Saturday, November 30, 2013


Today we went Christmas shopping.

It's the last day of November, one day before the 1st. Advent Sunday, and the city was crowded.
It felt as if everyone was there, trying to spend their Christmas gratifications with a vengeance.
And yet, even though a million people are out and about, I love how relaxed most of them are. Sure, there's the occasional temper tantrum thrown by a kid who didn't get what they wanted (or maybe it was me, seeing a purse that made my heart beat fast).
What I like about Christmas shopping is the leisure, the thoughtfulness of picking things for people I love.
I like the shopping malls with their lights and Christmas decorations (and yes, that's my hubby's cut off arm), and I even like the special shopping bags with Christmas motives.

Being downtown, seeing all the people with their parcels and shopping lists, sitting down to a lovely Thai lunch, I got to thinking.

Do we even realize how blessed and privileged are? Do we take a pause often enough to appreciate what we have?

We sat down to lunch, my hubby and I, our full shopping bags somewhere under the table, and watched the Christmas parade through the window: Santa, the elves, the angels, music, glitter, and lights, children waving, parents watching, and without fear, without any worry.
At the table next to us sat another elderly couple, doing pretty much what we were doing. They were talking about the gifts they'd bought, and those they still wanted to buy, and smiled at the parade.

Blessed. Safe, spoiled, and blessed.
That's what we are. And I want us to stop and think about it for a moment.
Let's count our blessings: we live in the peaceful part of the this world. We have roofs over our heads, we are well-fed, healthy, we have houses or apartments with heating, warm water, light. We have beds! We have TVs and consoles, and computers, and cell phones, and most of us have at least one car.
We are blessed.
We have more than many on this planet will ever own, or even dream of owning.

These weeks before us, the December weeks that lead us to Christmas, will mean stress, impatience, even family drama and discontent to many among us.
Kids will complain because they're not getting the new Playstation 4, the new bike, a car, the iPhone 5s even though it was AT THE TOP OF THEIR LIST.
But there are kids who have never seen a Playstation, who don't even know what that is. Kids who'd be happy to have a better place to sleep than a corner of a refugee tent.
Some will complain about the family, about having to spend Christmas with them, about wanting quiet holidays, and not getting them.
But there are people who are lonely, who will spend their Christmas Eve lonely, wishing for family with all their hearts.

We are blessed.
We don't have to live in Syria and dread bombs and poison gas.
We are blessed, we don't have to sleep in gutters and beg for food.

I feel blessed. I'm grateful for having my family, my job, my cozy home. I'm grateful for my friends, for the love in my life, for the security and comfort.
It's Christmas time. It's the time when, even in the turmoil of shopping, cooking and baking, we should take that moment and step back from our busy lives, and realize: we are blessed.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Driving Home

It's the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and I'm reading all those posts on Facebook and twitter about friends rejoicing that their kids have arrived, are on the way, that they're going to the airport now to pick them up.
Others are on the road themselves, braving the storm and rain, or snow, to get to people they love and want to spend the weekend with.
Recipes have been posted back and forth, the grocery shopping for tomorrow has either been done, or is underway right now. I know that the stores are crowded, there may be little dramas unfolding about where to get the right kind of dinner rolls, or what kind of punch to brew.
Uh oh – that turkey will be too small for all of us, it's too big for the oven, did you remember to bring the cranberry sauce, and would someone please decorate the Christmas tree?

Thanksgiving, and how I've always envied my American friends.
There's something special, something very festive about Thanksgiving. It opens Christmas season in a wonderful way: families gather for a very special dinner, they go home, knowing everyone else will be there, too.

