While I was out

Despite a lingering cough and the need for frequent naps (ok, more frequent than usual), I think I’ve more or less recovered from my recent assorted ailments.  And during the weeks I was coughing / sneezing / sleeping, a lot of cool things have been happening around the book launch.  Here’s a roundup:

  • The most amazing thing is that Alice Walker (yes, THAT Alice Walker!) blurbed my book! Here’s what she has to say:

I love Minal Hajratwala’s book LEAVING INDIA. It is what I imagine India itself to be like: incomparable, sprawling, rich, surprising, very old and wise and forever capable of re-creating itself, no matter where pieces of it land. Minal Hajratwala is a fine daughter of the continent, bringing insight, intelligence and compassion to the lives and sojourns of her far-flung kin. For those of us who have needed to understand the presence of so many Indians in our various lands, this book is a wonderful primer.

If I were an engineer/electrician/sculptor, I’d wire this up in flashing lights and carry it around on my body and look at it every time I started to feel the slightest bit discouraged, or cranky, or anything less than completely grateful and excited to be alive and to be a writer.
I received the email about this blurb (incomparable!  sprawling!  rich!) when I was so very sick that I was spending about 20 of every 24 hours in bed. I printed it out, taped it up next to my pillow, then spent the next two days doing this: — blow nose — read Alice Walker quote — have coughing fit — read Alice Walker quote — try to sleep — get woken up by coughing — spit green phlegm and blood — read Alice Walker quote —
The green phlegm is gone, thank goodness, but the quote remains.  There’s still something very unreal about it for me. Alice Walker is one of my real heroes:  a writer who made me want to write, an activist who made me want to believe.  Her work has been a guiding beacon for me in terms of craft as well as integrity, story-telling, and spiritual depth.  For many years I had a larger-than-life framed photograph of her up in my writing space for inspiration and encouragement.  So I barely believe she’s real, let alone that she really read and commented on my work!  
In practical terms, this is way cool because it gives us something to put on the book jacket. Blurbs can help readers decide to take a chance and buy a book, even if they haven’t heard of the book’s author.  At least, that’s what publishers hope; so a fair amount of behind-the-scenes energy and strategizing goes into deciding which people to ask, how to approach them, etc. My editor asked me for a “wish list” of people I’d like to see endorse the book, and even though most of them were long shots, we sent out copies; and she responded.
We’re still working on getting other blurbs, of course, but for me, this one is more than enough — and I haven’t stopped being thrilled every time I read it.
  • Little things have been happening too, like pre-publication listings in Library News (which helps librarians figure out what books to order) as well online booksellers like Tower and Amazon (where you can even pre-order a copy!  same goes with your local independent bookstore).  By the way, for my fellow narcissists out there, Google Alerts is a great tool because instead of obsessively googling myself every day or hour, I can let Google do it for me, and get email notification whenever a new website has my name in it.  These listings make me appreciate what a vast machinery is in place to get books into the world, and how all kinds of people I’ll never meet have hand in getting my book out to readers. Hoorah for interdependence
  • The first readings have been set up, which is super-exciting!  Tentatively, I think I’ll be in New York and Washington DC in mid-March, and then come home for a reading at my awesome neighborhood bookstore, Booksmith on Haight Street, on March 26.  Then it’s down to Los Angeles for a gig at the L.A. Public Library.  Details to come…
  • We’ve been laying the groundwork for a publicity campaign, putting out the word to my friends and old journalism buddies as well as the media at large.  I’m working with a lovely and very smart publicity manager assigned to me by my publishing house, and despite all the horror stories one hears from authors about their publicists, so far so good for me!
  • I did my first magazine interview for the book last week, with a very patient reporter who put up with me being on codeine brain and talking verrrrry slowwwly. It’s interesting to be on the other side of the interview, trying to sum up many years of work in a few pithy yet authentic comments.  I think I’ll get better at it with practice. 
  • Having been a journalist for years, I don’t get too excited about just seeing my name in print, but seeing my baby’s, I mean my book’s, name in print is still exciting. So if you happen to be a reader of Buddhadharma magazine, you can see a teensy item on me in the Mahasangha News section in the back.  

  • So, that’s quite a bit…  It’s delightful that even as I’ve been at my most UNproductive, things continue to click along.  There is momentum, and my personal sweat-power is not as crucial at this moment to making it all happen … which is really very fabulous.

