Tag Archives: writing fiction

A November evening that led to The Unpublished City

The Unpublished City line-up

The Unpublished City (Toronto: BookThug, 2017).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evening in November, and that evening that led to an opportunity to submit to an anthology curated by Dionne Brand, The Unpublished City.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.

Leave a comment

Filed under event, fiction, Thinking Aloud, Writing about writing

Coming to terms with the real me

real selfTwo summers ago, my stalker claimed that he “knew” me because he had read every single thing I had ever published.

But that isn’t the real me, I had wanted to say. That is just an online persona. That is how I talk in my head when I am writing. That is me performing online.

And it does so much feel like a performance. That I cannot bare my bones and just exist within my skin. That even when I am writing about an honest experience, I am also self-censoring.

I tried keeping this anonymous blog once (it still exists somewhere) where I could proclaim my inanities without shame. But even faced with faceless strangers, I kept up the performance until finally one day, I stopped writing there completely.

The truth is… the only time I can truly shed my skin is when I am fictionalizing. The moment I turn to fiction, the words become more visceral, more a part of me than apart from me. It’s ironic in some way, I suppose. That I can be myself when I am essentially making things up, and not otherwise.

It’s almost as if the real me is a fictionalized version of me. Or, several versions of me.

The only comfort is that they are less idealized versions. Versions that help me come to terms with who I really am.

Leave a comment

Filed under anecdote, Writing about writing

Writing an Awesomesauce Novel isn’t easy. Please understand. OkayThanksBye.

Sigh. Story of my Life.

Sigh. Story of my Life.

It’s no secret that I haven’t been writing my novel. Okay, maybe it has been. Kind of. The truth is I have been finding this novel writing very cumbersome. It has been coming to me in spurts, like tetris blocks that do not belong together. Or, broken jigsaw pieces.

It doesn’t help when people who know about this novel-in-progress, ask me, “So, how is that novel coming along?”

How about you shut the eff up? No offence, but really.

Aunties, uncles, friends, friends-of-friends, foes, random person I just met, mom, dad, sis etc… I apologize in advance, but I am in no mood to kowtow with you on my novel, okay? It’s my novel. I am writing it. I will finish it when I think it is finished. So, if you will please bugger off until then, it will be much appreciated.

To boost my inspiration, I have started working on my short story ideas. It is easier to tackle the short form. For the most part, my approach is very clinical (very similar to my academic essay writing tactics):

1. Make an outline

2. Detail the outline

3. Follow the outline

It works every time.

Well, almost every time.

When it comes to poetry or flash pieces, I have taken the free form route. You know,  just write? Unlikely narratives have emerged that way.

But this novel… it already has a structure- in my head. The details, however, come in bursts.

Yesterday, for example, while in that zone of half asleep, half wakefulness, I wrote an entire excerpt. In my head, of course. Then, I fell off the edge (not literally). In the afternoon, I forgot all about it, until something I was reading triggered the memory. I sat and jotted it down. A novel excerpt, complete! Ta-da! You may clap, now.

I suppose there’s no method to the madness. The modus operandi differs from person to person. So far, this cut-piece method seems to be working. I have written more in the past two months than I have since September.

I have even joined an intensive writing group in the hopes of beating my quarter written novel into a recognizable shape. A shapely mass. A shapely mess?

Anyway, just a word of caution in parting. The next time you are compelled to ask me, “How is the novel writing going?”, don’t be surprised if I ask you to mind your own beeswax. And not too sweetly, either.

And this.

And this (for you-know-who-you-are).

1 Comment

Filed under rant, Writing about writing

The Love Game

DISCLAIMER: If you are expecting gooey declarations of undying love, mush, butterflies in your stomach or happy endings, this is not it.

Love is cheap. As disposable as toilet paper. Even underwear has a longer shelf life.

Everyone wants to be in love. Liars, all. What they are really after is the idea of being in love. It’s a game, really. The Love Game.

My flash fiction, “The Love Game,” was published by Daily Love today (you can read it here). I don’t know why. There is nothing love(ly) about it.

2 Comments

Filed under fiction

Of Short Stories and Urban Sho(r)ts

Obviously, this cartoon has nothing to do with this post. Obviously.

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 15th August 2011.

[Cue in Eminem song] One Shot… One Opportunity 

Back in Feb, I chanced upon an announcement on Asia Writes. A competition. One chance, one opportunity… to be published*. I teetered on indecision. Face it, my inner demon said. Don’t be such a ninny. If you are good, you are good. If not, you can resign yourself to being an academician.

