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.

5 life hacks for aspiring writers

Want to start on that first book? Aspire to get published? Here are a few tips for aspiring writers that I shared with Writersmelon.

Why do you want to write?

If you want to be a writer, the first thing that you need, which is I think a very individualistic thing, is the desire to write, the passion to create something new, to express a story, a character in a new way. I write because  characters crop up in my head and bang inside, demanding to be let out. I write because it’s addictive and I have no other choice. It’s the highest I’ve ever felt, and also the lowest. It’s hard, but I’m not going to leave it anytime soon.

Once you’ve keyed on this desire, it will drive you through the long, long process of gathering the skills and actually writing the whole thing. Ideas are easy to come by, getting the skill of writing is also not too difficult, but it’s this desire that makes all the difference. This motivation that comes from inside you, will discipline you, make sure you don’t give up halfway and will not let you rest till you complete the creative work. In that sense, it’s an intrinsic value.

A stranger browsing the book. Isn't that nice!
A stranger browsing the book. Isn’t that nice!

Finish that first draft

Don’t let your rational mind take over till you complete the first draft. Write with your instinct, write whatever you see the characters doing, just write without thinking too much. The only thing you can do is be true to your characters. Don’t let your opinion on life and your language leak through into the story, for the readers will know and they’ll not like it. After you have completed the first draft, edit, polish and edit again. Once you think it’s ready to be sent to a publisher, wait for a week. Edit again and send to the publisher. Don’t think of it as a hobby. Think of writing as your work. You have to do it everyday, even if you don’t feel like getting up from the bed. Write everyday, even if you are sad or not in the mood or don’t have time for it or can’t think of a single line to write. Write a portion everyday.

Continue reading “5 life hacks for aspiring writers”

Cult of Chaos launched in Atta Galatta with an occult quiz

Never knew that a standalone event, where people are coming just to meet you, to celebrate your book, can give one such jitters. So it was that I had had a sort of a stomach churning, a week before my first ever book launch was about to happen. I adore Anantya Tantrist, the tantrik detective of Cult of Chaos. Absolutely love the book, but how was I going to convince 50-odd people to turn up at the event and buy the book at that? And why should they come? I’m not a known author or anything. I’m just someone. But somewhere I so wanted to somehow celebrate the book and writing and completing and getting it published. I’ve always been the curious sorts, asking questions to everyone. So I wondered, why not a quiz? The idea stuck and we decided to do not just any quiz but a special one, on Occult Detectives to entertain the crowd.  I knew Anantya would like that and that way, I wouldn’t have to ramble on about the book for half an hour, or do a discussion, which can be so boring for the audience! That decided, we hired  QuizCraft Global to conduct this quiz. To start the quiz, I had asked a friend Kanishka who had read the book at its manuscript level, to say a little about it. He started from The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong, which he’d read and how he was so pleasantly surprised at Cult of Chaos, which is extensively different from my first book. (And definitely not meant for kids) I blushed and got muddled in my head, while he said really, really nice things. Sathvik Ashok, the quiz master from QuizCraft Global took over from there and kept people entertained for almost 45 minutes, scribbling and chewing pens, hitting themselves on the head or clapping at the chap who got the answer. The quiz had five rounds ranging from supernatural questions, urban legends, to Indian ones. My favourite one was:
ONE OF MY FAVE QUESTIONS:
“A female ghost with messy hair and tattered clothing is said to knock on people’s front doors asking for alms. Opening the door to this ghost is said to invite bad luck. Sometimes, she’s even recognized as an omen for death in the house. If you open the door, she hangs around your house and becomes a nuisance. What idea did people come up with to combat this ?” Can you guess the answer? I will put it in the end of this post. Post that,  author Sharath Komarraju, was asked to come on stage to take off the shiny wrapping off Cult of Chaos to formally launch the book. He also won one of the rounds of the quiz. He said, ‘I will keep it very short as I’ve been told to say exactly two words. I’ve read this book at the manuscript level and found it fascinating. So my two words are: Buy it.’ With this, he gave the mike to me. I mumbled emotional stuff about how the book combines the two genres I love the most: fantasy and detective fiction. Of course with blood and violence thrown in. I’ve rambled on the same stuff in other interviews, which you can read here, here and even here. Finally, it was Ajitha, the senior editor, who has been with Anantya and me throughout, who came on stage. She retold the story of when Shweta had met her first, a few years ago at Bangalore Literature Festival. ‘Shweta came up to me, introduced herself and said, I think Anantya wants you to be the editor of her book. At that time, I was stumped and didn’t know what to say, but it got my attention and I got back home and started to read Cult of Chaos. And I was hooked.’ On the part she loved about the book, Ajitha said. ‘The world is so fleshed out and real. And Anantya is just so like you and me, a woman who has grown up in India, is trying to live an independent life, and even though most of her gaalis are written in English, they are perfectly Indian. I think the time was right for a book like this, an occult detective fiction, to come out in the market.’ Am so happy she agreed to become the editor of the book! The event closed with a few signings and a couple of photographs with friends. Signing off with the best comment overheard: “The age of the audience increased by 20 years for the next event, a poetry reading session.’ Answer to the above question: Naale Baa (Come tomorrow). The two words were written on every second door in the city to avoid a mysterious woman from knocking at the door at midnight. A special mention to Ashu, who was there as always and to all of my friends for coming by and making it so much fun (And Kanchen for the owls)! Here are a few photos taken by pal Prasad N and the media coverage so far. See? You should’ve come. It was super fun.  

