Eeeks! Last month it rained awards and I forgot to write about it here. My science book They Made What? They Found What? which shares stories of Indian inventions and discoveries, has won the Publishing Next Industry Awards 2021 for best book in children’s category. The eighth edition of the annual Awards were announced last month. The Awards were presented in 10 categories.
The same week that this book won an award, it was also a finalist in the Auther Awards 2022 (See the glamourous award night photographs here).
About the book
In ‘They Made What?’, kids meet India’s brightest scientists and read all about their incredible, groundbreaking inventions in this first-of-its-kind book. Whereas, in ‘They Found What’, they are introduced to India’s brightest scientists and read about their incredible, groundbreaking discoveries. It’s a marvellous, fun to read, fact-filled science flipbook. Buy on Amazon.
About the award
Established in 2011, Publishing Next was conceived as a Goa-based conference where publishing professionals could come together and discuss threadbare the issues that they face at work, or in the industry they worked in. The Publishing Next Industry Awards were established in 2014, the only ones of their kind in India, were presented in 11 categories in 2020, and seek to reward innovation and leadership in the Indian book trade.
How you can deal with guilt when not being productive, how watching Korean dramas helps and a cool, free futuristic game you can play online.
Dear Penpal is a fortnightly newsletter by me, Shweta Taneja, to support you in your creative journey with tips, opportunities, insights and inspirations. Subscribe or read the archives here.
How has your fortnight been? I’ve already become better.
When I wrote to you in April, I told you about the tough time I’ve been going through. Writing it brought me messages, emails and phone calls from a lot of you.
Most of these messages were like those unexpected gifts life gives you. I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t spoken to or thought of for years. A colleague who I had worked with a decade ago asked after me. I did a video call with an old friend, surprised that I hadn’t heard about the crazy upheaval her life had last year.
It was lovely to reconnect, to laugh and perhaps, grieve together.
Thanks to the pandemic, I’m regularly calling people I love, people I took for granted that they will remain in my life. My family, school mates, college mates, mates from different cities and professions that I’ve been lucky to travel through in life.
With Death creeping in to take from us, life has suddenly become valuable. I am thankful for the life I’ve led, for the conversations and the meals I’ve had with everyone, including you.
Countering nagging productivity prompts
All of April, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t think. My brain couldn’t process anything productive.
It was frustrating and I kept feeling guilty about it.
The other day, while scrolling one of the socials, I came across a well-meaning social post about Einstein who wrote part of his theories of relativity and motion under lockdown during Great Plague of London (the post was probably based on this article last year by The Washington Post).
The post suggested that you’re under lockdown, why not write your next novel? Why Netflix your time away? In other words, remember the guilt I mentioned?
I’ve put myself through pressure like this before.
Maybe you have too. Being the product of a data-based modern world that rewards productivity and efficiency, we all constantly feel guilty when we don’t produce things.
When I’m relaxing, or lazing or even daydreaming or reading – activities that I know help the brain create, think and get better ideas – there’s a nag in my brain that keeps countering these down times with productivity prompts. An author I know online wrote ten books a year! I should NOT take a break for I’ve produced only one. Another author has sold that many books. This one keeps doing events.
My society, peers and myself, perhaps even you, look at creativity as a productive machine that should produce more and more.
Put out new products in the market so we can get a good economic value for them (aka make them a bestseller). Isn’t that what success is for most of us?
Be over productive in creativity doesn’t always work
The truth is comparing productivity in creativity or forcing your brain through creative churns DOES NOT WORK.
We’re going through a tough time. Even if you are lucky to have health and money to sustain you, and a family that’s healthy too, you’re going through a seriously stressful time. Every day, you’re being exposed to media – relentlessly – on Whatsapp messages, on Twitter and Facebook and even in the news.
We’re scrolling through one tragedy after another, endlessly, without respite.
It’s okay to feel anxious and want to zone out.
It’s okay for you to give your brain some rest.
It’s okay to be selfish about this and NOT create things.
These letters to you are helping me, dear reader, find my creativity again. Find the creative activity that gives your brain rest, that sparks your creativity further. Don’t get bogged down by productivity expectations.
I bet Einstein never bothered to be productive at all times. And we don’t know about all the hard times he went through, all the daily failure and ridicule he faced in his scientific journey.
The story only has the rosy apple that fell from the tree.
Play a futuristic, free game online: Play Survive the Century, a brand new, indie, free online game written by some fantastic science fiction writers out there including my friend Rajat Chaudhuri.
Surreal but dark read on Prague: I somehow tumbled into the surreal The Ultimate Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera which made me miss Prague. Save it for it’s beautiful, but don’t read it if you can’t do dark fiction right now.
Beautiful North-South Korea romance to watch: Talking of dark, I’ve become hooked to good, average and bad Korean shows on Netflix. (Thank you, Gunjan!) The old-fashioned, real love stories of hope are helping me navigate the dark times. Of course, beautiful boys always help. Highly recommend Crash Landing on You.
