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We can use trauma or hurt as a launch pad to progress

Caron Asgarali - Author of Hot Cocoa on a Rainy Day!

is a former Chemistry teacher. Now, an educator, author, inspirational speaker and an advocate for peace, against violence. Having survived a near death experience, in her life, she has become enriched spiritually and otherwise. She is a mother of one adult son. She is an avid runner too, the longest distance she covered running a half marathon.

Her motto is transforming hurt into hope and her wish is to inspire hope in others.

In her own life, she saw that it is possible to take the raw deals given to you and turn them around into a greater good. So out of that horrific incidence of sudden and devastating violence, she was able to accomplish things she would not have dreamed about before.

In 2017 she presented a white paper on resilience at a conference in South Africa hosted by a Canadian university in collaboration with a South African university.

In 2018, she was one of twenty BBC Outlook Inspirations nominees.

In 2019 she was awarded a Vocational Award by a local chapter of Rotary International. Later that same year she was awarded a Hero’s Award for Determination by the Amway Corporation.

Sharon - Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Author Caron - I was inspired by the people I met on my journey as an inspirational speaker - everyone has a story. I had my own story of resilience after being shot in my face, chest and shoulder during an attempted robbery. As I say now, I am living a second life. In sharing my story with others, I found that people needed a platform to share their own stories of strength, persistence, faith and resilience to inspire hope and motivate others into taking positive action. I chose to use the platform of this book to help.

Sharon - What can you tell us about your book?

Author Caron - Hot Cocoa on a Rainy Day has 10 (+1) Stories to Warm Your Heart through their authenticity, fine flavour, interconnectedness, hope and faith.

This book, Hot Cocoa on a Rainy Day, 10 (+1) Stories to Warm Your Heart, is the fourth book I have published. It is the first in a series of books that will be launched over a period of time.

The stories are collected from Trinidadians who have faced various challenges. Each of the protagonists is relatable and courageous, telling personal stories, revealing some of their deepest, darkest secrets.

The stories encompass challenges that range from health issues to child abuse, to failure, fear of public speaking, deception at work, poverty and a life-threatening fall.

Set in the land of the fine flavoured Trinitario cocoa, the cocoa from which exquisite dark chocolate is made, the stories help the reader to experience a taste of the resilience, community and culture of Trinidad and Tobago.

Hot Cocoa on a Rainy Day, 10 (+1) Stories to Warm Your Heart speaks quietly to the heart of those who are discouraged, dejected, depressed or downtrodden, stirring the beauty, hope and resilience already within them.

Every story has its own energy. Whatever your personal trial/challenge, you can find a story that resonates. All the stories in this installation are meant to restore our appreciation and love for life and provide a sanctuary of hope.

Sharon - What Genre is your book and why did you make that choice?

Author Caron - The book is listed under Religion and Spirituality/ Personal Transformation/ motivational/self help

Sharon - How long did it take for you to complete this book?

Author Caron - From the conception to sourcing stories and collaborating authors to editing and publishing, it took about one year.

Sharon - What was the hardest part while writing this book?

Author Caron - The hardest part of writing this book was in sourcing the right type of stories and getting the stories submitted in time from the various authors. However, that said, it was still a lot easier than may be expected, seeing that my authors did it out of the goodness of their hearts and to inspire.

Editing the stories was not difficult but it did take some time.

However, for some of the authors, the challenging part was facing their worst times, as they reflected on how they were able to positively progress through their various traumas. In the words of several of them, the writing process, though emotionally difficult, was cathartic.

Sharon - How did you come up with the Title of this book?

Author Caron - As a child, I loved rainy days and the comfort, warmth and security that I felt when the rain pounded on our galvanised roof while my mother made hot cocoa and what we call “fried bakes” in Trinidad. They are small round fried dough...absolutely delicious.

One scene remained with me from when I studied literature at secondary school around the age of 12-14. It was from another book written by Trinidadian author, Michael Anthony, The Year In San Fernando. He described a similar scene to my childhood memories.

I kept it simple and tried to capture those emotions of comfort, peace, a sense of security and warmth with the title of Hot Cocoa. All over the world people understand the feeling of familiarity and tradition associated with Hot Cocoa. So the name may be a little unusual but it is certainly relatable.

