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Okay folks, we have decided on the cover. Almost. I spoke with my editor yesterday and it is going to be one of four designs from the last post. We may tinker with a bit, experiment with different colours, try out different fonts, but it’s going to be one of them.

In light of this I have taken the liberty of removing the other, earlier cover options from the site. Given that we are not using them, they are not my property (since becoming an author I have discovered a new found respect for IP *pats oneself on the back*).

While we were on the subject of Li’l Piggies, I also asked her if there was any chance of the book coming out in Jan 2010, in time for the Jaipur festival. It seems there isn’t. The earliest target was, and remains Feb 2010 *Sighs*.

Meanwhile, the proofs have been proof read and finaled. So I should be able to publish some extracts very soon. There is still the small matter of the blurb, which my editor and I are working on. Other than that, my work on the book is finished. Finally!  

I have also started on my third (Kkrishnaa sequel, tentatively titled Kkrishnaa’s Kandid Konfessions) and fourth (a new genre for me) books simultaneously. Which is a bad idea unless you can multitask and my multitasking extends to eating and drinking at the same time. I suspect I will have to take it sequentially only after all.

I am also meeting my producer today for a discussion on the second draft of the Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions screenplay. Will have more to report after the meeting. Ciao until tomorrow.

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I know promised to write this yesterday but then Man proposes and God disposes. Yesterday was a terribly hectic day and I got no time at all. Anyhow, here it is. Enjoy!

My next story is going to be about a vampire who’s in love with girl who’s human. The antagonist is going to be a Marathi Manoos werewolf who wants to kill the vampire because he’s a Bhayya. He wants to kill the girl because she called Mumbai Bombay to express solidarity with her lover.

How this helps:

Raj Thackeray takes affront and decides to express his outrage by vandalising bookstores and burning copies of your book in illustrative / intimidatory bonfires. Of course, this results in loss of revenue but it also guarantees publicity. Publicity that you can’t otherwise buy. Your book starts getting talked about and people who otherwise wouldn’t have bought it queue up to buy. It all works out.

Now, the flip side:

What if Raj Thackeray isn’t interested? What if the issue is not worth his time?

Enter the failsafe:

The vampire-girl duo are on the run and take shelter with some friendlies. Did I say friendlies? Not quite. You see, those friendlies are actually Jehadi Lychans who have an agenda of their own.  And their plan is to drill a hole all the way into the Earth’s core and plant a zillion megaton nuclear bomb there. Of course, you can’t drill a hole all the way to the Earth’s core but figure out a revolutionary new technology that does it anyway. For ideas, look up the film The Core.

Now, why would the Lychans shelter our protagonists? There can be two reasons. One, well, the werewolves with their heretic ideology are their enemies and any enemy of an enemy is a friend. Two, the journey to the centre of the Earth is fraught with peril and they need stooges to do it for them.

Meanwhile the Sun is flaring up out of control, and shooting tiny neutrinos into the Earth which is heating up the crust intolerably.

While our protagonists are with the Lychans, introduce a brilliant, sensitive Lychan painter who paints nude werewolf goddesses. 

Meanwhile, the werewolves catch up with the protagonists. While they are in Lychan territory, they stumble upon the painter’s works. Of course, once that happens, they do what comes naturally to them. They destroy the paintings. In the midst of the destruction, however, in a fit of petulance, the werewolf leader, an accomplished cartoonist, stops to draw some offensive sketches of the Lychan god.

How does it all end? How do I know? I haven’t thought of everything yet.

All I know is your book gets released. All castes and communities unite in calling for a universal ban on the book. Now join hands with a pirate on a revenue share basis. Now sit back and watch your bank balance grow.

Sigh. If only I could get someone to publish it. Sigh, maybe I’ll go to the Danish cartoon guys.

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After I wrote my post yesterday, it occurred to me that I was being a tad unfair to producers. When you’re making a film, there are multiple risks at different stages involved.

The first is at the story level. Writing a story/screenplay is quite an art. Just because someone has a good idea doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to translate it into a good story. A good story is driven by characters and conflict. There are ebbs and flows of emotion in the narrative and a good story paces them out well. An intensely emotional or suspenseful sequence needs a comic relief or downer immediately afterwards. You cannot pile an emotionally charged sequence on top of another.

Then there’s the direction. Just because you have a good script doesn’t mean it will translate into a good film. The director’s vision can either lift the script to a subliminal level (Lucky # Slevin) or reduce it to trash (Richard Kelly’s Domino). It has to be said here, though, that the chances of a good script turning out to be a bad film are rare, no matter how bad the director. As a caveat, I have to add that judging something like this is highly subjective. What I may consider a good script badly executed may well be someone else’s bad script made better.

Assuming the director’s vision translates the screenplay into a gem of a film, the marketing and promotion of the film may fail. The communication may leave the audience cold or target the wrong consumer group altogether.

