Monday, May 31, 2010

The Lonely Life of an Indian Writer

I am sometimes envious, sometimes jealous of all my writing friends abroad, especially the American ones as I am more in contact with them. No offence meant writing friends, you guys have been amazing, generous and have accepted me whole heartedly in your fold.

Why am I  envious of them? Let me tell  you all a small secret. In my last post ‘How Much Criticism to Take?’ I have written about Critique Groups, Beta Readers, and Agents. I have learnt about these from all my blogging friends. I had no prior information about any of these except agents.

In India as far as I know none of us (writers ) belong to any Critique Group who meet regularly. We are bereft of the insights offered by members of a Critique Group( people who are traveling the same road as us). The first time I heard about a Critique Group was from my  mentor and writing friend Lia Keyes. She asked me during a late night chat if I belonged to any such group. Until then I was not even aware of it.

Well, as for Beta Readers, I had not heard of them until Robyn Campbell mentioned them during one of our frequent chats. If you ask me who gets to read my manuscript first, I would say no one. The first person to read it is the editor of the publishing house I send the manuscript to. If my manuscript sucks then it’s the editor who tells me that.

I don’t think any of my writing friends in India belong to any society for writers. Another writing friend Elizabeth Varadan has been constantly urging me to join SCBWI. I beg forgiveness for being ignorant about this society that has jumpstarted the careers of several writers. It was Elizabeth who sent me the contact number of the Indian chapter of this society! I had no clue about this society’s presence in India, so did the other writers I spoke to.

As we send our manuscripts directly to publishing houses in India due to lack of agents, I have learnt a lot about them from my writing friends abroad. Lia Keyes and Birgitte Necessary have generously volunteered to Critique my work ( synopsis).

From the moment I have started blogging, the stony path of the writing life has become less lonely and more pleasant. I have picked several sweet companions along the way: Anne, Jody, Lydia, and Victoria who leave such encouraging comments that I am inspired to blog more frequently. I have shamelessly lapped up all that they have generously shared in their blogs. From time management to synopsis writing. From contests to agent information. I am waiting to share all this information with my writing friends in India.

My non writing friends in India too have been extremely generous and supportive: Anitha, Pallavi, Heera, Bharathi, Padma and Pradeep constantly urge me to give my best.

Love and hugs to each and every one of you who has supported me.

Thanks to all of you wonderful friends, we(writers) have decided to start our own Critique Group in Bangalore. As of now its all in the discussion stage. Let’s hope people join.

Are you grateful to someone who has walked alongside you in your writing journey? Who has eased the loneliness? Is there someone you want to thank?

Friday, May 28, 2010

How much Criticism to Take?

As writers we encounter criticism at every stage of our writing. Criticism is like cactus: full of thorns and prickly. In the beginning its the critique group members who read our initial pages and gently guide us to correction, then its the Beta readers (the lucky ones) who read our final drafts and help us in polishing our work. Once we are ready to query, agents board the reading ship. Their criticism can be both a source of joy as well as pain depending on which side of the fence they are sitting on. Do they like our work, or, don’t they? After several rejections ( I am sure every writer has faced them) we are lucky enough to snag an agent interested in representing our work. But its not the end of the road for criticism, its just gaining momentum.

When the manuscript is bid Bon Voyage and is shopped around, another set of criticism is ladled out, by the editors of the various publishing houses it has visited. Finally when the manuscript reaches its ultimate destination, a.k.a as the publisher, we writers have to face criticism in the form of rewrites and edits.

After several to and fro, track changes that make us gasp, choke and sniff by turns, the polished manuscript is well on the Highway of the Publishing world.

Reviewers and Critics now jump on board. Every aspect of the book is scrutinized and inspected. They sniff the book from all angles searching for loopholes and cracks. Many readers blindly follow these cynical appraisers of words. When the book hits the shelves, readers are ready with their words of wisdom. We hear these words even several years after our books have been published.

Have you noticed that as wordsmiths we are susceptible to truckloads of criticism. Criticism that can plunge us into a pool of despair or lift us to heights of ecstasy. The harsh words can sometimes reduce us to tears.

How do we know whose comments to heed and which words to ignore? Practically everyone will have an opinion on our work. I think it’s better to listen to people with more writing experience than us. People whose sole interest lies in sharpening our manuscripts. Agents who represent us and editors who work with us are people whose criticism we should take seriously. As they are the people who have only our best writing interests at heart, and are as familiar with our work as us. If we were to listen to every bit of comment that knocks on our door we would go mad. As writers we should develop a thick skin when it comes to accepting criticism. There is nothing personal in it. These sharp arrows are directed at our work, not us.

