Phoenix, written by Arti Chugpai, tells the story of Sonam Aggarwal and her trials and tribulations as she builds her life as a woman in India. Sonam is a complex character with beautiful soul, intelligence and integrity. Her presence demands authority, and as the Director of Publishing for a branch in India, she has certainly earned respect and accolades. However, there is a part of her that is broken by a moment in her life that she explicitly calls “The Betrayal”. Her family and friends judge her by her relationship failings rather than her career successes, leaving Sonam feeling lost and alone. Will Sonam be able to rise above the stereotypes and convictions of her family and friends to find true happiness?
Phoenix is a novel based on love, life and conforming to gender stereotypes. It’s the year 1998, and there’s a budding romance growing between a middle-aged business tycoon by the name of Kunal Vats and the main leading lady, Sonam Aggarwals. Set in India, Phoenix explores Sonan Aggarwal’s life through her ever-changing family, relationships, career aspirations and friendships.
The story then flits between two different eras of Sonam Aggarwal’s life, one part telling her life as it is in 2017 and the other turning back the clock to the year 1998. It’s here we learn about her life and the changing family dynamics and reoccurring expectations that seem to haunt Sonam, no matter how old her or her family members are.
It was refreshing to read a novel based on someone who is aged between their 40’s-60’s. Most modern love stories center around young adults in their twenties and Phoenix was a gentle reminder that age is no barrier when it comes to pursuing love and happiness. I enjoyed the sense of realism as the characters experienced a love that did not always result in happy endings. Instead, Phoenix dove deep into a raw and personal kind of love, where abuse, betrayal and forgiveness are all prominent players in the relationship game.
Phoenix also explores the events of Sonam’s life so thoroughly that at times you feel as though you are almost reading a biography of a real person. The novel also went into depth to showcase some of India’s culture, including foods, family life and working conditions. Arti Chugpai’s style of writing is confident and expressive, using strong descriptive words and phrases to demonstrate their points within the plot line. Fitting, considering the main character Sonam is a publisher herself.
Phoenix also brings to light the society changes and gender differences in India, and how things change over a period of time. It shows the difference in expectations between men and women, especially when it comes to love and relationships. Women are considered to be successful if they maintain a healthy, happy family, with their career aspirations and achievements often shadowed by the relationship, falls they have had in their life.
I would recommend this for anyone looking for a novel about budding romance, rising above the gender stereotypes and Indian culture.
Pages: 232 | ISBN: 1543701043
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Truth and The Serpent explores an alternate creation story that follows the serpent from the Garden of Eden. What were some themes that you felt were important to highlight in this story?
Once I decided to write this story, I immediately determined that I wanted it to be different in some way. If it’s the same old thing then why write it at all. Honestly, I didn’t know if that was even possible, as these stories have been overdone so many times.
The major theme of the story is true versus untrue or consistent versus inconsistent, unlike every other story you hear of about religion. Where God/ religion is all fake and the explanation is aliens, monkeys, and sun worship. Or its all real, and Jesus is coming back tomorrow at 4:30 pm, pack a bag!
The issue with stories dealing with religion is that they are usually examined through the scope of morality. But morality is not a constant, which changes with culture and time. So, as I was developing the Serpent character I searched to find something to argue other than morality, which is based on perception, and not facts. I decided that even though there were may inconsistencies in these stories there was information within them, that was consistent or true for everyone.
Then I realized that that was a good discussion to have, and one that I had never heard of with these stories. Thus the Serpent would argue consistent information, and the Man of the Present, would represent our everyday biased understanding of these stories. The discussion and theme soon changed from morality, to the impact that these stories have had on culture and society. This is why the Serpent does not debate the existence of God, or Heaven or Hell, because it’s irrelevant. As culture and society deem which acts are “wrong” and which acts are “forgivable.” Once I removed that from the narrative, I could then be honest with the Serpent Character.
I felt that there were a lot of great twists and turns throughout the novel. Did you plan this before writing the novel, or did the twists present themselves to you as you writing?
