Priya Doraswamy on Publishing a Book in India

Priya Hi resPriya Doraswamy founded Lotus Lane Literary in New Jersey in May, 2013. She has been an agent for a little over five years and has sold books globally. Priya represents bestselling and award winning adult fiction and non-fiction authors. Prior to her agency career, Priya was a Deputy Attorney General, with the State of New Jersey, prosecuting securities fraud. Priya was born and raised in Bangalore and relocated to the NY area twenty four years ago, but travels to India every year for work and pleasure.

In this interview, Priya shares insights on publishing a book in India.

This may seem obvious, but, when should a writer reach out to a publisher?

I would recommend that a writer reach out to an agent and not a publisher. More and more, authors are going down the agent route for all the obvious benefits. Publishers are also looking to agents more, although in India it’s still possible to approach publishers directly. For fiction manuscript, the book must be written in its entirety before querying agents. For non-fiction, either a detailed proposal (with synopsis, introduction, three chapters, chapter outline, and author platform) or the manuscript written in its entirety along with the proposal.

Would you recommend that writers get in touch with agents rather than publishers directly?

Absolutely. There are several agencies in India now and I would recommend authors finding an agent for their books.

What do you look for in a synopsis of one’s novel or collection of stories?

A synopsis narrates the story succinctly. Writers must take time crafting synopsis as it’s crucial in attracting the agent or publisher’s attention. Keep it in present tense, with simple language, and include only MAJOR plot points including ending. Personally, anywhere from 450-1200 word synopsis in a query letter works for me. When querying agents and publishers authors must follow submission guidelines as mandated on their website.

How important is it for an aspiring writer to have a contract? How can a literary agent help in this regard?

By definition an agent is a person who acts on behalf of another (client), to further the interests and goals of said client. A simplistic definition for a literary agent would be a person working on behalf of their clients (authors), in placing manuscripts with publishers. However, in reality, it’s much more complex than just the ability to place manuscripts with publishers. There are many facets to the business of successfully agenting an author. Agents know editors in publishing houses. They have a track record of working with publishers. Publishers trust agents to bring them solid manuscripts. While there is no guarantee that an agent will get an author a publishing contract, it’s better than the alternative for several reasons: an agent has a pulse on the book market and will likely be able to negotiate a better book deal than the author acting on his own. From a contracts standpoint, an agent undertakes the contract negotiations and guides the author to make best informed decisions. With many territories and subsidiary rights at stake (film, audio, foreign, electronic, derivative, to name a few) and money attached to these territory and subsidiary rights, it’s to the author’s advantage to have an agent who is knowledgeable in the nitty gritty to negotiate best contract. Notwithstanding contract negotiations, because the agent works on author’s behalf, the agent will help smoothen the entire process of the book’s publication. Every agent has their unique way of working with their authors. For me, I like working collaboratively with my authors to necessitate a book sale. Patience is a very valuable and necessary commodity in publishing. I am happy to work patiently until the sale is made , even if it takes several months. I am a very hands on agent and value substantive and meaningful dialogue with my authors.

What homework do the authors need to do to get their work published?

Read and research. Lucky for us that we live in the age of the internet! Google is a wonderful resource for authors to help navigate the complex and murky land of publishing. I know it sounds banal to mention Google, but it really is a fantastic research tool. Additionally, authors must visit publisher websites, blogs, Twitter to observe their trends. Many published authors have websites which are also very resourceful. Some literary agents in the UK and US have very dynamic websites that offer great writing tools and tips to writers.

Do the authors have a say in design of the cover page, distribution, type of publicity they would have to do for the book, and the way the book is marketed?

Yes and No. It varies from book to book and publisher to publisher.

What’s your advice to people who want to start small and independent publishing companies in the city/country?

Go for it!

Has it become easier these days to publish books in India? We see all sorts of writing—mostly bad writing—being published today. What are your views on this?

Appreciation for books is so subjective and thus what’s bad for you might be great for another. It’s like anything in life: food, fashion, movies, TV shows etc. There’s something for everyone to love or not, and to each his own! Getting published is an achievement no matter where you are published. The Indian publishing scene is very vibrant and when compared to other territory, is bullish. It’s great to see publishers taking on debut writing in all genre. If you visit any bookstores (sadly the few that remain) you will, at once, notice the strong presence of Indian writing.

Reach out to Priya here:

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Lavanya Sankaran’s advice to aspiring writers

Lavanya SankaranLavanya Sankaran is the author of the celebrated short story collection The Red Carpet, which spent two years on the best-seller lists and collected praise world-wide. Her debut novel The Hope Factory, just released, has been selected by Amazon UK as a Top Pick. Compared to Charles Dickens by the British press, Lavanya’s writing has won several awards, including Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers, and Poets and Writers’ Best First Fiction Award.