How do you all handle criticism at every stage of your writing? Do you rush to change your manuscript after every word of advice? Whose opinion do you ultimately value? Please share with us.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fiction’s Ultimate Concern

“ The only requirement for good fiction is that it be interesting,” Henry James said. A fiction writer is free from the shackles that bind the non-fiction writer. For creating a world of make believe a writer of fiction is under no legal obligation to anyone except his muse. As a work of fiction belongs solely to the writer’s imagination, he or she is not bound by any formal rule. This freedom is akin to the wind under the wings. The only limitation comes from the imagination.

For any work of fiction to enter the realm of classic: it has to be good, it has to be interesting and of course relevant to all times; before and after its publishing period.

What separates a good fiction from a great one is not just the literary and technical skills of the writer, but also the universality (the universal questions the book deals with in its own inimitable, unique and interesting way).

Paul Tillich calls it the Ultimate Concern. The contemporary fiction which falls under the best category has the quality of the ultimate concern in abundance. Ultimate Concern is something that we take with unconditional and utmost seriousness in our lives without any reservations. It’s something that we are ready to suffer for, or, even die for. Ultimate concern is something which makes every other concern in that person’s life secondary. The ultimate concern consumes the person. It contains the answer to the question of the meaning of that person’s life.

A person is Grasped by this ultimate concern. Take the example of Harry Potter in the seven books by Rowling. His ultimate concern was to  destroy  Voldemort's Horcruxes and make him susceptible to  death and  also stop him from unleashing his terror on the wizards. Harry was aware that either he would be successful in thwarting Voldemort, or, he would die in the process. The outcome of this ultimate concern was absolutely clear to Harry. But he was grasped by it, caught in the ultimate concern’s death like grip. This thought haunted him day and night, he was a boy possessed with just one mission in life. Stop Voldemort.

I believe that every work of fiction grapples with an ultimate concern which consumes the protagonist like fire. The resolution of this ultimate concern forms the crux of the story. For me the ultimate concern transfers into the conflict in the book. Maybe the conflict in my book may not be universal, maybe this conflict is just crucial for my protagonist: but it becomes his or her ultimate concern, something he or she is dead serious about. Something for which they are willing to stake their lives.

How do you decide the ultimate concern of your protagonists? Are they grasped by it like Harry? Please share. We would love to learn from everyone’s experience.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Scribblers, or Gods of our Universe?!

Are we just Scribblers (penning stories) or, are we Gods of our Universe. As writers we get to play God with our literary characters. We become something akin to their Destiny Makers. We have the ability to bring them to throbbing life, or kill them with one stroke of a pen, or, with the click of few keys. We have the means of ridding them of their problems quickly, or tormenting them for several chapters.

In the literary world we can do everything that we cannot do in our real world. Would we create problems in someone’s life like we do with relish in our protagonist’s life? God forbid. No. Never. Would we ever be accused of manipulating people in real life, in the way we manipulate all our characters? Again the answer would be no. But when we write we keep aside our guilt conscious, and trouble and torture our characters mercilessly. At times with glee. The more problems we add in their lives the more believable the character becomes. A case of the Written Life emulating the Real Life.

As scribblers we give full rein to all our fantasies, create make believe worlds, people the world with believable protagonists, add loathable antagonists, generously add conflicts of all kinds, and finally resolve it to universal appeal.

As writers we have complete control of the destinies of each and every character we create, not just the main. We set the stage for the entry and exit of all the people who have initially resided in our imaginations. In real life more often than not we are helpless.

Have you noticed that the lack of influence we have over the people in our lives: family; parents, spouse, siblings, children, and friends doesn’t trouble us during writing? Our characters unlike our family and friends cannot call us interfering busybodies or control freaks when we meddle with their lives. Writing is the only time we are in complete control (provided the muse is co-operating, and distractions that deter us from writing are at bay, and we get uninterrupted writing time).

In our literary worlds characters are created with impunity, they are shown the door unceremoniously, flying on the wings of imagination our characters indulge in activities that we would never dare to do! Deep down most of our characters reflect our secret desires and passions. Sometimes I think even the not so nice ones.

Our characters are puppets that we manipulate to put on a wonderful performance that will leave the readers asking for more.