My favorite Christmas song has always been Chris Rea's Driving Home for Christmas.
We've often listened to it, driving into town for some Christmas shopping, and it made me happy and a bit heart-sick at the same time.
Going home for Christmas, that wasn't an option for us. Most of our Christmases were small, were celebrated with just the little family of my husband, me, and our two boys.
My parents didn't celebrate Christmas (my father being from India), and my parents-in-laws preferred to spend the winter on a tropical island, in the sun.
I've always wanted one of those big family gatherings. I'd have loved to sit down at a long table with my sister, her family, my husband's family, his sister, her kids.
I'd even gladly taken on the role of hostess, but it wasn't meant to be.
Now it's too late for that, of course. There comes a moment when everything changes, when you can't go back to what the family once was, or should have been.

Maybe it's me. Maybe it's because my family was always so splintered.
Maybe that's the reason why I miss these family gatherings so much.
I can even hear you say, "Oh, be happy you had small and peaceful Christmases! Family is such a chore!"
Yes, maybe they are. But they're also family.

So, all of you driving home today, enjoy your families. Yes, even that uncle or cousin that makes you want to go crazy.
Even the old aunt who knows everything better.
Please enjoy them. They're your family, and they love you.

And drive safely.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Somewhere Else

I don’t know what happened.
One moment I was in my apartment getting ready for bed, and the next I’m here. 
I remember exactly what I was doing: the cat had puked into my slipper. She always does that. Seriously, I should just get an extra pair of cheap shoes and put them out so she can barf into those and I won’t have to wear the ones I just cleaned when they’re still wet and all. 
So I’d cleaned the slippers, washed my hands, and brushed my teeth. I was looking at myself in the bathroom mirror, thinking that I was getting old. There are gray streaks in my hair now, and lines on my face. Mind you, not too many, and most of them are around the eyes, where you can always say they’re laugh wrinkles or whatever you call them. My knee was giving me hell again, like it always does when it’s wet and cold outside, and my boobs—seriously. Didn’t anyone in charge consider gravity  when they decided to give women boobs? I mean, really?
No wonder we get invisible when we reach a certain age. Who wants to see boobs that lost their battle with Planet Earth. No one. Not even me, and the stupid things are a part of me. 

It was raining. I clearly recall how it was splattering against the window, making that soothing noise that always lulls me to sleep right away. I’d brought out another quilt, and I could hardly wait to slip into my bed and snuggle up with the cat. I’d put on fresh sheets, too, which always makes going to bed an extra treat.
I like sleeping. I really do. I could sleep twelve hours every night, easily, and not be the worse for it. I could stay in bed all the time, the covers drawn up to my ears, always nearly asleep, half in a dream and half listening to the rain or the sound of traffic from the street below.
I’ve been thinking that I’m still there, maybe still dreaming. That would make sense. I’m dreaming this. This is nothing but a very long dream. I’m stuck in that place between waking and sleep, and this is where my dreams took me. 
That thought is really the only one that makes sense, and the only one that keeps me sane.
Just think: one minute you’re in your bathroom, staring at your boobs in dismay, and then WHAM you’re on a beach. And it’s not just any old beach, it’s a special beach, a weirdo beach, not a beach you’d find anywhere on Earth.
It’s a beach with lavender sand, and the water isn’t any shade of blue or green or gray, it’s red. A deep, crimson red, like blood, like blood from a vein even, not the bright, gushy blood you get from an artery. It’s the dark, deep color of a garnet. There are trees lining the beach, but I’ve never seen that kind before. They’re a bit like palm trees, but then again not. Their fronds seem to be moving on their own accord, even against the wind, as if they’re alive. It’s very creepy. And they aren’t green as they should be, but cobalt blue. So is the grass under them. Bright blue. So blue it nearly hurts the eye.
The creepiest thing of all though is the sky. 
There are wheels and wheels of galaxies spinning up there, bright and sparkling galaxies, and they seem as close as the Moon would, on Earth. And even though the sky is dark, down here, on this damned beach, it seems the sun is shining. Only there isn’t any sun at all.
There’s a slight breeze from this freaky ocean, a breeze that smells of flowers and wet soil, not, as it should, of seawater. And there are no shells. Nothing. Nada. It’s as clean as a private beach at a very expensive resort.
Sometimes I think I can hear voices from somewhere under the trees, but I can’t make out what they are saying. Every time I walk toward them, they fall silent or seem to move away. 
I’m all alone. I’ve been alone for what seems like a small eternity. And I don’t know what happened. I’m here in this place in my pajamas. I’m not hungry, not sleepy, not thirsty, and time doesn’t seem to pass.
Maybe I’m dead. 
Maybe I died there in my bed, after falling asleep, and no one noticed, not even me. Maybe my decaying body is still there, and the cat is starving. 
Or maybe I’m just dreaming, and in a moment I’ll wake up, and the little beast will be there calling for her breakfast.