Free books at Goodreads

I am giving away free author-signed copies of The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong! To participate, all you got to do is sign in with a Goodreads account and click.

goodreads_f

 

It’s that simple really. And Goodreads is a beautiful place to meet people who love books and find new books for yourself! Connect with me on Goodreads! 🙂 Click below to reach the Giveaway. May the most curious win. (oh, and the giveaway is on for a month! That gives enough time for even the laziest of people to participate)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong by Shweta Taneja

The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong

by Shweta Taneja

Giveaway ends August 28, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Teaching comics at Bookalore

Making comics is such a difficult task. I have always appreciated the dedication and the love of comics in artists that i meet every day online and offline. So it took me a while to say yes to the kind people at Bookalore when they suggested that I do a comics workshop in their July event for kids. I went back to the drawing board (my whiteboard in my study) and figured what to do with kids. How does one teach about making comics? As a writer that too? So I asked Bangalore-based, soft spoken artist Ojoswi Sur to join me in the workshop to give an artist’s perspective to kids.

IMG_20140726_110513

It was all experimentation on our part. We loosely structured the workshop and decided to give the kids the basics of comic making (panels, balloons for dialogues, types) and gave them a chilling scene from The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong and see what they came up with. The results were surprising and so much fun! The kids huddled, discussed, wondered, had a nervous breakdown, scribbled, begged each other for erasers and mostly I hope had a grand time. Of course I had grossly underestimated the time they would need to make comics and given them a long scene (poor things), so none could complete the effort. But they did have a gala time and I requested them to complete the comics at home and email them to me. Hope some do.

Some pictures that my dear, dear Ashwani who always comes with me to workshops, took. Enjoy 🙂

If the pictures don’t open in your browser, see them on either of these links: Google+ or Facebook depending on your choice of network.

Reviews for GHOK, 16-23 Sep

Sometimes ponder-worthy, sometimes wine-worthy. Reviews for The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong are beginning to pour in. This is just my way to share and track for myself all the goody thoughts I am getting. If you wouldn’t like to hear other opinions and instead, read it yourself, head to read bits of the book on Google Books.

