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2011 – just the name sounds so sci-fi, doesn’t it? Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are raring to go in this new year!

I had a great trip to India – thank you all for wishing me well on this trip. To borrow a phrase from one of my readers (thanks, Sharoon!), I soaked up the glorious medley that is India and came back content in the heart and nourished in the soul.

I couldn’t have wished for more beautiful weather while I was there! India (at least the southern parts of it) has seen an unprecedented amount of rainfall these past few months; the vegetation has probably been blindsided at first by this unseasonal bounty, but then it obviously decided to take advantage. Everywhere I turned, there was lush greenery. Living in the not-so-green section of the U.S, I’d forgotten how vibrant and dazzling the color green could be.

In addition to spending time with family and friends, I also crammed in some sightseeing – both historic and natural — into my already short trip. It made it all pretty hectic, but if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change any of it.

I read this advice somewhere: pack a scented candle or a body lotion that you have never used before, when you’re setting out on a special trip. When you’re back home, all you have to do is whip out the lotion or the candle and voilá, you are transported back to an enchanted time. Of course, as it usually happens, I read these wise words after I came back from my vacation.

So, I’m going to do the next best thing. I have taken quite a few pictures during the trip, but how many times will you look at plain pictures, right? Now, if those photos came with the tales of behind-the-scenes, then that would be something!

I’m going to supply those stories for myself so that all I would have to do to go back in time and place is read those words. Words that would remind me what I heard, how I felt, and what I saw when I was either posing for the picture or snapping them.

I’m going to blog about my trip, on and off, for the next few weeks. My hope is that while chronicling the moments for myself (and my daughter, with whom I happily shared this jaunt, and who helped add new dimensions and perspectives to it), I’d be able to provide some entertainment to you all.

Also, this would be my way of thanking everyone who has had a hand in making this trip such a precious one for me!

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to hoping each one of us finds some semblance of peace, something dear to remember the year by, in 2011!

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A few weeks ago, Barb at Creative Barbwire and Suma at Suma Subramaniam tagged me with a meme.

I always enjoy these cyber games when it comes to other bloggers – catching small glimpses of who they are and finding out what makes them tick is always fun. However, when the meme knocked on my blog’s door, I froze. Brr… What do I write? What do I share about myself?

I’m supposed to give five answers for each of the questions below. Five?? It’s hard enough to come up with one interesting answer for each. Eek!

So, here’s my effort at answering the questions for this meme.

Question 1. Where were you five years ago?

  1. In the same corner of the United States (ok, it’s not really a corner, unless you can picture a huge and sprawling corner, but you know what I mean) where I live now.
  2. Not writing, so not in blogosphere.
  3. Trying to wrap my mind around the need to work out regularly. Groan!
  4. Happy about not having to commute to work every morning.
  5. In a dark state of mind due to unforeseen health issues in the family.

Question 2. Where would you like to be five years from now?

  1. Still writing with the same amount (or more) of love and gusto I have for the craft today.
  2. Contented to be who and where I am at that point.
  3. Happy, because my loved ones (friends and family) are happy with where they find themselves in life.
  4. Optimistic and positive, because the flip sides of those two states of mind are not pretty.
  5. Blogging with greater ease and élan as some of you more experienced bloggers make it seem!

Question 3. What is on your to-do list today?

  1. Work on revising a chapter in my novel to read to my critique buddies on Monday.
  2. Begin reading a manuscript for a writing buddy. Can’t wait!
  3. Take care of health insurance related phone calls that I have been putting off for too long. Eesh!
  4. Begin reading the book from my parent-child book club. Argh! Even though we meet only once a month, it always seems to be right around the corner and I find myself forever scrambling to catch up!
  5. Plant seeds in my vegetable garden and transplant some annuals in my front yard.

Question 4. What snacks do you enjoy?

  1. Soft ariselu. No, I won’t even try describing what they are in detail, except that they’re a delicious sweet snack item made only in some parts of India. My mom makes them just right!
  2. Red and yellow ripe, juicy mangoes.
  3. Bananas – not too ripe and yet not too raw.
  4. Custard apples. (From the three answers above, you can tell that I love tropical fruits, right? And, no, I don’t get them where I live, and those that are available are definitely not the right kind. So, I feel pretty deprived when it comes to snacks.)
  5. Scones, especially with tea. This taste developed probably from my having read one too many Enid Blyton books when I was growing up.

Question 5. What would you do if you were a billionaire?

You’ll probably shun me for coming up with the most boring answer for such a colorful question, but here it is.

See, I never win door prizes, or early bird drawings, or any free giveaways. On the few occasions that I have played bingo, every number on Earth except the ONE I needed for a row (let alone a full house) got drawn. Seriously! And I never even bother buying a lottery ticket. Why waste money knowingly?

You get the picture. So, a billionaire? Don’t make me laugh.

If that does happen, then it means that it happened over time, not overnight. That also means that I’ve had ample time to mull over the consequences of it all.

In that case, I’m sure I’d come up with some wonderful and worthwhile uses for all that money. And I’ll be sure to blog about it then. Or, I’ll at least have my personal secretary blog about it. ;-)

Phew! There it is; I feel so much lighter already!

Now, I’m supposed to tag five other bloggers. However, most of you with whom I’m acquainted in cyberspace (and otherwise) and who have blogs have already been tagged.

So, I’ll break the chain here. Hope I won’t get hexed for doing so, like most of the chain mails claim!

Readers, for my having gone through so much agony for this post, it’s only fair that you do your share. Consider yourself tagged and spill your guts for me!

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I found out, yesterday afternoon, that my friend at Creative Barbwire has kindly passed on the Happiness 101 Award to my blog. (Can’t help but love the camaraderie that exists in this blogging world!)

 To accept this award, I have to list ten things that make me happy and then pass on the award to five other friends.

Counting one’s blessings — isn’t that a lovely way to begin the week? Thank you, Barb!

I listed some things, in my post Inner Happiness, a few days ago that may make people happy. Even though there was an item (or two) in it that was mine, I was aiming at a more generic list – one that included things that might make adults and children happy in general.

Here are some basic things, in no particular order, that make me happy:

1. Admiring Gardens: Spring season makes me inordinately happy – just the mention of it brings a smile to my face. All that rich, luminous green everywhere, the abundance of oxygen – who can resist all that? I love walking in my neighborhood, admiring the beginnings of beautiful gardens. In fact, I was working on a list of why spring makes me happy just a few days ago; I’m still hoping to post that list here later on, so I’ll stop waxing poetic about this favorite season of mine here.

2. People I love: Nothing beats spending time with your loved ones – family and friends. Add a good movie and good food to that company and my happiness is complete!

3.  Laughter: Picture a crying baby smiling through his tears when you kiss him – this makes me tear up in turn, every single time. Similarly, the rich, uninhibited laughter of children (whether mine, or just the distant cacophony of children at play in the neighborhood park) never fails to lift my spirits.

4. The Library: The ultimate library experience for me is finding a new book by my favorite author unexpectedly.

5. Anticipation: What adds more thrill for me to: traveling to a new place, a visit from my family, or going to a much awaited movie? The anticipation that precedes each of these occasions.  

6. My To-Visit List: I have an ever-growing list of places, in the world, which I would love to visit one day. Most of them got there from reading books, blogs, or listening to people reminisce about their vacations. Just thinking about my possible travels makes me light-headed with happiness.

7. Penning My Thoughts: A sure-fire way to drive away blues? For me, it is sitting down and being able to put into words all the ideas that are clamoring for attention inside my head.

 8. Communing with Nature: I love sitting out in the backyard early in the morning, before anyone else in the house is awake, with a cup of steaming coffee in my hands.

9. A Clean Cupboard: Love the feeling of accomplishment that I get after putting some elbow grease into thinning out the contents of an overflowing cupboard.

 10. The Sky: Looking up at the sky, night or day, and contemplating the endless possibilities of the space around us is one of my favorite pastimes.

I’m such a visual person that I thought this award should have its own picture. So, there it is, at the top of this page.

I made it from a photo I took inside an atrium filled with butterflies on one of my travels with my family. This picture invariably brings back good memories, and, hence, a sense of peace to me.

Now, here are the five friends to whom I’d like to pass this award. Each of them makes me happy with their company (virtual and/or real), and their writing makes my own blogging experience that much richer.

Can’t wait to find out what makes each of you happy!

  1. Jai Joshi at Tulsi Tree
  2. Josie at High Heels and Slippers
  3. Heather at The Sunset Won’t
  4. Cuban at A Cuban in London
  5. Shalini at Of Travels and Travails

What makes you, my reader, happy? Would love it if you’d share your own list with the rest of us here!

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PART A

I got to chat with literary agent Mark McVeigh for fifteen minutes last Friday! Mark was direct and professional in the way he dealt with my questions and was immensely approachable. For someone like me, who is new to the publishing industry and has not been hitherto privy to firsthand information about how things worked, that in itself was very encouraging.

The McVeigh Agency (http://themcveighagency.com/) handles writers, illustrators, photographers, and graphic novelists for both the adult and children’s markets.

The agency web site says: “THE McVEIGH AGENCY does things those others think can’t be done”. Check out the web site for more information about what the agency’s vision and goals are.

I have recorded my conversation with Mark here, and I hope you all can get the same value out of it as I did when I talked to him face-to-face via Skype. (Btw, Skype is really cool – you should all try it out, if you haven’t already.)

Note: The text in blue within the interview is my commentary/impressions as the author of this blog; I added them whenever I felt the need to emphasize a point.

Current Publishing Industry:

Hema P.: With the economy the way it is currently, are publishers willing to take risks or do they tend to go more with trends?

Mark McVeigh: The publishing industry has always done both. Trends such as: vampires, werewolves, angels have come into vogue and are in various stages of publication. I think  Steampunk as a genre will be increasingly in vogue.

(Are you stumped as to what Steampunk is? I would have been, too, had I not read a post about it in Mark’s blog. Check it out.)

Hema: Do new authors have a harder time making a breakthrough into the industry today?

Mark: Yes, the industry is a tougher place today than it was even five years ago.

Hema: Is that because the publishing industry tends to play safe and go with established authors?

Mark: Not necessarily. Publishing houses are cutting down on the number of books they publish per year. If they were doing 100 books previously they’re only doing 75 now. As a result, fewer manuscripts are acquired, and so fewer new authors will get a break.

Hema: How are multicultural and historic fiction faring these days — especially in middle grade?

Mark: Historical fiction will always have an audience, be it middle grade or young adult. They aren’t typically blockbusters, although there are exceptions like Libba Bray’s gorgeous A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, but they find a place in the market.

Hema: I understand that this question has a lot of variables in it, and may not have an answer, but I’ll ask anyway. What is the current average time between a manuscript being acquired by an agent and it getting published and available on the racks?

Mark: I have no answer to this question.

Hema: Do you see the publishing industry going towards E-Books in the future? Is this good or bad for the industry?

Mark: Yes, I do. And it is going to be a huge help! I see tremendous potential in that direction; E-Books are going to revolutionize the industry.

Hema: Do you see traditional publishing going away completely?

Mark: Traditional books will never go away completely, just as vinyl record stores still exist despite the fact that most people buy music online. We are very lucky as an industry to have this innovation available to us: E-Book technology is going to be big.

New Authors and Career Promotion:

Hema: In addition to attending conferences, blogging and being part of a critique group, what do you suggest aspiring authors do in order to get noticed in this industry?

Mark: Those are all very good things to do for aspiring authors to promote their careers. Authors should be well aware of market direction and current trends in the industry. They have to make sure they study those using resources such as Publisher’s Marketplace. You should also blog about industry news, so other authors start following your blog for the valuable information that they can get out of it. It is also important to Twitter, to put yourself as a branded individual out there.

I will post Part B (Edit: 3/14/2010 – link to Part B added retroactively) of this interview on Wednesday. It deals with questions related to Critiquing, and specific practices at The McVeigh Agency regarding Clients and Query Process.

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