Lavanya met and shared her views with the BWW participants. Here is her advice for  aspiring writers:

  1. Read as much as you can. Read widely. Promiscuously. Read books that relax you and books that challenge you. Linger over beautiful sentences and say them out loud. Let them make love to you.
  2. Write in a regular fashion. Make a commitment to writing on a schedule and stick to it. Even if it is something you can do only once a month. Do not “wait for the mood”. Create the mood.
  3. Writing is a high energy performance played to an audience of one (yourself). Don’t come to it tired, distracted and exhausted. Come to it fresh. Give your best to it. Have fun. Entertain yourself. Make it zestful. Flirt with words. Shriek. Whisper. Dance. Sing. Shout.
  4. Read your work out loud.
  5. Work on your craft. If you don’t master craft, you will not be able to convert your moments of divine inspiration into art.
  6. Take the long view. This is an unpredictable journey. There are no  clear markers, signposts and speed limits. Try not to set any. They are usually worthless. Have no expectations beyond your best effort.
  7. Writing is both the goal and the journey. Getting published by a big-name publisher is not writing. Getting published is, at best, an administrative task with lifestyle benefits. It belongs to the part of your life that deals with non-writing things – like earning money, paying bills, eating dinner, deciding who to sleep with, and gossiping over a drink.
  8. Be careful who sees your new-born writing. Don’t rush for feedback. Guard your writing life as you would a candle in the wind. It is easy to discourage, easy to blow out. Guard the flame and allow it strengthen into a strong fire that will burn the fucking house down.
  9.  The right critic is a gift. Choose them carefully. They will encourage what is good in your writing, and highlight what is weak. Their job is not to bolster your ego. Or to love you. A good critic is not your mother.
  10. Do listen to feedback. Do learn from feedback. But don’t let it drown your inner voice and thought process. You are the final arbiter of your writing. No one else. The longer you write, the harder you work, the stronger your inner voice will be.
  11. Writing is three things: a mental act, a spiritual act, and a physical act. Ergo, stay healthy.
  12. Keep reading. Keep writing.

Know more about Lavanya Sankaran here:

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BWW Star: Open face sandwiches

R came back home late from work one day to find his wife drawing a penis on a piece of paper. For days after, he thought about it the way one would toss salad around on a plate. K had been drawing while watching the television and had merely acknowledged his entrance with a cheerful mention of dinner consisting of open face sandwiches.

K was not an artist. She sometimes drew absent-mindedly on paper napkins or grocery bills, mostly childish figures, zigzags, potato heads with strange smiles and random sticks of hair. She did this mostly when she was slightly restless, a mute spectator of an unknown canvas. These little pauses and gasps were rare, for she usually never wasted time, and was always on her feet, waiting to finish her next assignment, the next little turn she would take.

R’s first thought was to wonder if the penis was his own. He scrutinized his own penis for similarities but after spending hours in front of both full-length and shaving mirrors, he thought that taxonomy did not matter, and that he was asking the wrong questions, for nothing could change the reality that his wife was doodling a penis on a piece of paper. He did not suspect an affair.He was still close to K and they were sufficiently happy together. And even if drawn in jest, what did the penis mean? His doubts were compounded by the piece of paper and its peregrinations with K, little journeys it took from her purse to the bathroom or to her workplace. She did not try to hide it. He caught a glimpse of it in her bag. The penis she had drawn had appeared unshaven and detailed, almost like a pet, its scrotum looking like an obedient snout. Maybe he imagined it but he thought it had billowed under her fingers when he had walked in.

But there should not be anything to doubt. She always wrote notes and lists and she always used bills, reused and rewrote and overwrote, mostly anagrams for bank account pins which she always kept forgetting. Could the penis be an anagram for something?

On an impulse, R asked a close female friend somewhat fantastically what she would do if she came home to find her boyfriend drawing a vagina on a piece of paper, and she told him that she’d think that he was drawing the perfect vagina and falling in love with it. Like Pygmalion. And this confused R more.

One day, R came back home and saw the drawing placed under a jute bag full of sauces and a loofah. He could see it clearly now. What had at first appeared to be a diagram, a penis-shaped children’s maze, was now a baleful mess. She had imposed random scribbles on it, a haze of small grocery lists all remembered and forgotten.

BWW Star

The dream of every writer is to be read. And to be read and appreciated by as many people as possible. BWW makes that dream a reality.

BWW Star is a writer who has worked with us at BWW and whose work amused, moved, inspired, and/or made a difference in our lives. We are sure you will enjoy and be encouraging too.

