Monday, 9 February 2009

The house on Winding Creek Road

I went to Sacramento this weekend, for a reading hosted by Sobha Aunty, aka Dr. Sobha Kollipara. She managed to get a good crowd into her living room--some Aunties, some Uncles and some people I'd never seen before. There was a lot of love, and I'm taking all that I can get. I have a feeling I'll need a good supply of it soon.

So, for those of you who don't know, The Prayer Room takes place in my childhood home in Sacramento--in as much as a fictional novel can take place in a real-world physical space. I hadn't been back there for four years, not since I left it, tearfully, a few days after my wedding. (The tears, by the way, surprised me. My parents' house was always the boring place, the place that kept me from Berkeley, Baltimore, or wherever else I wanted to be.) I was glad to see that the new owners hadn't changed the place much, at least not on the outside. It's a shame to see houses get knocked to the ground upon purchase.

The mission: to get a copy of my book into the hands of the house's new owners. They own the setting of my novel; I think they're entitled to a paperback, at least.

When I arrived, there were probably 20 SUV's parked in the driveway. I rang the doorbell. Within seconds I stood in a throng of guests, at the epicenter of a baby shower for someone I'd never met. I'd brought my own baby, so I didn't stand out too badly, and for a second I toyed with the idea of sitting down in my living room for a glass of sparkling punch and a chat. But I'm terrible at that sort of thing--at sneaking in places, using fake ID's, pretending to belong when I don't--I always get found out.

A few people smiled quizzically at me, trying not to be rude, until I finally got hold of the owner. We had a nice conversation, during which I was almost overwhelmed by his kindness, his ease at having me in his home. The book was handed over, and I got out of there. It seems I didn't want to be in my old house, after all. The place felt smaller than I remembered, like the corridors and the desks do when you go back to your old elementary school. It was bursting with another person's life--and furniture--and there didn't seem to be much room for me anymore.

I still dream in that house, the way you dream in English even after you've moved to France. I guess a part of me will always remain there. I'm sort of a living ghost; I lounge in the window seat of my old bedroom, I sit at the kitchen table, I dip my feet in the pool. Nobody knows I'm there, and if they did, there wouldn't be much they could do about it.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Ladies who launch.

A big thank you to all who showed up at the book launch/first reading of The Prayer Room last night! I read a little, or perhaps a lot, but hopefully not too much. I signed some books, realizing that I should have thought about what to write beforehand. I ended up writing 'Enjoy!' which, frankly, is something you write on the can of almonds you give to your dentist at Christmas. I wrote a few other things that were slightly less eloquent. The signature was good, though. At least the signature was good.

In retrospect, the evening managed to break itself into scattered memories. It's the sort of thing that happens to parties: a seemingly cohesive evening ends up in a pile of moments, broken into puzzle pieces that never quite click together, try as we might to comb back through them the next morning at breakfast. 'Remember how...' 'At some point, you were...' 'Was that you?'
Here are a few highlights:
Top 5 scattered memories:
1. Arrival: Walking past the window of Book Passage, only to catch a glimpse of my book in the window...It wagged its tail and panted. I didn't know how I'd feel seeing my book in print at last. I think I still don't know. Generally, happy. And specifically, happy. I didn't cry like I thought I might. I was a little scared of it, actually. I don't know why.

2. The free cookie I got from the Book Passage cafe. I'd brought an asiago bagel with me, but decided I didn't want the cheese breath. I suppose I had peanut butter and chocolate breath, but that's better, isn't it?

3. Seeing Pat Walsh barrel through the door with a case of wine in his arms.

4. Discovering, before the reading began, the gap in the stage that I would surely have caught my heel in and tripped over.

5. Hiding behind the huge flower arrangement while Dana the events man introduced me.

6. The bright red corduroys.

So big deal that was six. And of course there was more, the friends, the clapping, the general warm feeling, but I don't want to get into the mushy stuff, at least not in blog form. Instead I will do an interpretation in shadow puppetry.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Welcome to my world. Please share your paintbrushes.

Writers are a lot like small children. We make things, we hold them up to the world and we say, 'Look what I did.' Look at my acutely observed sketch of the man and the house, look at my 3-D Peter Rabbit diorama, look at this fingerpainting, frantic and green. In response, we hope, the world says 'Brilliant.' You are a brilliant dioramist, fingerpainter, student of the stick figure. Sometimes, the world is negligent and looks past us to catch the last few minutes of whatever flashes on the television screen. Other times, the world is just plain mean.

And so, it is with total vulnerability that I present my first full-length published work. It's something between a self-portrait and a crazy construction paper hand-print turkey.

It's called The Prayer Room and it is a novel, as the jacket helpfully points out. People have said some nice things about it, and I'm guessing that someone out there will say something mean. I encourage you to make up your own mind. You can read an excerpt here:

Or buy a copy here (available as of February 7, 2009):

Readings in the Bay Area:

1. February 4

Book Passage

Corte Madera, Marin

7 pm

2. February 11

Books, Inc.

Opera Plaza

San Francisco

7 pm

3. February 25

Pegasus Fine Books

Shattuck Avenue

Downtown Berkeley

7:30 pm

Praise for The Prayer Room

“A perfect debut novel, ambitious and original. With a sweeping array of emotions and uncanny writing skills, Shanthi Sekaran leaps to the forefront of her literary generation. The novel is funny, interesting, intelligent, and heartbreaking. It goes way beyond any parochial limitations to become universal. If she can do all this in her first novel, just imagine what she can do in the future.”
--Stephen Dixon, critically-acclaimed author of I and Old Friends

I have just, very happily, surrendered most of a weekend to the rich pleasures of THE PRAYER ROOM. Like many of my favorite novels, it follows the history of an ordinary yet very particular family, spinning out the secrets and strivings, the follies and nobilities, of adults and children alike. I return to these stories again and again because they are the ones about the most important decisions we make from the heart. THE PRAYER ROOM is sure to be compared, justifiably and favorably, with THE NAMESAKE, but Shanthi Sekaran has a voice all her own, and it is delightful.
--Julia Glass, winner of the National Book Award and author of Three Junes

Shanthi Sekaran’s The Prayer Room adds yet another indispensable layer to the continually evolving Great American Immigrant Narrative. A novel equals parts Californian, British, and Indian, Sekaran gracefully weaves us in and out of the rises, falls, epiphanies, and frustrations of grandfathers, children, sisters, aunts, neighbors, lovers, and ghosts even with just the right balance of ardent empathy and perspicacious investigation. From the beaches of Kerala to the suburbs of Sacramento, from the antics of young triplets to the gravity of ancient deities, The Prayer Room’s many universes create a timeless tragicomic tapestry of truly international, multicultural, and multigenerational import.
--Porochista Khakpour, author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects

Fans of Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro, and James Salter, rejoice. THE PRAYER ROOM--a love story that spans decades--is full of sentences to savor. Sekaran's characters are complex and fascinating, and the worlds they inhabit--from Madras to Sacramento--are richly drawn. I loved this book.
-- Amanda Eyre Ward, author of How to be Lost and Forgive Me