AUTHOR: Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar
BOOK TITLE: The Dohmestics
Please tell us about yourself.
I’m a mother, author, scholar and wife. Yes, I’m often up late and no, I don’t watch a lot of television.
Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?
I write whenever I can, usually two a days a week. Most of the week I’m teaching undergraduate courses or running after our two boys. I find larger chunks of time work better for me so if I can schedule 2 or 3 days with at least 3 hours, I’m very productive at meeting the editing/revising deadlines.
When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing in 2000, while a graduate student, because I took a creative writing course as an elective. I didn’t think the stories I was reading were telling the truths that I knew.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was the result of finishing a collection of short stories related to a creative writing concentration. They were published as my first e-book.
What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?
Eating usually, with friends and family. A passion for food and travel makes time away the from computer welcome.
What are your thoughts about promotion?
Promotion is necessary and can be fun, if you know how to use the tools at our disposal. It’s easier than ever to reach people; you can bring your creativity to this arena as well. Most authors think of it as a burden, but you can figure it out fairly easily. What’s the point of putting so much into your book if people don’t know about it?
What was the toughest criticism given to you? What was the biggest compliment? Did those change how or what you did in your next novel?
My biggest challenge in longer works is to maintain dramatic tension. This is a problem for obvious reasons and something I’m still learning about how to fix. Being patient with revisions and being willing to write again, and rewrite again and again and again have been crucial to improving my work.
Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you get through it? I don’t have the luxury of writer’s block. Because my schedule is full of so many demands, I look forward to sitting down to write. It’s a privilege. And if I don’t generate anything in the allotted time, I know I won’t get any more for several days.
What gave you the idea for this particular book?
The Dohmestics is a cross between The Help and Desperate Housewives with the setting a neighborhood in the Arabian Gulf. I’ve lived here for 8 years with my family and the book was an outpouring of many of the issues between employers and their domestic workers that I’ve observed over the years. Seeing the dynamics between characters in 1960s Mississippi resonated with me that in many parts of the world, attitudes or relationships haven’t changed that much.
Do you outline before you write? If not, what’s your initial process?
I never used to outline; I would follow an organic beginning/middle and often have no idea where the end was going to take me. But now I love outlines; wouldn’t write without them. It’s like making a cake without a recipe. Not as easy.
What comes first: the plot or characters?
For me, usually a central character with a problem appears. In this book, it was a pregnant maid. Pregnancy outside of wedlock is illegal in countries with Sha’ria law so the consequences are very high.
What was the process of creating this book from the first idea to the final published book? I took advantage of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to pound out the original manuscript for this book last November. It is a dizzying, blurred time, but wonderful, because as your fingers are trying to get to your word count of 1660 words each day, the story keeps unfolding.
What advice would you give a new writer starting out?
WRITE! People always want to talk about publishing or how to get an agent, but these same folks haven’t yet finished a manuscript. You have to do the time; sit down and get the story on paper. Otherwise, you can’t call yourself a writer. The books, formatting questions, promotion dilemmas will all come later. Right now is your time with your craft.
What do you look for in a book when you sit down to read for fun?
I read all the time, whenever I can, anything I can. Often I have one or more books going at a time. I love fiction that takes me to a new world that I didn’t know about. And non-fiction that makes a true story dramatic, personable, immediate is as good as any page turner.
What, if anything, bugs you when you read a novel?
Flat, uninteresting characters or unbelievable dialogue disturbs the myth of the ‘fourth wall’ or that we are lost in the moment of the pretend world with the characters.
“Alice,” she called from the front porch. There were several pieces of discarded sidewalk chalk around the bottom step. Edna picked these up, along with Alice’s abandoned sandals.
“She’s at the playground ma’am,” the neighbor’s nanny, Maria, said. She was pushing a toddler, Hamad, in a pram, as he did his best to wail and squirm his way out.
“Oh hi,” Edna said. Maria was the complete opposite of Maya: lively, cracking jokes and keeping up with Hamad, one of the most active toddlers Edna had ever seen. People said boys were like that and she had to take them at their word, having only had Alice. “Thanks.” She wondered if Alice had seen Maria and Hamad, as the younger boy was one of her favorite playmates because of their shared love of swimming. Edna contemplated walking to the playground, which was in the opposite direction of where Maria was going, or joining the maid to get the latest news from her end of the compound. It was amazing how much she knew — and scary. Another reason she preferred not to employ domestic help. But as the sun was setting, chances were Noof would be home soon. Her friend did not understand Edna’s fascination with Maria or with the secondary lives of the maids in the compound. She would not appreciate seeing Edna on a walk with Maria without Alice. As she stepped off the porch in the other direction, Edna kept scanning the street.
A few steps later Maria stopped and took a deep breath. Anyone would need a few breaths with a screaming two year old boy, and with that one in particular could be granted many, depending on the day. She did a brisk round of the block and though there was a gaggle of children, mothers, and minders at the playground, there was no sight of Alice.
When she came back to her street, Maria hadn’t moved and Hamad was soothing himself with his thumb.
“Are you okay?”
The maid’s drawn face was her answer. Edna caught up with her and led Maria by the arm to one of Alice’s play chairs. The wood was sturdy enough to hold an adult. Out of habit, she put the back of her hand on Maria’s forehead, checking if she had a temperature. No heat there.
Maria was tight-lipped and her skin waxen. A few beads of sweat appeared on her forehead though October brought the cooler temperatures. The maid normally took great care with her grooming unlike some of the older ones at Noof’s mother’s house. But today her hair was knotted and hung down her back. The black mass slipped free of the braid the maid coiled at the nape of her neck every other day Edna saw her. Dark hairs were at the corners of her mouth and Edna could see stray eyebrow hair appearing across her brows. Other than when she babysat for them, often in sweats, Maria was immaculately dressed every Friday morning when she walked to the Tagalog service at the Catholic church, wearing black jeans and an Ed Hardy t-shirt. Edna wondered if she had been poorly for some time.
“Would you like some water?”
Maria opened her mouth to answer but bolted up suddenly, nearly clipping Edna under the chin. She ran to a nearby bush, bent over at the waist and began retching. Despite the horrendous sounds, nothing was materializing.