Tag Archives: fiction

Eight is my number

hlr_2018_fic_winners_fb-twitter_apr19

Early in 2017, an astrologer told me that 2018 would be my year. While 2017 would be filled with extraordinary luck (which it was), 2018 would be the year I would begin to reap the fruits of my labour, so to speak.

I laughed at the irony of this previous pronouncement as come day two of 2018, everything started going to shit. I had to leave Mumbai – and my partner – in the midst of a bandh situation (with a potential situation for riots). I had to also leave behind almost all of my belongings, and considered myself lucky to be able to catch the flight to Toronto (via Delhi). In Delhi, my flight was cancelled due to weather conditions (read: fog). There were other things too, like the overall shittiness of Air Canada for not rescheduling my flight without charging me an arm and a leg. It didn’t matter what the ground conditions were in Mumbai at the time, I had to catch the flight, or lose my money.

The memory doesn’t make me bristle anymore. But the tone of the new year seemed to say: you are fucked, my friend.

Oh, and I also got the dreaded viral flu, with a cough that nested in my chest for a month.

So, as I approached the 8 year anniversary of my writing blog, I did so with trepidation. This has been a prolific year so far, in terms of writing (I try and write creatively every weekend now). I had atleast ten things in the Submittable queue. The most I have ever had in my entire life! Two rejections came by. Then, an acceptance (of a poem) in a magazine I had been trying to break into for years. But no fiction; nothing fiction yet. I began to wonder about my credentials as a writer. Maybe, my writing was just not good enough. (I want to add here that these are self-destructive thoughts that many writers have in personal low moments, and indicates nothing of the writing itself).

Three days before the anniversary day hit, I got an email. One of my queer short stories had made it into the Honourable Mentions list in a fiction contest.

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“Toklas to your Stein” (which in retrospect is a pretentious short story name) was the first story I wrote this year. It came to me in fragments. It came to me in bursts of frustration. It came to me and didn’t reveal its purpose till the very end. It also took me a whole month to write. Weeks of agonizing over a story that seemed to make absolutely no sense to me. The sections were haphazard, at best. At worst, it was an experiment in what I thought to be avant garde.

I wanted to submit a story for a contest, and I submitted this one (it’s all I had at the time of the deadline). The judges were none other than the esteemed Cherie Dimaline and Ayelet Tsabari. I felt a little ashamed because it was a story I didn’t really believe in. The style seemed off, and unlike anything I had ever written. And then I indulged in a terrible habit that I have: continued editing even after submission, all the while berating myself for submitting what I considered to be a “lesser” version.

When the contest version actually made it to the honorable mentions list, I was a bit shocked. I expected a rejection. Really, that would have been okay. The email that morning from Humber Literary Review made me feel numb. I wondered in my half asleep state if I was still dreaming. And, because I wanted so very badly to be seen (as a writer of fiction), this was the logical conclusion of my nightmares.

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Imposter syndrome is real. It is far more real when you are a queer woman of colour writer, without the backing of an MFA, struggling to make sense of the worlds in your head, and the worlds you manage to put down on paper. And because the world of writing is so tiny, there is constant pressure of wanting to be seen, and not being seen, while everyone else seems to be far more visible.

Sometimes, what this writer needs is a boost. An acknowledgement. A head nod of sorts. It doesn’t matter where she stands at the moment, and how much she has achieved, it never seems to be enough (because on most days, it isn’t). On most days, she is invisible any way. On most days, the world is a shit hole, and she is just trying to exist. But there are days when she wants to be seen.

There are days when I do.

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Canisia Lubrin once told me contests are not measures of success. I know. I agree. Same goes for publications, or even visibility in general. Most times, it’s really about who you know, and how much cultural capital that person holds, and how much of that capital they are willing to share with you.

I am grateful however to Cherie Dimaline and Ayelet Tsabari – writers I admire and haven’t yet had the good fortune to talk to in person – for seeing something in my story.

