I had an a blast in Kuwait last week with PLUMA, a writers group focused on exploring the migrant experience in the Arabian Gulf. I read a scene from The Dohmestics that was quite hard going: an almost rape scene in which those at the bottom of the pyramid compete against themselves. I’ve read from this scene before. The last time I did, the audience was stunned by sorrow into silence. This time, the group was nodding all throughout. Yes, men from the same country while abroad will take advantage of their compatriots.
Yes, women can work against her other. Or stand together in solidarity. I was comforted by the ability to talk about these harsh realities instead of shying away from them.
In the Q & A the inevitable question came: “What advice do you have for beginning writers?”
In all seriousness, if you haven’t written anything, don’t ask me how to get an agent or sell your books. You haven’t got one yet. If readers fall in love with your work (which is a miracle every time it happens) then they’ll want your next project. ASAP. You’ll need to keep writing.
People also ask me: “When do you write?”
“Whenever I can. Wherever I can. In the 30 minutes before a conference, skipping breakfast. Poolside during swim class. On Saturdays.”
In the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, I know exactly which creature I am: the hare. This was evident when I was younger: studying a bit all semester and sleeping while my college roommate crammed all night, her Dr. Pepper’s lined up on her desk. When the exams were handed back we each had an A; hers was .5 higher than mine.
The memory of the lesson I learned that day stays with me: do a little bit at a time and you’ll be done by the deadline. This was my secret to NaNoWriMo 2014. I began the month on an overnight flight to Prague for a conference, with my laptop out, typing away. There was a week or so where I thought the story I was telling was utter rubbish; then the detective found his sidekick and sparks flew.
You’ve got a great story, I told myself, in the lead up to Thanksgiving when it was unlikely I would be able write one word, while hosting 7 adults and 7 children. 30,000 words that didn’t exist before November 1.
Then an interesting thing happened: I went through my chapter list on Saturday and Sunday, adding words to those under 1666 (the daily NaNo average).
11:30 p.m. on November 30th (the last day you can get in your 50,000 words) I uploaded my manuscript.
Yesterday I wrote another 1200 words. That hare won the race. This hare has more story to tell.
Here’s the final excerpt I’ll share in my NaNo journey.
Amita, Manu’s sister, is looking for her brother who was reported to have entered the country a few weeks ago. Her dismay is representative of the many families who do not hear from their relatives once they enter their host countries.
Stay tuned for more updates about this work in progress (and the title is still missing…).
PS this scene employs the infamous writing adage “Show, don’t tell” the reader what’s going on with your characters. We try to experience Amita’s confusion with her, rather than learning about it second hand.
Amita took another step forward, grateful he hadn’t pushed past her like so many other Europeans did when given half the chance. “I look for my brother,” she said. She pushed the passport copy of Manu and his approved work visa under the opening.
“You housemaid?” The man asked, his hands unmoving.
“I’m looking for Laxmi Pande,” Amita switched to Hindi.
The man’s narrowed gaze is why she had hoped Madam Cindy would take her to the embassy; her whiteness would have shamed him into being helpful.
“She not here.”
“My brother missing,” Amita said. “He here for three weeks. I no see him.” She managed in the English he was forcing her to speak. “Miss Laxmi she arrange contract for him.”
“That’s terrible,” the woman murmured behind her.
The man picked up the sheet of paper. There was no nametag for her to record a name, like Sir Paul had asked her to get before he left on his trip. He would have come with her but he had to go to a conference in Paris. Busy. Everyone was busy.
“Contracts,” he said, tossing the paper back at her.
“This not contract?” Amita asked in confusion. This was the document the woman had supplied the last time she visited the embassy, looking for a job for Manu. She had promised an office job, as a kitchen service man, boy as they were called here, where he would bring water, tea, coffee, or juice to those having meetings.
The man turned in his chair and tapped the window in the direction of one of the stations in the main room. “Contracts, there. Go see contracts.”
Amita picked up the copies of the visa and passport, the only tangible proof she had that her brother had made plans to join her in the Arabian Gulf. She moved through the rows of chairs to the counter the receptionist had indicated. There were two men here, one seated, the other standing and pointing out something in a stack of papers. Similar stacks rose like little towers on every surface of the room, some in chairs as well. The men in this room stopped talking when she approached. “My brother,” she said. She pressed the papers forward again. “I no hear from my brother.”
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.
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.