Soniah Kamal

My photo
'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Can Bad Things Lead to Good Laws?

As the new year approaches I know the appropriate thing to do is make best of lists and write posts of good cheer; hopefully there will be time for that too. In the meantime, here is what I hope. Many people might not respect a law but they do not break it because of severe penalties. If respect for a man and a woman does not deter from rape, here's to hoping that laws against rape, in India and worldwide, are so severe, people think a million times before committing this crime. 

NEW DELHI — As protests grew in India on Saturday over the death of a young woman who was raped in New Delhi this month by several men in a moving bus, the police said six men accused of attacking her had been charged with murder.  read rest here

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What To Eat? Where You Come From?

'Tis the season to be jolly (and we can certainly try despite the news) and for most of us to be jolly means to eat, eat and eat some more. But does where we come from or where we've ended up determine what's on the table? An interesting article on food and class in the Guardian by Louise Carpenter

At the supermarket checkout recently, I recognized a mother from the school run. Instinctively I looked in my trolley. On the top sat a bag of revolting frozen chicken bits, bought for the dog, and a giant bag of steak cut chips, bought for the husband (to eat with a rump steak). All the lovely fruit and vegetables were buried below, out of sight. Fearful that I'd be cast as the kind of mother who serves my four children cheap chicken and chips, I began scrabbling around trying to hide them from view. It was pathetic. I knew the truth. Why should I care what she thought? But I did. If truth be told, I am ashamed to say I sometimes pass judgment on other's people's shopping trolleys myself. read rest here

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Next Big Thing- Blog Tag

click here for kindle
I've been tagged for 'The Next Best Thing' by fellow Pakistani writer Bina Shah, novelist, short story writer, columnist. Her most recent novel is 'Slum Child.'
In 'The Next Best Thing' I'm to answer ten questions about my current book or work in progress and then invite five other authors to do the same. At the moment I'm furiously at work on my guest edited issue of the ezine Sugarmule (Borders & Partitions: South Asia/ March 2013), I'm going to talk about 'Hairy Potter' by my collected satire column  available on kindle.

What is the title of your book?
'Hairy Potter. 
'Hairy Potter' was the very first piece I wrote and in fact was the reason I was invited to write a column. The column originally ran under the title 'My Foot', however for this compilation I retitled it 'Hairy Potter' because I'm 1) sentimental or 2) am hairy and some ancestor must have been a potter or 3) sounds catchy
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was commissioned to write a weekly social satire column for the Sunday Magazine of 'The Daily Times', a national newspaper in Pakistan which I did from 2002 - 2004.  Off and on over the years, I will get e-mails from people asking where they can read them (and so I can safely say that this book came about because of popular demand) and with the advent of e-readers I decided to put them back out into the world.  

What genre does your book fall under?

satire, social, of the biting, sarcastic, oh behave variety

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Here are a few of the characters--

Girl gone wild without bra: Bollywood actor Salman Khan
Dawg desperate to be one with the kennel:  Insert your favorite politician
PATY- pretty angry thing & young:  Insert any politician's Mrs.
Cat scheming to teach humankind  a feline lesson: Garfield, but of course.
Pretty young thing but not yet angry who yearns to be a fourth wife: Emma Bovary also known as Madame
Man + Perfect Cup of Tea = Wedded and, mashallah, Bedded:  no bluster-- Actor Colin Firth aka the only Mr. Darcy 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

My bitchy best friends meet Jane Austen meets Garfield meets Downton Abbey's Lady Grantham (the lovely Maggie Smith) meets Pakistan a country which is really a modern day Downton Abbey replaying every Austen novel (no joke- Mrs. Bennett currently resides in Pakistan)

Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?

It is published by Wind Castles, a very tiny, very indie e-publisher

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

My weekly column ran for two years and I picked reader favorites (as well as my own) to collect in 'Hairy Potter'.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Go to any shelf in a book store and you'll find a slice of "Hairy Potter'. There are columns about everything, from the travails of beauty queens to shrewd politicos, from the peccadilloes of warring friends to Mummy Dearests desperate to get darling daughters married off to abortion rights and the fate of child soldiers: the last two are topics are seriously serious satire versus titter satire.  

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

For the worst of times & the best of times to my home town Lahore, also known affectionately by many as La Whore, a place where things are not, as Alice found out in Wonderland, quite what they seem which can perhaps be said about the whole of Pakistan; perhaps even the whole wide world? 

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

You'll see Pakistan, perhaps even your own backyard, in a whole other light. Yes- you get to choose which light.

Here are five authors (5 +) I've tagged to tell you about their Next Big Thing:

Jeffery Small- author of the best selling thriller 'The Breath of God'
Jessica Handler- author of the award winning memoir 'Invisible Sisters'
Suzanne Kamata- author of the novel 'Losing Kei'
Shikha Malaviya- founder of The Great Indian Poetry Project
Mary Glickman- author of the 'One More River' finalist for the 2011 national jewish book award
Thomas Mullen- author of the award winning novel 'The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers'
George Weinstein- author of the novel Hardscrabble Road.
Lee Wright- award winning playwright 
Nicki Salcedo- Novelist and Past President of the Georgia Romance Writers

Thanks Bina for tagging me!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Parenthood and Why Seeing a Cancer Patient Puke is a Breath of Fresh Air

If you haven't been watching this season of Parenthood on NBC Tuesday nights, you're missing out. I first began watching Parenthood because of Dax Shepard. Dax was part of the team on Ashton Kutcher's Punked. Dax was weird, but in a good way. So there I was, switching channels, when I came upon Dax in a new show about a white family. Having grown up on shows about white families such as Little House on the Prairie, Roseanne, Punky Brewster, 7th Heaven, and The Cosby Show (as a kid it didn't occur to me that the Cosbys were African-American, rather they were just another shade of white), I slid right into the Parenthood clan: parents, four siblings plus spouses plus children. Dax plays a ditzy younger brother and I may have yet changed channels except that one) one of Braverman couples have an autistic child (Aspergers) and I was interested in seeing how this character would be played out. Two) Dax has just discovered he's a father of an African-American child. And three) I'm always a sucker for any race relations which Parenthood addresses with a gloss free honesty and integrity, but then this is the way it tackles all topics. This current season, season 4,  Kristina Braverman, mother of three, has breast cancer. Parenthood not only shows a bedraggled woman puking all over the stairs but also a young woman facing her own mortality. Medical marijuana also makes an appearance. A new character, a war veteran, in relating a war tale indicts American foreign policy, but in a fashion which illustrates the emotional costs to the citizens of both countries. I hope Parenthood does not take this character into cliche's path, and given their track record, I don't think they will. For instance another Braverman couple adopts a older South American child out of the foster system. What follows is yet another terse but riveting look at race relations, as well as adoption, albeit with moments of tenderness and levity. Of course the actors are terrific and the direction excellent but, as in everything, it's the writing, the writing, the writing, so thank you writers.  Parenthood is not perfect, few things in life and on TV are, but it is really worth watching. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Career Day at Autry Mill Middle School