From the Yaks batch of BWW, we proudly present Shweta Saran. Shweta is a writer with incredibly dramatic imagination as we can see in this piece.

About Shweta Saran

shweShweta Sharan is the Founding Editor of an upcoming fiction magazine called The Affair. Through her magazine she hopes to reach out to younger readers and impact their reading preferences. She loves hanging out with her husband, daughter and books. Her favourite animal is the Yak.

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Did you enjoy this piece by Shweta? Tell us what you think. Leave us a comment.

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BWW Star: Dilemma

Rakesh had been in the city for a while and had been Bangalored over the years. He wondered about how Bangalore had changed over the last decade. A beep on his computer drew his attention back to the code that he had been testing.

He had finished his engineering and joined the herd of software engineers spending half his waking time in front of the blue screen.

With the delivery coming up in a week, he had to stay back late and finish some testing. Lack of sleep and a long day were taking their toll on him and to keep himself awake he was alternating between Times News and the testing screen.

Warning from the Bangalore Police Department, as seen in the local newspapers: Miscreants sometimes act as if their car has been broken down and they are seeking your help. When you stop and step out of the car, a gang appears out of nowhere and flees away with your valuables and your vehicle. It’s advisable not to stop the car for any unknown person.

 He saw the system time striking midnight and decided to catch-up with the rest of his work on the next day. He got into the lift and waited impatiently as it descended slowly towards the ground floor.

The moment the lift doors opened, a spine-chilling gust of cold air greeted him. He came to the lobby only to realize that it was extremely cold after the heavy evening showers. His teeth were like a Morse code machine, punching the code into thin air because of the spine chilling breeze. Kittkittkitt. It was pitch dark outside. He could hear the distant growls of the zooming cars and trucks on the Ring Road. Rubbing his hands in an attempt to keep himself warm, he moved to the entrance gate. As the human count on the road became sparse, the canines started patrolling with their tails up. Dogs added the required Indianness to the office landscape. One of them looked inquisitively at him and after a moment joined its pack, which was howling together at a distance. In spite of all the atheism and rationale he was bred in all these years, he was still feeling really uncomfortable with a pack of dogs howling at a distance for no reason. It was a bad omen.

He quickly got into his car and closed the doors. His vehicle came to life and he drove at full speed with everything that his beast had to offer.Heavy metal music added to the required adrenaline rush. He was driving all alone on the Ring Road with no other vehicle in sight. Then he encountered a sight which screamed DANGER! At a distance he saw a man wearing helmet running towards him, who then started frantically waving at his vehicle. He recalled incidents of robbery on the highways and stepped on the accelerator. With his palms sweating and nerves on edge, he accidentally hit the man and sent him falling to the footpath.  He stopped the car and watched for any movement from the injured man. Still skeptical, he kept one foot on the accelerator. The injured man was breathing heavily and trying to hold on to the ground. Then he saw two men approaching in the rear view mirror. The gang had come. He switched off the headlights and zoomed onto the road ahead.

He reached home and realized that he was trembling with fear. He was terrified and his head was spinning recounting the last 30 minutes of his life. He pictured himself being arrested, thrown out of his job and jailed, and all the bad things that would happen to him in jail. Suddenly, the “Kill Bill” whistle ringtone rang and an unknown number flashed on his mobile, interrupting his train of thoughts. He kept staring at the phone with shaky hands wondering who could be calling up so late. He didn’t have the courage to answer and it went dead. It rang again a few more times but he didn’t pick up. Later, with great difficulty, he hit the bed and slept off hoping that he would wake up and realize that all of this was just a bad dream.

 He was jolted out of bed with the familiar ‘Kill Bill’ whistle ringtone. Groggily, he answered the call. The brightness of the room nearly blinded him and he squinted. He jumped out of bed with shock when he heard the news on the phone. He was told that his room mate, Adarsh, had met with an accident.

 When Rakesh reached the hospital, he was taken to Adarsh’s bed where he noticed that Adarsh was under the influence of sedatives and was sleeping. He was numbed when the doctor told him that Adarsh was hit by a car and his legs were badly injured. It would take him a couple of months before he could start walking normally.The doctor also told that they had tried to reach Rakesh on the previous night several times as his number was marked as Adarsh’s emergency contact. Rakesh instantly understood the entire chain of events and stood there listening numb with shock.He wondered why Adarsh had been running towards the car wearing his helmet and would Adarsh know it was him. It was a genuine mistake, wasn’t it? While the war was going on in his head, he noticed Adarsh waking up.

