How I Wrote 20,000 Words in 15 Days

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Men in transit in Bangladesh by Wonderlane

If you’ve heard of NaNoWriMo, then you know that 20,000 words isn’t that impressive. In actuality, someone writing 1,666 words a day should have 25,000 words in 15 days. But, as my students are fond of saying, I have a million things to do, so 20,000 is a goal post I’m willing to celebrate.

This is the as yet unnamed novel-in-progress, my first crime thriller, set in the Arabian Gulf, featuring an ensemble cast. This snippet takes us into Manu point of view. He is a young man from Nepal, who arrives in-country, hoping to earn enough to help halt his ailing mother’s decline.

Tell me your likes/dislikes about the genre – so much to learn and write.

——-

“You! Where you go?” The man in the robe was back, making a straight line for Manu.

“Toilet,” Manu said. He didn’t stop walking, lest he embarrass himself in front of all the eyes, now watching.

The man in the robe grumbled but matched Manu’s pace. He entered the bathroom, amazed at how clean it was, compared to the latrines he used in Nepal.

When he re-emerged, the man in the robe was waiting for him. He looked up from his phone and indicated with the radio antennae he was to rejoin his group. Manu walked, as slowly as he could, taking in the glittery countertops on the other side of the visa line. There were perfumes, chocolates, and toys.

“Okay, now,” the FBJ representative was shooing them all like schoolboys towards a roped column in front of the visa desk. “One by one,” he said. “One by one.”

They stepped forward. Manu looked at the young man who was stamping their documents. He took each passport from the ledge above his desk, flicking through the pages, his eyes passing over the face in front of him in an instant, before the heavy stamp descended.

The FBJ rep scuttled them through the baggage area, where the men wandered through a heap of rice paper bags and taped boxes, trying to identify their own.

“Mafi?”

Manu turned not understanding.

“Your bag?” The rep asked, eyeing Manu with suspicion.

“I lost it,” he said.

The rep shook his head but handed Manu a piece of paper. “Sign,” he said.

Manu looked at it, wishing he had stayed in school longer, as Amita had insisted. He couldn’t make out much anyway, the contract was in Arabic. But there, above the signature, he could make out numbers, since they often used the same ones in Nepal for license plates.

“This says 1,000,” Manu said. “What’s this? The salary? They promised me 1500.”
The rep clicked his tongue, peering at Manu as if seeing him for the first time. “You don’t want this job? You can go back.”

The other men were signing their contracts, passing the one pen among them.

“I want to work,” Manu protested. “But for the amount they said.”

The rep began walking, the column of men following him as they left the brightly lit airport into the warm night. They walked the length of the parking lot, to a dark corner, where a bus waited for them, lumbering in the dark.

Manu climbed the steps, promising himself he would speak to the rep later.

“Sign,” the man said, putting an arm across Manu’s chest. The contact and the pen were pressed at him.

Manu signed. His legs quivered after so much time standing. He collapsed into a seat, his shirt sticking to him. Unlike the airplane or the airport, the bus had no air conditioning. Humidity rolled through the open window and up and down the aisle like a beast with moist breath. They creaked their way through the city, mostly at sleep, and largely in the dark. The bus followed roads that snaked away from the bright lights of the perimeter, until they entered a neighborhood with dusty streets, and grey bricks made of concrete. There was laundry hanging on drooping lines and smashed vehicles waiting outside of garages. Men were walking around in collared shirts, and lungis, the cotton loincloths of the Indian subcontinent.

When they shuddered to a stop outside a chain link fence, running around a group of squat, brown buildings, spotlights illuminating the guard station at the front gate, the pit of dread in Manu’s stomach grew.

 

 

Slower Cooker Root Stew for #Sundaysupper

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 8.52.27 AMScreen Shot 2014-11-16 at 8.52.19 AMWe eat soup as often as we can in our house, regardless of the season. Now that cooler temperatures are in the air, even in the desert, soup will be on the menu two nights a week: the night it was made and the next day for leftovers. Tonight will be no exception with this Slow Cooker Root Vegetable stew.

