Friday, April 30, 2010

All Time Favourites

Ah… it’s Friday. So let’s keep it short today.

When does a book become our All Time Favourite?

When we fall in love with the Story? When the Main Character/s settles deep inside our hearts? When the Author’s voice and style appeals? When the Conflict in the book sucks us in like a whirlpool: it becomes our own conflict, implying that our sense of identification with the Protagonist is complete.

When the book makes us forget our worries for the time being? When the story brings a smile to our lips and tears into our eyes. When we have learnt a lot about life in the course of the story?

If a book can manage even one of these, then it has entered our sacred shrine of All Time Favourites. These are the books that we love reading over and over again. These are the writers who we faithfully follow book after book. These are the protagonists who we visit like good friends.

This post is about favourite books. The books can cut across all genres : non- fiction, as well as fiction; adult, children, YA, chicklit, romance as well as anything else that has appealed.

I will go first. Here are my 5 favourites ….

1. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda

2. Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr Brian Weiss

3. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

4. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

5. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Now it’s your turn. Let me know which five books have entered your favourite category?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

' The Fourth Wish ' by Elizabeth Varadan

The other day I came across a lovely book, The Fourth Wish, a juvenile fantasy novel by Elizabeth Varadan. The four children in the book Melanie and her two siblings: Erin and Cory and their friend and neighbour Arthur are dealing with the usual and normal childhood problems that exist  everywhere; first crushes, sibling rivalry, life with a single parent, and a long Christmas holiday that stretches before them.

The three siblings grapple with the recent divorce of their parents and their father’s remarriage and consequent exit from their lives. Arthur’s secret longing for a mother (his own mother is dead) is heart wrenching. The characters in the book and the setting of the story have been kept  as  simple and ordinary as possible. The twin elements of simplicity and ordinariness make the book absolutely realistic and believable. A child can instantly connect with any, actually all the four characters. The 203 pages long book will definitely keep a teen, and even a pre- teen engrossed and interested for few hours.

The book starts with the four children going on a magic show. On the way they help a mysterious old lady Mrs Seraphina, the grateful old lady grants them four wishes. Each magic wish is kept inside a pretty box. The events that unfold take them a magical journey unimagined by any of them. The four kids frequently bump into the wish granter Mrs Seraphina; she delights in teasing them, and Mondo the Magician who is the recipient of their first wish. One after the other each child is granted a wish. Erin makes a spontaneous wish, while Arthur mulls long and hard over his wish. The result of Erin’s wish is the most hilarious.

Elizabeth Varadan is a former teacher living in Sacramento, California. Her other interests include painting, gardening and cooking. And, she is also keen blogger.

She can be contacted at

Purchase information for the book  or , 1

On a lighter note, if you were granted four wishes, what would you wish for?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Moments of Madness

There are Moments of Madness in every one’s life. It’s at these moments that we do things that we may end up regretting, or, applauding ourselves for the rest of our lives. Things that can make or mar us. Strange forces silently and subtly  push us towards these Moments of Madness. Perhaps guided by higher forces unknown to us.

These mysterious forces are largely responsible for bursts of literary genius. Or for books that are hastily pulped. It’s during these moments that we are tempted to chose themes for our WIP. Themes that can range from the completely bizarre to the weird, from the wild and wacky to the strange and quirky. What starts off with an initial burst of promise sometimes takes just moments to fizzle out, and, sometimes after several pages have been filled.

Few chapters down the line, doubts creep in, about the commercial and literary potential of what we considered our future masterpiece. Is it worth seeing it till the end? Will what started of as Awesome, remain so till the last line. Has Awesome somewhere along the line turned into a Big Bore?

What if the Manuscript finds no takers? Will the editor approve of it, or, will it be relegated to the slush pile? A writer’s life is filled with insecurities. From the word go. Its easier to believe the criticism than the praise. I have as many unpublished manuscripts as published ones! The unpublished ones were undertaken during those mad moments, but, after a couple of drafts, they remained at the bottom of my drawer, as my amateurish attempts at writing. Will I ever go back to them? I am not sure. Maybe, at some point in my life when I feel I am more than ready to tackle them, even do them justice.

