Just Having Written

An admired poet and writing teacher, Bob Hass, once told me, "It's hell writing and it's hell not writing. The only happy state is just having written."

Over the years, I've come to experience the truth of the statement. If you're a writer, you have to write. But writing can be hard. The days when inspired beauty flows straight from the brain of God via your computer into the world are few. The rest of the time, it's a lot of staring at the blank screen, or writing a sentence only to delete it, or trying to get into the head of a character who persists in remaining opaque.

Today, though, I'm in a happy state, having completed and turned in to my publisher Simon and Schuster a novel-in-stories. It's about 3 generations of Bengali women, grandmother, mother and daughter, whose lives span two continents (I'll let you guess which two). It's also about the men who love, betray and transform them.  This was a new form for me to work in. Very exciting. Very challenging. I fell in love with it after reading books like Louise Erdritch's Love Medicine, Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, and Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. 

We're still working on the title. Possible contenders will soon be posted for a reader poll on my FB page, so please check https://www.facebook.com/chitradivakaruni in a couple weeks.

To celebrate this euphoric state of just having written, I decided to cook. (While I write, my patient, long-suffering husband mostly gets to eat steamed broccoli. On good days I make khichuri, a one-pot wonder containing rice, lentils, an assortment of whatever vegetables are in the frig, and spices. It tastes pretty good--but maybe less so after you've been eating it for a month).

So, here's what I made: Bengali-style Stir-fried Zucchini


Preparation & cooking: 20 minutes

Ingredients: 2  zucchinis, halved lengthways and sliced thin
 vegetable oil for frying
1 and 1/2 tsp of panch phoran, a five-spice mix popular in Bengali cooking, or less to taste

[if there's no Indian store nearby, you can mix your own in this manner:

1/2 tsp cumin seed
1/4 tsp nigella seed
1/4 tsp fennel seed
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
small pinch fenugreek seed (caution: it has a bitter taste)]

2 whole dried chilies
 red chili powder to taste--I use 1/4 spoon
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
a pinch of sugar, or more to taste

Heat oil in a frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the panch phoran and whole chilies. When they sputter, add the zucchini pieces and stir for a few minutes. Add the turmeric and red chili powder.Let the zucchini brown a little. Add salt. Lower heat to medium and cover. Stir it every couple of minutes.  When the zucchini is cooked but not mushy, remove cover and make sure the liquid gets absorbed and the zucchini gets golden brown. Stir in the sugar. Remove from heat.

Serve with hot rice and lentils.

Let me know if you liked this.




The Importance of Attending Writers Conferences

I just got back from the 14th San Francisco Writers Conference, where I was invited as a keynote speaker by the wonderful organizers, Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen. It was such a great experience that I wanted to share some thoughts about it.

I hadn’t been to a writer’s conference in a while. Partly because I was busy. Partly because I felt that now that I had published over a dozen books, I knew the basics of the business and needed only to focus on writing and touring. And partly because crowds make me nervous.

 At the San Francisco Writers Conference with presenter Terry LeYung-Ryan and organizers Richard and Barbara Santos

At the San Francisco Writers Conference with presenter Terry LeYung-Ryan and organizers Richard and Barbara Santos

I hyperventilated a bit when I stood up to give my speech in the banquet hall that held over 500 people. But as I started talking about my journey as a writer and sharing writing and marketing tips that had been helpful to me in my career, I was struck by the wave of positive energy in the room. It was so wonderful to be with so many people who loved writing, all of us hoping to get better at what we do and find more effective ways to share our books with readers, and hopefully make a decent living at it. It made me realize how lonely the job of a writer is, and how important it is for us to connect with a community of like-minded people and inspire each other.

The San Francisco Writers Conference is a particularly wonderful one to attend. The location—the historic Mark Hopkins hotel on Nob Hill, with its fabulous views—is gorgeous. There’s a stellar cast of presenters, editors, agents and publicists. They have an excellent track record of past attendees who have gone on to publish successfully. And most of all, the organizers are extremely friendly and helpful and will make you feel right at home. They even arrange networking dinner excursions every night, with affable board member Harvey Pawl as guide, to delicious neighborhood restaurants known only to locals. Here’s a link, if you want to give them a try--but don't delay too much. They are extremely popular and sell out well ahead of time. https://sfwriters.org/