Convenience Store Woman: Book review

Japanese writer, Sayaka Murata’s translated book, ‘Convenience Store Woman’ is edgy, dark and unpredictable. In parts, even speculative. 

A lot of the reviews on the book called it hilarious/comical for some reason, which is absurd because I found it alltogether grim. Perhaps because Asian societies are very similar in the way they put pressure on individuals to conform, I found the scenario too real for it to tickle me.

The best thing about the protagonist, Keiko Furukura is that you don’t know where you stand with her. Do you dislike her, sympathize with her or are just plain frightened by her?

What would you make of her 36- year existence without an identity outside of her strobe-lit workplace? She is convinced that her place in society is that of a ‘convenience store worker’ and absolutely nothing else. 

Keiko has never had the time or inclination for love- platonic or romantic. Even her two- three acquaintances consider her a ‘foriegn object’ in their circle because of her robotic, abnormal lifestyle, which inexplicably revolves around a part-time job. 

She even steers towards psychopathic tendencies when she mimics the intonation and accents of two of her female colleagues in order to appear more ‘normal’, or when she wonders why her sister does not simply stab her baby with a knife that’s within reach, to make him stop crying. 

Her childhood episodes reveal she lacks empathy – a crucial factor that shapes her life and defines her ‘abnormality’. At the same time, she’s highly intelligent and self-aware, so she hatches a plot to cheat her way into being accepted by society. Does it work? There lies the crux of the story.

Since the story is narrated in first person, it gives us a glimpse into her perspective of the world- sometimes, it’s grotesquely skewed and sometimes, startlingly clear.

Her sister, Mami’s opinion of Keiko’s ‘abnormality’ reflects the double standards of modern society. Keiko observes that Mami is “far happier thinking her sister is normal, even if she has a lot of problems, than having an abnormal sister for whom everything is fine.” 

The reason I find the book leaning towards the speculative genre is because maybe our gradually eroding empathy as humans and our relentless need for societal approval is starting to skew our own perspective of the world. There may be a generation of humans who become so accustomed and indoctrinated into functioning as ‘cogs in the wheel’ of corporate machines, that they don’t have an individual identity anymore. 

Isn’t it happening already?

Where’s the work-life balance? There’s this constant need to work on the next career goal, next appraisal, next job and making our entire lives about work. In Japanese popular culture, there’s a growing section of youngsters with a strong aversion to sex and romance. There’s a name for it- the celibacy syndrome. 

Arn’t we all then, somehow becoming Keiko? Well, that frightened me the most (even more than her baby-stabbing idea).

Overall, an intense and thought-provoking book that throws light on social constructs that we subconsciously live within, seemingly happily. A highly recommended read.

My thoughts on ‘The Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

As the feminist re-telling of the Mahabharata, Divakaruni’s work stands out distinctly  amongst the scores of adaptations and renditions of the ancient Hindu epic.

Set in a deeply patriarchal society, this is the story of Drapuadi – a fiery, outspoken and fearless princess who, despite all her virtues and achievements, was known and remembered only for her vengeful and manipulative nature.

The Mahabharata is complex, with characters, episodes and incidences that overlap and/or stretch for over decades together, but Divakaruni’s story-telling is masterful. Her writing flows beautifully and effortlessly, allowing the reader to absorb, pause and reflect.

Draupadi’s perspective unfolds in a way that the reader is fully invested in her cause and immersed in her narrative.

Draupadi (or Panchaali, her favoured name), is by no means someone who can be defined or described in a sentence. Divakaruni urges the reader to empathise with this character’s multi-layered persona – even her pride, and her all-consuming thirst for revenge. Panchaali, is strong-wiled and isn’t afraid to put her needs and desires first – qualities that may not be necessarily likeable, but are certainly relatable, especially for the modern woman.

In a society where polygamy was the norm and royals or noblemen were accustomed to taking many wives, Panchaali was constantly chastised for marrying the Pandava brothers. This, despite the fact that it was never her own choice or intention.