I have realized that there are ways I can tackle my Moments of Madness, so that I don’t have piles after piles of Manuscripts that may not see the light at the end of the publishing tunnel. So that I have not wasted time on commercially unviable projects that are a definite hardsell. Nowadays only after I am certain that the theme/topic is worth pursuing, do I invest my time and effort in the manuscript. It’s pretty heartbreaking to be stuck with manuscripts that just won’t make the shift to the book form. Not every super idea can translate into a great book.

For every mad moment I have, I try to balance it with plenty of reasoning: practical, sensible and sound thinking.

1. Is the theme suitable for that age group?

2. Will the topic appeal to the target readers?

3. Will my treatment and writing style match the theme?

4. Will the reader follow the Main Character page after page?

5. Does it have a conflict worth getting involved in for the readers? And for me too, as the writer?

If the answers to all the questions turns out to be in the affirmative, only then do I plunge into the process of writing.

How do you tackle your mad moments? Do you rush to put everything down on paper, invest weeks maybe months in a project only to shelve it halfway through, or, do you weigh the merit of the theme, stack up the odds against the evens, before undertaking a project ?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Surprise, Shock and Spook

Lets discuss books from the point of readers and not writers today. Readers are an important part of the process of writing. Books are written only for them. We were readers: die hard readers, long before we plunged into the world of writing.

I have noticed that readers love the 3 S’s. They loved to be Surprised. They love to be Shocked. And, they love to be Spooked.

Sudden surprises that makes them shake their heads in amazement.

Swift shocks that renders them into a state of momentary silence.

Steady spooks that turn them into a mass of quivering jelly.

Pleasant surprises are welcomed by everyone in their day to day life. And, readers are no different. The element of surprise works wonders for the readership of books. The strange twists and turns the plot takes keeps the readers glued to the book. New revelations of the main character, new entrants that propel the plot forward, the unceremonious exits of old characters, stubborn obstacles that crop up, hook the readers big time. By constantly surprising readers in every chapter the book starts to become a page turner. Lets flash back to Harry Potter. Mrs Figg turning out to be a squib was just one of the many pleasant surprises the readers enjoyed! Frequent surprises sweep away the boredom that tends to creep in. It brings a certain freshness, like the opening of a window that dissipates the musty air.

Though in our personal lives there is no room for shock: we actually detest it, but when we read, shock appeals. We love it when our favourite authors shock us, when dirty character secrets are revealed slowly, chapter by chapter. Book by book. When skeletons tumble out thick and fast from locked cupboards. When the underbelly of a character is exposed. A case being J.K.Rowling. Every Potter book had plenty of the 3 S’s thrown in. I could never have guessed that Snape had been secretly in love with Lily ( Harry Potter’s mother). I am sure that none of us actually imagined Snape being in love with anyone! Albus Dumbledore’s tumultuous past too was a bolt from the blue. For me he was a paragon of virtue. And that he could have a chink in his armour was a major shock.

Another emotion we love in our books is being Spooked. This works more in favour of thrillers, suspense and murder mysteries. The spook factor intensifies the movement of the plot, increases the pace, heart beats accelerate, nails are chewed as we enter into the thicket of fear. Harry’s connection with Voldemort because of the scar on his head was a tad spooky. Anything that raises our anxiety, heightens our tension has us hooked emotionally to that object. What will happen next? Will the main character escape, will he/she be saved?? Who will emerge victorious? Will the world be saved? Questions that peck at our mind with the persistence of a woodpecker need their answers, which only the turn of a page will provide.

When the three S’s join together in a book, that has oodles of style, as well as a strong storyline, the reader is frantically racing over the lines. It’s getting quite alliterative: surprise, shock, spook, style and story.

Which element appeals to you the most? As a reader.

Friday, April 16, 2010

First Drafts and Rewrites

“The first draft of anything is shit,” said Ernest Hemingway.

