Suleikha is a Writer Not Writing…

Quill_InkwellWhat do you do when the well is empty? When you are a writer who cannot write?

There are many who would say that it means you’re not a real writer, because real writers write no matter what. Every day. As regularly as breathing.

What do you do when you can’t breathe either?

For me, these past few months have been a struggle of creativity vs. grief, with the grief winning by a landslide. Yes, it sucks. I’ve got little in the way of words and even less in the way of inspiration. But I’m not ready to stop calling myself a writer just yet. Here are five things I’m doing to try and stay in the game.

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Nisha’s Tips on How to Indify Your Holiday

It’s the holiday season, and here at Saris and Stories, we’re busy working on edits, and entertaining our families. Yes, some Indians do celebrate the holidays with families. The most popular question I get every year is “Do you celebrate Christmas?” My answer is always “you mean giftmas?” Why wouldn’t I? We get to give and get presents, eat awesome food, and have days off with the people we love the most! Except, we don’t really do the religious aspect of the holidays. So the next question is, “What do you do to celebrate?” Well, we do a lot! Here are a couple of the things I suggest you can do to make your holiday season more Indian.

1. Buy a tree and personalize it instead of going the Christian tradition route, go ahead and personalize it with ornaments from all of your Indian career and education accomplishments, or travel destinations. Or, if you really want to go the religious route…indian ornament

2. Use a tandoori paste marinade on your turkey or your meat that is the center piece of your dinner. Why here’s a recipe!


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MK Schiller Talks to Sonali About Growing Up Feeling Like an Alien and How That Bleeds into Her Stories

_MG_6909-18I met author MK Schiller at a writer’s conference last year and we had one of those, “OMG, you’re an Indian romance writer!” moments. And since Saris and Stories is all about the South Asian sisterhood of romance writers I thought it would be wonderful to have her do a guest post for us. So, here she is, MK Schiller!

Hi MK, welcome! Tell us about your books. 

The books I’ve written are all varied, but the construction and threads woven throughout are similar. There is typically humor, angst, sensual scenes, and flawed characters with redeeming qualities. My most recent novel, Variables of Love, is a multicultural new adult, which deals with themes of arranged marriages, family relationships, and forgiveness.

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Ten Things Falguni Looks Forward to at Thanksgiving.

10) The extra-long weekend. Which translates into extra hours of sleeping!

Sleeping Sherlock!

9) No school. Which means I don’t have to follow my kids about, sorting out their schedules.

Needs No Caption!

8) Time for reading (due to points 9 and 10), preferably by the fire.

Bootie and the Beast.

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A Month for Soup and Gratitude – Mina Cooks It Up

Happy November. everyone! I love this time of year because people (including myself) slow down in a good way. We stop in the middle of the mad rush called daily life and count our blessings, we reflect, we express thanks and we hope.

The chilly weather also means we make soup, pots and pots of it, to give us comfort and nourishment and warm us inside out. When people are sick, we tend to make soup, and if we are the one’s feeling under the weather, we are always grateful for soup. When the economy is down or a natural disaster strikes, people turn to soup kitchens. Soup is to make, doesn’t need costly ingredients and gets better over time so leftovers are a boon. When the wind is howling outside and the temperatures are dropping, there’s nothing as gratifying as wrapping your hands around a bowl of warm soup and in the end having a full, warm belly.

Soup represents gratitude and is the perfect food for November. So here’s a recipe for one of my favorites.

Stay warm and happy!


Mina :)

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Tara Looks For Happiness Now!

Every year, the last quarter of it, September through November, I go into this strange introspective state. Yes, even farther than the usual “I live in my mind with my characters the whole year” place.

I celebrate my birthday in September, celebrate two big Indian festivals through October – one which has always felt special to me among the hundred or so we celebrate because it’s the goddess that’s taking down the bad guys (according one of the stories) ☺, offer my thanks for everything I have over Thanksgiving, and then it’s time to welcome a new year.

Being an eternally optimistic and ever-evolving (this is my brother’s favorite phrase for me) person, I like to look back on what I have achieved and hope to do better the coming year.

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What’s NaNoWriMo? Ayesha Explains!

November is known for lots of things…men’s health, especially prostrate cancer awareness (Mo-vember where men and, yes, a few bold, supportive women, grow out their mustaches in order to raise awareness for prostrate cancer), no-shave month…hello ladies…Native American heritage, pancreatic and lung cancer, and many many other month-long observances. It’s packed full of holidays, such as elimination against violence for women and of course the American holiday of Thanksgiving. Lots of things are going on this month! But as a writer, November is a particularly inspiring, whirlwind month. I speak of course of National November Writing Month, AKA NaNoWriMo.