 Rakesh helped him to sit and asked how he was doing and if he needed anything. He told Adarsh everything that the doctor had told about his condition. Adarsh looked devastated and started crying. He asked Adarsh to recount the events of the previous night. He told Rakesh that while riding home, his mobile slipped from his pocket and fell on the road. He parked his bike and ran towards an approaching car asking to stop, to avoid it from running over his mobile. But the driver ran over the mobile and him. He pointed towards the smashed iPhone. Rakesh asked if he saw the driver or the number plate. Adarsh said that due to the blinding headlights, he could not figure out anything. Listening to this, Rakesh was relieved for the moment. He told Adarsh to rest while he brought back some breakfast for him.

 Rakesh got up with a heavy feeling in his head. His heart was filled with too much guilt. He felt like a criminal. Stepping out of Adarsh’s ward, he realized that his legs were no longer supporting his frame anymore. With a heavy heart, he collapsed into a chair at the reception.Thoughts from the previous night, kept flashing before his eyes. He tried hard to shield them and divert his attention but he failed miserably. The thought of Adarsh in crutches broke him and he started sobbing.

Should he confess?

The news on the television interrupted the war inside him. A chirpy news reader was saying: Last night a member of the highway mugger gang was hit by a speeding car on the Ring-Road around midnight. The description of the victim by an eye-witness matched the records of police. The gang fled before the police reached the spot.

BWW Star

The dream of every writer is to be read. And to be read and appreciated by as many people as possible. BWW makes that dream a reality.

BWW Star is a writer who has worked with us at BWW and whose work amused, moved, inspired, and/or made a difference in our lives. We are sure you will enjoy and be encouraging too.

This time we have Pradip Kumar, from the Zebras batch. His work is mostly pulp fiction with a twist. In his own words, taking the BWW course has given him more insight on how to fine tune his work. He is now using this insight to explore his unique writing style.

About Pradip Kumar


Pradip Kumar is a working professional from Bangalore. Pradip is an Engineer by profession and a free spirit at heart.His work has been published on “Readers Quotient” an online web magazine. 



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What did you make of Pradip’s piece? Read, share and tell the author what you liked about his story! Leave us a comment.

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Ashok Rajagopalan on Finding my voice while writing stories for children

There is a simple logic behind writing well. It evolves from two premises that I, well, evolved.

  • Premise 1: Art is something that moves you. If it doesn’t move you, personally it doesn’t mean Art to you.
  • Premise 2: A piece of art is a piece of communication.

When it comes to writing, if we write a story that moves readers, moves them to tears, laughter or any emotional high, we have made it as writers.

Does your writing move readers, excluding your mom, friends, or the brats next door?

Then your writing is good. You are a writer! That is the write logic.

You are my reader and you are the person most important to me now.  With an attitude like that, both can’t help getting some benefit from my writing, can we?

That creates a sense of responsibility in me, and takes away carelessness, pomposity, and any other deterrent to good writing. Style, structure and content are secondary. Responsible writing is the key, according to me.It is always a piece of communication for me. Gajapati Kulapati,a picture book published by Tulika, is meant to be read by kindergarten readers and read out to pre-kindergarten types. How would I tell a story to a lady or gent of that age?

Like this:
Small noses catch small colds.
Big noses catch big colds.
Poor Gajapati Kulapati had a big nose
and he caught a big cold.

Do I want to make them laugh? Yes!

Do I want to make them happy? Yes!

Do I want to make them cry? No!

Though I did that once, inadvertently, at a reading at a preschool. I got carried away by the narration and yelled, “AAAAAAAACHOOOOO!” to match the size of my pachyderm’s sneeze. It gave a little fragile-looking lady quite a start, and she got carried away by a teacher in tears. Fragile kid in tears, not teacher, who was busily giving me septic looks. Anyway, that’s my voice and vocabulary when I communicate with little ones.

Simple words, simple sentences, clear statements. And you see, it’s not a dumbing down. Rhythm, pace and clarity are smarted up. You don’t have to write in verse, but it’s great if you can manage a rhythm. It helps since your stories are, more likely than not, going to be read aloud. And of course, in a picture book, you don’t have to spell everything out. Give the illustrator a chance to say things too.

Witchsnare, by Puffin, and Ajit the Archer, published on Kindleare for older kids.

For them, I write like this:

Sujit tore out a sheet of paper from his Maths note and folded it into a quick rocket. He nudged Rahul. With a magenta sketch pen he wrote, “A gift from Sujit Chowdhury,” on one side of the rocket.“Watch!” he whispered. Ajita was chattering away to her friends with her back turned to the bullies. Sujit let fly the missile.Without turning around, Ajita plucked the rocket from midair with her left hand.“Imposs!” said Rahul, mouth wide open like a garage door. Sujit goggled like a gold fish.“Now watch, you bogglies!” said Ajita, as she stood up and sent the rocket flying out of the classroom.“Why the boom did she…?” said Sujit. Maths Miss entered the room with a massive frown on her face and the rocket in her fashionable topknot. Snatching the missile off her hair, she glared at it. Then…“Sujit!” she screamed.

