Should you write a romance bestseller?

Have you been tempted to write a romance bestseller lately? The other day, I was chatting to an author about how speculative fiction is such a hard-sell in India. (It’s the usual conversation between science fiction writers. There’s a handful of passionate us, and a handful of equally passionate readers. The others, don’t really care if it’s not mythology.) Immediately, I get a WMA (well-meaning advice):

“Write romance. It sells like hot cakes in winters.”

Umm. Frankly, all Indian writers, be it of any genre or creed, have thought about romance once in a while. After all, it’s the most selling genre in our country. I did seriously consider it for a second. I did!

And then I remembered, that the last romance I read and appreciated was between the Oankali, alien genetic engineers who  touches DNA in humans to have sex and a woman named Lilith. Author Octavia Butler‘s Lilith Brood gave me as many goosebumps as decades ago Sharukh Khan’s ‘palat’ in the movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge had done. And  I don’t read much romance myself, unless it has alien spit or monster claws involved. So I turned my eyes away from the temptation of writing that romance bestseller we all think we can write and decided to plod along on the current science fiction mess I’m in the middle of.

Should you write a romance bestseller?

Which is why when I came across this witty sketch by author Sarah Maclean over Twitter, I had to share it on my site. Sarah is a period romance writer based in New York. The flowchart tells you how to decide on whether you should write a romance novel or not. As I read it, I was ‘out’ in the first step itself. If you’re considering writing romance like me, due to a WMA given by another or by yourself, do read and go through this flowchart. You’ll figure out the truth, I promise!


Have you ever considered changing your genre and writing something else that is selling well nowadays, like mythology or romance? Do tell me the truth!

Interview: Literary agent Kanishka Gupta on publishing

I’ve always found the job of a literary agent very curious. Since as an author I know that most Indian authors don’t make much money, I do not understand how a literary agent, who charges the author 10-20 percent commission on royalty, makes any money in Indian publishing. This curiousity led me to ask these questions to Kanishka Gupta, a friend and my agent in India for YA/A novels.

Kanishka runs the literary agency Writer’s Side and has represented more than 400 authors in his short six years as an agent. I find him superquick in his responses, honest about his feedback and open to debut authors. In this excerpt he answers all those questions about agenting that had got me curious. I haven’t edited the blog, so it’s rather long. Take your time.


Q) A literary agent is rather an unusual profession. People who come into it, either wanted to be writers or publishers. How did you start as a literary agent?


As an out-of-job, out-of-sorts struggling writer in my early twenties, I was deeply perturbed by the lack of a support mechanism for writers in the country. At that time there was just one literary agency ( yes one!) and publishing editors were like inaccessible government bureaucrats. After freelancing briefly for a literary agency and a well-known novelist, I took the entrepreneurial plunge and founded Writer’s Side. In the beginning WS was more of an editorial consultancy but over time we have shifted our primary focus to author representation.

Continue reading “Interview: Literary agent Kanishka Gupta on publishing”

Media Mentions: HT Brunch, Scroll, Bangalore Mirror

Last few months, got a few journalists asking me to give a quote for a lot of interesting stories they were working on for their media houses. Listing down my absolute favourite ones! This is more for my reference than your reading, but go ahead and read it if you’re looking for interesting stories around storytelling.

Shattering the idea of feminism with wit – Bangalore Mirror

This was a fantastic story that talked about new age women in all careers who are trying to face-off chauvinism, patriarchy and bigotry with humour, wit and a slice of lemon. I loved the story, though I didn’t have to say much I’ve always struggled with the idea of feminism and what it represents in India (aka feminazi) though I bet Anantya would disagree.

 

Who I want to see at Jaipur Literature Festival – HT Brunch

Douglas Adams! That’s who. Imaginethe author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  coming down to Jaipur with his massive wit and observing the whole gamut of the festival and the bustle crowd around literature without a book in their hand. He would have a blast, I tell you.  I loved the answers of others in this too. Read the whole article online here.

Reared by the wolves – Firstpost.com

Firstpost did a great article on why we remain fascinated by the human child that grew up in the jungle, aka Mowgli. I got to add my two bits along with Ashwin Sanghi and others.

 

“Shweta Taneja, a speculative fiction author and a Charles Wallace Writing Fellow, offers this perspective: “I feel the idea of growing up in the wild, away from social norms, is tied up to having a re-look at society and what construes social norms and civilisation. When a character grows up in the jungle so to say, his/her perspective to our society is fresh, explorative, almost child-like in its curiosity, innocent and simplicity. This kind of storytelling is a way to explore the society that we live in from a fresh, almost innocent perspective. The writer, who is invariably city-based and grew up in the civilised environment looks at the jungle/forest space as something which is chaotic and dangerous, but at the same time has codes that are untouched and untainted by the civilized codes.”