Every year Autry Mill Middle School hosts a career day where parents talk about their careers. This year I went too. To talk about being a writer, specifically a fiction writer to four classes of sixth graders for half an hour each. I haven't had so much fun in ages. Kids ask the darndest things, but they also ask the smartest things such as so how much do you make per hour?  :)
I talked shop, but I also talked craft. Since the sixth grade novel assigned at the moment is Mildred Taylor's 'Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry', I gave them examples of how a reader would read a certain passage, how a student such as themselves would read it, and how a writer would read it. I took them through a short exercise of how a journalist might write about career day, and how a fiction writer would write about the same event using the very same material. Justin Bieber came up. So did The Hunger Games, Psy/ Oppa Gangnum Style, and Green Eggs and Ham. Like I said: FUN. I hope all the kids took home the fact that we are each storytellers at every age except that some of us write our stories down and get paid for them. I would have loved to hear all the other parents' talks: film producer, actress/ballerina, product developer, engineer, IT, FBI agent, CPA, CDC researcher, flight instructor for children and so many more! Thank you so much Autry Mill for giving us this lovely opportunity. It is a wonderful way for both the kids as well as the parents to see each other as more than merely Mom and Dad!!! And thanks for my signed card, a corner of which is the picture accompanying this post.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Another Honor Killing, Anusha, and Fahkra Younas.

Once the disgust and anger quells somewhat, all that's left is a sick sadness. Honor Killings, the phrase could be an oxymoron except that for so many people it makes too much sense. For too many people the effects of puberty-- something as natural as a girl looking at a boy-- is a crime. Anusha was fifteen years old, and that's all she did, she looked at a boy.  Let us suppose she did a lot more than just look: would any act justify your parents pouring acid on you and then leaving you to die in agony. The father now says it was the mother idea. 
I lost my rose colored glasses about women, and heaven being beneath mothers' feet and all that jazz, after my stint at, of all places, the National Organization for Women.
There are decent women/mothers; there are as many decent men/fathers. Unfortunately for Anusha neither parent came through. No doubt her parents think they did this out of love in order to safeguard her 'reputation'. Are these parents aware of how screwed up their morals and ethics are? For fifteen years this daughter was with you: what sort of sick parents are you?
And, please, don't tell me looking at a boy is a 'western' concept and allegiance to some code of 'keeping the hymen intact' is more important that anything else in the world. The father is a laborer, the mother is also illiterate: illiteracy and poverty are no defense for honor killing. How I detest this phrase. Killing a woman is no big deal for some-- I get it. One day it will change. It has got to change. But by that day it will be too late for so many. In the link to the BBC report above the last sentence is 'In March the government of Pakistani-administered Kashmir made acid attacks a criminal offence punishable with life imprisonment.' Let's see what the law does with this one. Hopefully it will deter future acid attacks but that does not mean that honor killings cannot continue by other means.
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy made an Oscar winning documentary on acid burning in Pakistan 'Saving Face.'  I wish 'Saving Face' had mentioned Fakhra Younas' story in some way. For so many women of my generation, and no doubt many more generations, Fakhra Younas' tale is one of nightmares.  Fakhra was a dancing girl who attracted the eye of wealthy and influential Billal Khar. Billal married her: unfortunately he also severely disfigured her in an acid attack.  Fakhra was helped by many, especially the Italian government, but her story ends unhappily.

Fakhra was only 33 when she killed herself. When I first heard about Fakhra, I was a very young, very vulnerable girl; I do not want to belittle Fakhra's life by saying saying something as droll as her plight 'informed ' my life, but it did, it informed my life and played a huge role in making me who I am. I could have been Fakhra. Which was a very contentious statement back then because Fakhra was a 'dancing girl' and apparently somehow that justified her attack, whereas I came from a resepctable family. (I wish people sitting on their hight horses about their respectable families would realize that that they could have just as easily been born 'dancing girls'. FAKHRA YOUNAS HAD MORE FACE THAN MANY PEOPLE WITH THEIR MORAL BULLSHIT WILL EVER HAVE.  Will someone please acquire English rights to her memoir and translate it. Thank you.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tillie Olsen, Silences, and Are Writers Really a Selfish Bunch?

The article I've linked to below annoyed me on several levels. It's supposed to be about how writers become selfish  while they are working and how that may lead to spousal neglect. In the article Mrs. Ian Rankin, wife of extremely successful writer Ian Rankin, takes care of the household and makes sure the children are quiet when 'Daddy is working/writing.'  The other writers mentioned are Trollope, Joyce, Dickens, Austen. I got to wondering about all my wonderful female friends in the U.S. who snatch moments to write between folding laundry and making sandwiches while their spouses (please fill in the blank). 

"The novelist Ian Rankin’s wife, talking in a television documentary, has revealed some of the working habits of the busy professional novelist, and some of us will have recognized the phenomena she describes. Some of our spouses, too, because these disasters and pieces of bad and neglectful behavior affect our families indirectly.
Mrs Rankin said, very perceptively, that there is a danger of writer’s block hitting Rankin once he has used up all his initial ideas and vision, prepared before the book was started. She says this happens, almost always, on page 65. That’s absolutely true: the map and ideas and scribbled notions, prepared before anything starts, initially look like enough to get you through to the end, or to the halfway stage. And then you’ve run through your stock of imaginative capital like a Lottery winner on a drunken spree, and the blank page stares at you. read rest here"

Most writers, female or male, struggle with time management but, and I'll probably be very unpopular for saying this, female writers with children struggle even more because when it comes to home and children the onus continues to predominantly fall on women. The fact is the more domestic help a writer, male or female, can afford the more their writing/productivity will go up. And for married couples, domestic squabbles will also go down which is nice because that will free up time and energy for time for writing. My first and last piece of advice to wannabe writers married or unmarried: Do not have children. This is harsh unless you have an incredibly supportive spouse like Mrs. Rankin in which case it might help if you are a  'busy professional writer', or if you have full time, round the clock, 24-7, HELP in which case have as many kids as you want. 
Virginia Woolf acknowledged the need for a room of one's own, but she also had servants who cleaned and cooked and took care of the other menial tasks while she wrote about rooms of her own. And Virginia Woolf had no children. Closer to home, in contemporary Pakistan, most writers can usually rely on the following help: a cook, a cleaner, a laundry person, a driver, a gardener, and maids for the kids. The male writers often also have a wife, and, in the event that they have no servants, let me repeat, they have a wife. As for in the U.S., a male writer who takes time away from his writing to step into the kitchen or play with his children is a 'good, great guy' but a female writer who leaves the dishes in the sink, or tells her kid that no she cannot go to the park right now because she's writing is a 'bad mother'.  With topics of this nature I'm always reminded of Tillie Olsen's book Silences.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Humera Afridi and Maniza Naqvi: on Malala and Owning our Own Stories

 I urge you to read these poignant and heartfelt pieces by my friends and fellow Pakistani writers, Humera Afridi and Maniza Naqvi. Humera's piece in Guernica on Malala Yousafzai beautifully weds the personal with the political and thrusts us into a culture where misogyny is rampant and the likes of Malala all the more formidable.

