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Cooperative-Style Living Eases One Writing Mother's Juggle

Posted by: on September 27th, 2012

Most parents of young kids only dream about how helpful it would be to live in a community where friends, neighbors or extended family pitch in systematically to help each other out with everything from childcare to daily errands.

But author Anjali Mitter Duva has made it her reality by intentionally partnering with a neighbor to share cooking, grocery shopping and childcare. The arrangement, which all began seven years ago with two steaming bowls of pho soup, has grown into the cornerstone of Anjali’s strategy for juggling fiction-writing with the care of her two young children, her work as a professional project manager and her role as volunteer executive director of Chhandam Institute of Kathak Dance. In fact, it worked out so well for both women that their families ultimately decided to move together into a new, two-family home to continue sharing day-to-day responsibilities into the foreseeable future.

This amazing story of modern-day, cooperative-style living has implications for families everywhere.  It’s an honor to have Anjali here today to tell us about it.

Welcome, Anjali!

Q: When you first met the neighbor, Kathy, whose family you now share daily life with, you were total strangers.  Tell us how your relationship began.

AMD: It all began about seven years ago. My family was were living in a typical New England triple-decker, on the middle floor. We had a cordial relationship with the couple who had been living downstairs for the previous 2-3 years. During that time, we’d been tantalized by the aromas of cooking which wafted up through the ventilation system. Whenever the heat or AC came on, we were first hit with the mouthwatering smells of sizzling garlic, Szichuan peppercorns, star anise and the like. Kathy is Vietnamese, and makes fabulous soups (pho), dishes with rice noodles and grilled catfish, fresh rolls… I could go on. Anyhow, one day she called us and said she had made a vast amount of pho, and would we like some?  Next thing we knew, she was at our door bearing two steaming bowls of fabulous soup, along with dishes of Thai basil, lime, bean sprouts and various other condiments.

The next time I made something easily scaled up to a larger quantity, we offered her and her husband a meal. I think it was boeuf bourguignon. Continue Reading

Princess Kate & the Fabulous Five

Posted by: on August 29th, 2012

I know the Olympics are almost a distant memory at this point.  But aside from some of the breathtaking instants like watching Oscar Pistorius soar past finish lines, there’s one moment that keeps coming back to me.  And it’s gotten under my skin.

That is: Kate Middleton walking over to and chatting with the U.S. women’s gymnastics team during the vault finals.

Kate, as always, was clean, polished, poised and relaxed, with a perfect curl to her hair and an effervescent smile.  Gabby, Jordyn, Aly, and Kyla were chalk-smudged and sweaty.  Their jaws were clenched, their brows were still  furrowed with concentration from having watched teammate McKayla work the vault.

What a contrast.  Seeing Kate’s perky curls right next to the gymnasts’ sweaty brows and her cute, just-right-for-the-occasion polo shirt beside their high-tech warm-up suits designed for performance, I couldn’t help thinking how ironic it is that she is an idol and icon.  True, her poise and composure are nothing short of miraculous.  She’s beautiful, was born with just the right chemistry to appeal to a prince and has done an admirable job cultivating her magnetic public persona.  I, too, am fascinated by this.  But other than meeting a man who’s one hell of a catch and Continue Reading

Why My Kid Eats Veal’s Brain

Posted by: on August 14th, 2012

Now that I’ve got your attention…

During my hiatus from the blogosphere over the past few months my family has had all sorts of memorable meals.  From my son’s Bar Mitzvah in June to gatherings at our home with overseas visitors and a trip to both Paris and Croatia, it seems our lives have been all about food.

Throughout it all, I’ve been struck by something that until now, I’ve taken for granted: my kids, it turns out, are extremely open-minded, adventurous eaters.

I’ve always known that they eat…well…everything.  Sushi, raw quail eggs on Udon soup, prawn ravioli with saffron sauce, steak tartare, runny, smelly French cheeses and even live sea urchins that they’ve personally scooped from the ocean floor while fishing with their dad.  This past winter Alex, who’s nine, chose ‘gator at a soul food joint in Harlem and loved it.

It’s something that’s so embedded in our routine that I’ve never really thought twice about it.  That is, until Alex ordered the the tête de veau at a fancy lunch date in Paris last month with an epicurean friend.

Tête de Veau

In case you’re wondering, tête de veau is an entire veal’s head: brain, tongue, cheeks and all.

Not only did Alex order the tête de veau, but he was beside himself with excitement at the prospect of trying it.  And when it was served he devoured it, announcing that his favorite part was the brain.  (I turned down his offer to try some myself.)

I was baffled.  How the heck had my kids had become such fearless foodies?  With Bringing Up Bébé fresh on my mind, along with Continue Reading

The Mitzvah Paradox

Posted by: on March 20th, 2012

In preparation for his Bar Mitzvah on June 16, my twelve-year-old son Sam is doing a “Mitzvah Project” with the goal of helping repair the world in some small way.

This act of charity, generosity or simple compassion can range from anything to raising money for the local homeless shelter or volunteering at the town library to collecting and donating clothing for children in developing countries.  It’s a pretty standard step along the path to becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah these days.

Looking around at how things are typically done, I’ve been struck by an odd, unsettling paradox: a hefty majority of the projects kids are doing and those touted by the various how-to resources out there come packaged as activities that are so much fun, so cool and so…chic!…that any kid participating could easily forget what the heck the point was in the first place.

For example:

  • Making and selling beaded necklaces to raise money for sustainable water pumps in Sub-Saharan African communities.
  • Creating a decorative box and placing it in a dance school to collect used leotards to donate to dance students who can’t afford to purchase new ones.
  • Assembling hand-made gift baskets of food items to donate to food pantries, shelters, etc.
  • Hosting a sleepover party at which each guest brings and leaves an extra Continue Reading

Who's the Boss When Bringing Up Bebe?

