Monday, August 25, 2014

Richard Seidman, World Cup Mouse

AUTHOR: Richard Seidman
BOOK TITLE: World Cup Mouse
GENRE: Children’s Middle Grade Fiction (ages 6 to 10)
PUBLISHER: Catalyst Group, LLC

Please tell us about yourself.

I love to make jokes
 and funny business. That’s one of the main reasons
I enjoy writing – to amuse myself and children 
(and also the big children that we call “grown-ups”). For me, funny business is a way to love life, and it’s
 also a way to transform sorrows.

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I was a really shy child, and to tell you the truth, I’m still pretty shy. When I was growing up, playing games and sports and reading were the favorite things I enjoyed, and they’re still the favorite things I enjoy today!

In the 1970s, I moved to Portland, Oregon, and in 1989 I founded the nonprofit tree-planting group, Friends of Trees. I’m proud that all these years later Friends of Trees is still going strong. Since the beginning of the organization, more than 10,000 volunteers have planted more than 500,000 trees.

I wrote a nonfiction book for grown-ups, Oracle of Kabbalah: Mystical Teachings of the Hebrew Letters, that was first published in 2001.  This fall, I’ll be publishing a revised version, A New Oracle of Kabbalah.

I’m a member of SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and a founding member of a local children’s book writing critique group. I compiled and edited a nonfiction children’s book for Benchmark Education, I Am Deaf and I Dance: A Memoir. I now live in Ashland, Oregon with my beloved wife, Rachael Resch, our chickens, and our myriad stuffed animals and other small friends.

What inspired you to write WORLD CUP MOUSE?

In his brilliant book, Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Uraguayan author Eduardo Galeano writes of soccer great, Pelé: “Those of us who were lucky enough to see him play received alms of an extraordinary beauty: moments so worthy of immortality that they make us believe immortality exists.”

When I was ten years old in the early 1960s, I was fortunate to see Pelé in his prime and receive some of those alms of beauty. It was an exhibition game in New York, and Pelé was playing for his club, Santos. At one point he electrified the crowd, which was mostly immigrants since soccer had not yet become widely popular among US-born people, by scoring a goal with a bicycle kick over his own head. I still get chills thinking about that moment.

That luminous moment fifty years ago was, in a way, a spark for the creation of World Cup Mouse. One thing I like about soccer is that even short people, like Pelé (and yours truly) have an opportunity to excel. That possibility inspires the hero of my book even though he’s only two and a half inches tall!

World Cup Mouse was also inspired by my years coaching youth soccer and my love of other literary mouse heroes such as Stuart Little, Doctor De Soto, and Norman the Doorman.

What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?

I like to read, play music, hike, have fun with my wife and friends, and practice Karate (After training in the martial arts for eighteen years, last fall I finally earned a black belt in Shotokan Karate.)

Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you get through it?

I like what poet William Stafford said when he was asked what he did when he experienced writer’s block. “I lower my standards.”

I try to get through it with patience, perseverance, having a sense of humor about myself, and faith that inspiration and fun will be renewed. Sometimes it’s an indication that I need to take a break for a while, and sometimes I just need to press on and keep chugging away.

What are your current projects?

I am adapting World Cup Mouse to be a screenplay for an animated film. I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to self-publish the new edition of Oracle of Kabbalah. And I recently started a coaching business, Catalyst Coaching, to help other writers, artists, and entrepreneurs move past impediments and live the creative life they desire.

What do you plan for the future?

I’m planning a sequel to World Cup, and also a couple of illustrated middle grade novels.

How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.?

Tell us about the current book you’re promoting.

World Cup Mouse is about a mouse in France who falls in love with soccer. His dream is to play for France in the World Cup. His father tells Louie his dream is absurd and grandiose. His mother worries that it will be terribly dangerous and he might get squished. But Louie is determined, and inspired by his motto, “Where there’s a mouse, there’s a way,” he gives it his best shot.

The book is about 150 pages long and includes great illustrations by Ursula Andrejczuk.

What genre do you write in and why?

I love writing middle grade fiction. I love the palpable feeling of magic and possibility that can live in books for seven to twelve year-olds. I don’t feel very drawn to writing about sex and romance and teen-age and adult angst.

