Chandler journalist publishes first novel The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler journalist publishes first novel

October 8th, 2020 Chandler Arizona Staff
Chandler journalist publishes first novel
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By PAUL MARYNIAK
Arizonan Executive Editor

As a journalist for several decades, Srianthi Perera has chronicled everything from breaking news stories to people profiles to local events – many of them in recent years in the East Valley.

Now, the Chandler writer has expanded her repertoire to include fiction with her newly published novel, “A Maiden’s Prayer: A Family Story Based in 1970s Sri Lanka.”

Set in the 1970s in the Southeast Asian tropical island of her native Sri Lanka, Perera’ novel centers around Berty Rajakaruna, a Jane Austen-type of bachelor, trying to figure out whether marriage is worth the effort to reclaim his family estate from the clutches of a scheming sister.

The estate is crumbling but special to Berty because it was founded by his great-great-grandfather, who was a Mudaliyar – comparable to a country squire – under British rule.    

The story is told through the eyes and voice of a 12-year-old girl who is rebelling against the traditions she has to follow.

It is set in the 1970s, a turbulent period in Sri Lanka’s history with a socialist ruling party whose policies resulted in food shortages and a soaring cost of living.

The novel also opens readers to the little known Sri Lankan culture and society, woven together by the thread of Berty’s life.

It also examines Sri Lankan beliefs in the power of Vedic astrology and the role an individual’s character plays in precipitating his karma. Astrology was the basis of many arranged marriages of the day.

And it also is framed by Buddhist thought, the religion for the vast majority of Sri Lankans, who follow Ahimsa and its principles of nonviolence.

“Above all, ‘A Maiden’s Prayer’ speaks to the universality of the human experience. This tiny island in the Indian Ocean is a world apart, but how connected are we in our needs, desires, fears and emotions?” Perera said.

Crossing over to the world of fiction might seem unusual for someone who has worked as a journalist in her native Sri Lanka, the Sultanate of Oman, Canada and the United States.

If her name sounds familiar, the former Arizona Republic reporter also was a staffer for Times Publications, which publishes the SanTan Sun News.

Her byline still appears in the SanTan Sun News and its sister papers in the East Valley as a freelance journalist.

But crossing over from the world of nonfiction was not necessarily all that  major a transition, Perera said. Indeed, her last boss in Canada told her “There’s a book in you” when Perera told her she was heading to the States.

“When I followed my husband from Canada to the U.S., I didn’t have a work visa to continue in journalism,” Perera recalled. “I left the job of an assistant editor in an up-market visitor publication called ‘Where Vancouver’ and moved to Rochester, N.Y. in the dead of winter in 1998 with a sliver of an idea taking shape in my mind.”

“I set out to find ‘my book’ by volunteering at Writers & Books in Rochester, where I met a community of like-minded individuals who sympathetically steered me toward taking fiction classes,” Perera explained.

“I was asked to write about something I know and bring it to class,” she continued. “It wasn’t difficult to find an experience that would be foreign to most Americans. I created Tamara de Silva and followed her coming of age.

“My voice took over: I had a few characters and the beginnings of a story. I had no idea what would happen to them as I went along but I had my book.”

She found writing fiction “comes naturally to me.”

“Nearly all of my previous work at magazines and newspapers pertained to factual news or feature writing but I find it easy to switch back and forth between the two,” she added.

Besides, she noted, “I find my newspaper training, where I had to strive to be 100 percent accurate, a boon for writing fiction. Hence, the 1970s life depicted in the novel – social, cultural, political and otherwise – is not imagined, but a true, nostalgic re-creation.”

“A Maiden’s Tale” has also been a long time coming.

“Although I got off to a great start and had the steady encouragement of the instructor, there were many subsequent moves within the U.S. for us during that time,” Perera said. “Hence, chapter four, five and six were written in Oregon, seven and eight in Kansas, nine in Virginia and so on. When we settled in Arizona in 2003, I was more than two-thirds done.”

She pushed the novel to the background when she “immersed myself in the exciting daily grind of a major newspaper.”

But after she retired from fulltime journalism two years ago, she put part of the novelist side of her brain to work.

She joined the now defunct south Chandler group called The Serious Scribes, led by Mitzi Kleidon, and “I was inspired to write the last few chapters and conceptualize the difficult ending with the members’ help.”

Ironically, the pandemic helped her finished what she started many years ago.

“Over the years, I improved the story from time to time but I didn’t pursue publishing it,” Perera said. “Then the pandemic hit and robbed us all of social interaction. It is a great time to publish a novel.”

But the journalist side of her creative soul isn’t completely absent from her work, either.

“The main storyline is fictional,” Perea said, “But yes, there are autobiographical elements in the novel. Tamara de Silva came-of-age in 1970s Sri Lanka in the midst of a loving, extended family that organized regular spend-the-days, during which time they collectively hashed out problems and helped each other. This is my personal experience.

“Tamara also attended a well-reputed private school in Colombo, just like I did. Many Sri Lankans believe in astrology to guide their lives and my family was no exception.”

Now that she’s finished, Perera is hoping readers agree she has realized her philosophy toward novels:

“A well-written novel can transport a reader to a different time and place. When the story is written with humor and pathos – true reflections of life – the experience can be even better.”

“I did not have a Berty Uncle in the circle, but there are many Berty Uncles in society at any given time in any country,” she said.

“A Maiden’s Prayer” is priced at $16 for the paperback and $5 for the e-book and available at amazon.com:  tinyurl.com/A-Maidens-Prayer

Information:  amazon.com/author/srianthiperera or srianthiperera.com

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