In the ‘PG-rated’ version of the televised Mahabharata in the 80’s (which I watched as a child), I always thought of Panchaali’s character as only the victim of dubious situations – such as her mother-in-law declaring that she must marry all five of her sons instead of one, or her husbands ‘losing her’ to the villains in a wager of chess. It was only now, I realized that Panchaali was made to take turns to live with each brother for two years as a wife and repeat this cycle for the rest of her life. Little wonder then, she was never in love with any of her husbands.

As cringe-worthy this situation may be, I realized where some of her motivations came from and why she was considered to be cold-hearted. Could I blame her, after being passed around by all the brothers, each of whom had wives and children of their own, on the side? It was unfair that she was made to live such a strange and loveless existence, as ordered by her mother-in-law.

The antagonists, Duryodhan and Karna, had their ego bruised by Panchaali in public, which why they took the first opportunity to humiliate her. The public disrobing and shaming of Panchaali is the crux of the story of Mahabharat, making her the all-important character in the great epic.

After her public humiliation, she used her position as wife to five of the greatest warriors in history, to rally them against those who insulted her. She made sure the fires of vengeance burned brightly in them for twelve long years, in exile. She appealed to their sense of duty and justice, reminded them that her dishonour was theirs too and systematically propelled them towards the greatest war that mankind had ever witnessed. Manipulative? I call it being human.

Divakaruni makes the reader root heavily for Panchaali right till then end, when she is finally united with her soul-mate – Karna, in after-life. Her inexplicable draw towards Karna, her husbands’ half-brother and arch enemy, made for one of the most compelling and intriguing parts of the book.

The book ends in the aftermath of the war, where Panchaali was repentant for the war, having lost her beloved brother and her own sons in battle. As she ascends the mountains along with the Pandavas on their Final Journey, Divakaruni pens some poignant words which stay with the reader long after finishing the book – those of duty, sacrifice, family and vengeance but most of all, of love.

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When I found the exact spot which was used for the cover of the book, at Jaipur City Palace, Rajasthan

An American Marriage: Book Review

Tayari Jones’ story begins by putting us in the middle of an intense dialogue between a newly- married African American couple, Roy and Celestial. 

A few more pages into the book, the plot takes a wildly unexpected turn, which disrupts the lives of the couple. 

Rape. An unfair trial. Incarceration. A miscarriage, both literal and figurative. 

The intimacy and intensity of their relationship unfolds beautifully in the form of letters to each other.  Roy writes from behind prison bars, clinging to visions of his former life and Celestial writes from the free world, where she’s living her dream of a successful artist-entrepreneur. 

This epistolary narrative, for me, was the most compelling portion of the book. The letters show the passage of time and their wavering emotions so poignantly and so evocatively, that I simply couldn’t put the book down. 

However, roughly mid-way through the book, the story slowed down and the plot came a bit loose. The narrative became plagued with too many distracting details and the story seemed unwilling to move forward.

But the book wrapped up nicely in the last few chapters, cleaning up well after itself. I was happy with the ending, although with all those distractions in the middle of the book, I had managed to think up a very creative (and decidedly twisted) end to the book. I was relieved it didn’t go my way.

Overall, I think it’s a very readable novel, with the three flawed and relatable protagonists, supported by some beautifully etched secondary characters. The book is high on emotion and drama, vivid in its portrayal of small-town African American life and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a refreshing take on love, marriage and intimacy. 

Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Fiction 2019.

Milk Teeth By Amrita Mahale: Book review

I thought about why the book is named, ‘Milk teeth’. 

Is it a reference to earstwhile Bombay’s shedding of it’s post-industrial era greasepaint, into a shiny new coat of cosmopolitan, glitzy, ‘Mumbai’? Or is about the people that constitute the great metropolis, shedding their migrant ideologies, old habits and ethos to survive in the city of dreams? 

Perhaps its about how the central characters, Ira Kamat and Kartik Kini, two childhood friends, grow into their respective adult lives in post- liberalized India – in ways that are vastly different from what is expected out of them.

This was a time when satellite channels were beamed on television sets, the telephone had just arrived at home, cars had suddenly become more accessible- harbingers of permanent change. So was the rapidly changing skyline of Mumbai, from the comfortable chaos of Matunga’s network of crumbling old buildings to neat squares of sparkling new high-rises, grudgingly rubbing shoulders.

