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!

How a hair oil brand inspired an Indian science fiction tale in 1896

While reading about early examples of Indian science fiction, I came across a wonderful scholarly tale of how Jagadish Chandra Bose, a physicist and science fiction writer in India in late 19th century, wrote a bilingual science-fiction inspired by a hair oil brand. The article, written by scholars Anil Menon and Vandana Singh, who also write speculative fiction (here and here), has names of  various other writers who wrote science fiction in late 19th and early 20th centuries. Using it on my website with due permission from Anil and with a lot of glee.

 


We have chosen two stories—one by Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937), the other by Naiyer Masud (1936—)—not as representatives of Indian speculative fiction but as interesting instances of the genre. Bose’s story is indicative of a special period in the subcontinent’s history and we finally had an excellent translation to work with. We chose Masud’s story because it is a wonderful story.

Of course when the range includes seventeen-odd languages over some hundred and fifty years of scribbling (two thousand plus, if mythic fiction is included), these two choices are more or less equivalent to two hands raised in surrender. We were tempted by the first south-Asian short story in English, Kylas Chunder Dutt’s “A Journal of 48 Hours In The Year 1945” (1835), Shoshee Chunder Dutt’s “Republic of Orissa: Annals From The Pages Of The Twentieth Century” (1845), V. K. Nayanar’s “Dwaraka” (1892), Sarath Kumar Ghosh’s Prince of Destiny (1909), Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s much-reprinted “Sultana’s Dream” (1905), Rajshekar Bose’s Ulat Puran (1925), the satirical Hindi SF of Harishankar Parsai, the Tamil pulp SF of ‘Sujatha’ Rangarajan, Premendra Mitra’s whimsical Bangla tales, and the eerily postmodern folktales recorded in A. K. Ramanujan’s anthologies. We could just as easily have picked Manoj Das’s “Sharma and the Wonderful Lump” (1973), Bibas Sen’s “Zero-Sum Game” (1994), Manek Mistry’s “Stories of the Alien Invasion” (2007), or one of Kuzhali Manickavel’s short stories. We had to sidestep one of the most talked-about works this year, Shovon Chowdhury’s alternate history The Competent Authority (2013). Ultimately, we chose Bose and Masud.

Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose—the “Acharya” means teacher—pioneered research in electromagnetic waves and biophysics, and invented and built instruments of astonishing precision and delicacy to measure plant development. He probably would have been a brilliant polymath in any age, but the colonial time in which he lived and his courageous response to its constraints made him once-in-a-generation scientist. In 1896, Bose wrote a bilingual science-fiction story, “Nirrudeshar Kahini” (The Story of the Missing). The main narrative is in Bangla, but the embedded scientific material is in English. The story is about a man who calms a storm at sea by pouring a bottle of hair oil on the troubled waters.

Hair oil? Continue reading “How a hair oil brand inspired an Indian science fiction tale in 1896”

Looking at speculative fiction beyond mythology

Is speculative fiction beyond mythology possible in the literature coming out from our country? Till now, most of the speculative fiction that has come out of the country (even mine) has been heavily inspired or uses characters from our rich Hindu mythology. I take the topic head on in this talk at the LitFestX. This video is from 2015, so a little dated and since I’ve spoken there, there has been a lot of amazing books that have come out in the genre, but I’m adding it now because frankly, at that time, I lost track of things and never added this in my blog. See if you’re interested in hearing my thoughts on the topic. Have thoughts, disagree? Add to the comments below.

Slavery in India and how it compares to the world

While browsing the layers that is the internet, I came across Global Slavery Index and found the facts that they’d written about India after research quite intriguing. There are lots of little nuggets there to mull over and think about various ways we ignore, encourage and are okay with slavery in our country. I had hoped this is not true, that it’s fiction, or something that can come under my Tall Tales section, but unfortunately, that is not to be. An excerpt from the report.


How many people are in modern slavery in India?

India is undergoing a remarkable ‘triple transition’, in which economic growth is both driving and is being affected by rapid social and political change. Economic growth has rapidly transformed the country over the past 20 years, including the creation of a burgeoning middle-class. In 1993, some 45 percent of the population were living in poverty; by 2011 that had been reduced to 21 percent.In addition to economic growth, ambitious programmes of legal and social reform are being undertaken right across the board, from regulation of labour relations to systems of social insurance for the most vulnerable.