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Suleikha, the Sharod Purnima and Saying Goodbye

SuleikhaAndDadThree weeks ago today, I was surrounded by people — well-meaning aunties telling me to be strong, passing acquaintances, strangers who knew my name and who thought they knew my grief — when someone told me that my father passed away on one of the most auspicious days of the year. The sharod purnima, the fall full moon, and Laksmi Puja, a day devoted to the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity. It’s believed she visits special blessings upon those who worship her on this day, and that because of the closeness of the moon and the earth, you are also healed by the moon’s rays.

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Nisha (and Falguni) at the NJRW Put Your Heart in a Book Conference 2014


I’m pointing to my picture! Because I’m on the same poster as Jennifer Probst!!!

This past weekend, the New Jersey Romance Writers chapter hosted the 30th annual Put Your Heart in a Book Conference. It was fabulous as usual. The workshops were informative, the keynote speakers were inspirational, and the after-parties were boozy, just the way they should be. This year, me and Falguni both attended. I presented two workshops, one on Goal, Motivation and Conflict in the YA Novel and the second on Goal Setting for Writers. Falguni pointed and laughed and asked if I was tired yet. (Not really, but I bet she thought it!)

This conference experience got me thinking. I’ve been doing conferences since I was 19 years old. New Jersey’s conference was actually my first one. This marks the 10th year I’ve been going to writer conferences.

After 10, 15,20+ years, why do people keep coming back? The workshop topics may change slightly but after so long, you start hearing the same things over and over again. Which is why I’ve come up with a short list of reasons going to writing conferences is beneficial. Are you ready? Here we go.

1. You will always learn something new.

srkgifI don’t think that .gif really has anything to do with the point I’m trying to make, but hey, it’s Shah Rukh Khan so whatever. Anyway, yes! You’ll always learn something new. Whether it’s about the industry, about the types of books that are coming out these days, or about a different way to brand yourself as an author. Unless you just come to the conference to hang out in your hotel room, meeting people at lunch, going to a new workshop, or hanging out at the bar will expose you to different thoughts and ideas and you can’t help but pick something up in the process.


2. Conferences will give you the kick in the pants you may need.

srkgif2If you’ve been feeling like you can’t get your act together, writing conferences generally produce this indescribable air of energy that will swallow you whole, chew you up and spit you out with more energy you’ve had in a while. By the end of the first night, you’ll either want to rush to get to your manuscript or start a completely different project. By the end of the conference, you’ll have a to-do list and enough drive to think you can climb mount Everest. Usually.

3. Network, network, network, network, network, network.

srk3I know, these gifs are ridiculous but also a lot of fun, right? Anyway. Conferences give you the opportunity to meet old friends that you can only see at conference time. It also gives you the opportunity to meet new friends. Lastly, conferences are a perfect venue to meet with industry professionals. If you want an agent, an editor, or if you have both and want new ones, conferences give you that opening. If you want to start a group blog, meet local writers in your area, or just hang out with other writers with the same cultural background as you, conferences can give you the opening you need.

So ten years later, I’m still meeting new people, learning something, and getting that incredible writer’s high that I need to keep pushing forward. The NJRW conference was no different. It was an especially awesome experience because I was so glad that I was able to meet up with my Sari sister Falguni in the process.


Hope this short list helped! Happy conferencing, writers!




Beyond Bollywood and to the Smithsonian by Sonali Dev

Last week I visited the nation’s capital. The last time I was there was a good two decades ago when I was a tourist visiting from India and not a decade old naturalized citizen, and when the world was a substantially different place (nowhere near as different as it had been years before that, though, as I learned on this visit. But more about that later). For one, back then I couldn’t have imagined there being an exhibit at the Smithsonian about Indian Americans and the history of their migration and assimilation into America. It was a time when being asked how my English was so good was a regular occurrence and being asked where India was wasn’t uncommon either. It was a time when being Indian in America sometimes felt a lot like being invisible.

So of course when I heard that there was now such an exhibit I went in search of it. Ironically enough, the exhibit, aptly named Beyond Bollywood, wasn’t easy to find. Much like the information it housed. After trudging in from the rain, my friend and I made our way to the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History where the website told us the retrospective was housed. After three rounds around the exhibit area searching in vain and finding not one sign for it on any map or signage, we broke down and asked for assistance. One of the kind staff members led us through several exhibit areas to the very back, past the museum shop and corridors almost as metaphorically complicated as finding your way around a foreign land and there we were, finally, outside the exhibit we sought.


