New year’s ahoy!

It’s a beautiful day outside. Have you looked? It’s rather misty and mysterious and full of invisible monsters who tickle to make you smile. Such a pwetty day it is. Let me take it as an opportunity to say thank you for being with me here, for reading my blog, for encouraging me with your clicks and comments. You might be a stranger or my best friend, but here, you are anonymous and can be without being judged. Here’s wishing we all can live our lives as if we were anonymities spread across the net. Without being judged.

This year, has been a rollercoaster ride. Work-wise, I’ve got so many lucky breaks. I’ve signed a three-book contract, done detective workshops at schools andgot love through emails, received extensive media coverage, got gifted an owl painting by a 12 year old fan, broken the barrier of literature fests (Bangalore, Chandigarh) and got nominated for Best Writer at Comic Con India. It doesn’t end there for I just received advance copies of Cult of Chaos, a novel which is very close to my creative heart.

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On the other hand, I’ve been on the sidelines of a friend’s battle with craziness and seen how all of the above doesn’t really matter. Because what matters is life and health. For this year, most of all, I am thankful for so many things that life’s gifted me: unexpected kindnesses, my family’s healthy laughter and those little marvels of happinesses–nieces and nephews and little fans.

I wish you all a hopeful, determined, hardworking and positive year. Stay happy all of you! Oh and do keep reading and buying books 🙂

 

 

 

Cult of Chaos available on preorder

I just came back from a lovely holiday in Orissa and knocked on my neighbour’s door with glee. Reason was a package of books they’d received for me when I was holidaying. Nothing unusual, except, these books were the ones I had been working on since the last two years. I am so thrilled, so bummed with emotion. It’s been like this ever since I held the first copy of Cult of Chaos in my hands. It’s there now, next to the owls. So it excites me to tell you all, dear readers that if you would like to, you can preorder the copy on Amazon // Flipkart // Infibeam //  URead. The copy will reach you by mid-January 2015.

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Look on my face when I got the first copy in my hands! Captured by ever-present, A.

 

The book’s main character, Anantya Tantrist, has become a friend through whose eyes I have the most marvellous of adventures.  Here’s hoping you can have a few too.

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Guest post: A tryst with author RK Narayan

I have always had a soft corner for stories real, or make believe. So after much pondering over and ideating, I announce the launch of Creative Chat series for my website, where I will share experiences of authors meeting other authors, artists, storytellers and creative people. I am SO excited to present author Aditi De’s experience of meeting the stalwart of Indian English writing, RK Narayan in the late 80s to begin my series with (thanks for allowing me to use this, Aditi!).

Aditi De is an author- editor- photographer- traveller- blogger based in Bangalore. Her 11 solo books for adults and children include gems like Multiple City: Multiple City: Writings on Bangalore (2008) and A Twist in the Tale: More Indian Folktales (Puffin India, 2005), Articulations: Voices from Contemporary Indian Visual Art (Rupa, 2004), The Secret of the Rainbow Phoenix (Scholastic, 2013). Find her online on her blog or order her books on Flipkart. Here’s her interview with Mr Narayan.

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Taken somewhere in the 1980s

It was in September 1988 that I had my only face-to-face encounter with Narayan. He was staying at his granddaughter’s residence in Chennai’s Thyagaraja Nagar area, where a room had been made comfortable enough for him to write in whenever he felt the urge.

On a memorable occasion, he was persuaded to take time off to autograph copies of his latest book, A Writer’s Nightmare, at the Landmark bookstore in Nungambakkam. Through a long evening, he peered through his thick lenses, answering even the most obvious questions with good humour, occasionally sharing an impish smile as he tackled the long and winding queue of people seeking autographs at the store.

Continue reading “Guest post: A tryst with author RK Narayan”

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+

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.

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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.