 On the night of October 8th, I sat on the floor of Dergah Al-Farah, the Sufi mosque in Tribeca, contemplating the Divine name, Ya Jabbar, that translates from the Arabic as “Bonesetter,” or “Healer of Fractured Existence.” Ya Jabbar… Ya Jabbar… I muttered, riveted by the alchemical potency of the incantation. It felt apt. Seven years ago, on this day, a massive earthquake devastated great swathes of Northern Pakistan and Kashmir. Eighty thousand people died; whole villages toppled off mountain facades; dead buffaloes floated in the Jhelum River and the landscape, cracked and split into so many fissures, was transformed into a series of twisted, gaping smiles. read rest here

Humera's piece is so strong and yet the first comment: 'malala case is all drama..i have friends from the same area where malala school is located…they say that security is tightned there and whole area is under army control..no1 s allowed to see malala is CMH peshawar even her real uncle..even two days before pakistan high connisioner in UK couldnt meet her…why?? simply bcz she z not injured at all..its all drama ..she s having minor injury caused by purpose…'
I draw attention to this comment because, in so many respects, it highlights what is wrong with Pakistan today, as well as other places/people unwilling to take responsibility for the malfunctions in their own backyards. I have said on many occasions and will continue to say that of course while 'others' have had a heavy hand to play in the mess Pakistan is in, we cannot afford to look away from our own contribution. How long are we are a nation going to resort to conspiracy theories and blame games to make sense (or nonsense) of our world?
In that  vein please read Maniza Naqvi's powerful and compelling piece in 3quarksdaily 'Owning Our Own Stories.'.   

All Our Stories: Stories, I think do not reveal the truth, they do however expose untruths. A multitude of narratives, all versions of perceived reality prevent the rise and tyranny of a singular narrative. And in this way, through a multitude of stories, a balance is maintained and truth whether it exists or not is safeguarded by not being singled out. In receiving these narratives we are able to reason that all versions matter; all must be given consideration; that all opinions must be questioned and that all perceptions have validity.  All truths are untruths all untruths are true. In the absence of a multitude of narratives, reason remains ruined.         
I see reason ruined every day in newspapers,  in images on TV channels and in the stacks of books, the so called literature of experts on all things Muslim, Pakistani and Middle eastern.   One of the greatest dangers facing the world today is the dangerous revival of a singular and value laden narrative of good and evil with its time released poison of rest here

Monday, October 15, 2012

Balpreet Kaur and Women and Facial Hair

Yes many, if not most, women are able to grow a rather luxuriant mustache and goatee. But though you may see these features on very old women who truly couldn't give a shit anymore, facial hair plus young women is an anomaly. Most women will not leave the home unless they're waxed, threaded, lazored and stripped of every hair that could possibly offend the universe at large.  Years ago I made a conscious decision to leave my arm hair alone no matter what I was wearing. When you have black hair that is clearly visible on a complextion such as mine, and you come from a culture where any hair on women (accept head, eyebrows and eyelashes) is considered gross then, yes, me not 'taking care' of my arms is an issue for too many. The shit I get for hairy arms, for barely (pun intended) going au naturelle, is hard enough but a woman wearing her facial hair is up up up here when it comes to bravery: Balpreet Kaur you are an inspiration. Readers: would you be able to do this?
Balpreet's photo was originally posted by a blogger in Reddit's Funny category wondering 'what the!!!!' But Balpreet wrote back. And the blogger apologized because, really, why should a girl with a hairy face be funny? Good for you to apologize Reddit blogger because a woman with hair on her face is not funny anymore than a guy with no hair on his face.
Following is Balpreet's reply: 
"Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. I actually didn't know about this until one of my friends told on facebook. If the OP wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled :) However, I'm not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it's who I am. Yes, I'm a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body - it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn't reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying 'mine, mine' and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can. So, to me, my face isn't important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. :-) So, if anyone sees me at OSU, please come up and say hello. I appreciate all of the comments here, both positive and less positive because I've gotten a better understanding of myself and others from this. Also, the yoga pants are quite comfortable and the Better Together tshirt is actually from Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that focuses on storytelling and engagement between different faiths. :) I hope this explains everything a bit more, and I apologize for causing such confusion and uttering anything that hurt anyone."

On another note, I'm getting a bit of flack for making a big deal about this when there are 'more serious' issues and real heroines such as Malala (Here is my post on Malala, the fourteen year old shot by the Taliban). Malala is a marvel in so many respects but also because she is just so darn young (my utmost respect to all the adolescents out there who put their beliefs to the test)  Balpreet Kaur may be older but whether it's a Balpreet or a Malala, each is an inspiration in her own  own unique way for refusing to give in to societal expectations, patriarchy or an injustice. My God there are girls who do no give a shit about more than what they weigh, what they look like, and whether they look cool or hot. Circumstances made Malala into who she is, and Balpreet chose to be brave: As far as I am concerned both are equally deserving utmost respect.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Malala Yousafzai, the Taliban, and Can Things Get Any Worse?

picture courtesy of the Pukhtoonistan Gazette
I remember the name Malala. I remember the report on National Public Radio in America a few years ago, a father and daughter from Swat determined to keep Malala studying despite what decrees the Taliban set forth. I remember their voices on the radio under the English language voice overs. I remember that girl called Malala. I remember thinking what a beautiful name, what a wonderful father, what strong girl- God bless her. Always.
And so this is when your heart breaks: when fast forward a few years and that fourteen year old girl still worries about things like being able to go to school, being able to wear her uniform, being able to have a life without worrying about things like acid being thrown on her or being shot. Malala Yousafzai is such a fourteen  year old. We know her name because she's brave- brave to speak out, mature enough to have an opinion, and smart enough to know that her voice out there will make a change--- small perhaps but so what- change is change. Malala was shot by the Taliban. Yes. Shot. A fourteen year old girl who would in another world be a junior scout, and selling cookies door to door, and making up cheers, and worrying about silly things like the unveiling of this year's new American Doll.
Instead this girl is an activist. Instead this girl worries about fates adults in many countries do not worry about: opening my mouth might equal losing my life. This is not simply a question of gender wars, of men against women, but rather a toxic ideology against a 'normal' life-- a life where girls go to school and get an education and are not repressed by screwed up notions of patriarchy which many women gladly believe in and adhere to too. To Malala, and all the others girls, and also the boys who understand how unfair it is: I just don't know what to say. I don't know what to say. Which is not good enough. Because silence is never good under any circumstances. Imagine how screwed up, how sick a human being must be to a school bus and ask by name for a little girl in order to shoot her point blank. What sort of a world is this. What sort of an unfair world.
Two girls were shot that morning. Malala. And the girl who pointed her out.
I had stopped blogging about events of this nature because I felt why when there are louder voices out there who can make an actual difference. But it has occurred to me gradually, painfully that not blogging about such events is actually worse. Yes I'm just another voice, another opinion, yes I perhaps make no difference at all: but I can do what citizen blogging does best and that is simply, through the written words, bear witness. Sometimes that is all one has. Sometimes one has to believe that it is something after all. 