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TFW

Happy 8 years to the blog! My story, “Toklas to your Stein,” along with five other stories from Humber Literary Review’s Emerging Writers Fiction contest (winners and other honorable mentions) will be in the June (print) issue of the magazine.

UPDATE April 29th 2018: I received a Lambda Literary Fellowship in Fiction this year. It will allow me to work on my fiction manuscript with Chinelo Okparanta in LA this August. Eight must really be my number!

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A November evening that led to The Unpublished City

The Unpublished City line-up

The Unpublished City (Toronto: BookThug, 2017).

Where to begin? Some things, I believe, happen for a purpose, a reason. Happenstance, I like to think. Se-ren-di-pi-ty.

Last November, I had the privilege of being a part of a small group of writers sharing living room space with Dionne Brand. Discussing our current projects, our aspirations, our roadblocks. It wasn’t the best time in my life, but I am glad I made space for that evening. Something about that evening and its conversations opened a floodgate in (the writer) me. I came away, alive.

Line-up

17 of us (minus Katheryn Wabegijig) being introduced by Dionne Brand, Harbourfront Centre, 22nd June 2017. Photo: Catherine Coreno/@cthrn_c, from Twitter.

A part of the privilege came with knowing Phoebe Wang, who has been/is/and possibly will be nothing short of invincible when it comes to creating a much needed community for BIPOC writers. I don’t say this lightly. I don’t say this because I have come to value her friendship. I say this because it’s true. Because very few can do as much as Phoebe does in filling the much needed gap in the Toronto lit scene when it comes to recognizing multiplicity of identities; or, as it’s more easily understood, creating a space for “diversity” to thrive.

And so it was my knowing of Phoebe that led to that evening in November, and that evening that led to an opportunity to submit to an anthology curated by Dionne Brand, The Unpublished City. The anthology is an initiative of IFOA (International Festival of Literary Authors)/ Toronto Lit Up to promote diverse writing in Toronto. The anthology features 18 writers from the Greater Toronto Area.

I have a short flash fiction piece in it, “Mars in Scorpio”, a piece just shy of 600 words. It was the first creative piece I wrote this year. It was the first piece I wrote in a long time. It was the first piece of fiction that poured out of me. I credit it to that evening in November. (I also credit it to my partner who suggested I use a personal story to write this one, and the more I say about how lucky I am to have someone like him, it will never be enough. It is also happenstance in so many ways, our meeting, our being together, but that’s another story for another time.)

5 questions with IFOA

Self explanatory.

Now, almost six months into this year, I have more such pieces since. Pieces that have similarly poured out me. My friend, Heather Olaveson, says, they were waiting. All I needed was a push.

Here’s a toast to that November evening.

My five questions about writing with IFOA can be read here.

A little something on the anthology in Quill and Quire can be read here.

The anthology is available through BookThug here.

Doyali and I.

Before the event at Harbourfront Centre. With Doyali Islam, whose poem “43rd Parallel” is also in The Unpublished City. June 22 2017.

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Becoming Chikni Chameli in 3 Steps

I encountered Chikni Chameli in the December of 2011, mid afternoon at the Calcutta airport, waiting to board a flight to Indore. I was on my way to a friend’s cousin’s wedding. The overhead televisions kept blaring the annoying music of the item song, in sync with its provocative lyrics and gestures. Men and women alike had their eyes glued to the rhythms of Katrina Kaif’s thumkas and chest thrusts.

Fast forward to December 2013. Calcutta, again. 2 am. I am hunched over my laptop, seeking inspiration to finish my final assignment for Carolyn Smart’s fiction workshop class. Write a flash fiction piece, under 500 words. There are no parameters, except for the word limit.

I finally find inspiration , through another writer I admire. And, a stream of unconsciousness. Who knows where inspiration really comes from?

Several drafts, and a few rejections later, my piece sees the light of day.

My short fiction, “Becoming Chikni Chameli in 3 Steps,” is up at Matrix Magazine. You can read it here. It is a part of their trans issue, edited by Lucas Crawford.