No, there was no way I could have planned that the story would unfold and then end the way it did. I had an idea for each chapter, but once I got in there they became something more. The original story was a page and a half, and was literally just rewriting the Garden of Eden story form the Serpent’s point of view. It came out well, and then I thought to myself, what would it look like if I continued…
To me most of it was not a twist, but merely a change of perspective. One thing to note, is that every time we are told these stories, we subconsciously put ourselves on the side of the “good narrative” or the “victim/ saved narrative.” By doing so we only see certain things. For example, while writing the chapter “The Earth” which covers Noah/ the flood. Once the flood came I instantly put the Serpent inside the Ark, because that’s just what our minds do. I came up with a scenario that the Serpent was camouflaged hiding in the haystacks, which I’m glad I didn’t go with. But then it hit me, why does the serpent have to be inside? The Serpent is a reptile, there are sea snakes, Sea Serpents of legend even… what would happen if I put the Serpent outside.
I did, and then everything opened up. My mind began to explore this world in a way I had never done before. I soon found that the Serpent was the perfect vehicle to do this with, as putting him outside would not affect our opinion of him, while the same couldn’t be done with the human characters. It was difficult to navigate these stories from this perspective, but once I separated my ego from the subject, I was able to write the story.
I felt that the biblical aspects in this novel were expertly used. What kind of research did you do for this story?
One I read the bible for myself. Second, I removed my ego from the equation. Writing this book was not about me, it is at its core a talking animal story that takes place in the what if universe. That is, in itself, about as fictitiously fantastical fake as you can get. However, once I started reading for myself, I quickly saw how inconsistent the biblical stories were. Then on top of that, there is the commercial understanding that we have been taught and sold.
One thing to note, is that Christianity does not own these stories, and they exist in many other cultures and beliefs. For that matter this could very well be Muslim Fiction, Jewish Fiction, or Zoroastrian fiction. We live in a western world, so that is our first thought, but these stories have existed long before there ever was a Christian church. Additionally, this story is not about religion, it is a story of humanity as seen through the eyes of the Serpent character.
Then, once I got started I didn’t limit myself to the bible. As you will note I make references to spirituality, mythology, history, science, and math. I researched and looked up everything, not just say Noah’s Ark the tale, but what Noah’s name meant. I looked up what causes a flood, what happens to flood waters, how does it impact species and topsoil and later plant growth. I viewed the events not as only divine wrath, but in natural real terms. i.e. the animals going to the Ark, is explained as animals changing their migrations. Then I asked, what could cause a change in animal migrations and so on. I then added these definitions to the biblical story, which then added new depth and meaning. I would say that I had about 100 pages of printed notes for each chapter. I looked up everything trying to find something tangible and meaningful beyond the everyday wrath, salvation, and lightshow.
Once I did that, the stories came alive and were now three dimensional, taking on new meanings that I didn’t see coming. But none of that would have been possible if I didn’t research meticulously. Most of all, I didn’t just ask questions, I sought out rational answers as if, I was actually having this epic discussion. So, in a way, it was me asking the questions that I never got an answer to, and using the “absurd Serpent in the what if universe” as a platform to have this discussion, which somehow worked.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
Next is Serpent book 2. It will be the Serpent and another human character who live during the time of Jesus. The Serpent will be his obnoxiously colorful self, adding sarcastic commentary to the events as they unfold. It has a title, but I’m not releasing it until I finish writing it. I have notes started and have started planning out the chapters, but I have not begun writing the dialogue and narrative. Hopefully, I will start officially on it January 2018.
What do we really know of creation, myth, and belief? There was a Man, a Woman, a Garden, and of course… a Serpent. Yet, what we have come to know as temptation, and mortal sin are only one side of the story. You see, three sinned, and three were punished, but only two were expelled from the Garden, but afterwards…what happened to the Serpent?
A present day man finds himself eye to eye with the infamous Serpent of curse and ruin. The Serpent who characteristically makes the man an offer to learn not just what happened, but why.
A tale unlike any other, where the fall of man is not weighed on a scale of good or evil, but in truth and lies. The Serpent whose intellect, sarcasm, and wit cultivates over time as he appraises the history of man and religious lore. The Serpent who is also on a journey of self-discovery to learn the meaning of that ill-fated encounter and the purpose of his own life.