Are we writers closet control freaks? Is that one of the main appeals of writing? To be in complete control of every aspect of our character’s life? Or, do we love to create new worlds, new situations and new people? What aspect of writing appeals to you all the most? I would love to know.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Our Internal Conflict Versus Character Conflict

If the protagonist is the head of a story or a novel, then, the conflict is the neck which turns the head left, right, up and down. Conflict is crucial to the plot, it can be internal (some trait, flaw, or shortcoming which the protagonist has to overcome in the course of the story) or, the conflict can be external (a villain, some evil, or, an antagonist who has to be fought).

Conflicts single handedly drive the plot forward. Readers frantically turn the pages eager to check how the conflict has been resolved. The tougher the conflict the more intrigued the readers are!

The reason we as writers love and identify with conflict is because it’s an important and integral part of our daily lives. YES. It is. Conflict like change is a constant. In everyone’s life. Don’t we undergo conflict when there are several things that detract us from writing? Isn’t life a constant battle to find time to write as well do several other things? Don’t we have to wage wars with certain temptations and desires so that we can focus our attention on our WIP? Don’t we cringe as the hands on the clock race by and we haven’t chalked decent writing hours in the day? Balancing several duties as well as trying to find time to do something that fulfills us a.k.a writing is a daily conflict. That we have to resolve amicably, so that everyone around is happy.

The same rule applies to and for readers. Life for them too is a daily conflict. Trying to balance several tasks. Trying not to let certain people/events/situations needlessly provoke them into undesired behaviour. Trying to maintain a calmness in the midst of turmoil. Balancing the several duties thrust upon them by family and society against their personal desires is a huge conflict.

With conflicts being such an crucial and integral part of our lives its but natural that the conflicts in our books mirrors the conflicts in our lives. By resolving our character’s conflict we emerge stronger, bolder, and emotionally wiser. Resolving the conflict our protagonist is undergoing at times proves cathartic. Subconsciously we try to imbibe our protagonist’s strengths and at the same time transfer our own strengths to the main character. The characters that we create emulate us in some ways. Perhaps they are our alter egos, a part of our inner desires, our secret wish. By clearing the character’s paths somewhere along our writing journey we are uncluttering our minds from the extra thoughts that constantly reside there, whittling away the unnecessary elements from our lives by getting focused on our writing, and clearing up our emotional debris by concentrating on someone else’s life (read the main character).

Conflicts make characters stronger: both our inner selves and the characters we create. By fighting our main character’s battles we somehow get the strength to resolve the issues we have been dilly dallying over in our lives. And if we have been successful in resolving them beautifully in our books, not just the protagonist but the writer too has emerged victorious.

Do you think that conflicts make us stronger? Have you learnt from your main character’s conflicts? Please share. We would love to know.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Today's Guest is Peter Canova

Today’s guest blogger is Peter Canova, award winning author of Pope Annalisa: book one of a fictional trilogy called The First Souls, a saga about the first spirits to fall into material experience. The trilogy traces their incarnations over different epochs of history.

Pope Annalisa has won two Silver Medal Nautilus Book Awards for Visionary Fiction and Spirituality. It has also bagged the coveted Gold Medal for Adult Fiction/Visionary Fiction.

Here is Peter to tell you about his journey to publishing.


I went from being a hotshot in the hotel development and finance field to being a lowly newbie of an author trawling around writers’ conferences, trying to figure out what the heck writing a good book was about. Here’s my modest wisdom from past years for new authors:

1. Writing is a lonely profession—yep, just like the cliché says. No one stands over your shoulder saying, “this is good, this is bad; leave it, cut it.” A new writer has few parameters and yardsticks to measure his or her writing. Sure, you can go to writers’ conferences and workshop your material for critiques. It does help, but remember, everyone has their own biases, limitations, and agendas in those forums so take it with a grain of salt. I started with an online writers’ group. The best thing I did was find an elderly retired novelist in my area who mentored me. The next best thing was running my work through a cross section of good editors, though expect to pay for that.

2. Why we write-- It helps to realize that we write for two reasons, because you may never be published in the traditional manner. First we write for ourselves, secondly to communicate with others. Good writers have a burning passion to say something, so writing is a cathartic experience that expresses some core aspect of our personality. But we also want to share, so we must produce an interesting and clear literary vehicle to convey our story to others. Keep these things in mind.

3. Agents-- Agents review tons of material besides yours. Like rejected writers, they can get jaded. The worst ones get arrogant, cynical, and come to believe that their subjective feelings determine the marketability of a book. Not always so. When you run into one of these, don’t take it personally. Research the right agent with the right angle of approach for your work to improve your chances.