You can draw from a bigger vocabulary, write longer and sometimes complex sentences, or include cultural references. You would do the same thing if you were speaking to a 10-year-old.

For teens and adults, I let myself go. Completely. From my online novel, Lemon Salt Soda:

Rocky was an honest soul who provided the best golden prawns and the most Goan fish curry for a fair price, not that I had any of those for breakfast. God forbid! I placed my order for cucumber sandwiches, and not being able to decide on the watermelon juice or the orange juice, asked for both. That’s what I usually do when I am foxed. ‘Have both!’ is the family motto, carried to its logical extreme by one of my grand-uncles, who was bigamous.

By instinct and design, I talk differently to different people. I guess most of us do that. The same goes for my writing. The better to communicate with, my dear.

Those days we had those preachy-aunty or kind-uncle type of voices, and stories with morals. Now we have no morals. No, not in the way you think. I am talking children’s books here! Today we treat children with more respect. And we have to lure them away from Chota Bheem and Temple Run. That makes our jobs that much tougher.

Responsible communication is the key to finding the write voice, methinks.

Guest Post
In this section, we invite writers we’ve had the pleasure of interacting with to talk about the writing process. Ashok Rajagopalan believes that anybody can write , if they really want to. We admire how he goes all out to help aspiring writers.

About Ashok Rajagopalan

DSCN0017Ashok Rajagopalan,  is a writer and an artist for over 500 children’s books. He blogs under the pseudonym Kenny Wordsmith. Rajagopalan received a mechanical engineering diploma and worked as a marketing executive, but found that he disliked the experience. Since then, Rajagopalan has worked as a graphic designer, freelance cartoonist, and has contributed to the children’s magazines Impulse Hoot and Impulse Toot. He first began illustrating children’s stories with a piece in the 1989 magazine Junior Quest.

Get in touch with Ashok Rajagopalan

Read his blog

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Revathi Suresh on Young Adult Fiction in India

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESRevathi Suresh worked with EastWest Books, Chennai, and helped edit, along with a senior colleague, a book review magazine called Indian Review of Books. EWB also had an imprint called Manas which brought out both fiction and non-fiction. She has worked with some of India’s finest translators—Gita Krishnankutty, Lakshmi Holmström, Vasantha Surya, N Kalyan Raman to name a few, as well as writers like Paul Zacharia, Ashokamitran, Ambai, K R Usha, and Esther David.  She has freelanced for a while during which she has written small commissioned books for children for Mumbai-based IL&FS-ETS. She has been a part of the UNICEF-Karnataka government sponsored Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan project for reluctant readers in rural Karnataka. Prior to which she wrote a commissioned biography of a south Indian industrialist, a project that was particularly challenging because he’d been dead twenty years, and trying to get a picture of his childhood and early life was pretty difficult because none of his contemporaries were around.

Bored with the kind of editing and writing jobs that she was getting, Revathi Suresh decided to go into quiet retirement. Jobless Clueless Reckless, her first novel brings her back from retirement to make a comeback.

Chaithali Pisupati, catches up with Revathi Suresh to talk about her experience with her first novel.

Why Young Adult? Tell us a little about Jobless. Clueless. Reckless.

Why write for young adults? Because I know that this is a particularly tough market to crack. There’s a glut of foreign books on themes ranging from gossipy high school dramas to vampire/werewolf romances and our kids are devouring these imports and are clearly in a happy place. So I thought how about I make life difficult for myself by writing my first ever full length novel for an age-group that is not only hard to please but wary of trying out Indian writers in the genre? Seemed like a suitably frustrating sort of challenge for a newbie like me.

Okay, I’ll get serious. Most people, I presume, have some sort of a story idea in mind when they start writing—it’s just easier that way. I, on the other hand, began writing with nothing but the voice of a character in my head. It turned out that the voice belonged to a teenaged girl. And once your protagonist is a teenager, I think it follows that your book will most likely interest the same age group.