Or maybe I’m no longer on Earth.
Maybe I’m really on a different planet, transported here for a reason I still need to figure out, and I’ll never go back home again.
I think it’s time to leave the beach and venture inland. Who knows what I’ll find. Maybe there are others here. I’m tired of guessing and being alone.

And I really, seriously hope someone feeds the cat.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Good and the Bad

Today I'm going to be very honest.
I'm going to share the worst that can happen to a writer: bad reviews.
We all get them. The best of us get them! So what is a writer to do, what are we supposed to learn, from bad reviews?

Last summer I visited my publisher.
I was traveling all over the US again to meet friends, go to a Neil Diamond concert in Salt Lake City, and also visit Eric G. Thompson, the man who created the art on the book covers of the Stone Trilogy.
My publisher had invited me to her home in a pretty little town outside New York City, and as we sat at her dining table, eating Chinese takeout, I began to apologize for the bad reviews my first book, The Distant Shore, had received.
Now don't get me wrong – there are far more five and four star reviews than bad ones. A LOT more.
But there are occasional bad ones.
My publisher gazed at me through her glasses across the lemon chicken and steamed dumplings. Next to me, on the table, was a tower of books she wanted me to sign, and a really large batch of book plates, too.
So she looked at me, and said, in a kind but slightly exasperated tone, "What are you apologizing for? You can't please everyone!"
Well. Yes. I knew that, too.
We moved on to red velvet cake and work, and didn't talk about bad reviews anymore. I signed those books, and all the bookplates and read a crime short story that I'd just written to my publisher.

Here's the thing though.
I still feel as if I should apologize for a bad review. I wrote that book, it's my work, and my publisher is my boss, right? I mean, she's also my friend, but before she became my friend she was already my boss.
She became my boss the moment I signed that first book deal. I promised to deliver something, and she promised to publish it, market it, and make money for both of us with it.
My book is my product. And I want my product to be perfect.
In my silly little mind I compared it to a quilt, to something that I'd made with my hands. I want my quilts to be perfect, and I want my books to be perfect.

Only there is no such thing.

There is no perfect quilt, no perfect book, no perfect nothing.
Everything is a matter of taste. What seems perfect to one, is stupid drivel to someone else.
While one person might love my pastel quilts, someone else might find them too pale, and boring.
While one readers comments on my books how they love love love them, another might be disappointed, and say so in no uncertain terms.
We all have expectations. We expect something to be just so, and if it isn't, we're disappointed.
For me, it's pistachio ice cream. I love pistachios! But pistachio ice cream? Meh.

So the lesson here is: suck it up.
You didn't please every single reader in the universe with your book. You only pleased about 80%. Those other 20%, they simply love something else, a different style, a different kind of story, maybe even a different setting, and different characters.
I have an author friend, and she never ever goes to read her Amazon reviews. Never. Because she's too scared of the bad reviews. The sad part is, she's also cutting herself off from the good reviews, from the happy words of readers who enjoyed her book, who want to tell her that she's a great author, and gave them a great time, reading her story.

