The Sanguinarian

The Sanguinarian

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Why I write- A Short Essay

Because Chuck’s finally asked a very basic question- why we writers write- let me attempt to summarize the answer in a few bullet points. I write because:
Ø  I believe I was born as a human sponge- destined to absorb, in heart and in mind, the essence and the truth behind everything that was going on around me. Love, loss, grief, evil, longing, joy, sex, art, books, births, deaths…you name it. To drink eat, and lap up the universe around me, so that the gist of everything resides in me, a microcosm, to be more aware of my surroundings than others.
Ø  Since I could read the alphabet, my mother put a book in my hand. Not just picture books, but children’s story books.
Ø  I’ve faced things in life. Rejection, antagonism and lack of understanding from near ones, ridicule for being different, for being overweight and awkward, for being real and not a faked version of someone else, for not caring what people think of me. I’ve been through many dark phases- so writing helps me come to terms with that darkness and realize that I’ve found the light, finally.
Ø  I think the genres I write also define me as a writer. I write crime, psychological suspense, horror and erotica. All four genres are inter-related and help me explore the darkness, the negativity that underlies everything, and how people come out of it. How everything is covered in shades of grey, and how we must have the insight to recognize that not everything’s black and white.
Ø  Writing helps me bust the stress of everyday life. I write every day, and I write a fairly lot. I work on two to three manuscripts at the same time. So my mind is always busy plotting murders, intrigues and who will fall in love with whom, who will take whom to bed, who will lecture whom on what, who will cuss whom and who will kill whom etc…you get the drift. Writing a lot helps me put things in perspective, and helps me take failure and success in stride.
Ø  Writing has helped me improve my memory, logistic and analytical skills. Since it helps me get everything into perspective, writing has made me more rational, more pragmatic and more intelligent. It has helped me greatly as a student and researcher. I never take anything at face value, but try to look deeper to find out the truth. As a writer, I observe people and events around me, and it helps me understand the world better. Therefore, I believe that writers don’t look at the world- they see through it.
Ø  Writing helps me find my voice, what I stand for, what I believe in, what I despise. That’s why no two writers are the same- a good writer writes in their own distinctive voice and creates beautiful prose.
Ø  Writing makes me feel better about myself. I’m not wasting time over stupid social gatherings (except book launches, write-ins and chat with close friends- those are not a waste of time), dumbass parties, or bitching about people to other people, wallowing in frivolity and mediocrity, or worse. I’m utilizing my time to create something hopefully of good redeeming value, something which will connect with other people on a profound, personal level, and perhaps make them happy, and let them know that they’re not alone. When I sum up what I’ve done in my life, creating something valuable and beautiful will give me an indication of a life well lived, and well spent.
Ø  Writing gives me a great excuse to eat chocolate, savor good food and drink lots of coffee ( I call it The Writers’ Nutrition).
Ø  If I don’t write, I will not be able to vomit the thousands of worlds, experiences, people, and other things residing in my neurons. My experiences, the things I observe and learn, the stories I absorb from books and which morph into other books in my fertile imagination, the untold feelings- all of these are constantly knocking on the inside of my head. Write us down now, they always say. If I don’t write, the knocking grows insistent till I’m forced to open the laptop and type down my thoughts.
Ø  Writing has helped me navigate through the dark, the negative and turn myself into a positive, confident, outspoken, self-assured person, and made me unafraid of my naysayers and detractors.
Ø  Writing is part of my identity. It gives meaning to my life, and helps me relate to other writers- sentient beings who live for almost the same ideals as I do.