The story follows the life of a city reporter in Mumbai in the late 90’s. Ira Kamat is a third-generation daughter of working-class immigrants from the Konkan coast – a Goud Saraswat Brahmin (something she’s keenly reminded of, in her firmly casteist, bourgeois family). Her family’s tussle with their building’s landlord and a builder who want to drive out all the ‘tenants’ who’ve been occupying the building for generations, is intertwined with her childhood friendship and consequent courtship with Kartik Kini, who hails from a fellow high-caste ‘bourgie’ family.

A certain secret, forbidden love-affair exposes a glaring contrast to the protagonist’s middle-class values and manner of life.

As Kartik and Ira’s lives unfold, the story exposes the acrid class, caste and religious divides amongst the people of 90’s Bombay. The characters are vulnerable at times, irreverent at others- giving us an intimate glimpse into their lives and an insight into the motivations of millions of middle- class Indians living in the city.

I liked how my feelings for the three central characters were made to oscillate wildly throughout the book. Just when I started to hate one of them, Mahale carved a soft corner for him in my heart. Likewise, just when I stared to feel terrible for another character, she made him do something so vile, I recoiled in horror. I liked this ebb and flow of emotion- it kept me engaged and made sure I wasn’t partial to a particular character. It gave me objectivity as a reader, which was crucial to the story.

The exhaustive, everyday race for a better life is so poignantly put in words, the rich architectural heritage of south Bombay so intricately described, and the gaping class divide so sharply dissected, that it turns ‘Milk Teeth’ into a slick, sharp-tongued tour guide, offering a rare, voyeuristic view of the city.

I would’ve probably written the last page of the book differently, though. There was ample closure for the central character, Ira but I felt like there was something amiss – something huge. Apart from this, and the over-use of the word ‘acquiescence’ (four times in the second half of the book. Why? It’s not even a particularly good word), I relished the novel, page by page. 

A beautifully written and thought-provoking debut.

Giveaway Alert!

Hello readers!

I’m giving away a fabulous GIFT VOUCHER from Borders UAE and the multiple award-winning children’s book, ‘Last Stop On Market Street’ by Matt De La Pena.

This beautiful picture book with a heartfelt and very important message, won the prestigious Newberry Medal and Caldecott Honor. For children in the age group 5-7, it is an engaging, thought-provoking and profound book.

For a chance to win this giveaway, all you must do is jot down your name and city as a comment below! Easy like pie 🙂

The giveaway is open to residents of the UAE only. The winner will be picked at random, on 12th of December. Just in time for the perfect Christmas gift for someone you love!

Thanks and all the best!

A Taste of Adventure

Is that a slug or a beetle?”

A tourist sitting at the next table turned to ask me this, peering into my plate. I was seated inside a restaurant in a refurbished Spanish colonial mansion, in Manila.

Despite my nervous disposition around all creatures with scales, my 5-course dinner was either amphibious, reptilian or came without a spine. For someone who does not venture far from Italian, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, the Philippines was a heart-thumping plunge into the unknown.

For me, stepping out of my gastronomic comfort zone also meant uncovering some profound truths. 

For example, I learnt that the smellier the fruit (Durian), the more delicious it is. Later, at a local market, I found psychedelic purple eggs sitting alongside spotted quail eggs while being offered yet another type of egg to sample- a portion of Balut. Well, let’s just say I’m glad I ate most of it before asking what it was made of, or I would never know what a semi-developed duck embryo tastes like. 

Next, I travelled to Pampanga, the food capital of the Philippines, where I realized the Filipinos like their frogs stuffed (Batute Tugak), and their mole crickets crunchy (Camaru), but even that’s interchangeable. 

Just when I thought I had conquered my queasiness, a pot of steaming dinuguan (pork blood soup) arrived on the table. It may have been a regular lunch, but I’d like to call it an exercise in appreciating acquired tastes and controlling natural reflex – builds character, I believe. 

