Inside A Beautiful Mind – Shirani Rajapakse

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Good Morning Everyone and happy Friday

Welcome to Inside A Beautiful Mind.

For those of you who have been here before, go grab your coffee, tea or beverage of choice and come sit with me as we get comfy and have a chat with the wonderfully talented Shirani Rajapakse.

Good Morning Shirani, thank you for hanging out with me this morning and being a part of Inside A Beautiful Mind.

So now let’s get to it and tell our readers a little bit about yourself. 

 

Hi and thank you for having me over for a chat.

I’m a poet and short story writer from Sri Lanka. I live in the suburbs of the capital, Colombo. I have worked in journalism, research and management. About 15 years ago I became a full time creative writer. It wasn’t something I had planned. It just happened. I was in between jobs and had planned to take a year off to do several things I wanted andSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA just relax before getting back to the rat race. I also thought this would be the ideal time to edit several stories as well as put down ideas I had scribbled in note books. But it didn’t seem to end as the ideas tumbled out one after the other and I kept writing short stories and poems, adding to what I already had. I realized how much I enjoyed writing and decided this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, not as a hobby, but full time.

I’ve published two books – a short story collection and a poetry book. I have also published a lot of individual pieces in literary journals and anthologies around the world.

I’m a vegetarian and a chocoholic. I love dogs and have an eight year old dog named Bambi who has become rather dependent on me since her mother died last year.

I enjoy reading anything that is well written. The genres I read these days are literary fiction, women’s fiction, contemporary romance, light mystery, fantasy and of course quite a bit of poetry.

Can you tell us about your books?

My first publication was a collection of short stories. It was called Breaking News and it was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award in 2010 and published by a small traditional publisher the following year.

This year I self published my poetry book Chant of a Million Women. I worked on it the whole of last putting together the poems that would make up the collection, deciding on what to use and the order of the poems and also getting it edited. I spent the better half of this year learning about self publishing – how to format books, do covers (although I didn’t do the cover for this one), and also market and promote the book. I published it last month, and although it’s taken longer than I thought it would to get published it was fully worth it.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I have been writing since the late 1990s. My first book is an unpublished novel and was inspired by a rather disturbing incident that took place involving a young woman. After writing this I began writing short stories and poems. I think it was like a chill out period from writing the novel. I found that I liked writing short stories and poems; the brevity of words was refreshing and I felt intrigued with the shorter forms of writing. Since there were many stories and poems piling up I felt it was time to start publishing them as collections. I decided to go with a short story collection first because I was more serious about fiction than poetry. Breaking News was publishing in 2011. I didn’t think I would write many poems or that it would become a form of writing I preferred over stories until much later. It was only after Breaking News was published and I started looking through my unpublished work that I found enough poems to make up loosely themed collections.

Chant of a Million Women is the first collection to be self published. Each of the poems were written at different times, and although I had a collection ready by the end of last year, I found myself adding three more poems a few months before I signed off on my final draft. The poems are about women in different circumstances and situations. TheyChant of a Million Women - Shirani Rajapakse are influenced by what has been happening to women down the ages and across the world, the treatment of women and children and the responses of society. They cover a gamut of topics and emotions and I hope these poems open up a dialogue to discuss issues about the treatment of women.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Everything I write about is influenced by what I see around me. The stories or poems are not all based on real life experiences but most are. Breaking News is based on incidents that took place in Sri Lanka and consists of stories written about living under the threat of war that a lot of us experienced. Getting attacked by Tamil terrorists, losing family and friends, not knowing if we would return home when we left for work or school, was normal life for us for many years. Yet despite the terror and fear we lived under there was also room to poke fun at our situation and enjoy whatever bursts of sunshine we could have. It also made us realize how transient life was and that gave us a sense of awareness about how precious it was.

Chant of a Million Women has a lot of ‘stories’ told in verse about incidents that I’ve read or heard about. It is more global in outlook than Breaking News, but there are many poems that have Sri Lanka, South Asian and even the Middle East as a backdrop. Everything is not factual but most of it is based on fact. Imagination takes over to create something that is uniquely mine.

What was your favorite parts to write and why?

In Breaking News, it was the way the stories developed. My first lines were important to me and these were the lines that started the stories for me. If I couldn’t find the right words to start the story I couldn’t write it and that became a challenge. In Chant of a Million Women all the lines mattered, not just the first lines and this meant I had to work harder at developing every poem. I had to give a lot of thought and make a bigger effort to create the poems, more than the stories. Every line had to work; every line had to be a thought or idea, or even part of an idea. There was no room for fillers or excess words. I already had many poems but I needed to add more to make up a collection. There were sometimes ‘stories’ that I wanted to write about again, with a different angle and it was interesting to see how I could do this without making it seem similar to the one already included. The challenge was to create poems that were different yet addressed the issues I wanted.

