Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Here’s something I wrote for AND magazine on the above mentioned subject:

When I was first asked to write on the subject I figured I’d scour the net to find out what people were saying about the subject. I mean, why write when you can copy, right? If you do it smartly and copy from many sources you can get away with it too. After all, steal from one, it’s plagiarism, steal from many, it’s research. Everyone knows that.

But guess what I found? Apparently, all we women are looking for is love! With someone who’s thoughtful and caring but not dull, sensitive and a good listener but not a sissy, a bad boy but not a cad, adventurous and sporty but not wild and reckless. After a few minutes of surfing two things became obvious to me. One, all women want five guys, and two, I’d have to do this the hard way and write the whole thing myself.

Humour aside, methinks men tax their tiny, primeval brains too much.  Unlike what they believe, they are not so prominent in our list of top ten things we want. In fact, they figure way, way down. For, what we want is simple really.

1.We want to be able to eat anything and not gain weight. Have you seen those skinny young women who eat like horses, with plate after plate of food at the buffet table without putting on any weight? Neither have I. On the rare occasion I have seen one, she’s usually on their way to the loo. You know, to upchuck everything she just ate. But wouldn’t it be divine if we got to keep everything in and still remained stick thin?

2.We want to be Ageless. And not by resorting to chemical peels or laser treatments or any of that synthetic stuff. Have you seen some of those well-preserved socialites (names have been withheld to protect identity)? We don’t want to look like we’ve been pickled in vinegar! We want to be cryogenically frozen at twenty-two, twenty–five, tops.

3.We want to have a good, nay, great hair day. Every day. And while we are at it, why not throw in a good skin day and good nail day too? In fact, from the moment we wake up, we want to look like we’ve just stepped out of a salon.  

4.While we are walking out of a salon why not do it in five inch heels? With poise, and not slithering and sliding like some victim of alcohol abuse. Everyone knows that heels are sexy. They make legs looks longer and more defined, but only if you know how to walk in them gracefully. Which brings me to the next thing on the wish list. The ability to glide in five inch heels as insouciantly as if we were wearing skids.

5.Have all the money in the world. I’m talking millions, billions preferably. Ideally we’d like to inherit that money. Like Paris Hilton. But if that’s not possible, then we’d like a job that requires us to possess no talent or tact. Just a bitchy temperament. Like Simon Cowell. Who doesn’t want to say stuff like, ‘If your lifeguard duties were as good as your singing, a lot of people would be drowning,’ and get paid forty million dollars for it?

Continued tomorrow.

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I was watching the telly a couple of days ago and I happened to catch a 100 richest celebs kinda show on E!

Now, most of them have had to work for their supper but some, like Steven Spielberg get paid on just waking up! Royalties etc, you got it. And guess who was next on the list? JK Rowling. According to the show she’s worth a billion plus pounds. And the show was produced in 2007! Since then there’s been Stephanie Meyers, too.

Now, I was  filled with envy. Cross that. My new age guru will be horrified to hear that. *affirmation to self: Day after day I’m getting better and better and better. The world is filled with abundance and I live in this abundance. I deserve my good fortune and celebrate it*

Anyway, envy or motivation, call it what you will, but I decided to do something about my own, shall we say, considerably less salubrious pecuniary state. I called upon all my experience (and it is vast, spanning investment banking, adventure sports, publishing and writing) and arrived at a winning formula.

As you know, writing a novel is hard work and takes a lot out of you. Added to that is the uncertainty that it will be published. And even if it is, there’s no guarantee that it will sell, let alone be a best seller.

First things first. We have to begin the project by de-risking it. A good way to do that is to attempt a romance. According to the latest trends in fiction, romance still sells. In the wake of the Twilight series, a spate of vampire novels have hit the market but thre’s appetite for more. Well written conspiracies, spelling the doom of mankind, still work.

So, a good beginning premise would be a vampire romance set against the backdrop of an impending disaster.

Now that we’ve de-risked the model, we have to turn it into a multibagger. To do that you have to get attention. And not just the odd newspaper interview/review kinda thing. I’m talking serious, reams and reams of newsprint. The kind that’s devoted to the controversy of the day. Enter Raj Thakeray.

But. But, we can do one better. And that is, we can try and get the book banned. Based on all the above analysis, I’ve decided on what I’m going to write next. Watch out for it tomorrow. Meanwhile, do write in your thoughts on the subject.

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I recently received an invite for a discussion of Jeffrey Archer’s Paths of Glory at the Taj President. At first I thought of declining. I mean, the Taj President! It’s 30 kms away! But then two things clinched it for me. The fact that my publishers were going to be there and the words ‘cocktails and snacks,’ printed in bold letters on the invite.

