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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Chick lit meets crime fic, with a dash of fun

Normally I’m a little sceptical about this whole new chick-lit-meets-crime-fic genre that seems to have mushroomed recently. It either winds up being really angsty (tough female heroine has never found love and is treated badly) or really cliché (she is saved in the nick of time by her handsome, studly supervisor) or just unable to stick to a genre (skipping wildly from here to there in the attempts to be Agatha Christie meets Marian Keyes.) Anything that is ‘something meets something’ is usually a book you should avoid. Remember that advice. It’ll come in handy someday.

But, I’m always happy to change my mind. (Isn’t that one of the very fun prerogatives of being a woman?) And so when Piggies On The Railway landed on my bedside reading pile, I picked it up with interest, but not much hope. And boy, was I wrong. This book made me eat my words….Read the rest of it.

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And as I write this heading above, the chicklit writer in me can’t resist adding: Which means fabulous. Okay so I also feel exhausted from too much exercise, faint from too little food, asphyxiated from too many cigarettes…but I’m thin. As the wise Kate Moss said, articulating what women worldwide know to be the gospel truth, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

However, that is not what this post is about. Earlier this week I felt that that Piggies’ publicity needed another push. So I logged into Gmail, opened the chat window and wrote to my PR person (henceforth known as AT).

I began the conversation with my usual, I’m not feeling the love. Which I think it’s a cute opening salvo. AT, however, complains, saying she feels I’m doing diva act. The whole I’m-throwing-a-tantrum-because-I’m feeling-ignored which, frankly, is as far from the truth as John Abraham is from making it to the A list.

I am not a diva. I don’t demand round the clock attendance. Okay, so she can call me once a day and affirm to me that my books are selling like hot cakes and that I’m the best there is. And occasionally, just occasionally, like once a day, she can send me a compilation of press clippings also affirming the same.

Oh dear. In my defence, I said I’m not a diva. I didn’t say I’m not a neurotic writer.

Anyway, coming back to the Piggies publicity push, I mean it was topping all bestseller lists and everything but that’s precisely why I felt we needed to prod it along NOW. “Stoke the fire while it’s burning and all that, old girl,” I said.

I was taken aback when she agreed. “Quelle surprise,” I said, jumping across the English channels, if only linguistically.

She said that she had already contacted numerous publications and arranged for me to comment on a host of issues for various publications. Then she logged out of chat and called me on my cell. “Hold on,” she said. “D just called me. She’s on the other line. I’ll conference you.”

“Hey, D,” she said after a while. “So as I was saying why don’t you get Smita’s views on Handy Investment Tips for Housewives?”

Now AT had either forgotten to tell D she had conferenced me, or she’d told her, but had also encouraged her to be free with her opinion about me. Fire the gun from someone else’s shoulder and all that. I’m leaning towards the latter.

“Smita Jain? But she’s a…chicklit writer!” The way D said the last sentence, with a pause after a as though she was looking for the right word, and a kind of squealy emphasis on the word chicklit, left me in no doubt that she didn’t exactly mean it was like asking Einstein to comment on high school physics.

Derision. From a journo who’d just last week written that the French Open final was played between Rafael Nadal and Roland Garros! This was almost too much to bear.

I was left fuming. As Kasthuri says in Chapter One, “if (s)he thought (s)he was dealing with a brainless twit (s)he had another think coming. It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him(her)  about my excellent, eighty-percent-plus-all-the-way academic record, and multiple degrees in economics and finance just to drive home the point.”

But of course I didn’t. I didn’t want to upset D. I didn’t want her writing Smita Jain’s latest novel Piggies on the Railway is based on a popular nursery rhyme, did I?

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I am a die-hard Alfred Hitchcock fan. But even so, I always thought of Birds as kind of lame-assed. A town being terrorized by killer birds! And they were not even the eagle type predatory birds. I mean it was as bad as being terrorized by a renegade car! However, I’ve changed my mind. I now fully endorse Mr Hitchcock’s views that normally gentle aerial creatures can be killers too.

It happened yesterday when I went running. I went to the park and after performing a few perfunctory stretches, took to the dirt track at a leisurely pace. Suddenly, I felt a swoosh down the back of my neck, like a bird flying past awfully close. I turned around to see it was a crow. Now crows are kind of intrepid, but even for a crow that was a bit too aggressive. Strange as it was, I shrugged it off as a freak occurrence. But then it happened again. And again. I look around to check whether others at the park were similarly troubled. Nope. It was just me. And then the lone terrorist was joined by two compatriots, then another two. Soon there were a gazillion of them circling overhead.

