I held my first-ever virtual book launch party on Facebook and it was not nearly as hard or scary as I had imagined. I guess that’s what happens when you have really nice friends and readers. One of my favorite parts was the Ask Me Anything. People asked great questions. So I’m posting the questions and my responses here.
Leaf: As an artist and writer how do you help yourself remember and stay confident that your unique voice is needed in the world? Are there special ways you remind yourself? Especially in times where you may have read a bad review or be feeling small. I think you are incredibly brave.
Rae: Wowzers. Well, I get a lot of kind people, like the people on this page, who say it means a lot to them. I focus on writing what I have always longed to read, and always being radically honest, because it has saved my life. And I do get bad reviews. With The Eve Tree, the reviews were about people not liking Molly. With my Journey Mama books, the reviews are about people not liking me. It has taught me more than anything that you can't please everyone, and I have a few tricks now. I always tell myself that it won't be for everyone, and prepare myself for fallout.
And when I get a particularly stinging review (one person called me "just a whiny, dysfunctional woman") I go and read one star reviews on the books l love most, just to remind myself that we all get them. I also like to make jokes or read my bad reviews aloud to my friends. ("This lady needed to grow up!")
I think the thing about being honest is that I can easily say, sure, I am a bit whiny, or I was when I was 25, which was when Trees Tall as Mountains was written. And I am totally dysfunctional, but I am beloved, and so are all my readers. People react to things that trigger them. I also have sweet friends in my life who are very, very kind. And because of my blog, I have more kindness in my life than meanness.
Norah: How do you get the courage to move across the world? Did you know any of the languages before you went?
Rae: Chinua and I had fallen in love with India before we got married, and always thought we wanted to move there. Finally, seven years after we originally thought we would go, we went, but it was after a lot of thought and prayer. We had loads of courage before we went, and were perhaps blissfully unaware of what it actually meant to move across the world with three kids at seven months pregnant! We didn't ever learn a language in India- the language used in Goa is Konkani and I speak only a few words of that and Hindi. And we learned Thai after moving here, which has been super fun. It's kind of like having the courage to become a parent- you might not do it if you really knew the courage it would take in advance.
Jacob: What's the homeschool scene like in Thailand? Do Thais embrace it? Is it common there?
Rae: Not at all common. We have Thai friends who homeschool- most of them are in mixed marriages... I think it is becoming more common, but traditional Thai culture is more conformist in their approach to school. Our little bitty homeschool co-op is gaining momentum, though, and there are many like-minded people in Pai who are embracing creative schooling.
Ami: I would love to hear a bit about your writing process. Do you have an entire story in your head when you sit down to write? Do you know where it will end? Or is that all part of the journey ? ;)
Rae: I'm changing the way I write lately, because the way I was writing before took SO many revisions and I would often start the book three times over before I got to what I wanted it to be.
So TRAVELER'S GUIDE was the old way. I had a seed of an idea, which actually came to me from real life, a friend of mine alone with his baby after his partner died in childbirth. And that sprung a whole story in my mind. But one of the main characters sort of sprang into being from nowhere, halfway through the book. So I rewrote it to include her.
I'm writing a new series now (the first book should be out in about three months!) and now I dream about the whole thing, plot it out, and still leave room for those surprises, but I mostly know what is going to happen. It makes it easier, to have a grasp of where the book is going, rather than following a nearly invisible trail. I love both ways, one just takes longer and more revisions than the other. And the imagining is the same, but one takes place as the words are being written, and one before.
Ami: Also just plain curious about your lifestyle. I see glimpses of your kitchen or living areas in photos occasionally but would love to see more . I love thinking about how people love so differently from each other around the world. What do you think you would miss if you came back to live in the states?
Rae: Mmm. Our lifestyle feels so normal to me now that I only notice the differences when I come back. We don't own a sofa- we sit on the floor a lot, at Shekina Garden and at home... I do like sofas. We have an outdoor kitchen, which you've probably seen. :)
The interesting thing about that is that people are often around when I'm cooking, passing on the street, asking if we are a guesthouse, or looking for a specific guesthouse, taking pictures of our dog or children. :)
As for what I would miss... everything, I think. We don't have a car, we have a motorbike with a sidecar. We walk and ride bicycles a lot. I take motorbike rides when I want to be inspired. I would miss those things. I would miss neighbors walking by and saying hello, or giving us bunches of bananas. I would miss Thai lanterns.
I would miss outdoor markets and soooo much fruit. In America and Canada, sometimes the cheaper the store, the bigger it is. Here small is also cheap. I would miss shopping in small, non-overwhelming stores. I would miss practically living outside.
But here I miss family and friends who are back in North America. I miss easily accessible art supplies. I miss places where the outdoors doesn't always want to eat you.
Jacob: When and where do you get the most inspiration for your writing/art? Also are any of the kids into writing?
Rae: I get a lot of inspiration from real life stories. Both The Eve Tree and Traveler's Guide came from a spark of a real life story. I also take all the things I see and hear and think about, and stick them in my books. So if you talk to me, you might hear a lot of things that you've read in my books because I forget that I've written them. :)
Now I'm writing fantasy and that gives me all the permission I need to let my imagination go wild! I have a lot of trouble with too many ideas and not enough time, never not enough ideas. Kenya and Leafy are both writing books and Kenya's comic books are something from out of this world. She's going to be amazing.