from the Pukhtoonistan Gazette, December 2011

A couple of years ago, in 2009, she told me, “I curse my name Malala — mournful — which keeps happiness away from me.”
She had said this as she sat beside her father who ran a school. She cried as she talked about her wretched life during the rule of the Swat Taliban.
A day before the Taliban’s deadline for shutting down girls’ schools, I reached the valley on Feb 14, 2009, a little before dawn.
Various muezzins were calling the faithful to prayer, their voices resonating almost in unison. But despite the peace that enveloped the traveler, the menacing shadows of the surrounding mountains held Mingora city in thrall.
Almost everything in the dark valley belonged to the Taliban, who had reduced Swat to a ghost of its glorious past. Grabbing those who opposed them or did not conform to their diktat at night, they would drag their captives to the ‘Khooni Chowk’ to carry out their macabre ritual of early-morning slaughter.
Not too far from Malala’s house, it had become routine for passersby to view, until midday, the mutilated bodies lying in a pool of blood in the middle of the square.
The knock on the door at the pre-dawn hour, then, was alarming for Malala’s father Ziauddin. I had interviewed Malala previously on the subject of education, but today I reminded him of an earlier commitment for a documentary, which a foreign media outlet had agreed to finance. read rest here

from Dawn.
PESHAWAR: Surgeons treating National Peace Award winner and young Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai, who was attacked by Pakistani Taliban on Tuesday in Mingora city of Swat, have recommended the government to send her abroad for treatment to save her life.
Quoting surgeons, who conducted her detailed checkup, the official sources said here Tuesday that the single bullet, which hit her head, had pierced down to backbone. Swelling on the scull does not allow surgery right now, they added.
“In such a condition, she immediately needs a sophisticated surgical procedure, which is not possible in the country,” they opined.
Malala along with three other schoolmates sustained bullet injuries when some unknown assailants opened fire on their school van in Mingora early in the day. Later, she was shifted to CMH Peshawar.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has issued instructions to the pertinent authorities to complete the arrangements of her travel, if  need arises to take her abroad. read rest here

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why Barfi Will Not Win the Oscars, BUT for an Indian film it's really good

Jeetendra with Sridevi
I completely agree with Lakshmi Chowdary over why Barfi's Oscar chances are rather slim. It is not exactly your hard hitting, original, social film. But it's not just that- Barfi is a cute film, that is it's always easier for an audience to digest disability framed within humor films, but Barfi could have been much tighter and better .But it is interesting to me to see how so many of us qualify statements with 'well for an Indian film it's really good', implying that were it pitted against 'other' films it would not be so good. I enjoyed Barfi but perhaps part of my enjoyment stems from the history I have with Indian films. A child of the 70s, 80s, 90s, Indian cinema grew me up. While some kids  clutch  teddy-bears, I look back fondly on Jumping Jack and Shrill Sridevi, Govinda and Kader Khan making banana jokes, Kumar Gaurev in 'Love Story' and Neelam's hair,  and Amrita Singh out-brawning a rather scrawny Anil Kapoor in Chameli kee Shaadi.  (okay let me quit my Indian movie memory lane because it's never ending). So to see Rishi and Neetu's (my forever favorite couple in my forever favorite song 'Tera Chehra Say' from Khabi Khabi)  son, Ranbir up on screen doing a great job, is like visiting a fantasy family. I know-- weird, but 'like, what to do?'
Was Barfi from some other country and was I watching it with subtitles, I wonder if it would really be memorable?

from Three Reasons why Barfi is an Oscar dud! by Lakshmi Chowdary

Barfi? Barfi! is going to be the Indian entry for the Foreign Language Film Oscar this year? A movie picked out of a shortlist that included Paan Singh Tomar, Dirty Picture, Kahaani, Deool, Eega, Vazhakku Enn 18/9 and Akasathinte Niram?
What were they thinking? I’m not exactly sure, but let’s first acknowledge the one upside: Hey, it’s not Jeans. Irrespective of Barfi!’s weaknesses, it’s a cinematic masterpiece compared to past Indian entries, which include, most notoriously, Jeans (1998): The brain-dead Aishwarya Rai-starrer whose highlight was a song highlighting the seven wonders of the world. And it’s certainly no Eklavya, the Vidhu Vinod Chopra box office bomb that was nearly withdrawn because of evidence of bias.
In comparison, Barfi! is blessed with great production values, strong performances, and a heartwarming story. None of this, however, will improve its Oscar prospects, and for entirely sound reasons. read rest here

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review of Indian movie Barfi

I was, as usual, dragged by a friend to watch another movie the friend had heard great things about which in this case was writer & director Anurag Basu's movie 'Barfi'. The film begins with Ranbir Kapoor, the eponymous Barfi, aged-by-makeup so much so that he actually looked a bit ridiculous. The first half hour was slow, in fact beginning the movie with Barfi in old age sort of killed all the suspense for me: I mean no matter how bad it gets obviously this character makes it to a very ripe old age. The movie then goes into two flashbacks, one inside the other, carrying the further risk of boring an impatient film goer; in fact, Barfi really only picks up after the intermission.