How did you come up with the titles?

Both books take the titles from a story/ poem included in the collections. I selected Breaking News as the title of the book because I thought it would be a good title since it was the first book I was publishing and it was like a news item calling emphasis to the book. Also the subject matter being such – attacks on civil society, the disruption of life and destruction of property by terrorist attack – anything happening during that time was ‘news’ and would be splashed across the newspapers. With the poetry book the obvious choice was Chant of a Million Women since the book is all about women. It details the experiences and situations women the world over face and it is also something almost all women can identify with.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I haven’t got much harsh criticism for my writing, but I’ve been told the stories in Breaking News are difficult to read because of the subject matter. I do realize it is not easy to talk about some things, but I don’t believe in shying away from issues just because it is hard to come to terms with. I think that if we can live through horror and come out of it, then it’s also important to talk about it and as a writer I know I will continue to do that, even though it may not be appreciated by many people.

Since publishing Breaking News I’ve been submitting work, mostly poetry to literary journals and anthologies and except for three instances when the editors suggested very minor changes to the work submitted, like changing a word or two or delete a couple of lines, I’ve never had to re-write or alter anything I submitted. I consider this a huge compliment as it means I have been able to create something that is near perfect. Another compliment would be the acceptance of my work by editors of literary journals the world over, as it means they like and value my work enough to include it in their publications that are read by many different people.

Do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?

I don’t know if this qualifies as quirky or unique, but I tend to do my first draft in my mind. I have to see everything in my mind, like a movie. I can’t write it if it doesn’t unfold in a particular sequence and even if the desire to write it is strong, the story won’t sound good and it won’t be a success. I’ve tried that and have realized it just doesn’t work. So now I let it play inside my head before I take it down and put it in words. Although I love writing I’m a lazy writer. It takes me ages to write what’s in my mind. I’ve lost many ideas because I was lazy to put them down.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I mostly just write, although there are some times when I outline my stories in my mind. When I get inspired by either reading or seeing something I immediately see a story happening in my mind. Sometimes the story I have is not at all related to what I’ve seen or read but is merely influenced or inspired by just reading or seeing whatever it was I saw or read. I let the story flow through my mind like a short movie for a few seconds until I am comfortable with it, then I quickly write it down. It doesn’t have to be the full story or poem, but I have to write whatever comes to mind. Later I add and change things around, but that first line or idea has to be there. It’s the same with poems, although I have to write down the complete poem when I am inspired. The editing later takes care of any discrepancies etc.

 

Can you tell us about your experiences in getting your first book published?

I’ll talk about my second book Chant of a Million Women because it is the first book that is self published and this means a lot to me. The collection was put together in 2015 from poems I had written at various times. I started working on it seriously in 2016 when I began selecting the poems that I wanted from what was there, adding new poems, creating an order and getting it all edited and ready for publishing. Then I left it to learn about how to self publish. I spent the first six months of this year talking to people online and in writers groups, asking questions which later I realized were so silly but at that time felt like they were the most important, learning to format a book, design covers, making decisions about where to publish and how to market the book etc. This was probably the most intense six months of work I’d done for a long time and it felt harder than writing. I was very fortunate to meet some very nice and helpful people and I’ve made friends with quite a lot of people along the way. Writing was the easy part, publishing was hard and I think marketing and promoting the book is going to be the hardest.

When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

I had been collecting poems for a long time and in 2015 I started separating them into themed collections. The strongest to come out was the theme on women. But I didn’t have enough and I started adding more. Then in 2016 I had a rough draft of about 85 poems. That got edited down to 80 and then to 70 by the end of 2016. I decided to publish this and left it to start learning about self publishing. A couple of months before I started to format the book I included three more poems that I had written with the objective of submit to a journal.

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I think the genre chose me. I’m more interested in literary fiction probably because that has been the genre I’ve read the most. As for writing, I never thought I’d write short stories or poems since I didn’t much like short stories and I had no idea how to write poetry. I always thought I’d be a novelist. The short stories and poems were written during breaks in writing the two full length novels that are yet unpublished. When it came to publishing I submitted the short stories and one of the novels. The publisher selected the short stories. After publishing I continued to write short stories as I felt some of the stories I had worked better as short stories than as a novel. I also began submitting poetry to journals and this resulted in turning towards writing more poems. I realized that the more I read and wrote poetry the more interested I was in writing verse and also that I was getting better at it.