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Discussion- The antagonist as the protagonist in a novel

I have been grappling with the concept, as of late, of the Antagonist of a story being the Protagonist.
Usually, the protagonist is the good guy/gal- their thoughts and actions steeped in shades of grey but ultimately they prove their mettle.
But I'm developing the concept for these three erotic suspense novellas which I'll write as an armada.
All three protagonists are women. No, it's not a feminist things- it's just centered around three woman characters, all different and disparate from each other.
Now, my characters are rebellious, independent minded, the my-life-my-rules kind.
And as I still remember a line from Chuck Wendig's brilliant article on strong female characters in books- the character choices must push on the plot mostly- the plot must not push on the character's actions all that much.
I have tried to make the situations such that my character's actions push on the plot- motivation, action, consequence.
Thing is, these actions are not always good. In this case, some of them are outright reprehensible. But the thing is, these women make choices- even if bad ones- and that's how the story moves forward. But the nature of these actions make my characters the antagonists too, and not very likeable.
No one likes people who cheat on their spouses, bitch about others, cuss excessively or, in extreme cases, kill. But that's how I'm shaping the protagonist-cum-antagonist in these novellas. 
My aim is not to glorify these things- in fact, I believe some of the things done by my MCs are condemn-able, but it's for the audience to decide, not for me. I'll not impose my view-points on them.
My question, can these characters be considered 'strong'? Strong as in not the kind who beats up goons, but the kind who makes their own choices- no matter how bad those choices are.
If strong protagonists are the cornerstone of compelling stories, so are strong antagonist-protagonists for some stories, right?

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Book Review- The Scion of Ikshvaku by Amish

Blurb: Ram Rajya. The Perfect Land. But perfection has a price. He paid that price.


Ayodhya is weakened by divisions. A terrible war has taken its toll. The damage runs deep. The demon King of Lanka, Raavan, does not impose his rule on the defeated. He, instead, imposes his trade. Money is sucked out of the empire. The Sapt Sindhu people descend into poverty, despondency and corruption. They cry for a leader to lead them out of the morass. Little do they appreciate that the leader is among them. One whom they know. A tortured and ostracised prince. A prince they tried to break. A prince called Ram.

He loves his country, even when his countrymen torment him. He stands alone for the law. His band of brothers, his Sita, and he, against the darkness of chaos.

Will Ram rise above the taint that others heap on him? Will his love for Sita sustain him through his struggle? Will he defeat the demon Lord Raavan who destroyed his childhood? Will he fulfill the destiny of the Vishnu?

Begin an epic journey with Amishs latest- the Ram Chandra Series.