Jobless. Clueless. Reckless (JCR) is the story of Kavya, a 16-year-old girl, growing up somewhere in Bangalore. You see her at a particularly tumultuous time in her life when nothing seems to be going right for her. The novel has all the stock props of a teen story and then some—her family is dysfunctional, she has sibling trouble, she’s not sure who her friends are and thinks herself lacking in social skills (which makes it hard for her not only with her peer group but also with the boy she has a crush on), she’s home-schooled and worried about whether she’s going to be able to take her class 10 exams, and  trying to come to terms with a childhood trauma. I don’t think teen angst has been done quite this way before in Indian fiction. But the reason I believe JCR is a significant book in this genre is because, in seeing the world through Kavya’s eyes, the reader gets an accurate picture of contemporary teenage in upwardly mobile urban India. It appeals to teenagers because it mirrors their lives, while adults kind of squirm their way through it because it shows clearly, and not very prettily, the role we play in the lives of our children. I don’t know if it’s coming-of-age, but it’s certainly slice-of-life reality fiction. You’ll find it funny when you’re reading it though I don’t know if that’s the impression you’ll be left with at the end.

What research did you have to do to understand the life of teenagers of today?

I don’t think I did any research at all. The voice came to me very naturally. Teenspeak, which is an important part of getting the voice right, came without any effort. When in doubt, I just paid close attention to the snatches of conversation I heard outside schools and in coffee shops. It also helped, I suppose, that I have teenagers of my own. Then there were conversations with friends—moms of teens—that I had stored away at the back of my mind, again, not consciously, about the kind of experiences children have in school and at home. For all that, none of the incidents that take place in the novel are based on the real life experiences of anyone I know. And yet people often come up to me and say that’s my life you’ve written about or that’s the life of someone I know. I went back to my own teen years to access long forgotten emotions and the intensity of those feelings.

Then there are other aspects of teen life that one only needs to acknowledge, not research. We live in nuclear families, often both parents work, lifestyles have changed, children go to posh schools of the kind that didn’t even exist when I was growing up, latch-key kids are the norm rather than the exception. In many cases the children lack for nothing materially, and still the emptiness and disconnect. Social networking is an obsession with many of them. The films and TV serials they watch, the books they read, the songs they listen to, the way they talk – all American. Even Bollywood films directed at the younger crowd endorse western culture.

I’m not pointing all this out as criticism, but rather, as fact. If one is aware as a writer of all these issues, for a book like mine, that’s most of the research done.

How do you build your characters? How can aspiring writers build a full-bodied character like Kavya?

I’m just a book old but I will try my best to answer this one. In a first person account, if you get your narrator right, that’s half the battle won. It’s great if you already have a clear picture of your characters in mind because then you can begin writing them the way you conceived them. But if, like me, you have to grope and feel your way around getting acquainted with your protagonists, it helps to create situations that force reactions. When it came to peripheral characters, I tweaked stereotypes. I’m a great believer in stereotypes because they offer you a broad framework to start building your characters. Then you can narrow it down and decide what qualities you want to discard or keep and put in a little bit from your own imagination, and before you know it you’ve created a person who has shades of someone your reader knows. Capricious characters like Kavya’s mother are, I think, easy to write because you don’t know how they are going to act anyway so any and all behaviour is authentic and convincing.

It’s important to remember that you are not your character (unless you’ve consciously decided to be that fictional person, otherwise you’re always going to hold something back), so allow the person on the page to speak freely even if you don’t agree with what they are saying or doing. Once you have a feel for which way he or she may spring in a given situation, you try and keep close to that pattern. But none of us stays true to form all the time—and too much predictability can get boring—so you can jolt the reader by making a character react in a way that’s totally unlike him or her. It’s especially fun thing to do at a crucial stage of the story.

In Kavya’s case, once I became familiar with her, I wanted to test her strength all the time. So I put her through more and more emotionally trying situations, poor thing, and watched her struggle to emerge from every crisis I’d thrown in her path. But she comes out fighting every single time, not always unscathed, and that’s what I think endears her to readers—she’s hurt but will move on, sense of humour intact, ready to face whatever life has to hurl at her next. That’s the key to a full-bodied character as far as I’m concerned. Keeping them real and not being afraid to take them to places you don’t want them to go to, trusting in them even when they are making mistakes, and not making them so infallible that you take them out of reach of your reader.

You said that JCR took two years to finish; you have been an editor yourself. How did the novel change during its various drafts?