Letters of love

It’s a trickle really, but with three books out in the market, I have slowly started to get letters from readers who’ve enjoyed my work. I wanted to share them as a blog today because, well these letters (emails really) make my heart sing. Write to me, dear readers and lovers of books! I quite enjoy chattering 🙂

Murgank Modia, Bangalore on The Skull Rosary
“Just happened to pick up The Skull Rosary for weekend reading and I must say it is one of the most impressive piece of work that has come out of Indian comic book/Graphic novel industry. Very well researched stories, artwork and overall design. Made me search about the people involved in creation of such a masterpiece and the next thing I found myself was writing this mail to you!
Being a comicbook reader since my childhood, I had been waiting for indigenous work that can strike a chord with mature audiences. Though there has been a surge of various publication houses starting with virgin comics (followed by holycow, level10, vimanika, campfire etc..) in this space, works like yours are few and far between. A lot of them have focused on Indian mythology genre (which I am a big fan of) but a few have managed to capture the imagination of audiences like me because they present the rehashed versions of stories already known to us since childhood. Work like your’s is, to use the cliche, a breath of fresh air in this space.”
Simaran, Delhi, 11 years old on The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong
“I am Simaran and I have read your book namely The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong and it was a pleasure reading it. I would like to read more books like this. Hope u are working on such books.”
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Manoj Sreekumar, Bangalore, on Krishna Defender of Dharma  
I thought i must share this little note with you. Some time back, i was invited to a birthday party of a kid of one of my wife’s friends. Not knowing what to gift the child, i bought a copy of Campfire Graphic Novel’s ‘Krishna’ . I didn’t know the kid & had never met him before but i knew that you can never go wrong in gifting a comic. At the party, i saw that the child had received many gifts..mostly toys, games, action figures. I guess we were the only couple who gifted him a comic. Some time later, birthday boy walks up to me and says..”Uncle, thank you so much for your gift. This is the very 1st time that i’m actually seeing a story book that has the story depicted through illustrations. I love the art work and it’s about Krishna!”. His joy knew no bounds! I was shocked to know that he had never read a comic yet and that my gift was to be his very 1st one! He’s so busy with his play stations & watching cartoons on T.V that he just doesn’t have time to read- i was told by his dad! Since then, i ONLY gift comics to kids on their birthdays…and its mostly ‘Krishna’ written by you. I personally love the book for its writing & artwork and i do believe that it makes an excellent gift. Thanks!
Hello Mam … You’re books are extremely nice and artwork is also nice . As an art enthusiast myself I appreciate the quality of art in the book Krishna Defender of Dharma. At the first sight itself the cover artwork captivated me and it was amazing. Wishing you best of luck and further talks with you.
Thank you all of you for creating hungry stars in my eyes! Keep writing back 🙂

 

The Skull Rosary nominated for two awards!

There are times when you write for the heck of it. And then there are times when you are forced to write just so that you can somehow, somewhere collect, announce, record, and remember all the awesome things that have been happening to you. This one is a latter kind of a post. A lot many good things have been happening to me and I am overwhelmed. So this is not to all you readers. This blog is meant for the future Shweta Taneja. Food for her days which will be bleak and black and without hope. For her to remember that good things and then bad things happen in a continuous cycle. And what’s low will go up high soon enough.

The Skull Rosary has just been nominated for The Best Writer and The Best Cover in the Comic Con India awards. The latter was kind of obvious all thanks to the amazingness made by Lalit Sharma and colourist Yogesh Padgaonkar (hello, have you see the cover?). But the first one comes as a delightful, extra scoop of chocolate! Am basking in the surprised glory.

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And there’s more! Krishna, Defender of Dharma was named as a must read in CBSE School Reading List for 2013. The credit goes to the awesome artist Rajesh N, who quietly works in shadows on a desk in Campfire Comics.

Meanwhile, The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong, my darling novel which was never to have been written, has been written, has been published by the awesome Hachette India and is slowly cuddling up to little ones and warming up to people in the media. Read reviews spread across the web: Citizen Matters, Niticentral, The Hindu and elsewhere. I am also doing a detective workshop for it next weekend. Come over!

And even that’s not ALL. I have managed to sign a three-book contract with a really, really good publisher for the fantasy book series which I have already dreamed to write and have written part 1 of. That will will be announced soon and separately. Meanwhile, I will go back to writing Part 2 Smile

But really, wow. Too much. Overwhelming.

Fall of the great Indian editor

I gifted a recently launched book to my husband who loves to read breezy novels. This one was published by a top publishers in India and written by an established author who happens to be a famous Mumbai socialite. After reading, my husband pointed out how a character in the book who was supposed to stand on the dais in a scene magically enters the event a few paragraphs later. (No, it wasn’t a fantasy novel).

