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canstockphoto6298451If you don’t live in Canada and you want to buy Where the Air Is Sweet, please read:

You can purchase the book at Amazon.ca and have it shipped internationally.

Unfortunately you cannot download an e-book unless you are living in Canada.

But if my fellow Canadians buy the book in nice, big numbers, perhaps we can sell rights to publishers in the UK, US and elsewhere who would then distribute the book in their territories, making everyone’s lives easier. 😉

If you encounter any problems/issues purchasing the book, please contact me via my website (the message goes directly to my gmail account).

1db52c66a5f762d1990d27e1e9ac401eI found this 1908 poster (on Pinterest) advertising the Uganda Railway. According to the poster, East Africa comprises “nature’s zoo.”

I’m really glad it’s no longer 1908.

A number of people have asked me, with respect to Where the Air Is Sweet, and also with respect to my place of birth (i.e. Uganda), how was it that South Asians came to live in East Africa in such large numbers.

Late in the 19th century the British empire wanted to build a railway (the Uganda Railway) from the Indian Ocean to the East African interior. And they recruited labour from the Indian subcontinent to do this dangerous job. Many South Asians came and many stayed on. Many, many died.

To be precise, 30,000 South Asian labourers died constructing the Uganda Railway.

This is yet another reason I want to document and honour the role Asians played in the history of East Africa.

Mario Castro: John Steinbeck. Vintage Portrait Drawing

Mario Castro: John Steinbeck. Vintage Portrait Drawing

It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but, after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who is not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.

The above quote is from John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Nobel laureate John Steinbeck.

Though Where the Air Is Sweet is about to be published (just saw the final cover art and copy today), I am working on another book. It is somewhat misleading to say “I’m working on it.” It is nebulous at this point. Still forming, gestating even. And I am terrified. Hence my latching onto the above quote and sharing it here.

I published a few Writer’s Tips blog posts awhile back. I hope to add to the list. I used to be very hungry for such tips when I was starting to write my first novel. And so I want to share what I have learned to help others.

But Steinbeck offers the tip of all tips. It is from an article called “Advice for Beginning Writers” written by Steinbeck in 1963. Though he is discussing writing short stories, I think it’s safe to apply the advice to novels or other genres. You can read the whole article here.

Here’s my favourite section:

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.

In other words, if there is an impulse, honour it. And write. What you create might be good. But it might not.

That’s why it’s scary.

As my June 3rd pub date draws closer, a question has been popping up in my mind:

“What do I want to achieve with this book?”

The answer is somewhat obvious: Success, of course! In all its myriad forms. But the thing is, I have been successful with respect to the book. I found time and space to write it. I finished it. I found an agent to represent me. We sold it. I edited it. And edited it. And edited it. It’s about to be published. But I feel a need for something. I still want something. What? Sales are important, positive reviews, media attention, more time to write my next book. These are reasonable responses.

And yet my mind, unsatisfied with the answers I am offering, keeps asking the question.

And so I have been sitting with it. And sitting with it has taken me back to the impetus for writing this novel. What is it that has given me the energy and the willingness to spend money (giving up and turning down well-paying jobs is spending money), the willingness to take time away from my small children, the willingness to give up every safety net I have carefully woven in my life?

Of course I want my book to sell. But if I wanted money and material security I could have kept my job or worked at advancing my “career.” Attention, not so much. I generally hid in the newsrooms in which I worked. Figuratively, literally.

Media attention can drive strong sales, as can positive reviews. And I want my book to reach as many people as possible. But why? To what end?

I often like to read interviews with authors I love. Old interviews, new ones, whatever I can find. Recently I came across a 2003 interview in Quill and Quire with Ann-Marie McDonald. In it she discusses her second novel, The Way the Crow Flies. Something she said, and the way she said it in this interview, grabbed me, held me. Answered my question.

She is speaking about endings, and what constitutes a happy ending.

“I always think the happy ending today is when the story comes out. When there’s a witness. When you know that the story, in its fullness, will be released and returned to the people who should have had it all along. I think that’s a happy ending. That’s a release.”

Ugandan Asians leave Entebbe, Uganda. Photo: NHQ/AC Roger St. Vincent Collection PH-437

Ugandan Asians leave Entebbe, Uganda. Photo: NHQ/AC Roger St. Vincent Collection PH-437

What gave me the guts to spend money, to take time away from my precious children, to be certain in the face of apparent uncertainty was the knowledge that I was bearing witness. The story of the Ugandan Asians has never been told, not in any meaningful way. My fictional story tells of truths these people lived. To share their story is what has compelled me. To share their story is what I want to achieve with this book.

I have my happy ending. It’s here. The story is written, freed, and soon it will be returned to the people who should have had it all along. And how grateful I am for the privilege of being able to give them what was always theirs.

Everything else is icing on the cake.

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