Come to know the unsung story of one who lived through creation, survived the great deluge, witnessed a mass exodus, and the rise and fall of exalted kings of men. Could such a tale, as told by a forked tongue, be the end of lies, and the beginning… of the truth.
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The Taking of Peggy Martin follows an enigmatic young nurse working at an institution for the criminally insane. What was the inspiration for Peggy’s character background?
Peggy Martins character came to me one rainy day. I grew up in the deep south. I am a Registered Nurse and like Peggy, I have worked with psychiatric patients. As I began to wander in memory of patients I had encountered, Peggy all but appeared to me. I suddenly felt her devotion. We shared that commonality, but it didn’t stop there. There were so much more and suddenly our lives intertwined. I adopted her persona and added fragments of my own life, an overly religious Grandmother, and the pieces to the story just fell into place. Add in the painful loss of my father when I was quite young which resulted in a childhood haunted by aberrations and ‘The Taking of Peggy Martin’ was born.
Peggy Martin is a pious woman that has had some horrible things happen around her. What were something that you felt were important for Peggy’s character development?
Loss. Painful loss and an undying need to find truth. Survival.
This is an engaging and mysterious thriller that touches on deep emotions. What do you hope readers take away from your story?
Although fragments of real life events are woven into this novel, it is fantasy. If there was one thing to take away from this story it is, that it doesn’t take guts to quit. Even in the face of evil, one can persevere.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
My next novel is Chasing the Red Queen. The setting is Sault Ste. Marie Michigan and her sister city by the same name in Ontario.
Fact; It is written in the ancient birch parchments of the Ojibwe (Indigenous people) that Seven Miigis (spirits) known as (Radiant Iridescents) presented themselves (over a thousand years ago) to the people in the Waabanakiing (Land of the Dawn, i.e., Eastern land) to teach the Mide (culture) way of life. One spirit known as the Seventh was too powerful and killed those in his presence. The other Six spirits took to the river and swam back to the ocean from whence they came.
Chasing the Red Queen is a beautiful, modern day love story with relentless action, elite battles, steamy passion and the ghastly realization that just because one chooses not to believe in the paranormal, doesn’t make it a given.
The setting is East Texas, where Peggy, a young nurse, works at an institution for the criminally insane. After her husband Danny is mysteriously killed in a car accident, she convinces herself that it was murder… and she knows the murderer by name… Jasper Johnson. When she gets notice from Marbelle Johnson, Jasper’s mother, requesting an impromptu meeting, she discovers that the filthy rich oil baroness believes Danny to have been the bastard child of her deceased husband, Charles Johnson.
Peggy, irreparably damaged from childhood by religious fanaticism, reluctantly agrees to exhume Danny’s body. Reeling with doubt, all the while fearing betrayal by the Johnsons, she finds herself bordering on insanity.
Shackled in darkness, Peggy throws herself into her work only to find herself face to face with a blonde haired, blue eyed schizophrenic in a straitjacket. Quite by circumstance she discovers that this patient, Morgan Dubois, who as a child was found burrowed in the ground in the Piney Wood Thicket, has a link not only to her late husband, but also to the aberrations of her mind.
As secrets are revealed and it becomes apparent that something or someone wants to silence their tongues, Peggy is forced to seek refuge with the Johnsons. Together, as death finds them, one by one, they set upon a perilous journey in search of truth. Deep in the heart of the Piney Wood Thicket, they stumble upon Cypress Creek and discover an existence older than time itself. Peggy, caught in a maelstrom of emotions, torn between two worlds, finds herself in a desperate battle, not only for her life, but for that of all of mankind.
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Corporate Comedy by Thobias is a crazy funny yet totally believable account of one man’s life in India’s corporate sector. His experiences that made up his professional career are so entirely funny and entertaining, you may not want to read this book in public. In some ways this book is extremely ridiculous in the things that take place in the corporate world. These people are frustrating and yet laughable. They seem like characters from a movie! Yet the whole point is the story of a man who climbs the corporate ladder and his experiences. It’s a profession many think would be a great one, but the realities of what this man went through makes the reader see it all in a brand new light.
