It took nearly two months but someone finally trusted me enough to share her story. I’m amazed how many women are scared of repercussions from their employers. Not by the ‘bad’ ones who don’t pay well or are aggressive in their assignment of tasks, but also of the ‘good’ ones who work in fields like education, where one would expect (rightly or wrongly) more kindness to domestic staff.
Hear what this working mother has to say about why she went overseas to work as a nanny/housemaid.
We hear songs, watch movies, and yes, read books about that most elusive of emotions: love. No matter if your culture practices arranged marriages (Indian/Arab) or not (the west). No matter if your parents are divorced (fell out of love) or not. No matter if you are married (harder to stay in love?) or not. I could tell you how at one point in human history marriage was thought of a business transaction, a way to consolidate wealth within families or across countries. Or that modern society has not eased up on women to have a man (and a baby or two) in order to think we have it all. You’re smart. You know these schemes around the world’s most sought after prize — finding one’s soul mate.
Love is at the core of contemporary culture. Despite your best efforts, there’s no way to avoid it. From Bollywood to Hollywood the themes are the ones passed to us by the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. Star crossed lovers; repudiated love; timid love; the plot lines are as familiar as the headlines for celebrity breakups. Were, for example, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes ever in love? Or was it a career furthering scheme drafted in the cold light of day between agents? What will happen to Suri Curise, the tiny fashion maven?
Those are questions for a very different story than the one I wrote inspired by the dreams, wishes, and desires of young people living in Qatar.
Love Comes Later is my second novel, a meditation on how non-western people of this generation will find happiness. I’m excited to say the book is now available for purchase on Amazon.com.
As a writer I’m not immune to the questions of the commercial love machine. After all romance readers account for a large portion of book sales year round. Romance writers are like country singers; they come out with albums on a yearly basis and their fans make them best sellers. I’m not sure if I’m going to become what’s called a genre writer and stick only to romance from now on. This story, of three protagonists, Abdulla, Hind, and Sangita, came to me as a love triangle.
I can tell you that based on the five books I’ve released this year, the novel is the one everyone gets excited about. Short stories and essays may get a passing look, but a novel still seems to inspire more wonder and likelihood of risk on a new author. This new project will help me further test my hypothesis… or you can share your thoughts on my theory and enlighten me.
If you like your romance more visual than textual, then have a look at the book’s YouTube trailer. As always, writers need readers, so please take a second and let me know what you think!
Last week I hosted my first ever live video chat to talk about self publishing with those who are considering it as an alternative to commercial publishing. I was wracked by nerves, extroverted me who presents at international conferences and have been speaking in public since my high school graduation. The live chat stretched me out of my comfort zone as I keep developing this thing called a writer’s platform. What if nobody shows, I worried. Is the lighting in this room too dim? The live chat came and went (people did show and ask some really good questions) and I realized both how much I had learned about publishing ebooks in the last 8 months as well as how risky it felt to try something new.
Being an author is taking a series of risks; putting your words on paper means that others will read them when you’re not around and draw their own conclusions without the benefit of your expansive comments. For women, the type of self promotion required by indie publishing can often feel uncomfortable, if like me, you were taught that talent shines on its own without having to push oneself forward.
That may be true for some, but for the indie author, male or female, hanging on the fringes of social media waiting to be noticed will have about the same results as sleeping on your manuscript and hoping you wake up to a completed book. You have to put yourself out there. There is no way around it. Even commercially published authors have to go on book tours, meeting with book clubs, talk to media outlets. People can’t read your book if they don’t know about you. And if you’re a writer, not just an author (someone with more than one title in you) then people have to identify with your brand.
Check out my branding trailer (which was another step outside my comfort zone last week). A branding trailer lets you know what an author is about: what kinds of book(s) she writes, what people think about her work. In this one I also have quotes from my reviewers (some people have review trailers as a separate genre). Feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you thought or if you have questions.
You can also read this guest post by Sheryl Steines, author of the urban fantasy novel, The Day of First Sun where she talks about the challenges facing not just women writers in promoting themselves but also promoting strong female characters.