    Saga from the sickbed

    I have been absent from the blogosphere for some days, which may be leading some of you to wonder: What has that Minal been doing during this historic week, a week of change, when hope as well as hate were victorious, when people celebrated and rallied and held vigil and slaughtered goats with large testicles in the streets?  Has she been out canvassing and campaigning and agitating?  Has she collapsed from exhaustion and exhilaration?  Has she been busy preparing for her new duties as President Barack Obama’s Poet Laureate?  Has she burrowed into her cave again to write her next masterpiece, perhaps for National Novel Writing Month?
    My friends, I am here to report that I have been extremely productive.  Specifically, I have had what is known as a “productive” cough.  Even more specifically, what I have been producing is great, chunky gobs of guck.  They are approximately this shade of bright green and they come from my lungs; in particular, the bronchi, for which this delightful ailment is named. 
    And since I am an overachieving model minority type, bronchitis is not the only thing I am doing.  I am also serving as host to a complete set of upper respiratory bugs:  sinus infection, ear infection, and what the nice resident at UCSF called a “classic case” of conjunctivitis.  Yes, even my maladies are perfectionist.  It’s a party over here, for sure.  
    I’m not quite sure how this happened, as I am the type of person who usually goes straight to bed at the first sign of a sniffle and doesn’t wake up till I feel totally better.  I am a total baby about being even the wee-est bit sick.  
    I guess this time, I just didn’t do that.  See what I get for trying to buck up and be a good sport!  Never again.
    I first started feeling a bit sick last week in Michigan, while visiting my brother’s family for Divali.  One evening we were having dinner at Red Robin, which, for those of you without balloon-age children, is quite the family diner chain restaurant experience.  It was very cold out, especially for a wimpy Californian such as I’ve become, and I felt a little soreness in my throat.  So when the waiter came around to get our drink orders, I asked for hot water.  
    Apparently this was a fascinating and novel concept, because the Babyfaced Twin looked slyly at me and then started chirping, “Hot water! Hot water!”  And that is what she ordered to drink.  And so did the Bespectacled Twin.  The bemused and amused waiter came back with the adult drinks in real glassware and the kiddie drinks in plastic cups with straws, and quietly told us he’d put a few cubes of ice in their hot water so it wouldn’t burn their 5-year-old mouths, and everyone was happy.  I distributed pink plastic tiaras and mermaid money for all, which provided enough minutes of entertainment to hold us until the burgers and fries and whatnot arrived.
    After dinner I should have gone home to bed, but instead I went to see an old friend who lives in Ann Arbor. We stayed up till about 11 p.m., catching up with three years’ worth of news and loves and dramas over tea.  By the time I got back to my brother’s house, I had not only a sore throat but also sniffles and aches.  The next day I felt like I had either a bad cold or a not-so-bad flu.  
    And then I got on an airplane.
    I should have gotten a clue from the fact that my ears did not pop from the descent until the *next morning*.  And yes, I did cancel some things; I did not go to yoga, nor did I carve pumpkins with the Lesbo Minister. And I was really good about doing my home remedies like steam therapy, sinus rinse, lemon ginger tea, and Nyquil (which does TOO count as a home remedy).  
    But then it was Halloween, and I never do anything for Halloween, but this year I was so excited about my Kinky Ladybug Queen costume, and about my writer friend’s Halloween housewarming party, and I had pumpkins all the way from Half Moon Bay to be carved, so I just had to go out.  How could I not, with something so fabulous to wear?
    And so, what I’d thought was a nasty Michigan cold morphed into the miserable thing you see before you.  Well, actually, you don’t see, which is really for the best.  I know some people reveal all in their blogs, but I will not be posting any webcam photos of my crusty bleary snotty self this week.  No sirree.
    On the up side, during my prolonged convalescence I have discovered:
    – that my crappy bare-bones what-a-self-employed-writer-can-afford health insurance is actually better than I thought; 
    – that the UCSF Parnassus urgent care clinic is an efficient, adequately staffed, and friendly place with good intelligent caregivers; 
    – that I have wonderful friends and family who are willing to do the glamorous stuff like bring me food and meds, come over and wash dishes, and pick up prescriptions;
    – that I really, really like codeine;
    – that even if you don’t have energy for anything else, you can still somehow spend a lot, I mean A LOT, of time on Facebook;
    – that those supposedly clever political blogs are not nearly as entertaining as catching up on my friends’ blogs and what people think of Michelle Obama’s wardrobe;
    – that we have a tree in our lungs
    – that my cat really likes it when I stay home in bed 23 hours per day, just like him.
    Well, time to take my evening meds and go be “productive” again before bedtime.  
    And that’s the news from Lake GooBeGone, where all the dreams are codeine sweet, all the rooms have their own boxes of kleenex, and all the snot is green.
    P.S.: For a more entertaining take on boogers, please see “The Case for Nose Picking” on my genius friend Martha’s blog.  She’s a real humorist.