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Posts Tagged ‘writer’

In times like these men should utter nothing for which they would not be willingly responsible through time and in eternity.

                                                                       –  Abraham Lincoln

I have at least a hundred and ten places in the world, big and small, I’d love to visit one day. They are anywhere from Egypt to Ireland to Turkey to Japan to Greece — the list goes on and on. And most of those places have sneaked into my list because of the books I’ve read over the years.

Isn’t it amazing how the image you have of the world is shaped, among other things, by the books (or any printed material) you read? That realization makes the act of writing that much more daunting – forget about how hard the craft itself is.

When it comes to writing books, non-fiction has more rules. Authors of non-fiction are expected to be cognizant of the subject at hand, and they are relied upon to include only proven facts in their books.

Not so fiction.

When writing fiction for adults there’s more leeway, because they are capable of discerning right from wrong (that’s the general belief, at least).

Writing for children? That’s an entirely different beast. Books are one of the cheapest and most commonly used tools to help shape young minds. And children (I’m lumping everyone from babies to teens here) are more impressionable, and hence susceptible to persuasion.

It is well and good to keep books real. I’m all for it. Up to a point.

My problem is when books get gimmicky, all for the sake of sales or some other self-serving need of the creators of the book, and make the depraved characters in it look really cool. Is this really necessary?

Let’s say someone writes a book that has a strong subliminal message that it is okay to make a cheap buck by cheating someone else. And for whatever reason, that book goes out of print after only some hundred copies are sold.

Where do those hundred-odd copies end up? On bookshelves, where they will continue to live for a number of decades. Even if each one of them gets read by one child in each generation, that’s a lot of children brainwashed over the years. And they grow up into adults who affect more children by their beliefs, opinions, and actions. And hence the sphere of influence of that one book keeps growing.

Every book has a message in it, whether it’s an obvious one or not.

As a writer, the bottom line for me is: Would my conscience remain clear even if only one reader embraces the message in my book?

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If you resist reading what you disagree with, how will you ever acquire deeper insights into what you believe?  The things most worth reading are precisely those that challenge our convictions. 
                                                      
~Author Unknown

What’s with us adults and political correctness?

When I read as a child, I was rarely bothered by the opinions that some of the authors seemed to hold that were in direct contrast with what I was taught or what I saw around me. I calmly chalked it up to one of two things:

a) The author didn’t know what s/he was talking about (yes, I was a confident – well ok, maybe just a tad cocky – kid).

b) The time period during which the author lived (I was reading a lot of English classics at one point) must lead her/him to bear such an opinion.

If I liked the book, I just kept reading it. The opinions expressed by some of the characters never lessened my enjoyment of the story itself, and I never sat down to analyze the intentions of those characters.

(I had much better and more fun things to think about: What new and weird-sounding-named snack is mom going to have ready when I go back home from school today; Is Steffi Graf going to beat Gabriela Sabatini in the U.S Open match tomorrow?; What fun things can we do this summer when all of us cousins get together again? to mention but a few.)

When I read the same books now, as an adult, some of the theories expounded in them raise my hackles. Why? Is that because, as adults:

  • Somewhere along the line, we have begun to take ourselves too seriously?
  • We have become intolerant?
  • We tend to attribute the author’s opinions to ourselves and that touches a nerve?
  • We have become so jaded that we cannot take anything at face value without analyzing it to death?
  • We have become vulnerable to hurt?
  • To take it a step further: is it because some feel responsible for all those masses who, according to them, don’t know what is best for them? So, they take it upon themselves to educate the others by telling them which books to read and which ones not to.

Or is it a combination of all of the above? What do you all think?

I never fully grasped the meaning of the adage ‘Every coin has two sides’ more than when I sat down to write this post. Please come back on Wednesday when I try to examine the flip side to today’s topic: responsibility of a writer.

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The one expression I would never voluntarily use to describe myself is: “Sugar Doll”. However, today, I’m willingly, and happily at that, declaring myself as one. Why?

My fellow writer and blogger Jai Joshi, who has quite a few awards under her blogger’s belt herself, has presented my blog with the Sugar Doll Award last month — my very first blog award! I was tickled pink, let me tell you!

I had just begun to blog a couple of weeks prior then. So, I left the award in Jai’s safekeeping until I found my feet around blogosphere. Thank you, Jai — your encouragement and timely words of advice are very much appreciated!