The Strong Female
I am always amazed to hear that, in the year 2012, women are still talking about strong female characters. It’s funny that we’re always surprised when one comes along. Even in Hollywood, actresses still can’t find roles to sink their teeth into. As a reader, I look for characters that I can relate to in some way; a character who is more than a damsel in distress but less than an unfeeling, mean, witch. I’m putting it gently, but I’m looking for someone, who when facing a problem, doesn’t necessarily need a man to bail her out–a woman who can take care of herself in spite of her vulnerabilities. Because in reality, women are multi-layered and complex. We don’t fall to one end of an extreme or the other.
When I was younger, I started reading Danielle Steele, but I couldn’t read her for long. Her female characters were far too needy and always put themselves in a position of requiring a savior. Even as a child, I couldn’t help but wonder why these characters always needed a man to improve their lives. Why couldn’t they simply take care of themselves? It seemed as though female characters fell into two camps, and only two. They were either villains, witches, someone to be hated and despised, or they were weak, pathetic, your classic damsels in distress. Why is fiction lacking real women, women who can simply be human and celebrate all that they are?
As I got older, I found myself drawn to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I saw in Buffy a strong character. Yes, she could kick ass, kill the vampires and fight the demons. She also had a brain, could plan, and could save the world each week. But she wasn’t uni-dimensional. She also has a side that liked clothes, shoes and boys, a side that was feminine, a little vulnerable; a side that, okay, sometimes needed to be saved. She was a complex female character, real and human, a character with whom I could definitely relate.
The strong female character isn’t a caricature or stereotype. She’s not a total wimp like Snow White, and she’s not a total monster like the evil queen. She falls somewhere in the middle. She’s reactive, emotional, human, sexual, confident and sometimes unsure of herself.
When I originally wrote my character Annie Pearce in The Day of First Sun, I wrote her as a no-nonsense person, strong and smart, the girl who could survive on her own. But she didn’t feel genuine. As the story unfolded and changed, I rewrote her, gave her friends and family with whom she could interact. I gave her feelings, gave her stress. I let the other characters take charge once in awhile and offer some support. I melded two halves into one woman–a strong woman, who can take care of herself and ask for help when necessary. We’re not perfect, so why should our characters be? Instead, why can’t we make them simply authentic?
Charlize Theron made a really compelling comment regarding her character in the movie Young Adult. She said, “Women are usually either really good prostitutes or really good mothers. Maybe women are finally getting the chance to play more honest characters,” Theron said. “We usually don’t get to play bad hookers or bad mothers — or anything in between.”
Maybe it’s time to be a little more real and a little more honest.
As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Day of First Sun eBook edition is just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include $450 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of the book.
All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!
To win the prizes:
- Purchase your copy of The Day of First Sun for just 99 cents
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About the book: A vampire, a rogue wizard and an army of soulless zombies are par for the course for Annie Pearce and Bobby “Cham” Chamsky of the Wizard’s Guard. But when the non-magical princess, Amelie of Amborix, is murdered by magical means, a deeper plot unfolds. Get it on Amazon.
About the author: Behind the wheel of her ’66 Mustang Convertible, Sheryl is a constant surprise, using her sense of humor and relatable style make her books something everyone can enjoy. Visit Sheryl on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.
- Book Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel (thebookaddictblog.wordpress.com)
I’m a default random thoughts type because I’m a writer. No matter the people, country, or time period, the role of a writer remains the same: to notice, reflect or ponder the meaning behind the everyday. This past weekend I went to two events on back to back evenings where I saw something which was interesting in and of itself – a counter youth culture amongst young women in Qatar – made slightly dramatic by the reactions others had to them.