Assuming everything turns out well – the script is good, the direction exceptional and the publicity succeeds in tweaking the viewers’ interest – the film may still turn out to be a box office dud.

You see, a film is a commercial venture involving millions of rupees. So, perhaps, the producers are not wrong to back winning horses against untested ones.

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I have acquired a minor celebrity status in the film circles and, I must say, it is extremely agreeable. Right after I optioned Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions for film rights, at least two other producers/directors have expressed interest in the book. And since Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions has already been optioned, they are now they are now offering to buy the rights to the soon-to-be-released Piggies on the Railway, A Kasthuri Kumar Mystery.

Why am I talking about it? Aside from blowing my own trumpet, of course, it is an interesting Bollywood case study.

Dearth of ideas: Bollywood is suffering from a lack of good, original stories. It is a veritable drought. Producers demand and writers keep coming up with the same old same old. The result? All the best, Golmaal, Hungama etc.

Risk aversion: The second point springs, in part, from the first. You see, producers aren’t willing to back risky ideas. So even if writers do come up with interesting and unconventional ideas, producers will give it a miss. They would much rather someone else undertook the risk. And with a best-selling fiction title out in the market, they reckon it’s worth a shot.

Validation: Now, I mentioned that they are willing to buy rights for my second book, based solely on a sneak peek of the manuscript. They figure that a writer has scored with the first one, so chances are that she will with the second one as well. They would much rather keep working with someone who has already proved themselves rather than give a new comer a chance.

Conclusion: For all you Bollywood aspirants out there, write a book.

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I’m restive these days. Unable to concentrate to outlining my third book. And that’s because my second book hasn’t been laid to bed as yet. The thing is it is very difficult to focus on two different books at the same time, especially when they are both intricate murder mysteries.

The second book in its current form is about 1, 14, 000 words which, I’m sure, is giving the production staff palpitations. I’m sure they’ll try and get me to trim the word count to under 1, 00, 000 post editing. That means that I can’t let it go just yet.

I apologize for harping incessantly on the phrase ‘the second book,’ although it does have a nice ring to it. Makes it sound like a definitive religious text, n’est pas? The name is not a closely guarded secret, deliberately shrouded in mystery. We just haven’t been able to agree on a suitably snappy title as yet.

The story is about a female PI with a cringe-worthy name like Kalavati or Bisheshwari or Thirumala. And it’s a series. At least we’re hoping it will be a franchise. I was going with a generalised title for the series, suffixed by specific story title.  Like And then there were noneAn Hercule Poirot mystery.

I was keen on Krime Kronicles as the general series title but it prompted too many eye rolls from my publishers (in my defense, I’m a TV person!). And so, the search continues.

Meanwhile, for all you aspiring screenwriters out there, Kamal Hassan, along with some Hollywood biggies, is launching a screenwriting contest. A friend of mine who works at the Hindu in Chennai sent me this. Check it out.

Chennai International Screenwriting WorkshopDo you want to be one of the chosen 250 to attend a week-long masterclass by some of the best screenwriting teachers in the country?

 

Kamal Haasan, in association with Indian Institute of Technology, Madras presents a first-of-its-kind international workshop and seminar on screenwriting in South India. “It’s a strictly instructional event. Basic education is compulsory and candidates need to demonstrate their seriousness to get selected,” says the writer-filmmaker-actor.

The Chennai International Screenwriting Workshop to be held at the IIT-M campus between May 29 to June 3, 2009 will feature few of the best screenwriters and filmmakers from around the world.

Veteran writer Jean Claude Carriere has confirmed his participation via video conference. 

Mr. Kamal Haasan himself will join the discussions and don the role of faculty during the workshop and seminar. “Students will be able to pick up copies of my scripts and get their doubts clarified,” he adds. 

The screenwriting workshop will be conducted by K.Hariharan, Director of the L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy, Anjum Rajabali, Professional screenwriter and head of departments of screenwriting at Film and TV Institute, Pune and Whistling Woods, Mumbai and Atul Tiwari, Professional screenwriter and well known playwright.

“We will be approaching screenwriting from two angles”, says Mr.Hariharan. “How to turn words into images that you see on screen and also how to do the opposite – putting in words what you see as images in your mind. Every day, we will have two sessions of guest lectures by reputed writer-filmmakers from the industry.”

For long, screenwriting has been a neglected discipline even in film schools. “While all good writing is essentially intuitive, it is essential to understand the basic principles of storytelling and the form of the screenplay to be a competent screenwriter”, says Mr. Anjum Rajabali, who founded the screenwriting department at FTII and at Whistling Woods.

“We all agree that it is impossible to make even a half decent film with a bad script and that a good script is the first and foremost requisite to make a good film. But even then we have seen that pedagogy of the screenwriting has not taken roots in India,” adds Mr. Atul Tiwari, who has who has conducted similar workshops in New Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Manipal and Pune.

The workshop will culminate with a seminar, which will be open to industry professionals. The event is an initiative of Raajkamal Films International to bring screenwriting to the forefront. 