But to my surprise I found myself wooed, long before the intermission, by the cinematography of a 1970's Darjeeling, West Bengal which reminded me so much of a yesteryear Muree (hill station in Pakistani Punjab) where life seemed just as slow and cozy and close. I was also wooed by the deaf and mute Barfi's sweet, Chaplinesque antics no matter how unbelievable, as well as everyone's fine acting especially Priyanka Chopra who is barely recognizable as 'herself' without the glamor girl hair and make up and tight outfits. Priyanka plays Jhilmil Chatterjee an autistic girl, though in my estimation her acting seems to fit the profile of someone mildly retarded rather than autistic, but that said Priyanka's understated acting is a delight to watch. I came to care deeply for Jhilmil  in her weird girl-woman attire,  her bursts of delight, her averted gaze, her confidence to negotiate life as much as she can on her own terms.
 Barfi then is a lovely film about everyone-- no matter what they are up against-- possessing the ability to lead fulfilling lives. The movie's central conflict is a love triangle but refreshingly enough it is also a movie in which  'real' love is not necessarily your first love or even the most predictable. Barfi also brings up the age old issue of love versus money, as well as the choices one makes and subsequent regret. Is there always regret no matter what path one chooses? Had Shruti  chosen another way would she truly have been happy?
Barfi is full of beautiful little touches: Barfi's shoe as signal, Barfi intertwining Jhilmil's pinkies, Barfi with a rough, 'no', one of the few time Barfi speaks, ripping Jhilmil's bag away from Shruti. Pritam's score is excellent however I think the viewer could have done with many more moments of absolute silence in order to understand Barfi's inner world i.e. that he cannot hear a thing.
I left the movie theater glad I'd watched Barfi but not particularly enamored. Two days later, do I wish the movie moved a lot faster in the beginning, absolutely, but the fact that I'm still thinking about it makes me realize that I am smitten. Barfi is India's selection for the 2013 Oscars; though not a perfect film it is very good and I hope it makes the cut.

That said: I just saw the  list of nominations from India. I haven't watched all of them: but between Barfi and Kahani, I think Kahani should have been nominated. I'm surprised Delhi Belly isn't on the list. Here's my post on why Barfi is only good for an Indian film.

1) Eega (Telugu)
2) 7am Arivu (Tamil)
3) Vazhakku Enn 18/9 (Tamil)
4) Akasathinte Niram (Malayalam)      
5) Heroine (Hindi)
6) Paan Singh Tomar (Hindi)
7) Kahaani (Hindi)
8 ) Barfi! (Hindi)
9) GoW – Parts 1 & 2 (Hindi)
10) Arjun – The Warrior Prince (Hindi)
11) Gattu (Hindi)
12) Jalpari (Hindi)
13) The Dirty Picture (Hindi)
14) Ferrari Ki Sawari (Hindi)
15) Deool (Marathi)
16) Veer Hamirji – Somnath Ni Sakhate (Gujarati)
17) Anhey Ghore Da Daan (Punjabi)
18) Kaksparsh (Marathi)
19) Tukaram (Marathi)
20) Vazhakku EN 18/9 (Tamil)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts: The Scientist Responsible for Zyklon B Won a Nobel Peace Prize

In my old age few things manage to shock me. This does: that the man, Fritz Haber, responsible for the Zyklon B formula, the killer gas used in concentrations camps, was also awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Also he was born Jewish. I learn this while reading 'In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin' by Erik Larson. Garden of Beasts is a heavy read about the 'adventures' of the hapless American Ambassador (Dodd) to Germany during Hitler's time, and his impressionable daughter. It's a dense read with lots of names and lots of information crammed onto every page and though this can get overwhelming, for those interested in this time period it is never the less a very worthy read. Although Larson does not go into Dodd's feelings about segregation in the U.S. (yes, this is not a book about civil rights in the U.S.), I did wonder about Dodd  reconciling his disgust with separate benches for Aryans and Jews, versus all the separate amenities for blacks and white in the segregated South. In one of the final chapters, chapter 55 'As Darkness Fell', Larson mentions 'a strange episode' i.e. while driving Dodd has a hit and run with a four year old black girl.  Considering Dodd is the hero, if you will, of In the Garden of Beasts on account of his sense of right, wrong, fairness and moral righteousness, his subsequent reactions and actions after this accident are a very interesting look into this man's ethics in his 'own' world.Dodd did pay her medical bills and the girl did recover, but Dodd did not stop at the scene and he also wrote a rather interesting letter to the girl's mother.  Which makes me ask: are we someone else abroad and someone else at home?  

from 'In the Garden of Beasts':
"Another of Dodd's early visitors was, as Dodd wrote, 'perhaps the foremost chemist in Germany,'.....He was Fritz Haber. To any German the name was well known and revered, or had been until the advent of Hitler. Until recently, Haber had been director of the famed Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry. He was a war hero and a Novel laureate. Hoping to break the stalemate in the trenches during the Great War, Haber had invented a poison chlorine gas. He had devised what became known as Haber's rule, a formula, C  x t = k, elegant in its lethality: a low exposure to gas over a long period will have the same result as a high exposure over a short period. He also invented a means to distribute his poison gas at the front and was himself present in 1915 for its first use against French forces at Ypres. On a personal level, that day at Ypres cost him dearly. His wife of thirty-two years, Clara, had long condemned his work as inhumane and immoral and demanded he stop, but to such concerns he gave a stock reply: death was death, no matter the cause. Nine days after the gas attack at Ypres, she committed suicide. Despite international outcry over his poison gas research, Haber was awarded the 1918 Novel Prize for chemistry for discovering a means of mining nitrogen from air and thus allowing the manufacture of plentiful, cheap fertilizer--and, of course, gunpowder. Despite a prewar conversion to Protestantism, Haber was classified under the new Nazi laws as non-Aryan, but an except granted to Jewish war veterans allowed him to remain director of the institute......Within a decade, however, the Third Reich would find a new use for Haber's rule, and for an insecticide that Haber had invented at his institute, composed in part of cyanide gas and typically deployed to fumigate structures used for the storage of grain. At first called Zyklon A, it would be transformed by German chemists into a more lethal variant: Zyklon B.'"
Also it is often said that a country can be judged by how well its animals are treated. The nexty quote struck me because whenever I have taught how to write well-rounded characters, one of my examples is always the fact that as horrid as Hitler was his dogs loved him and he loved his dogs. 

from In the Garden of Beasts

'At a time when nearly every German is afraid to speak a word to any but the closest friends, horses and dogs are so happy that one feels they wish to talk," he (Dodd) wrote. "A woman who may report on a neighbor for disloyalty and jeopardize his life, even cause his death, takes her big kindly-looking dog in the Tiergarten for a walk. She talks to him and coddles him as she sits on a bench and he attends to the requirements of nature...." In Germany, Dodd had noticed, no one ever abused a dog, and as a consequence dogs were never fearful around men and were always plump and obviously well-tended. "Only horses seem to be equally happy, never the children or the youth," he wrote. "I often stop as I walk to my office and have a word with a pair or beautiful horses waiting while their wagon is being unloaded. They are so clean and fat and happy that one feels that they are on the point of speaking." He called it 'horse happiness' and had noticed the same phenomenon in Nuremberg and Dresden. In part, he knew, this happiness was fostered by German law, which forbade cruelty to animals and punished violators with prison, and here Dodd found the deepest irony. 'At a time when hundreds of men have been put to death without trial or any sort of evidence of guilt, and when the population literally trembles with fear, animals have rights guaranteed them which men and woman cannot think of expecting. He added, 'One might easily wish he were a horse.'