Heather: What has been the biggest factor in your life that has made you who you are today?
Rae: Good question: There certainly isn't one, so I'll have to list them:
1. My struggle with anxiety- this effects everything about my life, but it changed me because it caused me to be radically honest, which determined all of this- the blog, the writing. It also really effects the way I see the world. I feel a lot of compassion for people with struggles of the mind.
2. Meditation and devotional spirituality. Meditating on the word of God has changed me completely.
3. Mothering. Enough said.
4. Travel. I have traveled in many ways since I was eighteen. The world is a very big place with many, many different ways of doing things. I have traveled to another culture even in my marriage, in my friendships. I think when you continually cross bridges to reach others, you can't really be set in your ways.
Steph: I've just read the three "Trees" books (found the first one free randomly for my kindle) and haven't read any of your fiction yet, but it's a possibility! I was drawn by the way you describe spirituality and your connection with God. My question...how much of that is there in Traveler's Guide? How close is the character's voice/tone to your own? Thank you :)
Rae: What an interesting question! I think people who know me would find a lot of my voice in Traveler's Guide. There is also a bit about Spirituality in it, in the character's own journeys. But it's certainly a novel, very much a made up story about people who are being challenged and how they work with it.
Jennifer: My question is - do you have a favorite author or a favorite book? Or if you are like me and favorites change a lot, maybe just give us a title or two that have really touched you lately?
Rae: I really like all of Anne Tyler's books, especially Back When We Were Grownups. I'm a crazy Harry Potter fan. I really liked Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple, and The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel was very beautiful.
Rebeca: What are some of your favorite books set in India?
Rae: I love Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh, Oleander Girl, which is more modern, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, (anything by Jhumpa Lahiri) and of course The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Karma Cola by Gita Mehta is also pretty cool.
Jennifer: How did you find time to write a book with 5 kids? (that sounds like the kids wrote it with you, but I think you know what I mean?)
Rae: I have also written another book, coming out in March, and am halfway through the second book of that series. Here's what I realized when I was frustrated, wanting to write but with what I felt was very little time: even authors often give themselves a couple hours a day. So I realized that slowly, slowly I could write a book, if I could find an hour or two a day.
With practice, I have gotten much faster. I never wait until I feel inspired. I wake up before everyone else, often at 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning. I make coffee and write for an hour and a half. Right now I can write 3000 words in that amount of time... this is with practice and plotting. I set my mindset as one of a monk, rather than a diva. I go to bed early and I don't watch TV or movies very often. It's what I want to do; to make a body of work, so I work life around that. I also have a husband who has a flexible enough life that he can give me a writing day every week- but I find that so many other things creep into that day that most of my work gets done first thing in the morning at my desk.
Kelli: "To make a body of work". What a great goal. Can you say more about this goal and how you came to want it?
Rae: Mmm, I think I got the idea from Madeleine L'Engle's book Walking on Water. She writes about the artist's service to the world being to create a body of work, and that really struck me. It takes the emphasis off the celebrity status of any one work of art or book, too. It's about them all, together, collectively, and what they have to say to the world.
Gunda: What have you gained from living life in India and Thailand, for you and your family? I know you could write a book on this subject alone.
Rae: Oh my. I think the question might be, what have we not gained? I am very, very thankful for every moment that we have been able to live in Asia. I have gained the ability to do without, to be creative in raising kids because none of what I am used to is available. That was certainly true in India. I have gained an intense love for these places, and the beauty of acceptance, when people accept me even though I am different. I do well in traditional cultures because there is more of a script- a way of greeting and being- and that calms my anxious brain. :)
I have gained an understanding of food, and the ability to make nearly anything from scratch because it is my only option (or the only affordable option). I have gained a language, here in Thailand. India has given me beauty beyond belief in my heart. I think of traveling in Kerala with Leaf, blown away by the food and the color and beauty. I have learned to live where I am an alien in a way, and that gives me understanding of what it is like to be an immigrant to Canada or America.
Gunda: I am sure you are very thankful for raising your children in these cultures because of the riches and love they hold, but is there anything in particular that you believe has or might help them in their future lives?
Rae: Absolutely. I can see it in them already. The ability to be flexible, to be friendly to strangers, to welcome people in and figure out how to say something in another language, to be a bit of a spectacle and learn how to handle it. To go without. The older ones are already joining us as adults, helping people find their way around, sharing in circles. This is partly from growing up in community and partly from growing up in Asia. They will never be "normal," but they will know how to be global and how to deal with their differences.
Leaf: What were three of your favourite 'quirks' about India? And what are three of your favourite quirks about Thailand?
Rae: Just three? Ha ha. Okay-
India: 1. People brushing their teeth outside in the morning with more toothpaste than you can imagine, or brushing their tongues on the train with tongue cleaner. 2. Old men gesturing away on the back of a motorbike though no one can see their hands-can't talk without those flowing gestures. 3. Random parades or painted animals or things that are completely unexpected.
Thailand: 1. The electrician drove up on his motorbike yesterday with a nine foot aluminum ladder under one arm. 2. Monks with orange ipads. 3. The handsome cop who sings Thai love songs at the end of my street.