Sometimes someone like me must read someone like Amish. And sometimes, I must risk giving a review on his books because I consider myself a serious purveyor of literature, and a keen observer of publishing trends. Of course, I will be very unpopular among a few of my writer friends who wouldn't like my approach very much. But I must speak out, air my opinion, because that's what I'm like.
I'll be brief in this review, because I have nothing much to say here. Sadly, Amish's latest book doesn't deserve a lengthy review at all. I have written lengthy reviews in the past for books which were examples of serious literature, or at least worth a review. But this book is...the reason I'm writing a review is NOT just a comment on the book, but a commentary on the quality of 'popular literature' in India as well.
So like the Shiva trilogy, Amish has once again done a retelling of ancient Hindu epics- through the Ram Chandra series. He has attempted a new spin on the Ramayana- albeit with a contemporary feel to it. Raavan the demon king's juggernaut looks suspiciously akin to a modern day helicopter, for example. Ram rolls his eyes at his half-brother Bharat, who, before he falls in love, is sort of a Casanova, liaising with many girls- Ram is simply stunned at the number of girlfriends around Bharat, a babe magnet. The four brothers are shown to be loving and caring of each other; Manthara is a cunning but savvy businesswoman, Kaikeyi is a through-and-through bitch who wants to keeps both her husband and her son under her thumb; Kaushalya and Sumitra are demure queens who constantly ingratiate themselves to the misogynist, pig-headed, unreasonable, and borderline psychotic Emperor Dashrath. Ram was born on the same day as his father was defeated by Raavan, so Dashrath hates him for years with a vengeance and wrongly accuses him of being the reason the Sapt Sindhu lost to Lanka. Political intrigue is attempted through the wily, scheming Guru Vishwamitra and the rational, kind Vashishta, who backs Ram and Lakshman, and who trust him too.
Amish tries to inject a mythological fantasy with contemporary issues plaguing society, and he does this well- to an extent. He does it MUCH better than Chetan Bhagat, who CLAIMS to handle such issues in his 'books' but SHORTCHANGES the reader every time. Amish doesn't- he does touch upon plenty of relevant issues.
There is a gang-rape (aka Delhi 2012), and a brutal retaliation, there is debate on the Juvenile Justice Law- which was recently amended so that minors can be tried as adults in crimes like rape, and murder. There is a raging debate on 'masculine' and 'feminine' societies. Masculine as in patriarchal, feminine as in matriarchal? Most of the debate went over my head- and there arises my first problem with the book. Too much debate! The characters, at times look more like competing professional debate teams than characters in a mytho-fantasy. I actually rolled my eyes on having to read a debate in every chapter- I don't want a debate when I'm not in the mood, Amish. There is a time and place for that. You can, instead, write blog posts where your characters talk, or hold online webinars. If your characters must air their opinions, let it be through scenes, or incidents where the characters act upon this belief. Don't impose debates on me when I expect you to tell a story. It sounds preachy. You're telling a story, not doling out advice.
The other problems like cleanliness, city-planning, law and order, how to follow rules, blah blah blah have also been touched upon (PHEW!).
Ram's emphasis on following the law is an issue that pervades throughout the book- and the author has used this quality of his as a motivation to tell a different story than the one in popular Hindutva discourse, which I read as a kid.
Somehow, everyone in the book seems either tall and muscular or dark and muscular or fair and muscular. Do people in mytho-fantasies look all the same- are their looks all in the same damn three categories? People in real life don't look so same, BTW. Please try and imagine different-looking characters in your next, Amish. 
That brings me to my biggest grouse with the book- the plot. Amish has seriously lost the plot in this book of his, sadly. I thought the Shiva trilogy was fairly good, because Amish told a good story, and did his research well. The Shiva series had the plot as its redeeming USP. Something which this new novel doesn't have. If I explain why, I'll seriously give away the plot, so I'll just say that certain events, which are kind of important according to me, have been glossed over. It's like the author was hurrying through this book so he can, perhaps, provide a steady plot in the next one.
Didn't work for me. Although my knowledge of Hindu mythology is sketchy, at best, I still have a good idea about what makes a story good, what plot points deserve a big mention and what don't. What points should be stretched in detail to contribute to the plot, and what should be left alone. Retelling of a popular epic does not mean that you can just trail-blaze through the events like you're doing a running commentary. For eg- in the Shiva books, the one thing I like the most is the way Shiva and Parvati's relationship has been depicted. Here, although Ram does fall in love, at first sight, with Sita in a nicely written scene ( one of the very few that dot the book), there is no passion, no love intrigues, no silly games, no emotionally loaded lovemaking. I don't want sex scenes, no. I just want to feel their love and rejoice in it, I want to empathize with Ram when Raavan kidnaps his wife, I want to feel the depth of his anger, his indignation, his rage when his brave and beloved wife is targeted in this manner.
That brings me to reiterate the well-known fact that Amish is, at best, an average writer. What makes his book tick is the plot, and the good research. His prose is dull, uninspiring, and horrifyingly pedestrian. Now, Westland is a prestigious publisher- one which would have made lots of money from the sales of Amish's books. Why couldn't they hire a better editor? I found the SAME GLARING FLAW in the Shiva books- pedestrian, languid prose and horrible editing. Can't they find someone who can even marginally make Amish's writing better? But then, if the writer is average, how much can the editor do?
People who are first time readers will think Amish's writing is top-quality. But readers like me, who have been reading for more than two decades, and have read some of the stalwarts like Agatha Christie, Sir Conan Doyle, Dostoevsky and all Russian authors, Enid Blyton, VS Naipaul, Toni Morrison, Gabriel Marquez, Steinbeck etc. etc. etc. will make out the flaws in Amish's writing easily.
Just knowing English and English words and grammar and punctuation doesn't make you a good author. Knowing how to weave these words into beautiful prose is.
Since I'm reviewing this book, let me give you some examples from India itself. Recently I read Anees Salim and Cyrus Mistry, and then I read Amish. And I realized something. Salim, Mistry and his brother Rohinton, who is also a great author, Jeet Thayil, Vikram Seth etc. etc- these are quality authors. I, and people who read lit-fic, relate to them better. And yes, literary fiction is not the only serious literature, but it is serious. But these authors never get their due, never get the publicity, the merit and the public adulation they deserve for respecting the venerated craft of writing.
Film director Shekhar Kapur commented that Amish is 'India's first literary pop-star'.
Problem is, Mr. Kapur, we discerning readers don't need pop-stars in literature. We need serious writers who practice diligently to hone their skills to the zenith, and give us excellent stories which are also well-written, which appeal to readers like me. We readers need more Cyrus Mistry-s, more Naipauls, more Salims. Who write something serious and lasting. Time-pass writers who write time-pass stories for the masses are fine...but only to a certain limit.
Literature, if besieged with pop-stars, will wither and die. Good literature, I mean. And if one wants to be a punk, the literary equivalent of a leather-jacket wearing, funky-song singing pop-star, will receive the treatment most modern pop-stars receive. No one will take them seriously. They will be a trend, a temporary craze, a fleeting madness that will disappear when someone else comes along.
Writers improve as they write more books- Amish does the exact opposite. The quality of his prose has not improved...and his novel has gone from okay to bad- this is the opposite of improvement.
This 'pop-star' analogy seriously worries me about the quality of upcoming literature in society. Hopefully Amish will improve a bit in his next book- this one's not really worth all the hype, hoopla and star-studded launches it's getting ( public's love for Amish notwithstanding).
But I don't know if I will read Amish's next. This one has put me off in a big way.