In fishbowl like Doha, where the entire population hovers near 2 million and the nationals number 250,o00, you notice those who are different. I’ve talked a lot about how I stand out as a western educated South Asian American woman in a sea of nannies, cooks, and maids. Depending on who is in a room when I walk into a meeting, there can be everything from mild surprise to indifference, or even hostility. The boyas, or girls whose dress is masculine, evoke similar reactions at all the female parties. (That was redundant to those who have lived in the GCC for a while: parties are gender segregated.)
Going to a wedding is no small thing: I had to find a dress, go to a salon to do my hair, pick out shoes, (“Wear pewter color, ma’am,” the girl sales girl told me, impressing me with her vocabulary. I did as I was told) select jewelry and then apply make up. It’s the western equivalent of a prom, with a bride who comes in at midnight. And all of this for an all female audience. People from the West often exclaim “What’s the point?” when they learn there aren’t men around. And this is an interesting reaction: after all, do we only look good for others? Is there no need for approval from other women? So many things about the assumptions of cult of beauty are challenged in an all female environment (though the cattiness and judgement can still remain. Someone whispered “I hate her, she’s so skinny” as another girl walked by). A standard practice is to change your display picture on your phone to show friends (usually only all girls because of the prohibitions of hijab) your glammed up self. “Hot!” A few people messaged me back when I sent photos of the end result (which they requested).
When I got to the wedding, that of all the female family and friends who knew the either the bride or the groom, there were more exclamations, this time from my students. Because while I am well heeled according to some people’s definitions of female faculty, in the land of designer brands, I’m probably only just
serviceable in two inch heels. On a day I’d rather exercise and be on time to class than put on eye liner, it never fails that someone says: “You look tired.”
In the Oscar like garden of floor length dresses that women wear to weddings, some of the boyas were wearing pants, button down shirts, and even a vest or two. The effect was that they not only stood out, as perhaps my being one of a handful of foreigners did (and the only Indian invited as a guest, while there were many Filipino maids standing in attendance on their older patrons) but they demanded attention by sheer dint of their professed masculinity.
Amongst the yards, and yards of teased, curled, and sprayed hair (mine being no exception) not to mention hundreds of dollars of extensions, the boyas had cropped hair, close to their chin and ears. In some cases they came in with girls, ultra feminine, either as escorts or friends, there was no way to be sure. Some say that having another girl, a masculine boya, is a substitute for the value added by a male admirer – which in this gender segregated society would be construed negatively. (In either case their sexuality is not really the point of these ruminations: the expression of a public, counter persona in a communal society is.)
The next night at a fundraiser, a friend said: “I’ve never been with so many in one room.”
The boyas were out in full force, about four or five in a group of eight or so: one girl wearing cut off shorts and biker-style jacket amidst Chanel and couture party dresses. This time they seemed less like standouts and more like a gang or cult. There were clear expectations of dress (masculine, boxy, pants, no dresses) hair (if not short, then styled up in mohawk like ridges) and they hung in tight clusters, really only talking to the people they had come in with. Yet everyone was talking about them. Rather than seem disturbed by this obvious fact, the boyas seemed to enjoy it. They walked into the room as confident as anyone else and has a good a time as the rest of us, judging by their smiles, laughter, comings and goings.
This reminded me a bit of the research I did for my Hip Hop book. Before the days of Footloose and Pepsi commercials break dancing was thought of as street culture; beat bopping and rapping didn’t always make people into millionaires and a pimp’s life often had as many problems as his hoes. When the record industry realized there were multimillion to be made from hip hop, the fringe culture of youth on the streets went from the inner cities into the cars of white boys in the suburbs and then across the oceans onto posters on the walls of teenage rooms around the world. The margin became the center.
That’s not the scale of what we’re seeing yet with the boyas. And given the social and religious strictures, we may not. But that’s not really the point, at least for those who are using this identity at the present moment. For now they seem to be happy as the thorns among the roses.