Why did you choose to write a children’s book?

To me, kids’ books are more fun to write and more fun to read. They can be serious while also being full of magic and hope.

What do you hope your readers will take away from this book?

I hope readers will be inspired by the old mouse’s words of advice to my hero, “It doesn’t matter what anyone says. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hero or a fool or even if you’re not good at it. It only matters that you pursue what you love with all your heart and try to become better.”

Do you have any tips for writers who are new to children’s literature?

Read as much as you can in your genre and others. Join SCBWI. Become part of a good, supportive critique group. Go to conferences. Keep writing. Revise, revise, revise. Writing for children is a serious, important craft. Children deserve our very best work.

What book are you currently reading? What do you like or not like about it?

I just started reading The Giver by Lois Lowry. So far, I am very taken by Ms. Lowry’s clear writing style and the ominous world she is creating.

What has been your favorite part of being an author? What has been your least favorite?

My favorite part of being an author is connecting directly with children at schools, bookstores and libraries. I love the interaction with the kids and seeing their curiosity and enthusiasm first-hand. My least favorite part is marketing my books, but I understand that is part of the business, and I owe it to my readers and to my books themselves to have people become aware of them. 

Danger in the Library

A rock shattered on the sidewalk three inches in front of Louie LaSurie.

“Get out of here!” a man shouted. “Next time I won’t miss.” He clapped his hands. “Shoo!”

Louie froze in place, whiskers trembling and eyes opened wide. He had been daydreaming about playing soccer as he trotted down the sidewalk toward the Marseille Public Library. He should have been paying better attention.

Animals and humans could speak with each other, of course. But Louie’s mother said it was safer not to. “Humans are too unpredictable,” she warned. “A lot of them are nice enough, but some of them hate mice.”

This man was obviously one of the haters. But Louie was mad now. He forgot about his mother’s advice. “Why should I get out of here?”

The man sneered. “Why? Because you’re vermin. You’re just a mouse. You’re nothing.”

Louie clenched his paws. “I’m not nothing! I’m somebody!” The man snorted and stomped away. “I’m somebody!” Louie yelled again. “And you’re a dope,” he added under his breath. His face hot with anger, Louie sprinted the rest of the way to the library. In fact, Louie thought, I’m not just any somebody. I’m somebody who’s going to be the first mouse soccer player in the history of the world!

Louie squeezed under the door. The library was closed this late at night. He shook off the raindrops clinging to his beret. He stood still for a moment and breathed in the delightful smell of books. Then he shot across the cool marble floor of the lobby to the magazine room. He shimmied up the leg of a reading table in the sports section.

Louie was in luck. An article about the 1982 World Cup tournament was lying open on top of the table. With the newspaper spread out under him, Louie scampered back and forth across the page as he read each line of text.

What a team France had back then! What great players. Platini. Giresse. Tigana. He read how France lost to Germany in a penalty kick shootout in the semifinals. Louie groaned.

Jingle-clink. What was that? It sounded like jangling keys. Louie lifted his head.
A man carrying a mop and a bucket of water sprang into the reading room.The janitor!

The man yelled, “Et voilà! Now I’ve got you, you scoundrel.” Louie gasped. He was too shocked to run away. “I was only reading,” he said.

The man wore a nametag over his left breast that read, Gaston Trudeau. “I don’t care,” Gaston said. “I don’t allow mice in my library.”

Louie was about to say, “It’s not your library,” but he had no time because the janitor ran straight at him with the mop raised over his head. Louie jumped off the table all the way to the floor. The impact knocked the wind out of him. The janitor bounded toward him. Gasping for breath, Louie dodged between the man’s legs. The janitor turned around fast. The mop came smashing down in an explosion of dust right next to Louie’s head. It sounded like a million firecrackers. Louie saw stars. He didn’t know where he was any more. He ran straight up the inside of the janitor’s pant leg. The hairs on the man’s leg made Louie sneeze.

Gaston did a frantic dance and Louie tumbled back to the floor. The man lifted his foot. Louie saw the huge boot flying right at him. He rolled to his right. The boot came crashing down a half inch from Louie’s chest. Louie scrambled under a table. His heart was pounding like mad. The janitor, on hands and knees, followed him, poking at him with the mop handle.

