November 2022 interview
My interview this month is with my neighbor, Raj, about the Indian celebration of Dewali. The celebration of Dewali in my community is our annual event that is the most popular with tickets selling out within a half hour.
Diwali or Deepawali, known as the “festival of lights,” is usually celebrated in October or November. Lasting over five days, the holiday is celebrated by millions of Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs worldwide. Dewali, also spelled Divali, is one of the major religious festivals in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. The name is derived from the Sanskrit term Dipavali, meaning “row of lights.” The festival generally symbolizes the victory of light over darkness.
Dewali, which is a national holiday across India, is typically celebrated by socializing and exchanging gifts with family and friends. Many light earthen oil lamps or candles, and fireworks are set off as part of the celebrations.
There's cleaning and decorating the house, buying new clothes, visiting friends and family — and of course preparing and sharing food. And although the foods associated with Diwali vary from culture to culture, one central theme is snacks and sweets.
Raj and his wife are from Punjab. Punjab, a state bordering Pakistan, is the heart of India’s Sikh community. The city of Amritsar, founded in the 1570s by Sikh Guru Ram Das, is the site of Harmandir Sahib, the holiest gurdwara (Sikh place of worship). Known in English as the Golden Temple, and surrounded by the Pool of Nectar, it's a major pilgrimage site. Also in Amritsar is Durgiana Temple, a Hindu shrine famed for its engraved silver doors.
Question: Raj, tell my readers a little bit about yourself.
I am married and met my wife forty years ago while at college in India. I have two Masters Degrees. I obtained my first Master’s degree in Finance while in India, and after moving to the United States, I obtained my 2nd Master’s degree from the Pratt Institute in New York City in Computer Science. My occupation was mainly in management with a focus on Finance and Information Systems which required me to traveled globally. I moved to the Research Triangle in North Carolina in 2020 to be near my children and grandchildren.
Question: Raj, what is your childhood memory of Dewali and how did your family celebrate it?
Dewali was the most important festival during my childhood. As children, we prepared for Dewali for two months by buying fireworks and accumulating all of the supplies for fireworks. I used all of my allowance to buy fireworks. The adult family members prepared special sweets and food to be distributed among neighbors and friends. Then we gathered together as a community to enjoy our tasty treats while watching the fireworks display.
Question: Does Dewali also involve a religious celebration?
Yes, typically our religious ceremonies were brief and consisted of our asking the Lord to give us wisdom to do good deeds and live happily. Three pillars guided us in the name of the Lord that were preached in our prayers. The three pillars are: Honesty, selfless service to community and meditation. The meaning of Dewali for us is to enlighten the soul by the practice of the three pillars.
Question: Raj, do you have a favorite Dewali dish?
Many of our dishes are vegetarian. My wife and I love the variety of sweet dishes that are offered, such as: Barfi, Jalebi, Laddus, Balu-shahi, Ras Gulas, and Gulab Jamans.
Thank you for enlightening us about this most joyful and memorable celebration, Raj.
**To obtain the recipes to some of these delectable dishes, just click on the RECIPES tab on my HOME page.
Thank you, Gretchen, and Welcome to my feature titled ‘Look Who’s Talking.’ Let’s start with learning a little bit about you. Can you tell my readers about your background and how you decided to write your debut children’s book; Maddie and the Virus?
Thanks, Colleen. I’m a semi-retired dance educator with a background as a performer, teacher, choreographer, and director. I decided to write Maddie and the Virus because, when the pandemic first emerged, I felt compelled to do something, anything, to be a calming voice, an encouraging voice, a voice of hope. So, every day, as my dog and I were taking our walks, the ideas emerged and actually bombarded me – in my mind’s eye, from the very the beginning, I visualized the cover, the introductory pages, Maddie’s name and interests, and I knew that the characters and events in the story would be based upon my life and my family.
You have several creative ideas in your book for children living and coping with the pandemic. Did you have all of these ideas in mind before beginning to write, or did your ideas evolve over time?