While this book is longer than some, it moves quickly. The story line flows smoothly and keeps moving at a quick pace. I like to laugh so it doesn’t take much, but I found myself laughing inappropriately loud and a bit embarrassingly, to be honest. I got some seriously weird looks from my own flesh and blood, I can only imagine if I would have been trying to read this somewhere more public, like the bus or at the park! I wouldn’t have been able to help myself. I ended up reading this book in one quick weekend.
Corporate Comedy by Thobias can be considered a comedy biography burrito. It’s both things all wrapped up in a warm outer shell. I truly felt myself feeling sorry for those in the corporate sector that are the middle man. Those that end up having to travel and be away from their loved ones. I used to think all that traveling would be fun, but in a way this book made me see it in another light. I am not quite sure how these people can manage to do it all.
I loved the descriptions of some of the locations and characters. They weren’t too wordy and overwhelming as some books do but are good enough that you can really visualize the character or location. I also loved how you would find yourself cheering for the main character. When he gets to the point where he stands up for himself I found myself rooting for him to really say how he feels! These people are so ridiculous at times I almost couldn’t deal with all of it!
It may be set in India but the situations and interactions could be in any corporate building located around the world. I really think that I will start seeing those busy men and women in a whole different light than before. It’s no wonder these people seem like totally unrelatable people by the time they reach a higher up position. If you enjoy quirky workplace comedies then you will absolutely enjoy Corporate Comedy. It’s hilarious and truly enjoyable from the start.
Pages: 246 | ASIN: B06Y12NZFG
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God’s Phonetics: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe’s Origins follows a teenage boy who has dreams of becoming a scientist and discovering a theory that will unlock the mystery of the universe’s origins. What was your inspiration for this story?
It was in the year 2008; I came across two interesting verses from the Bible that spoke about languages – One verse explained that God confused people with languages. The other gave me an idea that God created everything with the help of ‘word’…
It built my curiosity and I started looking for a clue in other religions and interestingly I found that even Hinduism, which is considered one of the oldest religions in the world, had also explained something similar to this idea. The drum that is seen tied to the trident of ‘Lord Shiva’ symbolizes sound and creation. The ‘Damru’ plays a significant role in the creation of universe and languages.
This new learning from different religions had inspired me a lot to look at the universe and creation from a different perspective.
Though I never had an intention to write a book about it, I had always wanted to share these new thoughts with someone but nobody showed any interest in listening to me.
When I shared my thoughts with my wife recently in June 2017, using my story telling skills; she immediately gave me an idea to write this and publish it as a book.
It was really a huge step for me and I was very nervous to write a book because I have neither read anovel nor have I written one.
Behind every successful man there is a woman and I am no exception. Her constant motivation and encouragement has definitely helped me a lot in successfully bringing all my thoughts into a book and has also given me a new identity as an author today.
Bavyesh is an interesting and well developed character. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story?
Bavyesh is not only an interesting character in the story but also in my personal life. In Hinduism, it is believed that a deceased father will be born again in the same family exactly after a year.
Miraculously, it happened exactly in the same fashion and Bavyesh was born a year later after my father’s demise, which makes him very special to me.
Further, I am a devotee of Lord Shiva hence I named the child Bavyesh; which again means ‘Lord Shiva’ and we strongly believe that he could either be a reincarnation of my deceased father or Lord Shiva himself.
I really wanted to thank him for coming into my life and give him a gift and decided to write a short story having Bavyesh as the protagonist. This made me give a lot of importance and meaning to this character throughout the story.
What is the next story that you are writing and when will it be available?
I am intending to write the final chapter of this book and have it ready by Jan 2018.
Bavyesh, an eighteen-year-old boy, discovers the hidden secrets of the universe from an ancient book that he finds in a cave when on vacation. This enigmatic book helps him produce a unified theory that explains all the mysteries of the universe’s origins and goes beyond the understanding of mankind. It puzzles the entire scientific community and opens the door to new possibilities.
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God’s Phonetics: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe’s Origins, written by Balaji Mohan, follows a teenage boy, Bavyesh, who has dreams of becoming a scientist and discovering a theory that will unlock the mystery of the universe’s origins. Mr. Kamal, Bavyesh’s teacher, is determined to help Bavyesh on his endeavors as they work together to uncover the secrets of the world. Through the linguistics of language, the duo will join forces on a mission that will have them flying through space and time.