Posted by: on February 28th, 2012

On Sunday I wrote a post over at Writer Unboxed called A Look at Writers’ Day Jobs, which concluded by asking readers whether they have day jobs and what they are.

Along with the dozens of people who stopped by to describe their jobs in fields such as teaching, physical therapy and martial-arts school management, three moms talked about their experience staying at home.  I was fascinated to note that two of them them picked up on the language of “jobs” and “work” and wove it into their comments.

Stacy Jensen, mom of young Enzo, said, “I’m CEO of Enzo Corp — that’s mommy code for stay at home mom.  I finally figured out a writing schedule, so I don’t feel like chairman Enzo will fire me.”

Stephanie Alexander  commented, “I now work for my three kids!”

(Both Stacy and Stephanie have kindly agreed to be quoted here.)

Amid all the buzz about the new book Bringing Up Bebé, I’ve been mulling these comments over — especially their use of language implying that the kids are their moms’ employers.  Their boss.

I realize that my post lent itself to this sort of play on words, and that Stacy and Stephanie were more likely having fun with words than literally positioning their kids as “the boss.”  At the same time, though, I think the temptation to use this very play on words reveals a glimmer of truth about Continue Reading

Rejected? Don't Second Guess Yourself

Posted by: on February 9th, 2012

Traditional publishers’ decisions about which manuscripts to accept and which ones to pass on can be mystifying to writers.

Sure, there are a few things that seem to tip the balance in favor of “yes,” like loud events, likeable characters and a plot that pulls readers constantly forward, making those pages turn.

Yet vast numbers of well-written books with all those qualities wind up in the “pass” pile every day, leaving authors to second guess themselves and to feel confused, dejected and downright depressed.

In case it can help anyone climb out of that dark place, I thought I’d share a letter I received last week from the 19th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards committee.  Of the many thousands of submissions it receives, the committee selects just 5 finalists and 1 winner.  Not having been one of them, I’d long since forgotten about my entry (sent in last April) when this feedback arrived from “Judge # 46:”

On a scale of 1 to 5, which 1 meaning “poor” and 5 meaning “excellent,” Continue Reading

E-Books: Does Price Reflect Quality?

Posted by: on January 24th, 2012

My husband is in the food business, so the debate over whether higher prices mean better quality is constant in our household.   Pricier restaurants are usually better, right?  And those underpriced gems? Why are they underpriced if they’re really gems?

The same debate is raging in the book world right now.  An e-book priced at $9.99 has got to better than one at $2.99.  And let’s not even talk about those 99-cent “dollar dreadfuls.”

But… wait.  Haven’t you ever been disappointed — disgusted, even — by a meal you’ve paid a lot for?  Or delighted to discover a cheap neighborhood café where someone’s uncle or grandma is cooking up family recipes with a dash of love?

(Don’t even get me started about what actually goes on in the kitchens of those pricey joints.  You don’t want to know.)

The parallels are eye-opening.  Fancy restaurants have fancier amenities and higher overhead costs to cover.  Many are run by corporations backed Continue Reading

Leveraging the Power of Amazon

Posted by: on January 17th, 2012

You may have already heard me shouting in excitement about the fact that the Kindle version of Veronica’ Nap has been selling like crazy!

Since the free promo I ran on Friday, January 13, it’s been downloaded by over 6100 people, has reached #1 in the Kindle Jewish fiction category (it’s now hanging in there at #4, just a few spots below international blockbuster Sarah’s Key) and hit #2 in the overall contemporary fiction category.  Sales have continued steadily since the promo at about 40 per day.

People have been asking: “What’s the trick to making this happen?”

While there’s no single trick, there are many steps authors can take that’ll up the chances of making Amazon work to sell their books.  Most importantly right now is:  Enroll in the Amazon KDP Select program, which gives authors who agree to sell their e-book exclusively on Amazon the chance to run 5, 24-hour promotions over the course of 90 days.

With millions and millions of users each day and all sorts of mythical algorithms that supposedly help get books in front of their most likely audience, Amazon is perhaps the single most powerful book promoter there is.

I’ll also venture to guess that two things may have contributed to Continue Reading

Literary: Literally

Posted by: on January 12th, 2012

A great post this week on Jane Friedman’s blog got me thinking, as I often do, about the word “literary.”

It’s everywhere:  Literary festival.  Literary agent.  Literary success. Literary web site or blog.

Maybe I’m an anachronism, but when I hear the word “literary,” my former-French-literature-major mind skips immediately to titles by authors like Tolstoy, Dickens, Voltaire and Sartre.  Or on the contemporary side, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Annie Proux.  I don’t for a minute think of Amanda Hocking, Jennifer Weiner, Steig Larsson or Tom Perotta.  (Sorry, guys.)

But they’re among today’s “literary” stars.

According to both Dictionary.com and my good old paper edition of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the word “literary” relates first and foremost to “literature,” which in turn is related above all to “the expression of ideas that are of permanent and universal interest.”

Not permanent OR universal.  Permanent AND universal.

Do books represented by literary agents and featured at literary websites or at literary Continue Reading

Veronica's Nap on Kindle!

Posted by: on January 4th, 2012

Warm wishes to all for 2012!

To kick off the new year, I’ve published Veronica’s Nap as an e-book, available exclusively in the Amazon Kindle Store.

Swing by and grab your e-copy, priced “to sell” at $2.99.

Amazon Prime members can download it for free.  :-)

As always, feel free to tweet about this, post it to Facebook and generally share with your friends.

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