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Posts tagged ‘writing’

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Lisa Romeo and ‘Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 

Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

Lisa Romeo is the author of Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss (University of Nevada Press). Her short nonfiction is listed in Best American Essays 2016, and has appeared in the New York Times, O The Oprah Magazine, Longreads, Brevity, Under the Sun, Hippocampus, The Manifest Station, Brain Child, Sweet, Inside Jersey, and many other places. She teaches in an MFA program and lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and sons.

Starting with Goodbye, published by University of Nevada Press, asks if it’s ever too late to (re)connect with a parent. When Lisa Romeo’s late father drops in for “conversations,” she wonders why the parent she dismissed in life now holds her spellbound. Lisa reconsiders her affluent upbringing and the emotional distance that grew when he left New Jersey and retired to Las Vegas. She questions death rituals, family dynamics, Italian-American customs, midlife motherhood, and her own marriage as their new father-daughter relationship transforms grief and delivers powerful lessons about the bonds that last past death.

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Lisa Romeo: From the time I could read at age 5, there were so many children’s books about horses that I read in nonstop gulps, and I can’t remember the name of a single one. The earliest books I remember for certain loving were National Velvet by Enid Bagnold, and Karen by Marie Killilea. The former because I lived and breathed horses, the latter I think because it was the first nonfiction book I read for pleasure and I was so taken by the idea that someone’s life—a non-famous person—could be in a book

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

One glass of Moscato or Riesling. Unless I’m hot, then I only want ice cold water!

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Hmm…this is tricky. I want to ask, mandatory for whom? But absent that, the way I’m feeling most days, I’d say “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

A lot of them! I read nonstop, but my schooling didn’t include a lot of classics…or maybe it did and I can’t remember. Which I suppose means I need to read or re-read them all. I think in my teens I would have had more patience for Jane Austen, especially because I always longed to live in England.

A favorite quote from your book J

“This father is gone, never was, and is sitting right next to me.”

Your favorite book to film?

I’m so easily and consistently disappointed by most film adaptations of books I’ve loved. Purely for fun I’d say, Under the Tuscan Sun!   Based on the book by Frances Mayes.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Just a few miles from home: Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, NJ. The staff really know their stock and make interesting recommendations but will also leave you alone; there are author events at the store several times a week; and it has that quiet but sublimely buzzy vibe I like in a bookstore.

The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?

How long the learning curve is, how that learning curve never ends, how you’re never really finished nor completely satisfied with what you’ve produced, even after it’s published!

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

I’ve just published my first book, so I can’t speak to what it will be like to move on to book two. Though I’m guessing: equally difficult!  I’ve published hundreds of essays, articles, and other short nonfiction pieces, and each one poses its own challenge to write and place. It doesn’t get easier, you just know more and can avoid the obvious mistakes.

Dog, Cat, Or?

I’m a horse person from way back. I had five horses over about 17 years, and I rode and competed in hunter-jumper horse shows from my teens to my early 30s.

Favorite book cover?

This changes constantly! I suppose I should say my own, since it’s a photograph of my father that I took. But recently, my favorite cover is Still Life with Horses, a memoir by Jean Harper. A horse’s eye is very special and the artist (Benedicte Gele) captured it perfectly in pastels and chalk. Take a look, you’ll see.

Favorite song?

Strictly because it takes me back to meeting my husband and hearing him sing for the first time: “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin.  (My husband, I must note, became the anti-thesis to the neglectful father in the song!)

Recommend a Small Press and Literary Journal?

Sarabande Books does a lot of interesting things with essay and other nonfiction forms.

Missouri Review, for overall consistency and readability. I’m never disappointed.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek, MD and T.J. Mitchell. Because I was wandering through a bookstore after doing a reading, and my eye always lands on books about death and the many things that might come after! (I’m strange that way.)

