Monday, December 31

Favorite bits

Mary Robinette Kowal asked me to select a Favorite Bit from Fear of Beauty and write about it - and I chose a section in the middle of the book, pages 190 to 193, when main character Sofi recalls the last  day she spent with her father, as she leaves the village where she was raised and heads off for a new life and marriage.

Writers can learn much about the craft - character development, motivation, choices in setting or plotting - with close readings, their own analysis and that supplied by authors. Be sure to check out some of the other intriguing posts, too!


"Unfortunately, when rituals are prioritized over spirituality at this tender young age, religion can become restrictive rather than liberating," writes Asma T. Uddin, founder and editor in chief of Altmuslimah. She and other writers of various faiths were asked to debate when does a religious upbringing cross the line from nurturing to oppressive.

Religion is too restrictive when it limits basic human rights, opportunities, education, curiosity - the growth of the human spirit. Religions lose influence and sustainability when their leaders must rely on manipulation, commercialism or threats to win over hearts and minds.

As noted in Fear of Beauty, "There’s no reason to fear comparisons and inquiries that come with good intentions.... Believers cannot fear the nonbelievers. Those who resist questions or comparisons lack true faith."

Children and families do make comparisons in a diverse society.
Responsibility for spirituality rests with parents, maintains Uddin, and people do change their minds. Yet too many parents lack the confidence to examine teachings and make a choice, and for others, religion is but another passing fashion.

Photo of Afghan child in Garmsir, courtesy of US Marine Corps and Wikimedia Commons


Reading a mystery, getting caught up in a setting along with suspense, I can't help but get hungry for the type of food being described.

And so here is food for thought for readers of Fear of Beauty who might feel the same way and are searching for recipes with pomegranates, saffron, lamb, carrots, raisins, yogurt, grains, grains, and many more, vegetables, fruit, nuts  and spices as ingredients. Here are a few links to recipes from Afghanistan from and

And Christi Qazi offers a reminder in to prepare for unexpected guests: "Guests are revered and even in families, people often just drop in with little or no notice and to not have food for them would be unheard of even in the most spur of the moment situations."

Photo of  Afghan feast in Jani Khel district by Fred W. Baker III, courtesy of US Department of Defense and Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, December 28


Literacy is essential.

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right.... Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.” ― Kofi Annan

Thursday, December 27

Women helping women

"Each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces has a Women’s Affairs office... the front line in the Afghan government’s effort to advance women’s rights – and to fight violence against women.... For example, Human Rights Watch has heard of cases where, in provinces with no shelter for women fleeing violence (there are only 14 such shelters in all of Afghanistan) Women’s Affairs staff members have protected battered women in the staffers’ own homes, at great personal risk."
Maybe Sofi is reasonable to hide her teacher - and it's not a case of kidnapping after all. Afghan women can help other women, but only secretly.

Tuesday, December 25

Public prayer

Public prayer is treacherous territory for politicians, whether one offers a new sentiments or repeats a familiar verse. Prayer is laden with symbolism and emotion, and in public transforms into a message of persuasion. The audience may or may not agree, and the choice of words, tone, place can influence the prayer's reception.

For too many politicians, when difficult action is required, public prayers become a means of evading responsibility or accountability.  Private prayer can be about making demands ... or confronting personal responsibility.

And that's why a mystery author finds herself writing about prayer and religion - because disagreement over values and beliefs can lead to power struggles and lethal conflict.

John Newton, the same man who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," wrote about "Public Prayer" and warned that some prayers were too much like preaching, a common failing among politicians. "The studied addresses with which some approach the throne of grace remind us of a stranger's coming to a great man's door; he knocks and waits, sends in his name, and goes through a course of ceremony, before he gains admittance, while a child of the family uses no ceremony at all, but enters freely when he pleases, because he knows he is at home," Newton warns. "Some attention to method may be proper, for the prevention of repetitions; and plain people may be a little defective in it sometimes; but this defect will not be half so tiresome and disagreeable as a studied and artificial exactness."

It's for each to decide which is better - public prayer that's awkward, self-serving and poor in form or no prayer at all.

Photo of nomad praying in the desert, courtesy of Kazimierz Nowak and Wikimedia Commons. Nowak, a Polish correspondent and photographer, is described by Wikimedia Commons as likely the first man in the world who crossed Africa alone from North to South and from South to North on foot, bicycle and canoe.


I wrote this nine years ago for The New Haven Register - before the subprime crisis hit, before the global credit crisis, before the storms and floods of 2012. Much has changed since then, but the feelings remain the same.

Gathering more property is empty abundance

If we look back on our most awe-inspiring moments, these are probably not time spent on exotic vacations or in elegant restaurants. No, they were everyday moments — snuggled next to a child and reading a book, or moments at daybreak, daily walks that transformed from the routine to special memories.

By no means do our best accomplishments result in the most money. Raising a child would be a top contender for many, as would creative pursuits. I began writing my second mystery novel a decade ago, and restructured at least a dozen revisions. And I am thrilled about a contract that pays an advance of $1,000 for what represents 10 years of work.

And our most valuable possessions are hardly the most expensive. As the fires raged in California, who could not help thinking about what they would reach for first in such an emergency — family, pets, photo albums would top most lists.

If I had the chance to save jewelry, I would snatch the small pearl earrings, an early gift from my husband. If I had to scramble through the ashes left from the fire, I’d search for pottery made by my son as a child and a rock that has the perfect fossil of a fern, found by my father and grandfather long ago as they walked by a creek in their neighborhood and since passed on to my son.

If I could save books, it would be my copies of "Marjorie Morningstar" by Herman Wouk and a cookbook, both of which arrived in the mail from a book club shortly after my mother’s death, almost like a message.

The link between all these belongings, of course, are memories. Our possessions are nothing without memories.

We live in a society that has allowed consumerism to flourish out of control, decreasing the value of almost everything we own.

This probably hurts our children more than anyone.

An introduction from an Oct. 26 article in The New York Times reads: "At age 8, Marcie Rosenthal is done with Barbies. ‘I have a whole collection that I would like to get rid of someday.’ "

Sadly, too many of our children equate the accumulation of possessions with happiness. They expect every want to be satisfied immediately. They embrace objects only to willingly dispose of them a few months later. Many grandparents admit that it’s very hard to find a gift today that truly makes a child happy.

Ironically, the solution to our angst is simple. We can be satisfied with less.

And perhaps we can change the direction in our children’s lives — encouraging contentment with what we have rather than stress over finding more, redirecting our time and energy for a purpose rather than the mere accumulation of wealth.

So what does abundance mean during a time of plenty and comfort? Accomplishments and ideas, strong friendships, smiles on another person’s face. Our pursuit of happiness does not hinge on spending more time on work, earning money, rushing to expensive activities, visiting stores, collecting more possessions. We can spend more time caring for families and friends. We can devote more time to relationships and worthy causes in our communities.

Photo courtesy of Mikimoto