After saying I needed another account like I need exposure to Ecoli, I signed up for Pinterest. Call it peer pressure, or my mind’s need to indulge in the very visual after hours of wrestling with words, I’ve been pinning my heart away. My boards (the groupings of images I select) reflect my interests or intended projects: a Yum-o! list of recipes I’d love to try for my well deserving family, a Family Wedding collage of ideas for an upcoming celebration, and a Writing Projects smatter of snapshots of dresses,and faces (including Robert Downy Jr.) who remind me of my characters. Getting slightly into it, I created a few more: one for research about Laos for an upcoming novel, another with Books Worth Reading in my heaps of free time, and Word! (Sayings I Love) for those times I need to dwell on the positive.
Revealing my Type-A personality, there’s this other board, Random, where I capture things that are interesting but don’t fit any of the others. “Random” for things that don’t On this board, I put a fairly innocuous image but one that stood out to me nonetheless (left). Continue reading
In an age where diversity is defined as relations between the races and women’s struggles are thought of being long over, I raise a hand in dispute. I constantly have to draw my own boundaries and define myself – not allowing others the permission to apply other words, particularly a word so ineffective as cuteness. The fact of the matter is, cute is not an innocent word. Hold on, you’re saying. Hold on. I like cute things. Okay – let’s play this game, then. Describe the cute things you like.
Kittens you say. Kittens are cute. And puppies. I just adore puppies. Yes, I agree. Kittens, as well as puppies and babies are cute – adorable even.
But women are not. At least not those who want to be taken seriously.
Language, it is a powerful force; it is the ability to name and describe someone. Words are as central to our ability to communicate as humans and distinguish us from all other types of animals. When words like cute are applied to grown women or even little girls, they cease to be innocent. Name the last time a tall broad shoulder man, dressed in an Armani suit, silk tie, and was described as cute. A red carpet fashionistas would never describe Daniel Craig as adorable. We don’t use cute to describe serious male actors, or anything masculine because, rationale sputters, they aren’t cute. Right. Men aren’t cute – that’s reserved for small animals, children, and women.
It’s troubling that an adult human can fall into the same category as two other beings with little agency or self-sufficiency and in constant need of attention. The essence of cuteness is that it defines our understanding of gender roles and how they function in our perceptions of ourselves and others. Cuteness will never allow a female student to achieve her full potential in a classroom or any other arena. After all, she has her achievement. She’s cute.
As a working woman from the age of twenty one, and holding a full time position while finishing a Ph.D. in Postcolonial Literature, cute was perhaps one of the most dismissive words to reduce my work and me, to rubble. Being young often added to this dimension of being a non-adult; the entire first year of my doctoral program I constantly found older students asking me if I was starting my Masters or even worse, a first year student. Celebrate your youth, you say: you may wish you looked this young.
Cuteness doesn’t only function as a limiting gendered term. Cuteness also covers ethnocentrism and a failure to understand products and people of other cultures. The politics of cuteness negotiates our reaction to things, people, and places that are outside our normal frame of reference. Since the normal frame of reference is usually a Eurocentric model, this means cuteness defines those things that are non-western by infusing them with an inability to be taken seriously.
Being a woman of a stature that in most cultures is considered small, (I stand at 5” 1’) little often directly translates into belittle. During the course of office repartee, my forays are noted by other staff members as coming from, “the smallest person in the department,” changed my conception of cuteness. It was a category that continuously defined me, constantly changing to shadow my scholarly work, my professional profile. This was a not-so-subtle form of discrimination dodging my steps.
Maybe my sensitivity is derived from a lifetime of being near a 4’ 11” woman: my mother. I laughingly describe myself as the fat giant of the family – I tower over my mother and sister, neither weighing over 100 pounds. People’s reactions to my mother illustrate the inherent problems with this language.
“Mohana,” they say. There’s a glimmer in the eye. “Mohana, you’re mother is so little.”
This is often said in an almost whisper as if it’s a secret. I nod and try to smile, a plastic tightening of my lips. Then a triumphant, “I’m taller than her!” as if this is a considerable achievement rather than an accident of nature. Then, almost without fail, as if on cue from some invisible script: men, women, even teenagers.
“She’s so cute!”
It often bursts out, head shaking in amazement, as if it never occurred to people that a body that small could birth three children.