Sharon - Did you design your book cover or hire a professional?

Author Caron - While I knew exactly what I wanted the cover to accomplish, what feelings I wanted it to evoke and had an image in my mind, I am by no means a graphic designer. I had the choice to use online services - free or paid- and did experiment with a few. Again, just like with the publishing option, I was not satisfied.

Fortunately for me, one of my authors is a graphic designer who has his own company in Trinidad. He volunteered his service and I happily acquiesced.

I think it turned out pretty awesome. He was able to capture the essence of the book and I have been told by readers that the cover is inviting, drawing them in to sip a cup of hot cocoa and curl up with the book, on rainy days, literally or emotionally.

Sharon - Did you self-Publish or use a publisher? Who was the publisher and how much time did they take to publish your book.

Author Caron - The most difficulty I had as I worked to get this book out was in the publishing process. Writing it, in collaboration with nine other authors was not difficult, getting it published proved to be a challenge. I could not get the cosy feeling I wanted to evoke from the layouts being offered to me so I eventually chose to publish independently.

I tried two alternatives but ended up going with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and the process was a lot faster than I had imagined it would be. Within a very short time, my book had gone live. If my records are correct and my memory serves me well, it took me about one week to learn KDP publishing steps, to upload and make corrections until I was satisfied with the final file. When I hit publish, I received a message that it would take a few days. I am happy to say that it took just one day for the kindle version to go live and two days for the paperback to become available!

Prior to that, I had tried one of those so-called “vanity” presses. After a lot of heartache, not getting exactly what I felt the book should look like to reflect my vision and a fair amount of my scarce cash, in desperation I sought the advice of fellow authors who directed me to KDP. I had no regrets.

Sharon - How did you celebrate after you completed your book?

Author Caron - My celebration involved going to visit the protagonist in my first story. She is a cocoa farmer and I could not wait for her to be among the first to know. I also shared my link to everyone I know and got in a good night’s rest (I had quite a few sleepless or restless nights before publishing, particularly as I had other authors depending on me).

Sharon - How do you deal with negative reviews on your book review?

Author Caron - I have learnt over my lifetime that I cannot be everything to everyone. There will be naysayers along with those who love you and your work. I read all reviews and listen to all comments. I take what I consider constructive and use it to try to improve my process.

Of course, being human, it may sting depending on the content, the amount of venom and the source. But like a sting, unless you are allergic, the effect is temporary and can be ameliorated by attitude.

Sharon - When did you start writing?

Author Caron - I started writing seriously in 2013 after the life-changing event of surviving gun violence at the hands of criminals who were on a robbery spree in my country. That incident left me unable to speak for several weeks. During that time, I depended on writing to communicate, even to myself. After discharge from the hospital, I started to write my story as a means of getting the negativity out of my head. Coming out of a bout of PTSD, approximately one year after the incident, I started to write my first book.

Sharon - How many books have you written?

Author Caron - I have written three books on my own prior to this anthology, Hot Cocoa on a Rainy Day. My first book was a memoir based on the incident in which I was injured. It was titled, From Lion to Lamb, A Spiritual Journey. The second was a prayer book, Gently Powerful Personal Prayers for Collective Grace and the third was Bounce Back Better, 10 (+1) Key steps for Building Resilience.

Sharon - Who is your favourite Author and why?

Author Caron - I cannot name a single favourite author but I do have several authors whose work I turn to at different times and for different needs. For example, I like to read classic books and stories by Shakespeare for example. I also used to like to read Sydney Sheldon and Stephen King. Now I read all types of self help motivational books. I enjoy the simple philosophies of Joel Osteen. I like the spiritual depth of Jonathan Lamb. Jeffrey Gitomer is my go-to for marketing and sales. If you asked what is my favourite book, I would have to answer the Bible.

Sharon - What advice would you give to a writer, for their first book?

Author Caron - Start reaching out to people, to build a community before or while you are writing your book. Do the necessary research, even if you think you are an expert in the field. Write every day! Get a first draft done, then start editing. Don’t get stuck trying to edit as you write. Investing in a professional cover is a great idea if you can afford it.

To Follow the Author

Interview by Sharon Swathi Gaddala

We wish Caron Asgarali all the success for her book.

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