My Writing Joys
A laugh-out-tale about a robotic bride: An Indian family heads to a boutique in Delhi to look for a perfect robotic bride for their boy. Read my just released, hilarious science fiction story, for free on The Antonym magazine website.
A Live Session on National Technology Day: I did a Facebook Live Session on teaching science to kids with Professor Amit Agrawal from IIT-Bombay who is part of my flipbook on science They Made What? They Found What? It was an insightful panel hosted by Starmark Bookstores. See it here.
Hilarious Screen Time diktats: I’ve put Screen Time limits on all social and video apps on my phone. I was recently tossed out of my Instagram Live chat because time for Instagramming was up. Once at work, I was tossed out again. But I still use these limits. Still using them, as the blanking out of screens does kick me out of my scrolling daze.
I’m sitting in the dusty, but cuddly, indie bookstore Goobe Book Republic in Bangalore. This was a Sunday afternoon in early March. I signed a whole box full of my latest book to ship to people across the world. Finished it off with a three-way conversation over samosas and piping hot filter coffee with supportive spouse and Ravi, the owner of the bookstore.
Ahh, a perfect day.
Is guilt a productivity motivator for you?
Do you feel guilty when not being productive? Do you compare yourself to other writers, other creative people, and constantly feel this need to be productive? To write more, to sell more, to be more? Does this push motivate you or bog you down?
I would love to hear how you do it, dear reader.
Signing off with a warm hug and positive energy towards you,
In my pre-teens, I wanted to be James Bond. A daring hero who could save damsels (I saved sexy boys, swooning in my arms) while sipping on martinis in exotic bars of five-star hotels, in handcrafted expensive suits (designer gowns in my case). I imagined myself racing through the alluring world of espionage, delightful deceits and gun-totting, gasping action. I wanted to grab all the glamour with my grubby hands.
Smiley is anti-Bond
Then I grew up and met George Smiley, an espionage spy like Bond, in John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974). Smiley was anti-Bond. Instead of the swashbuckling suaveness, Smiley paraded reality. He was middle aged, balding, badly dressed, excessively polite, could be bullied, and constantly dealt with a runaway wife. In Call for the Dead (1961), le Carré’s first novel, he was compared to a toad; in A Murder of Quality (1962), he was called a mole.
Throughout his career of 25 novels, le Carré — whose real name was David Cornwell and who, unlike armchair writers like this one, worked in the British intelligence before becoming a full-time writer writing espionage — alluded to how the Bondian universe was a fantastical joyride. A modern day fairy tale, with a spy as a hero, cardboard archenemies and damsels in distress.
Le Carré consciously made the characters that inhabited his fictional universe, like Smiley — spies, politicians, damsels, charming liars, villains — a little too real. They were bespeckled bureaucrats who wiped their glasses with their ties, dealt with budget cuts, deceptive spouses and girlfriends and confounding treacheries of their governments, leaving them gutted at morality’s knife edge. The almost satirical Looking Glass War (1965), for example, is plotted around an espionage mission that becomes pointless at the end. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963), which put le Carré in international stardom, portrays methods that its spies employ which are inconsistent with perceived Western values.
A honeycomb of distrust, fragilities and broken people
The writer in me guzzled le Carré’s honeycomb of distrust, human fragilities and broken systems, shaking off the simplistic, glamour-verse of Bond. While developing my tantrik detective series, that two spy worlds inspired my world-building. My protagonist, Anantya Tantrist, was very much a Bondian heroine, trolling Delhi’s streets at night, kicking supernatural threats while swigging somas-on-the-rock; the world she inhabited however was filled with grubby treachery, inspired by the greys le Carré brought into his universes, where friends betrayed and there was no right path, but murky choices, rendering all heroic efforts insufficient.
It’s this constant tension — between the values protagonists stand for, and the murky methods they employ to protect them including deception, violence and betrayal — that manage to shred the same values to scraps of null, and elevate yet another fiction to a deeper reflection on our realityIn our world of disinformation campaigns, ego-boosting echo chambers and fake news, le Carré’s fictional world, like powerful fiction today, slithers underneath our fabricated reality, forcing us to dive into the murky, filthy truth about ourselves and the murky morals in all their grubby glamour.
Almost surreptitiously, Indian fantasy has made a niche for itself in the English language in India. Three years ago, when HarperCollins published my urban fantasy novel Cult Of Chaos, An Anantya Tantrist Mystery(2015), I was at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. My editor contacted me and requested a video for the upcoming HarperCollins sales conference to explain the genre of the novel.
I dressed up, cycled through the campus and found myself in a professor’s office in the computer science department trying to angle my MacBook to make sure the background was filled with academic books, and not beams. “It’s like Sherlock Holmes solving supernatural crime,” I exclaimed, trying to make eye contact with booksellers through the little black dot on my laptop.