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. PRE ORDER . Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dream, is about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Rebecca Entel and ‘Fingerprints of Previous Owners’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 


Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

Rebecca Entel’s first novel is Fingerprints of Previous Owners (Unnamed Press, 2017). Her short stories and essays have appeared in Guernica, Joyland Magazine, Literary Hub, Electric Literature, Cleaver Magazine, The Madison Review, and elsewhere. Rebecca is an Associate Professor at Cornell College, where she teaches multicultural American literature, Caribbean literature, creative writing, and the literature of social justice. She grew up in Cleveland and currently lives in Iowa City.

About Fingerprints of Previous Owners. At a Caribbean resort built atop a former slave plantation, Myrna works as a maid by day; by night she trespasses on the resort’s overgrown inland property, secretly excavating the plantation ruins the locals refuse to acknowledge. Myrna’s mother has stopped speaking and her friends are focused on surviving the present, but Myrna is drawn to Cruffey Island’s violent past. A wealthy African-American tourist arrives with new information about the history of the slave-owner’s estate, and tensions finally erupt between the resort and the local island community. Suffused with the sun-drenched beauty of the Caribbean, Fingerprints of Previous Owners is a powerful novel of hope and recovery in the wake of devastating trauma. In her soulful and timely debut, Entel explores what it means to colonize and be colonized, to trespass and be trespassed upon, to be wounded and to heal.

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Rebecca Entel: Beverly Cleary was a major force in my childhood. Once I finished all the Ramona books, I started writing my own.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Chai. Wine. Repeat.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Anything by Toni Morrison.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

War and Peace. It’s still staring me down from the shelf.

A favorite quote from your book ?

“So many stars out the sky looked spangled with broken glass, like pieces of what had been a life.”

Your favorite book to film?

The Wizard of Oz

Favorite Indie Book Stores?

Indie bookstores are some of my favorite places! I live in Iowa City, where Prairie Lights is the heart of downtown. I sometimes forget how special it is to live somewhere where the bookstore is always full of people.

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

How to get really skilled at making time for writing.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

The writing never gets easier – it’s always new – but I have gotten better at trusting the process. I’ll have to let you know about the publishing/marketing angle, but I think that’ll be different each time, too.

Dog, Cat, Or?

Dog (preferably wiener)

A favorite book cover?

I really love the cover of Lily King’s Euphoria and the edition of Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America that looks like a sheet of notebook paper.

A favorite song?

I’ll never get tired of Paul Simon’s “American Tune.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding’s Nasty Women anthology. It’d been on my to-read list, and I picked it up while I was traveling.

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. PRE ORDER . Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dream, is about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Falguni Kothari and ‘My Last Love Story’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 

Falguni Kothari is the author of unconventional love stories and kick-ass fantasy tales. Her four novels, most recently MY LAST LOVE STORY, are all flavored by her South Asian heritage and expat experiences. An award-winning Indian Classical, Latin and Ballroom dancer, she currently spikes her endorphin levels with Zumba. She resides in New York with her family and pooch.

My Last Love Story
Simi Desai is thirty years old and her husband is dying of cancer. He has two last wishes in his final months: first, that she’ll have his baby so that a piece of him lives on, and second, that she’ll reconcile with her old flame, who just happens to be their mutual best friend. And so over the course of their last summer together, Simi’s husband plans a series of big and small adventures for this unlikely trio, designed to help them say goodbye to each other and prove to Simi that it’s okay to move on without him—and even find love again. Beautiful and poignant, Falguni Kothari’s My Last Love Story will pull your heartstrings as only unforgettable love stories can. Read a review of My Last Love Story in the New York Times.Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Falguni Kothari: As a child, it was End Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series. I loved the idea of living inside a tree trunk like Moon-Face. I’d sometimes try to squeeze myself into small spaces and pretend I was living inside a tree. As a teenager, I fell in love with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (Name one girl who was raised in South Asia and didn’t!). As an adult, my once-a-year re-read is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.


To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

It’s mostly chai, sometimes wine, rarely coffee…but Pindar! Water is best.


A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Try all of the above at least once in your life. It just seems a more complete education. Then, you can stick to the reading format you most prefer. Much like print or ebooks.


Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

I don’t think I ever had to push through a book. I mostly love reading books. I have simply not picked up several of the classics, this not read them. I don’t know why. I should change that.


