Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rockin' on The Prophet's Birthday

When traveling in Syria my friend Janet and I visited the town of Ma'loula, a village cut into rock about an hour from Damascas known for its preservation of the Aramaic language, the language Christ spoke. The place has a long history, which includes the refuge of Thecla, a woman who led people to Chrisitanity as a follower of St. Paul. A larger-than-life statue of The Virgin Mary overlooks the valley and a monastery on the mountaintop celebrates Mass every morning in Aramaic. Please see my website for a video of the local priest reciting the Lord's Prayer in this ancient language.

The day we arrived in Ma'loula, the townspeople were busy setting up chairs, shade tarps and mega speakers. Soon, rocked-up versions of Sufi music echoed off the bluffs. As we passed by the crowd, men waved to us to join them, handing us small cups of hot tea and bags of roasted nuts. They directed Janet and I to the women's side of the space. Women covered in veils and others wearing black chadors stood up to greet us, kissing us on both cheeks, and others reached out to squeeze our hands. We could hardly hear their greetings over the music. We soon learned that we were in the midst of a birthday celebration for The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him. "We're celebrating about a month late," someone with English told us. "because of the weather."

The mix of religions coexisting in this town felt mirrored in Damascas and every other town we visited in Syria, as if everyone is equally appreciative and proud of a shared rich cultural heritage.

For more information visit: www.MeghanNuttallSayres.com

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Shrines of Damascas, An Interfaith Experience

When traveling in Iran, Turkey and Syria I have witnessed the convivial atmosphere of people of different faiths living together. In Damascas, my friend Janet and I came upon this shrine in the old Jewish Quarter for Say'yeda Roqayya, The Prophet Muhammad's granddaughter. It would be one of many Muslim, Christian or Jewish shrines we would visit during our travels in Syria, including those of St. Paul, Saint Thecla (a convert of Paul), John the Baptist, Ibn Arabi, among others. I was told that the neighborhood of Roqayya's shrine is home to many Shiite Muslims from Iran.

After borrowing proper robes and head covering, my friend and I were welcomed into the mosque and the women's sanctuary beside Roqayya's tomb. Here pilgrims chatted and wept together as they paid homage to this revered saint. The women were delighted that we took the time to visit with them. Many hugged us, kissed us on both of our cheeks and asked to take photos with us. The video below will give you a feel for the mood of this moment.

Walking in the footsteps of these holy people was a treat for me as I have written characters based on some of them in a collection of stories Daughters of the Desert: Tales Of Remarkable Women From the Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, which I coauthored with Storyforce authors Claire Rudolf Murpy and Mary Cronk Farrell. For more information and images about the interfaith aspects of my trip, please visit the pages on my website for this book as well as the Middle East section.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Storyteller of Damascas

I have just returned from Turkey and Syria, the setting of my novel-in-progress. While in Damascas I met Abu Shadi, a storyteller who has been carrying on the tradition in the Coffee Shop Ainfora beside the Ummayid Mosque. (Among other things, this mosque houses a shrine for John the Baptist.) Since time immemorial Arab men gathered in tea houses to drink tea, smoke waterpipes and talk. Even under Ottoman rule they continued to maintain this aspect of their culture though the cafes were subject to scrutiny by their new rulers. Men whose wives were giving birth waited in the tea house among friends who would congratulate or console them, should the baby or mother die.

Storytellers, like series writers today, always ended their tales with a cliff hanger, so people would return to the coffee house the next night. Check out the Middle Eastern pages on my website in the coming weeks for more photos of this most expressive and conversant storyteller as well as to view a video of Abu Shadi telling his story.

---Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Good book night

Another First Friday book discussion. Among the books we liked this month:

Going Bovine - Libba Bray
Jumped - Rita Williams-Garcia
Rapunzel's Revenge - Shannon Hale
To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel - Siena Cherson Siegel
Princess Ben - Catherine Murdoch
Charles & Emma - Deborah Heiligman
When You Reach Me - Rebecca Stead
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Grace Lin
Rock 'n Roll Soldier - Dean Ellis Kohler

Thanks, Claire, for hosting.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Timekeeper's Moon

I will have to stop saying I never win anything. Recently, I won a Native American dinner prepared from authentic recipes and ingredients. It was delicious and interesting! The same could be said of The Timekeeper’s Moon, by Joni Sensel. I won an advance copy of the book in a contest over at Joan Stradling’s blog .
I loved it! I did not want to put it down and I stayed up late to finish it. A sequel to Sensel’s The Farwalker’s Quest, Timekeeper’s Moon, is set in a world far in the future when all technology has vanished from the world. The people developed innate talents to survive after “the Blinding” a war that left everyone blind.
Ariel, the only remaining one with “Farwalker” talent is a wonderful character. She hears the moon calling her and feels compelled to follow. With a mysterious map and her feet to guide her, Ariel sets out on a dangerous journey to save the vault of knowledge she discovered in the first book.
The writing is beautiful, original and suspenseful. The world is fascinating and well-crafted. It’s hard for me to say which of the books I like best, but if I had to choose, I would say the relationships between the characters in Timekeeper’s Moon tips the balance. They feel so real they practically thrum off the page.
Another thing I will have to stop saying, is that I don’t like fantasy. Joni Sensel, you captured my heart with this one.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Kidlit Contest

Associate agent Mary Kole, from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, is offering a chance to submit the first 500 words of your completed MG or YA novel over at her blog’s “Novel Beginnings” contest!

The prize?

Grand Prize Winner: A 15 page critique
First Place: A 10 page critique
Second Place: A 5 page critique
Third Place: A 2 page critique
Honorable Mention(s): A critique of the first page of your novel

Deadline for entries: Sunday, January 31st at 11:59 p.m., Pacific Time.

Read the details of the contest and submit at
Kidlit Contest

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Talking Books

Many thanks to Mary Cronk Farrell for organizing a monthly book-talk group. Last Friday, a congenial mix of teachers, librarians and writers gathered to chat about recently read books we loved. Among those discussed:

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen
All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg, YA
Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, HS/adult
The White Giraffe by Jill St. John, MG
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, MG, YA
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, MG, YA
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, YA
Pagan's Crusade by Catherine Jinks, YA
Columbine by Dave Cullen, HS/adult
A Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, HS/adult
Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberg, adult
The Help by Katheryn Stockett, adult

--cross-posted to Under the Covers