simple words in large font. I think it was about a cat or a bunny… something small and furry… but the pride I felt as I reached the last page was all encompassing. Learning to read is like being inducted into a secret society – once your admitted, and a card carrying member (library card of course!) you're allowed to access endless reams of ‘secret’ information.
Like all those before me I soon found out what a gift reading is – it opened the doors into a world of possibilities, of knowledge and understanding. Of knowing what I didn’t know, and searching for answers if I didn't.  Now, as a writer, I feel the responsibility on the other opposite end– of creating stories that not only entrance, emotionally connect, but also leave a parting nugget of knowledge newly acquired…

So, here I am, jumping into the deep end of the blogging pool, with my nose closed and eyes wide open. I hope to post at least a couple times a week on reading, writing, sometimes eating, interesting conversations, happenstances, travelling and acquiring knowledge, in all its forms.