On my next stop in Malolos, a dusty historic town, I met a charming veteran who invited me to his 250-year-old mansion’s kitchen, to sample some of his closely-guarded heirloom recipes. Halfway through a densely flavored, delicious fish preparation, the veteran disclosed that his house had hosted the Filipino national hero, José Rizal for a meal at that very dining table, before he was arrested for his revolution against Spanish colonial rule. Intrigued, I wondered if we had enjoyed the same meal, only a few centuries apart.

Back in Manila, now fully confident about ingesting and digesting an exhaustive variety of forest creatures, flora and fauna, I stopped over at a swanky restaurant and ordered what was now my favorite. 

“Neither”, I answered the lady who was wondering what was on my table. “It’s not a slug or a beetle. It’s Camaru with hand-rolled cheese,” I said.”Gotta love your mole crickets!” C-R-U-N-C-H

“We are like this only!”

We Indians are suckers for free stuff. Free coffee, free water, heck, even free advice is heartily welcomed. 

Name almost anything free and the average Indian will grab it, regardless of its use to him. To us, free is priceless… but while that is a fact, it’s not always applicable.

I’ve had the good fortune of being able to observe some peculiar denizens of the Great Indian Middle Class. On one particular trip, I had time on my hands, a granny to watch over and approximately 27 co-passengers on a ‘package tour’ trip to tolerate. 

So, on a guided city tour of Singapore, we were herded into a gemstone factory outlet, with the promise of grade A gemstones with ISO certification. The commission-hungry tour guides left no stone unturned (excuse the terrible pun) to induce the bus-full of Indian tourists to buy jewelry from this gemstone factory.  
 
The local tour guides had no idea who they were dealing with. 

We charged towards the jewelry counters much to the delight of the tour guides but that changed rapidly.

We came, we saw, we inquired about the price of everything – I mean everything- including the salesperson’s watch and the ceiling fan.  And ofcourse, we conquered… the complimentary beverage counter! 

Out of the multi-ethnic congregation at the location, I was not proud to see our motley Indian crew attacking the free beverage section with a ferocity that could put the Spartan army to shame. My compatriots were seen climbing on top of each other, pushing, tugging and elbow-ing each other out of the way to emerge victorious from the crowd.

By the end of the tussle, each of my co-passengers from the tour bus from hell was seen holding one cold coffee, two cups of hot tea and one green tea. Each.

It didn’t matter if no human being of sound disposition could attempt to ingest all of these beverages at one given point of time. It didn’t matter of their bodies reacted unpleasantly to the cocktail of hot beverages in the enclosed tour bus. 

All that mattered that the drinks were free. 
 

On the same trip on another day, I was witness to what I now call Mutiny of the Singapore Flyer.

It so happened that our little tour group was made to pay 30 SD for a ride on the Singapore flyer-a major tourist attraction. Now, the disgruntled lot, who were just made to part with their precious green papers hopped on the ride, hoping it was going to be worth their sweat and blood and the horrid exchange rate they got their dollars at. 

“Hey, we thought everything was included in the tour price!” some of us retorted.

Thankfully, they found the ride worth it. They were a happy bunch returning to the bus after the ride when all of a sudden there was an outcry in the back. News spread like wildfire inside the coach and soon, there was a cacophony of Gujrati, Chinglish, Hinglish and English, each trying to either fuel the uproar or drown it. I couldn’t tell, and I suspect neither could they. Chaos and pandemonium reigned.

I thought someone was lost or killed, perhaps. But no, the uproar was over a free scoop of ice cream that allegedly came with every ticket…which the entire group was deprived of. 

Apparently one family from the group had sneaked off the previous day, to take a ride on the now infamous Singapore Flyer. Everyone got a complementary scoop with the ticket but not this particular tour group.

The family loudly declared that they had infact begotten the free scoop of ice cream along with their tickets yesterday. It was chocolate and mint flavored and oh so precious.

“How dare they! This is daylight robbery!” exclaimed one gentleman, after he heard this story.

“They’re frauds!” cried another.

“These tour guides have collected all the complimentary ice cream vouchers and are probably selling it somewhere!” shouted one lady. 

“Scam! This should be in the papers. I know a reporter in the Times of India!” declared another.

The bus was livid with rage. Afterall, free ice cream scoop denied was justice denied. There were wild accusations and threats and demands for a refund of the tour tariff. 