Continue reading “Slavery in India and how it compares to the world”

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”

True love stories from Tinder. Internet style.

How does love blossom in the world that is the internet? What do you feel as you swipe left or right, deciding instantly on a pose, or a hashtag or just the numbness in your thumb? I’m always fascinated by how love shapes itself online. Which is why when I came across #100IndianTinderTales, an art project by the fantastic Indian artist, Indu Harikumar or Induviduality, whose work I’ve been following for years, I just had to share some of it on my site. The project has “true stories and experiences of people using Tinder in India and Indians using Tinder abroad” with images by the artist. They’re full of glee, sex, intrigue, crushes, obsessions and in some cases true love. Curl up this Valentine’s with a few of my favourite ones. For more, head to the artist’s Facebook or Instagram page.


 Day 22: P from #Delhi writes about a night of unbridled passion

“By age 37, I have experienced the truest of loves and its devastating loss. A heart that has loved so singularly & lost so purely becomes either fearless or reckless. So when a chance Tinder encounter (truly chance because he is only in the same location for a couple of hours when we ‘match’) reveals himself to be perfect in all ways except that he’s married, I don’t disqualify him. It is the coldest thing I’ve ever done – to pursue an intensely sexual encounter with an absolute stranger from whom my heart wants nothing. It also makes me feel alive. We meet and have a spectacular night without an ounce of sleep. I get a cab in the early hours of the morning and as I ride back, there’s a smile on my face, a glow in my body and an absolute absence of guilt.”


Continue reading “True love stories from Tinder. Internet style.”

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.

Is Internet freedom dead?

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of Internet. For many it represents freedom, democracy and equality. However, the way internet is going now, it seems that it’s simply mirroring the realities of our real lives. It is building similar power structures and has enhanced human insecurities and the difference between have-its and have-nots. Pokemon was one example. The poor cousins in India never got to play it. Gender inequality and bullying is beautifully rampant in the annals of comments on every blog.

Which is why when I came across this article by Jennifer Granick, the director of Civil Liberties at the Center for Internet and Society, I was nodding my head at most of the things. Here’s what she says about the internet:


Twenty years from now,

• You won’t necessarily know anything about the decisions that affect your rights, like whether you get a loan, a job, or if a car runs over you. Things will get decided by data-crunching computer algorithms and no human will really be able to understand why.

• The Internet will become a lot more like TV and a lot less like the global conversation we envisioned 20 years ago.

• Rather than being overturned, existing power structures will be reinforced and replicated, and this will be particularly true for security.

•Internet technology design increasingly facilitates rather than defeats censorship and control.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But to change course, we need to ask some hard questions and make some difficult decisions.


Now this is a scary scenario and something that we might see coming after all as our dependence on algorithms and what we want increases. See the video of the speech below or reach the complete speech over at Backchannel.


How do you feel? Are you still positive about the change that Internet can bring in to our lives or do you think it simply reflects the issues already entrenched in our society?

Crowdsourced maps of real places in your favourite books

I’m a literature geek who loves to visit places that I’ve read about in fiction, especially detective fiction.  While in Switzerland, me and my husband (who’s equally crazy about this stuff) made a special excursion up a hill to see the Reichenbach Falls where Sherlock Holmes tussled with Moriarty and fell off the falls. While posing against the  Sherlock dummy placed there for tourists, we thought it should have been Dudhsagar falls if Doyle never wanted his detective hero to come back (for Reichenbach are just not tall enough).

Which is why when I came across Placing Literature where you can map the real places your favourite author writes about, it made me go glee. The website creates maps of literary scenes that take place in real locations. If you’re in a city, you can check on the website and see which all spots were written about in which all books. Each spot also comes with the description of the scene and what happened in the plot there. Since it’s a crowdsourced map, you can make a map on their site by logging in with your Google account. Isn’t it fantastic?
Explore yourselves while I plan out my travel around spots talked about in Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes or places to visit in New York City.
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