I've learned to live with the bad reviews. It's not easy; we all want to be praised, and not be told how disappointing we are.
Writers, live with it. You picked a career that exposes you to critical eyes. Not making everyone happy is part of it.
Walk tall. Be proud of what you've done! You've written a book, and it's out there for so many readers to discover, and enjoy. Some won't like it. But the others will love you forever.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Buddhapuss Ink: So You Want to Write a Book Review . . .

Buddhapuss Ink: So You Want to Write a Book Review . . .:

Reader's Tip -   You finished that book you were reading and you loved it! Hated it! Were totally confused by it! And you know you wa...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

An Early Writer's Christmas

Because I just read a rather brilliant blog post by Jessica Bell, I want to say something that's been on my mind for a while.
This is about writing fiction, and about the writing attitude, so everyone who wants to learn what I'll cook for dinner today should go and do something more fun.

There's something about writing, about being a writer, that is different, special.

We are curious. We want to know, and we want to watch. We're the voyeurs who stare at other people in restaurants, on the subway, in the waiting area of an airport before boarding, in hospital or doctor's waiting rooms. We watch everything. We watch how strangers interact, how they talk, walk, and how they think.
We stare at trees; at flowers, at grass, at birds and cats. We listen to sounds; and we memorize them, and the way they seemed to us. We register smells, and the moment we do, we try to name them, describe their qualities, make them come alive.
We lie awake at night and mumble the conversations of our characters into the darkness, and when we wake up in the morning, the words are gone, but the feeling is still there.
Everything, everything we see, experience, witness, everything is research, fodder for our imagination.
You can recognize a writer by the way they stand and watch (and in my case, look like an idiot).
You can recognize a writer by the way they suddenly break off in a conversation, how they fall silent and go elsewhere with their minds: they've felt the spark. Maybe it was something someone said, or the way that someone tilted their head, or smiled, or pulled at their socks.
It can be anything.

So here's what I'm trying to say.
Don't rely on writing manuals. Don't rely on agents' or publishers' "how to" posts.
Admittedly, they are helpful. But consider them as crutches, as something to lean on while you go your own writing way.
Your writing should be bold, unique, it should express something no one else can express.
You are that new voice, the one voice that shines through even in a chorus of a million.

Get rid of those journals and manuals. Dare to take those steps onto that rickety rope bridge that means being a writer, and dare to fall.
But if you do, and you mean it with the writing, crawl up that mountain and try again.
There are no rules in writing. There is no right or wrong. There's only one way: your own.

So this is what I wish for you:

- Be fearless.

- Don't try to write like someone else. Comparing writers to each other is like comparing apples to cherries. There is no "alike".

- This is not a competition! We aren't sitting in the same office, waiting for a promotion, and get angry or sour if someone else gets it before us. Find your own path, and be generous with your praise if someone else gets that book deal before you. It wasn't meant for you. Yours is still waiting for you to finish that book!

- Love what you do.

- Never apologize for wanting to be a writer. If you've come this far, you should know that it's meant to be. This is a part of you. Don't deny it.

So there. This is my early Christmas wish list for all of you who want to be writers.

Oh –and if you want to know which article I was reading right now, here's the link:

Advice I Wish I’d Been Given When I Started … 

This post is featured on C.S. Lakin's blog Live Write Thrive

PS: dinner tonight is Red Thai Curry with chicken. ;)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Some Writing Advice. Some Detours.

The other day, my publisher and I had one of our fun (and sometimes slightly whacky) conversations. It was about blogging, and what to blog about, and my reluctance to write blog posts.

This is part of it
Publisher: Oh good grief. You're an award-winning author. And people also want to know about your life. Really!

Anyway. Who wants to know about my life? Hands up, please!
See? What I said. No one. And that's a good thing, because there really isn't much to talk about.
That will change next year though, the moment after I've bought my tickets and get ready to travel to Canada and the US again.