The best part is that once you’re finished chopping all the veggies (there’s about 4 pounds worth here) you can let the slow cooker aka crockpot do the rest! Parsnips, butternut squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes: they all blend together for tender deliciousness. If you like your soups with more broth, I recommend adding more of the stock. For our leftovers, we’ll be making some on the side and reheating on the stove top.

And if you’re really inspired by the idea of veggies, then try this Chocolate Beet cake, the original recipe called it Unbeetable Chocolate Cake. Giggle. I’ve left my Bundt pan somewhere (if it’s at your house, could you let me know?) so a square pan did fine. That’s right, you’ve seen me experiment with Black Beans in Brownies, and also Chickpeas in Peanut Butter Bars. Beets in cake makes for a moist batter your family will overlook as they reach for more slices.

 

 

 

Wordless Wednesday: Making Peace with Suicide

An Arab Detective is Born During #NaNoWriMo2014

I’m doing #NaNoWriMo, that crazy month of writing pell-mell, towards the goal of a 50,000 manuscript by December 1st. This is my fourth time taking the plunge to write 1666 words a day. I’ve only ‘won’ or finished on time once and that was for the award winning novel Saving Peace. The very first time I was distracted by Thanksgiving. Another year, when I was working on The Dohmestics, I was tied up in revisions for the paperback version of another project. Needless to say, whether or not I’ve finished, NaNo has been extremely productive.

The book is as yet untitled, so those suggestions are welcome as well. This is a new genre for me, crime thriller. Let’s begin with Ali, our detective who has a secret. And a very boring day job. Or so he thinks.

CHAPTER ONE WIP

On his way to the station, Ali’s mobile rang, filling the vehicle’s speakers with its metallic ring.  “Get down to the mall bridge,” Omar said, after a terse greeting. “There’s an accident.” Ali groaned. He made a sharp U turn at the next roundabout, cursing the position of his father’s house, a mere minutes from the busiest cross-city artery. He was their first call for this area and there was an accident on or near the bridge every weekend. When he arrived, traffic was already crawling up the bridge like burdened ants. “Send a tow truck,” he texted Omar. He drummed his fingers on the dash, inching forward, regretting not taking the marked vehicle they offered to everyone on the service. He despised the way others abused the blue, white, and grey SUVs, putting on their flashers to get past slow drivers, or turning on the siren to careen through crowded streets.  He drove his white Nissan like hundreds of others on the roads but the siren would come in handy in times like now.

After twenty minutes of bumper to bumper, he pulled over in front of where a white SUV had rammed into the back of pick up truck. The force of the impact from the much larger Land Cruiser flattened the truck bed like a piece of pita bread. Ali strode to the first vehicle; on the other side, squeezed between the passenger door and the bridge’s railing were two skinny cinnamon colored men. “Okay? You okay?”

They looked up, their eyes wide, stunned like camels that had fallen off their transport, taking in his full height, crisp blue and black uniform. “Fine?” The men looked at each other, then turned to him, doing the side to side head movement that always confused him. Did it mean yes? Or no? From the way they used it, apparently the head lilt could be both at once. Horns were starting to sound of the other drivers who wanted to get onto the bridge. Ali reassured himself he saw no blood or bones. He kept walking, to check on the other driver.

The other man was talking animatedly on the phone, his head visible behind the deflated airbag which had popped like a child’s party balloon. Ali rapped on the window, expecting a litany about how Indians didn’t know how to drive. Instead, the boy, for that’s how he revealed himself, hung out of the driver side window, his hands shaking.

“This is a new car,” he said in local dialect, the sun glinting on his braces. “My father is going to kill me.”

“Are you hurt?”

The boy shook his head. Ali could see the purple knot forming on his forehead, pushing to the surface. That was going to hurt. He nodded, indicating the boy should stay in the car. He didn’t bother asking for a license. There was no sign of facial hair on the boy’s angled cheekbones or curved lip.

