Sunday, May 22, 2022

#MMBBR #Showcase #FirstLine #Q&A #MudLillies by @IndyRamayan #IndraRamayan via @cormorantbooks

#FirstLine ~ Before my first rape, I thought I was pretty.

By Indra Ramayan
Indra Ramayan ran away from home at sixteen and worked to support herself as a taxi driver and then as an exotic dancer across Alberta and British Columbia. While her current career in finance has, as she says, “forced her to tuck away the wild child within,” the experiences of her youth, including the time she spent living with a violent man, have helped form the basis for her powerful debut novel, MUD LILIES (Cormorant Books; May 17, 2022; ISBN: 9781770866409), which tells the story of the unforgettable, unsinkable Chanie Nyrider.
Like her creator, Chanie (pronounced Shaw-nee) runs away from home at fourteen years old. She is fleeing an abusive home but is picked up from a truck stop at 4 am by a woman named Brenda, a dangerous predator masquerading as a friend. Brenda quickly gives her a street makeover and a new name, Jade. It isn’t long before Chanie finds herself in an even more dangerous situation, working as a high-value prostitute and navigating Edmonton’s seedy underbelly. As she describes it, “Every john in the city smelled my youth, my desperation, and my self-destruction. I guess there’s nothing more tempting than reckless fourteen-year-old sex for sale on the streets. I don’t even know how much money I made. All I know is that my mouth hurt, and my insides burned like fire. I also know that I cried a lot, and then one day, I just stopped crying.”

Chanie manages to survive until her eighteenth birthday, but after being beaten and raped by a customer, she is arrested for trashing a motel room. The police know she is a working girl, and they don’t believe she could be the victim. Faced with the prospect of jail time, she reluctantly enters a high school program for troubled youth. Though she knows she is too cynical for the program to work, anything is better than going to jail. And being in the program will allow her to continue drinking and getting closer to Blue, the enigmatic man she is quickly falling for, someone, who, for the first time in her life, has promised to keep her safe.

But the program turns out to be so much more than she imagined, and Chanie, who has spent her whole life desperate to belong, finds herself making actual friends, people her own age who share similar experiences, people who don’t judge her for her past, and see a potential in her she didn’t know she had. As Chanie begins to blossom in the program, the vestiges of her old life linger on the sidelines, most notably in the form of Blue, who begins to seem less charming and lovable and more unstable and deceitful. When he inevitably becomes violent, it is up to a newly empowered Chanie to find the strength to break the bonds of her old life and embrace a more hopeful future, one she spent years thinking was impossible but now knows she desperately wants.

Inspired by her wild past and writers such as Heather O’Neill and Angie Abdou, Indra Ramayan wrote MUD LILIES while studying creative writing at Athabasca University. She is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers and lives in Edmonton, Alberta.
MUD LILIES is the story about a young woman finding hope and heroes in the darkest of places and defiantly choosing to pursue them. This novel marks the debut of an exciting new writer to watch. 

A Conversation with Indra Ramayan, author of Mud Lilies

Why did you write Mud Lilies?
Mud Lilies is a tribute to the heroes and mentors who helped shape my life. The people who showed me who I am and what I’m capable of. Those who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. They were friends, teachers, agents, and other influences. They held onto me when I couldn’t hold onto myself. They spoke words of faith, hope, and potential. They were patient with my fears, anxieties, and distorted beliefs. And they celebrated my growth and transformation. This book is for the invisible heroes who change the world every single day.

Most novels are somewhat biographical. What percentage of your book is based on incidents in your life or inspired by events in your life?
I’d say a large percentage. While I never lived or worked on the streets, I did run away from home when I was sixteen and lived with a violent man. I escaped that situation and went on to drive taxi at nineteen for a couple of years where I met a lot of working girls. They loved having a female driver, so I spent a lot of time with them and got to know them well. And because they felt safe with me, they opened up and shared details of their lives. Many of them had suffered childhood trauma and had been assaulted by friends or family members in their own homes. And they carried shame, though they were the victims. I saw so much beauty in their vulnerability, and I cherished how much they trusted me. I laughed with them, and I cried with them too. There are some very tragic stories, and some very wounded women. There were a lot of young women who, sadly, never got a chance to make the changes they’d wished for because their lives were cut short by violence and/or addictions.