“Please, calm down,” Louie panted.

“I will not calm down!” Gaston yelled. He made a quick thrust with his mop and Louie felt a flash of pain as the mop handle slammed onto his tail, pinning him to the wall.
He was trapped!

Monday, August 18, 2014

SS Hampton, Sr., Better Than a Rabbit's Foot

AUTHOR:                   SS Hampton, Sr.
BOOK TITLE:            Better Than a Rabbit’s Foot
GENRE:                      Military Fiction
PUBLISHER:              MuseItUp Publishing

Please tell us about yourself.

            I am a Choctaw from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to numerous grandchildren, a published writer and photojournalist, and a retired Army veteran. I served in the active duty Army 1974-1985, Army Reserve 1985-1995, and the Nevada Army National Guard 2004-2013. For almost three years after joining the Guard I was mobilized for active duty, including a deployment to Iraq 2006-2007. I retired in July 2013. I graduated from college with an Associates in Photography in May 2014. I also hope to someday discover a hidden talent in painting.

Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?

            I am now a full-time writer (or will be). Until I graduated from college in May 2014 I was a full-time college student. The decision to attend college full time was due to being unable to find a job after returning from my deployment in the summer of 2007. However, I generally do not organize my writing time. I write when the mood strikes me—usually in the evening. Sometimes I write until midnight or much later.

What are your thoughts about promotion?

            Essential, perhaps more essential than writing itself. I say that because after having becoming a published writer in 2002 (I was published once in 1992), and being published by small presses, I see how important it is to a writer’s success. I am published by three small presses, plus I have had stories accepted for several anthologies. Based on my interaction with many other writers, promotions (marketing/public relations) is a driving force comparable to the art of writing. Without promotions, without getting your name out there for the reading public to know you and your work, you are dead in the water. You are a triceratops caught in a prehistoric tar pit.

What was the toughest criticism given to you? What was the biggest compliment?

            Actually, I cannot think of any. Maybe it is because of my age or my life experience. I recall one reviewer referred to a short story I wrote as being “boring” or “disappointing”—something like that. Other than a brief mumble about the reviewer, I kept going. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. No one writes a winner every time. Besides, I have the best validation there is—my publisher sees sales potential in my writing and believes in me. And, what is literary criticism compared to some of the crap I have been through in my life? For example, right now I am practically destitute except for money I have borrowed from family and friends, due to a slow moving military retirement pay bureaucracy. I even have an Indiegogo campaign going to raise survival funds until my retirement backpay is finally processed by the bureaucracy. Financial worry is a depressing, every day fact of my life. So yes, what is criticism compared to “real life?” I’ll take criticism any day of the week over depression and financial worry. As for the biggest compliment, likewise, nothing stands out in my mind.

Did you learn anything from writing your book, and what was it?

            Ah, not really. I write military fiction because I know the military. I drew upon my experience and emotions when writing about a young soldier (okay, I am not young) at a convoy support center, preparing to go on a convoy security escort mission into Iraq. I only went on three short missions into Iraq, but I know the emotions associated with such operations. I know the emotions of running my fingers across a Celtic Cross that I always wore with my “dog tags” (identification tags in case something happens and there isn’t much identifiable physical remains left). I know the emotions of learning of the death of a comrade. Writing Better Than a Rabbit’s Foot, in a sense, reawakened many emotions and memories, and I was able to draw upon those while writing.

What are your current projects?

            I still have to edit a short story about World War II German soldiers on the Russian Front, with a healthy dose of the supernatural/unknown included. To me, war and the supernatural go hand in hand. Then I will return to editing a novella of World War II German soldiers in North Africa with—you guessed it—a healthy dose of the supernatural/unknown included. Then I will start on the third novel in a series about the adventures of an ordinary husband and wife in Kansas.

What do you plan for the future?

            Write full time, photograph when I can (after I get my camera equipment out of the pawn shop), and plan on attending a university in the spring of 2015. I haven’t decided whether to study photography or archaeology, or creative writing.