Another newly launched book which I am reading currently (based on a famous mythological character) is completely riddled with typos, repeat sentences and just lazy line editing. I apologetically wrote to its debut author on how my reading experience was being destroyed by the typos, spelling mistakes and loose paragraphs. He was kind enough to respond to me almost immediately expressing that the typos had cost him not only bad criticism but also a prestigious award. The publisher had outsourced the copy editing job and the freelancer made a complete mess of it. Now the publisher is re-publishing the book after editing it again.

There’s a lot written and spoken about bad writing and falling standards of writing in Indian English. Every time I go meet a publisher or an editor, invariably the discussion includes the kind of manuscripts that they get in their inbox every day or about the falling standards of writing in Indian English (cheap books, cheap bad writing). However, none of them seem to mention a need for a good editor.

Editing is a hard, frustrating, badly paid and anonymous job and I really bow down to those in the line. You are not recognised by anyone in media or publishing (you haven’t written the thing, so what’s your job again). And the everyday stress of typos is bad for your skin and back. But that doesn’t excuse the publishers from putting badly edited books on the shelves, less the top publishers of the country. What could be the reason that editing standards are falling down in spite of electronic editors, Microsoft Word’s automated correction and other technological help (or handicap as some editors I know might call them).

I can think of two . One, that most publishers get away with paying woefully low salaries (half of editors in the Media industry) to their editorial teams. Some of the small publishers outsource line editing and copy editing to a low-paid, newly out MA (English) graduate to save money. The result is a badly constructed book which is then blamed on authors (since editors are seldom named except in Acknowledgements from the author and who reads that anyway?)

Second, even in big publishing houses where the editorial team is a good 5-15 size, the weeding job is usually done by the lowest and the newest. Copy editing is given to the most inexperienced of the editors when you need a lot of experience to weed out a page.  That’s because weeding is considered a low-level job by experienced editors, who would rather move up the ladder to plot editing and managing of a team of editors.

Or could it be that there’s just too many books and the editorial team is too small and the number of books to take out each year, just too high? Editing is hard and has to be done in layers – multiple readings of the same paragraph till words start to swim in front of your eyes. If there are a lot of titles in a week, the editor will get exhausted.

I cannot think of any other reason for the falling standard in Indian books in English. Can you? Do email me if you know of something. I would love to include it. Till then, here’s a celebration of typos (all copyrights are included in the cartoons). Enjoy madi!

 

 

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My hidden masochist

I have a wee bit of masochism when it comes to writing. Writing doesn’t come naturally (like talking does) to me. It needs to be done in a secluded environment and I mostly hate not being around people. It makes me think, makes me sweat, it makes me run around without any results. It pays badly. Still, I love to do it. I love to write for the simple fact that it’s mostly one of the hardest thing for me to do. It’s the most challenging, the most painful thing I will ever do.

I cannot explain to you dear readers, the excitement and the fears that a blank word document page fills in me. Every time I see a blank page, my heartbeat starts drumming into a frenzy. Will I be able to fill it today? With something that might make sense to someone else? Or will I just be staring at the empty white space?

Why I am struck with these questions is because I have begun on my new book, a fantasy book I was too scared to write two years ago (which is why I wrote Mystery of the Iyer Bungalow first). Now I am finally penning this book down. The story that’s coming alive is not really mine. It’s hers. My heroine’s out and out. What will happen now? I ask myself as I read and re-read things I have already written. I don’t know. I don’t know so many things about her and the book I am writing. I am not in control, it’s painful, but still I prod on. Something impels me to write and continue to write, even though my back aches, my head aches and my emotions are in rollercoaster all the time.

In this writing, I am a medium who is telling a story, almost a shaman who connects you to the ghost. Is the heroine of this book in my head or is she from an alternate world from where, for some reason, she wants to tell her story? Am I completely making her up? Am I lying to you when I tell you that she speaks to me? She’s a person, from an alternate universe. I am a curious bystander. I dread to know what will happen to her in this. She lives in a much more scarier world than I do. She’s more exciting than I can ever be. I am comfortably sitting in my room, typing away to glory. She on the other hand, thrives on action, on the hunt. I am secretly in love with her (don’t tell her that please).

She’s an itch in my head which refuses to go away. Writing about her is not only painful, it’s also some kind of treatment. It’s an obsession. I talk about her with my family with friends. I tell them how she’s feeling today. I don’t know why I am writing about her. Why her? Why her world? Why did I choose all this to begin with? I wonder what a psychiatrist will call my obsession about writing, even though it pains me. I bet modern psychologists have a name for every obsession human beings feel. The only ones normal according to them are the ones who don’t live, don’t have a crazy passion, haven’t fallen in love and haven’t squandered money away. Also, haven’t lived to regret their choices in life. What a sorry state to be in.

