Writing Prompt: Star-Crossed Lovers

The admin in one of my Facebook groups recently posted a writing prompt on star-crossed lovers. I’m not always big on prompts because if it doesn’t speak to me I don’t want to force it. But this prompt just so happened to come on the day that I revisited Tahoe’s Moon, which I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.

I read through the last few pages before I picked up where I’d left off, and realized that my main characters fit the star-crossed lovers mold better than I’d previously considered. I’ve never been much of a fan of that phrase, because it reminds me of Romeo and Juliet. I hate Romeo and Juliet.

But I guess I wrote some star-crossed lovers into my novel anyway. Go figure.

Of course, the book is about much more than romance. But for the sake of this writing prompt, I’ve decided to share an excerpt that will give a glimpse of the difficulties Tahoe and Jonathan face in their relationship.

 

 

Once everyone’s plates were empty, I figured there was no longer a reason to wait. “Can I open my present now?” I asked.

They all agreed that it was a fine time, and I pulled the gift bag out. I ripped out the tissue paper and reached inside to pull out… a tee-shirt? I unfolded it and saw the words “Nevada Wolf Pack” across the back of the shirt. It was an oddly average present, especially after the thoughtfulness he put into the last gift he gave me.

I looked up at Jonathan, confused, and saw my parents’ expressions across the table. Bapuji looked shocked, and Biji had her quiet rage face on. What could have possibly caused them to look that way? I turned to Jonathan for explanation, but he was staring at my parents, fear creeping into his eyes.

Although Biji was looking at Jonathan, Bapuji had his eyes on the tee-shirt I was still holding. I turned it around so I could see the front… and my stomach dropped. That’s why my parents looked so upset.

On the front of the tee-shirt was the fierce-looking wolf that was on most UNR paraphernalia. But that was not the problem. The problem was the words circling the image: “Raised by wolves.”

Shit.

“Tahoe,” Biji said quietly, “would you care to explain?”

“Well, see, Jonathan and I are UNR students, and that’s where we met, and UNR’s mascot is the Wolf Pack, so—”

“Tahoe.” This time, Biji used her Mukhiya voice. It was no use trying to laugh this off.

“I told him.”

How could you?” Biji switched the conversation over to Hindi so that Jonathan could not understand what we said.

I’m sorry,” I responded, in Hindi as well. “I didn’t think you’d understand. I had to be honest with him. And he took it really well, like I knew he would.” Not exactly true. I’d hoped he would take it well, but I had not known what to expect.

If you had come to me first, if I had met him first, I could have given you permission to bring the matter before the Jhund.”

You know how they are. It would have been mob mentality. They would not have trusted him.

It should have been the decision of the entire Jhund, not one young girl. And clearly, they would have been right not to trust him. Look, already he would have you wear your secret on your chest for all to see.” Biji gestured at Jonathan as she said this, and he flinched.

Up until now, he’d been silently watching the exchange like a tennis match. His head turned back and forth rapidly, eyes wide.

“I’m sorry,” he said, noticing the pause in our argument. “I just thought it was funny. I didn’t mean to cause a problem. Tahoe, I just wanted you to know that it doesn’t bother me that you turn into a wolf.”

“Doesn’t bother you?” Biji was outraged. “Why should it bother you? It is a gift. You should love Tahoe because she is Santaan Raksha, not despite of it.”

Jonathan looked terrified now. “That’s not what I meant. I do love her because of who she is. I just— She was worried— When she showed me, she was worried that I’d—”

“You showed him?” Biji stood up out of her chair.

“He would’ve thought I was crazy otherwise…”

Do the traditions of the Jhund mean nothing to you?” Biji had switched back to Hindi.

“Rajnisha,” Bapuji said. “May I?”

Biji turned to him, as though surprised to find him sitting next to her. She gave a tight nod, her lips pursed thin.

“Jonathan,” Bapuji addressed my boyfriend softly from across the table, “I remember being in your place, years ago. It is scary at first.”

 “Harshad.” Biji turned her anger to Bapuji.

“It is, Nisha. I thought I was going to pass out the first time I saw you Change.”

“It is not scary. It is a gift.”

I nodded.

“It is a gift,” Bapuji said. “But to someone who has never seen such a gift before, it is terrifying.” He turned to Jonathan again. “I understand. But Tahoe and Rajnisha don’t. This is all they’ve ever known. When Tahoe started school, we had to teach her that her wolf form was a secret. She did not realize that other little girls could not turn into wolves.”

I smiled. I remembered my parents breaking that news to me. I’d felt so sorry for all the other little girls who would never know what it was to run through the trees under Shashi’s light.

“So I understand,” Bapuji continued, “that your present for Tahoe was well-meant. But we need you to try to see this from our perspective too. Like I said, this is all Tahoe and Rajnisha have ever known. Just like seeing Tahoe Change was scary for you, seeing our way of life threatened scares Rajnisha.”

