Riding Downhill

Posted in Writing at 12:22 pm by Amber

This weekend I have been pushing to write the rest of the words for this year’s NaNo project. 

On Friday I had 59.9% of the words written.  That’s just under 30k.  My husband saw so little of me yesterday he didn’t realize I never got out of my pajamas.

Today my total word count starts at 38911.  I have completed 77.8% of the project and have 11089 words to go before I can cross the finish line.

I feel a little bit like a bike rider going down a steep hill.  The pedals are going too fast for my feet.  I can barely control where the bike is going but the wind in my hair makes me feel alive.


Nearly on the Downward Slope

Posted in Event, Writing at 12:46 am by Amber

I am still plugging away at my NaNo Project.  At 24,020 words, my Excel spreadsheet estimates I will be done on December 11th.  I will keep writing one word at a time to get to the finish line.  My goal is still 50 thousand words before December 1st.

Because I spent very little time getting to know my characters beforehand, I do get surprised by my characters or the plot.  Tonight my main character revealed something personal about himself.  Apparently he was an aspiring Olympian in his younger years.  He never made the US Olympic archery team and quit practicing after college.  I should have known a nickname like “Dead Eye” might have something to do with his aim.

At 48% of the project done, I am almost finished with the uphill climb.  Soon I’ll be on the downward slope.  Before I know it, my worry will not be “where will I find all these words” but how to tie up the story before I reach 50k.


Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan by Ali Eteraz

Posted in Review at 1:34 am by Amber



Normally during November I don’t ready anything written by anyone else.  I’m afraid I will unconsciously pick up a scene, a phrase or a style that will influence my NaNoWriMo project.  One book I’ve been reading this month is Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan by Ali Eteraz. From the book jacket:

Ali Eteraz’s Children of Dust is a spellbinding portrayal of a life that few Americans can imagine. From his schooling in a madrassa in Pakistan to his teenage years as a Muslim American in the Bible Belt, and back to Pakistan to find a pious Muslim wife, this lyrical, penetrating saga from a brilliant new literary voice captures the heart of our universal quest for identity.

Children of Dust is separated into several different sections.  I am still reading the first section when his family is still in Pakistan.  The fairy tale quality evident in Chapter One continues through this section.  The words convey a fondness for this time in Eteraz’s life.  It pulls the reader into the story through the universal experiences of children raised by loving family members.

Even though his parents are sometimes apart, the young Eteraz understands it is out of necessity.  His father is constantly trying to improve the income of the family.  This requires working elsewhere at times.  The emphasis on his father’s struggles foreshadow the second section about his family’s move to America.

The book has been slow reading for me but not because of the writing or the chronology.  Reading has been a reward for me in the evenings or something I’ve been able to do while on my lunch break at work.  This is a miniature review of what I’ve read to date and a more comprehensive review will follow later.  My thanks go out to FSB Associates for providing me a copy of the book for review.


Preview of Children of Dust by Ali Eteraz

Posted in Event at 1:30 pm by Amber

One of the things I am doing differently this November than the last few Novembers is reading other books while working on my project for National Novel Writing Month.  Here is a preview (Chapter 1) of what I’ve been reading.  It’s Children of the Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan by Ali Eteraz.  FSB Associates has kindly provided the chapter for my readers.

Chapter I
by Ali Eteraz,
Author of Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan

My mother, Ammi, had just returned from Koh-e-Qaf, where women went when they were annoyed with their husbands. It was far up in the heavens, far beyond the world of men, above the astral planes of the jinns, and hidden even from the angels. Upon reaching Koh-e-Qaf a woman became a parri and congregated with others like her. Then all the parris gathered upon rippling streams and rivers of celestial milk. They bathed and splashed and darted around on rich, creamy froth.

I was just a seven-year-old child living in a tiny apartment in Lahore, Pakistan. I couldn’t get enough of Koh-e-Qaf.

“What happens there?” I asked Ammi. “Please tell me! Please!”

“It’s a safe place where I can gather my thoughts,” she said. “When women go there, we don’t take our earthly concerns with us. We don’t even need our earthly clothes. Allah restores to us the cuticle skin we had when He first created Hazrat Adam and his wife, Havva.”