Monday, September 17, 2012

Literary Prizes and What They are Worth

Sarah Dunant argues that while literary prizes are more important than ever it is rather tough, if not down right impossible, for the 'best book' to win. Of course this is true. As true as it in in any field where subjectivity plays such a huge role. As much as I enjoyed Madeline's Miller Orange Prize winning novel 'The Song of Achilles' I was truly shocked when one of my favorite novels, Amy Waldman's 'The Submission', did not make it past the long list.  On the face of it one could argue that the two novels have much in common: they are about dishonor and friendship and being true to yourself. But they could also not be more different.  Madeline's novel, 1st person single POV, retells 'The Illiad' with plenty of metaphor and simile, while Amy's novel, 3rd person multiple POVS, is a contemporary tale about post 911 and ground zero and so topical she actually had to change dialogue to avoid it being 'ripped from the headlines'.  As such The Song of Achilles is a 'comfortable' read about war and its fallout set as it is in Ancient Greece while The Submission is a tougher read in that it forces the reader to confront the here and now.  It would have been a hard vote, but I think I can safely say my particular sensibilities would have had me voting for The Submission. As Dunant points out 'prizes are a kind of lottery'. I say they are all a lottery.

 Sarah Dunant for BBC's A Point of View: 'Prizes for All'
"You are probably already aware of some the names on this year's Man Booker shortlist. But how much more aware you - and others - become over the next four weeks will determine not only each book's commercial fate, but in some cases the writers' publishing future.
Like everything we are being sold in a hopelessly over-crowded market, novels strain to get their voices heard amid the cacophony. Launch a new brand of moisturiser and smart marketing and a big budget will ensure at least an element of brand rest here

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jamie Beckman and Cherish and Madonna and Me

Today's interview is fellow contributor to 'Madonna and Me'  is Jamie Beckman. Jamie's essay 'Where's That Girl? is about the implications of  Madonna moving into Jamie's neighborhood. My favorite bit from Jamie's essay: 'After we had walked a few blocks, we stopped on an unassuming street full of unassuming townhouses. 'That's it...I think," I said, looking from my Post-It to the address across the way. We stood, squinting in the afternoon sun at a big brick building four stories high. The plot of residential real estate was palatial by New York standards, but without context, it was just a brown brick box with painted brown wood accents.'

And here's Jamie herself.

Favorite Madonna song and why? 
I love Cherish, just because I like that she took that beautiful 1966 song by The Association and reinvented it in her signature Madonna way. From what I've read, I don't think Madonna herself thought that it was that great a song — she called it "retarded" — but the verse, "Romeo and Juliet, they never felt this way I bet" is just so sweet, simple, and succinct. I get happy whene'ver I hear it.

Favorite video and look?   
It's great that you asked me this now, because I recently re-watched Justify My Love, and holy cow, it's still so hot! Her gorgeous Marilyn Monroe-esque hair, the great lingerie, the gender-bending... It still reads fresh. I mean, the way she runs down the hallway at the end, wearing a black trench coat, and bites her index finger, thinking of what just went on? It still seems exciting, even today. I want to BE Madonna in that video.
Madonna with Nickie Minaj and MIA: Ultra Diva or Desperate?
Oh, Ultra Diva! Is this even a discussion? I thought her performance was thrilling and professional all the way through, to the very end of the show. Reading my Twitter feed afterward was almost more fun than watching Madge in action, because even a few men I follow who are rarely serious and rarely sincere were blown away by Madonna that night and tweeted as much. I think any hyper-vocal dissent had some element of sexism in it. She brought it, end of story.
Can you tell us a little about your writing and revision process for 'Where's That Girl'?
 At first, I wanted to put down on paper everything in my life that had ever related to Madonna — I'm still a little bitter that I didn't get that Immaculate Collection cassette tape that I'd asked for for Christmas back in 1990 — but as Laura and I looked at my first draft together, we realized that my little "search" for Madonna's new home on the Upper East Side was probably the most fun, unique gem in the whole piece. So I whittled it down to that idea, and in doing so, I got to talk about my unconditional love of New York City at the same time. I'm still really proud of my essay, and I credit Laura Barcella for drawing it out of me.

What are you working on now? 
I'm working on several lifestyle-oriented magazine pieces, my relationships news blog for, Sexcerpts (, and the proposal for my next book, which is top-secret now, but I hope to have more news about it in the near future. Stay tuned!

Jamie's Bio: 
Jamie Beckman is a freelance magazine writer, columnist for the women’s website and its Sexcerpts relationships-news blog, and the author of the book The Frisky 30-Day Breakup Guide. She has worked as a writer and editor since she graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.Jamie has written about health, nutrition, fitness, relationships, sex, and style for publications and websites including Redbook, USA TODAY, the L.A. Times, Health, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, Best Life, Better Homes and Gardens, First for Women, Publishers Weekly, The Frisky,,, The Good Men Project,, and
 Jamie judged the 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel awards. She lives in New York City.

Thanks Jamie!

Next up is contributor Tamara Lynch

Buy Madonna and Me 

Read Q& A with Soniah Kamal
Read Q & A with Caroline LeavittRead Q & A with Rebecca Traister
Read Q & A with Erin Bradley
Read Q & A with Jen Hazen
Read Q & A with Sarah Sweeney
Read Q & A with Joshunda Victoria Sanders
Read Q &A with editor of the anthology Laura Barcella
Read Q & A with Wendy Tokunaga  

Interview series for Sept 1, 2012. Decatur Book Festival. Local Prose Stage. 3: 15.
Soniah Kamal will be talking about growing up Muslim with Madonna. She will also read from her essay 'Through the Wilderness'. Please join her.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Soniah Kamal and Live to Tell and Madonna and Me

Today's my turn for my 'Madonna and Me' talk at the Decatur Book Festival which means I'll be interviewing myself. (It's the first time I'm doing something like this-- bit weird) My essay 'Through the Wilderness' is about how Madonna informed and influenced my strict Muslim upbringing in Saudi Arabia as well as made a certain four letter word okay for me. My favorite bit from my essay 'We were three excited girls perched on the edge of a green velvet sofa, waiting for the cassette to rewind, not knowing that when the world changes, this it how it happens, in ordinary living rooms in ordinary afternoons ' Because it was nearly edited out and I made a decision to keep it and because I can still absolutely conjure up the hot Saudi sun bathing that green velvet sofa and the whir of the VHS as it re-winded.