“Bapuji,” I said, “you know what it was like to see the Change for the first time when it was the entire Jhund Changing at once. I just wanted to ease Jonathan into it.”

“If the you believe the tradition is flawed, you should have spoken to your biji about it. You should have spoken to your Mukhiya about it.”

Biji added, “You had no right to go behind our backs.”

“I’m sorry. I was just trying to make the news easier for him to swallow.”

“As for the shirt,” Biji went on, “I suppose Harshad is right – it seems to have been well-meant.” Her voice had a grudging tone. “But you cannot wear it, Tahoe. We cannot risk our secret getting out.”

Biji, no one’s going to think of it that way. Lots of UNR students wear shirts like these. Anyone outside of the Jhund who sees it… the last thing they’ll think is that I was literally raised by wolves. No one in their right mind would jump to a conclusion like that.”

“It doesn’t matter what the likelihood is. Any possibility of exposing the Jhund is out of the question.”

End of discussion.

“Tahoe’s Moon” Synopsis

In the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo 2014, I did a lot of research and pre-writing. But one thing I did not do was write a synopsis, despite the fact that I am aware of how beneficial it can be to write a novel’s synopsis before writing the novel itself.

Well, I’m still not quite done with Tahoe’s Moon, so I’m going to write its synopsis now, before the finished novel has too many details rattling around in my brain. Better late than never, right?

 

Tahoe Shailaja Kapoor is not a werewolf.

strength of the pack
Okay yeah, she and her family do change into wolves fairly frequently. And no, they never spend a night under the Full Moon without running through the woods on four furry legs. But they are not werewolves. Tahoe and her family are Santaan Raksha – the descendants of Mukta, who was adopted by wolves in India centuries ago. And Tahoe loves nothing more than the freedom she feels when racing through the mountain forest in her true form as a wolf.

Unfortunately, Tahoe’s boyfriend Jonathan fails to see the beauty of being Santaan, and her parents don’t exactly appreciate the fact that Tahoe revealed their secret without the approval of the Bherdiyon ka Jhund, the wolf pack. Tahoe finds herself torn not just between her boyfriend and her parents, but between the two conflicting sides of her own identity: human and wolf.

But making amends is the least of her worries when a student is found dead on Tahoe’s college campus, and her best friend starts to show the same mysterious symptoms the other student had before being killed. It turns out, Mukta left some unfinished business with a tiger who believed himself to be king of the jungle.Jungle Book

Now he’s returned to take revenge on Mukta’s descendants, and he’s leaving a trail of dead bodies on his way to them. 

 

 

 
 

Even though I’ve only written maybe three-quarters of the novel so far, I already have a few too many details distracting me from writing an overarching synopsis. But I think this is a good place to start. I’ll probably edit it plenty from here on!

In the meantime, what do you think?

If you’re a reader (as everyone should be), does the story sound intriguing? Original? Entertaining? What kinds of expectations would you have for this novel? And, most importantly, do you want to read it?

If you’re a writer, what difficulties have you come across when writing a synopsis? Do you tend to write a synopsis before or after writing a novel?

I Open At the Close

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is over. It’s finally over.

November is National Novel-Writing Month, the goal being to write 50,000 words in thirty days. This year I decided to take a shot at it for the first time.

A word to the wise: Try NaNoWriMo for the first time before you have a baby!

Long story short, I did not get as many words written as I’d hoped. But I did actually get more than I’d expected. (Hope for the best, plan for the worst, right?) My final word count on the morning of December 1st was 36,488. Not bad, for a working mom of a nine-month-old. In fact, that’s longer than my first draft of Finding ‘Ohana was after I spent three times as long on it!

Anyway, now that NaNoWriMo has ended, I’ve decided to post the prologue to the novel I’m currently working on. I open at the close.   ; )

***

Sweet agony. The long moments before the fog clears are filled with sweet agony. Sweet with anticipation, agonizing with impatience. I stand, naked and natural as the woods surrounding me, with my family to my left and my right.

Gehra piyo, mere chotu.

Gehra piyo, mere pyare.

We form a Circle. Without beginning, without end. By the light of the Full Moon I see them as clearly as if it were day.

Shashi jaga hai,

Aur main uske prakash tale tumhe garam rakhungi.

I am connected to them, and they to me, and all of us to all those who came before and all who will come after.

I take the goblet of Sapheda Rakta as it is passed to me and drink deep.

Gehra pina, gehra pina.

Together, as one, we Change. Pain. But not painful. It is the pain of a good stretch. We are stretching out of the constraints of who we pretend to be when we are not here. I welcome the pain, knowing it will make me stronger. This is what my body is meant to do. This is my natural state. At my core, I am Santaan Raksha.

We run. My mother, my Biji, turns first and darts into the woods. We follow.