IN NEWS

“A crisp, mysterious tale, the novel unravels a web of mystery, deceit, hoaxes and supernatural events.” – Business Standard

“A breezy mystery that should appeal to its target audience.” – The New Indian Express

Ghost Hunters of Kurseong

BY READERS 

“Hey I have started reading your book and I am really enjoying it. I must say that your writing style is really nice and engaging. The whole description of Kurseong makes me feel I am vacationing in hills. If you get what I am trying to say. Ruskin Bond books does that to me” –Ruchi Budhiraja Warikoo on Facebook

“Ghost Hunters is a brilliant debut in a space that Indian writers in English have for too long ignored.” – Kanishka Lahiri on Flipkart.com

“This book brings me back to the days of children’s adventure stories of which i have read several in school.” – Ashwani Sharma on Flipkart.com

That’s it for now! If you would like to buy a copy, head to Flipkart or Amazon.

Terror strikes back with Holi

Holi

 

It made me feel giddy and all ‘holi’ writer-like on Holi yesterday when a Blue Dart courier arrived at my door with a colourful book. Called Celebrate! Holi, the book is an anthology of fiction, activities and legends about the colourful festival of Holi by Hachette India. I have written one of them.

When the editor contacted me in November last year on her plans to make this anthology, I warned her that I can write on Holi but it has to have a supernatural angle to it. After all, I am ‘self-claimed’ fantasy author and it wouldn’t be proper of me to write anything without my ghosts in it. The editor agreed and so the story Terror Strikes Back which is about spring and water balloons was written in the December cold of Delhi. The story is about this meticulous boy who is a self-acclaimed water balloon expert in his colony. That is till he is challenged to target the mysterious Pagla Miyan, an old man who is never seen in daylight and is rumoured to be a vampire who might also like eating kids. I had a blast building this story and laughing while I typed away in a winter balcony.  You can buy a copy of Celebrate! Holi on Flipkart or contact me if you are curious about the story.

The end is here!

120 days of daily of writing

One year of planning

1,17,835 words

132 pages of words

472 kb size of a word document

IMG_20121026_124353

Like I always believed. Numbers don’t tell you anything about the story. It is a beautiful story, btw, this one, of magical pubs and other places, creatures, people, humans and blood and violence and humour and lots of other things. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s Bollywood masala and sweat, all mixed up.

It’s my second novel. It’s a fantasy book, the one I always wanted to write. The one I wasn’t sure I could. When I wrote the words ‘The End’ many emotions rolled inside of me. Elation! Ten years ago, I thought I couldn’t even write an article. Two years ago, I was convinced that I couldn’t write a novel, but wanted to try anyway. Tears of having to say bye to characters I have cared for since the last whole year. What happens to them after I write ‘The End’? Their stories are not complete, not by far. They are still in my heart, thinking up of new adventures. I don’t know if my body will have the strength to write more stories about them. Or if I will move on to others.

This novel is double the size of my last—not only in words, but also scope and imagination. It has made me bleed with sweat, frustration, tears, emotion, crazy depression and even hallucination. I have loved it and hated it. I was never bored in its vast middle, always living in a weird rollercoaster while writing every word of it (as my family and friends will tell you) . As I say good-bye to the characters I have created (did i?), nurtured, become friends me, I feel tears in my eyes. I am so proud of all of them. I find them funny, frustrating and fun. They are my gang, my friends. And the adventures they have, are mind-bogglingly crazy! Unlike my relatively boring life.

This is not the end really. It’s just one-third of the work, as I experienced in my debut novel. This would have to be send through the vast drums of editing, rewriting, editing and some more rewriting. Novel writing is for madwomen. Finally, I know a profession, a career, a passion which suits my particular type of madness!

For now though, I am ready to party! And then move on…for a while atleast to the next fun thing.

–THE END–

Time to pitch is now!

 

Finally the day has come. And what can be better than the start of the new year to do something that you have cringed from all of last year? I am going to close Mystery of the Iyer Bungalow (yes, dear readers, it’s still not published. The reason is that it’s still being edited and has not been even shown to a publisher yet). I have begun the process of pitching its manuscript to publishers starting January. I was afraid all of end of last months of 2011. I cringed, stalled, questioned, panicked, and analysed. Basically did everything in the WHAT IFS category and didn’t pitch the book.