A favorite quote from your book

This is the quote that gave me this book’s title. My working title was something else entirely and absurd now that I think of it.

Why I love this particular excerpt? It gives you the crux of the book in a paragraph.

“I went back to my husband and explained something to him. “Imagine I’m an ocean. You are the bright sunlit part of me, and Zayaan, the darker depths. I need you both to be who I am. I love you both. Always have. Always will. But, Nirvaan, you are my last love story. I don’t want another one.”


Your favorite book to film?

Hmm. I think the Pride and Prejudice BBC miniseries with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I even like the one with Knightly and MacFadyen. (That Darcy will never get outta my head!)


Favorite Indie Book Stores?

WORD Bookstore in New Jersey and Brooklyn, Anderson’s Book Store in Larchmont.


The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?

The publicity and promotion aspects of it. I am not talkative by nature, at least with people I’ve just met. As a writer, I’m continuously meeting new people now and it’s nerve-wracking. Also, at conferences and book events, I am so removed from my home bound comfort zone that I feel like popping a Valium a day. Luckily, popping a pill terrifies me more than speaking to strangers.


Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

It becomes worse. Or that’s the wrong word. It becomes bigger. The more books you have, the more people/ readers/ librarians/ bookstores know you and want to do events with you. So, you have to juggle that many more pins in the air. You do get more adept at the publicity and marketing though, and if you’re a planner, it’s a piece of cake.


Dog, Cat, Or?

I’m an animal-lover. Every animal except reptiles are my thing. However, I think dogs actually are man’s best friend. There is no better companion for a human than a dog.


A favorite song?

Anything by the late great George Michael, Ronan Keating and Arijit Singh. Their voices are soulful.


A favorite book cover?

I have many. But most recently, I was wowed by The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin.


Last impulse book buy and why?

Tracy Wolff’s Lovegame. The cover was attractive, the price was right, and I’m in the middle of revisions for my 2019 women’s fiction release and I wanted to read something completely unrelated and raunchy. I like sexy, raunchy books. They make me relax and smile, maybe even laugh out loud.

Soniah Kamal’s novel ‘UnMarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House USA. PREORDER here. Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dreamis about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.


This Winter’s Warmth: Pashmina

Nidhi Chanani’s debut graphic novel Pashmina released last month and it is not just a “must-read”. It’s a must-experience. The story revolves around a second generation Indian American, Priyanka “Pri” Das and her unique coming of age journey, one that is not familiar in the current narrative. Even though it is aimed at younger readers, Pashmina resonates with older readers as well.

From learning to drive with her mom to spending time with her aunt and uncle to traveling around an imagined India (with Pri’s guides: an elephant named Kanta and a peacock named Mayur) are just the start to Pri’s adventures. As Pri travels to present day India and reunites with her Mausi and Mausa, questions about her own identity are answered. Goddess Shakti, as a character, is subtly present at the beginning and prominently towards the final pages. The presence of a desi dialog and other cultural markers (especially food) make Pashmina a part of the familiar for South Asian audiences.

An automatic favorite line, “Have you ever eaten a mango off a tree?”

Pashmina captures vividly through its diasporic threads what matters: family (blood and chosen), community, longing for homeland, faith, true independence, and mother-daughter relationships. Chanani’s art, especially the pages in color, is powerful. Bright color combinations and the artistic choices present in the illustrations all contribute to a magical, happy, and overall, positive piece.

Pashmina, in terms of representation of South Asian art and literature in the U.S., is a wonderful addition.


You can order a copy online or at any major bookseller.