Accordingly, I called a cab (did I mention there was going to be booze?) at 6.30 p.m. It takes about two hours to travel from Andheri to town and I didn’t I didn’t want to be a loser and arrive at the dot of 8 which is when the event was scheduled to begin. Of course, that was the day traffic decided to let up and I ended up reaching at 7.56 anyway.

So, trying to look all dignified, I made straight for the concierge and asked him where the Library Bar was, like that was where I had wanted to go in the first place. He looked at me strangely and said the Library Bar had closed down some four years ago and there was a new lounge in place called the Wink. The Wink! Man, they need more imaginative planners.

Anyway, I ordered a beer and tried to linger over it. But habits of a lifetime die a hard death and I found myself glancing anxiously at my watch every two minutes. Till I heard an unmistakably English accent. An educated English accent. The voice was coming from somewhere to my right. I peered into the dark recesses and noticed an elderly Englishman sitting there with two Indians. Was he…? And then he mentioned the name George Mallory. Yup, he was Jeffery Archer all right.

So I relaxed, sipped my beer more leisurely and listened to ol’ Jeff crib about Indians’ time management skills. “What is with Indians? I mean, they arrive for a 3.30 meeting at 4.30 and if you ask them the reason for their tardiness they look all surprised and say but it’s only 4.30!” I found that quite funny and managed to snort beer into my nostrils while trying to laugh silently.

His talk was quite well-graphed. I guess it helps when you’ve sold millions of copies and have done this often. He knew when to make the audience laugh with his anecdotes – “a ten year old in Chennai told me that he’s read all my books and even thought one or two quite good” – and he knew when to insert a serious point, like the impressive sales figures of his books, notably Kane and Abel and Not a Penny More….

He made fun of the famous English snobbery and, in the same breath, betrayed his obvious pride in being an Oxford man himself and in being titled. Subtly, of course. As in recounting something someone had said to him. “And then he says to me, ‘Lord Archer, you do realise that save for two premises, your book has no validity.’ And he’s absolutely right!”

During the q&a session people asked him the usual stupid questions like advice for aspiring writers. Why would people ask him that? He’s been a bestselling author for over 30 years! He’s forgotten what it is to be a struggling writer. Ask him what he does with all the money.

And then the booze flowed…I don’t remember what happened afterwards.

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For an author I get a woefully little amount of reading done. And that’s because I’m usually in the middle of writing a book. And when I’m writing I don’t read (not fiction anyway) for fear of getting influenced.

That means that the only time I get for reading is when I’m in-between novels or plotting one. Which happens to be now. Accordingly, I went out day before yesterday and picked up 5000 bucks worth of books. So now I’ve got 21 titles to be read within a month, preferably less. I’m proud to declare that I made a good start yesterday and finished 2 whole novels!

Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer – the dude is good! A little formulaic, but he’s the only one you can get you to compulsively turn the page on merely the promise of an intriguing question being asked by an unlikely figure at a public lecture – and the other one by Mary Higgins Clark. I hope to finish an Amy Tan today (I’ve never read her before) and a Wilbur Smith (or did I get a Ken Follett?).

When you read contemporary works from your genre, you always run the risk of getting influenced or, as Bollywood types love to say, ‘inspired.’ But that doesn’t mean that one stops reading altogether. What one can do, however, is following:

1. Try to plagiarise ideas instead of whole chunks of passages (remember how Opal Mehta got kissed…by wazzername?).

2. On the other hand, after the scandal broke, Opal got publicity like you woulnd’t believe. She actually ended up selling more. You can’t pay for that kind of publicity. Moreover, stealing just the idea cannot guarantee immunity. Just look at Stephanie Meyer. So to hell with that idea.

3. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of stealing. How much do I make in royalties vis-a-vis how much do I fork out in settling the claim? If the scales tilt in favour of royalties, go for it.

4. While you’re at it, try and steal it from bestsellers to make it easier to spot instances of plagiarism.

5. If you do happen to be a poor sod and lift from an unknown and obscure book, get a friend to blow the whistle on you.

6. If however, you must steal but the ensuing lawsuit could leave you shirtless, do it smartly and from many sources. As they say, steal from one place, it’s plagiarism, steal from many, it’s research.

7. If you must steal and rather obviously, go one up on potentially litigious authors and give them credit. You only have to look at the many ‘management’ and ‘self-help’ books on the shelves to know that this works.

8. Lastly, for God’s sake, don’t get caught with your hand in the cookie jar! Remember, it’s only stealing if you get caught.

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Anyone can write does not mean that you take it lightly. Writing, is not just about stringing two words together. Like any other craft it needs persistence and constant sharpening.

How does one do that? It is a bit obvious really.