Also, thank you, my dear readers, for challenging and motivating me to do better with every post. I love it when I see you agreeing (or disagreeing) with the points of view I express in this space. That is why these days everywhere I turn, I naturally see subjects worth blogging. That is also why I feel I’m ready to accept this award.

As a recipient of this award, I’m supposed to do two things: 1) Reveal ten things about myself and 2) Pass this award on to another blogger(s).

Here goes my response to the first stipulation:

  • Gardening relaxes me – yes, even the weeding part of it.

 

  • I love to watch (never played it) cricket and can be an occasional couch potato, staying up all night to watch a close match in progress on the other side of the world.

 

  • To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books. If you have just one idea that you feel compelled to share with the world, do what Harper Lee did: Write one solid book about it and sit back and enjoy, while your book goes on to make history. Sigh!

 

  • I love watching Korean dramas on T.V. They are clean and wholesome – you don’t have to be on the ready, clutching the remote, to switch to Food Channel or PBS guiltily every time a child passes by when you’re watching prime time programs on that channel.

 

  • I don’t enjoy (to put it mildly) shopping in the mall, much to the dismay of my family. Are you rolling your eyes at this point and going: “Is she kidding?” No, sadly, I’m not. I’m more of a “zero in on the aisle carrying the things you need and get out as soon as possible” person.

 

  • Custard Apples are one of my favorite varieties of fruit and I miss them sorely in the U.S.

 

  • I’m fascinated by the early Mughal period of Indian history. Would love to write a book set in that time period some day.

 

  • I’m not much of a poetry person. There are a handful of poets whose works I enjoy immensely, but I invariably prefer prose to poetry.

 

  • I love to play (shuttle) badminton.

 

  • Growing up, I was an out-and-out tomboy. Back then, if you were looking for me, you’d have better chances of finding me atop rooftops or among the branches of a tree than on level ground.

Phew! Coming up with that list was not an easy exercise, believe me!

Now for the second condition of the award — I would like to pass this on to Leigh Attaway Wilcox and Patti Joy Clark.

We all face challenges, big or small, at one time or another in our lifetimes. Most of us eventually learn to take them in stride and move on. However, some people go one step beyond: they decide to proactively do something about it, like sharing the experience they gained openly, so others could benefit from it. I admire that trait in people very much. Leigh and Patti are two such.

Go check out their blogs and you’ll see what I mean.

Thanks again, everyone, for being there and making writing – something that I already love – that much more fun and meaningful for me!

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Okay, so the title is not entirely true. I still very much love and enjoy reading. It’s just that the definition of ‘fun’ as it relates to reading has changed for me.

Now, when I pick up a book, it’s not merely to indulge myself. It’s not just a hobby any longer, though I’d have to admit, reading has always been much more than a hobby with me – it’s been a natural part of my life.

It’s just that my objectivity and perspective as a reader have recently altered. It’s like a kaleidoscope: I have adjusted the viewing tube ever so slightly and the whole pattern has shifted.

Let’s take a look at some of the thoughts that are likely to roil through a writer’s head the minute s/he starts reading a good book written by someone else:

  1. Wow, what a strong opening! Guess I need to work on mine (in my novel-in-progress) some more. (This thought can be objectively interpreted as: “Wish I would experience an epiphany and the opening for my novel would strike me like a bolt of lightning.”)
  2. Ugh! How could he have written the exact scene that has been brewing in my head for the past two weeks? (Read as: “The scene is somewhat similar to the one I’ve been sketching – the same one I haven’t been able to cough up coherently enough to put down on paper yet.”)
  3. Yes!! The voice of this character is very close to my protagonist’s. (Read as: “If this book got published, then there’s hope for mine, too!”)
  4. The narrative is so catchy; I admire the style very much! (Read as: “I’m envious, pure and simple.”)
  5. The plot is strong, there is just the right balance of dialogue and narrative, and the flow is so natural in this book. (Read as: “How many more revisions before my manuscript gets this tight?”)
  6. This author is so prolific. (Read as: “I’m jealous of this author.”)
  7. Gosh, I never expected this twist! (Read as: “I need to explore this genre more, if I didn’t see this coming. Sigh!”)