Only after a profuse apology from the tour guides, international calls to the Indian head office of the tour agency, a clarification from the ice cream promotion guy and an elaborate explanation from the Singapore Flyer management did they finally seem settle down. Moral of the story? You never fuck with an Indian’s free ice cream scoop.

Given the fact that India gave birth to the significance and importance of ‘zero’ it’s only fitting that we Indians realize its true value best. 

If it’s free, we must have it- don’t worry, we’ll somehow find use for it. We love free stuff and we’ll fight for our rights until our very last breath. Please feel free to sneer at us, too. As someone very wise pointed out, “We are like this only!”

The Singapore Flyer

Confessions of a ‘Tea-totaler’

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always declined an offer for tea. 

But when you say, “No thanks, I don’t like chai,” to a fellow South Asian, reactions range from quiet amusement to mild disbelief to utter bewilderment. 

An addition to this collection of expressions came from two Sri Lankan butlers, who watched in sheer horror, as I popped three sugar cubes into my black tea.

Having reluctantly accepted a last-minute invitation to stay at a boutique property in the northern province of Haputale (Sri Lanka), I found myself in a beautifully refurbished tea planter’s bungalow, surrounded by 20 acres of tea gardens. I had been cajoled into a two-night stay at the teas estate, as part of a travel writing assignment – without any company, internet or a choice – but an awful lot of tea. 

On my first afternoon there, I decided to join the bungalow’s staff for a stroll in the beautifully manicured gardens. The only problem was that everyone had assumed that I’m some kind of a seasoned connoisseur, putting me at high risk of running into a cup of tea at every corner. I had nowhere to hide. The aroma of spiced tea filled my senses no matter where I went and I had a distinct feeling that I was being stalked by a plate of scones.

 It was only when I finally settled down on the couch, did I notice two liveried butlers who were actually following me around with trays in hand. So I was right.

“What will you have, madam?” One of them asked. 

“We have the finest variety of tea, handpicked from our gardens and processed here, at the factory on our estate. We’re so happy you could make it here to sample some of our fare,” he added.  

“Did you know, Sir Lipton was the first to export tea from one of these estates in Haputale?” the other one chimed in.

“That’s how Ceylon tea first found its place in the world. Well anyway, do let us know, what will you have?”

“Ummm, green tea, maybe?” I gulped.

Did I mention, I had never ordered tea for myself? Why would you ever order something you don’t like?

“Sure, we have lots of herbal teas. We have cinnamon, chamomile, ginseng… there are more than 50 types. We recommend cinnamon.”

And that’s when I traumatized them by nonchalantly popping sugar cubes into my teacup.

However, I wasn’t the only one scandalizing people there. 

Later that same evening, I was invited to a small gathering in the property’s plush ‘cigar bar’. The message read 8:00pm sharp, so I dressed accordingly.

Only when the doors to the Cigar Bar swung open, did I realize I was wildly overdressed for the ocassion. Well, It was an eclectic, handpicked party of the elderly, with the average age of the gathering being  approximately 70 years. 

“Oh no matter, I’ll just grab a quick drink and leave,” I thought.

“What shall I pour for you?”, a very suave, seventy-something in a checkered bowtie was on the opposite side of the room, asking me this.

“Aw, thank you so much, sir.” I said. “That’s so kind of you…I’ll have a small shot of vodka with cranberry juice, please.”

He looked up very slowly. It felt like there was a sudden hush in the room and everyone turned to me in slow motion.

‘Dear God, he meant tea, didn’t he?’ I realized.

I just had tea an hour ago. Also, who drinks tea at this time?!

“The British,” the suave man said, as if he read my mind. 

“The British drink their high tea around the dinner table. Also, it’s a good habit to drink your tea before dinner, rather than after. Better still, take two drops of honey and a dash of lime in your tea for digestion. I promise you your stomach will be squeaky clean and bowels will have the perfect consistency the next morning.”

Everyone nodded solemnly. 

I must’ve looked rather miserable stirring my tea with the tiniest of spoons because he worked his way around the room again, saying, “You know, I was quite the ladies’ man, back in the day. I used to woo the girls in my college abroad by using some Sinhalese phrases… like ‘ Honda Hitha’ which means ‘you have a good heart’. It always made the girls go awwww.” 