As a dance educator, I have taught Brain Dance for many years to my students of all ages. And, the other dances that Maddie and her Gram share together are ones I’ve also introduced to my granddaughter and my students over the years. I also knew I wanted to include my graduate research and training with “Dancing Wheels,” a wonderful dance school and company in Cleveland, Ohio which serves dancers of all abilities. So, in thinking about writing my book, I knew from the beginning that I would share these many dance ideas with my readers because dance has been such an enriching part of my life.
Do you have any particular writing habits?
No, except I do a great deal of thinking and writing and sorting through ideas while I’m walking. The ideas brew for a while and, when inspiration strikes, I sit down at the computer and do my writing. Once I’ve begun a project, it lives with me all the time. I imagine that’s true for anyone embarking on a new creative project.
What advice would you give beginning authors?
Great question. Walk. Take time to create a space for yourself. Let the ideas flow. Enjoy the process. Ask for feedback (but make the final decisions yourself) from valued family and friends. Let your writing live and breathe and keep re-reading what you’ve written so new perspectives can emerge. Keep your writing succinct. Let your words move with rhythm and color.
What books / authors do you like to read?
I’m currently reading Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, a historical romance novel set in 1930’s Texas. I recently finished Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony and An Elephant in My Kitchen, by his wife Francoise Malby Anthony about life on an African game reserve which reveals the extraordinary relationships between wild animals and their human caretakers. I’ve also enjoyed two books by Jeanine Cummins – American Dirt about Mexican migrants fleeing to the United States and The Outside Boy about an Irish gypsy boy’s childhood in the 1950’s.
The illustrations in your book are a very well done and serve to keep young readers engaged. How did you find your illustrator? If you’d like to give a shout out to him, tell us about his service and how he helped you.
When I first decided to explore writing a children’s book, I contacted my niece, who is a teacher, to see if she might know of an illustrator. She gave me Mike’s name and the next day we were on a zoom call together and, as they say, the rest is history. I feel so fortunate to have worked with Mike whose artistry brought my story to life. Mike was always patient, an earnest listener, asked relevant questions that helped me think more deeply about my story, was open to my suggestions and my multitude of revisions, even at the last minute, and provided me with guidance for book completion, website, and publishing.
Mike is a musician, an artist, and owner of MRC, a branding company in downtown Raleigh. He’s also the host of The Pencil Pushers Podcast which focuses on the love of the hand-drawn arts. Mike may be contacted at mrcraleigh.com.
What are you currently working on?
I’m just beginning to work on a second Maddie book. Mike and his team always said to me that I had to write a Maddie and the Virus sequel! My six-year-old granddaughter (the inspiration for Maddie) asked me to write my second book “this weekend” because she’s excited to read it!
Thanks Gretchen. Your book is an inspiration for young readers and adults alike. I’ve posted Gretchen’s interview on my website under the tab: ‘Look Who’s Talking.’ Please send Gretchen a hello, or if you’ve read Maddie and the Virus and like it, consider writing a review for her on Amazon.
Below is an interview with Linda Wood Rondeau, conducted October 2022.
You've now written multiple books, but what got you started to complete the first one?
My very first book started out as Proverbs for Moms. The title changed over the years to Abundant Living for Moms, Daisy's Lessons for Moms, and a number of other titles. It was finally published as I Prayed For Patience God Gave Me Children.
How did you go about finding a publisher? Did you have an agent?
I had an agent for several years before I finally published my first book, The Other Side of Darkness. I met the agent at a writer's conference. We corresponded for a year and then I was offered a contract. Getting a contract for that first book took 11 years to the date I decided to become a writer.
Your publisher’s guidelines for submissions include requests for the numbers of social media followers and e-mail lists, as well as the many ways the author plans on promoting their book. Those requests are not unusual, and I've seen them with numerous publishers. To me that sounds like they only want established writers who probably could indie publish on their own. Did you already have a strong following when you got a contract with them?