I’m sure most of us would nod in agreement. If our readers/editors/agents were privy to our first drafts, most probably that would be the end of their relationship with us. My first drafts are written in long hand, on ruled sheets, else as my English teacher in college used to comment, they would climb mountains (the writing steadily moves upwards). Every corner of the paper is filled with words.

I read somewhere “I am not a very good writer, but I am an excellent rewriter.” I agree wholeheartedly. First drafts are anything but publishable. Only we (writers can make sense of it). I live for rewrites, several ones at that.

That is the story of all our lives. Only after several rewrites the manuscript gets a semblance of an order. A bit of a sparkle. The first draft is just a large number of words vomited on paper. Now it’s time to wade through the literary mess, sift and sort, and make sense of it. Rewrites, rewrites and more rewrites. It takes several drafts for writers to actually come close to querying.

Actually rewriting is fun. As the basic model or skeleton is ready, its now time to give it shape, to refine and remodel. To nip, tuck, chip and chisel.

Something that has personally worked for me, is that after the first draft, I take a break of few days. I let the manuscript marinate in its own juices. During this enforced break, I catch up with reading, writing my articles for the newspapers and several other things. Though my mind is constantly hovering over the manuscript, I don’t actually sit down to rewrite.

This process is a lot like meditation, when thoughts enter a mind during a state of meditative contemplation, we are advised to neither ignore, nor encourage them.

When I return, I feel I get a fresh and better perspective over the first draft. Actually after each rewrite a little break is a must for me. Just a couple of days. It’s like giving each other a little breathing space. And when I return to the Work In Progress, I am eager to tackle another draft. Though the mental connection with my WIP is constant, the physical distance is very therapeutic. I am then able to see the manuscript with its ugly warts. The glaring loopholes stare at me. With each rewrite I hope to plug the gaps created in ignorance.

I have decided to ask myself few questions after each draft.

1. Is my main character believable? If not, then, am I working towards it with each draft ?

2. Is my writing improving with each draft ?

3. Is my conflict convincing enough to involve the readers ?

4. Have I resolved all the conflicts satisfactorily ?

5. Have I been able to convey the spirit/essence of the story/book effectively ?

It’s difficult to be honest when I am faced with my own work. Either I am too critical, or, too lenient. But I have to be honest. That is the only way I can improve.

Do you have any tips that have helped you through several drafts ? Any tips that have made the manuscripts sparkle ?

Monday, April 12, 2010

My Mentor and Writing Friend/s

One of the most generous women I have ever come across, after my spiritual master Amma and my mother, is Lia Keyes. She's a British fantasy writer now living in California, but that's not all. She's also the founder of Scribblerati, the social network for writers and illustrators, and the host of #Scribechat, the weekly chat for writers on Twitter.

I had the pleasure of befriending Lia when I joined the fan page of Scribblerati on Facebook. One thing led to another and Lia and I settled into a close friendship cemented by our love of the written word. We often discuss my WIP during our late nights chats when our time zones coincide. I am not sure whether Lia has adopted me as her protégé, or, whether I have adopted her as my mentor.

Lia has always been quick to rush to my help: whether it's to help me set up a blog to get global exposure, give me tips on blogging and blogging etiquette, sending me links that are every writer’s dream, or urging me to search for an agent.

Not just me, I have seen that Lia is absolutely selfless when it comes to promoting other writers and illustrators. Every member of Scribblerati is welcomed with a personalized message that shows that Lia has taken the trouble to read the author or illustrator’s bio.

At times I have struggled and my frustration has built up when I have been unable to manage time efficiently. Several times I have sacrificed things that I had earlier yearned for, with the excuse that there is no time. I have been curt and abrupt with family and close friends at their encroachment on my writing time. But Lia has always been Ms Sunshine, ever ready to help with the reasoning that a writer’s life is hard enough, so it’s nice to share knowledge gained.

Blogging, hosting #Scribechat, administrating Scribblerati (both the original site and the official fan page on FB) as well as working on her work-in-progress, A Warning To The Curious, this amazing lady has so many balls in the air, yet she still manages to find time to guide and advise writers all over the world.