Ammi said that Koh-e-Qaf was created secretly at the time the universe was made. Allah had asked each one of His creations whether they would be willing to bear the burden of free will. He asked the mountains and they said no. He asked the skies and they refused. He asked the sun and the seas and the plants and the trees and the angels. They all said no. But Adam, the first male — “who took too many risks just like your Pops” — accepted the burden. “And he didn’t even ask his wife what he was getting into!” Upon hearing the news, a chagrined Havva went to Allah and told Him that men would make a big mess of things and “then take out their frustration on their wives.” So, for all the wives of the world, Havva convinced Allah to create Koh-e-Qaf, a sanctuary for all time.

“Then she made Allah give long nails to women so they could remember their special place.”

“That’s not fair,” I said, poking a finger through Ammi’s curly black hair. “I don’t have a special place to go to.”

“You don’t need a special place,” she replied. “My little piece of the moon is more special than the whole world.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“No, I’m not,” she said. “Haven’t you ever thought about what your name means?”


“Your full name. Abir ul Islam.”

“So what? It’s just a name.”

“Not just a name.”

I shrugged. Compared to intergalactic travel and teleportation and heavenly drinks, my name didn’t inspire much awe.

“Come on,” Ammi said, taking my hand as if she could read the disappointment on my face. “You don’t believe me? Let’s go see Beyji. She will tell you that you are the most special.”

Beyji was my maternal great-grandmother. She lived in a white marble bungalow in Lahore. She was a saint because she had forgiven the woman who used black jadu to kill Beyji’s husband. Beyji regularly met with the Holy Prophet Muhammad in her dreams. One year, during the Night of Power in the month of Ramzan, she got chosen as one of Allah’s elect and saw a glimpse of the Light.

Ammi led me past my grandfather’s room, where he was busy listening to old Noor Jahan recordings, and toward Beyji’s darkened quarters. We went inside and Ammi pushed me toward Beyji’s bed. She wore a floral print shalwar kameez — loose trousers with a tunic top — and had cast a gauzy blue dupatta over her head. Taking my wrist with one hand and holding my chin with the other, she gave me a smile. Her gummy mouth murmured a series of prayers.

“Beyji,” Ammi said. “This one doesn’t believe me when I tell him that he’s special.”

“The most special,” Beyji corrected.

“I told him that his name is Abir ul Islam.”

“Such a beautiful name, isn’t it?”

“He doesn’t think it’s such a big deal.”

“Is that right?” Beyji looked at me for confirmation.

I made my case. “Ammi flies around like a parri and goes to Koh-e-Qaf. I just sit here.” Beyji looked at me with compassion. She pulled a piece of dried orange out from under her pillow and handed it to me. “Come and sit with me,” she invited. “Then ask your Ammi to tell you the story of your birth.”

“What about it?”

“She’ll tell you,” Beyji said.

Ammi sat down on the other bed and rested a cup of chai on the palm of her hand. With two fingers she pinched the cream congealed on the surface.

“When I was pregnant with you,” Ammi said, licking her fingers, “Pops moved to Saudi Arabia for work. When he was there, he went to the Ka’ba in Mecca and made a mannat. Do you know what a mannat is?”


“A mannat is like a covenant with Allah. You promise to do something if Allah grants one of your wishes.”

“Like a jinn in a lamp!”

“Except God imposes conditions!” Beyji amended.

“Your father’s mannat was that if his first child was a boy,” Ammi continued, “he would be raised to become a leader and servant of Islam. Are you listening?”

“Yes,” I said, orange sticking out of my mouth.

“Then you were born — a boy — which meant that the mannat must be fulfilled.”

“Are you still listening?” Beyji prompted.

I nodded and adopted the serious expression that their intensity seemed to require.

“So we needed to give you a name that reflected your purpose in life,” Ammi said. “There were many options, but Pops said that your name should be Abir. It means perfume. Full name: Abir ul Islam. Perfume of Islam. You were thus born to spread Islam as if it were a beautiful fragrance. Special, no?”

“It’s just a name,” I said skeptically.

“Ah, but that’s not all,” Beyji said, nudging me affectionately. “Keep listening.”

