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Posts Tagged ‘non fiction’

As I was posting the link yesterday, I got thinking about the stories I’ve been asked to comment on in recent times.

  1. Do women prefer cold cash to hot sex? My reply: Of course. It’s a no brainer.
  2. Are men better at writing sex than women? Do women get soppy, and bring too much emotion into, writing about what is primarily a physical act? My reply: Men write porn, women write erotica. Depends on what you prefer. (Can’t find the link)
  3. ‘Do Bad girls go places?’ or is it just a smart phrase? My Reply: D-uh! (Can’t find the link)
  4. Then of course the piece de resistance, the futuristic story I was asked to write about a scenario where women rule the world and men are their sex slaves.

Then I got thinking about search terms that people employ to, and successfully, to arrive at my blog: Smita Jain sex (easily tops the list), kinky sex India, hot naked teens, hot lesbian fuck videos (don’t know where that came from), middle aged aunty sex (DEFINITELY don’t know where that came from), sex.com (okay, that I can understand).

WTF?! Going by this one would think I’ve written a Jonathan Black! Guys, it’s only chicklit. All right, all right, so I do have some sex in my books, but it’s only max two-three scenes. Okay, okay, so it’s four-five scenes, but still. It’s hardly enough to bestow upon me the title of expert. Or is it?

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Sometime ago, the Times of India was doing a story on how more and more men are shedding tears these days. They wasnted my opinion on whether it has suddenly become acceptable, fashionable even for men to cry? Or are these men sissies and the fact remains that real men don’t cry?  

I had forgotten about this story and finding it was quite serendipitous. Interesting read. And not only for my expert take :-).

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There comes a time in everyone’s life when one has to go back to the basics. Nowhere is it seen more plainly than in sport where peaks and troughs are regularly hit and are painfully evident to see. It is amazing how a sportsperson who is, as sports commentators are fond of saying, ‘timing the ball sweetly’ or in  ‘fine nick’ the week before can struggle to get a racket/bat on the ball in the very next week.

Sometimes the lean patch can last a long time and while it persists, can slowly erode the player’s confidence till she doesn’t believe she can compete with the, again as sports commentators are fond of saying, ‘the best in the field.’ To break this vicious cycle they are advised to go back to the basics. Focus on your rhythm, footwork and hitting through the ball cleanly. Focus on winning just the very next point. Then the next. If you do that, your confidence will slowly return and soon you’ll be able to strategise ahead for a clutch of points and then the whole match.

I hope you can see where I’m going with this. (And no, I haven’t turned into a motivational speaker or a sports psychologist).

As you know, it’s been slow going for me for some days now on the writing front. Much as I tried, I just couldn’t figure out why. And then I realised I was thinking about writing the whole novel, that is 100,000 words. And to make matters worse I’ve started two. So that’s at least 250,000 words.

Think of it like that and the task seems daunting. The trick is to focus on writing one scene well. Then the next. Soon, as you get a grip on the language and the characters you’ll be able to write more than a scene at a time and before you know it, the novel is finished. Voila! Simple, isn’t it?

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You know, it occurred to me that I’ve been waxing about writing for so long – what one needs to do to get published or produced or whatever – and I left out the most important thing. Luck.

You can have talent by the oodles, dedication and determination but if you haven’t got luck you’re pretty much toast. On the other hand, you can average to zilch talent but if you have the lady on your side you have nothing to worry about. Perhaps my placing too much on mere chance stems from the industry I come from.

While luck plays a role in any field in life, its importance is exaggerated in mine. Every day I see talented people struggling away, unable to make a mark. On the other hand you have a music director (I shall refrain from using names), whose sole talent in life is creative stealing. *Gasp* you guessed???!!! And here I was soooo careful.

Of course what I’m saying could be pure baloney. As one erstwhile leading tennis player, talking about the favourable percentage of close net and line calls that regularly went his way, said, “The harder I practice the luckier I get.” Perhaps in sport. I mean, that is one area you need to have some skill. And hone it. You just can’t wake up one day and bend it like Beckham. *Sorry* I couldn’t think of a more original one.

Elsewhere, I think, luck is a necessary and sufficient condition for success. So all you aspiring writers, singers, musicians, you too can get lucky. It’s really a question of practice. *You too can win* Do I sound sufficiently like Shiv Khera? God, where did that name come from? It’s been ages since we heard it! There was a time where he was everywhere. And then he just disappeared. Guess who the lady deserted.

BTW, what do you think of the title of this post? I dithered between luck by chance and oye luck luck oye and chose the latter. I am a Dilliwali at heart. What to do, I’m like this only.