To apply, students must send a copy of their resume, a passport-size photograph along with a 200-word synopsis on their favourite film and a list of their five favourite films to admissions@screenwritingindia.com before May 5, 2009.

More details are available on http://screenwritingindia.com. For further queries, email helpdesk@screenwritingindia.com

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3. Rewrite and Edit: Writing is only rewriting. After you finish writing whatever it is you’re writing, revisit it. Not once, not twice, but many times. After my morning fifteen minute writing routine and before I begin working for the day, I revisit whatever I have written the previous day. I edit it, rewrite it and then move forward. There are days when I rewrite ALL that I have written on the previous day.

Be merciless when cutting/slashing stuff. Writers tend to fall in love with stuff they have written and resist all attmepts to slash it, especially self-imposed. I fought my book editor tooth and nail on every change she suggested, especially if it involved cutting several paragraphs. I threw tantrums at the thought of removing several hundred words I had spent days writing.

And this, after having so much experience in writing screenplays. Screenplays, as you well know, are bound by time constraints. You only have about two hours to tell your story. That is, a 100 pages. In Hollywood the acceptable length is 120 pages. But in Bollywood we have to leave scope for songs.

As you can see, there is really no scope for any flab in the writing. If you spend two precios pages just exposing the character, that is two pages less for telling your story. Try to define your character while moving the story forward.

The good news is that as you become more proficient you require less rewriting. You instinctively know what is usable is what is not. Having said that, don’t let that stop you. Wander aimlessly if nothing worthwhile emerges. It will, eventually.

Remember to save changes in different drafts. Never throw out stuff. You never know when you might want to re-insert something you had edited out earlier.

4. Be persistent: Most writers that make it aren’t the ones with talent but the ones with tenacity. There are many unfinished authors out there who have ‘a great story’ in their minds but nothing on paper. No paper, no screenplay/book.

There are many I know who started writing the screenplay/book, only to abandon is midway. After talking with me they get all charged up and aim to restart the exercsie. But guess what. It’s not so easy. Time has passed, they have lost touch with the story. It is just too much hard work to revisit the work from the beginning all over again. They get disheartened and abandon the work yet again.

It’s like quitting smoking all over again. Why put yourself through this pain? Why not finish it in one go?

I laugh when I read my first screenplay or my first book. The writing is too amateurish and the ‘effort to impress’ shows. But I never run myself down. At least I finished whatever I began. Some day I may rewrite them.

While writing anything, about midway I usually encounter a block when nothing worthwhile comes. I suspect everybody does at some point when they are not sure which way to progress the story forward. This is usually where they abandon the exercise. My advice is don’t. Labour away at it. Eventually something will emerge.

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Whenever stuck for ideas, the news is your best source. It certainly is my best source. Just recently I was stuck for an idea for a character whose public profile was impeachable but who had a sinister private profile. And then Lt. Col Shrikant Purohit came along.

When the news first came out, it left most of us reeling with shock. A member of the Indian Army, the one institution that still commands respect, engaged in terrorist activities, why the idea was outrageous. Or was it?

Look at it from his point of view.

(Disclaimer: This is pure speculation and is not based on any facts)

He was probably a loyal member of this stellar organization, serving his country without question in inhospitable and downright hostile areas. He was probably engaged in counter insurgency ops in J&K. He was probably freezing his butt off patrolling at Siachen in knee deep snow.

For what?  To protect an openly ungrateful people and a government that doesn’t care. Through unjustified brickbats and unfair pay commissions he remained stoic and his patriotism was unshakable.

They caught several terrorists who were later let off for political or other reasons (prisoners for hostages kinda exchange). And (behold the mother of all ironies) one of these very rascals later went on to become a prominent political figure whom Purohit was forced to salute! It is just too much. And the straw that broke the camel’s back. Is it any wonder that the Mumbai Police openly refused to salute Gawli (or was it protect, or both)?

Of course this is only a general outline. Many people snap under unrelenting stress, and in a variety of ways, not necessarily anarchical. To explain his leanings towards militant Hinduism, you’d have to first concede that he was an Alpha male type personality, and then go back and reconstruct his childhood. To begin with, you’d have to consider that he was probably raised in a middle class Hindu household with allegiance to the Sangh, which was not a terrorist organization.

Even at this stage, to him, religion was private and had no place in his professional life at all. But gradually, he saw the rise of Islamic terrorism and, what seemed to him, a persecution of Hindus. This rhetoric was, no doubt, inculcated by a newly radicalised Sangh. He knew that the Government would not do anything about it, only pander to minorities. And that he had to do something if he had to arrest the inevitable downward slide of his beloved country into chaos. Here he probably saw Israel, with their prompt and retaliatory bombing, as an example. And a religious vigilante was born.

If you undertake this speculative exercise, bam, you’ve got a character. Hell, you’ve got a story.

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