Have a story you’re doing? Write to me. I would love to give in my two bits.

GuestPost: Five tips to smash that writer’s block

Do you suffer from writer’s block? I’ve been thinking of taking a break because writing is coming tougher to me nowadays for various reasons. A friend mentioned maybe it was a writer’s block. Since I’ve never fallen for the whole idea of a wall blocking your creative side, I thought I will write about it. And just then serendipitously I came across my wonderful author friend Andaleeb Wajid’s rather helpful blog on the same subject. Andaleeb is a superstar author who keeps churning out one fantastic book after another, while taking care of a vast family, doing workshops on creative writing and generally being a fantastic person. So if she’s talking about this block-monster-thingy, believe me she knows her stuff.  And this is what she suggests you do.


What’s this Writer’s Block?

If there’s one thing every other writer will tell you or post/tweet is that they’re facing a writer’s block at some point or the other in their writing career. Of course, if you are a writer, you know for a fact that writer’s block can strike you unawares and the novel that you were working on is no longer flowing from your finger tips on to the keyboard. This feeling of being stuck, of not being able to move forward is typical of writer’s block. But here’s a secret. Writer’s block doesn’t exist. What? Yes. It doesn’t. Writer’s block has more to do with your mental disposition at the point of time when you’re trying to write, rather than actually being the thing it is made out to be.

If Calvin and Hobbes can do it, so can you!

Over the past years as I’ve been writing my books there have been times when the words just didn’t seem right. There have been times when I haven’t felt like writing. A typical question that students I speak to, or interviewers ask is how I deal with writer’s block. This is how.

1. It’s in your mind. It doesn’t exist. Believe it.

By acknowledging that it does not exist. I try not to get discouraged and I certainly don’t label it as a writer’s block. Typically you may get this block either when you’re in the middle of writing something or you might find yourself unable to start something new. Continue reading “GuestPost: Five tips to smash that writer’s block”

What people say when I tell them I’m an author

In workshops at schools, at literary events, festivals, interactions with writers, strangers and friends, I’ve met some really funny responses to the fact that I am a writer. The awkward conversation starts in a party or a hangout, when you chat to a stranger. Or when one is trying to get through immigration or getting a passport renewed. (shudders)

‘What do you do?’ someone asks jovially, a drink down. Heading for another. ‘I write,’ I answer with my winning smile.  Blank stare. ‘Books and articles and stuff,’ I try again. Blank stare. ‘I am an author,’ I venture. ‘An authorpreneur?’ I try again, my tongue doing Patanjali-trademarked yoga on the twisted word, desperate now, mentally kicking myself for paving in to the popular perception and respectability of the word ‘author’ rather than the more humdrum ‘writer’ which is how I see myself.

‘Oh,’ says the stranger.wpid-wp-1432640428580.jpg

What follows can be any of these responses and my response to it.

 

‘You know, I’ve always wanted to write a book.’

‘Great. Write it.’

‘I have an idea about a book.’

‘Great, write it.’

‘I wish I could write.’

‘Practice makes people perfect.’

‘Will you write a book for me? I have an idea.’

‘No. Ideas are like flies. They’re everywhere. Why don’t you go flush yours down the toilet? See where that leads you?’

 ‘Do you make any money?’

‘Nope.’

Oh, you mean like Chetan Bhagat?’

‘Yes. We both write fiction.’

‘Give me your book, I want to read it.’

‘I don’t carry my book, the same way you don’t carry a factory or the excel sheets you make at office all day long.’

‘Will I get a free copy?’

‘Sure. Can I drill your empty head and stuff it with empathy. Please?’

‘Oh. I need a signed copy.’

‘Great. Order a book, call me. I am always up for signing copies.’

‘Acha hai. You have to do something for time pass.’

‘I am rather fascinated to find the overflowing vat of idiocy behind that bushel of hair that grows so proudly on your head.’

‘Isn’t writing a hobby?’

‘It can be. I just do it all day long.’

‘Wow! So you will become famous like Chetan Bhagat and earn lots of money?’

‘Not really. Most of us don’t earn. It’s a silly profession. Work hard, get nothing. We have no idea why we do it. But we do. Kind of like being addicted to alcohol. Or cigarettes. Or coffee.’