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Okay, so I’m ranting a lot these days. I have problems with the slum dwellers, I have problems with the middle-class, I have problems with the elite rich. I find myself quite alienated by everyone and everything. Now, I was never like this. So, out of curiosity I rang up a psych friend of mine and told her about this.

A momentary pause, and then she asks, “Do you have headaches and other body pains?” And I’m like, what kind of a question is that? Who doesn’t occasionally have headaches and body pains, especially when one is getting on in years? I reply in the affirmative.

“Distortion or loss of subjective time?”

Duh. I’m a writer. Once I start writing, I lose track of when I’m supposed to brush.

“Depersonalization?  Derealisation? Amnesia? Depression?” she asks, rapid fire.

Huh? I don’t even know what the first two terms mean. But I recognise my life-long companion, depression. So, yet again, I reply in the affirmative, albeit a little cautiously. I’m wondering where she is going with all these questions.

“Auditory hallucinations?” she asks.

“That’s it! What’s with all these questions? What is going on?”

A sharp in-drawn breath. Silence.

“Tell me already.  I’m having a panic attack!”

“Did you say panic attack?” she asks, anxiously.

“Y…yes,” I stammer, fearing the worst.

“Smita, I think you’re suffering from a….”

Brain tumour, brain tumour, brain tumour.

“… dissociative disorder.”

“Wait, did you say dissociative disorder?”

“Yes, what did you think?”

Gulp. “Never mind. Is it serious?” I’m beginning to enjoy this. Brian tumour may not be a walk in the park but a psych disorder? How cool is that? I can’t tell you how I’ve longed for these writer type afflictions, just to lend my life and writing a certain gravitas.

Of course, I’ve often fantasised about having a serious addiction. Like cocaine or something. But I’ve never seriously contemplated it. I’m sure I couldn’t afford it. And then where would I be? On the streets or in the slums, most likely, where admittedly, a lot of poverty-stricken writers and painters lived, but which, as you know from my last post, I’m not keen on doing.

In my mind I’m already a schizoid, writing under two, maybe more personalities. And what comes out is hailed as a cult classic like the Alexandria Quartet or something. I’m busy plotting my new multiple viewpoint novel when she interrupts my fantasies.

“Depends on what kind of a disorder we’re dealing with,” she replies breezily. “In your case I think it’s just urban stress. A lot of people experience this from time to time.”

Great. So I’m just normal. Where’s the cool in that?

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Yesterday I was reading William Dalrymple’s interview in which he said that he would never write a novel on Bombay because Suketu Mehta had done such an exhaustive job. That got me thinking, would I ever write a novel on Bombay? And I decided I would not either. But not for the reason mentioned above.

I wouldn’t write one because 90 per cent of Bombay is a slum and slums or slum dwellers don’t interest me. Excreta piled up waist high and people wading through it may excite Mehta and Boyle’s creative juices but it doesn’t do anything for me apart from conjure up a distasteful image.

I don’t identify with slum dwellers, have nothing in common with them and they are not my audience. So pray, why should I care? What if some day you have to live in slum, a friend asks me. This is, of course, accompanied with the usual deterrent to the evil eye of god forbid and crossing of fingers. To that I have to say, why would I ever have to live in a slum? I do my bit for society. I pay for my maid’s child’s education, I stop my car to let pedestrians cross the road and once in a while I treat a beggar child to whatever he/she wants to eat. So why, and where, would I pile up enough bad karma for such a thing to happen?

Another aspect of Bombay which finds prominent mention in all written works is the underworld. And I realise I’m too much of a coward to venture into those areas to do any research. Recently I had occasion to visit Dongri. For those who’re unfamiliar with the area, this is where Dawood Ibrahim and other big gangsters come from. Apparently, Ibrahim’s sister still goes around intimidating people and collecting hafta.

I was looking around apprehensively, expecting gunfire to erupt any moment. I was behaving much the way first timers to Bombay do when they ask, “Have you seen Shah Rukh Khan?” (And no, I haven’t. I’ve seen Amitabh Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Sanjay Dutt and even Aamir Khan, but I haven’t seen SRK. Tip: the best place to spot these guys is the airport.) The high point of my visit? On the way back, I got to see some whores (oops, sex workers. Sorry.) on Falkland Road.

And that brings me to the point of this post. And that is, I’m too safely ensconced, too comfortably numb in my middle–class cocoon to attempt to step out of it. Not even to write a potentially seminal work.

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I met up with a friend over the weekend and he asked me what was new in my life. I told him that my second novel had been typeset and was on target for an early 2010 release. (Come to think of it, he was more an acquaintance than a friend because friends already know, courtesy me harping on incessantly about it.)