Your novel has a deep, penetrating sense of being based on lived experience. Are you comfortable talking about this?
I’m comfortable talking about anything that will help others experience their own lives with a greater sense of compassion and empathy, whether for themselves or others. I can personally speak to the toxicity of shame and how it makes you want to hide and makes you feel hopeless. I left the cab industry at twenty-one to work as an exotic dancer. The stripping industry was highly regulated, and our agents ran a professional business. But the stereotypes of bad girls and drugs tainted each and every one of us. Worst of all, my own mother chose to run wild with a dark narrative and labelled me an addicted prostitute. My voice didn’t matter, and neither did the reality of my very clean life. She decided I was bad, and my tarnished image and reputation completely annihilated my relationship with my family, friends, and myself. I hung my head low for many years. I carried shame that didn’t belong to me, like all those young women I’d known. And it was crippling.
I decided, after an eight-year absence, to go back into the stripping industry for one year. I embraced the experience fully, without shame, without apology. I loved that year. It was a year of reclamation. I recovered my self-worth and finally stopped apologizing for something I never should have apologized for in the first place. I’ve walked with my head held high ever since.

Unable to rely on her own dysfunctional family, Chanie’s friends eventually become her family, something many people with similar backgrounds can relate to. Why was it important for you to highlight Chanie’s need for family in the absence of her biological one?
Mud Lilies definitely highlights the human need to belong in a family unit. Chanie is a fragmented teenager when she runs away from a violent home, and we see the high cost of her broken youth in the way that she attaches to the first person who reaches out to her. She had never had a proper life model to shape her self-worth and judgment, so she tries to build her own misguided model with unstable people and a brutalized self-image. She is willing to sell her soul to stay close to her pack, no matter how manipulative and deceitful they are. She is economically, emotionally, and spiritually desperate. She has suffered abuse, trauma, and grief without any support. Even a wild animal, despite its instincts, will take food from the hand of a predator if they are hungry and desperate enough. Fortunately, Chanie is able to rebuild a better model by overcoming shame and trauma through her school friends, teachers, and mentors.

Stop apologizing for your perceived failures. A perfect life is a boring life. We are here to teach and learn from ourselves and others. No matter who or what you are, all sentient beings share core values and needs. We want the same things, we feel the same fears, and we need each other. There are no traumas so big that they are entitled to dominate your entire life. There is no shame that you can’t shake from your shoulders. It is your right to change course, your right to redefine yourself. You can heal, you can thrive, and you can be whole. There is magic to be found in the fires of life, but we can’t see it when we are fighting the flames. But we have to stay in the fight and put the fire out, so we can see past the smoke, flames, and destruction. So we can see the reclamation of our own personal forest.

What is your writing process?
My process is very scattered, but has three key things: my Boston Terrier, music, and movement. I find that my writing takes on a whole new energy if I combine the process with music, and sometimes, I’ll dance. There was a particular freedom and energy that I felt on stage that made me feel like I could fly. It awakened every sight, sound, and feeling. After a high energy show, I could feel every goosebump on my skin and loved the rush of my pounding heart. I felt fully alive. And I often feel that energy when I’m writing.  
My dog is also a huge part of the process. He keeps me real and balanced. He often comes to my desk with his ball and wants to play. He loves to go for walks in nature, and I find that walking with him often clears my head and gets me past writing and creative blocks.

Who are your favorite writers?
Heather O’Neill is amazing! Her metaphors and characters are pure magic, and her writing is vibrant and alive. I picked up Lullabies for Little Criminals years ago and fell deeply in love with the characters, language, and energy of the prose.  
My other love is Victor Hugo. He has a much different writing style than Heather O’Neill, but his work moves me in a deeply spiritual way. His words are exquisite, and his characters touch the very core of me.
I also love Persian mystic poets like Rumi and Hafiz. Their writing is wildly romantic and reminds me that great love is the essence of life.

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