Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mohana Rajakumar - HBS Author's Spotlight

Today our blog puts the Spotlight on award-winning Author Mohana Rajakumar. She is an author based in Qatar. She has a PhD and has been involved in various foundations supporting young writers.

Author Genre: Essays & non-fiction projects with young adults

Website: Mohadoha
Author's Blog: YouTube Channel - Mohana Rajakumar
Blog: Google +
Twitter: @moha_doha
Goodreads: Check Out Goodreads
LinkedIn: Check Out LinkedIn
Facebook: Check Out Facebook
Pinterest: Check Out Pinterest

Author Description: Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was fortuitous in many ways since this is where she met her husband, had a baby, and made the transition from writing as a hobby to a full time passion. Her work has been published in AudioFile Magazine, Explore Qatar, Woman Today, The Woman, Writers and Artists Yearbook, QatarClick, and Qatar Explorer. She has been a guest on Expat Radio, and was the host for two seasons of the Cover to Cover book show on Qatar Foundation Radio. She was the Associate Editor of Vox, a fashion and lifestyle magazine.

She has also published six e-books including a mom-ior for first time mothers, Mommy But Still Me, a guide for aspiring writers, So You Want to Sell a Million Copies, a short story collection, Coloured and Other Stories, and a novel about women’s friendships, Saving Peace. Most recently, From Dunes to Dior, is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf. Her second novel is set in Qatar which explores if this generation of people believe that Love Comes Later. Since she joined the e-book revolution, she dreams in plot lines.

Mohana has a PhD from the University of Florida with a focus on gender and postcolonial theory. Her dissertation project was published as Haram in the Harem (Peter Lang, 2009) a literary analysis of the works of three Muslim women authors in India, Algeria, and Pakistan. She is the creator and co-editor of five books in the Qatar Narratives series, as well as the Qatari Voices anthology which features essays by Qataris on modern life in Doha (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 2010). Her research has been published in numerous journals and anthologies. She was a winner of the She Writes We Love New Novelists competition.

Currently Mohana is working on a coming of age story about a South Indian girl growing up in the U.S. She writes because words can help us understand ourselves and others.

SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author

First things first. Do you have another book on the horizon? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease.

Yes, I’m very excited to have three books in the revision stage. One is a coming of age story about an immigrant teen growing up in the U.S. Another is historical fiction, set in the East Asian country of Laos, in 1969. And the one that may be ready next to release features an ensemble cast of characters, mostly women and the housemaids they employ, who are living in the Middle East.

Novel writing is tricky busy; revising is essential so I’ll leave you in a bit of suspense to see which one will be first out.

How does your cover development process work? Do you hand over the basic theme to anyone or do you follow more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

I have a few designers who I love to work with because their aesthetic is not stereotypical pulp fiction. They go for sensibility and more of an artistic framework which I feel reflects my content which is almost always dealing with culture, no matter which of my books I’m working on. I send the designer a brief, and sample chapters; he then comes back with mood board, suggested images, and typography for the title/author name.

I have done reader votes on covers in the past and they’ve been really helpful to figure out what is working in a cover and what could use refining.

What kinds of support groups do you belong too? Do they help with writing, marketing and the publishing process?

I am part of both the Independent Author Network and the World Literary Cafe as well as many other groups for writers –particularly indie ones – because there is a great strength in numbers. You not only have a wider network to showcase your own work, but you learn from the work of others.

Have you ever done an Internet book tour? If so, tell us some of the experiences you had.

Blog tours are essential when you are starting out to get word out about your book; they are also an excellent way to get reviews (which are impossible to squeeze out from the most avid reader, simply because there are so many good books out there).

I’ve done everything from review only tours to excerpt sharing (where people post your cover and an interview or snippet from the novel) and these help get your work in front of new readers.

How rewarding was it to work with the young authors in the Qatari Voices? Do you plan any other multi-author books?

I’ve done a lot of co-editing in the Qatar Narratives series which was a set of locally produced books, selections of which appear in Qatari Voices. I have co-edited four or so titles and if you can find the right creative partner, it can be a rewarding experience.

I love working with aspiring or new authors. The magic of writing comes back when you see how delighted someone is in a finished piece that touches the hearts of others– and also the excitement of having your work read for the first time.

Hopefully we have one more title planned in the QN series for the spring called Letters from Qatar.