In the first draft Kavya was 14 years old. I have to say that most of what is in the book now was there even in that draft. She was well-drawn, if a little coy (yuck), but many of the other characters were fuzzy and not well etched out. One of the most glaring flaws was that I had not tied up Manisha or Kiran because, quite frankly, I did not know what to do with them. They were loose threads and I left them to hang and hoped no one would notice, I guess. There were a couple of chapters that served no purpose other than to add to the bulk of the manuscript; they certainly did nothing for the pace. I think it read like a crude sort of journal entry book of which there are already several in the market. But the sheer relief of having concluded my story made me do this foolish thing of sending it off to a few publishers without showing it to enough people in my circle of acquaintances. Close friends and relatives are always going to make encouraging noises and those were the ones I revealed my masterpiece to. Rejections came in thick and fast. I retreated, smarting, hurting, sulking. When I was through licking my wounds, I sat down and read the manuscript all over again. Yes I was in love with it, but clearly the people who mattered weren’t. And what I had done in my haste had led to several doors shutting on me because I don’t know many publishers who will respond after they have already made their lack of interest clear. And what was I supposed to write? ‘Hello, remember that crappy manuscript from last month? I worked a bit on it and I don’t think it’s so crappy any more. Now will you publish, huh huh huh?’

The second draft improved the manuscript vastly. I had to bring all my half-dead editing skills and experience to the fore. Yes, I had written something, but someone with my background should also have been able to see all the things that had been wrong with it in the first place. So I got objective and Kavya became 16, much to my relief, because I could now put her through experiences I had been too squeamish to make her undergo in her younger avatar. The hanging chapters were lopped off but the hanging threads remained. Manisha, because I was truly foxed about what to do with her, and Kiran because while it was now ok for him to show more than just a brotherly interest in Kavya, I wasn’t quite sure where a romance between them would lead. Basically, I was just being a coward. But I was a little surer of this version than the last one and sent it off to a few people to read; a smart query by a reader made me put in a new chapter. Heartened by the overall response I now cautiously approached another publisher. I decided to go slow and write to them one by one this time—there are only so many publishers of YA fiction in India and I obviously did not want to cross them all off my list at one go. I got a very promising reply from the editor I sent it to, and also the expected feedback. Do something about Manisha and Kiran. Reorder a couple of chapters. That was the push I needed. The solution came to me out of nowhere and not only did I manage to work those loose threads into the fabric of the story, I also had Kiran play a part in closing Manisha’s story. However, for whatever reason, things did not work out with that publisher either and it was grim and dark times again. I knew my manuscript was as tight as it was going to get but I still went snip snip snip, rewrote some bits, rephrased what I thought were awkward sentences, made punchy lines punchier, braced myself and sent it off to Duckbill. They got back to me in ten days with a YES. That mail I plan to frame and keep for life. But even after the manuscript had been accepted, I continued to make small changes, looking for mistakes, tightening paras and smartening lines. And when my editor said let’s edit I sent her the final, final version and said edit this new and improved JCR, please. She was very sweet about it.

What was the publication process like?

Alright, so my editor sent me a mail that said something like ‘we begin editing now.’ I had been looking forward to this for so long but this was when I got really nervous. We are still very conservative in the way we write fiction for this age group. We are happy enough to read foreign fiction—or fine with our kids watching a teen romance like say, Ten things I Hate about you— that contains language, because that’s the way ‘they’ speak but are not so willing to accept that, hello, that’s the way our children speak too. If you have read the book, you know that it’s peppered with swearwords. They are not there for effect but for authenticity. If the children in the book didn’t speak the way they do in real life I was for sure going to be rejected by the very age group I was targeting. So my biggest worry was how I was going to react if that was going to become an issue? Having come this far, would I be willing to compromise and ‘clean up?’ I sat around chewing my nails, waiting to hear from Sayoni, my editor, and she got back to me at the end of the day, saying, ‘edited, take a look’ and I did. I believe we discussed em dashes, ellipses, and single and double quotes. We exchanged some mails about whether it’s better to use ‘maths’ rather than ‘math’ in a particular passage. That’s it. All my self-editing had paid off. There really was nothing left to do. It takes a strong and sure editor to not intervene unnecessarily and I’m lucky I found one.

Next came the book’s cover. Once again, I was involved every step of the way. I was shown so many options I went dizzy. I liked how my publishers approached the book, not as chick lit (the tag I find most irritating) or even YA lit, but as one that would appeal to anyone who cared to pick it up, irrespective of age or gender.

JCR  was published three months after I signed the contract.

We have to ask this, what were you like as a teenager? What books did you enjoy as a girl?

Well, I grew up in the era of bell bottoms, maxis, and weird eighties fashion. Luckily for me, my fellow teens had to suffer the same bad fashion so at least it was collective misery. Most of my schooling was in small towns in north India and we all had such limited exposure that there weren’t many kids you could compare yourself with and come off looking bad. I wasn’t terribly bright academically, but my parents had a sense of humour and laughed their way through my many report cards. Where I grew up, boys of the kind you could crush on were scarce. Once in a very blue moon one would come along who would cause hearts to flutter but I couldn’t see such a fellow singling me out for attention, so I just mooned from afar. In any case, I didn’t know how to talk to boys. I forgot to mention that to add to the bad fashion I sported a long oily plait, and bell bottoms or no bell bottoms, always wore a bindi. In those days we only had liquid bindi and during summers, half way through the day it would melt and wind its way down my nose to perch at the very tip.