“Then,” Ammi continued, “right when you were born we moved to Saudi Arabia. When you were barely eleven months old, you and Pops and I went to dohajj — the pilgrimage to Mecca. I dressed you up like all the other pilgrims. You looked so cute wrapped in all white. You had been trying to walk for many weeks, but I swear as soon as we got to Mecca you began walking properly. It had to have been that holy sand. You really took to Mecca. Walking around. Greeting everyone. You even ran away from me in the middle of the night. We were frantic until you were discovered hours later with a pair of Bedouins. It was like you were meant to be there.”

“Did the Bedouins have goats?” I asked, my attention momentarily derailed.

“I think they did,” Ammi said. “Anyway. One night I went to circumambulate the Ka’ba and took you with me. The place wasn’t as crowded at night. There was a long row of Africans walking with their elbows locked like a chain. I stayed behind them until they made their turn and I found myself right at the border of the Ka’ba . . .”

“The House of God,” Beyji said, her eyes shining. “I’ve been there twice in my life. It’s the most beautiful thing in the universe. Astronauts will tell you that the world sits right in the center of the universe, and that Mecca sits right in the middle of the world, and that the Ka’ba sits right in the middle of Mecca!”

“There’s a semicircular wall around the Ka’ba,” Ammi continued. “It was built by the Prophet Ibrahim thousands of years ago. I forget the name of that space, but it’s said that if you pray there, it’s as if you’d prayed inside the Ka’ba. It was peaceful there that night. No one else was in the area. Imagine: millions of people wearing the same thing and chanting the same thing — Labbayk Allahumma Labbayk — all around us, and a mother and son just all alone with the Ka’ba. It was beautiful.”

Beyji interrupted again: “Don’t forget! Mecca was founded by a mother and son, too. At Allah’s instruction, Hajira and baby Ismail were left there by the Prophet Ibrahim. They had no water, so Hajira put Ismail down in the sand to go and find something to drink. While she was gone, little Ismail kicked his feet and the Zamzam spring sprouted from the desert sand. A town was built there when some nomads discovered the spring.”

Ammi nodded and continued: “I had you stand next to me and we made a pair of nafal prayers together. I asked Allah to place Islamic knowledge in your heart and make you a true servant of Islam. Then I removed your clothes, lifted you up, and rubbed your bare chest against the ancient wall — back and forth a few times.”

As I listened to the women, my heart beat fast and my face became warm. I felt connected to this distant place that I didn’t remember. The reverence it elicited in my mother and great-grandmother poured into me.

“Then later, when I was resting,” Ammi continued, “your Pops took you with him. He went to rub your chest against the heavenly Black Stone at one corner of the Ka’ba. He wasn’t able to get to it because it’s always so crowded with people trying to kiss it, but he pressed you against the bare walls of the Ka’ba itself. He made the same prayer I did, about you serving Islam.”

“Subhanallah,” Beyji said and put her hand on my heart. “One day you should go back to Mecca and kiss the Black Stone. It will absorb all your sins. But not yet. Go when you are older. Right now you are sinless.”

I nodded eagerly.

“So,” Ammi said. “Do you believe you are special now?”

I felt as if the entire universe was listening to my answer. God. The angels. Even the parris.

“Yes. I believe you. I believe that I’m special.”

“By the way, did you know that when the Black Stone first came down from heaven it was white?” Ammi said.

“What happened to it?” I asked.

“People touched it and it became dirty,” she said.

I imagined billions of hands touching a large, egg-shaped crystal over thousands of years and gradually making it black. Suddenly I pulled away from Beyji and stood up in the center of the room, feeling proud and powerful.

“I will take a towel and make it white again!”

Beyji kissed my hand and told me that I would be Islam’s most glorious servant.

The above is an excerpt from the book Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan by Ali Eteraz. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2009 Ali Eteraz, author of Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan

Author Bio
Ali Eteraz, author of Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan, was born in Pakistan and has lived in the Middle East, the Caribbean, and the United States. A graduate of Emory University and Temple Law School, he was selected for the Outstanding Scholar’s Program at the United States Department of Justice and later worked in corporate litigation in Manhattan. He is a regular contributor to True/Slant; has published articles about Islam and Pakistani politics in Dissent, Foreign Policy, AlterNet, and altMuslim; and is a regular contributor to The Guardian UK and Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest English-language daily. His blog in the Islamosphere received nearly two million views as well as a Brass Crescent award for originality. Eteraz has spoken publicly about the situation inside Pakistan, Islamic reform, and Muslim immigration. He currently divides his time between Princeton, New Jersey, and the Middle East, and is working on a novel.For more information please visit www.alieteraz.com.