Where do you get your ideas?

The ideas are all around me. They are to be found in the garden listening to the squirrels chirping in the trees, watching the sun walk across the sky every day and the conversations I have with people around the world and the news happening everywhere.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing

I grew up reading Enid Blytons and the classics like Jane Austen, the Brontes and others. I devoured books. Anything that was interesting was read and re-read. Books were like a lifeline of sorts and I preferred reading to homework. I can’t say a particular book or author influenced me, because there were many authors that I followed and many books that influenced me at the various stages of my life. I also found that a particular author or book I liked at one time in my life didn’t bring me as much joy in another time. I used to think it strange but realize that we outgrow our interests and what we find pleasure in at one time can be boring and uninteresting at another time based purely on our experiences and where we have been in life.

Growing up I read mostly white writers and it was only when I was in my twenties in University, reading for my degree in Literature that I found myself having to read non white writers or writers using Africa and Asia as their background for stories. At first I didn’t want to read them as I had got so accustomed to reading and being familiar with the type of writing of white writers. Then when I started reading I was amazed to find how much I liked the stories I read and could finally identify with the characters and the worlds they inhabited. It was like reading my own experiences and narrative.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Write whatever you want to write because you alone know the stories you want to tell. When you sit down to write let the words flow the way they want. Later, when you have finished your story or chapter go through it and make any changes. Then put it away and go do something else. Write another story, read a book, travel somewhere, do anything to forget the story you wrote. Come back and look at it objectively. Edit it as if it was someone else’s story and not yours. Be as merciless as you can, cutting down unnecessary words, adding new words to make the story stand out. Polish the lines, re construct sentences left hanging. Tighten them like you would tune a stringed instrument to get just the right notes. Put it aside again for another month or two. Let your eyes go over it again and send it to someone to read, maybe a beta reader. Edit based on the feedback you get. Keep editing until you are happy with it and know that there is nothing you can do for it anymore. But of course, writing and editing is never finished and you will always have something you want to add or change even minutes before you hit publish.

What is your favorite quote or saying?

Write with your heart. Edit with your head. Not my words but they work for me.

 Tea or coffee?

Love them both. Sometimes I’m a coffee drinker and at other times I’m a hopeless tea drinker.

Sweet or salty?

As long as it is chocolate then it’s sweet.

Would you like to share with us a passage that will give us a glimpse into the world you built?

Here are two very different poems from Chant of a Million Women.

Loneliness

 

Because I crossed over

no man’s land one day, a few steps

of nothingness between two countries

that drew borders to fence us in.

A sliver of territory

just enough for a road to run through,

a few kiosks that might make it

livable, but not

sufficient for homes

to make you feel loved, or

to put down roots.

 

No one feels

at home in no man’s land.

 

No one stops there. Not for long.

Only lonely birds swooping down infrequently

to rest awhile, taking wing as they sense

all is not quite right. Or

the occasional curious cow that wonders

if the grass is really greener

yet doesn’t venture further.

A feeling of unease she can’t quite understand;

fear of death by slaughter, slow and painful,

cold breeze carrying messages of anguish

and terror waiting on

the other side.

 

Because sometimes words

are not required to make one understand or

experience joy and grief

at the same time.

 

Because of this you left, unable

to comprehend, refused to accompany me.

Stood for an hour at the threshold until

the gates closed behind me.

You gazed as I went over

to the other country.

Past the entrance,

the men in uniform, the plumed hats,

the paperwork, the stamp of finality,

to get lost in the rest of what makes it theirs.

 

Not yours anymore.

 

Because it happened so long ago you

don’t remember the words spoken

as you watched people

stride away. Like me.

 

But I remembered your face that day

and the words you

wanted to speak,

but couldn’t,

so you let your eyes converse instead.

Because it sounded so good,

like a violin crying in an abandoned house,

like a dog howling in the lonely ruins,

like a peacock singing in a desert dream,

and I remembered.Chant of a Million Women - Shirani Rajapakse

 

Somewhere in the Middle East After One War Ended

 

Child in the classroom unable

to speak. Staring at the space in front

silent to the teachers urging.

 

Mouth refusing to shape

words that don’t come out, they died,

crumbled to dust and got lost

in the sands swirling not so very long ago.

 

What thoughts hold her back afraid

to open lips that might howl out secrets

best left hidden amidst the ruins

piled up like garbage?