1. Write: Again, like any other craft, practice is of paramount importance. You must write, write and write. Even when you don’t feel like it. The popular comedian Jerry Seinfeld says that he writes for at least forty minutes every morning, whether he feels funny or not.

When there are no deadlines imposed on you, you tend to take it a little easy. Writers, as a lot, are notoriously indisciplined. I myself am wont to be lazy. Therefore, I impose a strict schedule on myself.

The first thing I do when I get up, yes even before my morning ablutions, is switch on my computer. Yup! I tumble out of bed straight onto my desk. Then I write for at least fifteen minutes. It doesn’t have to be gems. It can mundane, everyday things, even your shopping list or things to do that day.

But what this exercise achieves is that it clears your mind of useless rubbish and prepares you for constructive work ahead. Often times when I’m stuck while writing a screenplay or a book, I use this time to bounce off ideas. Usually by doing this, I get a clear way forward.

But more importantly, the more you write, the better you get at it. You acquire a facility with words and structure and your writing becomes sharper and more focused. You are bound to expend less time in wandering around and writing stuff that you’ll only have to throw out later.

Also begin with the end in mind. You may not know how the story begins but you must always know how it ends. You don’t hop on a train without a destination in mind do you? It’s the same way with writing.

2. Read and watch: Read widely and deeply. Read anything. Experts usually say read only quality stuff, but I disgaree. In my opinion, one must read anything and everything. You will always take away something even from trashy pulp fiction, even if it’s a ‘how not to.’

Similarly with films. Watch everything even if it is nonsense. Subhash Ghai’s “Yaadein’ is a study in how not to make a film.

I do understand where experts are coming from. If your reading is trash, your writing will be too. After all we all have muses, writers who inspire us to write and whom we try to emulate, albeit in our own style.

In my opinion learn to distinguish between the two. If you’re reading trash, know that you’re reading trash. Also don’t read and watch only trash.

Read as a writer. If there’s something you like, a scene or incident, try to figure out why you like it? What has the author done that appeals to you so much? How has he/she constructed the scene? What is the beginning, middle and end? What are the highpoints of the writing? what is the imagery used? What turn of phrases do you like?

Read the masters. Read Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, Ian McEwan. Read Loius L’Amour if you like westerns. There are so many good writers out there. If you are a screenplay writer, download as many screenplays as you can and read them. You can download screenplays for free from Drew’s script-o-Rama.

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Right now I’m looking for a killer opening line for my next book along the lines of, “The scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of unrequited love” and “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” the opening lines of Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez) and Anna Karenina (Tolstoy).

But since it is not exactly the great literary novel it should be cheesy as well. And funny. Basically smartassy. Maybe something like, “There are three shots on my body – two lead and one bourbon.”

Except it is also a female PI, so maybe something chicklitty. And Not something like, “I didn’t know whether flutter in the pit of my stomach was him or just me ovulating.”

For those of you who keep procrastinating, I got a nice one for you guys. But before I get into it, a little bit of background. Sinclair Lewis was supposed to lecture a bunch of would-be writers. For those of who don’t know, Sinclair Lewis was a famous American writer and I think, the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Anyway, when it came Sinclair Lewis’s turn to speak, he staggered to the podium, gazed drunkenly at the crowd of eager faces, and said, “You dumb sonsabitches wanna write? Well, g’wan the hell home and write”!

There is only so much guidance anyone can give you. At the end of the day you have to write, trash, rewrite stuff. You have to develop your own style. And go easy on yourself.

Let’s face it, If you haven’t written before, it’s hardly likely that you will write scintillating prose. Notice I don’t say won’t write scintillating prose. You never know when someone might just do so on his/her debut attempt, just to make you eat your words.

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I have a friend who is currently going through some hard times. He is a director and is having some difficulty in getting his project going. This has been going on for about two years. Obviously, this delay causes concomitant financial difficulties.

“Why don’t you try writing a book?” I suggested to him. I said this to him for four reasons. One, I know for a fact that he reads a lot and has many ideas for stories.

Two, Indian writers have never had it so good in the publishing market and chances are he would taste some success there.

Three, long as you can construct a grammatically correct sentence it doesn’t matter if you can’t write flowery prose. Let’s face it, most Indian writing in the market today sucks language-wise.

Four, even if doesn’t get accepted for publication, he would at least have a ready story for a script. And who knows maybe that will intrigue producers and actors and maybe that project will get under way.

The moment I said I could have bitten my tongue. He looked at me wistfully and said, “I can’t write a book. I’m too undisciplined.”

Tell me about it. This is a guy who’s been after me for two months to help him rewrite/polish dialogues for his film script. I just haven’t been able to find the time. Now, if it had been me, I would never have waited that long. I would’ve attacked it myself.

“You don’t suppose you could….,” he started to say hopefully.

“Perish the thought.” What did he expect? That I would write it for him?

