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WOTD: Blog Tour (with Padma Venkatraman)

Today's word of the day is Blog Tour, a fun and sociable book promotion that allows organized folks like Padma to become virtual train engineers while less organized bloggers like me play at virtual stationmasters.

I wasn't organized or motivated enough to do a blog tour for my book even though book tours are so cool and trendy, but I'm honored that Padma Venkatraman has asked me to host a stop on her magical mystery tour for CLIMBING THE STAIRS, which was just released by Penguin-Putnam to amazing reviews.

Padma thought my blog would be a great place to talk about taking advantage of one's multiple interests and talents in creating a book. In addition to writing, I do boring stuff like designing websites or practicing law--while Padma steers her self-described "schizophrenia" in more interesting and unusual directions like oceanography. Dude!

Padma says:

Are you slightly schizophrenic? Do you suffer from mild or not so mild attention deficit disorder?

A colleague who’d gone to grad school told me he’d read a book that said all scientists suffer from ADD to some degree or another. I have no idea who wrote that book, but this is true for me. Here’s how I try to make it work for me.

I hope my editor isn’t reading this post, because I’m going to confess that I hardly ever work on just one manuscript at a time. I usually have 15 billion ideas floating around, and I just write whatever I feel like writing each day. And somehow along the way, manuscripts get completed – some sooner than others.

Of course, there are times when I feel that a character is breathing down my neck, telling me to write his/her story, and then I buckle down and complete it in a flash of inspiration. Well, if flashes can last a few months, that is.

To show you precisely how schizophrenic I can be, I’ll jump now onto the multiple lives I lead, rather than delving into the multiple manuscripts I’m juggling in my brain at the moment.

As you know, Greg, my training is in oceanography. NOT Marine biology. I repeat, I yell, NOT MARINE BIOLOGY. It is amazing how people jump to the conclusion that all oceanographers are biologists. I am not and never have been a biologist, because I am not good at chopping up fish and things. My specialization is in physical chemistry – so even in my science, I am schizophrenic. I did my post-doc in an engineering department because environmental engineering is part of my field – so hopefully that show you how un-biological I am.

Why did I become an oceanographer? Because traveling across the ocean on a ship is one of the most wonderful experiences in the world.

My first research expedition occurred more than a decade ago. Well over a decade ago. I’m not going to say precisely how long ago. It was the eve of my 21st birthday. I had spent all day deploying various instruments into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, off the coast of Virginia, in the United States.

At the end of my first day at sea, I was incredibly tired. It had begun to rain and it had darkened early. I was cold, wet and miserable. I was too tired to notice how cramped my tiny cabin was as I lowered myself into my bunk bed.

I was nearly tossed out of bed early that morning, by waves that were rocking the boat as though it were a toy. Minutes later I was clambering out onto the cold wet deck, pulling on my bright red life jacket, hanging onto the rail and retching.

“Sea-sickness isn’t a true illness, just your brain being confused by clashing signals. And happy birthday, by the way,” an experienced colleague called out. I was anything but grateful at being told that I was not experiencing a “true illness” and anything but graceful that day as I spilled the contents of my stomach on the heaving sea surface.

That night, as others on the research vessel celebrated my birthday, I crawled into my bed without supper and tried to fall asleep. The waves were calmer now, but I had had to try and work in spite of my sea-sickness. I was feeling miserable. Why had I ever wanted to study the ocean?

Early the next morning, I awoke. My sea-sickness had magically subsided. I peeped out through the porthole. The first pale pink streaks had started to spread themselves across the sky. I pulled on a warm float coat and stepped cautiously onto the deck.

The sun rose out of the blue water with a magnificence unmatched by any sunrise I had ever seen on land. For miles around, there was no sight of land. It was quiet except for the gentle lapping of the waves on the hull. I stood there transfixed and silent. When the sun had finally lifted itself above the water surface, I noticed that the captain was standing next to me.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” he asked. “Can you believe it is the same sea that we saw yesterday?”

I didn’t answer. I nodded instead. Between us there was suddenly a shared bond. A love for the sea, its vastness, it blue monotony, it restlessness, its varying moods. I knew then that I had chosen the right area of research. What other scientist would be able to see such beauty, and be paid to take voyages across the oceans? How many others had the unique experience of being miles and miles away from civilization, surrounded on all sides by water?