 

Numb to the people, deaf

to the voices moving around, she hears

strange noises in her mind

deafening the songs

trying to rise up from a corner where

she stored them for safe keeping,

to make her smile.

 

Gunshots in the street,

 

the heavy fire of machine guns in

the dark of the night, a river

roaring through

nonstop taking with it the trees

uprooted, buildings collapsed.

 

Flares lighting up the

sky as she hid under

the bed seeing neon signs flash across

the sky through a hole in the roof

that brought in the sun during the day,

hot and burning, like the sting of the bullet

in her mother’s chest.

 

The guns are silenced for the moment,

only the distant low hum of

sporadic fire in some other town

not so far away.

 

People walk the streets unafraid, go about

their work like

nothing ever happened.

The past erased.

 

Yet the guns inside

her head continue to fire volley after volley

as she struggles to live each day.

 

Would you mind sharing with us the best way to stay in touch with you and where to learn more about your books?

Website: https://shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/shiranirajapakseauthor

Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13850404.Shirani_Rajapakse

Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/ShiraniRajapakse

Universal ebook link: https://www.books2read.com/shiranirajapakse

Twitter: https://twitter.com/shiraniraj

LinkdIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shiranirajapakse/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/shiranirajapakse/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/shiraniraj/

 

Alright folks, it is that time again but I would like to say a heart felt thank you to Shirani for sharing with us and spending some time in her world today. Also, I would like to say a big thank you to the lovely readers out there for joining in and taking a moment to support your Authors.
If you or any of you know of someone who would like to be a part of Inside A Beautiful Mind, please send me a message or email me, kadecook.author@gmail.com.
Enjoy your Friday folks, you are awesome and please remember to be kind to your Authors, leave a review. See you in a couple of weeks, Peace.
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Kobo Writing Life Podcast – Episode 091 – Special Audiobook Announcement: Let Me Tell You A Story

Kobo Writing Life

Episode 91 of the Kobo Writing Life Podcast, narrated by Jim Dale, beloved actor and narrator for the Harry Potter books in Canada and the United States, will introduce you to Kobo’s new Audiobook program.

Let me tell you a story. Do you remember when you first fell in love with reading? Well you weren’t really reading, were you? No, your passion for books began quite another way. It was listening, wasn’t it? To a story. Yes; your love of reading got started when you were being read to. Could there be any six words that have more anticipation behind them than: “Let me tell you a story.”

Introducing Audiobooks for the Free Kobo App with a beautifully designed, easy to use player.

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Start your free trial today and embrace the art of…

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Inside A Beautiful Mind – Jeanne Blasberg

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Good Morning Everyone and happy Friday

Welcome to Inside A Beautiful Mind.

For those of you who have been here before, go grab your coffee, tea or beverage of choice and come sit with me as we get comfy and have a chat with the amazing Jeanne Blasberg.

Good Morning Jeanne, thank you for hanging out with me this morning and being a part of Inside A Beautiful Mind.

So now let’s get to it and tell our readers a little bit about yourself.

I’ve been a writer all my life although EDEN is my debut novel. After graduating fromJeanne Blasberg_-12 Smith College in 1987, I surprised everyone who knew me by accepting a job on Wall Street and embarking on a career in finance.   I’m a firm believer that you are never too old to change course and began studying the art of memoir and the craft of the novel at Grub Street, a wonderful creative writing center in Boston. I am an avid squash player and skier and my husband of 27 years and our grown children all enjoy playing and being active.   We split our time between Boston, MA and Westerly, RI.

 Can you tell us about your books?

 A sweeping family saga, Eden chronicles four generations of Meister Fitzpatrick women from 1915 to 2000. The book centers on an extraordinary family home aptly named after the Biblical paradise. As the novel opens, the family matriarch, Becca, is faced with the loss of this beloved home due to her late husband’s financial missteps. She is also planning to disclose a long-held secret to her extended family over a Fourth of July weekend. Fireworks result from both as family love and loyalties are tested and resentments emerge.

Eden is both a marvelous page turner and a fascinating look at the changing roles and choices available to women throughout the 20th century—and how these choices, or lack of choice, reverberate through generations. Redbook states, “This beautifully written family saga firmly establishes Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg as a rising writer to watch – and it will likely have you liking your family a whole lot more.”

 What inspired you to write your first book?

 I guess you can say the core of this story has been inside me all my life. I am the product of a hasty marriage when my mother got pregnant in college. Later, I met someone who talked openly about his feelings around being adopted. That meeting sparked a lot of “what if’s” for me. What if my mother had chosen not to have me? What if she gave me up? I dwelt on these issues during my early writing life where I wrote personal narrative and memoir.