Well, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being an academician. I mean, no one can point fingers and call you pedestrian. But writing- the only reason I even started this blog– was what I was meant for. Right?

If I have to ask you that question, then I guess I am still not sure as of yet.

So, anyway, there I was back in Feb. On the brink of indecision. Oscillating between end term papers and an idea for a story for a competition. Jeebs. Not like I was actually going to win, I told myself. Break and enter. No one gets hurt. At worst, there will be disappointment.  And, a short story to take the edge off.

With assurances and reassurances, I held my breath. And, jumped in. Sent in my story within the deadline. The story was titled “The Crows’ Feast” (No, that is not a typo. Yes, there are definitely a lot of crows!). The story was based upon an incident I had heard about from my father on a repeat loop over the years. It was about a child’s single burning desire that … (for the rest, you have to read the story). The images from the story had been jammed into places in my brain that I could not- and did not want to – get rid of. It was a personal story, and the emotion in the retelling always caught me off guard. Not the emotion of the storyteller. Oh no, sir! Rather, my own emotion. The anger I felt. Somehow, I identified with the child protagonist of the tale. Not having experienced abject poverty ever, this was all in my head, of course. But each time, without fail, I wanted to grab the villain’s (in my opinion) beard, and rip it off with pleasure. Don’t be alarmed. Sometimes, writers can have violent tendencies that they turn into profit. Or, die in anger. Whichever comes first, I suppose. Well, regardless, I had a story that was sent in to the competition. Fingers crossed, I relaxed. And, went back to academia.

A second shot? W.T.F?!

A month after my submission, around mid May, I received an email from one of the judges. Before you start jumping to conclusions, like I inevitably did, let me add that he was not writing to me in the capacity of a judge. Rather, he had chanced upon my articles on Helter Skelter, and from there, onto my blog. He was writing to offer me the opportunity to contribute a story to one of the anthologies that were ultimately going to publish the stories- hold your breath- shortlisted in the competition I had submitted to a month ago! So, to break it down for you slow ones, he had no inkling about the fact that I had even submitted a story. He was basically offering me a chance to jump the line and head straight to the VIP area.

You know when you are about to board one of those long 22 hour flights, and the lady at the counter goes “we would like to upgrade you to business class. Have a nice flight!”?  You know how you rejoice inside to know that you won’t be flying economic class afterall, and can get drunk on champagne as  many times as you want even though you hate the stuff? Yes, that was me. On the inside.

But how could he do that? Well, he was the Founder and Managing Director of the publishing house that was holding this competition. He was handing me an opportunity to submit another story. So, whether I won the “Urban Shots Short Stories Competition” or not, I was getting a second shot at Urban Shots.

Here is some of what he wrote:

I’ve read some of your essays/ posts on your blog and on Helter Skelter (I like a lot of what I’ve read)… I also head a newly set up publishing firm – Grey Oak Publishers. I’m wondering if you would like to do a piece on the urban woman or the urban identity for an anthology titled, Urban Shots – Crossroads. Do let me know…

This time I dipped into my memory bank for another story that often haunted me. Again, my father had played the storyteller. A warning tale, I think. Atleast, I assume that’s why this story was told to me over and over again. But something in it had kept me from forgetting it. It was the story of a Dalit woman who had to pay for love with love. After five revisions, I sent “She Got Off Easy” in. This time the response was prompt. As it turns out, I made the cut. With the contract signed within the next week, the pressure of the competition eased off. I could lose, and I would still have a story published.

Of Longlists and Shortlists

And then, the long list made its appearance on July 10th 2011. I had made it. Ironically, the story had been short listed for the same anthology where “She’s Got Off Easy” was going to see the light of day. Was this a sign? Would my first story make it to the short list too?

When dreams come true…

Since this story has a happy ending… yes, it did. I will be a proud published almost-writer with two short stories in one anthology. Je-sus. There is hope for me… yet.

*Technically, two chances. We were allowed to submit two short stories per entry per person. Due to the lack of time in my life at that time, I ended up submitting only one. I guess everything worked out for the best.

Titled Urban Shots – Crossroads (Grey Oak/Westland, 2012), the book is available for order on Flipkart.

3 Comments

Filed under anecdote, fiction, Writing about writing

Good Indian Girls Do Not Waste Time Writing Books

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 24th May 2011.

*FYI: Beti = daughter, Samajdar = sensible, Thik hai = Alright, Jaldi = Hurry

“You want to do whaaat???!!”

Write a novel. Now calm the eff down.