“No, just help me with the outline.”

“Perish the thought,” I said for the second time. This is what I get for suggesting ideas. Sometimes I’m too smart for my own good.

“You know I’m not good with outlining stories,” he said insistently.

Not my problem. If you can’t write stories maybe you ought to be in some other line of work. I like to help my friends and am happy to give comments and even help with restructuring a story, but you’ve got to give me something to work with first. You can’t expect me to write the first draft for you. I’m not that helpful. I used to be. But not anymore. Not unless I’m being paid for it.

Actually I’m being uncharitable towards him. This problem – indolence, indiscipline – call it what you will, is more prevalent than people think. I have numerous friends in the industry who all ask the same thing of me at one time or another. The fact of the matter is that people just don’t try. They are afraid of work. They just don’t want to do it.

I’m sorry, but I can’t help you there.

P.S. check out this review of Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions.

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By now we’ve established that the writing market in India is booming. For more perspective and information on the kind of stuff that is being picked up click here.

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June 30

I resisted when someone suggested using Final Draft for my screenplays. I had worked out the formatting in word and couldn’t be bothered to learn newer software, no matter how much better it was.

That friend, may his screenplays always get made into award winning films, persisted. He gave me a CD, installed it and even imported the screenplay I was working on in it. Still I did nothing about it. Then one day I had some time. I didn’t particularly feel like writing so I decided to fool around with Final Draft.

Actually this urge was prompted in part by the realisation that I was guilty of the same syndrome that I had once famously accused my father of. I had very haughtily pronounced my dad a dinosaur when he refused to learn computing declaring that pen and paper had served him well thus far and it would too going forward as well.

Anyway I mastered Final Draft, and is wont to happen when any new software comes along, I can’t imagine how I had survived without it. My life was then divided into ante Final Draft and post Final Draft.

Till now.

Recently someone suggested and yWriter4. yWriter4 was rumoured to have been developed by a magician. It was credited with fixing scripts and manuscripts by itself. It was rumoured to do the writing by itself.

When I first heard about it, I thought the claims were fantastic. I no longer think so.  Though I haven’t explored it fully yet, I can safely say that I don’t think I’ll do any writing without it.

yWriter4 breaks down your manuscript chapter and scene wise. Each scene can be tagged according to characters and locations. You can also tag each scene according to motivations, goals, and conflict and rate them on a numerical scale. This can help you up or lower any ingredient.

yWriter4 also helps you find frequently  used words and phrases in the manuscript so you can figure out if you are ODing on the he grimaceds, or said wrylys, or she yelpeds, or she screecheds or he crieds.

yWriter4 also breaks down your MS according to the number of words in each chapter and scene which is very helpful in terms of cutting down on the skippers, i.e., the portions readers tend to skip. As you can imagine it helps with the pacing and keeping the MS tight.

Plus many more features which I haven’t explored yet. It can supposedly break down the MS according to different characters’ POVs. You can tag characters’ biographies and backstories. You can do the same with locations and scene and send link backs so you can tie loose ends.

Truly magical. Ante yWriter4 ends, post yWriter4 begins.

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I managed a decent output of a 1000 good words on my second novel yesterday. I was a little apprehensive about writing anything worthwhile since I haven’t been in touch with it over the past few weeks, other commitments (TV, promotion for Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions) having taken priority. And it is always harder when you go back to a novel after a hiatus because you have to reacquaint yourself with the story and the characters. And then I had a very good run clocking a 5 second improvement. All in all a very satisfying day.

I also caught Get Smart yesterday and enjoyed it immensely. But I must add a disclosure lest anyone take my recommendation seriously and curse me later. And the disclosure is, I love Steve Carell. So I’m bound to be a little lenient. Still, I wished I hadn’t spent 200 bucks on the ticket and waited to watch it on DVD.

By now I guess most people have either seen the movie or at least read the reviews. So I’m not going to dwell on the story. In a nutshell, Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) is an analyst (read: boring desk job) at a secret agency whose field agents’ covers are blown. Ergo, Maxwell Smart gets a chance to live his dream and becomes a field agent. An infinitely more experienced and disparaging of Smart Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) is assigned as his partner.

The main criticism is that I couldn’t figure out what Maxwell Smart was? Was he a stupid and bumbling idiot like Johnny English or Jacques Clouseau? If he was, then why the moments of rare acuity and stunning acrobatics? Was he a prissy paper pusher with a penchant for rules, i.e., ideal bureaucrat material? Then why show him as an idiot at times? I couldn’t get Smart’s character down so I couldn’t anticipate what he would do in a situation – mess up the situation further with his stupidity or resolve the situation with an astonishing display of physical and mental prowess.

If anyone has figured it out, please enlighten me.


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