Now I am geared myself for rejections, criticisms, rotten tomatoes and jeers. Basically anything and everything that anyone who wants to throw can throw at me.

Maybe it’s the new year. But I am determined. I am determined that I will follow my dream and write and write some more.

 

MY NEW YEAR NO-RESOLUTIONS

Here are things I am NOT going to do this new year:

  • I will not be afraid of reactions to my writing.
  • I will not think on writing and not write.
  • I will not compare.
  • I will not worry about what my life would have been with different choices
  • I will not be afraid out trying new things.
  • I will not worry about how bad I write
  • I will not equate success with the money I could have been earning.
  • I will not feel lonely and boring.
  • I will not feel envious of books I enjoy reading.
  • I will not stick to my comfort zone.

With so many things I had been doing, it’s a wonder I still write. Stubborn I think 🙂

 

A sentimental note for Mystery of the Iyer bungalow: As I put in the finishing touches to the my first manuscript of the Mystery of the Iyer Bungalow, I feel a sense of anti-climax. While editing the book, I realised that it could have become so many other books with the same characters, with the same settings.  I would like to change it a bit, tweak it from here, add things to that side, but I cannot. Not anymore. I know it’s not perfect still, I don’t think it ever will become perfect. Like a mother, I feel I am over-fretting on my child rather than setting it free. So many emotions. When did I become so attached to just words? I hope someone else becomes attached to this imperfect book, reads it and enjoys it. That’s after all, the most important thing.

Bye, Bye my 1st baby!

It’s a rather pretty day today, have you noticed? I did, after a long, long time!

If any of you avid readers of my blog wondered what I have been up for almost a month of my absence from the online world, it’s editing. Two of my biggest projects which I had set out to do in the last eight months, have finally come to an end. I suddenly feel kind of empty. Nice empty Smile

The first mammoth one was the Digital Natives project. I edited two books for the NGO Centre for Internet and Society which were a culmination of three years of research. The books are out now in the world and fending for themselves now. I send them hugs. You can view the research book for free online or order one for yourself. Hear more about them on the dedicated page.

My second project was much tougher. I had decided to write a complete book while editing the Digital Natives books. Madness, now that I look back at it, but somehow the decision helped me bring out my first book and overcome my lack of confidence. It worked! Yes dear readers and the online universe, the first draft of my book is over!

It’s tentatively called Mystery of the Iyer Bungalow and is a children detective fiction. I thought writing it would be the biggest challenge for me, it wasn’t. It was editing that proved to be the main hurdle. It took much longer in time and was an emotional, depressing experience. Questions I didn’t have answer to hit me. Does the book work? asked the Editor in me. The Writer cringed and said she didn’t know. I had to take decisions of chopping down characters I had created with a lot of love and enjoyment. They didn’t fit into the narrative Sad smile

Finally, the first level of editing is finished. I feel a strange calm sadness. I have sent the book out (it’s going for the first time!) to some of my industry friends to read and for feedback. My heart beats fast and wonders how it will feel about it. I still don’t know if anyone would like to read this book. I don’t know how she will be treated (yes my book has feelings!) and if she will ever be published. I have lost every sense of objectivity for her. I am her mother and she’s my baby. I can’t be objective about her. As an decently good Editor, it’s a scary experience! And since it’s just a first draft and I don’t even have a publisher, I bet this is just a start to a long, long journey of my book. I wish Mystery of the Iyer Bungalow best of luck and hope that someday, a kid would read you and it would make her smile, just as it did me.

And that is the challenge that creative writing poses for me. It makes me experience the best and the worse of my talent and creative self. The highest and the lowest, both come one and again, in cycles. I had always wondered why suddenly one day, I decided to quit my journalism career and walk the thorny and painful path of fiction and fantasy writing. Now I know.