Lady, do you have a Time Turner? Does your day have 48 hours? Are there two of you to accomplish everything?

The journey of a writer is difficult: more often uphill than anything else, the path is paved with thorns and boulders, and in this scenario having generous writing friends is a huge blessing. Their words of wisdom and encouragement are like an oasis in a desert.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Lia, and my other two long distance writing friends, or, should I say cyber friends, or, better still Blogging Buddies: Elizabeth Varadan and Robyn Campbell. Both these charming ladies are following Lia’s footsteps, trying to ease my writing journey and hasten my destination.

Has there been someone in your writing journey who has tried to smooth the rough path for you? Who has understood your emotional turbulences created by problems with Work in Progress? I would love to know.

Join Scribblerati @
Read Lia's Blog @

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Muse: The Shameless Interloper

Is there no limit to the boundaries a muse will cross in a writer’s life, no restriction on the indecencies it will inflict, especially on female writers. Doesn’t the muse have an inherent sense of decency? Why does it have to be the shameless interloper; peeping, eavesdropping and stalking at the most inopportune times?

The most revered creature loves to play hide and seek. Now you see me, now you don’t. It hides when a writer is staring in frustration at blank sheets, and chases when one is busy elsewhere. One can even compare the ever evading muse to a mistress; demanding, moody, sometimes prone to sulks, and at other times generous to a fault.

My muse is pretty troublesome, it has this amazing ability to pop up at the most unexpected times and places. It shows tantalizing glimpses of its presence in the shower, when my slippery hands are unable to hold onto it, it beckons when I am in the middle of an interesting conversation, drops in uninvited when I am at a party, or, out with friends.

How does one then tackle, or, get the better of the muse?

Many veteran writers advice keeping a notepad and a pen on the bedside, purse, and within easy reach, to trap the thoughts that are constantly invading a writer’s mind space. Every idea should be jotted down for future use. Even random words and phrases. There is no knowing when these tiny seeds will germinate into lush trees, and  stray words into character names and random phrases into chapter titles.

One extremely old writer has the best words of wisdom. After waking up in the morning, spend few minutes lying in bed recollecting the dream/s. Sometimes these dreams are subconscious muses that connect the previously unconnected dots and provide vital clues that can untangle the tricky knots that crop up during drafts.

For many writers their muse has dropped in for prolonged visits during their sleep. Lucky people! Jorge Amado, the famous South American writer regarded himself as a ‘professional dreamer.’ He had often said that the greater part of his work was conceived in dreams and he wrote down the images and visions he remembered on waking up. These images were incorporated in his books. “All I am,” said Amado “ is a hard working recorder of dreams. If I didn’t have dreams, I wouldn’t know what to write about.”

One of the most famous writers to draw inspiration from his dreams was Gustave Flaubert. He normally slept five hours a night, but he said, “ the sixth hour of my sleep is given over to dreaming.” He would reach for his notebook on waking up and record his dreams, referring to his notes when he wrote his novels and stories.

In his ‘Temptation of Saint Anthony,’ Flaubert recounted some of the events that had happened in his dreams. Odilon Redon, the famous painter and engraver who illustrated the book with a series of beautiful lithographs had written: “if you had not known that Flaubert conceived this book in his dream, you would have feared his wild imagination.”

Dream Diaries are extremely useful. Unfortunately for me my muse drops by for a visit only during my waking hours. No snooze time visits for me.

When does the muse visit you? Has the subconscious muse dropped by for a tete-a-tete with you? I would love to know.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Fabulous Sugar Doll Blogger Award

British Fantasy Writer Lia Keyes, founder of Scribblerati, and host of the Scribechat on Twitter, gave me The Fabulous Sugar Doll Blogger Award on my first week anniversary of blogging. Thank you Lia. I am thrilled. This is my first writing award. Hope  more  awards  follow this one. This award will be cherished as it has come from a writing friend/mentor, and a lady I admire and respect tremendously.