It was no secret my mother has felt the pressure of cuteness her whole life; it would boil over in every family fight we had.
“You’re not listening to me because I’m small!”
There the accusation would hang and at about eight, I sighed and gave up trying to explain that it in fact was not because she was small. It was because she was our mother. But for her, the cuteness that pervaded her life diminished her in the world’s eyes. It wasn’t until I got to graduate school and learned expressive words such as performativity and subjectivity that I understood what was happening to my mother – and why I resisted the word cute when it applied to me. As a result of her height, people ascribed cuteness to my mother, which resulted in a one dimensional construction of her identity both as a person and as a woman. My mother’s understanding of herself and her status as person, her subjectivity, was informed by this primary idea that she was different from other people, and that her cuteness led to not being taken as seriously as others.
Yet while resenting it, she performs this identity of cuteness in her interactions with other people. She answers the phone in a shy girlish voice, whenever she laughs it’s really a tiny giggle but she covers her mouth, she lets my father dominate social situations even though she loves meeting new people. Cuteness constructs and defines my mother’s understanding of who she is and who other people expect her to be.
We undermine the meaning of women, and strip the meaning from beings when we place non-descriptive and unempowering adjectives like ‘cute’ onto them. Other words that fit into this category include ‘sweet’, ‘nice’ and I think we covered ‘adorable.’ To battle against this insidious form of discrimination, awareness, time and introspection are the keys to reprogramming these often visceral responses.
Now I pause when describing people and consider the adjectives used and think on them. Perhaps a question to ask yourself: would I feel empowered if this were used to describe me? And a follow up: the next time you do use one of those adjectives, ask yourself, what was it about that person/thing/place that I was glossing over? What didn’t I want to understand/appreciate/think about? Rather than label something in an effort to give it value, however well intentioned, ask a question instead. “Wow, that’s beautiful. Does that pattern have significance?” goes a lot further toward building bridges than, “I just love that fabric! It’s so nice.”
I am now in my thirties, a young mother, and happily married woman who refuses to let anyone dismiss me because of my age or appearance. In order to be taken seriously, I take others seriously and also work really hard. It doesn’t take long before people find out that I am someone they can rely on, trust, and confide in. Any one of those qualities they would take over someone who is known for being aesthetically cute.
After a very stressful week and promises to myself as well as my close friends that I would not touch my email all weekend (despite not having a Blackberry, I often am ‘that girl’ these days on my Nokia if there is wireless internet available), I tried to pull together some modicum of energy to meet some social obligations I felt less than ready for.
Despite being four months pregnant, I managed to squeeze my growing belly into not one but two different dresses this weekend, first for a former student’s wedding and second for a friend’s graduation party. In the ex-pat community in Qatar it is an honor to be invited to a wedding – well in all societies a wedding invite is a treat – but here especially where there can be limited interaction between people of various ethnic groups and particularly since women’s gatherings are private domain where people literally let down their hair otherwise coiled beneath headscarves at work, the gym, or mall.
I’ve been to weddings before and confess to dreading them because often the invitation comes from a friend or relative of the bride. So you don’t know her, but find yourself in a room with hundreds of other women made up to rival any Hollywood movie premier, waiting for the bride’s arrival which is often hours past the start of the reception.
In this, Qatari and western weddings are similar: people waiting for the guest of honor, waiting to eat, in short, all dressed up and waiting. The first time you go to a wedding, this waiting is filled with nothing short of ogling because this may be the first time you see so much female flesh amongst the abaya clad set that normally perambulates as dark figures with hints of color on sleeves and headscarves on the streets and malls of the Gulf. I was no less guilty my first visit to a wedding (published as an article in Melusine literary magazine, http://tinyurl.com/cgzk5e).