But if you still like literary pop-stars, please go ahead and read this book. But except for a few good paragraphs and scenes, it is completely insipid and lack-luster.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Why We Writers Must Never Give Up- A Discussion

This article is for you, Debashish, and for you, Kuheli.

I, like you, am an aspiring author, still learning the ropes of a craft as challenging and as interesting as Writing, and taking my baby steps in the tough, cruel, schizophrenic world of publishing. I am no one to tell you 'how to be a good writer' or anything. In fact, anyone who tries to tell you the 'rules', even if they're a bestselling author- is a BIG fraud and presumptuous fool.

No one can tell you how to be a good writer. You know what your writer personality is- your instincts will tell you how to be a good writer.

But as someone in the same boat with you, I will share my experience with you, and perhaps discuss how not to lose hope. This article is not an attempt to dole out advice-I am no one to deliver sermons- but just a discussion.

Writing is a self-perpetuating craft. What I mean is, a writer, a real writer, keeps producing stuff- this is one thing I know about a true writer. They don't stop at one story, or one novel. They keep writing, they keep creating. Words beget words. Then comes a story. Story begets a story, and then come novels, novellas, short story collections, poetry collections and whatnot. Then come some of our masterpieces- works which carry a part of us within them, to the world. We create because we imagine worlds in our brain- and our imagination comes from the many books, newspapers and magazines we read, from movies and serials we watch, and most importantly, from the people we meet and the situations and happenings we observe around us.

Now both of you are working health professionals. So am I. The hospital has plenty of stories waiting to be absorbed and written in its corridors, in the people which inhabit it, and those that run it. Just an example. You guys also read voraciously- Debashish, like me, is an ardent admirer of literary fiction. Kuheli, I'm not really aware of your reading choices. But my point is, we three live and work and interact in environments highly fertile for breeding stories and conducive to writers, we're literate, motivated and well aware of the environment around us.

Believe me, there're stories waiting inside of you. Stories waiting, crying to be written. Stories which have formed from the experience and instinctive knowledge of years we have spent in our lives- the people, the feelings, the happenings, the ups and downs, the happiness, the sorrows, the love and the resentment, friends, relationships, loved ones, patients, colleagues, operations, exams etc.etc.etc. It's time these stories start knocking on the inside of your skull, badgering you to vomit them out, on paper or on your laptop.