I am suppose to tell you ten unusual things about myself. And pass the award  on to five more people. Here they are:

1. At any given time I am reading two books, and writing the same number.

2. I have this Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to correct the spellings when my friends, or, for that matter anyone writes a letter to me. My friends who are aware of this habit, prefer talking to me, than emailing, or messaging me.

3. I have a habit of haunting people when they borrow my books. The best way to keep in touch with me is by borrowing my books. It will guarantee regular phone calls from me to check the status of the book/s.

4. I prefer to read the book first, than watch its movie adaptation. As the movies seldom do justice to the books.

5. For any series,  I am extremely particular about reading them in the order they were written.

6. I have an uexplainable  fear of snakes, lizards, and medical examinations, especially dental checkups.

7. In school I played the flute.

8. Parties bore me, the louder they are, the more bored I get.

9. For each new book I write, I am particular about using the same type of paper and pen.

10. I can eat chocolates any time of the day.

Here are my Awardees

1. Elizabeth Varadan at Elizabeth Varadan's Fourth Wish

2. Robyn Campbell at Putting Pen to Paper

3. Sytiva Sheehan at Sytiva Painting

4. Kathleen O’Keefe Kanavos at Surviving Cancerland

5. Katie Dahl at My Antiquated Cup of Tea

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Craft of the Short Story

Someone told me that a short story is a novel waiting to grow up. Not always, I said. Many times a short story is just a short story, but, sometimes inside each short story lurks a novel, waiting to unspool.

A short story is just a thin slice of someone’s life, a beam of moonlight, a brief interlude. Unlike novels, short stories do not have the advantage of a long drawn courtship with the readers. There is no serenading the readers over several chapters. The attraction is Instant. Or, there is no attraction at all. It’s a Do or Die situation.

One person stories are extremely powerful, and if  it’s in the first person narrative, then, all the more better. This kind of narrative creates a sense of deep intimacy, the reader gets a close peek into the protagonist’s soul and life.

Stuffing many characters into a short story is disastrous for its health. It resembles an overcrowded bus, a definite eyesore. The movement of the characters is severely restricted. The writer is unable to do justice to any of the characters. A crowded characterization is acceptable if it’s a party, or a classroom scene, then, these extras lurk outside the fringes of the story, never interfering with either the protagonist, or, the movement of the story. Surplus characters slow down the pace of the story.

The best feature of the short story is its indifference to cramming details about the characters, situations and events. For a short story it’s like one is packing for a brief holiday: only the basic necessities that we just can’t do without are added to the suitcase. It’s different from a novel, where one is literally shifting house: bag and baggage.

The reins of the plot of the story are held tight, the writer is aware of each and every breath the story is taking. The breathing is even and measured: no long drawn sighs, or, gasping for breath. The journey of the short story is similar to a ride in which there is no halting, or, loitering around, or, even taking a little rest. It’s more like a 100 metres dash. Start to finish.

Short stories with ironic and trick endings like ‘The Necklace’ by Guy Du Maupassant will seldom be forgotten. The psychological short story popularized by Anton Chekhov has become memorable. The settings in many of his stories is in the minds of his characters, the dialogues are a steady stream of internal monologues. A short story that has lingered in many minds for a long time is ‘The Gift of the Magi’ by O’ Henry. This heart wrenching story is recollected every Christmas

The writer of the short story is a master craftsman of the trade. This master craftsman knows that he/she has a short span of time not just to grab and hold the reader’s attention, to mesmerize and enthrall them, and also  resolve the main character's conflict.

 Short stories that work best have a Twist in the Tales. They certainly grab a reader’s attention. It requires an adept story teller to provide the end that takes the reader completely by surprise. This twist in the tale must stem from either the character, or, the story.

Short stories make the tendency to tie up every loose end redundant. This is its biggest plus point. Few things can be left unsaid, few questions unanswered.

Somethings are better left to the reader’s imagination !

Do you like all the loose ends tied together? Every question answered in a short story?