This enforced aloneness was a type of meditation.

Five years later, I was shouldering the responsibility of being chief scientist on a research vessel, measuring pollution in the Baltic Sea, coordinating teams of ocean physicists and chemists such as myself, and marine geologists and marine biologists. I was the only woman, the only non-native German, the only person under six feet tall, and the one in charge of the vessel, supervising all the scientific activities. Yes, I had come a long way.

So why did I give that up? Well, I haven’t given it up entirely, but other things took over. My book of short stories for the middle grades (The Forbidden Temple, published in India), was going into second edition and being translated into different languages. Rather a good thing. And I began to see that writing was something I loved even more than the ocean, and I began to shift gears, so I could write my novel, CLIMBING THE STAIRS.

And, I’m jolly glad I did, too. Because I love CLIMBING THE STAIRS – the book, every aspect of the book, even the title, which I feel passionate about (and am so glad that Penguin-Putnam decided to retain) because it’s a metaphor for my life…I feel like I’m always climbing the stairs, and I enjoy it!

A lot of people ask me how I manage to juggle all that I do. I still teach and work part-time at the university, in addition to writing. I think the key is that I am really passionate about all that I do. If you’re passionate about something, time warps in a magically way and allows you to do what you want.

For the most part, anyway…

At least, I’m hoping it will because over the next few days, I have a lot left to do. Finish my blog tour, for one thing…

Thanks, Padma!

What I really wanted to know was how to get anything done at all with a little baby in the house, especially a super-cute baby like hers, but it looks like she covered that on a previous stop.

Here's Padma's Blog Tour itinerary:

  1. Thursday, May 22nd. Overview of the book and the different themes in the book, questions/issues of current and historical relevance raised in CLIMBING THE STAIRS, and information about writing and publishing at http://www.saffrontree.org/
  2. Friday, May 23rd. Exploring issues of faith, culture and colonization in CLIMBING THE STAIRS; Gandhi and Martin Luther King at Olugbemisola Perkovich’s blog http://olugbemisola.livejournal.com/ (author of Eight Grade Superzero, coming in 2009).
  3. Saturday, May 24th. Travel, living in different Indian cities and different countries, how this has influenced my writing at http://blogpourri.blogspot.com/
  4. Sunday, May 25th. Being a writing mom, finding time to write, parenthood and writing at http://desimomzclub.blogspot.com/
  5. Monday, May 26th. Where were the British colonies during WWII? A few funky facts I unearthed while doing background research for CLIMBING THE STAIRS at author Laura Purdie Salas’s blog. http://laurasalas.livejournal.com/
  6. Tuesday, May 27th. CLIMBING THE STAIRS. The process of writing the novel, weaving together the different threads. http://the5randoms.wordpress.com/
  7. Wednesday, May 28th. Oceanography, research and CLIMBING THE STAIRS. Making my schizophrenia work to my advantage. My (at least two) personalities. What it’s like to spend your 21st birthday on a research vessel at author Greg Fishbone’s blog. http://tem2.livejournal.com/
  8. Thursday, May 29th. What exactly is that dot on the forehead all about? Arranged marriages, Women in India in the 1940’s, Indian marriages today, gender equality issues in CLIMBING THE STAIRS, anything else you ever wanted to know about India at author Carrie Jones’s blog. http://carriejones.livejournal.com/
  9. Friday, May 30th. The grand finale. Moving to America, Becoming an American, Multicultural writing at author Mitali Perkins’s blog. http://www.mitaliblog.com/


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 28th, 2008 03:44 pm (UTC)
Baby in the house
Thanks for hosting me, Greg! That means a lot to me! Truly.
How do I do anything with a baby in the house? Here's a short answer. I/we do nothing in the house, around the house or to the house. Luckily, our house is still standing and we have incredibly patient neighbors (or maybe it's just that the baby's cuteness makes up for our sloppiness and non-green lawn)...I'm thinking of saying our "lawn" is a "wildflower" garden...
May. 29th, 2008 06:23 am (UTC)
Padma -

I've been quietly following you on your blog tour. Such delightful articles and interviews...You've given your readers so many things to think about in the last one week aside from a fabulously written book. Absolutely enjoyed reading your exquisitely written essays/interviews!

Thanks, Padma!
May. 29th, 2008 12:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! I'm glad you're enjoying the blogs!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )