New Release: The Rakta Queen

It gives me a thrill to announce the launch of Anantya Tantrist‘s third adventure, The Rakta Queen, yet another rollercoaster dive into the supernatural underworld of Delhi.

Anantya Tantrist is all that stands between Delhi and the forces of darkness.

A Kaula tantrik is brutally murdered by his chandaali slave. The same night, a group of university students lose their minds and perform an orchestrated orgy in front of the Vidhan Sabha metro station. 
To get to the truth, Anantya Tantrist, unofficial consultant with the Central Bureau of Investigation, must navigate her way past muderous sorcerers, deadly chandaalis, an underground betting scam run by jinns, and a renegade aghori teacher.

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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.

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How creating Anantya helped me find my freedom

The plotlines of most action flicks, are all about the hero. The hero rocks the roads, chases goons, tots guns, fights for justice, sows wild oats with white girls, and then heads back to home, to his heroine. All this while, this heroine, the girl, pines away back at home or sits pretty in a café (usually alongside a swimming pool for some reason), waiting for her hero. The only time she’s outdoors, she’s either surrounded by other girls, or is with the hero, or is getting raped or attacked by the goons. The message is loud and clear: The streets are unsafe for an Indian woman: If you’re out there alone, you will be slaughtered, you little lamb.

As a girl who grew up in Delhi, I was fed this message by family, society, school, college and onwards. Every time I walked on the streets of the capital city, as a teenager, as a working woman in her 20s, I had to constantly fight butt slaps, boob pinches, stares and hoots and whistles from strangers. Every time a violent act happened, I was told to not walk alone on streets, to wear looser clothes, not stare back and scream, not confront, not act, but be passive. For that’s how a woman should behave. Wait for someone else, a hero, a guy, the government or the police to react to the aggression that happens to her, to save her. An Indian woman is supposed to be passive, silently take on violence if given by her husband or in-laws, or ask for help from the boyfriend or police or government when faced from an aggressive stranger. Most of all, a woman is supposed to protect herself from all of it, to keep indoors, to make friends carefully in case they turn out to be rapists.

With Anantya Tantrist, the tantrik detective of my latest novel, Cult of Chaos, I decided to take all of these years of imbibed and heard and oft-repeated Indian values of passivity, decorum, rules and ethics meant for women and flip them, turn them on their head. Just to see what happens to the society in the world if I do. For speculative fiction gives you that freedom, to extrapolate, to try and do things differently, make new rules and new societies, explore gender roles and beliefs about gender. And I took it.

Anantya as a result, became a complete opposite to the restrictive idea of an ideal Indian woman.

First of all, she is always in the middle of action, she speaks her mind, there’s no passivity when it comes to her, in fact passivity bores her. She is boisterous, angry, spews gaali, smokes beedi, drinks hard stuff like a fish, hangs out on the streets with all kinds of things and species, doesn’t come home till wee hours, has crud in her kitchen, can’t cook to save her life, but can wield a boneblade to save another’s. She has unapologetic one night stands with all kinds of supernatural species, wears chappals and goes to parties and doesn’t know what a ‘date’ is. Continue reading “How creating Anantya helped me find my freedom”

Story of my three book contract

Earlier this year, I signed on a piece of paper with a trembling hand and suddenly, I was an author with a series contract with Harper Collins India. My transformation left me with nothing but a sense of giddiness and sweaty palms. As the elation vanished, I realised that I had only written one of the three books promised to the sweet gals at HC so I went back to work, keeping the contract carefully plasticated somewhere in a forgotten drawer.

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Which is why I completely forgot to tell you all, my readers, friends and those who’ve rooted for me (or would like to now) about how it happened. So here’s the tall tale.

For my first book, The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong, finding a publisher had been quite a breeze from what I had been expecting (1. Get rejections from all major publishers 2. Put it up online as an ebook and then figure). When the wonderful editor at Hachette India showed interest on a direct submission to their website (without an agent, something that they do for one or two titles a year. Pitch to them, peeps!), I looked at the email, reread it, rubbed my eyes and did a jiggle. From the first interest to the contract was a long marathon of three months full of butterflies in the stomach. But the contract happened and I thought, wow, this was quite okay. Not as bad as the horror stories of 100 rejection emails and all that.

Then Anantya Tantrist happened. My first novel for adults with a tantric heroine who is such a badass that my cheeks flame up sometimes when I am writing her story. Her world is brutal and so is her attitude. But I was more confident with her. Hachette India had already said yes to one of my books, so selling the second should be better? Yes?

NO.

I realised that with a kick in the butt. She and her world were (and still are) a series character in my head. I already wanted to write book 2 of her story and then book 3 and then you know how it goes. But already, rejections were piling up like bad advice from astrologers. They are still piling up by the way, only they come from other countries now. There were so many reasons that The Cult of Chaos, the book one in Anantya Tantrist’s series, got rejected. Most of them were polite and polished and told me nothing. I had already given the book to an editor at HC (Let’s call her ED) who I knew would loved SFF titles (having already stalked her online). She was sweet and Anantya liked her too. I was quite keen on her. But there was no yes till now.

