Balancing Act: Finding Time for Family and Writing

frustrated
frustrated (Photo credit: jonwatson)

Since I started blogging a few months ago I’ve noticed that a lot of the blogs I follow are written by moms who, like me, have to split their time between writing, family, as well as a job or a home business that demands their attention. Even on the best days, I feel that I come up short. Either I didn’t get around to editing as much as I needed or I didn’t get to spend as much time with my girls as I would have liked to. The guilt kills me, but try as I might, I am just not willing to give up any of the things that make my life great: my family, my work or my writing. Not that I think I should have to choose, but there has to be an easier way. So I thought I might ask you, the readers, to offer suggestions. Perhaps you have figured out a way to have it all, or at least have most of it minus the guilt. Either way I am desparate for ideas, because I have set a deadline for myself and I am afraid…I am very afraid that I am going to let myself down and that I will lose the drive to keep going.

Writers’ Conferences: Why Every Aspiring Writer Should Attend

Writing can be a lonely profession and networking is a writer’s best friend. Writers’ Conferences provide an excellent opportunity to meet experienced writers as well as others who are just starting out. We all need encouragement when we start the long, often arduous journey to being published. Spending a weekend in the company of veteran authors who have successfully traversed the great divide that exists between the budding author and the published one, can be an unparalleled experience.

I attended the Surrey International Writer’s Conference  in British Columbia, Canada for the past two years, and it has been  an invaluable learning experience for me. I thought I would share some of the details with my readers so here goes:

First of all let me say this – what you learn at a conference in three days is equivalent to taking several long running writing courses. You have your pick of workshops, everything from writing great dialogue to character building to publishing. Then there are contests, readings and book signings. You get to meet the most inspiring people, published and unpublished writers that just get the fire going. It can be a little overwhelming at times, but if you pace yourself, you will get so much out of it. Other than the obvious learning aspect, there is one more reason that a writers’ conference is such a great event. You spend three days in this bubble, where you can forget the outside world and just soak in everything related to writing. It’s great when you’re in the company of others that are excited about writing. You leave feeling rejuvenated and exhausted at the same time, but with a renewed energy to keep going and this to me is priceless.

The downside is that these conferences are pretty costly. At the SIWC about $600 will buy you the full access package which includes all the workshops, lunches, themed dinners and after dinner events which can be a hoot. It does not include travel or accomodation. Of course it helps if you live nearby or if you have a friend who is also attending, so that you can share these costs. If you are attending from out of town, the conference website will usually help you get in touch with others who are attending and are looking to share rides or rooms.You can also reduce the cost  if you choose only to attend the three days of workshops, but not the lunches and dinners. You still get to meet with authors and editors as that is usually built into the basic package. The first year I attended, I chose the full package as I did not want to miss anything. I hadn’t anticipated just how tiring  a full day of intense workshops can be. Although lunchtimes provide a great setting to meet new people, if you look at the cost versus benefit ratio, it’s fine to miss the lunches because you still get plenty of opportunity to chat up people  throughout the weekend.  But for first time attendees I really recommend the full package. I’m glad I got to do it all the first time around, so for the second time, I knew what to pick and what to leave out.

For me the best part is the pitch session, where you get to talk about your work to an agent or editor of your choice. Then there is the opportunity to show a piece of your work to an author who can give invaluable feedback.

So, if you have the opportunity to attend  even one Writers’ Conference you should do it. You will not regret it and who knows what wondrous opportunities might come your way.

Writers and the Fusion of Cultures

Child_with_red_hair_reading
Child_with_red_hair_reading (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

The Abandoned Palace: Fatehpur Sikri

Painting of Akbar the Great with Jesuits at hi...
Painting of Akbar the Great with Jesuits at his court; Akbar’s vizier wrote a gazetteer on the Mughal realm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Imperial palace at Fathepur Sikri, near Agra, ...
Imperial palace at Fathepur Sikri, near Agra, India, built in 1580 Français : Palais impérial à Fatehpur-Sikrî, près d’Âgrâ en Inde, construit en 1580 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Helicopter Parenting: How much is too much?