Less than an hour ago, we arrived separately. We parked our cars on pavement, a flat and unnatural rock that suffocates the Earth below it. We walked the path, also paved at first, then dirt, but still a path clearly marked. And finally we followed the unmarked path that the Jhund has taken for generations. It brought us to this clearing. Our meeting place. And now we leave it, not by the path, but by our hearts.

I weave through the trees as though they are not separate from me. I do not have to think. I simply move. My body and mind are one. The Earth gives under my feet, cushioning and clinging. It welcomes me and spurs me on. The wind caresses me, my speed inviting it to dance with me.

This. This is what makes life worth living. This speed. This confidence in my body. This fire and exhilaration that nothing else can bring me. This connection to the woods, the trees and dirt and animals. Connection to my family, both by blood and by something stronger. Connection to myself. I truly know myself here.

This. This is freedom.

Strength of the Pack

For a moment I watch the silver light of the full moon gleaming on Biji’s back. It slides up and down her muscles as she runs. Every now and then it disappears with the thickness of the trees overhead, but it always returns as silvery as ever. It is too beautiful not to watch.

But only for a moment. I can no longer hold back. I push forward, now at the head of the Jhund. None of them can match my speed. The more I push, the more I feel my body become fluid. I am a river finding its way through and around and over the rocks in my way.

I am overflowing. My joy must be released. Without slowing down, I tip my head back and howl my gratitude to Shashi.

Break-In Novel

Rachelle Gardner’s blog post on writing a break-in novel made me start thinking about Finding ‘Ohana and whether or not it could be considered a break-in novel. Gardner describes a break-in novel as “the one that has the best chance of breaking you in. The one that presents the fewest obstacles to publication. The one in which your writing shines the brightest. The one in which the genre and subject matter are closest to what seems to be selling right now.”

Obstacles to Publication:

  • The main character is a lesbian. I knew from the beginning that it might be hard to get an LGBT book published by a large publisher who might not want to publicly appear to be supporting LGBT rights. I hate that there are still people who are so against giving people in the LGBT community equal rights, but it’s the reality of the situation. And, as Gardner points out, it may be easier to get an LGBT book published once I’ve had something else published. Still, I can’t help but think that no publicity is bad publicity, so if there’s controversy it may help rather than hurt the book’s sales.
  • Not only does Finding ‘Ohana deal with LGBT issues, but it deals with them in conjunction with religion, which makes it an especially touchy issue. Although, again, see publicity statement above.

Shine, Writing, Shine!

  • This is where I have something going for me. Cinnamin’s story has been on my mind for years. I knew her long before I introduced her to paper. The result? She is real. Not just for me, but for those who have read her. A friend of mine (you know who you are!) told me that his biggest concern before reading Finding ‘Ohana was that he might not be able to read it with a voice other than mine in his head. But, he said, most of the time he forgot that I was the writer. Cinnamin is her own person, and her emotions make her real.

Popular Genre/Subject Matter

  • This brings me back to my first bullet point: when has homosexuality ever been widely accepted? (Except for in ancient Greece and other similar cultures. And even then, it’s mostly — not in every culture, but many of them — homosexual men who were accepted.) However, homosexuality is more accepted by the general public now than it has been in centuries. The question is: has the genre been successful in book sales?

One out of three, if you don’t count the no-bad-publicity thing.

As Gardner says, Finding ‘Ohana is “closer to [my] heart, the [one I] really want to see published.” It’s certainly too early to think that it won’t sell, but it’s comforting to read: “Don’t fret. Once you’ve broken in, there may be opportunity down the road to get those published, especially if you revise and rewrite with your improved writing skills (because the more you write, and work with editors, the better writer you’ll be).”

So it may be a good idea to write a novel that makes three out of three as my break-in novel. Or at least two out of three. Luckily, I can still send queries for Finding ‘Ohana even while I write a novel that might have more wide appeal. If I can’t get Finding ‘Ohana published now, at least I’ll have another novel to work on getting published, and hopefully that will lead to having two (or more!) published novels.

I’ve had an idea for a novel with a new take on werewolves. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and have been getting pretty excited about it. Stay tuned for future posts regarding a synopsis, but for now I’ll do a quick evaluation based on Gardner’s three criteria:

Obstacles to Publication

  • Some agents/publishers may see werewolves as a fad and therefore less worthwhile. This obstacle could be overcome if I present my novel as character-driven and highlight the aspects which make it very different from your typical werewolf novel.
Shine, Writing, Shine!
  • This I won’t know until I write it. But as long as I care about the characters like I care about Cinnamin, I have faith in my writing.
Popular Genre/Subject Matter
  • The other side of the coin where my obstacle resides. Werewolves may be a fad, but that doesn’t mean the public doesn’t love them!

Potentially two out of three, three out of three if I sell it right.

I would be writing the werewolf novel while writing my untitled novel, which is also likely to meet obstacles in publishing, and which will be in a format that will help when working on two projects. This way, when my brain can’t take any more of one universe, I can switch to the other and still be productive!