Feather in a Bubble: thoughts on crafting a novel


Rainy day. Good for writing. Good for contemplation. And I’m doing more of… guess what?

There’s a fragile glass ornament hanging from my floor lamp. It’s an ostrich feather enclosed in an oval glass bubble. I love this piece. It makes me think. The sunlight from my window makes every furry tendril of the feather come  alive. It lives and breathes. The feather wants to fly.

My biggest challenge as a writer is learning how to contain the story. I am chock full of stories. They roll right off the top of my head. No problem there. To harness the stories, thread them on a central vein (the theme) and keep my writing airy and alive   takes work. The enclosed glass form holds everything in. That is the form of the novel.

Hopefully with a little luck  I can pull this off.  What a miraculous feeling it is to get the feather inside the bubble. How do you contain a story? There are tricks and techniques, but most of all, it takes hard  work. That reminds me– time to get back to my writing.

But first tea…

Happy Tuesday, dear friends!

Tea and chats with writers at Carriage Manor

Teatime with writers at the Carriage Manor Writers group.
Tea and chats with the writers group at Carriage Manor.
Peggy Hassinger, my dear friend who has shared with me many journeys.
Peggy Hassinger, my tea-drinking buddy  from many, many teatimes ago.

On March 22nd, I was invited by Peg Hassinger, a dear friend, to speak at the Carriage Manor Writers Group in Mesa, Arizona. The group pitched in with a surprise tea party to honor my visit and a surprise indeed it was! I was deeply touched (I cry easily these days if you must know!) with all the thought and planning that had gone into creating such a delightful event. There’s more about that in Marlys Jensens’s writeup below.

The Carriage Manor Writers Group meets every Friday. Many members are snowbirds so the group is more active in the cooler months. Members pick a special topic to write about every week and on the day of my visit the topic was (you guessed it) TEA of course! I was fascinated by the variety of genres and different viewpoints shared on the same subject. The format is open so we had a nice smattering of short stories, essays and poems and some very educative, funny and soul-stirring writing. When it came to my turn, I shared about my writing journey and Assam Tea. Here is  lovely recap of the event by Marlys Jenson, one of the writers in the  group. I am reprinting it with her permission. Thanks Marlys!


By Marlys Jensen – March 28, 2013

There are always surprises as we travel along life’s pathway, some more pleasant than others.  One such pleasing experience happened last Friday at the Writers Class.   Coming to class, all members were looking forward to the usual good time sharing their personally penned stories about “Tea”.  Also, the anticipation of being in the company of a soon to be published author was high on our bucket list.

At 10:00 a.m. class would be in session. When walking through the door the atmosphere was intoxicating. Looking around the room was like being in another time and place.  The tables were decorated eloquently.   Flowers and a silver tea service flanked the head table.  At each place, a setting ready for a party.   On a doily, a fine bone china plate, saucer, and tea-cup were placed ever so perfectly. Antique cloth napkins added a nice touch. The side tables displaying colorful tea pots looked beautiful.  Writer’s member and party giver, Gretchen, and party lover, Lucy, were responsible for the festive decorations.

Gretchen was in charge of the tea.   We got to choose a tea flavor and hot water was added to our cups, thus the brewing began. A wonderful aroma filled the air. Dainty treats were provided by our leader and tea lover, Peg. It was joyful time, with another one of our leaders, Mary Lynn, recovering from a broken pelvis, joining the group.

Yet another pleasant surprise was the entrance of a beautiful Indian Lady, who now resides in Arizona.  Peg introduced her as Shona Patel, a dear friend of hers.  They have enjoyed many tea parties together during their friendship. We were all captivated to hear the story of her life.  She had grown up on a Tea plantation in India.  Her father was appointed the first Indian manager of a tea farm, a fortunate event for the family.   She had a good life and learned much about the harvesting and processing of tea during her growing up years.

She loved writing and eventually was able to enroll in a writer’s class by a coveted professor at Scottsdale Community College. She learned much in his class about getting a manuscript ready for publishing.  She started the process. She hired an agent and was fortunate to be accepted by a publishing company.  Her book “Teatime for the Firefly” will be out in October, 2013.  It is a novel in which she was able to weave into the story many facts about tea and the plantations where it was processed. We are anticipating the book’s sale.

Shona is a lovely young lady, with many talents, and an outgoing personality.  It was a fantastic class.   I am sure all of the Writers feel the same as I….. A BIG thank-you is due to all who had a part in this most delightful time.    It exceeded all expectations!  Thanks again.

More about Marlys Jenson and the Carriage Manor Writers Group: My husband and I are retired and spend our winters in Carriage Manor Resort in Mesa, Arizona. It was there I was encouraged to join the Writers’ Group. I nervously started attending four years ago. The class has challenging topics and activities. It brought me to another level in writing. We have outstanding leaders. Here we learn to express ourselves through writing, reading, sharing, etc. When reading our stories during class time, we laugh and cry together; by this interaction we develop true friendships. I am looking forward to reading Shona Patel’s Book Tea Time for the Firefly”. Her excellent writing ability and vibrant personality will be reflected in the book, I am sure.


“To whom it may inspire…”

This inspiring letter to young filmmakers is from Pixar animator Austin Madison. I think it speaks just as clearly to writers.

We’ve heard this time and again: it’s not just talent that makes a successful writer but true grit and staying power. Many writers think too much, write too little. They self-sabotage by talking too much about the half-formed stories, allowing the creative energy to dissipate before it even hits the page. Hemingway never  talked about his work in progress and Papa knew best. Bottling the creative genie may be a good thing.