‘Why don’t you make a movie out of it and earn lots of money?’

‘Did I say I was a director?’

‘I have this fascinating idea, which I think will make a really good movie.’ (From a hair stylist, cutting my hair)

‘Ok-ay. (politely, since I did want a nice haircut) Did I say I was a producer?’

‘You don’t look like one.’ (From a rather judgmental 11-year-old)

‘Oh. See my name on the tag of this literary festival? See the name on the book I’m holding? Can you even read?’

‘Oh, I am so jealous. You have an easy life. Sitting at home, making stories.’

‘Try it, will you? Please do. Practice by staring at a screen all day long, waiting to see if your brain will work and produce a publishable phrase.’

‘So how do you earn?’

‘I don’t earn from books. Period. I get my income, depending on mood, from selling peanuts on the road or stealing from overpaid MBAs, by hitting them with a running shoe.’

‘So you will get famous soon?’

‘One hopes, but no. Most authors don’t.’

‘Where can I buy it?’

‘Everywhere. Do you go to bookstores?’

‘Sorry, I don’t read.’

‘What a loss of a perfectly sound brain. Oh, wait…’

‘How was the response to your latest book?’ 

‘Umm. How many times have you had sex this week? This month? …year?’

‘Really? What’s the name of your book?’

‘Cult of Chaos.’

‘Chhaas…what?’

‘Let’s go get drunk. Please.’

(Hurries away to get a drink.)


Cross published in DailyO and YouthKiAwaaz.

Make time travel with time-lapse video apps

A sunset crunched in 3 seconds. A party shortened to a few minutes. Time-lapse videos used to be a pain to shoot but now with smarter apps they’re as simple as, well, taking a selfie. Here are a few apps to turn you into a video pro.

Hyperlapse

If you’re an Instagram workhorse, Hyperlapse is the app for you to capture a speedball video. The app smoothens hand-held videos using a fantastic image-stabilization software that uses data from your phone’s gyroscope to measure and remove frames that are shaky. Run, walk, jump, fall, drive and take a video and get a cinematic feel without lugging around a selfie stick or a tripod. All you need to do is hold the phone camera up, shoot a video, choose how fast you want it to go (it can speed up your videos up to 12 times)and upload. The only downside of the app is that it is available only on iPhones.

Free on iPhone and iPad. Hyperlapse.instagram.com

Microsoft Hyperlapse

One of the few apps to create timelapse on Windows Phone, the Microsoft Hyperlapse Mobile comes with a simple, easy-to-use interface. It offers 32x speed, so you can crunch hours of videos into a few minutes. And you’re not limited to just the app. You can import any video, taken anywhere and speedball them up. What we also loved is that it can record 1080p videos. That’s pro- quality video for free and just right to be seen on the biggest screen in your home. This app can also stabilize videos, though that happens only if you choose 1x speed.

Free on Windows Phone and Android. Research.microsoft.com

Framelapse

Build by Noida-based computer engineer Nishant Singh as part of his project in the last year of his B.Tech course, the app comes loaded with features to take a hyper video. You can adjust the frame interval, speed, zoom, autofocus, adjust white balance, choose the front or back camera, set video resolution and take a video in landscape or portrait. You can also set up a video duration to stop recording automatically. So just place it in a corner of a party and let it do all the work while you mingle. The Pro version, which costs $2.99 (around Rs204), has added advance functions like sleep mode that reduces battery drain while recording and customization of the length of the video, exposure and frame interval.

Free on Android. Neximolabs.com


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Year end and so much to be thankful for

Time is a thing of beauty. There are moments it trickles, slows down enough that you can hear your heart beat, beat by beat. There are flashes when time zooms, taking you on a journey full of laughter and glee. That’s how my 2016 went. Flew by, waited tiresomely and pondered. So I just want to list down the things I was thankful for.

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Made new friends

Beginning of the year, I shivered and learnt from Booker Prize winners at Chichester as a Charles Wallace fellow. Gave a talk in London. Worked on three books simultaneously, editing two and writing a new one. Learnt how empty it feels when you finish a project you’ve been with for years. Wandered in loneliness and heard myself. In the process, hung out with new people and made new friends.

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Learnt about failure

The book I started, refused to come to me. I lacked the skills for it and had to park it. I learnt to breathe and learnt about patience. I learnt to let things go. Attended a wedding in the middle of July in Delhi. Roamed on the streets. Found bugs with nephew and saw them through a lens so we could appreciate the beauty in their wings.