We have had several authors highlighted on the Author’s Spotlight from outside the US. Where is your biggest audience? How is your audience abroad? Do you publish your books in other languages?

If you look at the statistics based on who is opening my newsletter, my audience is very wide spread between the U.S., Qatar, and also the UK. In terms of who is buying the books, since I’m presently mainly a Kindle author, the majority of rights and permissions are for U.S. based customers.

Qatari Voices has been translated into Arabic and I hope it’s the first of many.

Being an indie publisher, what was your biggest task in bringing your book to market? Do you outsource much of the process?

Editing is always the challenge. And yes, I always work with an external editor. Often I have two people I work with, a cultural advisor or someone who knows more about the people/place/customs that I’m writing about than I do and can give me a fresh perspective, as well as a content/copy editor.

Being self-published means you have more control over your content but it doesn’t mean you can skip any steps of the process that commercial publishers use like editing, design, or marketing because for the user, the reader, the end product has to be of the same quality.

What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in other types of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?

Free days on Amazon through the KDP program have been wonderful for me both because of the high rankings and therefore visibilty you gain. If you do a blog tour with a giveway, like a Kindle Fire, that also can get you many followers on various social media links. The challenge is always how to keep the momentum going after the giveway or free period ends. One simple way is through monthly newsletters where you update readers on what you’re up to. Since I have 6 eBooks, I try to rotate to have at least one freebie a month. You’d be amazed how little people remember about your work (even family) but they love those free days!

Author's Book List
Love Comes Later
Hind is granted a temporary reprieve from her impending marriage to Abdulla, her cousin. Little does anyone suspect that the presence of Sangita, her Indian roommate, may shake a carefully constructed future. Torn between loyalties to Hind and a growing attraction to Abdulla, Sangita must choose between friendship and a burgeoning love.

A modern quest for the right to pursue love and happiness, even when it comes in an unconventional package, LOVE COMES LATER explores similarities between the South Asian and Arab cultures while exposing how cultural expectations affect both men and women. Identities are tested and boundaries questioned against the shifting backdrops of Doha, Qatar and London, England.
Amazon Buy Page
Saving Peace
You go to college to meet your bridesmaids," or so the saying goes in North Carolina, on the campus of the all female Peace College. But what happens when the friends you thought you were making for life, betray you? The same ones you'd be in the retirement home with aren't speaking not ten years later?

The ups and downs of women's friendships are tested in SAVING PEACE. Thirty years intervene in the friendships begun at the all female Peace College.

Sib, the local news anchor with dreams of going national. Mary Beth, the capable, restless mother of three. Kim, the college president who admits male students.

SAVING PEACE is the story of promises made and broken, love found then lost, and redemption sought for the past. Three women. Two choices. One campus.

What if there's nothing worth saving?
Amazon Buy Page
Hip Hop Dance
The American Dance Floor
Rapping. Breakdancing. MCing. DJing. Beatboxing. Graffiti art. These are just some of the most well-known artistic expressions spawned from hip hop culture, which has grown from being an isolated inner-city subculture in the 1970s to being a truly international and mainstream culture that has taken root in countries as diverse as Japan, France, Israel, Poland, Brazil, South Korea, and England.

Stemming from its humble origin as a lifestyle of minority youth in New York City, hip hop dance is now a global phenomenon that has transcended ethnicity, nationality, and language. Today's hip hop culture is so popular and pervasive, the U.S. Department of State describes hip hop as "now the center of a megamusic and fashion industry around the world."

This insightful book provides not only an overview of hip hop's distinctive dance style and steps, but also a historic overview of hip hop's roots as an urban expression of being left out of the mainstream pop culture, clarifying the social context of hip hop culture before it became a widespread suburban phenomenon. Hip Hop Dance documents all the forms of street music that led to one of the most groundbreaking, expressive, and influential dance styles ever created.
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page
Mommy but Still Me
Imagine a man volunteering to trade in his game nights for heart burn and back ache. Good thing there are women around to ensure the survival of the species. This hilarious look at the journey from high heels to high blood pressure, as a jet setter turns into a bed wetter, is what your doctor won't tell you and your own mother may have forgotten in the years since she was blessed by your arrival.

At our first meeting my future father-in-law waited until we sat down in the Thai restaurant, the oblong menus placed in our hands and the waiter was a distance away, tending to other diners, before turning towards me, his eyes glowing. This was the first time we were all seeing each other after his son had proposed to me. "When will I get to hold my first grandchild?"