Persist in telling your story. Persist in reaching your audience. Persist in staying true to your vision…

The writing process can be so frustrating at times that despair sets in. Stephen King says it best:”Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub.” There were times when I hit the  doldrums with such a thump, it took every bit of strength to pull myself out. My old foe, Procrastination, is always lurking. Suddenly everything, except the writing, becomes critically important. I need to do the laundry right now, I tell myself. Funny how the mind tries to trick you.

I thought this was inspiring. Somebody posted this on my Facebook page.

Discipline is a muscle I was not born with it. I’ve had to develop it, step by miserable step. Waving a carrot  or a stick does not work, because I have a cunning mind that can talk me out of things with arguments and persuasion. So I have had to resort to devious measures. Like I have to for exercise. Same principle. I trick myself. I tell myself, okay Shona we are going for a leeeetle walk – just down the road and back– When my body sets up a wail, I say, no, no, this is not exercise – goodness, whatever gave you that idea– this is just to clear your head a bit. When I reach the end of the road, I say, hey Shona let’s just see what around that corner, (then, we can go home and drink tea) When I round the corner, I say, ooooh look that nice flowering bush, wonder what plant that is? When I get to the bush, I say, let’s walk by that orange-colored house and see if that funny bulldog is still there. And so on and before I know it I have walked a mile or two.  Remember how Forest Gump ran down his road of his house, and ended up running though his town and out of the state of Alabama, and all over America? It began with a single step, didn’t it? That’s the idea. That’s how I write. Teeny goals, oodles of self-deception and lots of tea.

How do you keep on track with your writing? What do you do to stay motivated? Please share.



Here’s a little bit about my upcoming book “Teatime for the Firefly” (to be published by MIRA/HARLEQUIN) You can read the synopsis and first chapter by CLICKING HERE. Please leave me a comment. Thank you!

The man who caught peanuts in the air

Me, Uncle Shippa and Cousin Shree

Uncle Shippa was my Dad’s friend from his college days. Dad and he were political agitators during India’s fight for independence and spent a night in jail for civil disobedience (a polite term for disorderly conduct). One time they walked on top of people’s heads (how that is even possible, please don’t ask–I am only repeating what I heard) in a big crowd to get to the frontlines and hear the great Gandhiji speak (CORRECTION 07-03-2012: sis says they ran on the crowd’s heads when the great poet Rabindranath died. When Gandhi died, dad was already 40- imagine a 40 year old man doing that!!) . Dad went on to become a big shot tea planter while Uncle Shippa remained a bachelor and waffled by without doing a spot of work his entire life. He was the pilot fish that swam alongside the shark (my dad) and fed off the fat.

“Old man,” he’d say to my dad, sprawled out on the sofa  “I could do with a little help, buddy.”

Dad, the good-natured beast he was, would point a lazy toe to his wallet on the coffee table.

“Help yourself,” he’d say, without looking up.

And Uncle Shippa did– with ne’er a qualm. He took a tenner, a fiver or whatever he needed for ciggies, a spot of booze and the occasional pair of socks. His needs were minimal and he never took a rupee more than was necessary even though he knew   with my father there were no holds barred and no questions asked.

My mom got a little catty. “Eeesh,” she said. “What kind of man is he, sponging off his friends? He has no self-respect!”

“Who needs self-respect,” replied my dad, “if I had a kind and thoughtful friend like me, you think I’d lift a finger?”

We kids didn’t give a damn for self-respect either. Uncle Shippa could shuffle a deck of cards with one hand, pull a copper naya paisa out of someone’s ear and he could catch peanuts in the air. The peanut trick was his greatest feat. He would throw a peanut so high it practically got swallowed by the clouds – only to catch it with a loud ‘crunch’ in his mouth. Always. Every single time. He was a genius!

We tried our best to copy him. We practiced…and practiced. Each time the peanut would land on the ground and the only “crunch” you’d hear would be from Marshal our German Shepherd. Marshal did not wait around drooling when Uncle Shippa threw peanuts. He knew it was a waste of time.

Uncle Shippa died when he was well past 90. Till the end he remained a picture of health. He never saw a doctor and never saw the inside of a hospital. To top it all he died a wealthy man. Someone upstairs was looking out for him because just after my dad (the milch cow) passed away, Uncle Shippa received a whopping inheritance from a rich relative he never knew he had. This took care of ciggies, booze and socks till his dying day. And because he lived so frugally, there was plenty in his will for surprised relatives.

I asked him once  (he was already an old man by then) where he had learned to catch peanuts in the air.

He grinned at me with his shiny new dentures. “Why maiyya, I never threw the peanuts up at all!”

“What do you mean?” I said, puzzled.

“Well I pretended to throw the peanut and I pretended to catch it as it came down but I had the peanut in my mouth all along. You kids were too busy looking at the sky and the next thing you heard was the crunch in my mouth.”

Wow. He had hoodwinked me all along.

As a writer I am always tossing peanuts in the air. These peanuts are my stories. If I can make my reader believe I can catch them as they fall, I think I have done my job.

Cheers dear friends and here’s to good stories!


Talking about stories, here’s a little bit about my upcoming book “Teatime for the Firefly” (to be published by MIRA/HARLEQUIN)  You can read the synopsis and first chapter by CLICKING HERE. Please leave me a comment. Thank you!