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Posted in Adventure Fiction, Book Club Discussion Guide, Coming-of-Agency Fiction, fiction, Historical Fiction, India, Women's Fiction

Book Club Discussion Guide for Song of Herself

Book clubs abound in every rural town, city and suburb. They are a great way to look at books through the eyes of others, a way to share your enjoyment of reading, and build friendships.

If you are in a book club and would like to visit with me, as author and the mind behind the story, I’d be happy to zoom or attend in person, depending on the proximity to your club.

Take a look at the book club discussion guide below. Are there other questions you would like to frame for your group? I’d like to hear them.

  1. Though this fiction story is set in 1906, current research (https://ifstudies.org/blog/how-dads-affect-their-daughters-into-adulthood) tells us that the role of a dad in a girl’s life helps her develop her confidence and resilience. How do you see this play out in Fiona’s case? What does she accomplish as a result of the presence of a strong father and supportive uncle? How have you seen this play out (or not) in your family or extended family? 
  2. India is a country of paradoxes. If you have been to India, what contradictions did you experience? What incongruities did you see in the India that Fiona experienced in 1906? What’s the importance of examining two sides of a coin—in other words, two sides of an idea, a belief system, or cultural norm?
  3. Can you imagine being alone on a ship with a bunch of men? Would you have found the same kind of comfort and support from Jacob as Fiona did? Could you have survived the forced confinement for weeks? To be held back from the very thing Fiona wanted, an adventure to learn from every things she could not in Iowa, was a great loss. What things that happened in the story showed that loss to you?
  4. What kind of traveler are you? Armchair traveler, who wants to see the world through a character’s eyes like Fiona? The kind who will spin the globe and take off? Or the kind who will choose and plan a trip with great detail? The kind of person who enjoys luxury or budget travel? What do you gain from travel, regardless what kind of traveler you are?
  5. Religions around the world all differ and all have some elements in common. What do you see in Jacob’s Native American heritage that is common or different to your religious traditions and beliefs? In David’s Quakerism or Religious Society of Friends? In Ameera’s Hinduism? How does she explain being Hindu and Christian Quaker simultaneously? Can you accept this dichotomy? Why or why not?
  6. Relationships between men and women are fraught with romance, conflict, and the pleasures of companionship. How did you see Fiona navigating her relationship with David and with Jacob? What does she gain and what does she lose in the final confrontation with each man?
  7. If you were to rewrite the book, how would you want it to end? The same or differently? What would have to change earlier in the story, to create a different ending?

Please share your question about the book you would like to discuss with your group or club. I may add them to the discussion guide. Thanks for sharing.

If you haven’t gotten the book, take a look.

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1639885501

Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BDK7Q54J/

If you read the book, please leave a short review of two or three sentences on Amazon, what you liked, what you found intriguing, or what you discovered about yourself in reading the book. Thanks, so much!!!

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Posted in adventure, Adventure Fiction, Coming-of-Agency Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction

DEMYSTIFYING THE CREATION OF A NOVEL

IDEA CREATION

Idea creation is often mysterious and vague. But I can recount the two specific events that led to the creation of my protagonist, Fiona Weston, Song of Herself.

The first. I took a walk in Spirit Lake, Iowa, after conducting a workshop in the early 1990s. I meandered down a lane of houses built on the lake. One house had a large letter, F, encircled on the side of the garage—like you see on ranches in Texas.

My imagination leapt to the attic of that garage with an old trunk and a woman named, Fiona, who was going through the trunk with a young girl at her side. They were reliving Fiona’s life.

The second. Several weeks later, I woke up from a dream in which my fantasy Iowa woman, Fiona, stood dressed in an outfit that looked like it was from India. I didn’t know what it was until weeks later when I described it to a Pakistani friend, who said it was a salwar kameez.

The morning I awoke from that dream, it continued to unfold in my mind during the next several waking hours. The skeleton of a story. It clung to me as a baby monkey clings to its mother.

A NOVEL IN THE MAKING

In the coming weeks, I wrote a three-page story for my writing group. They informed me that it was definitely a novel. There was too much there for a short story.

I balked and brought them an expanded ten pages and later twenty-five pages to show them I could tell the tale in short form. They insisted it was a novel and Fiona was begging me to tell her story.

In coming years, I took a novel writing class at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in Wayne Johnson’s class. During my one-on-one with him, he informed me I didn’t have a 300-word novel, but a saga, one that could yield 600 pages. I won’t print my reply.