Meanwhile, I fished out a list of agents and sent my book to them, panic building up in me. It had been months. I had moved on to launching my other books, but it had been months! WritersSide was the fastest to respond back and take my book on. They did that in a day (I am still surprised about that one). WS helped me by communicating with HC again and sending it to a lot of other publishers who didn’t have any general submission email ids. But I was most keen on ED, because Anantya kept on telling me that she liked her and if you know Anantya, you will realise, she seldom likes people. Since Anantya wasn’t letting me be, I accosted ED at Bangalore Lit Fest last year and told her what Anantya was insisting I tell her. That she’s the editor for Anantya‘s story. Kudos to ED, she took it with a straight face, even though it was quite sunny. I guess she’s used to writers of all crazy kinds. HC had some doubts about the violence in the books, which we figured, discussed and finally, that trembling moment came for me when I signed the three-book contract. It took eight months from when I finished The Cult of Chaos. The book will be released in November 2014.

What this has taught me

– You need to find the right editor for the book. ED was right for the book, even though she had initial doubts. She loved the idea of Anantya and her world. If the editor connects with the book, she will fight the battle for your book from the beginning (getting you a contract) to the end (speaking about it at panels with sparkles in her eyes). So right editor, peeps, very very important. And that begins with focusing on people and not on the publisher. ED, thanks btw!

– I always wanted to write more than one books about Anantya, but when I started to find a publisher for her, I didn’t think of pitching the first book as a series. I know, kinda dumb, but I don’t think future too much. There WS helped me refocus. They insisted on me writing briefs of possible stories for Books 2 and 3 (which I surprisingly managed on a holiday). That way, I am sure that I get three of Anantya’s titles published even if Book 1 fails to make a mark (which I hope doesn’t happen). But it gives me insurance of some kind about the three books. Even though I had to take lesser advances for book 2 and 3 (because the publisher’s risk increases). WS also helped me streamline the contract and make is bare minimum so that I retain most of my rights and can sell them somewhere else.

– All of this: the pitching, the marketing, workshops, conferences, panels, the selling, the media, internet, social media, all of it distracts you from the one thing you started with: Love of writing. It’s important to switch off after you’ve got a contract or after the book is out. Switch off and keep writing (goes under notes to self). Again and again.

Book 1 of Anantya Tantrist series releases in November 2014. Meanwhile, visit Anantya Tantrist’s blog or follow her on Facebook or Twitter or Google+

Review: The War Ministry by Krishan Pratap Singh

I and the husband had been waiting desperately to read the third in the explosive political trilogy called the Raisina Series by Krishan Pratap Singh. So much so, that I used my research skills and managed to dig up the online-shy KP Singh’s email ID to spam him a demand email on it. He was polite enough to reply with a yes, it’s on its way. So you can understand how with much fanfare, we bought a copy of The War Ministry from a bookshelf. For those who haven’t read the first two of the trilogy (Delhi Durbar and Young Turks) Hachette India is now offering them at a much lower price. (Grr.)

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The trilogy revolves around two friends, Azim Khan and Karan Nehru and their friendship in the power corridors of Raisina hills. It maps their journey as they arrive with freshly minted ideals on the grimy scenes of politics and what happens to them in the process of becoming the most powerful leaders in this country. It’s a powerful and current premise to build a story in and Singh touches on all issues our democracy faces right now–be it corruption, media playing its tune, casteism, foreign policy, bouts with our neighbours or the babu behind the ministers.

The third is written really tight, but doesn’t have the fluidity of the first two books. It seems to jump or lag and go into some descriptive non-fiction style paragraphs, which I struggled with. Maybe it was edited with too tight a hand, or maybe Singh tried to put in too much of his vision of what India can become in a single book. But that doesn’t say that it’s not a rivetting book. Singh strength lies in building up a story around politicians who are real life-like characters. Who deal with India that is now. It’s the negotiations, relationships and respect that these worldly-wise politicians and babus deciding the fate of India go through every day, is what makes for riveting reading. When he’s using his strength—of characters and their relationships with each other, the writing completely shines and etches itself, much like June’s sun in Uttar Pradesh.

It’s his flawed, reality-etched characters that make the book and the series. Even the minor characters are beautifully fleshed out with their caste-oriented experiences and the past baggage they carry into their jobs. And as the first two books proved to me, Singh is a deft player with character and language in his world, something that I have rarely seen in an Indian author’s writing. Like the first two of the series, the third is equally delicious in its delicate, polite style of writing. He has the ability to take anyone from a murderer to a villainous character and write about him or her in a merciful, sympathetic tone. He’s forgiving to everything from malicious intensions to greed. For in the grimy world of politics, you cannot survive (or write about it) if you are not forgiving.

The trilogy made me do something I never thought will happen. It made me become more sympathetic to what out politicians have to go through with either because of their ideals, their belief systems or greed and ambitions. That’s Singh’s power as an author and a visionary and I bow to that. And it’s the vision Singh paints that remains with you. A vision of what India can become, only if it had leaders half the caliber as Khan or Nehru.  The books made me sigh with hope for this beautiful country of mine. It made me shrug the cynicism of years of listening to ‘is country ka kutch nahi hoga’ and led me to hope and dream and wait for such a leader to rise. The imagined world of Singh, so close to our real one, is like our National Anthem. It makes the hair on the back of my neck rise in pride. I would like to end the review with a quote from one of my email exchanges with Singh on his vision:

“I’m still positive about this country because India has been around for thousands of years and will be around for thousands more, and all kinds of incompetent rulers have come and gone, but the country keeps chugging along. We cling to hope and dream to be inspired one day by the call of a leader who will be worthy. Until then, we wait…and write fiction!”

Read the book for its story, read it for its vision and characters.


KP Singh is currently writing short stories and a non-fiction. You can chase him on Twitter @RaisinaSeries