Will Bavyesh be able to uncover the secrets of the universe and pull off the experiment of the century?
God’s Phonetics: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe’s Origins kick-starts the story with simple lessons between a student and teacher. It then quickly becomes a thrilling action novel with adventures into space and discoveries that could end mankind forever. We are also treated with tastes of Indian culture sprinkled throughout the story as traditional Indian meals and cultural practices are weaved into the plot.
The essence of philosophy and spirituality is prominent throughout the book as Bavyesh reveals a deeper level of thinking regarding his ideas about life and the world. This is unlike other novels I’ve read about the beginning of the universe with its innovative ideologies that include phonetics as a major clue to the universe. At times the story almost felt non-fiction as it went to great lengths to describe galaxies and religion.
God’s Phonetics: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe’s Originsis no ordinary story. It’s unpredictable, filled with twists and turns that you would least expect. At first, I thought the story was going to follow a traditional storyline, however, I was drawn in by its unusual events punctuated by a shocking ending. There is also a technology element to the novel with machines and inventions that are described so accurately that you could believe that they were real.
There is a beautiful friendship between Mr. Kamal and Bavyesh as they bond together over their mutual interest in the wonders of the universe. I enjoyed learning about the two friends; watching the dynamic between them switch as the teacher becomes the student. It’s a reminder that we can learn from youth and their curious minds. Bavyesh’s parents, Neha and Kumar also have a relationship to be admired, beginning the novel with a family relationship that will put a smile on your face.
The way the novel is written is almost poetic, as the author describes each moment with a beautiful simplicity. There are hints of symbolism trickled throughout the story, including theories on the number seven and Bavyesh’s name which means “Lord of the Worlds, Lord Shiva, Intelligent, and All-Knowing”. The plot pushes the reader to consider the universe and what other life may exist in the world beyond our own.
I would rate this novel a 5/5 and would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a story that explores the philosophy of the universe whilst dabbling in a dash of action, friendship, and spirituality.
Pages: 112 | ISBN: 1948032414
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Same Inside, Different Outside is a wonderful children’s book that teaches biology and promotes diversity. Why do you think this is an important message to teach children?
I’m a nursing professor and one of the courses I teach is on Culture and Cultural Concepts which has certainly changed my worldview. I thought I had a good understanding of the various cultures and their beliefs and practices, however, one of the big lessons I learned was that becoming culturally competent is a journey that can take a lifetime. This made me realize that we need to teach children at a very young age to celebrate their uniqueness yet understand how in many ways we are all very similar. As a nurse, I also believe that children need to learn about the inside and outside of their bodies and although some of the concepts may be difficult for a younger child it is never too early to start introducing concepts that can be built upon as they complete their educational journeys.
I loved the pictures in this book. What was the art direction like?
Thanks, I loved the pictures, too. I worked very closely with my illustrator. Initially, I placed notations throughout the manuscript detailing my ideas for the illustrations and where they should be placed. Xavier, of course, used his creative and artistic abilities to bring the illustrations to life. It was fun to collaborate with him on this project and we really worked well together. Final edits were completed based on the input of the Waldorf Publishing team which certainly strengthened the book.
What do you hope young readers take away from your story?
First, and foremost I hope the readers enjoy the story and want to read it over and over again. Secondly, I hope they begin to understand that although we are unique and look different on the outside we are also very similar, especially on the inside. Lastly, I hope they begin to understand how some of the major parts of their bodies work. And that skeletons are really not scary and are somewhat like superheroes because they protect all of our insides.
Will you be writing more kids books that tackle other social issues?
Yes, although I’m currently working on the second pug book I’m also in the early developmental stages of inviting the readers back to Emma’s kindergarten class where I will address other social issues that help children to understand that although in some ways we are very similar it’s okay to be different.