Ever wonder how it would be to take a hiatus from life to follow that one niggling dream that dances on the edge of your consciousness day-in and day-out? I do. All the time. And, being an Indian girl let me tell you, it isn’t easy. An Indian girl is a ticking time bomb.

“Do you want to be the only thirty-something to marry the leftovers? Life isn’t Sex and the City.”

Jeez. Leftovers. That’s what my dad calls the baldies and the divorcees, since that’s who you will get if you decide to get married post-thirty. Why, thank you. That does mean I have a neat little bracket of five years left, right? Right?

Wrong. If you are a brown girl baby, you will know that we have two very neat choices (no, infanticide is not one of them): academics or marriage. Ever since I started my stint at grad school with my Master’s in English, daddy dearest laid off with all the “beti*, don’t you want to get married?” Now that my year is winding down, and I have to decide for either the PhD route, or the working girl route, there it is again. I am reminded of my expiry date, my limited shelf life, my doomed future as a single brown girl. See, Indian parents do not hand you a Kit Kat when you decide to take a break from life. A break from life is a luxury that does not exist in the Indian dictionary.

I don’t ask for much. Just want to be a Mistry or a Roy. Maybe, a Lahiri at least. Just not a contrived cow. “A contrived what?” you ask. A contrived c-o-w. Now what is a contrived cow? The market of fiction is filled with contrived cows. In other words, books that pass for literature but are instead filled with superficial plots driven by clichés and contrived platitudes. Books that are great for mass market sellouts, but won’t be remembered twenty years down the line.

There is nothing wrong with being a mass market writer. To each his own. The books sell. You make millions and then you are forgotten. If you like money and fifteen minutes of fame, you might consider the route of mass market. But some mass market writers know how to write and make money, while some are just contrived cows who end up making money by chance. Jeffery Archer and John Grisham belong to the former category. Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon also belong to the former category but to a lesser degree, while Twilight series writer Stephanie Meyer is a contrived cow who just got lucky.

I don’t want to become a non-contrived-cow mass market writer either. That is taking the easy way out. I want to create literature. Get short listed for a Booker, if not win one. I want people saying my name with a hushed reverence within literary circles. (Small dreams, sigh.) Or, atleast give it a try. See if I can. How on earth can I concentrate on creating history if I have small versions of myself crawling around me, tugging on my t-shirt and competing for my attention? So, here I am. Dreaming of taking off for a few months and writing my first novel. Yes, you read that right. I am still at the dreaming stage. But even that comes with restrictions.

“No, no. You can’t write on that… it’s too controversial!”

Err, dad. Are you a realist fiction expert? No? Didn’t think so. Back down, maybe?

“But, but, BUT! Can’t you write on something else?”

Hmm. Can I? Sure. Do I want to? Nope.

Now if I had said instead, “Daddy dearest, I want to get married. Here are some high resolution photos of me in an Indian and a Western outfit (you know, to show the purrrfect blend of Eastern and Western values. As if it can be discerned from some lousy pictures the high blends that I am made of!) that you can put on Shaadi.com. Jaldi!* I am so ready to give up my freedom and make babies,” I would have been rewarded with the aren’t-I-lucky-to-have-such-a-samajdar-beti* look. Now, who doesn’t want to be one of those samajdar betis? Do I see hands? No? Shy, are we?

Instead, this not-so-samajdar-beti decides to take a year off from academia, fly off to the city of her birth and start working on her first novel. Yes, he says finally. Thik hai, go. I am sure you will meet someone in India.

Indian parents, I tell you. Will never change.

7 Comments

Filed under article, rant, Writing about writing

Once upon a time…

 

 … in a congested city far, far away, there lived a little girl. She was brought up on a healthy dose of stories. Ghost stories, tales about groups of friends (Dil Chahta Hai style), childhood stories, narratives of adventure, mystery and magic. And of course, Disney manufactured fairytales. The stories came from very different sources, as different as the storytellers.

She heard them from her grandfather, her mother, her grand-aunt, her building’s watchman, and even the maid who came to clean the house twice a day. Elaborate plots with princes and princesses, about evil step mothers and flying horses, about crows that could talk, and dragons with kind hearts.

As she grew up, she realised that she could make up stories too. She could fly away to fantastic lands, get the man of her dreams, have incredible adventures— all through her imagination.

Then came a time when she started writing these stories down. From single lined notebooks in between classes, she graduated to word documents on her laptop. What started as timid meanderings gradually became a strong, confident voice.

These days she writes when she isn’t studying, or marking essays, or working on papers of her own.

Will she make it? She nods confidently. Failure is not an option. Never was, she says.

1 Comment

Filed under Thinking Aloud, Writing about writing