The process of editing has me so frustrated that I have decided to turn to other bloggers for advice. I am having several plot issues and over the next few weeks I will be writing posts about these in the hopes that I will get some feedback from other writers and bloggers out there on how to handle these. Let me just say in advance that I will appreciate any and all thoughts and comments. At this point I feel that I am ready to just give up, but I know that I cannot and that I must finish this novel and publish it. I tried to do it alone and I feel that at this point the opinions of others who are not so attached to this will be a great help.
So here is my issue of the day:
As some of you may know, I am writing a Young Adult Paranormal Romance novel based on Hindu mythology. Although the heroine is from North America, obviously a lot of the action takes place in ancient temples and the jungles of India.
My question is this: How much explanation should I provide of terms and actions etc, that might be unfamiliar to North American readers? For example, Namaste is a traditional Indian greeting. Having lived in North America myself for over twenty years now, I feel that many people know this. Of course I plan to weave an explanation of many things related to Hindu mythology and Indian culture into the story, but some of the terms aren’t really that unfamiliar in today’s ethnically diverse population. I also don’t want readers to think that they are reading a lecture on cultural issues. After all, this is a Young Adult novel. I would love to hear what you all have to say.
I was thinking about the stories we all grow up with. No matter where we spend our childhood, when we move to another part of the world we carry these stories with us and consciously or not, they make their way into the stories we write or tell our children. The folktales we listened to as kids or the stories that Grandfather always told at dinner seep into the world of the characters we create and soon we experience a wonderful fusion of cultures in which the bedtime stories a child might have heard in India merge with the stories of the Brothers Grimm. Thus we create new fairy tales for another generation. Almost every culture has some version of the knight in shining armour who saves the princess. Or the brave warrior girl who outwits the evil genius. And then there are all the mythologies. As a child growing up in Germany I devoured the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales. But I also loved the stories that my Bengali father told me and the comic books he bought me from which I learned about Hindu mythology. I grew up in a Muslim home, reading stories about Hindu deities, along with old German folktales. I lost myself in the Arabian Nights and listened to the bedtime stories that my Pakistani mother told me. Fantasy knows no boundaries and stories flow effortlessly across man-made borders. As writers, we are in a unique position. We can create characters and stories which reflect wonderful aspects of different cultures and enrich the literature of our times. And never has this been easier than now, when we can reach such a large audience so quickly and easily. I am grateful for the opportunity to share the stories that created such happy memories of my childhood.
On our trip to India two years ago we visited Fatehpur Sikri. A lot of the action in my book takes place in old temples and palaces, so this was a perfect spot for some great inspiration. The Mughal Emperor Akbar had this palace city built in the late 1570’s when he relocated the capital of his empire from Agra to Fatehpur. The architecture is a dazzling blend of Persian and Hindu styles. The design bears testament to the religious tolerance that Akbar was well known for. While the Mughals were devout Muslims, Akbar chose to educate himself on the tenets of Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, as well as Christianity. In the palace he dedicated a large hall, called the Ibadat Khana or Room of Worship. There he invited scholars and leaders of other religions to meet and discuss their faith with the goal of enlightenment and brotherhood. Surprisingly forward thinking for his time, Akbar even invited women to join these weekly gatherings. But he didn’t just stop at gatherings and discussions. Akbar tried to create a new faith which was an amalgamation of all the faiths he had encountered. He called this faith Din-i-Ilahi, Faith of the Divine. Unfortunately for him, the ministers of his court were not quite so open-minded, and prejudices got in the way of his tolerance. Those closest to him began to worry that his open acceptance of the other faiths would pose a threat and political circumstances did not allow the new religion to gain popularity. Sadly, a few years later, Akbar’s court abandoned the palace at Fatehpur Sikri due to a water shortage.Today, the city still stands, nothing more than a ghost town of courtyards and surrounding pavilions. Walking around the complex you can almost hear the echoes of children playing in the gardens while the Emperor’s wives lounged by the pond. Inside the empty palace it is easy to feel the intensity and passion that must have filled the Ibadat Khana when Akbar led the scholarly discussions on the some of the world’s major religions.
As a writer there is nothing more inspiring than a place filled with so much history and intrigue. Every room seems filled with secrets and stories just come alive as you walk in the footsteps of so many who made and changed the circumstances of their time.
I read an article today and it made me think about this: how much of our experiences as teenagers do we drag around with us through our adult lives? People who are bullied, emotionally and physically, often carry their scars well into adulthood. Some build a social network as adults so they feel supported, while others shy away from people they perceive to be part of a clique. How many of the choices we make as grown-ups are the result of emotional baggage from our high school years?We experience some of the most crucial turning points in our lives only after high school. Marriage, childbirth and career choice all play a major role in the kind of person we become. So, the big question is: are we doomed to be haunted by our teen angst forever or can we reinvent ourselves?
A couple of years ago we visited India with our daughters. For them it was the first time. For us it had been too many years. It’s funny how things that you took for granted acquire a sense of adventure when you do it with your children for the first time. When we were young it was common to buy snacks from the roadside vendors and eat it right there. One of my favourites was pani puri or gol gappa as it is called in some parts. This basically consists of crisp, hollow, deep-fried balls of dough that are filled with a spicy potato mixture. You get a few of these on a plate. Then you add spicy tamarind water and a chutney made with coriander, green chilies and mint. When you pop these in your mouth and bite down, there is the most delicious explosion of flavours. I have to say, that although I have enjoyed food from many cuisines, there is nothing quite like that initial burst of tartness, sweetness and spice that you experience when you eat pani puri. And it’s just not the same when you make it at home.
There’s something about standing in a crowd with your friends, waiting as the vendor fills your plate and hands it to you. In Mumbai we took our daughters to try it, thinking that they might find it strange, but they absolutely loved it. Of course, the “street vendor” we went to was actually an air-conditioned shop, although this particular one also had a man doling out the stuff from behind a cart on the lower level. And I must admit, they tasted better from the cart than they did when we ordered them and ate at our table. So, do our fond childhood memories actually enhance the taste of a favourite food when we eat it again after many years?