Because women are so nondescript in public, the western is often shocked at the contrast in public where strapless, midriff, or skin tight are the norm. It’s the constant inability to understand what other cultures find instinctual: there is a division between public and private and no one feels the pressure to prove anything to those who aren’t in both spheres. After all, opposite of individualistic cultures, the importance isn’t on the life lived outside the home, but the one and the relationships connected to the home. As a young South Asian girl growing up in the U.S., I may no have worn an abaya but I certainly couldn’t compete with my American friends when it came to shorts, bathing suits, or prom dresses (when I was allowed to go to the occasions that necessitated any of these items).
For Qatari brides, they have some of the same restrictions of South Asian brides: even after they enter, it is unseemly to smile, dance, or in general be happy. With my students and friends I’ve had endless talks about how this particular tradition is wearisome and against what they would actually want to do. But they are bound to do the smile-less fifteen minute minuet to the raised platform on the other end of the room because if they don’t, people will talk.
Every time we watch our wedding video with anyone (or ourselves) I see the same conflict on my face as my parents bring me down the aisle: I enter looking down, the exact opposite of all the Hollywood scenes; then my true personality must have kicked in because I dart up and give a smile to those who are nearest me – then the head goes back down. I hadn’t worn a veil but maybe I should have because it would have given me a traditional look in keeping with my demure downcast lashes.
Then imagine my joy on Friday night when the bride came in, doing the minuet walk to the other end of the room, and then broke out into a red-lipsticked-diva smile on her way to the waiting dais! After about twenty minutes of photos and videotaping, she came down and danced with us. I was very tired by this point having exceeded my normal bedtime by about two hours but when she approached me and extended her hand, I twirled. She said something I couldn’t hear because of the loud music.
“What?” I asked, leaning in close.
“Shway, shway,” she said, giving me dance advice.
Now I’m not sure if my new belly was throwing off my groove, but my whole life – admittedly lived amongst mostly white friends – I have been the one with the rhythm. Not so, apparently, that night amongst the mostly twenty something Arab girls crowding the dance floor.
The next night saw me as one of four people on time to a graduation party.
The foreigners are the only ones here I text to a Qatari friend who was on her way and we thought we were being fashionably late by showing up thirty minutes past the advertised time on the invitation.
The music this evening was pure khaleeji, or Gulf, not the Arab pop of Egypt or Lebanon. Most of the women in attendance were Qatari and you could tell when there was a popular hit – the dance floor would be crowded with women of all ages, shapes, and styles. This wasn’t the belly shaking of the night before – or the booty shaking of American dance floors. This was measured two stepping that took the dancers across the floor in parallel lines, the focus on their legs and footwork, with some graceful hand movements every once in a while. If someone was particularly inspired, she didn’t wait for partners, she just took to the middle of the room and danced – all by herself, under the weight of the eyes of the onlookers. I had nothing on these women – particularly not this group of women who not only knew these songs but clearly loved them – and was content to watch. This time it wasn’t with my ‘year one of arrival’ stares at their dress, or make up, or hair. It was in admiration for how they celebrated their creativity and sensuousness, not needing men or vulgar lyrics to aid them.
After a twenty minute stop for dinner which began at 10:30 p.m. the music roared up again as I said my goodbyes and slipped out. It was midnight when I got home, an hour I had not seen on the clock since the second month of pregnancy.
Parties and weddings are much better when you know the women who are at the center of attention – whether in Qatar or India or America. I’m so glad that after five years of living here, I can say that I do. I knew things were changing because not only did I know the bride/graduate directly but I also didn’t feel ‘sad’ when the women left the room and put their abayas back on. I waited as one of my friends, resplendent in an orange gown, matching shoes, shawl, and plunging neckline with yards and yards of hair, wrapped up and we went down to meet her husband. Normally when people leave these things or the groom shows up at the end, expats exclaim at the change that comes over the room as it goes back to black.
Since I started wearing an abaya to the office last month (on days when I can’t get it together otherwise) I supposed this transformation wasn’t as stark to me. I know what’s underneath: beauty, power, grace. It isn’t because we’re ugly that we wear it. It’s actually the opposite. We have better things to focus on when out in public or at the workplace. And when we are at home, we shine.