As I was basking in his fulsome praise, out came the spoiler. He asked what was next and I told him I’m attempting something different for my third, and since it’s an area relatively unknown to me, I’m doing research. Since when, he asked me. Since two months, I told him. Be careful, he warned me, you look like you’re stuck in a research rut.

And then I came back and caught Steven Soderbergh waxing about his latest offering, Che on the telly. And he was talking about them getting stuck in a research rut and having to wade through a veritable information glut as a result.

That got me a little anxious and I immediately booted my laptop and hacked out a detailed (I already had a fledgling plot in mind) plot. Then I broke it down in order of scenes. How does the novel open, what happens next, what happens after that, where is plot point I, where is the interval, what is plot point II, etc. That’s how I usually write. It’s impossible for me to think up a story in terms other than a screenplay.

And you know what, it really helped. Now I know exactly what information to seek, instead of aimlessly reading up trivia.

At that point, I was feeling so good about myself that I even hacked out the first five hundred words. And then someone told me that that day was Naag Panchami and a very auspicious day for new beginnings (tautology, or what?). That augurs well for the project, n’est pas?

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Indiaplaza is one of the biggest online stores, including for books. They started the Golden Quill awards for fiction last year. This year, they’ve added non-fiction as well. Apart from the Jury prize, they also have a Reader’s Choice award. How this works is, the publishers submit a 1000-word extract from each title they submit. These extracts are put up on the Indiaplaza website, and readers can vote for the book they think is the best.

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You know how us Indians, almost all of us universally, have been brought up on the funda that life is a constant grind? And that all we can do is struggle and hope for the best? And as a corollary, the oft repeated verse from the Gita – Karmanyevadhikaraste Maphaleshu Kadachan is quoted? (Methinks it’s the only thing people have read in the Gita. Certainly, it’s the only one I’ve read. I tried to read the whole book, though. Honestly I did. Many times. I gave it up every time. Almost all Hindu texts, to me, appear to be misogynistic rants.)

It’s a whole load of crap. Let me tell you where I’m coming from:

Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions: When I first started writing, I just wrote because I had a story that excited me. And I knew I was writing it well. That’s it. I just wanted it published. I knew it was good enough to be published. More importantly, I believed it was going to get published. And lo! Within three days of submitting the MS I got a contract. The second one followed. And now there, are expectations that I’ll churn out a third one before the year is out. My life is harder now than when I first began writing! Which brings me to an unrelated but important observation – getting success is easy, maintaining it is hard.

Blog: I started blogging because I write a journal-like entry every morning anyway. So I figured, why not put it on the Net? And let’s face it, it gives me a platform to voice my opinions, pontificate and popularize my book (soon to be books). As an added advantage, it allows me to put up favorable reviews and edit bad ones. Other than that, I’m the laziest blogger in the whole world.

Therefore, it came as pleasant surprise when I did a search for my blog and found it tops in many directories! I don’t know how and when that happened (Certainly, my blog doesn’t inform me when someone links me). It’s not that I consciously cultivate readership. I don’t go that many other blogs. Or comment on them. I just don’t have the time. When I’m not writing my novel, I’m writing for TV. And when I’m not doing that, I’m writing film screenplays. Then there are newspapers and magazines who want my ‘expert’ opinion on something.

Sales of Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions: I’ve never harangued my publishers for better publicity and promotion for the book, knowing their efforts are inadequate and lots more could be done. I don’t do that because I believe the product is good enough to do well without it. And it is in the bestsellers list every time. More importantly, it’s not dead stock. Every book store I ask tells me the book is a ‘fast moving item.’

There was this one books store in Powai which didn’t have the book in its display. When I asked a salesman about it, he helpfully got up and tried to locate it for me. While he was searching, I asked him why it wasn’t on prominent display. He stopped, shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “It wasn’t a moving.” My heart sank. Anyway, after a few minutes of fruitless searching, he went back to his desk and checked in the computer. And looked up, dazed. “We had fifteen copies. It’s sold out! We’ve placed an order for more.”

Which brings me to another unrelated important observation – in things like books, movies and almost anything to do with popular culture, it is word of mouth publicity that counts. Sure, splashy campaigns in traditional media help in generating visibility, but they don’t always translate into sales. I read many reviews and author interviews in newspapers but I don’t rush out to buy their books. I wait for an opinion from a friend I trust before I fork out the money.

Anyway, to come back to point of this rambling and long winded post, new age stuff with its emphasis on ‘abundance’ and ‘getting what you want is easy’ really works! All you have to do is believe.

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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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