So yes dear readers, I can tell you that I am a masochist. My only fear right now is that the world will end (isn’t it supposed to in Dec 2012?) and I wouldn’t have finished this story about her.

Death of books on dead trees?

Yes, I know it’s too poetic and dramatic. That’s the reason for that question mark there. What do you expect from a writer who is just chartering into an industry which by the looks of it is on its death throes?

Let me start from the beginning. I used to be a journalist. Then one day, I decided I would rather create my own stories and so quit my job and since then have been trying to live the dream of every journalist – that of becoming an author.

It’s not an easy job and I am not talking about the writing only. If I gotten into this industry 15 years ago, I would have had one aim: Get a couple of books out there on the book shelf. And one dream: I pass through a bookstore and see a child picking up one of my books and flicking through it with increasing interest. So much so that she might eventually buy it. Simple.

In olden days (think 10-15 years from now) a writer’s problem was mostly sustaining herself–both economically and emotionally –till she came out with that one winner. That one winner would be published by a publisher of repute or not, marketed decently, covered or thrashed by critics and if you were lucky, you won an award and a celebrity named your book in her favourites.

A couple of books and you could sustain yourself to write more. Basically get yourself an agent/publisher and work as a freelancer with them.

WRITER PUBLISHER TRADITIONAL MEDIA / BOOKSTORES READERS

Now my dear reader, it’s a web that a writer has. I talk literally—the World Wide Web or the Net or Internet. The internet has changed the way we writers functioned. It has especially started to show the door to traditional style of publishing.

Content, dear friend, has become free and easy to get. We are buying lesser books today than we did some years back. The reason can be youtube.com or Facebook. The reason can also be Wikipedia or Dictionary.com. If you have a ready, searchable encyclopedia online, why would you buy a printed edition which comes which is old as soon as you buy it? Content in today’s world is free. Now logic says that if something is free (like air), you don’t buy it. To sum it up, the print industry is dying as all the content can be read for free online and no one’s buying things written on dead trees anymore. Or so will be the case in another 10-15 years.

The confused lot that are writers, are clinging to different ideas of selling. Publishers are trying out the e-books way. Producing e-books brings their paper, distribution and stock costs to nil. But if it’s all about making e-books, why does a writer need a publisher? Why can’t a reader simply convert her book into an e-book and put it up online? My publisher friend Shobit, is asking the same question in a great blog on e-books and the publisher.

So how does a writer, whose sustenance comes from writing or content creation, survive in this new world?

More and more writers are trying out ‘self-publishing’. It means the writer pays a website some money to publish her work as per demand. So the more people buy, the more you earn. You are marketing mostly. Some savvy websites have also added e-books and services like editing, book layout, marketing and designing as part of the package. The people who I have seen take this route are a mix—some are those who tried and got rejected by traditional publishers. This is their way to pay and get their book published. Then there are those who are tired of the measly royalty that traditional publishing gives—20-30 percent and want more. Then there is a third kind who wants to experiment with this medium, has already published some works the traditional way. I don’t know if this is the new publisher and the new model of sharing the revenues and if it will be successful.

One thing is clear though: In the mess that is the Internet, content (I mean your or my book) needs to be actively advertised to the right people to be read. Else, it will be simply lost. I am sure there must be a sea of e-books lying in archives of internet killed by mismanagement. The writer has to take responsibility of her content. No more is it about convince a publisher and leaving the rest to them. If you want to sell content, you have to be there online, interacting with your readers, convincing them to buy. How do you do it? Maybe the route is one of the above. Maybe those are desperate ways of traditional modes who don’t understand this new dark world.

Maybe the answer is completely different: The story that is interactive, or uses different mediums to be told—a comic book, a video, an e-book, a web application, a mobile app, a game – all seamlessly stitched together. Or maybe it creates a web – as complex as the Web itself—built upon by various people (author and reader) who own and nurture it. Maybe this becomes the new medium, the new novel. The one every traditionalist will call ‘scrape’ or ‘trashy’ before it becomes the norm.

I still haven’t figured out how the author will earn money out of this new world. But one thing remains certain and gives me constant assurance. Everyone still loves to hear a story. I just need to figure out where my readers are sitting, waiting for a story to come by.

More, when I understand this better.