Week 36: Helicopter Parent
Week 36: Helicopter Parent (Photo credit: WilliamsProjects)

As parents we often have to tread carefully to avoid stepping on the fine line between good parenting and over parenting. How do we know when enough is enough? Is there a magic age when we can say that we have done all that we could for our children and that the time has come to step back?

I thought I was a helicopter parent. I hovered in preschool, in elementary school and would have continued to hover in high school if I had not walked into that invisible wall as my oldest daughter went off to her first day. It wasn’t an actual wall that stopped me…it was a look of sheer horror and embarrassment on my daughter’s face as she realized that I was stepping out of the car and following her. That look stopped me in my tracks. I realized that I had gone as far as I could. I stood outside her school like an abandoned child for a few minutes, before it hit me. This was it. No more greeting the teacher as the kids walked in and hanging around the classroom if they needed parent helpers. Apparently, once your kids hit high school, parent helpers are synonymous with the plague. I realized that I needed to get a life of my own, hence the desire to start a career as a writer. Also, I had some time to transition since I had another child and her teachers to harrass for a few more years.

Which brings me to the article  about helicopter parenting. Apparently it is a real affliction. It seems that there are parents out there who haven’t heard of the invisible wall I was talking about. And if they did, they may have just crashed through it anyway. I’m not judging because I know I’m just as guilty of hovering, but I do draw the line at calling my children’s prospective employers or future university profs. But extreme hovering tactics aside, when do we let go? Do we deprive our children the benefit of our experiences and failures and allow them room to make their own mistakes? Is it hyper-parenting to want to spare your child the disappoinments that you have faced and give them an edge? I don’t have the answers, but I do know that it is a daily struggle to decide when to step in or back off. After all, it is our children’s future that’s at stake.

Editing: Off To A Good Start

WAIITIN
WAIITIN (Photo credit: khalid Albaih)

My editor sent back the first twelve chapters of my manuscript and I must say that the feedback was very helpful. It’s as if we share a brain except he knows just how to organize the thoughts and I’m still all over the place. It was incredible reading his comments and realizing that he picked up on all the issues I was having and suggested ways to make them better. Am I lucky or what?

Now I am looking at massive rewrites, but that’s better than not knowing whether my concerns are valid or just the product of self-doubt. There was an interesting thing about his feedback when I received the second batch of chapters. I noticed that he gives compliment sandwiches. He’ll say something positive, then point out things he didn’t like and end on a positive note. Interesting…I wonder if that’s something all editors do or if my editor is just really nice.

Valentine’s Day and Romance

Dinner
Dinner (Photo credit: Paul Watson)

Valentine’s Day is upon us and it got me thinking about what romance means to us as we get older. When we’re younger, romance is all about grand gestures, jewellary and flowers. Several years of marriage, a mortgage and a couple of children later, many couples are content with dinner and a movie on Valentine’s Day, while someone watches the babies. Some might say that it sounds like they’re settling, that the spark is gone, but is it really? I think it all comes down to what romance means to each of us. Doing the dishes when your spouse has had a stressful day or getting the kids to bed early so that you can spend quality time together can be much more romantic than flowers and chocolate once a year. I think romance redefines itself as we go through different stages in our lives. It is nice that there is a special day dedicated to love, but I think that true romance is in the little kindnesses you show each other every day.

Liebster Award

Liebster Award

Ashley Manning nominated me for this award and I would like to say a big thank you to him. You can find him at ashleymanning.com.

According to the rules I now have to state eleven random facts about me, so here goes:

1. I was born in Germany.

2. I am fluent in five languages.

3. Growing up, I had an assortment of pets: five dogs, six pairs of homing pigeons, a hamster,  two mynah birds, two rabbits, two baby ducklings and a cat that thought it owned me.