He grinned showing off his near toothless smile. 

“You think it’ll still work?” he asked, pointing to a sweet, grey-haired cherubic lady sitting across the room. I thought she looked a lot like Julie Andrews.

I giggled nervously and asked him to give it a shot. 

And what a shot it was. An hour later, as I was engaged in conversation about Sri Lankan politics, family recipes of pol symbol and the latest advancements in dentures, my new friend chimed in with a beaming Julie Andrews by his side. 

“I’ve invited her over for a date… I’m going to make my special edition lamprais for her. What do you think I should wear for the dinner? he leaned in.

A tuxedo or a Speedo?” he asked in a stage whisper.

I felt my cheeks burn a little, as he laughed uproariously before clinking tea cups with the rest of the gang. 

“I’ll have what he’s having,” I realized I said that out loud, while rolling my eyes. 

“I’m actually having a cup of smoked Ceylon Pekoe,” he replied. “It was our regular during my days in the military, when my late wife used to pack little boxes filled with my favorite tea leaves. My fellows and I used to brew it over firewood every night at our campsite. Ah, how the aroma takes me back.”

For the first time, I saw the man behind all that garrulous behavior. It lasted for about 45 seconds. 

“You know you should spend time with people far outside of your age group, sometimes. It teaches you things that you’d never learn otherwise.” He smiled and I nodded.

“Like geriatric flirting,” he chuckled. “Where else will you learn that?” Another clink of the tea cup to wind up the night.

From cooky characters to drinking about a hundred cups of tea, my sojourn at the tea estate was nothing short of a revelation. I still don’t like the beverage but I’ll say I’ve cultivated a sort of respect for tea.

A lot can happen over coffee, they say, but I think tea drinkers see far more happening.

Just ask the old timer. I bet he wore the Speedo. 

How to overcome ‘writer’s block’?

Firstly, stop calling it that.

What if I told you its a make-believe monster? That it doesn’t exist?

Now you may argue that every writer faces this creative impasse, when things don’t come naturally, there’s friction in the thought process and hindrance in the flow of writing.

Ofcourse, that’s true.

But writing is a CREATIVE PROCESS – one can never expect it to be consistent and mechanical. There’s bound to be a point when the creative juices dry up and all you can do is stare at the keyboard instead of typing away. But then, you’re a creative writer and not an Excel monkey!

The more you think of this pause in creativity, by giving it fancy names, shapes and forms, the bigger it becomes in your mind, ultimately overwhelming you to a point of giving up. So there are a few things you can do, to overcome this creative impasse.

Here are some of the things I do to get my writing mojo back.

Read
Set some time apart everyday to read something in the genre you’re writing in. Even better, read your ultimate favorite book again, so it gets you in touch with your love for the written word. Read something that inspires you to hit that keyboard again, and hit it hard.

Reading also helps you get in touch with your own motivations to write- takes you back to the basics. Let’s face it, a writer writes because of his love for reading!

Automatic writing
This is a new trick I’ve learnt, which has worked wonders for my writing. Before you begin writing for the day, spend just 10-15 minutes with a pen and notepad and simply write anything that comes to mind. ANYTHING. It could be absolute nonsense but just make sure the tip of the pen does not leave the paper for those ten minutes. No pressure, no one will ever read what you’ve written.

This is an excellent exercise to unlock your subconscious mind and bring your inner thoughts, motivations, fears and emotions to the fore, on paper. You’ll be surprised how those ideas and thoughts will make their way into your writing, later. Its a great way to unplug your mind and purge your ideas when you’re feeling stuck.

Free write about your work
As a variation of the automatic writing technique, where you simply jot down whatever comes to mind, I often free write within a structure- that is, think about my story or characters and then free write about them, making sure I keep writing for atleast 15-20 minutes without stopping to think.

My best ideas and plot twists have been born out of this exercise.

Take free online course on writing

Let’s face it- staring at the computer screen is no better use of time, so you may as well learn something new. Select from hundreds of free online writing courses and listen to experts talk about the craft of writing. Work through some of those writing exercises- it will give you the push you need.