Follow Nidhi’s art on Instagram @nidhiart or on her website:


Writing and Rebellion

What happens when a writer’s large, looming figure overshadows her work, when her personality and celebrity take precedence over her art? This is the kind of question a detractor would ask when talking about Arundhati Roy, Booker-prize winning author of The God of Small ThingsThe End of Imagination, and many other essays and articles. Reporter Siddhartha Deb writes about Roy in the upcoming edition of The New York Times Sunday Magazine, profiling her over the course of a few weeks. Roy is due to come out with a new novel soon, but in the time between 1997 (when The God of Small Things was published) and the present, she has continued to write extensively both in India and elsewhere about myriad causes, including: Indian nationalism; the occupation of Kashmir; the injustice of the caste system; and the rights of various indigenous groups as they struggle to maintain their sovereignty. Roy describes the decisions that went into becoming a political writer:

“There is nothing in The God of Small Things that is at odds with what I went on to write politically over 15 years,” Roy said. . . . . It is true that her novel also explored questions of social justice. But without the armature of character and plot, her essays seemed didactic — or just plain wrong — to her detractors, easy stabs at an India full of energy and purpose . . .  But for Roy, remaining on the sidelines was never an option. “If I had not said anything about the nuclear tests, it would have been as if I was celebrating it,” Roy said. “I was on the covers of all these magazines all the time. Not saying anything became as political as saying something.”

Read the rest of Deb’s engaging profile of Roy here.

Mapping the journey – and a few detours!

When Commonwealth Writers first approached me, at the end of 2012, about taking on a very special assignment the following year, I was bemused but delighted. CW is the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation, and they were offering me the opportunity to be their first Bangladeshi Writer in Residence.

I had just taken part in one of the first Commonwealth Conversations, a series of panel discussions that Commonwealth Writers have been organising at various literary festivals and events, to discuss a range of thorny topics from self-censorship to gender politics, and a few things in between.

That appearance had in itself come out of an earlier connection. In 2010, my flash fiction piece “Judgement Day” was Highly Commended in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition. The competition theme for that year had been “Science, Technology and Society”, and we had to write our submissions within the specified limit of 600 words. For someone as technologically-challenged as myself, writing about science OR technology was always going to be a tough call. So perhaps, unsurprisingly, I took the more familiar route and focused on “society”.

The result was a story that is more a feminist fable than a sci-fi piece, hypothesising how the institution of marriage might change as a result of technological progress and changes in wider society, and what might remain all too familiar to us in that relationship, as we view it from the perspective of the early 21st century.

But writing fiction, whatever the constraints of theme and word limit, was one thing. I knew that as Writer in Residence, I would be writing a series of non-fiction posts, more like essays. And while Commonwealth Writers were kind enough to give me a free hand as to the content of the essays, I had a sneaking suspicion that they would – logically enough – be expected to be about writing. For a self-taught writer who has come to that identity relatively late, this posed something of a challenge!

In the end, it proved to be a challenging but very interesting experience. At least for me! Thinking through what writing means to me, and what I have learned on the journey so far, was instructive. So without further ado, let me share with you the process of finding a “voice” in Post One: 🙂



Let me start by confessing that it was only recently that I began introducing myself as a writer. In fact, it was only recently that I even admitted that I wanted to be a writer. Despite a childhood spent scribbling doggerel, teenage years that produced excruciatingly bad poetry (in mercifully small qualities), and a surprisingly well-received satirical play that a friend and I co-wrote in our first year of university, it never crossed my mind that I might actually be a writer. I had other plans.

Brought up in a family of activists and feminists, both male and female, in Bangladesh, I had mapped out my professional life early. I was going to work in development, be part of the women’s movement, and try to contribute to a larger goal of some kind. I might as well admit it. I was, and remain, a committed idealist – wilfully ignoring a considerable body of evidence that indicates the wisdom of thinking otherwise.

I was eager to learn as much as I could, so I worked on diverse issues: micro-finance, human rights, adult education and urban development. Gender equality was a common thread running through much of the work I did in organisations that ranged from grassroots NGOs, to well-known success stories like the Grameen Bank and BRAC, to international organisations like Christian Aid UK and the United Nations.

I loved the work, and each experience taught me something worth taking along on my unfolding journey. For years I held down two jobs. I supplemented the less-than-adequate income I earned working for local organisations (which yielded many of my most treasured experiences) by working as a translator in the wee hours of the morning. And for years, I ignored the nagging sense that there was something missing. Until, on a whim that I can’t quite explain, I sent in a piece to one of the English dailies. To my surprise, they accepted my submission – and several more after that. Eventually, I was offered my own column in The Star Magazine, affiliated with leading national newspaper The Daily Star.