Your standard shoe rack found at the entrance of most Indian homes

Our first greeting was a display of shoes on a shoe rack, a fairly accurate symbol of the entrance to most Indian homes. There was a nice big sign explaining this and yet a few of the other visitors, adorably eager, bent down to remove their shoes.

It was in this state of half amusement that I entered into the exhibition space, an old Raj Kapoor song piping in through speakers. Jina yahan marna yaahan,  iske siva jaana kahan, he sang in Mukesh’s signature nostalgia-inducing voice. Here we live and here it is we’ll die. Where else would we go now? The lyrics, which I’m pretty sure refer to making the best of our lives here on earth, there in that space took on the form of an ode to migration and had me reaching for a tissue.

You see, I’ve always fancied being a first generation immigrant as somewhat cutting edge. Like a wayfarer, an adventurer, leaping into the great unknown, choosing to leave behind the comfort of home in search of a bigger life or at least one that I myself got to make from scratch. I’ve always thought of people as falling into two categories: the nomads, turtles who carry their homes on their back to wherever they go; and the landlords, trees, who are rooted in the earth. My brother, for instance, is a tree. He is so of his soil and hearth I cannot imagine him ever being uprooted. I, born to the very same parents, want to have bits of me scattered all over the world and bits of the world imbibed into every corner of me.

So here I was, at the very first display amused and marginally thrilled with myself, staring into a mirror flanked by pictures of mundane-enough Indian immigrant life and a sign asking quite simply, ‘Indian Americans. Who are we?’ I thought I knew the answer to that question. Just like the sign says, we “are as diverse as America itself” including “students, farmers, artists, cab drivers, businesspeople, and technology pioneers… Some trace their roots here to the late 1800s, arriving with other immigrants who came to build, and find, the American Dream. Others came in the 1960s, arriving at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, to join and shape a “new” America.”

It was the part about some of us tracing our roots back to the 1800s that stopped me in my tracks.


Indian workers building the railroads

I had always assumed that Indians who migrated here in the sixties and seventies had been some of the earliest immigrants. And I am well aware of how different their immigration experience had been from mine given how different both countries were from their current avatars at the time and how vastly disparate in terms of culture when compared with each other. My father’s brother came here in the sixties and growing up I always thought of him and his family as a ghost of a presence in our lives, almost like lost relatives who might as well live on a different planet and visit every so many years. Over the almost twenty years that I’ve lived in America, I’ve spoken with my brother and my parents almost every day thanks to Whatsapp, Facebook and Skype. And our lives aren’t all that different from each others.

So, yes, my uncle’s immigration experience was very different from my own. One I always think of as much more isolating- more an amputation when compared to my far more painless transplantation.

But compare that with someone who made the passage a century before that.

Kanta Chandra who fought for citizenship for 60 years

Kanta Chandra who fought for citizenship for 60 years

Walking through the exhibit was like stepping through time and finding battles I was embarrassed to learn I didn’t even know had been fought on my behalf. Indians who worked the railroads in the late 1800s, farmers from Punjab, fleeing from British oppression, who worked alongside Chinese immigrants to support the nation’s industrial boom. The horrific attacks on Indian mill workers in Washington and California in the early 1900s to force them out and the lack of legal action and public outrage. The ban on the migration of Asian women so the men would not settle and procreate. The indefatigable fights for citizenship. A Sikh US Army combat veteran who was granted citizenship in 1920, only to have it revoked in 1923 because he wasn’t white. He continued to apply again and again until he was granted citizenship in 1936. A young woman who applied for citizenship and was denied it over and over again between the years 1910 and 1969. That’s a 60-year long battle.

And one that shattered all sorts of glass ceilings.


“A new problem for Uncle Sam” political cartoon in the San Francisco Call, August 13, 1910.

For me the retrospective was about learning about these pioneering struggles, but really it spans the century from those to the racial violence of the ‘Dotbusters’ in the 1980s and along the way visits the reality behind the stereotypes of the taxi drivers, the motel owners, the doctors and tech workers. It goes on to pay tribute to the contributions of Indian Americans to the arts, science, sports and politics in the wake of those early struggles that brought us to a place where you don’t have to be Indian American to be appalled by this cartoon that was published in the San Francisco Call.

I might have entered with no idea what to expect from the barely marked exhibit tucked away at the very back of the museum, but I left feeling pretty confident that inaccessibility and a circuitous path would not stop those who had the will from finding their way there. And I sincerely hope that you will find your way there too if you can.

Beyond Bollywood will be at the National Museum of Natural History until August 16, 2015 after which I can only hope it will travel to other cities so more people can see it. More information at