Reading like a writer is a completely different game, with its own set of rules, than reading for fun or relaxation. It is a sport that can become exciting and effective with discipline and practice.

I am game for this: I look forward to fashioning new relationships with a whole lot of new books, and forging fresher bonds with those that I have already read in the past.

Has something like this happened to you? I’d love it if you’d share with us your newfound wisdom!

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PART B

Critique:

Hema: Is it advisable to get your manuscript read to a classroom before it is published?

Mark: No, not at all! (Mark was emphatically unequivocal about this point.) This exercise will not produce an objective critique for your manuscript, which is what you should be seeking. And I say this for two reasons:

  • The kids will say they love it anyway, because the book will provide a break for them in the day’s routine.
  • The teacher will say she’s excited about it; I was a teacher myself, so I know. Most everyone when they ask for criticism, they’re only willing to listen to positive comments about their work. So, the teacher will only focus on the positive aspects of the manuscript and will not be able to provide the kind of objective critique you’re looking for.

So, I do not suggest this kind of exposure for your manuscript. You should be part of a critique group which has published authors, or authors who are working at getting published. They can provide objective comments for your work.

I would advise you strongly against including anything like “I had my manuscript read to a classroom and the kids loved it” in a query letter; no one will look at it favorably.

(I always thought that reading it to a classroom would be a good beta test for one’s manuscript. Mark’s answer was sure an eye-opener for me!)

Questions Related to McVeigh Agency:

 

Clients:

 

Hema: What are you looking for in a client?

Mark: I am looking for authors who: 

  • Have a unique voice.
  • Have something they need to say that will be of interest to a wider audience.
  • Take a professional approach to writing.
  • Are willing to take criticism.
  • Are aware of industry trends and market direction.
  • Can write multiple genres for multiple age groups: picture books, middle grade, young adult, the lot.
  • Are not reluctant to talk to the agent. Authors should be upfront about what’s working and what’s not in their relationship with me. When I provide them with editorial suggestions, they don’t always have to take them. They should be able to tell me if they don’t agree with my suggestions.

Hema:    What is the ratio of established authors vs. new authors in your client list?

Mark:    About 2/3 of my clients are established authors and the rest are new talent.

 

Query Process:

Hema: What do you look for in a query?

Mark: I look for a letter that is simple and professional. See the submission guidelines in my web site for more details.

Hema: Writing a good query letter is a whole different ballgame than writing a good story. It’s very hard for the author’s voice to come through within the expected 250 words or so. I see that your submission guidelines include a query letter and the first 20 pages of the manuscript. So, if a query letter does not grab your attention, do you leave it at that, or do you go ahead and read the pages included in the email?

Mark: When the query doesn’t grab my attention, I do go on to read ten or so of the pages included. It depends upon those initial pages whether I will go ahead and read all 20 of them.

Hema: Thank you very much, Mark, for taking time out of you busy schedule to answer my questions!

======

At this point, I had at least a dozen more questions that I would have loved for Mark to answer for me, but the 15 minutes allotted me were regrettably up.

Mark’s new blog is going to be officially launched soon, with interviews with publishing legends, give-aways, videos, and more. He also promises to up the gossip quotient to make it worth the time for those who follow his blog.

Need more reasons? Then how about this: he is going to give away more of these free chats in the first week of April! So, go on and start following his blog, if you aren’t already doing so.

It was a pleasure to talk to Mark, and he gave me a lot of food for thought. Thank you, Mark, for sharing all this excellent information with me and the readers of my blog!

Here’s Part A of the same interview.

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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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What a coincidence! Right after I published today’s post, I went to Mark McVeigh’s new blog, as is a habit of mine everyday. Yes, you guessed it right — he is a literary agent.

And what do I see? He’s asking his followers to get ten other people to follow his blog, and then he’ll give them (the original follower) a free phone chat! Mark has a great track record as an editor at several big publishing houses and has opened his own agency last year.

As my friends, could you please go to: Mark McVeigh’s blog, become a follower and leave a comment, referring to my blog by name? If you are a writer yourself, you should check him out as a prospective agent for your manuscript! Go on now, why are you still loitering here?

Okay, now that you’re back after leaving a comment (thank you!) on McVeigh’s blog, do read on…  (You can tell that I’m very good at leaving subtle hints, can’t you?) :)

The words ‘literary agent’ can cause heart-racing excitement and at the same time induce a paralyzing dread in a writer’s heart. If you’d like to know more about the role a literary agent plays in a book’s (and hence, a writer’s) life, please visit: AgentQuery.

