Meeting the fans of The Sacrament of the Goddess in #Nepal
One of the joys of being an author is to talk with people who have actually read your book, and this has been happening for the past few weeks in #Kathmandu. I teach critical care skills to nurses and doctors, and in some past sessions a few nurses bought the book. I’m told it’s been laying around at one of the bigger hospitals in Kathmandu, and as you might expect, many people share the same copy. ( it would be great if they bought their own, but – this is almost as good!)
Small talk about literature
At some point during a class break, somebody comes to me, grinning, and tells me they’ve read it.
I love this. we talk about their impressions. Now, I’m biased, but – people have enjoyed the plot, they have found the book to call forth their emotions at certain passages ( which is good, because that was what I was trying to accomplish with my writing) and they ask questions.
Probably the most common question is -” You got it right in terms of depicting Nepali Culture. How could a foreigner know so much about Nepali culture?”
I am flattered by this. Here is my answer. I observe and I ask questions. Also, I studied a lot of books written by anthropologists, and I used some quasi-anthropological techniques to research the book. But most importantly, I was fortunate to have a number of “beta-readers” who were Nepali. These persons were given drafts to read and to comment upon, much like the model of “beta testing” used in the computer software industry. I got their feedback and made changes along the way.
Levels of culture?
On one level, culture is about food, religious ritual, costumes, setting. Those are the easy things to describe. Just like a travel guide.
I wanted to dig deeper. How does a particular cultural background influence such things as emotion, family relationships, or even clinical decision-making, in the case of a doctor? How might this impact life choices made ( or not made!) by a young woman?
So, while the beta readers looked at specific cultural things ( where the brakes on a pedicab are located, for example) it was more important and valuable to me when they gave feedback about the plausibility of certain social situations. When things go bad, how does a particular person pray? (or not pray…) For example, the romance between the two main characters, one American, the other – Nepali. Or, when a mother and a daughter argue with each other. Or when a man talks with a woman co-worker.
Most if not all of the medical scenes are based on actual events I witnessed or was a participant in during the five trips I took before writing it.
At the time of the 2013 trip, I had what I thought was a finished draft. Then I was on the lookout for ways to make the novel come alive. My Nepali friends were kind enough to allow me one step closer in their lives. For example: the woman named Sushila is a composite of three different women I know, each of whom is devout. I interviewed each one about the family “Puja Room,” and realized that if I described the way this serves as a refuge, it would add a potent dimension and insight for the reader. When I got back to Honolulu I edited and revised, with my new insight.