I really wanted to visit friends in the south and west of the US next year and see Atlanta, Oklahoma (yes, all that red dirt!) and California. Los Angeles, I've never been to Los Angeles, and I've always dreamt of going there. Also, Sacramento! I wanted to drive up Highway No. 1 along the California coast and see the redwood forest! And I wanted to buy a Hollywood Starbucks mug. Sniff.

My silly wayward brain decided otherwise. And this is where my life and my writing overlap, and in real-time. too.
I'd just finished the newest of the Stone Series books, and somehow my mind was straying. It was moving away from Jon and Naomi Stone, and into a world that was totally different.
For a while, I ignored that call.

Let me take a brief detour here.
One of my most heartfelt writing advices is, "trust your gut". I learned that when I was writing The Distant Shore. My gut told me to have someone shoot Naomi and wound her nearly fatally, and all because she was Jon Stone's wife. It took me a long time to figure out why my gut insisted on this. I tried to move away from that scene and its consequences, but it just sat there like a Mack truck and refused to move away.
Naomi had to be shot. 
She had to be shot to show how deep and strong her love for Jon really was. Whatever happened to her had to be extreme, painful, devastating, and overcoming it had to be painful beyond measure.
Some readers have said that Naomi whines a lot in the sequel, Under the Same Sun.
Hello? SHOT? Traumatized? I want to see one person who wouldn't whine in that situation. I knew I would!
Okay, digressing again. But the point here is, I listened to my instincts. As wild and crazy as the idea sounded, it made total sense once it was written. Naomi had to be shot. And she had to overcome that trauma in the second book. End of story.

Okay. Where were we? Right. Writing advice.
I'm going to dispense writing advice. Here we go.

1. Trust your instincts.

2. Trust your instincts.

3. Trust your instincts.

4. Please drop that "aspire" out of your profile. Please. If you'r writing, you're a writer. Period.

5. Don't write what you think the market wants. Write what your heart wants. Be bold! That's the only way to be sure that it will be any good.

6. Finish one project before starting the next.

7. Finish one project before starting the next.

8. Finish that project already! The ideas for the new one aren't going anywhere, right? After all, they're in your head. And the last I've heard, we control what's in our head. Well, more or less.

9. Start worrying about agents and publishers after your novel is finished (which means, written, edited, edited, and edited.). How can you possibly know which agent or publisher to approach before your book is even written? 

10. Have fun! If you don't have fun writing, don't do it. Because it would be an immense waste of your time.

So there. Writing advice, from an award-winning author.

PS: My twitter handle is Mariam_Kobras now, if you want to follow.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Little Beast and the Rock Star

                                 (art:Eric G. Thompson)

Today I want to do something that I normally never do: I want to talk about one of my books and explain. I firmly believe that an author should never do that. We write the stories, and the explaining, interpreting, discussing, belongs to the readers.
Today, though, because I've been asked a couple of times about it, I'm going to explain something.

Jon, in The Distant Shore, calls Naomi "little beast" from time to time, and he uses it as a nickname, as an endearment. Some readers have complained that it can't possibly be an endearment, their relationship is way to intense and way too complicated for such a silly phrase.
Well, that's exactly it.
The term "little beast" is born at a crucial point in their relationship. They've just found each other again after many years apart, and after a very tense day during which they carefully wade through their past and the pain it brought to both of them, this is the first time ease and a trace of humor blossom, and it's clear that Jon and Naomi really can and want to build a future.
Here's the scene I'm talking about:

In a lighter tone, Jon asked, “So what did Joshua say when you told him? What do you think he will say when we meet?”

“Oh, he’s seen you. We were at your concert in London. We had really good seats. Third row, right in the center. You looked down often enough.”
It took a long while to digest this. He had not seen her, but he felt as if he should have sensed her closeness, even amid the many thousands of others.
“And what did Joshua say?”
There was laughter in her eyes. “He said you were a chick’s man 
and no self-respecting teenager should be forced to listen to you. He thought your shirt was disgusting. I didn’t think it was that hot, either. And the tickets were incredibly expensive. You should be ashamed of yourself. Sean was good, though. I love his bone-dry rendition of The River. It’s really sexy. And he looks sexy playing it.”

