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Showing posts from 2013


I like both movies and books. They each have their virtues. Books are good at conveying a character's inner thoughts. Movies are good at showing visuals. The cliche is true: A picture is worth a thousand words.

Chefchaouen, a small town in the mountains of Morocco, is probably the most visually striking town in that country. The reason? The place is awash in blue. It's like being inside a giant ice sculpture. Pretty and other worldly.

The Breathtaking Tannery of Fez

The tannery in Fez's medina is over 1,000 years old. It's a place where craftsmen turn animal skin into leather by soaking it in chemical soups, which include salts, acids, pee, and poo. A pretty potent mix. All manual labor. No machines. Pretty much the same process since the beginning. It's tough work.

For a visual, think makeup or watercolor palettes, but much bigger. It's probably the most iconic image of Morocco, for a good reason. I don't know if there's another place with a tannery of this history and scale. All guidebooks have an obligatory picture of the tannery.

What my photo doesn't convey is the stench. When you visit, they give you a sprig of mint to put under your nose. Utterly useless. The sight is, however, appropriately breathtaking.

Kai's Cartoon

This is the kind of thing I imagine Kai to doodle in his sketchbook.

Pleasing Readers

One of my writer friends said this:
"It is less important to please people who don't like your book than to please people who do, because it is better to have something people love than something they merely don't hate."

Lessons on Writing

Some of things I've learned learned while writing my first novel:

Write fast; edit slow. For my earlier drafts, I tried to craft each sentence one by one. Dumb mistake. So much of the earlier stuff got cut. Writing is a solo endeavor. You gotta love writing and you gotta love the story you're writing, otherwise you won't have the motivation to finish.You should read a lot and broadly. You can learn from everything. Even books you don't like will teach you what not to do. I've liked books in genres that I never thought I would like. My favorite time to write is the middle of the night, when the world and my brain are quiet.

Eat that Tagine

Tagine is Morocco's signature cookware. It is a pot with a conical lid, used to slow cook vegetables and meats. The stew itself is also called tagine, usually eaten with couscous. Delicious. If you don't find it tasty then you must be sniffing too much glue.

Mes Aynak, Priceless but Endangered

A major theme in my novel is how mining threatens to destroy archaeological ruins in Afghanistan. My story is fiction but inspired by real-life events in Mes Aynak, Afghanistan. A Chinese company plans to mine for copper at the same site where an ancient Buddhist city is buried. Not cool.

Here's a stupa, a structure containing Buddhist relics.

Check out the following for more information:

The Guardian article: Mes Aynak: Afghanistan's Buddhist buried treasure faces destruction

"The Buddhas of Aynak" Facebook page.

Sara's Itinerary

This is my hand-drawn map of Morocco showing Sara's backpacking trip. Not to scale. If you're reading the novel, it's kinda nice to have a visual of where's where.

More on Beta Readers

Beta readers are the best way to improve your novel. The key is to get betas who are 100% honest, even if they hurt your feelings.

Because they will.

Many people will say, “Be honest,” even though they really aren’t ready for it. Not that they're lying; they may genuinely think they can take criticism.

But getting critiqued can be like getting punched in the stomach. Until you've actually been punched, you don't really know how much it hurts.

Here's another thing: Most people, consciously or not, really don't want honest feedback about themselves. When they ask, "How's my haircut?", they are really looking for affirmation that the haircut is nice. 

The first time my manuscript was ripped, it hurt. A lot. But I wouldn't trade it for a gentle critique.
The problem with a sugarcoated critique is that it lacks the impact of a blunt one. If something in my manuscript sucks, I need to know how much it sucks, not just it sucks, because a big sucky thing needs …

Rules of Civility, Atmospheric with Vintage New York

I hate Amor Towles. I want to chuck his Rules of Civility against the wall.

Because I can never write like that.

Why I love the book: Pretty prose. Deep melancholy. Thick atmosphere - I felt transported to 1940s New York City. And look at that cool retro cover.

Mr. Towles is a huge literary talent. If I had his verbal gifts, I'd have something more insightful to say here.

Beta Readers

Beta readers are people who read your manuscript and give you feedback.

Many betas have read my manuscript in its entirety. Some were friends and family, some were strangers. A few were writers whom I swapped critiques with.

I appreciate them all. Most were simply generous folks who helped me without expecting anything in return. Many gave me helpful comments that pointed out my blind spots and suggested ways to improve.

To anyone who has beta-read my drivel, thanks again.