Soon, you’ll be itching to apply those tips and tricks to your own work and you’ll find yourself well on the way to finishing your manuscript.

Take a break!
Sometimes, its just about mental fatigue. Or boredom. Whatever it is, give your mind a break – but don’t let it wander too far.

No phones or TV or games. Give your mind a visual or sensory break by doing something different, but still in the creative space. CREATE something else.

Like painting, or coloring books, cooking or pottery or even music and dance. This will give your mind a break but not let it slip into zombie mode (yes I’m talking about flipping through TV channels/ Netflix- DON’T go there).

When you come back to writing, you’ll be refreshed and rejuvenated.

So these are some of the things I do to give myself that creative push. Hope it helps!

How to get your first publisher

Since conceptualizing my first book, Tales from the Himalayas, to submitting my completed manuscript of 31,300 words to the publisher, it’s been a year-long journey. Exactly one year, actually.

If you’re wondering how I managed to write the book, find a publisher and submit it within the same year, here’s the secret:

1. Be willing to work on this book like its the ONLY thing you were born to do: Writing takes a lot out of you- mentally and emotionally, so you want to finish the project, you have to prioritize it above everything else. I prioritized it over spending time with my daughter, so I really mean business. Make a strict timetable and stick to it, say goodbye to any semblance of a social life and write write write.

2. Be clear about your genre, age group and target reader. The clearer you are about your work, the easier and faster it will be, to find a publisher. So take the time and effort to understand what you’re writing and who you’re writing for. You should be able to rattle off answers to these questions without hesitation:

– What is your book about? (If you can answer this in one sentence, you’ve struck gold)

– Who is it for? ( Be as specific as you can- go on, imagine the readers’ characters)

– Why did you write this particular story/ book? (What is your own motivation and reason for writing this book?- This will show your expertise or knowledge about the particular book you’re writing).

– Are there any other books in a similar genre out there in the market right now? (competitive analysis is a must)

Apart from working on answering these questions like a pro, also work on your author bio- list your credentials, any published work and show why a publisher should trust YOU to deliver this book.

3. Research publishers thoroughly: Once you’ve written a major chunk of your manuscript (ideally the first draft of the whole thing), and worked on understanding your own work well, get cracking on researching publishers. Make a list of ALL publishers in your market – domestic and international, including imprints and even small press publishers. EVERYONE.

Make it a point to visit each one of their websites and make notes about the kind of books they publish (maybe just a couple of bullet points for your reference).

Next, sift through the list to see which of these publishers are likely to pick up your genre and type of books. You must check their previously published work and get a sense of what they publish and more importantly, what they
don’t publish.

4. Targeted submissions: Only once you’ve shortlisted the publishers on the basis of their scope of publishing, start sending your book proposal (assuming you have a well-written book synopsis, first three chapters of your novel or a collection of short stories/ poems ready, along with your author profile) to the list.

Make the extra effort to write personalized cover letters to each of your publishers – please don’t send generic ones to all publishers. The lesser time and work you put into this email, the fewer your chances are – that’s the rule.

If you are detailed, thorough and show that you’ve done your research on the publisher before proposing your book, it will definitely win you brownie points – yes, even before your synopsis is read. Don’t miss this opportunity to impress!

5. Be open to criticism: Remember that no amount of positive feedback can help you as much as ONE constructive critique of your work. Do NOT get defensive if you come across publishers who have rejected your work and have been kind enough to share their opinion with you. These are industry experts so whatever feedback you’re getting from them, consider it a boon and WORK ON IT. Be open to changing things up, bending your own rules and rehashing your work according to feedback you get from publishers.

6. Don’t be discouraged by rejection: This is probably the most difficult thing to do. Yes, I know- ask me, I’ve been rejected by atleast 20 publishers before someone agreed to look at the whole manuscript. But as they say, 21st time is a charm, right! The key is to consider the feedback you’re getting and keep working on your manuscript and synopsis accordingly. Once you’re done with a round of modifications, send the manuscript around again. Optimism is often underrated.

Good luck and may the force be with you.

Harry Potter’s manuscript was rejected 12 times.
Imagine if JK Rowling had given up!