Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Publicizing yourself?

Self-publishing? Utter those words in any writers' group and poison pens will launch an assault against errant word-processors. Those rare specimens who have 'successfully' been published by commercial publishing houses will turn up the snootiest noses at plebians with piles of rejection notes. And a brave few will vow to have those very rejection slips bound and ready to sell. So what if they pay for the privilege?

While commercially published writers are most definitely accomplished and successful, it would be wrong to dismiss everyone else with a flair for a well-turned phrase.

The fact is, agents and publishers will actually support a few books which make commercially viable sense. If a work or writer has market potential, then there's a ready to advertise and market product.
Such books will definitely have their literary and technical merits. But for each book actually published, there will be many more talented writers with original and well crafted manuscripts whose writing never makes it to the bookstore shelves.

Struggling against the tsunami of commercial validation, our local writers' workshop, Katha Lok, brought out a collection of short stories by members. 'Many Rooms Many Voices' was a collective effort, with writers contributing an affordable sum per published story. We battled shyness and worked together to host book reading sessions in local bookstores, and to have group photo sessions, interviews and reviews with newspapers and magazines.

We tried our best and got encouraging feedback. Yet as simple individual writers, we could not sustain a long term publicity drive. If we spent all our limited time and resources to warm up the market, when would we write?

I still retain a sizeable portion of my personal copies of our book. I never made a profit from my modest initial investment in the venture. Yet all is not lost. A couple of days ago, several years after its publication, I spotted our book in a stall. I don't know how or why it had been placed there among all the fast moving best sellers. We never became rich or famous. But it's heartening to note that readers are still leafing through and perhaps buying our book.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Reading wishlist, 2007

Curling up with interesting books is a great way to settle into the new year . Browsing through the racks, I choose 'Alentejo Blue' by Monica Ali, 'Beasts of No Nation' by Uzodinma Iweala, 'Gate of the Sun' by Elias Khoury (available in a recent English translation), and 'Absurdistan' by Gary Shteyngart.

Fiction can enhance our understanding of the human experience in deeper ways. When we read a well crafted story by a master of the written word, we are led into sharing the lives and thoughts of people in distant lands. Sometimes, we get a deeper understanding and rare insights into the consciousness of people closer home; people whom we would otherwise never get to know. Great works of fiction take us beyond the dry facts of news reports and world politics into the human stories behind the scenes.
Absurdistan is noteworthy for its tongue-in-cheek look at modern life and world politics, and Europe's chaotic transition from socialism to capitalism.
In Alentejo Blue, Monica Ali takes us into an interesting and unique world far from the Bangladeshi's of London's Brick Lane. Through her portrayal of a village community in exotic Portugal, Ali weaves stories of human vulnerability. This book moves a bit slowly and the characters sometimes tend to be flat and dull. Take the teenage nymphomaniac daughter of a typical touristy family, the British writer suffering from writers block, beautiful but bored Teresa, who dreams of a life beyond her dull job as a salesgirl. The author explores how the lives of these ordinary, unconnected people are linked in subtle yet profound ways.
Beasts of No Nation is a chilling book which explores the horrors of modern war through the eyes of a child soldier.
Gate of the Sun explores the implication of war and suffering. While fighters go forth in battle, women and children suffer and die. Dr. Khalil, the narrator, remembers in flashes how fighting men were deported from Beirut and the camps dismantled. He wonders whether the Palestinian story is intrinsically different from that of Jews in Nazi Germany.Through his characters and their experiences and conversations, author Khoury explores the nuances of the Arab-Israeli conflict with humanity and compassion.

Friday, December 15, 2006

When Pigs Fly

How does one become a writer? Well, it often starts at some point when freinds giggle or sob as they read your letters and e-mails. And then, suitably agitated by some burning issue of the moment, you shoot off a missive to The Editor. And The Editor actually prints it for the world to see.

That's just how Bob Sanchez of our very own Internet Writing Workshop started out, with those first tentative stories, articles and poems in magazines. Today he's a real life honest to goodness published author of the hilarious novel, When Pigs Fly . Here's what he has to share about his writerly experiences and his opting for self publication.

"Years ago, I learned that my writer’s group enjoyed my colorful characters, and the more outrageous the better. I also learned that not only could I make people laugh, but it was very satisfying. Along the way, I learned that I am highly unlikely to become a best-selling author. But after retirement from a technical writing career, it seemed like a good time to self-publish my latest novel—it was tremendous fun to write, and I decided that it no longer matters whether some anonymous agent wants to represent it or not. Now that When Pigs Fly has been published by iUniverse, it’s up to me to do all the marketing and publicity—and so far, so good.

The evolution of the title might be interesting. At the beginning, I had a working title, Day of the Dead, which refers to a Mexican holiday honoring the dead. After a while it became obvious that title wasn’t fitting the developing story—What to do? By the end of the first draft, my story involved ashes from a cremation, and several absurdly stupid criminals riding donkeys into the Grand Canyon , a truly spectacular hole in the ground. So a clever friend suggested the title, Asses to Ashes, a pun based on a Christian biblical reference. But in the second draft a pig wandered into the story, sailed off a cliff, wore an Elvis Presley-style sequined jacket, and barged into a wedding. My iUniverse contact thought Asses to Ashes would rub people the wrong way, so I gladly changed the title. "

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Feathers and Fur

They're almost, but not quite, grown enough to fly off into distant trees. These baby pigeons, my little 'grandchildren', were hatched in an empty flowerpot in our apartment balcony. I don't know why their parents chose this place in a tall building in the middle of the city. But they took little time to make themselves a part of our family.

They stepped into the balcony, pecked at invisible mites in our flowerpots, and then took tentative steps into our rooms. Fluffing their feathers and cooing indignantly at our attempts to shoo them off, these interepid birds went boldly where no pigeon had gone before.

We watched the parents ( I'm sure the parents took turns at it. Very egalitarian birds firmly practicing the equality of the sexes) patiently hatch their brood of two eggs. Around three weeks later, scruffy, almost blind fledgelings cheeped and flapped their bald apologies for wings. The parents constantly fed and tended them until the feathers sprouted and the babies stepped out of their pot onto the balcony floor. Then, they hopped on to a nearby potted plant.

That was when more pigeons got wind of this safe haven. Another pair deposited an egg in the now empty pot. In this picture, the babies look wistfully at their cozy little home, now occupied by a freshly laid egg. These youngsters can't quite fly off yet, but they soon will.

We get other wild visitors to our balconies sometimes. There are several still uncut trees in the vacant land next to our apartments. Monkeys sometimes scamper through the branches in search of food and, um, well, monkey business.

It's easy for these creatures to hop from balcony to balcony till the topmost floor of our building and run off with fruits and shiny objects. One monkey entered an apartment and found no food on the dining table. He then opened the fridge and after a hearty and most messy repast, he spotted a stuffed toy monkey made by the lady of the house. He fell in love at first sight with the toy and eloped with it. The monkey was last seen on a treetop caressing the toy monkey with complete, unquestioning devotion.