Great. So now the crows have got a vendetta against me. Why, for God’s sake? I’m nice to birds. Actually, I’m nice to all animals, but I’m especially nice to birds. I feed them bread crumbs and morsels of roti and regularly put out water in the summer months. I sometimes even put out a feast for them comprising leftover pizza or biryani. A hospitality that mostly crows avail of, I might add. So why then the ingratitude? Unless…it had something to do with the leftover dosa I’d laid out for them one day recently. I remember feeling very…well, philanthropic, thinking I was doing a good deed, treating them to a new flavour. But perhaps it had caused them food poisoning? I had, after all, forgotten to put it in the fridge last night before. Omigod, what if someone had died? Their chief perhaps? Perhaps they were exacting revenge, patiently biding their time, looking for a chance to attack me? Were crows vengeful? I thought not. But then I also thought one didn’t need injections in the stomach anymore following a dog bite. A notion that I’ve had to revise painfully in the recent times.

While one part of me was, to put it eloquently, crapping in my pants with fear, another part of me couldn’t quite get over how cool it all would be if this bizarre behaviour was because of some unexplained phenomena. The most obvious one that occurred to me was that the crows were devil’s minions. The universe was being taken over by Satan and I was the only threat to an otherwise assured takeover bid by the horned one. The less obvious, and more X-filesy, was that the crows were a part of a primitive, alien civilisation.

While I was loath to abort my run, continuing down the path was fraught with peril. Just as images from The Omen and Birds assailed my mind, one of them swooped down, pecked viciously at the top of my head and flew off. And then he did it again. He was followed by another and another. I swear the last flew off with a chunk of my hair. That was it! The crows flying away with bits of my flesh and bone I can live with. But hair, no sir, I wasn’t ready to lose my hair just yet.

Thoroughly spooked, I flailed my reams above my head and ran to the track keeper screaming, “Help!” I belatedly remembered the advice that if you’re ever in any danger, screaming “fire” is likely to elicit more facilitatory action than screaming “help” is going to. But with trees felled to clear the field for the track, and the fledgling grass green from the pre-monsoon showers, there was no way the threat of fire was going to rouse anyone, least of all, a snoozing track keeper into action.

Then the weirdest thing happened. The track keeper jumped up and charged down the track. Only, instead of scaring the birds away, he shooed me! “Get off the track from there.” And, as though that wasn’t enough to convince me that the world had gone mad, he shouted, “Are you blind?”

What the fuck? I felt hysteria bubble inside me. “Not yet, but soon if the birds continue like this.”

He pointed to a black thing in the middle of the track. “Can’t you see that thing?”

“Yeah, it’s a little rock. So?”

“It’s a wounded hatchling.”

I peered closer at the furry ball “That’s a live thing?!”

For God’s sake, not only did it not look alive, it didn’t even look like a crow. It looked like a…a mynah. And what was with the whole crow kingdom protecting it? What was it, little orphan Annie? Or some kind of a messiah?

He looked at me with me like he would at a suspected paedophile – with a mixture of disgust and suspicion. “Yeah. The crows are just trying to protect it from predators.”

“But I’m not…I”

“Look just keep off the track on this side and you should be fine.” Although it made sense, I wasn’t about to risk my well-being on the track keeper’s less then precise *you should be fine* assurances. Not even for a scintillating blog post. So I left. And that was the major excitement in my life last week. And here you didn’t believe writers led dull lives.

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I’ve received such interesting commenst and views on what women want that it reminded me of a popular fable I’d heard some time ago. It goes like this:

King Arthur was one captured by a neighbouring king who agreed to spare the former’s life if he could answer one question, What do women want?

Since King Arthur didn’t know the answer, he sent his messengers all over his kingdom looking for anyone who did. In the course of their travels, the messengers came across an ugly, wizened witch who claimed she knew the answer. She would, however, only reveal it if Lancelot agreed to marry her. Knowing the gravity of the situation Lancelot acquiesced, whence the witch answered, “What a woman really wants is to be able to be in charge of her own life.”