The nightmare for an Indian fantasy author
My aim was to make them avoid the one thing that gives nightmares to every fantasy author: A deep-seated fear that your novel will end up in either the Indian writing or mythology shelves in book stores. This fear has roots in reality: Because for decades, the Fantasy section has been petrificus totalus, with reprints of The Chronicles Of Narnia (1950-56), The Lord Of The Rings (1954-55), the Harry Potter series (1997-2007), A Song Of Ice And Fire (1996-) and, recently, the likes of the Percy Jackson series (2005-) and The Hunger Games (2008-10), with no space for Indian fantasy titles.
Internationally, the urban fantasy subgenre wasn’t an uncharted section. Even the sub-subgenre that Anantya Tantrist mysteries belonged to, that of an occult detective dealing with the supernatural underworld of her city, was thriving enough for some literary agents to actively look for them and for others to discard them because too many of these “occult detective types” had been submitted to them.
Urban human-ish occult detectives with a problematic personal life had invaded subgenres ranging from urban fantasy to paranormal romance. Notable examples included the vampire hunter series Anita Blake by Laurell K. Hamilton (1993-) and The Dresden Files (2000-) by Jim Butcher, told from the point of view of a private investigator and wizard based in Chicago. Indian author Mainak Dhar’s anti-hero zombie hunter in the Alice In Deadland series (2011-12) had also been on shelves for a while.
I’m writing this in a train, looking out at a blur of a rainy French day. On my way to Amiens from Paris. Amiens is a small town in France, where Jules Verne was born. A town where this year’s Eurocon 2018 will be held this weekend, Europe’s biggest convention for science fiction and fantasy. I’m heading there to speak about Indian fantasy and science fiction and my work. The amazing titles that are coming out of my country, the debut authors who are experimenting with a desire to read more Indian speculative fiction.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog. There is a reason. (And this should’ve been another blog, but frankly I’ve become just too busy to write blogs. Hoping that would change soon).
Earlier this year, I said bye to my home for 10 years, Bangalore and moved house and husband to Zurich. It was in the middle of February and for a month, the only things I saw outside my window were cats and snow. I also met a lot of Swiss officials for the various paperworks it takes for two people to move in their 30s. (Yet. Another. Blog)
It gave me a lot of time to reflect and work. And travel. Quietly, without social media. It’s freeing, by the way, to have a hiatus from the online world. You should try it.
I managed to set up new home, finish my third novel in Anantya Tantrist series (another blog on that too. Soon. I promise), wrote a 20 page comic about Anantya, with a fantastic artist and three short stories which are going to come up in various anthologies around the world. I also travelled two continents, to a lot of cities and attended lectures in ETH in Zurich and MIT in Boston.
As I said, there’s a lot happening so I won’t write many blogs. Or maybe I will, because there’s so much I have to share! Well, I’m talking to a bunch of Europeans at the Eurocon. Telling them stories I bring with me to their country. Our stories. Wish me luck, peeps! I’ll tell you later how it all went.
Meanwhile, leaving you with a fantastic illustration done for Eurocon. See you soon.
Each time you finish a new novel, you think you’re more experienced and will be able to write the next one faster and in a more efficient manner. Doesn’t happen. My novels are messy, individualistic creatures to whine and throw their own unique tantrums. And I love them (and at the same bipolar time, throttle them) for it.
All of last two months I have been hiding under a rock, rewriting and editing the third instalment of Anantya Tantrist mysteries to make it for my deadline. The good news is it’s coming out later in 2018. The better news is, I will be talking about it and my love of speculative fiction as a whole with Factor Daily, this fantastic online geek-out that you should check out if you haven’t already.
Do come over, say hello, ask us questions and give your thoughts on what you’d like to read in life. You’ll have to register for this event. Details below.
The much-awaited New Worlds Weekly on FactorDaily – #NWWonFD – Sci-Fi meet up is here again!
Whether you’re a sci-fi fan, an avid reader or interested in SF, then mark your calendars for an evening of catch-ups and conversations about all things SF/F with fellow fans and Shweta Taneja – SF fan, geek, journalist and bestselling author of the Anantya Tantrist mysteries.
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.
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.
You’ve been sad for a while now. At first you think it’s just a phase, you lose interest in everything, don’t want to eat, are forgetful and lack motivation. According to World Health Organization research, updated in April, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. “Depressive episodes could be mild, moderate or severe in intensity based on the nature, extent and duration of the symptoms,” says Sameer Malhotra, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi. “In severe episodes you can develop extreme behavioural changes from a high phase of mania to a low phase, become deluded or encounter hallucinations where you can’t stop listening to negative voices in your head.” Biological symptoms include weight loss, disturbed sex drive, a loss of appetite and interrupted sleep. To some extent, a healthy lifestyle can help prevent depressive symptoms, says Dr Malhotra. “Follow a regular sleep-wake schedule, do regular exercise, have a nutritious and balanced diet, engage in creative hobbies and stay away from drug and alcohol abuse,” he says. Continue reading “Five signs that say you might be depressed”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.