Even then, I wasn’t brave enough to think or speak of myself as a writer; I just about carried off the designation of “columnist” with some degree of grace. It all changed when I read a newspaper headline about a 10-year-old girl who had been working as a child domestic in the capital city. Her arrival at the hospital shortly before she died revealed a terrible story of violence and abuse, and one that will be familiar in many parts of the world. I was outraged. I spoke to my editor at the magazine and begged her to get one of their fiction writers to take up the issue. “Why don’t you do it?” she asked.

I was reluctant, because I felt that people who abused children wouldn’t be interested in reading a column where someone told them not to do it. “The only way that they’ll take any notice is if they don’t actually realise what they’re reading at first. It has to be a story, one where they get engaged before they see where it’s heading. And it needs to be written from the child’s point of view, so that other people – those of us who see what happens in these households but too often look the other way – really have to face up to the consequences of what happens when we do that, and start thinking about how we can handle these issues differently,” I responded. My editor understood what I was trying to say, and promised to approach some fiction writers with the idea.

Three days later, I sat down to write my first short story. It was the easiest thing I have ever written, almost as if someone was standing at my shoulder dictating the words. None of the stories I have written since has been nearly as smooth, in terms of the writing process. Far from it! “A Small Sacrifice” tells the story of a village child who is sent to work in the city by her impoverished parents who believe that – as manipulative middlemen often tell such parents – she will have a better life in Dhaka. It describes the girl’s incomprehension when she becomes the scapegoat for her employer’s frustrations, and her struggle to understand why people who appear to have everything that her family lacks still seem so unhappy with life.

The story generated many responses after it was published, and it made me realise the power that fiction has to reach out and draw a response from the reader. How it can be used to advocate for certain values or perspectives. I should add though, that I don’t think that using fiction solely as a form of persuasion is a good idea at all. The best writing comes from a story that is deeply felt by the writer. It is that depth of emotion, and the authenticity of the narrative, that ultimately touches the reader. That isn’t something that can be engineered. A discerning reader will easily see through something that is just calculated to manipulate their emotions.

Ultimately, a writer needs to be who he or she really is on the page, and that can be terrifying. Even as it is exhilarating when you are surfing the wave of words and feel completely in control. Because authentic writing involves being vulnerable, putting a piece of your soul on the page and knowing that anyone can read it and judge you for being who you are. Then again, the hard truth is that that’s probably the only way any of us will ever come up with our best work.

This article is reproduced with permission from Commonwealth Writers. Any feedback or comments are very welcome at the CW website at:

You can read more about my work here:

My author page can be found here:

Ondaatje’s Bricolage

Two indelibly good writers, one magnificent conversation: Michael Ondaatje, author of The English PatientAnil’s Ghost, and The Cat’s Table, engages in a dialogue with Amitava Kumar, author of Nobody Does the Right Thing and A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb. Although they initially begin in a classic interview style, the back and forth of the Q&A slowly mutates into an easy conversation, perfectly apt given their setting amidst the 2012 Jaipur Literary Festival in India. Fortunately for those of us not able to fly into Jaipur, Guernica magazine has adapted and archived their conversation. Here is Ondaatje reckoning with the ‘bricolage’ of his work:

. . . I’ve tried in my novels to have various points of view, various speakers, various narratives, so it’s more of a group conversation as opposed to a monologue. But politically I also don’t believe anymore that we can only have one voice to a story, it’s like having a radio station to represent a country. You want the politics of any complicated situation to complicated in a book of fiction or nonfiction . . . I am still someone who’s very influenced by collage as an art form. The great writer Donald Richie who lives in Japan talk about the distinction between East and West: the Western novel is very organized, it’s very logical, there’s a logical progression, there’s a chronological progression, and there’s a safety in that. Whereas if you look at Japanese film, it is made up of collage or bricolage, it is made up of lists, and suddenly when you stand back from the lists you begin to see the pattern of a life.

Read more from Ondaatje and Kumar here.