THE CURRENT BOOK, SONG OF HERSELF

In the end, the book turned into a 480-page book. If you have the book and are reading it, you may be interested to know the story took new twists and turns in the writing process. New characters and events beyond the skeleton grew out of the writing process.

My dream life set Fiona on a journey of a lifetime.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM NOVELS?

Journeys of this importance create chances to open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts. They show us what we can become.

We can build confidence (self-assurance and the ability to make decisions for ourselves), resilience (adaptability and flexibility, the ability to the bend and sway as life throws obstacles), and agency (the ability to organize our lives around what is best for us, choose who and what we take with us, and take action to make these things happen).

These are things all individual need to learn for themselves as they mature. But it is especially critical for women (in our culture, which makes them second guess themselves too often) to take the reins of their lives to give the world the best they have to offer.

Fiona’s journey opened her eyes to different ways to live, seized her mind to realize she could think with an open mind, and captured her heart to know she could be who she is and to live openly and unafraid.

HERE’S HOW TO ORDER, SONG OF HERSELF

The novel’s protagonist, Fiona Weston, an Iowa horsewoman in work boots and trousers, sails to India in 1906 from San Francisco to discover her journey is not the quest for which she had yearned, nor the escape from those at home who ridiculed her unconventional ways. Fiona’s journey is fraught with obstacles that create a sturdy sense of self.

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1639885501

Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BDK7Q54J/

If you read the book, please leave a short review of two or three sentences on Amazon, what you liked, what you found intriguing, or what you discovered about yourself in reading the book. Thanks, so much!!!

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Posted in Adventure Fiction, Debut Novel, Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction, Women's Fiction

My Debut Novel on Sale, September 9

My debut novel, Song of Herself, goes on sale today Friday, September 9, 2022, launching from Amazon.

And I want you to have it in paperback ($17.99) or Kindle ($7.99)—your preference.

Help me reach my goal of 100 copies of the books sold on September 9th this week.

The Book Can Be Order on Amazon

 
 
If you read the book, I would appreciate a quick review of 2-3 sentences on Amazon as a verified reader, or on Book Bub, Goodreads, or any other book app you use. Tell what you liked about the book and why others readers might be interested in it, too. Thanks a million!

Book Description

The novel’s protagonist, Fiona Weston, an Iowa horsewoman in work boots and trousers, sails to India in 1906 from San Francisco to discover her journey is not the quest for which she had yearned, nor the escape from those at home who ridiculed her unconventional ways. Fiona’s journey is fraught with obstacles that create a sturdy sense of self.

 

Six Reasons to Read

  1. If you read historical fiction, you’ll experience the 1906 San Francisco earthquake through Fiona’s frightened eyes as she leaves her brother’s body behind to sell her uncle’s quarter horses to the British Indian cavalry.   
  2. If you prefer travel adventure fiction, you’ll experience sailing the Pacific and Indian Oceans, while an attraction between Fiona and the shipping agent smolders.
  3. If you enjoy absorbing other cultures, you’ll be riveted as Fiona navigates Calcutta (Kolkata) ruled by the British Raj, its history, the Hindu religion and caste system.
  4. If you need a little romance, Fiona will choose between two men, the engaging, free spirited shipping agent, or the intellectually intriguing Quaker missionary who needs a wife. More importantly, she will choose herself above all others.
  5. If you want conflict, she encounters similar men who deny her place in the world, as she did at home. From the shipmaster to the crew to the military purchasing agent.
  6. If you lean toward women’s fiction, you will find Fiona’s journey fraught with hurdles where she learns to accept irreconcilable differences and still sing her song of self.  

 

 

I will appreciate your review of the book on Amazon!

When you read the book, I would truly appreciate a 2-3 sentence review, as a verified reader. It helps Amazon put it closer to the top of what they show to interested readers. Thank you!

 
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Posted in Cultural Sensitivity Readers, fiction, Historical Fiction, India, Novel writing, Travel Writing

Cultural Sensitivity Readers are a Must for Novelists

Have you ever read a novel and noticed that something did not fit in the historical period or in a certain part of a country? That is every novelists’ fear—and certainly was mine.

That’s why I asked two people whose hometown was Kolkata to read through my novel before it was completed to make sure I had things culturally correct, as well as locations and descriptions captured as accurately as possible for the early 1900s. One person was in her thirties and the other in her eighties. Both were true Bengalis.