I worried sometimes about what would become of me in the hazy, distant future but was bolstered by a curious kind of confidence and optimism that some door would open up and things would work out. This, even when I found myself having to write a supplementary exam in physics and math to pass my ninth standard exams. I was quiet, shy and painfully reserved, and prone to be misunderstood for those qualities. I had few friends and suffered intense loneliness when things went wrong in our friendship (sounds familiar?). I’ll add social retard to my list of qualifications.

What did I read? I read a lot when I was little but by the time I hit my teens I found I had become a bit of a reluctant reader, the result, I suspect, of having read a lot of classics before I was ready for complex literature. Somewhere I began to think that after you were done with Enid Blyton (and no, I’m not a fan anymore) books got boring and incomprehensible. Often I was in places where it was hard to come across book stores and libraries. Where there were libraries, they had such aged, raggedy, yellowed books that smelt and felt so old and depressing that I never wanted to pick them up. So I just caught up with TinTin and Asterix when they were available, and I went through an Earl Stanley Gardner phase when everyone else was going through an Agatha Christie phase.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Writing is like long distance running—it’s lonely, it’s hard work, it’s mentally and physically draining but if you want to get to the end, keep at it, don’t give up. Most importantly, write for yourself rather than with the goal of getting published, because then you’re putting pressure on yourself even before you’re done with the creative process. Seek, and be prepared to take criticism not from people you know, but from those you don’t—the latter will be frank and feedback can only help improve your work.

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BWW Star: The Wait

There are two others with me here. We don’t talk to each other, not sure if we can though, never tried it.

There’s the old man who prefers the damp corner of the broken wall, he doesn’t talk much. Just folds his legs and buries his head in them and stays that way. He whimpers now and then looking at me. I think I saw tears when he looked at me once but who cares, I’ve got work to do.

There’s the girl inside the house (if you can call it that) somewhere inside. I know it’s a she because of the screeches whenever the drug addicts go inside. Why she bothers I have no idea, those fuckers ignore her like she isn’t even there, do their thing and go limp in no time, the girl cries though until they leave. The old man gets all riled up when she does that, not sure what the connection is but he keeps asking them to take the money and let them go. Stupid bitch. I don’t like to be disturbed.

As for me, it may have been years or a few weeks, who knows, I just wait because I know what I want and I am angry (especially when that bitch in the house goes crazy). Then I was. Just as I am now with work to do. I just know that I have been angry all the time. What causes the anger? Pain I tell you, the pain when I couldn’t breathe that day with my broken rib, the pain when fingers tore into my eye, the pain when the rock hit my forehead and the one I regret most – the pain of helplessness.  I fought, reasoned, cried and begged but evil had something else in its mind that day, I had to go once my utility was exhausted. I guess my soul did not accept that compromise and I did not go, I needed to answer in kind. It was this that makes me sit on the tamarind tree, waiting and angry. The anger is like a tiger’s claw that itches to be sharpened; an itch that overwhelmed me as I tore into that wolf the other day. Only a few stringy bits were left for those pesky crows. The old man was smiling that day and the girl didn’t cry.  I had a feeling, they were hoping for me to finish my work. Bloody pests.

I sway with the tamarind tree branch I am perched on. It’s been windy lately. It always is here in these mountains. No birds too, I don’t like them and I think they know except the crows, tough fuckers to chase away. Good, no sound but just of these trees ruffling as the wind brushes past. I like it this way. Helps me with my anger.

That bastard is coming here today, I know. With another young girl like I was I think. It is his favourite spot he said. The sun is going down and the anger burns, I know the itch, the prey is near. I need blood. His blood. I lie in wait, swaying on the tamarind tree I was killed under.

BWW Star

The dream of every writer is to be read. And to be read and appreciated by as many people as possible. BWW makes that dream a reality.

BWW Star is a writer who has worked with us at BWW and whose work amused, moved, inspired, and/or made a difference in our lives. We are sure you will enjoy and be encouraging too

This week, we give you Vijai Balaji. Vijai is from the Horses batch and his writing focuses on presenting the story of those prejudiced.

About Vijai Balaji

Vijai BalajiVijai Balaji is a Bangalorean and has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Having lived in rural Bangalore through the 90’s (and he still does), his stories have a touch of local flavour to them. That and a healthy dose of currently trending foul words on the streets of Bangalore and elsewhere.

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