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Did things new to me

Saw a zebra running wild and a lioness being licked by her cubs. Found how hard it was to plant a tree. Launched a book and became a hybrid author. Started a new book, which I’m halfway through as I write this and am hoping to finish. Joined an ATM line, two days after demonetisation was announced and read a book on my Kindle. Joined two startups as their communication advisor.

All through this, I made many new friends and spent time with my old ones. Wandered the streets, chattered over filter coffee and green tea. Heard stories, nodded in empathy and danced away the nights. I’m so thankful my year went so beautifully.

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As you read this, I’m off somewhere in Madhya Pradesh, with my closest buddies, doing what I do to recharge my creative batteries: Walking, hiking and listen to collective wisdom on the road. I’ll come back with new stories, probably of ghosts, woes to share, ideas to write down and more things to be thankful for.

Have a wonderful year end, peeps.

Read, learn, make new friends, be merry, share laughter with strangers, fall in love, learn a new skill, slow down, get fit, plant a tree and listen to what it says to you. Take your life away from gadgets and make time for the people you love. For we won’t be here forever. And remember to be thankful for everything the universe has given you. Oh, and keep having that tea with Mad Hatter.

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Award-winning author Jim Crace on how to win a literary award

I had a chance to attend a talk of the award-winning English writer Jim Crace in Chichester University when I was there for a writing fellowship. He was marvellously witty, charming and brutally honest about the publishing industry and how to keep an eye out for things that destroy writing. His latest novel Harvest,  won the 2015 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the 2013 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. That’s a lot of awards for someone who’d famously announced his retirement and then backtracked when a new idea took over his mind.

Post the talk, in true Brit tradition, as we headed to a pub for beer, I had a chance of interacting with Jim one on one and frankly, was charmed away. He was a great listener and genuinely interested in my experiences as a “genre author” from India. The journalist in me insisted that I record a few sayings of his for myself, as inspiration. And so I wrote to him post our conversation and got him to answer a few cheeky and not-so-cheeky questions. Here are the excerpts from an interview. When in doubt, follow his advice, I say.

Q) If someone wants to win a literary award, like you have, how should they go about it? 

Don’t even think about it. That way, madness. Winning prizes is just a matter of luck and it is entirely beyond your control. There’s no accounting for taste; there’s no controlling the judges; and even if you were able to pack the selection committee with all your cousins, there is no guarantee that any of them would vote for your book.

Q) Any suggestions for writers who’re stuck in a vast desert called the middle of a novel?

There are a thousand answers to this. But there are no golden rules except that -as with all great deserts- it’s useful to have a camel and some water. What has worked for me is to stop at the end of each day, knowing exactly what I have to pick up on the following morning. I also commit the first line of, say, Chapter 20 to the screen or page, just as I am starting on Chapter 19. It gives Chapter 19 a sense of destination.

Continue reading “Award-winning author Jim Crace on how to win a literary award”

Neil Gaiman’s handwritten notes

Call me old fashioned, but there’s something in notes that are handwritten. So I salivate after notes of my favourite authors, trying to find bits and pieces of handwritten marvels from them, when they were constructing my favourite books. So imagine my sheer bliss at having discovered Neil Gaiman’s notes on his book American Gods. of that’s been handwritten. Glee.

Initial thoughts about the book

Continue reading “Neil Gaiman’s handwritten notes”

The zero-baggage webapps

Smartphone users are tired of downloading and updating apps. It’s time for businesses to think about Webapps


Gunjan Jain, a Delhi-based media professional, spends most of her time on her iPhone 5s, which has 16 GB space, with no memory card slot to add more. To save battery, she has switched off the auto update feature for the 20-25 apps she has on her phone. She manually updates apps on her phone every month. “Sometimes I have to delete old apps before I can try new ones as there’s no extra space for them on the phone,” she says, wishing there was a simpler solution.

It was storage space issues that made Bengaluru-based Kiran Jonnalagadda, a technologist and founder of HasGeek, a community of technologists, buy a OnePlus 2, with 64 GB extendable space, six months ago. “I’m a heavy app and data user and have over 100 apps on my phone,” he says.

What are Webapps?

Although mobile applications, as we know them, have proved to be quite useful, they’re also inconvenient. The ones you can download on your Android, iOS or Windows 10 smartphone are called native apps. If your phone doesn’t have enough storage space, these apps can become a massive headache. The solution lies in using apps on Web browsers, such as Google’s Chrome or Mozilla’s Firefox, on your phone. Continue reading “The zero-baggage webapps”