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Buy one of the following Chitra Divakaruni books from amazon.com:

'Sister of My Heart'

'The Vine of Desire'

'Neela: Victory Song,' illustrated by Troy Howell

Buy 'Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl' by Kate McCafferty

Buy the 10th Anniversary Edition of 'The Best American Erotica,' edited by Susie Bright

Buy 'Fire in My Soul' by Joan Lester

Buy 'The Life of Elizabeth I' by Alison Weir

Buy 'Keeping Watch' by Laurie R. King


Laurie, Laurie, What's the Story? Laurie R. King speaks at Capitola Book Cafe March 6.

What Women Write

This month in literary events: women writers would like to have a word with you

By Jessica Rovay

In the official program from the groundbreaking 1913 Women's Suffrage March on Washington, D.C., parade organizers said, "We march in a spirit of protest against the present political organization of society from which women are excluded."

Thing is, what do I know about suffrage? (Other than the David Bowie song, of course.) I've never been denied a job or overlooked for a promotion because of my gender. I've never had to fight for the right to vote, or own land, or control my own money. Women's rights are almost a given in our society--especially around here--which makes it doubly important to learn about the people who helped make it that way, and the people for whom equality is still a hazy, soft-focus dream. With that in mind, here's a look at women in local literary events this month.

Chitra Divakaruni (who spoke at Bookshop Santa Cruz on March 3, the anniversary of that groundbreaking 1913 march) continues the story she began in Sister of My Heart in her newest novel, Vines of Desire. It follows the friendship of two Indian women, Anju and Sudha, from India to America. She also recently finished her first children's book, Neela: Victory Song, the story of a young girl caught up in the Independence movement in 1939 India. Divakaruni herself has experienced life in India as well as the United States and has a great deal of insight into the plight of women in both worlds.

Kate McCafferty, a UCSC alum and former Cabrillo College professor, will be speaking about her new book, Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl. In the 17th century, thousands of Irish were captured and sold into slavery; this account of a fictional heroine breathes life into this overlooked slice of history. McCafferty will be at the Bookshop Santa Cruz Sunday, March 16, at 7:30pm.

Susie Bright (a.k.a. Susie Sexpert--we've come a long way since the days when women had to assume male pseudonyms in order to get published) revels in First Amendment goodness at the celebration for the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Best American Erotica at Bookshop Santa Cruz on March 27 at 7:30pm. The collection features writers such as Dorothy Allison, Chuck Pallahniuk and Susanna Kaysen (best known as the Girl in Girl, Interrupted).

For a sense of empowerment and to remind yourself that you can, indeed, change the world, read Alison Weir's biography of Queen Elizabeth I, The Life of Elizabeth I--she transcended accepted gender roles of 16th-century England to become one of the most influential monarchs in British history.

Stop by the Capitola Book Café on March 27 at 7:30pm to meet U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.-D.C.) and Joan Lester, author of Fire in My Soul. Norton has spent her life campaigning tirelessly for the civil rights we enjoy and will be speaking about the book along with its author.

As a transgendered friend of mine is fond of saying, "Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman."

King of Local Women Writers

Laurie R. King will be at the Capitola Book Café on Thursday, March 6. A UCSC alum and on and off Santa Cruz resident, King rose to popularity with her Mary Russell series. Keeping Watch, a stand-alone novel, is the story of a Vietnam vet who, after coming to terms with the atrocities he committed in the name of war, becomes a rescuer of abused women and children. As a child of the '80s, I had only the most academic concept of the Vietnam War; Keeping Watch dispenses with academics and plunges the reader into an almost unimaginable world of greenery and death. Running parallel is a contemporary account of a horribly abused boy making a cry for help on the Internet. King took a few minutes to speak to me about her new book.

Metro Santa Cruz: I loved your new book. It took me by surprise--I don't usually read mysteries.

Laurie King: I don't know if I write mysteries. I write what I write and they happen to call it mystery.

The imagery you used in the parts of the book about Vietnam was impressive. Did you interview vets, or did you get your information from books?

Mostly from books. There were dozens. The Vietnam Reader, which is a collection; Cat from Hué by John Laurence; the photographs of Tim Page. A lot of memoirs, some photographic books and film documentaries. Not so much movies.

The same goes for your accounts of abused children. Have you worked with abused children before?

Not specifically for this book; I've done a lot of volunteer work for schools and the issue comes up. Read a lot of memoirs.

You moved around a lot as a child. Do you feel that helped you as a writer?

It set me on the road to reading--I could not be the writer that I am without having spent 30 years reading. And I write about areas I lived in. The new book is partially set in Washington and we spent holidays on the San Juan Islands.

You lived in Santa Cruz as well, didn't you?

I lived in Santa Cruz on and off since I was 4 or 5, in the late '50s, and then again in the '70s, when I went to the university. It's changed a lot, hasn't it? [Laughs.] I like it. It's home.

How has the response to the new novel been?

Extraordinarily good--the four prepublication journals have all given it a starred review, which is practically unheard of.

Congratulations! Are you celebrating?

When you write a book a year, you never really have time to kick back. Just because last year's book did well doesn't mean this one will.

What's the new book you're working on?

I have another series, set in England in the 1920s [the Mary Russell series]. This is a Mary Russell book, set in India in 1924. I've been having great fun with India at the tail end of the Raj.

Do you travel a lot to research books?

I had been to India before so I didn't go back this time, but yes, I do try to travel to the places I write about. I didn't go to Vietnam, of course--the Vietnam of 2002 would not have been the Vietnam of 1968. But, yes, I do a lot of traveling.

How many hours a day do you spend writing?

It varies--some days, 8 to 10 hours, some days not at all. It depends on where I am in a work; also--if I'm working on a first draft, I'll sometimes work six or even seven days a week, but if I'm in the research phase sometimes I won't write at all.

And you didn't write your first book until you were 35, is that right?

I'm a slow starter--it took me that long to figure out that books were written by regular people and not handed down by demigods.

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From the March 5-12, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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