Today is a very exciting day for Emma’s kindergarten class. Emma, Robert, and the rest of the student’s don t understand how they can all look so different on the outside, but look very similar on the inside. So Dr. Shaw is coming to visit, and she’s bringing Mr. Bones, who is a real life-size skeleton. Mr. Bones is going to help Dr. Shaw teach her lesson about the human body. Dr. Shaw has also brought a cool body screening machine with her so the children can see what their insides look like.
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East of Mecca is beautifully written and addresses a subject that is rarely discussed. Why did you want to write about Middle Eastern culture?
I lived in Saudi Arabia for a year when my husband accepted a job with Aramco Oil Company. We lived on a company compound called Ras Tanura, located on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Within the compound were beautiful, white, sandy beaches, and flat, desert terrain filled with exotic, thorny scrubs. The sun rose every morning over the sea and set each evening over the desert. Both events were in stunning Technicolor!
Throughout my year in Saudi, I was exposed to camels, Bedouin markets, delicious food, beautiful art, jewelry, and architecture, and haunting Middle Eastern music. I even learned to belly dance!
Although we lived on the company compound, I quickly discovered the male-dominated, fundamentalist Islamic Kingdom’s rules for ex-patriot women were not so different than those for Saudi women…loose, modest clothing, driving or riding bicycles off the compound is forbidden, as is leaving the compound unless accompanied by your husband or in Aramco approved transportation.
My first day in Saudi, I was fingerprinted, photographed holding a placard with my husband’s ID number, and my passport was confiscated by Aramco. It would only be relinquished to my husband after he had applied for an exit-visa and it had been approved. I had my first panic attack when I realized I couldn’t just get a cab to the airport, board a plane, and go home.
In one day, I lost both my identity and my freedom.
As an American Clinical Psychologist not affiliated with Aramco, I had other women from the compound (American, European, Saudi and other Arab women) literally knocking on my door for counseling. I practiced secretly and illicitly (without a work-permit) the entire year I was in Saudi.
Off the compound, restrictions against women were much more apparent. Ruled by sharia law, Saudi women are required to be covered head-to-toe in black long-sleeved, ankle length cloaks called abayas, hijabs (headscarves), and face-masks called niqabs. All these were then covered with veils that render women completely invisible. Religious police called matawain patrol the streets of villages and cities arbitrarily deciding whether or not a woman (Saudi or Western) is properly dressed and properly behaved. Unless restaurants have screened off “family” sections, women are not allowed inside.
It was in Saudi, through my work with other women, where I learned firsthand about oppression and some of the other appalling conditions Saudi women face, including being under complete control of their husbands, fathers, or other males in their family, lack of personal autonomy, being forbidden to drive, honor violence, arranged marriage, child marriages…all in addition to the rigid clothing restrictions…being totally cloaked in black, even in sweltering weather.
The Middle East is a complex culture, rich in contrasts. And yet, little is written about the treatment of women in Saudi. Inspired by my own experiences and those of the women I worked with, writing East of Mecca became my passion project. I wanted to convey the exotic and the beautiful, while respectfully educating Western readers on the appalling conditions of women living under sharia law. I wanted to take readers beneath the veils that make Saudi women “invisible” and give them faces. I wanted to give a voice to those women forbidden to speak for themselves. My greatest hope is that education can lead to advocacy and action toward change.
Sarah is a fascinating character and a strong woman in her own right. What were the driving ideals behind the character’s development throughout the story?
Sarah is, first of all, devoted to her husband and children. And, with a social work background and aspirations to be a Clinical Psychologist, Sarah is a caregiver by profession and by nature. However, like most Americans, she is naïve to the experiences of others in totally different cultures. Initially, she views life in Saudi Arabia as a wise financial investment and a grand adventure. Throughout the story, with all she personally experiences and witnesses happening to other women in Saudi, especially through her relationship with Yasmeen, Sarah becomes an advocate for human rights on a much more personal level.
I truly enjoyed Yasmeen’s character and thought she brought depth and nuance to an intriguing culture. What was the inspiration for the relationship Sarah and Yasmeen have?