“No one has been hurt,” Ali reported to Omar who grunted a blessing. “This is going to be a mess in ten minutes.” He hung up, trying in vain with the Indians to get the pick up to start. The engine protested, failing to turn over, the belts screeching like a cat being stretched between two poles. They were on the tail end of the bridge, slightly past the ascending slope on this slide, so that ruled out pushing the vehicle two hundred meters to the other end. Going backward made more sense, as they could find room to stash the vehicle under the overpass. But that would mean heading into oncoming traffic. His Nissan could tow the truck but the captain would frown on his getting personally involved. They watched traffic halt on either side for at least 2 kilometers; the drivers of oncoming traffic braking to see what happened. When the tow truck arrived, night blanketed the city, the call to prayer rising from the mosques in the area like fresh bread. He turned over management of the accident to the officer who arrived with the tow truck driver. “Don’t tell my dad,” the teenager pleaded. His cousins, around the same age, judging by their narrow shoulders, had shown up, taking photos of both vehicles with their shiny Smartphones.

That he had been sweating the two hours they waited for the tow truck soured Ali’s mood as well as his uniform on the way to the office. He sat at his desk, or at his station on the long slab of plastic counter, his hands at his temples. His eyes angled downward, towards his phone, like so many of the other policemen in the station. Well, when there were others. In the middle of the afternoon, as the desert heat rippled the air outside like a shimmering wave, he was the only one around during the shift change. Anyone entering the office would think he was watching a YouTube video or reading the Qu’ran and maybe take a seat, waiting for someone else to show up.

#SundaySupper: Clean Out Your Cupboard Slow Cooker Soup

Cooler weather has found us, even in the desert. This time of year, I find the urge to eat soup every day and no room in the cupboard. That calls for an inventive soup in the slow cooker. I love crock pots because you can toss everything in with fairly little effort, leave it alone for hours (I went out to a reading event with our four year old) and the house smells like you’ve been laboring all day.

I began with wanting to use up a long stored can of red kidney beans in this recipe and then improvising with whatever veggies I had in the fridge which included carrots. After a few hours, when I tasted the broth and found it had quite a kick (and there were some yellowing potatoes on the counter) I threw those and a can of diced tomatoes in add more flavor. So delicious we will be fighting over leftovers !

Beginner’s Guide to Laos: The Opposite of Hate

I married a man who everyone assumes is Chinese because of the epicanthic folds of his eyelids. I didn’t know Laos was a country until I heard my husband explain over and over again that no, Laos was not another name for Cambodia. That was the beginning of the idea of a book, loosely based on the experiences of my Laotian in-laws as they immigrated to the United States. I say “loosely” because in the tradition of Hollywood, the inspiration for the story then veered into characters who behaved other than the real life events.

Nearly 3 years later, and on my 8th wedding anniversary, here’s a look at how history can bring us together and life tear us apart in the Land of a 1000 Elephants where more bombs were dropped during the Secret War than ever before.

Opposite of Hate

Possible: A Surprising Health Care Model for Nepal

mother and childI generally have a policy to say yes whenever it makes sense. In the last week this led to my serving as an auctioneer for a breast cancer fundraiser, and also a guest at a dinner discussing health care experiences.

The dinner was hosted by Possible, a non-profit that is offering high quality care to the world’s poorest populations. If this sounds too good to be true, it isn’t, but it is complex work. If you’re wondering why others haven’t done it before, perhaps it’s because they don’t have the passion you see shimmering in the eyes of Possible’s staff, including CEO Mark Arnoldy, who is among Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 list of global changers.

Here’s some information about the amazing impact Possible is having in Nepal. I am going to make them my holiday charity for 2014: instead of gifts, I’ll ask people to consider making a donation. Consider doing the same this holiday season as a way to engage your friends/family in being a blessing to causes you care about.