4. I love to dance.

5. I finally worked up the courage to sing in front of people, so now I am a huge fan of Karaoke.

6. I have lived in five different countries on three continents.

7. I love sushi.

8. I love watching Merlin with my family.

9. I love dogs.

10. I’ve always wanted to be tall.

11. I would love to travel back in time, but I also want to know what the future will be like.

Now for the questions from Ashley :

  • What is your favourite book?  There are so many, but my favourite one a few years ago was The Time Traveler’s Wife.
  • What is the worst book you’ve ever read? I really can’t think of one that would qualify as the worst.
  • Do you think Crash Bandicoot is awesome? Had to google this one. I don’t play video games, so I have no opinion on this one.
  • What is your favourite genre? Fantasy Romance at the moment, but I also love anything historical.
  • Do you have any hobbies? Karaoke.
  • Do you like Poetry? Not really.
  • PS3 or Xbox? Neither.
  • Do you still buy CDs? No.
  • Which is better –  A purple dog with an apple on it’s head or a cow with a giraffe’s neck? Since my favourite colour is purple, I have to go with the dog.
  • Have you, or do you want to read Uylsses and why? Haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list. Why? Because it is one of those books that should be read.
  • Do you find it as hard to write 11 random questions? I’m about to find out.

Now the questions for my nominations:

1. Why did you start blogging?

2. If you could come back as anyone else, who would it be and why?

3. Who did you most want to be like as a child?

4. Who is your favourite character from a book?

5. What do you like to write about?

6. What country would you most like to visit?

7. What kind of music do you enjoy the most?

8. Do you like the feeling of holding a book in your hands or do you prefer e-readers?

9. During which part of the day are you most productive?

10. If you could have any superpower, which would it be?

11. How did you feel when you were nominated for this award?

And here are my nominations:

http://readfulthingsblog.com/

http://wordsformwindows.com/

http://elizabethblackbourne.wordpress.com/

http://nolanparker.wordpress.com

http://onthegofreelancer.wordpress.com/

http://moolta.wordpress.com/

http://suellewellyn2011.wordpress.com/

http://sophiebowns.wordpress.com/

http://blue88book.wordpress.com/

http://cruisingthroughmylife.wordpress.com/

http://www.happybeinghealthy.com/

http://www.happybeinghealthy.com/

Thank you so much for reading.

Authors and Editors

Edit Ruthlessly
Edit Ruthlessly (Photo credit: Dan Patterson)

I recently decided to hire a freelance editor for my manuscript, so that I could get started on my revisions. The process was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I simply went to the Canadian Editors Association website and looked for listings that mentioned YA fiction and sent off requests for estimates. A few days later I found someone that seemed to be a good fit and we got started immediately. I was mostly worried whether the editor would understand exactly where I was coming from. In the numerous emails we exchanged, I tried to explain what it was that I most needed his help on. When I first started looking online, I learned quite a few things. There is quite a confusing array of editing services available and some of them overlap. In addition, they can be quite expensive. So if you don’t do your research and fail to ask the right questions, you may end up paying for a service you didn’t really need. In the end you have to be clear about what it is that you need from the editor and make sure that they know it as well, so that there is no room for misunderstanding. If you’re lucky you will find somebody who gets your writing and will help make it the best it can be.

Girl Power

When I decided to write a book, I knew that the protagonist had to be a girl. She would be a strong, kick-ass sort of a girl. No standing on the sidelines and watching with big eyes as her man saved the world. No, she was going to save the world herself.I wanted to base my story on the mythology of India, because it is so rich and fascinating. And I knew that I wanted to write for young adults, because they are  at an important juncture in their lives. Not that my book is going to impart any great pearls of wisdom. On the contrary, it is pure fantasy. But I happen to believe that when you allow yourself to indulge in fantasy, you can discover a lot about who you truly are and what will make you happy. Plus it’s just really cool to write about a girl who has the powers of a goddess and can kick a demon’s ass.