4. What helps—Whether its agents, publishers, PR companies, or, the media, I found the following factors matter in this order—who you know, the quality of the book, the uniqueness of the book, your ability to convey the book (very different to talk about it than to write it), your ability to talk fluently and persuasively to people, your personal appearance.

5. When nothing works— Ah, now we enter into why people self-publish. I was always told that the cream will rise to the top. Not so in the book world. The sad fact is, maybe it will, maybe it won’t, so here’s my personal disclosure on this issue. I wrote a good book called POPE ANNALISA ( That’s not just my opinion. It won the first two national book awards contests it entered. It’s about a miraculous African nun who becomes the first female pope. No one can figure out if she’s the savior or destroyer of the world; terrorists and her own church are out for her blood; she’s in the middle of a nuclear confrontation between Iran and America; and the story reveals a genuine, near- lost spiritual tradition that may have been a secret teaching of Jesus. Original? Yes. Page turner? Yes. Life changing? For many, it has been. Publishable? No, at least not according to the gazillion agents I went through. The problem is that the book market is a shrinking industry now slid into a HORRIBLE economy. No one will risk publishing such an epic, unusual work from a first time author. It’s an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” industry that sticks with the tried and true. A creatively original book like mine just falls through the cracks. Give the traditional approach your best shot. If not successful, read the next point.

6. Self publishing 101 -- People self-publish for many different reasons. The industry has come a long way, but it’s still partially occluded by a fair amount of junk that in an earlier era would have been the domain of Vanity Presses. If you’re not in that category, you really have to make sure you have a good book to go anywhere. You need to have a clear idea of your market and how your book can resonate with it because the literary world is not constructed around paying attention to individual authors. If you’re the peanut in the coconut pile, better be a standout peanut. All authors, published or self-published, are ultimately responsible for marketing their own book unless they’re a celebrity with a sex scandal or a big name with huge publisher backing behind you. If you’re serious about selling your book, marketing becomes a full time job. Speaking, book signings, and seeking media outlets is a real pavement-pounding exercise. And it can get expensive too, depending on how fast you want the book to sell. A good primer book to read is John Kremer’s 1,001 Ways to Market Your Book.

7. Don’t ever, ever, give up-- I do believe that if the book is good and if you work at it, eventually you’ll find some level of success, though each of us may define that differently.

Peter’s website -
Book Details - ISBN # 978-0-9821813-0-0.

Peter's Journey has been truly inspirational! Would you all like to share  a little of your inspirational journey?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Interview with Australian Author Sheryl Gwyther

Interview with Australian author Sheryl Gwyther, author of several short stories, a novel for 10-13 year olds titled Secrets of Eromanga, a chapter book for 7-8 year olds, Princess Clown, released in May, and another chapter book, Charlie & the Red Hot Chilli Pepper out in August.

She was awarded a May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Residential Fellowship, as well as an Arts Queensland Individual Professional Development Grant. She is also a recipient of two Australian Society of Authors Mentorships.

Thank you, Sheryl, for coming over to chat on my blog. Congratulations on the launch of your new book Princess Clown.

Q: Tell us a little about the Secrets of Eromanga? 

A: Secrets of Eromanga is a novel set on a dinosaur fossil dig in western Queensland, my home state in Australia. It’s an adventure. Twelve-year-old Ellie is caught up in a dangerous fossil smuggling ring. Another story weaves through Ellie’s story – that of a young ornithopod dinosaur who lived beside the inland Eromanga Sea in Australia, 95 million years ago.
Q: Princess Clown is an unusual title. What is the concept behind it?

A: I wanted to write a story using two opposing words and asking ‘What if?’ It worked. Click on this link to read a blog I wrote about the experience.

Q: Do you have a favourite writing ritual?

A: No, not really. But I do sometimes write my first drafts in a leather-bound, blue-lined, smooth paper journal occasionally. It seems to coax the words out.

Q: You write short stories as well as novels. Which form do you enjoy more?

A: Both present challenges! But I do like writing something that I can ‘get my teeth into’, with research etc.

Q: How do you tackle your writer’s block?

A: I’ve never had writer’s block (touch wood! That’s an Aussie expression meaning to keep away bad luck). I always have several stories going on at the same time – so if I am stuck on one story, I put it away for a little while and work on something else. Seems to work.

Q: Any daily writing goals you follow?

A: This depends on whether I have set a deadline for a particular work-in-progress. I am about to enter the first 50 pages and synopsis of one of my junior fiction novels into a Manuscript Development Program, run by an Australian publisher. They will only choose ten people, so the writing has to be perfect! Then next week, I’m flying out to the Australian bush to run writing workshops for a group of writers in a small bush town. That should be lots of fun!