Almost the Ides of November

Posted in Event, Writing at 8:15 pm by Amber

Yes, it’s November and that means it is National Novel Writing Month.  Writers of all kinds sit down and write.  At this point, everyone that is on track to “win” should be at 23338 words.  Tomorrow they will hit the 25,000 word mark.

According to the official NaNoWriMo web site the participants have written 1,040,165,647 words so far.  Just over 13,000 of those are mine.  Yes, I am behind in my word count.  Yes, I do have a holiday coming up.  And yes, I still plan on finishing before the month is over.  That doesn’t mean I don’t panic a little when I think of how many words I need to write each day for the rest of the month.  I do – I’m just not willing to give into it.

I’ve done a few things differently this year:

  • I usually don’t read anything while I am writing in November.
  • I usually start with knowing my main character and several secondary characters.
  • I usually have plot points that I can write around.  If I get bored with one I can move on to the next one.

Like every year I’ve attempted this, it’s been a learning experience.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go write. 🙂


Green Books Campaign – Review of The Cardinal Divide by Stephen Legault

Posted in Event, Review at 2:01 pm by Amber


This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a  a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

When I think of green books, I usually think of ebooks.  While it can be more difficult to lend out an ebook to a friend, they don’t take up space in landfills.  Eco-Libris was kind enough to provide me with a copy of The Cardinal Divide by Stephen Legault.  It’s published by NeWest Press on 100% recycled, ancient forest-friendly paper.  What exactly does that mean?  It means no material from ancient forests were used to produce the paper.  It doesn’t indicate if the recycled paper is recycled from post-consumer or pre-consumer use but it’s still good.  Recycled paper takes less energy to produce and reduces the amount of paper that ends up in our landfills.

The Cardinal Divide has environmentally friendly written all over it.  It’s the first book in The Cole Blackwater mysteries.  Stephen Legault knows firsthand the character of Cole Blackwater.  Both are environmentalists who have worked with organizations, companies and the Canadian government to lessen the environmental impact of industry.  To my  knowledge, Legault has never turned into a private detective trying to solve a murder mystery.

Here’s the synopsis:

Cole Blackwater’s life isn’t what it used to be. Once a political superstar within Ottawa’s environmental movement, he now runs a nearly defunct conservation strategy consulting firm which distinctly lacks a paying client. His ex-wife loathes him for a scandalous affair that ended their marriage, he feels he’s failing his eight-year-old daughter as a father, and he’s turning far too often to the bottle to solve his problems.

So when Peggy McSorlie, head of the Eastern Slopes Conservation Group, seeks his help to stop a mining project planned for Alberta’s magnificent Cardinal Divide, Blackwater jumps on the opportunity to earn enough money to pay the rent and buy a few pints at his favorite pub. But when Mike Barnes, head of the mining project, is brutally murdered and a radical member of Eastern Slopes Conservation Group is accused of killing him, Blackwater must first prove the man’s innocence in order to save his own business, and the future of the Cardinal Divide.

The pace starts off fast and then slows down.  The murder takes place in the prologue but it isn’t until 160 pages in that Blackwater decides he should do what he can to help the environmentalist charged with the murder of Mike Barnes.  This is the beginning of a series so this can be overlooked.  Legault has a lot of back story that ties into getting to know Blackwater.  It’s essential knowledge to this story when a person from Blackwater’s past appears to report on the murder.  The reader is given clues to the murderer’s identity but it’s still a surprise when the reader finds out who it is.


Green Books Campaign – November 10th

Posted in Event at 12:55 am by Amber

Eco-Libris organized a day for reviewers to focus on green books.  The Green Books Campaign day is November 10th.  Over 100 green books reviewed by over 100 bloggers all on the same day.  It should be neat!

Here’s a list of books and the bloggers participating in the Green Books Campaign.  I will be reviewing The Cardinal Divide by Stephen Legault.  It’s a murder mystery with an environmentalist as the prime suspect.