While it’s easy to have sympathy for people in other cultures, or those who are different from us, empathy is achieved by the ability to understand and share the feelings of another…from their perspective. To actually feel what they are feeling. My goal in creating Yasmeen’s character was to have my readers truly know her as a person, not just a face hidden behind a veil. I want them to experience her personality and empathetically relate to her joys and her struggles. The deep friendship Sarah and Yasmeen share, shows how they…and women everywhere…are the same, no matter how different their cultures might be.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I am currently working on my second novel. Orchard Road is about a Clinical Psychologist, with a very dark past, who is triggered into violence by one of her patients. The time and setting is both current day Chicago, and Singapore in the 1970’s. Since I’m still in the midst of writing, I don’t know when it’ll be published, but I’m hoping it will be available within the next two years.
This moving and unforgettable novel, East of Mecca, tells a timely, harrowing, and heartbreaking story of love and betrayal, the transcendent power of sisterhood, and the ultimate price of oppression. Driven by financial desperation, Sarah and Max Hayes are seduced by promises of a glamorous expatriate lifestyle in Saudi Arabia. Sarah surrenders her career when Max accepts a prestigious job with Ocmara Oil Company and they relocate their family to the shores of the Persian Gulf. Locked inside the heavily-guarded Ocmara compound, Sarah becomes invisible within the male-dominated, fundamentalist, Islamic Kingdom, which is governed by sharia law. Gradually, she is drawn into a clandestine, illicit friendship with Yasmeen, a Muslim Saudi woman. Together they find freedom beneath the veils and behind the walls of the Saudi women’s quarters—until inconceivable events force Sarah to make life-or-death decisions. Told with riveting authenticity and exquisite detail, East of Mecca explores gender apartheid through the abuse of absolute power with an elegant balance of cultural nuance and moral inquiry. Long after you have turned the last page, you will be haunted by the vivid characters and powerful scenes illuminating this tour de force.
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Charlotte is a woman of mysterious origins who is seeking revenge on the one who locked her away. How did you decide what the starting point was for you in Charlotte’s Soul?
In truth I was working on another story, dealing with a healer in a magical realm when my mind drifted off. The stories of the witch hunts in Salem came up. I’d seen many documentaries concerning that time period, thus I began to wonder. What would a true witch do. Could I write an interesting story? I considered starting points in that time period but nothing clicked for me. It wasn’t until I considered modern times that I felt a connection. Still, something was missing. I began asking what if? What if? That’s when Charlotte began to come alive. As for a starting point, I like to start off with my characters having to deal with situations that reveals something about the person.
The novel is filled with subtle yet powerful descriptions of voodoo and witchcraft. What research did you undertake to ensure you got all the details right?
From early on as a child Witchcraft has been talked-about, written about and made in to tv shows. In my mind they all held the same theme, the ability to alter reality by understanding nature is a force which can be tapped. Thus using this knowledge I built up Charlotte’s abilities. Voodoo on the other hand has not been a part of my world, yet I’d heard stories about it. Being unsure of any true facts, I began searching the Internet to understand it’s origins. The more sites I came across the more I learned voodoo is not a bunch of hocus-pocus, it’s a respected religion in many cultures.
I found that Charlotte was a balance between femininity, passion and a strong will. What obstacles did you feel were important in the story for Charlotte’s character development?
To develop Charlotte, I considered how she must feel being a 17th century woman thrust into our society. To give her balance to cope, I paired her off with detective Matt Huston, a modern man with his own demons. I felt with the two butting heads, she would have a foundation to build a life in our time period.
Will Charlotte’s Soul be part of a series? If so, where does the next story go? If not, where do you imagine it could go?
I did leave room to write another story with her and in fact, I’ve the making for a beginning to book 2. Presently however, she has been delegated to remain on hold as another story has caught my interest. In time I’m hopeful she’ll get dusted off and put back in action.
Charlotte Goodfield, a witch imprisoned since the 17th century, escapes in modern times and enlists the help of a New York City detective and an ATF agent to find her half-brother. He stole the magic amulet that holds half her soul—and she wants it back. Charlotte wades through NYC’s underbelly, searching for answers and discovering other horrors.
While her amulet has been with her brother, that half of her soul became drenched in evil; contacting it strengthens her magic but doing so raises a daemon within her that doesn’t care about playing by the rules.
Bad men are fair game. And she’s met a lot of bad men.
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