Why pomegranates?

Before I wrote the novel, I hadn’t noticed pomegranates, particularly. They were slightly astringent, sweet fruits that I could never peel well. And the thought of eating seeds seemed like too much work. Wait a minute. I’ve never really tried to peel one, I thought. I’ve only eaten pomegranates as a garnish here and there. And they have that lovely ruby color. Why not try it? I learned to harvest the seeds easily by holding the pulp under running water, and have enjoyed them tremendously ever since.

And then I began seriously cultivating Eve’s Garden.

As I constructed subplots and tried to deepen the meaning of the garden in the novel, beyond the easy reference to the Bible, I explored possible symbols and came across the pomegranate (Punica granatum) again and again. The significance for my character, Evangeline, the Romani herbalist and midwife, was immediately transparent: The pomegranate is thought to have originated in the region from Northern India to Iran, the area in which our Romani ancestors also originated (India) and then became slaves and forced conscripts (modern-day Iran, or ancient Persia and the Ghazni empire); and it also can be an abortifacient or contraceptive, in the right proportions and in the right combinations. (Do I need to say this is not medical advice? See your doctor, please.)

In these regions, femininity is covered, hidden, and often exploited in modern times, but celebrated in many of the ancient cultures that gave rise to the modern world.

The word “pomegranate” derives from the medieval Latin for “apple,” “pomum,” and “granatum,” or “seeded,” and thus seemed appropriate for background imagery when the rapist-turned preacher Lewis Allen rails against immodesty after an episode from the novel in which Eve, the central character in my novel, and her friend, Beverly, have one of their early experiences with boys. Hypocrisy and horticulture mix well in literary symbolism. (“Punica” refers to the ancient Phoenicians, those intrepid merchants who spread the pomegranate’s cultivation across the Middle East and Mediterranean. The pomegranate is extensively grown in South China and in Southeast Asia, where it spread along the route of the Silk Road, perhaps brought by sea traders .Kandahar in Afghanistan is known for its high quality pomegranates. And the fruit is widely popular in drier climates, such as Arizona and California.)

It is the ancient meaning for “Punica” or pomegranate as “apple” that many scholars believe was at the root of the apple in the Garden of Eden, a location which many consider most likely to have been in the pomegranate’s native habitat of Central Persia.

For me, that knowledge of good and evil is a metaphor for the fruit of the womb, which can be both blessing and burden for women. Which is ours alone to figure out.

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Last thoughts for Women’s History Month

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Betty Friedan used to say that the 1950s and early 1960s were a time when we wore girdles on our heads.

I think of that remark when I talk to writers. If I ask a group, “Who’s working on a novel manuscript?” A few will put their hands up, boldly, but I see many hesitate and even more squirm as if the manuscript were an uncomfortable telephone book beneath their bums. My goal in a workshop is always to get those hands in the air, waving with confidence.

I set Eve’s Garden in those days, when our heads were wrapped in layers of expectations that didn’t accommodate bold visions for women. In some societies, in some segments of our own society, those confining, latex-like expectations and teachings still prevail.

Eve and her mother, Maisie, and especially her grandmother, Evangeline, defy those expectations. And they pay the price, but not without gaining more than they lose. In fact, Eve has a plan to build greater possibilities for the girls under her care.

In October, I’ll be teaching a workshop for Jane’s Stories Press Foundation on what I learned about writing a novel during my time spent with these three wonderful imaginary women. Date and time and place (other than that it will be in the Chicago area) haven’t been announced yet, but if you’re floundering with your novel or just a bit stuck or maybe hesitant to take it head-on, I hope you’ll join us; watch here for details.

In the meantime, if you have a story about what confines you and what you’ve observed about bold visions, please drop me a line in the comment section.

And, by the way, what is the difference, do you think, between what’s above and Spanx, etc.? Are we a little sexier, but still “reducing” ourselves?

Empower Afghan Women

Empower Afghan Women

Click this link to learn more:

Young women and girls account for one-eighth of the world's population. And even though many are the primary caregivers and breadwinners in their household – most still do not enjoy even basic human rights. 


This situation is especially acute in Afghanistan, where despite efforts by the U.S. government, the United Nations, and others to improve the lives of women and girls, many still lack access to basic health care and schools. Many face violence and intimidation, daily. And Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. 

You can ensure these basic rights for the women of Afghanistan by asking your senator to support The Afghan Women Empowerment Act introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

If passed, The Afghan Women Empowerment Act will strengthen and empower women and girls in Afghanistan by providing critical resources to organizations that promote adult literacy education, technical and vocational training and health care services. It also provides assistance to especially vulnerable populations, including widows and orphans. 

Ask your senator to support The Afghan Women Empowerment Act now. 

This bill is critical as the maternal death rate for Afghan women is tragically high — with one mother dying for every 56 births — because it provides equipment, medical supplies and other assistance to health care facilities to reduce maternal and infant mortality. 

The bill also funds programs to protect women and girls against sexual and physical abuse, abduction, trafficking, exploitation, and includes emergency shelters for women and girls who face danger from violence. 

We urge you to support Sen. Boxer's work to empower and protect women in Afghanistan. It is time for serious action, now. 

Thank you for taking action for the women of Afghanistan. 

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