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Blood Red Sky redux

Got me a tiny excerpt from Blood Red Sky (my eternal novel-in-progress) in The Four Quarters Magazine. It’s only good until their next issue, so check it out here.

 

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How, then, to begin, to begin?

If the subject – here, the writer of colour – is unaware of the absence of speech, then where does he/she begin? Or, as Roy Miki asks, “How, then, to begin, to begin?” – an excerpt from the final essay I wrote for Dr. Smaro Kamboureli’s graduate English class at University of Toronto end April 2015.

On 24th November 2015, I was invited by Dr. Jing Jing Chang to give a short talk to her undergrad class on Bollywood films at Wilfrid Laurier University. The talk addresses my existence as a South Asian person/academic/artist in Canada, and negotiating that identity through creative writing and academia.

The talk ends with a performance of my most recent work of poetry, “elephant in the room.”

Since I don’t completely despise how I sound, here is the talk in its entirety:

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Words are all I have

repressed mem

I never quite understand the process of writing, what connections I make in my unconscious mind, and how (or, why) these connections show up in a particular story. Isn’t it strange that I am a stranger to my modus operandi as a writer of fiction?

Take last month, for example. There I was alone in my parents’ house, in the middle of the night, in bed with the cat, stroking it absently while it shuddered as it dreamt, taking me back to a memory of someone shuddering in the exact same way a long time ago. And even as I lay there in the dark, words started forming in my mind, leading to a story I knew I wanted to write.

I think what it boils down to is this: I remember all kinds of shit. Random details about people I do not talk to anymore, people who are not even indirectly connected to my life in any way, and yet, memories of little moments stay with me, their quirkiest habits, their deepest confessions, their most obscure fears.

I think it’s the way my mind is trained – as a writer – to observe and record. That even if I want to escape, I am a prisoner of my mind.

All of this is fodder for my work, of course. That even when I am not thinking of these randomnesses consciously, they slip through into my words, jolting me back to a vivid past, making me relive a moment I thought I had long forgotten.

I used to think it was a curse. But not anymore.

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Five Years Strong

4 stages of writing

I woke up earlier today, cognizant of the fact that five years had passed since I embarked on this self-journey of finding myself as a writer. Five years is a long time.

So much has changed since. I have changed since. There are days when I stare at my face and can’t recognize who I am anymore. Not that it’s a bad thing. Change is good. Change should be constant. What is life without change? It’s complacency one must fear most.

I realize that every time I hit a year with this blog, I come farther away from the naive twenty four year old who on an impulse one night created this blog, ever hopeful that within a few years, she would be. A writer.

But a year comes and goes.

Not that I am not proud of all that I have achieved since the last time. Taking into account all the drama that went down, I am doing alright.

I had the privilege of working with Sonnet L’Abbe on a bunch of my stories these past few months. She was perceptive enough to point out that I need to manipulate my readers more. Play with their emotions. That makes sense. I am not very good at being tactful. I like to lay out things the way they are. Yeah, I am not very deceptive. That is an area I must work on. (Yet, I do know of a person who is extremely deceptive as a person, has an MFA in creative writing, and hasn’t published anything ever. So, I am not sure if that is an accurate assessment – on my part – of why I fail as a good fiction writer.)

novel

Meanwhile, I continue to publish more poetry. This year I have two poems forthcoming in The Feminist Wire. That’s the biggest publication I have ever broken into.

I have also become more sure of myself. I understand people better, read them better than I read myself sometimes. I work by instinct now, and it works.

No, I am not ungrateful. But somehow, somewhere, it doesn’t feel enough.

I guess I should do something about this feeling of unhappiness. Harness it, like Sara Ahmed says.

Watch me, go on. Watch me do it.

I have a few projects lined up this year, but I also have a few loose ends to tie up. So far, this year has been so damn promising. Even with the drama. And my instinct tells me, it’s just going to get better.

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