My answers:

Favorite Madonna song and why?
I have so many but I think 'Live to Tell' wins. I wasn't sure what that song was about when I was growing up but I was going through such a rough time-- I didn't know then that this roughness was known as 'patriarchy squashing the spirit out of you',and something about Live to Tell always made me feel better. 

Favorite video and look?   
Frozen. I think her breaking into crows is beautiful. Crows/Ravens are everywhere in Pakistan, sleek and sexy  creatures, they look like onyx jewels embedded in emerald trees. Madonna's henna/mehndi  and the crows are always  able to transport me-the-immigrant back to my birth country in a very interesting way!  

Madonna with Nickie Minaj and MIA: Ultra Diva or Desperate? 
I really don't think Madonna is desperate. Whether one loves her, hates her, or couldn't give a shit about her, fact is she's an icon. I do think though that Madonna does not want to be stuck in some 'gracefully aging category' where she's doing revival. She's so alive and vital and can do stuff the Brittanys and Christinas and Lady Gagas and Nickies and MIAs have yet to prove they even have the ability to do. Madonna's got a young soul and her body-- well you've seen her body! I was so irritated when, after Madonna's 2012 Super Bowl performance, everyone seemed to focus on how Madonna had done quite well given 'her age'. Abhor Ageism. On another note, I was watching the Super Bowl with a bunch of desi friends and their kids. When Madonna was on stage flanked by two brown/desi girls (MIA is from Sri Lanka and Nicki Minaj has Indian in her) I though I was going to choke up and die. I mean this is the Super Bowl, okay, a quintessentially white-American sport and there's not one but two brown girls up there.   

Can you tell us a little about your writing and revision process for 'Through the Wilderness'.
I was browsing the internet when I came upon a call for submissions at the ezine Literary Mama for an anthology called 'Madonna and Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop'. My stomach plummeted-- yes, I have a Madonna story, do I have a Madonna story, I've had my Madonna story ever since my early teens and here was an opportunity to deliver it into the world. My stomach  plummeted even more when I saw that the deadline was literally a day or so away. So I literally put  everything on hold  until the essay was written and I'd emailed it along to its fate. When Laura Barcella sent an acceptance e-mail, I was ridiculously delighted.  We went through two edits to streamline the essay and then it was done. As for my favorite passage above, as suggested I did delete it at first, but then a few weeks later I sent Laura a frantic e-mail asking to please have it reinstalled. I know writers are  supposed to kill our darlings but this darling was just too darling :)

What are you working on now?
I've been invited to guest edit an issue of the e-zine Sugar Mule so am working on that. Am also revising a novel.

Soniah's Bio:
Soniah Kamal was born in Pakistan and raised in England and Saudi Arabia. She earned a B.A. in Philosophy with Honors from St. John's College Annapolis, MD and her undergraduate thesis was the recipient of the Susan B Irene Award. Soniah's essays, short stories and books reviews have been published in the US, UK, Canada, Pakistan and India.
For more go to

Buy Madonna and Me

Still to come: Interviews with Jamie Beckman, Kim Windyka, Tamara Lynch, Courtney Martin and Erin Trahan

Read Q & A with Caroline Leavitt
Read Q & A with Rebecca Traister
Read Q & A with Erin Bradley
Read Q & A with  Jen Hazen
Read Q & A with Maria Raha
Read Q & A with Sarah Sweeney
Read Q & A with Joshunda Victoria Sanders
Read Q & A with editor of the anthology Laura Barcella
Read Q & A with Wendy Tokunaga  

Sept 1, 2012. Decatur Book Festival. Local Prose Stage. 3: 15.
Soniah Kamal will be talking about growing up Muslim with Madonna. She will also read from her essay 'Through the Wilderness'. Please join her.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Caroline Leavitt and I Hate Madonna and Madonna and Me

Leading up to my 'Madonna and Me' talk at the Decatur Book Festival, I will be interviewing my fellow contributors.Today it's novelist Caroline Leavitt who says: the truth is I loathe Madonna! Really! I just happened to have a good Madonna story for the book. Caroline's essay 'My Movie and Madonna' is the about her book getting made into a Madonna movie.  My favorite bit from Caroline's essay: 'When Madonna was struggling she had been rejected by some record company executive. But instead of caving or feeling humiliated, she walked back into the office, ignoring the receptionist who tried to stop her, and she said to the executive, 'someday, you're going to with you had said yes to me''

And here's Caroline herself.

Favorite Madonna song and why?
I really hate all Madonna's music and consider it prefab and soulless. I'd rather listen to Elvis Costello.

Favorite video and look?   
Don't like any of her videos or any of her looks.
Madonna with Nickie Minaj and MIA: Ultra Diva or Desperate?

Can you tell us a little about your writing and revision process for 'My Pocket Madonna'?
It was an easy essay to write because all of it took place in three days and during the whole time I didn't know whether I was blessed or cursed that Madonna was showing interest in making a film of my book. Of course I knew if she did, there would be LOTS of publicity, but on the other hand, I wasn't sure I was going to like what she would do with my book since I had not liked her other films, and I didn't really like her music. But it was an opportunity and I couldn't say no. I tend to rewrite a LOT, so this one also was rewritten about six times.

What are you working on now?
I have a new novel, Is It Tomorrow, coming out from Algonquin Books in May 2013, and I'm currently writing another novel, tentatively called She's Not There.

Caroline's Bio:
Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You, which was also on the Best Books of 2011 Lists from the San Francisco Chronicle, The Providence Journal, Bookmarks Magazine and Kirkus Reviews. It was also a San Francisco Chronicle Lit Pick and a Costco's Pennie's Pick. Her tenth novel, Is It Tomorrow will be published in May 2013 from Algonquin Books. She lives near New York City with her husband and son.

Thanks Caroline!  That was certainly different!

Buy Madonna and Me

Tomorrow Q & A with Yours Truly!

Read Q & A with Rebecca Traister
Read Q & A with Erin Bradley
Read Q & A with Jen Hazen
Read Q & A with Sarah Sweeney
Read Q & A with Joshunda Victoria Sanders
Read Q & A with editor of the anthology Laura Barcella
Read Q & A with Wendy Tokunaga  

Sept 1, 2012. Decatur Book Festival. Local Prose Stage. 3: 15.
Soniah Kamal will be talking about growing up Muslim with Madonna. She will also read from her essay 'Through the Wilderness'. Please join her.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rebecca Traister and True Blue and Madonna and Me

Leading up to my 'Madonna and Me' talk at the Decatur Book Festival, I will be interviewing my fellow contributors. Today it's Rebecca Traister. Rebecca's essay 'Touched for the very First Time' explores if it is ever 'too late' to watch an icon live in concert. My favorite bit from Rebecca's essay 'I was nine when I watched a ratty-looking woman pleasure herself on a Venetian gondola while a panting lion looked on in the 'Like a Virgin' video and my father, glancing at the television, asked, "Who is that?" I am sure that my father, who has barely glanced at a television since, had no memory of this. But I remember. Because while I didn't understand the first thing about who she was or what she was doing to that poor lion, I knew she was fascianting. And because my mother--who also never glances at the television and had never been able to remember anybody's name, including mine-- stunned us all by informing him, "That's Madonna."
And another but I just have to quote: "The trouble is she's (Madonna) has made her own job so much harder. Whether she herself trained us not to flinch in the face of manipulated sexual and religious iconography or whether she has simply ridden the larger cultural shock wave past its crest, I'm not sure what her future as a provocateur could possibly hold.'

