11 June 2017

Book Launch Guest Post: 3 Tips for Writing about Place, by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar Author of Pearls of the Past


New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

In the much-anticipated sequel to the award-winning Love Comes Later, we find out how happy the ever after is for Abdulla and Sangita, the unlikely duo who met by chance in a London apartment. 
Married life holds more than they bargained for with the pressures of living amongst the family. 
Hind has made good on her aspirations to work in the foreign service in India as an independent woman. Except loneliness dogs her every step. 
And young Luluwa, once a teenager infatuated with her dead sister's husband, is growing up quickly.  
When a deep family secret comes to light, it's she who will have to find a way to bring them together to overcome the dark forces. 
Readers will lose themselves in the increasingly complex ties that bind.

I’ve lived in the Arabian Gulf of Qatar for the last eleven years. Moving there pushed my writing from hobby into coping strategy for life as an expat. As an non-Arabic speaking, non-Muslim,  the mundane details of everyday life became fodder for a weekly blog series. Six years later, I published my first novel, a love triangle, populated with characters inspired by real people.

Yes, six years later. Why did it take me so long? Well, partly because I was still learning so much about the host country.

Qatar is a modern place with traditional values that is still very insular because of the longstanding practice of professional expats who come through on an average of three years to have an adventure and make some cash, returning to their home country never to be seen again.

How did I learn enough about this place to write culturally accurate stories? How can you gain confidence to write about a place other than where ‘you’re from’?

1. Make friends: This might sound like advice for kindergartners but there is no better way to learn about perspectives different than our own than by eating, laughing, and learning from those who are experts.

My Qatari friends were used to being objects of curiosity so at first it took a while for them to realize I wasn’t yet another person who would ask questions about polygamy or oil wells in their backyards. It’s hard not to take personally, but building trust takes time, so this process took several years.

2. Listen to understand: Again, maybe our best life lessons were taught in our early years. Some of the biggest insights I learned in Qatari culture were when I listened to what was on the minds of students, colleagues, and friends. One such repeated theme, how to find love in a society that practices arranged marriage, became my first novel Love Come Later.

The discussions about finding happily ever after – for both you and your parents – were very familiar to me because of my own upbringing as a South Asian. Many families in India still practice arranged (and cousin) marriages so to my ear these discussion were well trodden territory with a new twist.

3. Verify, verify, verify: Writing from the point of view of a man was a new experience for me. Early drafts of the novel originally began with alternating chapters from the two main female characters. I quickly realized the story would benefit from hearing Abdulla, the object of contention. Writing his scenes meant I needed a crop of beta readers who could attest to the male point of view – something which I guessed at but needed help with.

Incidentally I’m not the only one who had this struggle. If you read On Writing by Stephen King, he shares a similar fear about early versions of Carrie and writing from the perspective of a teenage girl (his wife said she would help him with that).

We have to be very careful when writing about cultures other than our own. I was hyper aware of this because of my doctoral studies in postcolonial literature. Who gets to speak, and about what, are two central questions critical in this field that is my day job in the university classroom.

I ended up writing about Qatar because I wanted the world to experience the fascinating place where I’ve made my home for the last decade or so. I wanted to give international readers a more balanced view on the people and culture of the Arabian Gulf as a counter to the headlines they might see on the nightly news.

Current events prove this is more important than ever. Fiction is a kind of truth. And in pursuing both we preform the service art has always provided to humanity. As Ralph Waldo Emerson explains, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” 

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar
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About the Author
Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar’s award winning books have focused on various aspects of life in the Arabian Gulf nation of Qatar. From Dunes to Dior is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf and named as Indie Book of the Day in 2013. Love Comes Later is a literary romance set in Qatar and London and was the winner of the Best Indie Book Award for Romance in 2013, short listed for the New Talent award by the Festival of Romance, and Best Novel Finalist in eFestival of Words, 2013. She currently lives with her family in Qatar, where she teaches writing and literature courses at American universities. After she joined the e-book revolution, Mohana dreams in plotlines. Learn more about her work on her website at www.mohadoha.com or follow her latest on Twitter: @moha_doha.

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