As soon as they heard it, everyone, including the neighbouring king, knew that truer words had never been spoken. And so the wedding between Lancelot and the witch was solemnised. On their wedding night, the witch announced that she had the ability to be beautiful half the time. She asked Lancelot to choose: either she could be beautiful during the day or at night.

Unable to make up his mind, Lancelot said that he would let her choose. Upon hearing this, she announced that she would be beautiful all the time, because he had respected her and had let her be in charge of her own life.

The moral of this story? It doesn’t matter if your woman is pretty or ugly, smart or dumb. Underneath it all, she’s still a witch. And if you try to control her life, if you don’t let her have her way, things will get ugly!

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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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    6.A gay best friend to listen to us and give us fashion advice. We all want a Will to our Grace, sharing the secrets of our soul. And that’s because gay men get the despair, the angst and the should I call him or will it make me look needy conundrum. They totally get the drama, relish it even, and, more often than not, may even trump us in that department. Besides, it is huge fun for gays and us fag-hags to talk about men we are attracted to, each safe in the knowledge that the other person is not pitching to the same guy.

    And then there’s the shopping. While our female friends are competitive when shopping and ‘secretly want our ass to look fat’, there’s no risk of toxic advice in shopping with our gay friend.

    7.Romance and sex. Breaking news, WE LIKE SEX. Tender as well as red-hot, passionate animal sex. Who doesn’t like their eyes rolling back in their heads from sheer, unbearable pleasure? The only reason many of us don’t like sex is because our partners think a G-spot is short for Gold Spot. They are too focussed on their own pleasure. And if they do think of us they think going at us like a battering ram is IT.

    And we like romance. We all like to be wooed and made to feel one in a million. But sincerely, and not just because they want to get into our pants. Yes, we like to be made to feel so hot that they can’t contain themselves. But we also want romance just for the sake of romance. So yes, we like romance and sex, preferably in the same guy. I mean after all the gratuitous eating and endless shopping with our gay best friend with all the money that we have, who has the energy to pander to two guys?

    8.Equality with chivalry.  We want to be treated as equals but that doesn’t mean we want we the door slamming in our faces all the time. A guy who holds the door open will go a long way, maybe even all the way, with us.

    9.No PMS. I was going to write no periods, but as the time for their cessation draws ever closer, I discover I’ve grown rather attached to them. So I’m just going to settle for no PMS. No bloating and crankiness when that time of the month approaches. And if we have to have PMS then let it be only crabbiness. After all, bad temper is something others have to live with. It’s the bloating that’s a bummer, really.

    10.A genie to grant us all that. Well, duh!

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Guys, in case you’re wondering where I have disappeared to these days, let me tell you, it’s not Goa (sadly). Well, not totally, although it may account for three days last week.

By now some of you may be aware that Piggies on the Railway is doing very well. Commercially, we sold the entire first print run (5,000 copies) in three weeks flat, and critically, we’ve had more good reviews than bad. So, I think, I can exhale now. Phew!

This success is bringing with it its own share of pressures. For instance, my publicity person is now exhorting me to write the next book ASAP. She calls me up to ask me how many words I’ve written so far. And she does this EVERYDAY. Ever had someone who does this to you every day? Wait a minute, I forgot, most of you have jobs. So you know the best way to suck joy out of something is to make it into a job.

And if that’s not enough to rob me of the will to live, my maids have taken off to their respective villages for the duration of the summer vacation. While I’m quite content to live in an inch layer of dust, eating out is proving to be a problem. A drinking problem.

I can’t help it. Ever since I graduated from college, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten out sans booze. Well, there was this one evening bang in the middle of something stupid the Maharashtra Govt observes. A Gandhi birth week during which they force prohibition down our throats (I would’ve have punned here but I can’t think of a clever punch-line to the set-up). But that was only out of ignorance. Usually I’m pretty up to speed on dry days but somehow that one escaped me. Must be ’cos I was new to Bombay.

In any case, I don’t think it’s that big a deal but my friends seem to think that Margaritas in the afternoon are a sign of alcoholism. I tell them it’s not alcoholism, it’s melancholism. I’m drinking to drown my sorrows. But they’re not amused.

I’m also writing a screenplay for an animation movie. I’m doing this because it’s a friend’s project and also it’s a huge amount of fun.

I’ve got my life somewhat under control now. Not totally sorted but managebale. And I hope to be able to post more regularly from now on. Ciao.

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