This is, obviously, a humorous take on the lengths to which writers go in order to thoroughly research the agents that they want to pursue, when their manuscript is ready for representation.

You are stalking a literary agent, if:

10.  You have learnt by heart the whole anthology of poems that she likes.

9.   You know her childhood nickname.

8.   You know her college GPA.

7.   You keep intercepting the pizza delivery guy, so you could deliver the pizza to her office.

6.   You have, at the tip of your tongue, a roster of all the conferences the agent is going to attend in the next few months, and the topics she’s going to be speaking at each of those.

5.   You know what her middle initial stands for, when the only place it has ever been written out is the agent’s birth certificate.

4.   You exactly know which pair of shoes she prefers to match to which of her outfits.

3.   You name your newborn baby-boy after her.

2.    You have an altar for her in your house.

1.    You can write a factual biography of the agent without having to use her as a resource.

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"To go first or not to go first": That is the question with which the two protagonists of my tale are grappling this morning...

 

 

“Finally, you are awake!” Meenagchi exclaimed, as she skipped into my view. “Come on, slowpoke, take this neem twig and clean your teeth.” She held out what looked to me like a small, dark-brown stick in her hand. “Mother refused to let the rest of us have our morning meal until you were up.” She stuck her lower lip out. 

This is a dialogue from my book. (Are you going: “Who talks like that?” The girl who’s talking is from a long time ago in the past — that’s why her speech pattern is quirky and different from ours, and that’s what makes her interestingly different from us, in my opinion, at least. I don’t want to give too much away, because I’m saving parts of my book for another series of posts for a later time.) 

Okay, I have a confession to make: the anxiety of not having any coherent thoughts to write about that I alluded to in my previous post? It’s not an entirely fabricated fear — you know, me being new to this blogging and everything? So, I’m currently hoarding up all the subjects I can think of, sort of like squirrels storing away nuts for the winter. Yeah, that’s what it is: survival instinct! (I just made the connection, too, and my brain has ordered the italics.) There! I feel much lighter, now that I put it all out there… 

Now, where was I, before I digressed and went all over the map? I know I had a point… Oh yeah, those lines at the top. One of my friends who is reading my book, read that scene and sent me an email yesterday, asking: “They are brushing their teeth before they eat?” 

That question just nonplussed me! “Of course they are” was my automatic answer, before my mind suddenly coughed up a memory from about fifteen years ago, when I first came to the U.S… 

I was watching T.V — reruns of “I Love Lucy”. I love that show! Even though I have watched every episode at least twice already, I can still never walk away from an episode, if I come across one while channel-surfing. Oh, wait! Another possible subject for the future – record, check, move on… 

So, I was watching T.V and a commercial for a breakfast cereal came on — I don’t remember which one it was after all these years. In that commercial, they show the kids running down the stairs in the morning with alacrity, sitting down at the kitchen table to gobble up their cereal, and then walking back upstairs to brush their teeth. When I first watched it, I smirked and thought: “The editor for that commercial made such a faux pas and nobody caught it. Now they are airing his blunder every day.” 

Seriously, it never occurred to me that people would eat their breakfast before brushing their teeth. See, where I come from, the very first thing everyone does after waking up is brushing their teeth. We don’t even have coffee on a stale mouth (as a pre-brushed mouth is referred to, colloquially). I can safely say that this is true of almost every country in the Indian subcontinent. (Please correct me if I’m wrong – would love to hear yeas or nays about it.) 

That’s why that commercial flummoxed me, before I came to understand that it was my view – for where I was living by then – that was skewed. And I definitely began to pay better attention to the happenings around me after that. 

See, this is why I love reading books based in different cultures. They are my little windows through which to peek at how the rest of the world lives. (Oops, did that actually come out sounding like the confessions of a Peepin’ Tom? Let me assure you, I’m definitely not one – I don’t have the nerves of steel that are required of one, to begin with.) 

As a reader, I’m always on the lookout, whether in children’s or adult literature, for multi-cultural books. That is exactly why I am writing one, too – in the hopes of getting someone else to experience the same amazement that I do every time I discover one of these little quirks that make us who we are.

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