Slumdog vs. Oscar the Grouch

Tonight I get to do two things I’ve never done before: be part of a webcast, and act like an official Oscar critic!  If you feel like chatting about “Slumdog Millionaire,” please tune in tonight right after the Best Picture Award is announced.  Here are the details for how you can join the conversation in a few different ways — by phoning in like a conference call, listening on the web, or following it on Twitter:


I usually consider this Oscar better company than this one, so it’ll be a fun night for me to blend the two.  Most of the other official commentators on the webcast, including the journalists, are quite gung-ho on the movie.  I didn’t hate it, but I definitely had issues which I wrote about here and here, so I get to be the critical voice on the panel. 

But opinions are like, um, bellybuttons (to put it politely); everybody has one. I’m less interested in my own opinion than in how the film made me think about art-making and the ethics of telling someone else’s story, something I struggled with as I wrote Leaving India.  Anyway, it will be interesting to see what everyone has to say.

Have fun tonight, whether or not you’re spending it with Oscar!

FAQ for writers

I’m writing this because, ten weeks before the launch of my first book, I am realizing that I have several outstanding requests from other writers that I just don’t have the capacity to fill as generously as I’d like to, and that the demand is likely to accelerate.  I hope this is somewhat helpful, if not quite the panacea one might desire.
In my own experience, the #1 way to get good advice and support for your writing is to be part of a community of writers and creative peers. By this I don’t mean a Facebook community (though I do love me some FB), but a real writing group, class, community group, open mic, creative organization, coach, and/or some combination of these, that meets regularly and keeps you in touch with people who are able to assist each other. 
If you are a writer of South Asian descent, I highly recommend getting involved in DesiLit, joining or organizing your local chapter, and attending one of the national DesiLit conferences that brings together writers, readers, and publishing professionals.
Q. I finished / am finishing / am working on a book.  Can you put me in touch with an agent / editor / someone in publishing?  
A. First of all, congratulations on your work, that’s fabulous!
Unless I already know you AND your work intimately, I’m afraid I do not feel comfortable recommending you to my agent. My friend Mary Anne Mohanraj has a more detailed response to this question on her website, including excellent advice to which I can’t really add anything.
There are many good resources on agents and publishing out there; Poets & Writers magazine is a good one to subscribe to if you’d like to stay on top of the latest trends for publishing your literary writing. P&W regularly features interviews with agents, calls for submissions, features on new writers, and other practical resources.
Q. Can you read my work / my manuscript?

A. Like you, I’m a working writer who needs to carve out time for writing amid many other activities, including wage-earning ones. I love to coach other writers through various stages of the writing process, and I love to read and critique manuscripts. I am lucky to be able to do this work for a fee.  (Sometimes I’m also open to barter/trade for your skills in exchange for mine.)  Right now I am taking a break from that work until after my book tour, so if you’re interested in working with me, please do get in touch after May 2009. 
Meanwhile, I highly recommend the services of Kristy Lin Billuni. She is warm, incisive, sharp, talented, affordable, and super-fun to work with: everything you’d want in a manuscript midwife.
Please note that neither Kristy’s nor my services include connecting you to an agent/editor/etc. You should be suspicious of any manuscript consultant who charges money for such connections.
Q. Do you have any writing advice?

A. Well, it’s hard to give generic advice. Again, finding or forming your own writing community, and/or hiring someone to help you, are really the two best ways (imho) to get advice at the level you need it.  I did both in order to write my book, and I found it was well worth every minute and penny that I invested in these activities.
I’ve also found books on writing and creativity to be helpful. The books I turn to again and again are:
  • The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron – on finding and holding to your creative path.
  • Wild Mind and Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg – on writing as a practice, with easy, repeatable exercises for generating new work.
  • Unstuck, by Jane Anne Staw – on working through creative blocks.
And there are plenty of others out there.
I wish you the best, and know you’re already on the right track by reaching out to the universe for help, support, and creative validation.

Performance highs

LitQuake 11oct08 Bollyhood.jpg

Here’s a photo my friend Patty H-C took with her iphone of me reading at the South Asian American reading at LitQuake.  (Thanks, Patty!)  Do you love my tiara, or what?  I’ve been wearing it non-stop since I got it at the mall during a two-for-one sale last week.
So, it was my first time at Litquake, a crazy brilliant annual San Francisco event that packs a dozen or so venues within a few blocks with hundreds of writers and thousands of audience members.  I’m grateful to everyone who braved the hordes and came out!  The reading was curated by my dear friend, the talented Pireeni Sundaralingam, for an anthology called Writing the Lines of Our Hands, which will be the first anthology to focus purely on the poetry of South Asian Americans. I read a couple of sections from the book, and a poem. I had the pleasure of reading along with several talented poets and prose writers demonstrating a huge versatility of style and content, from a slam poet/psychiatrist (Ravi Chandra) riffing on his mother’s holy commitment to rice, to a professor (Falu Bakrania) describing her investigative forays into the desi club scene.  
Bollyhood Cafe hosted us, one of my fans bought me a drink, and a sweet friend treated me to some of their yummy bhel afterward.  The Bollyhood team is always fabulous, and it was fun to read in front of a standing/sitting/crouching-room-only crowd!  SMALL COMMERCIAL:  Go to Bollyhood… on 19th St just south of Mission St in SF … it’s really more of a bar/lounge than a cafe, they always have great events going on, awesome community space, and the food and drinks are delicious.
On Friday night I went to a HOT, AMAZING show featuring an incredible lineup of queer/trans people of color performances.  Now, I’ve seen a lot of performance in San Francisco — I mean, a LOT — so it takes a bit to impress me.  Taking your clothes off?  Yeah, yeah.  Syncretizing your childhood trauma and your incisive grown perspective on the injustices of the world?  Uh-huh.  Reclaiming a cultural icon to be queer-positive?  Been there, done that.  
But this show was all that and … MORE.  I’m always excited and impressed to see my dear friends like Vixen Noir, Simone de la Ghetto, and Leah-Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha take the stage, and they were gorgeous as always.  I got chills during Leah-Lakshmi’s reading about love between brown-and-brown, brown-and-white, and the differences between them. And on top of that, there were some sweet surprises.  La Chica Boom blew me out of the water with her taco show (I can’t really say more, but it is NOT to be missed) and her foul-mouthed Virgen de Guadaloupe.  Nico el Rico did a sweet and moving piece about masculinity, growing up with a drill sergeant father in Argentina.
Mangos is kicking off a tour, with a show tonight (Monday 10/12) in Oakland (8pm Eastside Cultural Center, 2277 International Ave, Oakland) and dates in Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson, Flagstaff, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Denver.  If you have friends in those places, send em to the schedule on the Mangos With Chili myspace page.
Twas a very fun weekend… hope yours was just as fabulous, in whatever way was right for you.