Knock knock.

Who's there?

Your story, waiting to be written.

From your own statements, I've been able to gather the gist of your problem- you're blocked, stuck. You have been working on your stories for months, then suddenly reached an impasse.

You seem to have lost all hope. You doubt if your work is readable enough. You doubt if you're ever write a story you're actually satisfied with. You wonder about all the hours you put in, if what you produced is worthy enough, whether your stories will ever see the light of day.

No problem.

Self-doubt is a part of EVERY writer's process/journey to literary success. Even the best of writers have been faced with and tackled self-doubt at some point. The good thing about a little self-doubt is, it can keep us grounded and prevent us from feeling too sure of ourselves, thereby helping us produce something good. The problem with self-doubt: extremes of it can lead to mental paralysis- it can leave us drained and depressed, it can make us think our stories are shit and we can never write again, that we're hopeless and we were deluding ourselves all this time.


Think about why you became writers in the first place. Why you became part of Wrimo India and NaNo, and why you interact with other writers. It is because, somewhere, inside that thinking, working brain of yours, you KNOW that you're a writer. That writing is an indispensable part of your life. That you have stories to tell the world. That writing is not an easy task. That it will take you months, or maybe several years, of writing daily, reading like crazy and getting your work critiqued, then edit and revise and polish and submit etc. etc. to become confident enough. That you will be assailed by self-doubt at times.

What is the solution?

In my view, I would say this: Writing begets Writing.

If you stay stuck on one manuscript, you may feel bored, or unmotivated, or depressed, or all three. Like I said at the beginning of this article, keep writing, keep producing stories. Read more books in your genre, and watch more serials in your area of authorly interest. A lot of your material comes from the magazines and newspapers you read, the news you watch, the colleagues you work with, the patients you interact with and treat, the conversations you have with your friends and family. Each of them contributes a little to building that world of knowledge inside you, the world which then spouts reams and reams of stories.

Keep reading. Keep writing. Write anything- essays, blogs, poems, FB posts. Scribble your random ideas in a diary or your journal. Your minds will, of its own accord, start connecting the dots and making up stories. Write an outline of a plot if you have one. Not necessary to bother with lengthy outlines and extensive plotting even BEFORE you begin plotting your story, like Sonia says.
As a pantser, I think, where's the fun in that?

Your story will work itself out in your head while you cook, see patients, talk to friends or family members or do whatever else you do in your daily routine. Write your story as it comes to you. Write everyday. And don't be stuck on the same story- keep one or two other ideas alongside to work on when you feel blocked on your pet project. Don't stop on one project. After you finish one book, start another. While you polish the first one, work on the second. By the time you will revise, edit, get critiques and then revise and re-edit till you're satisfied, you will have reached the crux of your second book. By then, your imaginations will have fired enough to get you started on your third novel by the time you wrap up your second one.

Don't stay stuck on novels. Work on short stories too- keep abreast of writing competitions for short stories and work on them too. Follow authors like Chuck Wending who do a flash fiction competition every week, on their blog. Think of contributing to literary magazines in your area of interest.

Writing short stories is the BEST practice to hone your craft and make you skilled at writing bigger stories. They are like lubricants, which will smooth out your writing process, such that you become better at writing long ones. This is my personal experience.

Write so much and produce like crazy, so that you don't have time to mope on a single story on which you're stuck- and to keep your writing machinery- the imagination- in great shape, read, read book after book after book to keep your neural network alive and working full time.

So, in a gist, here. what I do to overcome self-doubt, and maybe you can too:







I will wrap up my essay here. I'd meant to write a blog post but it inadvertently became an essay. Hopefully this will enable a discussion on our forum and help us grow as writers.

PS: If your CSF isn't already leaking from your skulls after my lengthy essay, you can refer to these articles by an author friend of mine, and one by author Chuck Wendig. They may also help.



Happy writing, and take care! :-)