A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents by Liza Palmer

Posted in Review at 12:21 pm by Amber

A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents

With one parent dead another in the hospital from a stroke, Grace Hawkes wishes she had a field guide to burying her parents.  That would make her present situation easy and she hasn’t had easy in her life for a long time.  She walked away from her siblings and boyfriend five years ago after her mother’s death.  Summoned to her father’s hospital room she meets her father’s second wife and her stepbrother for the first time.  Grace is forced to deal with the people and the feelings she thought was in her past.

This book is one of my great finds of the year.  A big thanks to Miriam Parker at Hachette Book Group for providing me with an ARC of this novel.  I am definitely interested in reading Liza Palmer’s previous work. 

There are many transitions between the past and the present but Palmer handles the back and forth in a natural manner.  Something triggers the memory for Grace; both Grace and the reader are transported to that past event.  The relationships are complicated but Palmer captures the closeness of the siblings.  As an adult, Grace recognizes the roles played by her sister and brothers in the past.  This allows Grace to anticipate some of their actions in this unfortunate situation.  She can let herself be a better person by knowing how they are going to react to the stress. 

As one can imagine from the title, the novel contains sly humor.  An alternate title could be How Grace Hawkes Learns to Live and Love Again. 

About Liza Palmer

Liza Palmer is the internationally bestselling author of Conversations with the Fat Girl which Booklist says, “…manages to infuse a message of self–acceptance that isn’t heavy-handed or cloying. This quick-witted author is sure to develop a following.” Conversations with the Fat Girl became an international bestseller its first week in publication, being named a Target Breakout book, as well as hitting Number 1 on the Fiction Heatseekers List in the UK the week before the book debuted. Conversations with the Fat Girl has been optioned for series by HBO by the producers of Rome, Band of Brothers and Generation Kill.

Palmer’s second novel is Seeing Me Naked, which Publisher’s Weekly says, “consider it haute chick lit; Palmer’s prose is sharp, her characters are solid and her narrative is laced with moments of graceful sentiment.”

Palmer’s third novel, A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents will be published in January 2010.

Palmer currently lives in Los Angeles and is hard at work on her next novel as well as several film and television projects.

Palmer’s website is at http://www.lizapalmer.com/.


Once Dead, Twice Shy by Kim Harrison

Posted in Review at 8:05 am by Amber

  Once Dead, Twice Shy

In Once Dead, Twice Shy, Kim Harrison introduces the reader to Madison Avery shortly after her 17th birthday.  It’s an understatement to say her birthday isn’t the best day of her life.  The all important high school ritual of prom is the same day, her date is the son of her father’s friend who took her as a favor since she’s new to school, and the handsome stranger she left prom with purposely crashes his car.  When she doesn’t die he scythes her because he’s a reaper.  But she steals his amulet which gives her the illusion of a body.  She’s dead and stuck on earth with no body.

While reading this, I was reminded a little bit of the tv series Dead Like Me.  The reapers are given their assignments and they’re supposed to help the souls go to a better place until they’ve done enough assignments to go on to their own reward.  Once Dead, Twice Shy is only similar on the surface.  There are dark reapers who believe in destiny and cut down those who would make a name for themselves in history.  Their counterpart, the light reapers, believe in free will and they protect people who are about to die.  The reapers are angels who have been assigned this duty.

I loved this book.  Madison sounds like a self-aware teenager who misses her old life.  It can be difficult for a writer to nail the voice of someone 20 years younger.  The world Harrison has built is complicated.  Avery is kept as much in the dark as the reader regarding the motivations of other characters and how the magic works.  It’s great to read a book where you’re learning about things along with the main character.


October 2009

Posted in Status Report at 10:55 pm by Amber

These statistics are all for short stories, poems, or contest entries. Book reviews are not included.

  1. Sales in October: 0
  2. Rejections in October: 0
  3. Submissions sent out in October: 0
  4. Total stories/poems/contests pending responses: 3

October was a big fat 0 as far as any submissions and November is likely to be the same.  (Working on the newest novel.)

Because of my vacation at a friend’s I didn’t get to attend the Muse Online Conference as much as I would have liked.  I signed up for one workshop this year though I barely got to participate.  The conference has been an annual thing for me to do the last several years.  Each year has helped me refine my writing or my site. 

I was able to meet Francine Prose at a book signing which was very inspiring.  Now I have to put that inspiration to paper.