And here's Rebecca herself.

Favorite Madonna song and why?
True Blue/Jimmy Jimmy/La Isla Bonita, because I have such vivid and specific memories of a beach vacation with my best friends that I took the summer that album was out.

Favorite video and look?   
Two -- Material Girl because it was when I fell for her and it was so stylized and fun, and then Live To Tell because it was her first radical departure in look and she surprised me and also I loved the song.

Madonna with Nickie Minaj and MIA: Ultra Diva or Desperate? 
I think it's neither. Performers, especially ambitious performers like Madonna, want and need to stay relevant. and it's hard as a popular artist you get older and further away from youth, both your own and that of the people keeping culture relevant. I think it's fine that she's trying keep her career supple, even if she's also destined, on some level to not have the power she had as ayounger artist.
Can you tell us a little about your writing and revision process for 'A Borderline History of My Relationship with Madonna'? 
I wrote the piece very quickly for Salon, after having been to my first Madonna concert. I don't remember much about the process.

What are you working on now? 
I'm writing a book about single women that'll be published by Simon & Schuster in late 2013 or early 2014. 

Rebecca's Bio:
Rebecca Traister is the author of Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women, a New York Times Notable Book of 2010 and the winner of the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize. A feminist journalist with for the past nine years, Traister has also written about women in politics and media for The New York Times Magazine, Elle, The Nation, The New York Observer and The Washington Post. She lives in Brooklyn and is at work on a book about single women changing culture and politics, due from Simon & Schuster in 2014. 

Thanks Rebecca!

Buy Madonna and Me

Tomorrow Q & A with Caroline Leavitt

Read Q & A with  Jen Hazen
Read Q & A with Maria Raha
Read Q & A with Sarah Sweeney
Read Q & A with Joshunda Victoria Sanders
Read Q &  A with editor of the anthology Laura Barcella
Read Q &  A with Wendy Tokunaga  

Sept 1, 2012. Decatur Book Festival. Local Prose Stage. 3: 15.
Soniah Kamal will be talking about growing up Muslim with Madonna. She will also read from her essay 'Through the Wilderness'. Please join her.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Erin Bradley and Into the Groove and Madonna and Me.

photo by brian inatsuka
 Leading up to my 'Madonna and Me' talk at the Decatur Book Festival, I will be interviewing my fellow contributors.Today it's Erin Bradley. Erin's journal style essay 'A Borderline History of My Relationship with Madonna' melds the important events in Madonna's life with Erin's life. My favorite bit from Erin's funny essay: 'Spring 1987. Madonna's Spanish-inspired single 'La Isla Bonita' and its accompanying video had renewed my interest in Latin men, which lay dormant since CHips was cancelled and I had to abruptly end it with Eric Estrada. Knowing zero about race and ethnicity, I do the samba in from of the mirror and serenade my (what i thought were) "Hispanic" lovers: Ralph Macchio (Italian), Henry Winkler (Jewish), and Scott Baio (Asshole)'.

And here's Erin herself.

Favorite Madonna song and why?
Definitely "Into the Groove." The first time I heard it was when my parents took me to see Desperately Seeking Susan. Madonna was such a badass. I decided then and there that I wanted to be Italian and move to New York City. One out of two ain't bad, I suppose.

Favorite video and look?   
"Burning Up" is my favorite video. There's no subtlety, no coquettishness, no "I'm just an ingenue unaware of my sexuality" like a lot of the representations of women that seem to get the most favor now. She's like "Yeah, I'm hot for you. What are you gonna do about it?" Madonna is the anti-The Rules girl. Favorite look? Geez, that's hard. I'll go with snippets of looks: the floppy hat she wore in the 'Borderline' video, the lace book shirt from the 'Vogue' video, that Heidi dirndl skirt she wore in the her Ray of Light days. Not a huge fan of her cone bra Gaultier look, oddly enough, though I respect it and know it's iconic.

Madonna with Nickie Minaj and MIA: Ultra Diva or Desperate?
Ultra Diva. How could a woman with that much money and power ever be desperate? I hate that word. It's rarely used with men. Keith Richards could do a Superbowl show with Justin Bieber and no one would bat an eye. Madonna does one with a few younger stars and all of a sudden she's desperate. Why? Because she's a musician who wants to keep her name out there and continue doing what she loves? It's like people want women to hide in a closet once they get older than Taylor Swift. When Madge is on Hollywood Squares alongside Gallagher and Ray Romano, then we'll talk.

Can you tell us a little about your writing and revision process for 'A Borderline History of My Relationship with Madonna'? 
I went with a timeline because I wanted to do something fun and that wasn't straight prose. I vetted it with Laura first because I knew it was breaking the submission format. I didn't want to spin my wheels (or give her something she wasn't happy with) and she said it was cool. I revised by running it by my professional editing team, i.e. my sister and my husband, and then Laura. All in all, we probably went through 3 rounds. Not too bad. This, like almost everything I write, is based on my life. I find that makes writing a lot more fun. For me, anyway. Some people are private. I'm into emotional burlesque. 

What are you working on now? 
Actual work. As in, my day job - advertising. I plan on starting another book, though. A memoir. They're hard to pitch to editors but I wouldn't be a good Madonna fan if I took no for an answer.

Erin's Bio:
Erin Bradley is a writer and journalist living and working in New York City. She's written for and appeared in publications including The Daily Beast, Nerve, Playboy, The Morning News, and College Humor. Her book, Every Rose Has It's Thorn: A Rock 'n' Roll Guide to Guys is available on

Buy Madonna and Me

Tomorrow Q & A with Rebecca Traister

Read Q & A with  Jen Hazen
Read Q & A with Maria Raha
Read Q & A with Sarah Sweeney
Read Q & A with Joshunda Victoria Sanders
Read Q & A with editor of the anthology Laura Barcella
Read Q & A with Wendy Tokunaga  

Sept 1, 2012. Decatur Book Festival. Local Prose Stage. 3: 15.
Soniah Kamal will be talking about growing up Muslim with Madonna. She will also read from her essay 'Through the Wilderness'. Please join her.