1. Why Nepal?

Nepal has some of the most progressive healthcare policies in the world; the constitution guarantees the right to health and universal healthcare for the poor. But executing on those policies remains a challenge in rural areas, and millions don’t get the care they need from the traditional private, public, and charity approaches to healthcare. Our model of durable healthcare enables us to be paid by the government to deliver healthcare within their infrastructure, and allows us to solve for the patient while aligning revenue with care.
Secondly, we were repeatedly told our vision for healthcare might work in some places, but not in Nepal. Which is precisely why we embraced the challenge, and charged forward determined to defy expectations. We knew that if we could create a healthcare model that worked fully for the poor in a region labeled impossible, our innovations and proof would be more powerful.
2. How many people have you reached? With what services? 
To date, we’ve treated over 218K patients who make less than $2 a day and walk on average five hours to reach our hospital. We treat an array of medical issues, including: TB, HIV, safe births, fractures, malnutrition, dental, and mental health. We treat patients at our hospital, our surrounding clinics, and through our referral care program (with partner hospitals and our crowdfunding partner Watsi) for advanced treatments.3. How can we get involved?
 
You can directly invest in our work here. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates, and sign up for our email to receive patient stories, impact data, and more. 

4. What’s the future look like for this program?
 
For the next five years, we are committed to improving and expanding our durable healthcare model in Nepal. We are going through a 2-year hospital expansion project to turn our hospital into the first rural, accredited teaching hospital in Nepal. We also plan to expand our number of health clinics to 72, and employ over 900 community healthcare workers to cover the entire Achham District, a population of over 250,000 people.

Breakfast for Sunday Supper

We love breakfast in our house, whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I have a picky four year old eater (though all he did was eat homemade baby food when he was an infant) so trying out coconut flour pancakes – with Nutella to sweeten the deal, and peanut butter to balance out the chocolate – was a hit. Low carb and healthy, a crowd pleaser for all ages.

Whip up a batch and you’ll have enough for more than 12 medium size pancakes.

3 Ways to NaNoWri with this Mo

You may have passed other years without hearing about National Novel Writing Month, but not this one. You may have had a book idea lingering in your mind for years, but November is the time to sit down and write it. I’ve finished two novels this way and can’t recommend it highly enough.

You can sign up for me to be your writing coach all month in an informal, online learning environment.

You could also sit down and write 1667 words a day. Which is pretty much how I’m planning to do it: one chapter at a time.

A Letter to My Son’s Bully

The public conversation about bullying has opened up to include friendship benches at schools and campaigns for inclusiveness. As the Indian child of immigrants who grew up in the southern parts of America, I heartily support both.

Bullies are going to happen, whether on the playground or the workplace; they are a ritual of childhood as much as the joy of a driving license.

When confronted by three four year olds, hands over their ears, laughing when your child enters the room, your mettle will be tested.

When I realized where their glances were going, I let the boys know if that ours was too loud at any point, they could ask him to stop. I asked them to please put their hands down. One out of the three did. The other two carried on.

In that instant, two ideas crystallized:

1. I cannot protect my son from negative events in his life.

2. Not everyone is going to like my child.

I diverted his (and my) attention away from the ones who still had their hands over their ears.

“Who’s excited to see M today?” I asked the class at large, gulping past a lump in my throat that no one would reply. Thankfully two other children raised their hands.

“What’s your name?” I asked a dewy eyed girl who bounced in her chair.

I redirected my guy towards her.

Yet the brief incident stayed with me on my thirty minute drive to the office. I called my husband; we discussed our concerns and also the opportunities.

As an adult I am someone who is comfortable in her skin – even if this means other people are put off by my frankness.

I didn’t have an ideal childhood but that worked in my favor as I grew older: disappointment, hardship, and tragedy did not pull me under as it did some of my other more sheltered friends.

While my heart still twinges when I think back to that moment, I am thankful for this incident. How we react to adversity shapes our character from a very young age. Even as early as 4.

As much as I want to protect them, I want to give our sons resilience even more. What other people think about you is a reflection of them, not you.

I thank those three four years for helping me formulate my parenting strategy toward adversity.

What are your thoughts? Have you had to deal with bullying?

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