One of the two “beta” readers—think first reader to catch mistakes or cultural sensitivity readers—explained that painting henna onto the hands and feet of brides was not done in the province of Bengal, ever. Henna hands culturally did not belong to this region . So I had to take it out of my novel.

Rather than let that scene go to waste, I decided to share it with you today. Let me introduce the characters. Fiona is my protagonist, hailing from Iowa; Ameera is her Indian hostess; and Basanti is the bride they are visiting just days after her ten-day marriage ritual has been completed, which included painting her hands with henna. I hope you enjoy the scene and the visual examples of what they call mehndi (in English, mehendi) hands.

Mehendi Hands (A Scene from the book I couldn’t use.)

Basanti greeted Ameera and Fiona with “Namasté,” while they slipped off their shoes in the entryway. Fiona, embarrassed by her heavy work boots, placed them next to fine slippers, and silently promised to buy a pair for herself. When the new bride offered them a seat, Fiona saw the intricate henna stain snaking up the woman’s arm, a cluttered and confusing design.

After formalities, Ameera asked Basanti to show Fiona her palms. The warm orangey-brown henna ink climbed up the young bride’s wrists and wrapped to the forearm.

“Basanti’s mehndi hands are drawn with henna stain. A family member is typically the artist, like her sister-in-law.”

“Is that tradition?” Fiona asked. Tradition in Iowa consisted of a white or cream-colored dress, if the bride could afford it, then something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, as the old adage went. Fiona had always thought it a lot of hoop-la, but nothing compared to this.

Ameera said, “Yes, a family member fits the art to the couple’s sign.”

“The couple’s sign? What do you mean?” Fiona asked.

“Their Vedic zodiac sign. If one is a Taurus, for instance, then a bull will be drawn. If they are from a particular caste, then certain gods may be etched to bless the couple.”

Fiona scanned the bride’s hands. “Why are the fingertips a solid color?”

Basanti said with delight, “My new sister-in-law, my husband’s brother’s wife, believes dark fingertips are a sign of good luck. She brought this tradition from her family to her husband’s—now it will be my family, also.” She allowed a slip of a smile to show pride in her new family. “I am pleased by the depth of color; I hope my touch will always be firm and healing.”

Fiona noted, “No two fingers are alike.”

“It is indeed special as a gift from my new sister. Do you not agree?” 

“Yes, most beautiful.” Fiona was unaccustomed to using superlatives.

Basanti continued. “On the third day of celebration, the henna painting took place. My husband could not take me to bed until he found our names inscribed on my arms. He saw his name quickly but looked and looked for mine.”

She rolled her eyes. “Teasing me, he found mine before he even saw his own.”

Fiona, ill-at-ease with the topic of newlywed mating, changed the subject. “It appears the color is already fading in places. How long will it last?”

Ameera leaned forward to answer. “Basanti is not allowed to do housework until it is worn off. But by not working, it will last longer. Rubbing cream on it also makes it last. A husband may wonder, but he does not know it can be gone in days without much attention to delay homemaking.” The three laughed at keeping this kind of a secret. 

Basanti confided. “I have watched henna painted on my sister, cousins, and friends, as new brides. I longed for my mehndi hands,” touching the red dot on her forehead, “and bindi.” American women used rouge on their cheeks, face powder, and lip color, but nothing as showy as this.

Basanti lightly rubbed her arms, admiring the art. “The day the henna stained my skin, I felt the most beautiful I have ever been. I now feel my inner light illuminating.”

Fiona did not grasp what it had to do with getting married. Too much ceremony for her.

Ameera riffled the bracelets on Basanti’s wrist. “These are a gift from her aunt and uncle. She wears the red ones a year to show she is a newlywed. Then her husband’s parents replace them at the end of year with gold or brass ones; and she takes over responsibilities of the entire household.”

Basanti said, “Many Hindu couples rush to marry the last week of April, like we did to avoid May, an inhospitable time of year to wed. Wednesday is the best day of the week, but also, our Vedic astrologer searched the position of the moon for us to determine the best time. It bodes well for our future together.” 

Fiona admitted to the two women, “This is a bit overwhelming to me.”

When Ameera rose to leave and bid her friend farewell, Fiona pulled her boots back on as gracefully as possible and knew to expect the same slight bow and the “Namasté” greeting as they left.

Walking back, Fiona’s thoughts were all a-jumble by arranged marriages, superstitions, painted hands, signs, and bangle bracelets. In comparison, weddings in Iowa now appeared lackluster.

****

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