Sheryl’s webpage:
Sheryl’s blogs:


Secrets of Eromanga – Lothian/Hachette Books Australian ISBN 0 734409125

Princess Clown – Blake Publishers Australian ISBN 9781741 646481

Friday, May 7, 2010

Does Choosing Titles Drive You Crazy ?

Has the dense and complicated maze of titles made you break into a sweat? Have you like me been tormented and tortured by title trouble, then, this post is just for you. I love writing, but, when it comes to choosing a title for my work, then, I end up tearing my hair in frustration. In the initial stages of my writing, titles use to drive me crazy, they would tie me up in tricky knots.

Right from my college days, my journalism lecturer (the first person to notice the complete mismatch of title and content) constantly urged me to choose better titles for my articles and features. According to her my titles never did my writing justice. This habit continued even when I started writing for newspapers. Often the titles of the features and stories I sent were changed. And changed for the better.

I constantly wondered how other writers came up with such awesome and amazing titles. Jealousy and envy stabbed my heart whenever I read their titles. Days later when I discussed this with a writing friend, she agreed. She too was tortured by titles. But her advice was something I just loathed. “I never give titles for my stories, the editor will anyway change it. So why waste time?”

I was extremely firm about not letting someone else choose titles for my hard work. It’s like allowing other people to name one’s children. That privilege should solely rest with the parents, and in the case of titles it’s the duty of the literary parents: the writers.

To become title savvy, I plunged headlong into the world of titles. It couldn’t be that hard, I thought. If few writers could achieve wonders with it, so could I. Whenever I read any articles or books, I pondered over the titles. Did it suit the story? Was it a perfect match? Slowly I transferred this detailed attention onto my work. What was I trying to tell my readers? What was the article/book all about? How could I sum up the work in few words? What was the best way to convey what I had written? Which words correctly described my story?

It was a tedious task, but eventually I got the hang of it. Nowadays the title trauma no longer affects me. For the past several years, the editors have thankfully retained most of my titles. In my title quest, I have learnt several things about them…

1. A title should be like a Teaser. It should arouse curiousity. Based on the titles readers pick up books, or, read the articles and stories in newspapers.

2. Diving into the heart of the story to emerge with a suitable title is a great idea.

3. Short and Snappy titles have immediate attraction.

4. Popular and catchy phrases work better than long and boring ones.

5. Titles that have Instant Recall are seldom forgotten.

What about you all? Do Titles Trouble and Torment you? Or, are you the lucky ones who come up with winners? Do you have any title tips that you would like to share?

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Earliest Writing Influence

What prompted us to start this sometimes amazing, sometimes fascinating, at other times taxing, and many times tiring journey called writing? This awesome journey is filled with thrills, spills, adventure and humour, mystery and suspense.

One of the earliest influences on my writing was my grandmother. Every night while making me eat my dinner when I was around 4 to 5 years old she would tell me stories. These were more often than not folktales, or, stories that revolved around the Hindu Gods and Goddesses and the great Saints of the past. The tales of the various Gods' childhood pranks was absolutely wonderful. It brought each God to life.

The voracious reader that I am now has its roots in my childhood. I was a voracious listener then, never tiring of granny’s stories, craving them long after the dinner plates had been washed. Long after she gave up the practice of making me eat my dinner, I continued to badger her for stories. Granny, I am sure exhausted her well of stories, but, not one to admit defeat she made up stories just for me.

For an entire week she told me the same story giving it different endings. I asked her why she was telling me the same story with different endings, she laughed and said “I am running out of stories, child.”

Each ending changed the entire story. From humorous it turned into suspense, and then moved to the battle of good over evil. Each story was embedded with a moral. I am sure that it was deliberate, to make us (her grandchildren imbibe good qualities and emulate the noble characters who peopled her story). I was fascinated by Granny’s quick thinking. My love for stories: listening, reading and writing started then. One of my first few published articles was the story she had narrated to me during my childhood.

Yes, my grandmother was a truly gifted storyteller. To make several fidgety grandchildren sit through a repeat story with only the lure of how she’d finish it this time was no small task. And she accomplished this beautifully. Though the stories were repeated she never bored us, as she embellished the story with each narration. Sometimes adding few characters, at times dropping few.

This habit of hers has inculcated in me the practical experience of finding out how the same story can end in many different ways. Yes, at times I toy with different endings and finally zero in on the one I think works  best for my stories and books.

What has been your earliest writing influence? Did someone prompt you to start your creative journey? Who or what was it?