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Posts Tagged ‘writers’

I was invited to a book launch recently. That is not to say I don’t generally get invited. I do. But whether or not I go depends on the convenience factor. As a rule I don’t venture beyond Bandra. Is there a game changer? Of course. There’s always a game changer. Booze.

So I go to this book launch where after the usual ceremony – the introduction, the reading, the q&a, – the wine was uncorked. I asked the waiter if they had any wine. And he said no, they just had beer and whether that would do. I usually like wine but in crisis situations, like this one was turning out to be, I’ll drink anything with an alcohol content upwards of 3 % (it was light beer).

And so the merriment began. I got to meet other like-minded authors and we formed a kind of community. You know it’s strange, but I’ve been a writer for, like, forever and I don’t have a circle of writer friends. So this was hugely exciting, like me, the plain jane, was being initiated into the exclusive club of prom queens. Already I could see me and my new BFFs spending lazy days in decadent pursuits like five hour Martini lunches. I would then stagger home and miraculously come up with literary gems.

After the event was over, my new BFFs decided to take my initiation to another pub / restobar / lounge whose name and location will come to me once the alcohol haze lifts. We began by ordering another bottle of wine and some eats. Again, I might remember what I ate if my brain cells revive. I have a feeling they’ve been totally vitiated, though.

We started exchanging notes about our lives and I was amazed at the varied and exciting lives these beautiful and talented people have led. One is openly gay, one experiments with her sexuality and has had multiple partners of both sexes, one has had a spouse and a lover simulataneously for ten years and also experiments with one night stands. They are all the ultimate in Bohemian chic. As I sat listening to the funny, entertaining and frankly risqué stories of their lives, it became clear to me that I might have been accepted into the prom queen club but I was just an ugly duckling pretending to be a swan. Sigh.

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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 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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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 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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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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I’m thoroughly enjoying my downtime. The only thing that’s playing spoilsport at the moment is the weather. The heat and the humidity means I get to town a lot less often that I’d wish to. I’d promised myself that once I finished I’d make a trip to Café Mondegar, Café Leopold and an old favourite, Churchgate Stores (non-air conditioned but the last time I went around, beer-on-the-tap was priced at a ridiculously low price of 35 bucks a glass) and drink myself silly every day. Strand book store and Bombay Stores also found a mention in the to-do list, although I’m not sure whether it was pre or post the drinking. Definitely pre, I’m thinking. But so far I’ve done this only once in three weeks.

But I’ve also realized one thing. Everything people say about writers/writing is not necessarily true. For instance, I’ve discovered that I don’t have to write every single day. I’m quite happy picking up the comp just to surf silly videos all day long. I don’t feel guilty if I don’t so much as open the word processor even once during the day. So what’s the distinction between a writer and a prevaricator? I guess the difference is knowing the difference between a holiday and procrastination.

Of course, I could get to my comp immediately. I already have a story ready for telling. But I try and desist from sticking to a formula. I like to imbue my novels with quirky characters and atmosphere. This means I need my jar of creative juice fully replenished. Meanwhile, I’m content to let the ideas ferment.

On the subject of authors of prodigious output, here’s an interesting article.

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All aspiring screenwriters out there, interested in writing a comedy on television, I’m looking for an assistant.

Essential Qualifications:

  • You must be a resident of Bombay, preferably, living within a one hour periphery of say, Seven Bungalows, Andheri west. As you all know, given the traffic, you could be in Lokhandwala and it can still be challenge to travel two kilometres in that time. So go figure.
  • You must be willing to set your personal life aside. Birthdays, anniversaries, deaths. No exceptions. If you commit to writing an episode and then leave me hanging at the last minute, remember, I’ll do the same with your moneies.

And now, the not so essential qualifications:

  • You must love writing.
  • You must have a knack for storytelling.
  • You must have a basic understanding of screenwriting. And by that I don’t mean you need to have experience.

If you think you meet the requirements, please drop me a line at my email address given on the sidebar. Give your name, background and phone number.

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