I did work hard to establish a website and social media platforms. From the work I did, I evidenced a willingness to "get out there" and do the best I could to help market my book. I think many publishers are willing to work with a promising author who is willing to work hard and who has a great book.
Ultimately, the craft is most important to publishers. Yes, they may take an established author before taking on many pre-published authors. If you have an outstanding product, publishers will take an interest. The hard part is pitching that product in a way to show how outstanding it is!
Marketing is a big part of increasing book sales. What marketing venue have you found most successful in not only getting clicks but sales as well?
My newsletter seems to generate the most "clicks," and I see a definite rise in sales. Word of mouth is still the best advertising. I belong to Christian Authors Network, a marketing group, and found their services to be helpful. I don't see much result from Social Media other than name recognition.
Blog tours have been beneficial and I intend to do one soon for my newest release due in October, a devotional book, Lessons Along the Way, based on my newspaper column spanning over ten years. I have found I need to invest money in paid groups such as Bookbub. However, as a retired person, I do have a very limited marketing budget so I must choose wisely. Trying to do all my marketing for "free" doesn't work well.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
I find balancing marketing, editing, and other "related" writing responsibilities such as managing my blog, appearances, etc., with my personal life to be the utmost challenge. Finding the best time to write before my brain goes to sleep at night is also a challenge. The actual craft is not as difficult for me. I love to write. As for starting ... I just start someplace. Your first few drafts are "rehearsals." I find getting the framework down first is important. Too many writers think they have to get it perfect the first time. This can produce a sort of writing anxiety. Just let go and let the words flow. Plenty of time to tweak your work afterward.
Linda, what’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
When a reader lets me know a book helped them with a problem in their lives. As a former social worker, I write to encourage others that life does give us U-turns. My writing slogan is, "Our worst past, given to God, can become our best future."
What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
Marketing tricks! The business of writing and how to balance writing with your personal life.
What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
Revise, revise, revise! When you think it's perfect, go over it again. Learn the craft. Go to writers' conferences and take online courses.
Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?
Don't be in a hurry. Like a good stew, let your work simmer for a while to let the flavors of your composition permeate!
Tell me about your latest book? What inspired you to create this story? Could you give my readers a short blurb about it?
I'd like to talk about Ghosts of Trumball Mansion, released in May 2022. (I also have a new devotional book set for release in October). I was inspired to write a book about a troubled marriage and how Satan will use whatever tool he can devise to ruin a marriage. Henry and Sylvia have been separated for fifteen years, staying married in name only for business reasons.
Why do the ghosts in his wife’s ballroom attack only him? Or is publishing tycoon Henry Fitzgibbons insane?
Sylvia Fitzgibbons, his informally estranged wife, is his star author who writes under the name, Lana Longstreet. Now that the children are grown, maybe the time has come to officially end any obligation to his wife’s Connecticut estate and be free of their torment.
Sylvia would ask Henry for a divorce if the children weren’t planning a lavish anniversary party in August, and she didn't have a deadline for her Johnny Gallant suspense series in the same month. She insists Henry spend the summer tending to estate matters, and Henry reluctantly agrees. Hoping for an early escape, he hires a gangly landscape artist who eerily resembles a washed-out country singer. But when Sylvia’s housekeeper must retire due to an auto accident, she begs for his help. Unable to resist her femme fatale pleas, Henry is trapped for the duration.
Forced closeness draws them closer. As a reconciliation proves possible, Sylvia/Lana is charged with plagiarism threatening their publishing empire and the malignant forces within the estate become increasingly aggressive.
Something evil seems to conspire against them that only Faith can conquer.
That's all for today's interview. If you'd like to learn more about Linda's books, here are some links to get you started.
**Special thanks to Christine L. Henderson at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Future interviews will cover a multitude of topics, including: Talks with musicians, costume designers, fellow friends and authors, and infectious disease control specialists.
Stay tuned, and … please join my email list (see "SUBSCRIBE" panel on HOME page).