Tell us about the current book you’re promoting.

            Better Than a Rabbit’s Foot takes place in 2006 at a convoy support center just south of the Iraqi border. It is about a young soldier preparing to go on a convoy security escort mission into Iraq right after he learns that a soldier from his company has been killed by an IED. This results in some thought about what a good luck charm is, and in particular about a young woman waiting for him to return from the war.

What was the process of creating this book from the first idea to the final published book?

            I had the basic idea, developed the characters and plot, including an outline, and wrote it. And of course, plenty of editing before I submitted it to MuseItUp Publishing for consideration. Not only do I dislike editing, but I can take forever to edit, picking over grammar, punctuation, etc. As a result, I limit myself to three edits before sending it out. Then of course, there was working with an MIU editor, and coordinating with an artist assigned for the cover. Sometimes working with the editor required some negotiation, meaning military slang and usage as opposed to grammatically correct spelling and wording. There was a last MIU editorial sweep after we finished the edits, and finally my last examination before it went to “print.” Maybe better, before it went to “digits.”

Did your book require a lot of research? If so, what kind?

            Not really. It is a work of current military fiction, which I am very familiar with. It also takes place at a convoy support center, where I was posted during my 2006-2007 deployment. So, overall, no, not a whole lot of research.

Do writing violent or highly sexual scenes bother you?  Why or why not?

            Not in the least. Sexual scenes have become fun to write since I now leave the bedroom door open for the reader. If writing of violence, it has to be an integral part of the story and be justified. The violence I have written so far is associated with war rather than something like domestic violence or a brutal serial killer. Anyway, violence or sex are both an integral part of the human psyche and human experience. So no, writing such scenes do not bother me.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

            The emotion associated with losing a soldier. During my deployment 2006-2007, we were within 30 days of returning home when we lost a young soldier from our company. He was killed by an IED.

What books have most influenced your life?

            There is no book that has influenced my life; there are books that influenced my interest, both personally and professionally. The first was the non-fiction book, The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them, by Eugene Kogon. He was a political prisoner and a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp. That was my introduction to Nazism, the extermination and concentration camps, and the SS. At the age of 12, I was stunned by the level of brutality capable by the human race against each other. 1984 was an amazing book, a fictional look at a level of totalitarianism comparable in some respects to the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The spirit of 1984 was like a looming shadow present in the chaos of the 1960s with the protests against the Vietnam War, and the developing lack of trust in the government by my generation. The Centurions by Jean Larteguy was my introduction to the French Indo-China War and the French Algerian War, which were both far different from the American experience of fast-moving armored warfare and conquering enemy-held territory. Finally, there is Street Without Joy, a non-fiction book about the French Indo-China War by Bernard B. Fall. I had the sense, when reading this book, that no matter what the French did, the end had already been decreed by Fate, like an unavoidable Greek tragedy.

Describe your writing space.

            I recently moved, and due to financial challenges outside of my control, I have been unable to get my stuff out of storage. That also translates into being not being able to work on my writing. About all I can do is research, outline, and write guest blog posts. Anyway, my current writing space is sitting at an island that separates the kitchen and living room, watching a lot of Netflix, DVDs, and Cable TV. Unfortunately this arrangement is likely to last a few weeks more.

“Better Than a Rabbit’s Foot.” Ed. Joelle Walker. MuseItUp Publishing, June 2012.
ISBN: 978-1-77127-078-6


Sergeant Jerry Stanton is a young soldier serving in the War in Iraq. He is a gunner on a gun truck nicknamed “Lucky Bear,” one of those tireless workhorses that escort supply convoys from camps in Kuwait to destinations scattered throughout the war-torn country. In the early morning hours before a scheduled mission, a dust storm howls across his camp and threatens to bring convoy operations to a halt. Worse, the camp receives word that a gunner from his company was killed by an IED while on a convoy mission. Unlike most soldiers, Jerry doesn’t carry a lucky charm, but upon receiving news of the death of the gunner, he begins to mull over/ponder the merit/virtue of a good luck charm—only, what would work for him? Perhaps mail call will provide the answer.