For my father-in-law and everyone else, I have a question of my own: When will any of you be satisfied?
Amazon Buy Page
So You Want to Sell a Million Copies?
You're trying to write a book; and you're not the next Shakespeare - not yet, anyway. You could be. But no one will ever know if you don't get those marvelous words out on the page (or screen). In easy to do, daily steps and exercises, Mohana breaks down the steps of getting started as a creative writer. From getting past writer's block (excuse of the weak!) to putting that blog to work (every body's got one), the tools of the trade are revealed.

If you've had a story idea in your head for a day, year, (or longer) that it doesn't seem to be writing itself, you may want to take a closer look at this book. Designed as a concise guide for aspiring writers, you'll find here the key principles of how to get started, keep going, and finish a manuscript, all told by a fellow accidental writer who took the long way developing a writer's formula.
Amazon Buy Page
Coloured and Other Stories
What's it like being the ant in the ice cream? The characters in this short story collection will show you; experience life as they know it as transplants from across the world into American suburbia.

Adapted from real life anecdotes both her own and those of others, Mohana takes us into the world of the South Asian immigrant living the American Dream. Think of her as a cultural translator for those who you may not notice otherwise, living in the margins of our cities.

"What are a few inches when you know he will provide for you the rest of your life," her mother would have said, smacking her in the cheek.

The sight of his feet, white, broad toes, and clean, short-clipped nails startled her. Americans normally wore their shoes everywhere; they had special shoes to wear inside their houses, shoes specifically for their bedrooms. BABY
Book Trailer: Coloured and Other Stories
Amazon Buy Page
Qatari Voices
Qatari Voices is the first anthology that represents 25 young creative Qatari authors. The anthology reflects concerns and aspirations of the young Qatari generation illustrated in essays and stories.

They are intimate glimpses of old reminiscence and longing to the simple past, as well as photos that show concerns of a challenging present and aspirations to the future. They also tackle sensitive issues such as arranged marriages and gender discrimination. Qatari Voices is a mirror of reality of the Qatari society from a young generation perspective.
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page
Haram in the Harem
Postcolonial Studies
Haram in the Harem focuses on the differences in nationalist discourse regarding women and the way female writers conceptualized the experience of women in three contexts: the middle-class Muslim reform movement, the Algerian Revolution, and the Partition of India. During each of these periods the subject of women, their behavior, bodies, and dress were discussed by male scholars, politicians, and revolutionaries.

The resonating theme amongst these disparate events is that women were believed to be best protected when they were ensconced within their homes and governed by their families, particularly male authority, whether they were fathers, brothers, or husbands. The threat to national identity was often linked to the preservation of womanly purity.

Yet for the writers of this study, Ismat Chughtai (19151991), Assia Djebar (1936), and Khadija Mastur (19271982), the danger to women was not in the public sphere but embedded within a domestic hierarchy enforced by male privilege. In their fictional texts, each writer shows how women resist, subvert, and challenge the normative behaviors prescribed in masculine discourse.

In their writings they highlight the different ways women negotiated private spaces between intersecting masculine hegemonies of power including colonialism and native patriarchy. They demonstrate distinct literary viewpoints of nation, home, and womens experiences at particular historical moments. The choice of these various texts reveals how fiction provided a safe space for female writers to contest traditional systems of power. Bringing into focus the voices and experiences of womenwho existed as limited cultural icons in the nationalist discourseis a common theme throughout the selected stories. This book showcases the fluidity of literature as a response to the intersections of gender, race, and nation.
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page
From Dunes to Dior
Called everything from the world's richest to fattest nation, Qatar has been on the breakneck path towards change for several decades. The capital city Doha, is where our family of three has lived since 2005.

FROM DUNES TO DIOR is not the stuff of newspaper headlines (they made their money from oil! Thirty years ago everyone was living in tents!) but real life stories about being a South Asian American who lives here (no, I don't have to cover my hair, and yes, I can drive).

I had no idea that living the life of my dreams (including a husband and precious baby) would coincide with the rapid development of one the smallest and safest countries in the world, an oasis of calm smack dab in the global hotspot of the Middle East.
Amazon Buy Page
Author Recommended by: HBSystems Publications
Publisher of ebooks, writing industry blogger and the sponsor of the HBS Author's Spotlight plus the blog: eBook Author’s Corner. Check out the index of other Spotlight authors. Spotlight Index.

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