But being an avid reader, I was driven to emulate the kinds of books I like to read: family sagas, works of fiction, especially those that span big time periods. I like multiple points of view and multiple chronologies. My thought was, if I only write one book in my life, why not write a big one?

 Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Yes there are many anecdotes in the book that are from real life experiences (see above). Several of my matriachs are characters inspired by women in my family.

What was your favorite parts to write and why?

I love to write setting. My scenes are cinematic and the sense of place in EDEN is very poignant. EDEN is a quintessential, New England, shingle-style beach home where four generations summered together over the span of eighty years. After reading my novel, you’ll have picked out your favorite bedroom and may feel you’ve spent every summerEDEN Cover of your life there as well.

How did you come up with the titles?

My original title was “A Garden”, then “Her Father’s Garden”. It was my publisher who convinced me to go with the very profound title : “EDEN.”

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

The best compliment is that my book is a page turner. I do not view criticism as tough or as negative. It is all important feedback as I am developing as a writer.

Do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?

The thing about quirky people is that they don’t realize when they are being quirky J

What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research online for your book?

Hmmm…. I researched a lot about train travel in the early part of the 20th C, the velveteen of the seats the names of the linens – that’s not very strange, though!

Give us an interesting fun fact about your book.

Everything in my book is fictional, however the setting is based on the town where I live in Rhode Island. The large stone home where the residents of Long Harbor weather the 1938 hurricane is actually my father’s home and all of the events that took place there are based on oral histories. The large Italianate villa is named Sunset Hill and the original owner was indeed, Mary Thaw Thompson.

 Do you work with an outline, or just write?

For my first draft I just write and write and then at some point later on, I need to organize everything and I create an outline.

Can you tell us about your experiences in getting your first book published?

It was a long, drawn out, difficult process. The book was re-written and revised many time after a long series of rejections from agents. I worked very hard on learning the craft of the novel and improving my book. I thought about giving up on several occasions.   I finally found an agent at a writing conference called the Muse and the Marketplace in Boston. We really hit it off and had a great discussion about my goals as an author. April Eberhardt, my agent, helped me sift through the different publishing options and I ended up publishing my book with She Writes Press which is an independent, hybrid model in Berkeley, CA.

When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

I started writing in 2008 and finished in 2015. Yikes!!

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I love reading fiction, historical fiction most specifically. I wanted to emulate the type of books I am a fan of reading.

Where do you get your ideas?

My ideas and characters are based on my life experiences and then I extrapolate from there!

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way

The Big House by George Howe Colt was an enormous influence to me in the way that the house was a character in his work of non-fiction. I try to achieve the same thing in EDEN. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible was written in multiple points of view and reading that made we want to attempt the same thing. I was influenced by John Steinbeck’s East of Eden in terms of creating a biblical allegory.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

It is really easy to get discouraged. Don’t let other people get you down, and don’t give up. Make a regular practice of writing and stick with it. Your writing will improve, just put in the hours and read as much as you can!

What is your favorite quote or saying?

It is a little corny, but my niece reminded me of this favorite recently: “The past is history, the future is a mystery, but the present is a gift, that’s why it’s called a present.”

 Tea or coffee? Mint Tea!!

Sweet or salty? Salty!

Would you like to share with us a passage that will give us a glimpse into the world you built?

Even though Becca could be accustomed to life without her husband, a life without EdenEDEN Cover was an entirely different story. Even during the winter, the sheer notion of this place had buoyed her as much as the physical house did during the summer. Eden transcended time as the receptacle of the family’s legends and most vivid memories. She associated Eden with love and tradition, a link between the generations, and it made her sad to think that Sarah’s baby would miss the opportunity to run through its cool grass.

Would you mind sharing with us the best way to stay in touch with you and where to learn more about your books?

Website:  www.jeanneblasberg.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/jeanneblasbergauthor/

Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15746550.Jeanne_McWilliams_Blasberg

Twitter: @JeanneBlasberg

LinkdIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeanne-blasberg-10942a13/

Instagram: @JeanneBlasbergauthor

Alright folks, it is that time again but I would like to say a heart felt thank you to Jeanne for sharing with us and spending some time in her world today.  Also, I would like to say a big thank you to the lovely readers out there for joining in and taking a moment to support your Authors.

If you or any of you know of someone who would like to be a part of Inside A Beautiful Mind, please send me a message or email me, kadecook.author@gmail.com.
Enjoy your Friday folks, you are awesome and please remember to be kind to your Authors, leave a review. See you in a couple of weeks, Peace.