“People like a happy ending.”
Sergeant Jerry Stanton, an M4 Carbine slung across his chest, glanced at the dark form that trudged alongside him in the hot, early morning darkness. It was all the darker for the dust storm howling across the small camp, a dusty and sandy convoy support center, CSC, a mile south of the Iraqi border. He placed his hand over the tall styrofoam coffee cup from the messhall that was open at all hours to serve those about to head out on a mission. He felt the itchy dust filtering down his back, along his arms, and coating his fingers.
In spite of his short time deployed to Kuwait, he had learned that dust storms were worse than sand storms; they were hot and itchy while the sand storms stung exposed skin and chilled the air. Breakfast was good but tasted flat, more due to the question of whether their mission would be a go or no-go because of the storm that roared out of the midnight darkness hours before.
“People like a happy ending,” the soldier repeated. He was a gunner from another gun truck as the squat, venerable M1114 HMMWVs, which were never meant to be combat vehicles, were called. He held up a rabbit foot that spun frantically in the wind and added, “I like a happy ending.  Especially now.” They rounded the corner of a small building, actually a renovated mobile home trailer with a covered wooden porch lit by a bare electric bulb. The gunner pointed to a small black flag, suspended from a log overhang, flapping furiously in the wind.
“Oh shit.” Jerry sighed as a cold chill raced through him.
“It’s been there for an hour or so,” the soldier said as he enclosed the rabbit’s foot within both hands and brought it up to his lips as if to kiss it. He glanced at Jerry. “I’m not superstitious, but still, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with having a lucky charm. You know?”
“Yeah.” Jerry nodded as he watched the twisting flag. “I know.”
The soldier looked once more at the black flag and then walked toward the shower and restroom trailers beyond which were the air-conditioned sleeping tents they called home…

            Stan Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, and a published photographer and photojournalist. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007) with deployment to northern Kuwait and several convoy security missions into Iraq.
            His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others.
            In May 2014 he graduated from the College of Southern Nevada with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Photography – Commercial Photography Emphasis. A future goal is to study for a degree in archaeology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology (and also learning to paint).
            After 13 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters.
            As of April 2014, after being in a 2-year Veterans Administration program for Homeless Veterans, Hampton is officially no longer a homeless Iraq War veteran, though he is still struggling to get back on his feet.
            Hampton can be found at:

Dark Opus Press

Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing

Melange Books

Musa Publishing

MuseItUp Publishing Author Page UK Author Page

Goodreads Author Page

Monday, August 11, 2014

Anatomy of a Deportation, Mohana Rajakumar

Today, I'm sharing a post written by Mohana Rajakurmar in conjunction with the release of her book, The Dohmestics.  You can learn more about her and her books at


Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 3.12.07 PM
Photo by FitOut
Nothing ranks as high on an expat’s list of fears as being deported. Maybe death of a loved one while you’re abroad. Not your own death, because like the average teenager, you think your charmed expat life is immortal. Those who have lived overseas know all too well both death and deportation are likely scenarios. Neither is polite to discuss in public.
I wrote about both in The Dohmestics, my most recent paperback release, based on observations as an expat for nearly a decade. The novel explores the lives of six women: three employers and three housemaids who live in the same compound, or walled neighborhood. I found out how difficult the employer-housemaid relationship was to describe in the process of trying to get interviews as background research. Even friends were reluctant to let me speak to their helpers.
Then fact and fiction collided when we were told that a nanny in the neighborhood’s sister was in the detention facility.
That’s how we learned there’s something worse than being deported. Detention.
The sister, also a nanny had runaway from her employer who had her working at several homes in the extended family with little sleep or food. Yes, for some reason, we use the word “runaway” to describe a grown woman who has no other recourse to end her employment. Runaway: a word that has been to describe willful teenagers and slaves, those beings treated as human chattel.
She left her employer one day, walking out while the family was upstairs. She worked for a series of other families in various conditions: sometimes sleeping on the floor on the kitchen because the maid’s room was used a storage. Waking up at 4:30 a.m. to iron and cook for her landlord who also charged her rent. Bouncing from family to family, a few years went by. An ailing mother, a maturing daughter: she wanted to go home.
She got an airline ticket – hard to come by at the tune of thousands of riyals – and went with her luggage to the embassy. They turned her over  to CID or the criminal investigation department. She called, hysterical, because she was being held in a facility with hundreds of other women, some of whom had been there for a month, others for three.
The line was scratchy: they were default fasting because no one was being given food during Ramadan.
Despite being a women’s area, there were no sanitary supplies.
Anything you received, you had to get from someone on the outside.
We assembled a care package, the contents what you might take your daughter’s dorm room: peanut butter, bread, jam, Kotex, chocolate, laundry detergent.
More calls, from random numbers, from borrowed phones (hers had been confiscated) of other long timers. Rushed conversations to exchange file numbers and any updates.
She has a good chance of eventually going home. She has a ticket, no debt, no pending charges. Someone has to take interest in her to distinguish her case from the hundreds of others who are much, much worse. They are waiting on sponsors to pay fines for having a runaway (that word again), waiting for family to raise money to bring them home, waiting for a miracle to clear their debts.
“That’s the place people take their maids when they want to punish them,” a friend told me. “If they don’t want them any more, they leave them there.”
As you may recall, my first book was banned for being about Qatar and Qataris. I had no idea that love was a sensitive subject.
Maids, though, housemaids, I knew were controversial. They are the invisible army without the glamour (or indignation) of the 2022 World Cup stadiums to galvanize the international media to their cause. There is no country named in The Dohmestics because I hope it makes it into the hands of readers in Doha. But also because the treatment of these women, who sacrifice their lives for their children, fund unfaithful husbands, and prop up their home economies (personal and national), is commonly archaic across the Middle East – whether Lebanon, the GCC, or Egypt – and extends into Asia where high rise suicide jumpers in Singapore are so commonplace, they only make the news if they take a young child with them.
“I am not a housemaid,” I said enunciating the vowels for the embassy official who had missed my American dress, accent and husband. “I am here for a friend.”
Is the deportation facility in the novel? You’ll have to read it to find out. This is one instance when real life is worse than fiction.
First posted:

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was fortuitous in many ways since this is where she met her husband, had two sons, and became a writer.  She has since published eight eBooks, including a momoir for first time mothers, Mommy But Still Me; a guide for aspiring writers, So You Want to Sell a Million Copies; a short story collection, Coloured and Other Stories; and a novel about women’s friendships, Saving Peace.

Her coming of age novel, An Unlikely Goddess, won the SheWrites New Novelist competition in 2011.

Her recent books have focused on various aspects of life in Qatar. From Dunes to Dior, named as a Best Indie book in 2013, is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf. Love Comes Later was the winner of the Best Indie Book Award for Romance in 2013 and is a literary romance set in Qatar and London. The Dohmestics is an inside look into compound life as well as the secrets kept between housemaids and their employers.

After she joined the e-book revolution, Mohana dreams in plotlines. Learn more about her work on her website at or follow her latest on Twitter: @moha_doha. Mohana is currently working on her first historical novel, set in the East Asian country of Laos.