“You little beast. You were truly there and never tried to see me? You were just sitting there, watching me bawl out my heart, and never did anything? And then you talk to me about how sexy Sean is? I’ll fire him immediately!” 

Jon uses "little beast" to respond to Naomi's teasing about his friend and musical director, Sean, to show that the mood has indeed lightened, and he feels secure enough to tease her back. 

"Little beast" is not the sweetest of endearments. It sounds rough, slightly off-putting, it's not a nickname that invites tenderness.
Naomi is not an easy woman to live with. She's sensitive, moody, reserved, and she has a tendency to be negative in her view of the world. She's easily spooked by difficulties, and she hates being public. And yet she's willing to marry a rock star, a man so famous he can't walk down the street without being recognized. Her love for Jon outweighs everything. Once she has overcome her doubts she's ready to jump from a cliff for her love. And Jon recognizes that. He feels secure enough in their love to give her a name that's fun.
And that's what it is: fun. It's a code word for them, a reminder of the moment when they realize that even though they were apart for seventeen years, even though their parting was painful beyond measure, they will be together, and this time, forever.

So there. "Little beast" explained.

I know – as every author does – that my writing or my choice of words doesn't please everyone. And that's as it should be. Books and stories are a matter of taste, like anything else in the world.
It's fascinating to read comments on my books on Amazon, and it's even more fascinating to see that what one reader loves and embraces will be completely rejected by another. 
It's also fascinating to see when a reader identifies with my characters and says, "YES! That's how my husband and I talk to each other, too!" and someone else says, "Normal people don't talk that way!"
it shows me that I got it right, and it also shows me how different readers are as human beings.
Everything is as it should be.
And I'm a very happy author!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Blogging Malaise

Write a blog post, the publisher says.
You're an author, you must blog, the publisher says, people want to know what you think, and what you're up to.
As always, up to no good, I grumble, and the publisher gives me a "good grief".
I can hear her breathe in, ready to launch a lengthy speech on the merits of blogging, and I'm perfectly sure that I can hear her fingers flying across the computer keyboard, finding links about blogging to fling at me.
I'll chat all day long on twitter, I tell her, I'll chat all day on Facebook, and I'll pin stuff to my Pinterest boards until my fingers bleed. Promise! BIG promise.
But the blog, she says, when did you write your last blog post? Huh? When?
I grumble a reply, and she goes, "AHA! That was last month! Hop to it, missy!"
It doesn't hep that she sends me one of those uber-cute kitty stickers on Facebook chat, either.
She's like that: very funny, very sweet, always kind and understanding, but hidden under all the cupcakes and chocolate is a small, iron fist that makes me do the things she wants me to do, and pronto.
It doesn't even help that she calls me a "speed demon" where my writing is concerned.
That's what you get for being fast, reliable, disciplined and open to suggestions (yes, I know that's a euphemism for "do what the publisher wants you to do, and write the books the publisher wants to see – and seriously, who wouldn't do that, if you have a publisher you really like, and who makes writing for them a blast?)

So here I am, writing a blog post. And here is the sad, hard truth: I'll never be a great blogger.
Why? There's nothing to blog about!
I get up, make coffee, go to my desk (with the coffee) and write. Around noontime, I start cooking lunch for the family, we have lunch, I go back to my desk, and write. In the evening, I watch TV or knit, or (rarely, because my head is full of words already) read a book. Then I go to bed. And so on.
And that's what I do on twenty-eight days of the month.
On the other days, the hubby and I go out for lunch, or shopping downtown, or both.

And that's it, folks! That's how I write two books a year ( and each of them with about 110K words), and some additional stuff like the short stories for #amwriting (sadly, no more), or the Super Secret Project I finished last night.
And this blog post.


*goes away grumbling, and hoping that one blog post a week will be enough*