The Dohmestics
Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Chapter One
Dust laid a film of grit on the boxes in the entryway of the sand-colored duplex. Emma pulled straying pieces of elbow-length hair back into the bun, held together by a pencil spiked through the center. Dust, heat, desert. Their new life, waiting for Adam to become full captain. Four years. Maybe longer. The wilted plants in ceramic pots on doorsteps up and down the street were evidence the desert sun was winning. Emma tasted particulate on her tongue; the sandstorms would play havoc with Adam’s sinuses. Everywhere she looked, there were buildings similar to hers; whether villas, apartments, or duplexes, the exteriors were the same beige cinderblock front. Wider entryways for duplexes and three steps for the approach to villas distinguished the bigger units from the smaller ones. No driveways for the neighborhood existed inside the compound boundary wall.  Four years was fast tracking in the airline industry, but Emma felt each of these early days pass like a month. 
At noon the parking spaces were empty; the beige canvas awnings melded into the adobe-colored walls of the buildings. Across the street were the wider front entrances of the villas; there was a bit more variety in these that more resembled houses back home. These were two story affairs, with wide fronts to the street, beige again with beveled glass, three actual steps for an entrance, rather than the flat approach to the rest of the buildings, like the one Emma lived in.
She swiped at the sweat on the back of her neck. Her footsteps echoed on the tile, determined to unpack the next set of boxes.  Adam was away. Alice was at school. The silence was deafening.
“Why not get a job?” Adam had asked. “We could save that money too, for the house?”
“I can’t tell them I have to leave halfway through the day to go pick up our daughter, now, can I?”
“Hire a maid,” Adam replied with a shrug, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
“But that would cost money,” she protested. “We’re trying to save money.” Their love of entertaining had built up quite a pile of bills.
“No one pays them that much,” he said. “A few hundred riyals.”
“To have someone in the house with us, when we’re tight on space as it is.” She shook her head. “Plus, is that legal, a few hundred riyals?” She didn’t get a reply before he left for the gym, a workout an essential for the days he was home to balance so much time in the air.
Gone was the routine schedule as co-pilot of a cargo plane, as regular as the post, bringing Adam home every night for dinner. The company had folded in the financial crisis. Commercial airlines were hiring—foreign companies anyway. Now they were in the Middle East with Adam flying anywhere from Hong Kong to New York, while she stayed at home.
Her thumbnail broke as she ripped the tape off the next lid. She chewed off the rest of the nail, glad Alice wasn’t there to see the forbidden act. Emma’s eyes drifted to the pile of adverts left in the door overnight; a glossy one featured women with blow-dried hair sipping tea. Yes, maybe that’s exactly what she needed. She snatched up the house keys and made her way down the street towards the clubhouse. 
The weekly neighborhood coffee morning was one of those all-female, expat gatherings Emma had read about on forums before making the move to the Arabian Peninsula. She hadn’t planned on attending one, but the stifling silence drove her out of the house, looking for adult conversation that didn’t involve flight schedules or school pick-up routes.
“Where are you from?” asked a woman with wire-framed glasses that made her brown eyes owlish.
“England,” Emma said. She answered a string of familiar questions in every group she came to, the most common being, “How long have you been here?” Those who answered in the longest number of years to this question seemed to be mostly Indian, clustered together away from the other women. Everyone white wanted to know whether or not she worked. When Emma said she didn’t and confessed her school pick-up dilemma, the women had the solution: a full-time housemaid.
“You’ll have so much more time to spend together, with your husband,” said a petite brunette with a waist the size of a teenager’s.
“And you won’t spend it doing those tasks that you have to do again and again, like cooking or laundry. You can spend it with your child,” a blonde with perky breasts chimed in.
“Do they steal things?”
The blonde and brunette shook their heads as one, sharing a glance.
“If they do, they’ll be jailed,” the brunette said, the dimples disappearing from her heart shaped face.
“Or worse,” the blonde intoned.
“But another person,” Emma fretted, another worry with the new concern about flight attendants. There had been none for airfreight. “Do I have to be with her all the time?”
“She’s your employee,” the blonde emphasized. “She works for you. She isn’t your friend.”
“But you have to watch the younger ones,” the brunette insisted. “Especially Filipinas.”
“Watch them? They steal?”
The women tittered.
“That’s not the worst.”
“Your husband is a pilot?”
Emma nodded the affirmation.
 “Stop scaring her, ladies.” A statuesque woman interrupted the onslaught, waving her immaculate nails hello. “Amira.” Her manicured hand reached out for hers.
“Emma,” she said stuttering at the sound of her own name. “I meant, would she need entertaining? Would the two of us watch television together?”
Amira laughed, as if Emma had told her a funny joke. “You’re new. You’ll see. They make it so you can entertain yourself.”
 “Myself?” The word sounded lonelier than she had intended.
Amira led her away from the group, motioning over to the tray of cookies.
“Your maid is the least glamorous and last person to worry about. My husband is a pilot as well. They’re around gorgeous, young girls all the time. You know the airline. Men, women, everyone is impeccable.”  She wiggled her eyebrows with a wink.
“I had noticed,” Emma said with a laugh. “But is there someone else I should worry about?” She looked around the room of immaculately groomed women. “Should I lock up my husband?”
Amira laughed.