Thursday, June 23, 2005

Writer Inc.

American writer Ms. Evanovich, 62, has turned herself from a failing romance writer who once burned a box of rejection letters on her curb into a mini-industry whose success is beginning to emulate the sprawling domains of authorial heavyweights like James Patterson.

An interesting story about a writer who belives in customer satisfaction.

Slouched on a sofa in a faded T-shirt and jeans, a tousle of dyed-auburn hair trending gray at the roots, Janet Evanovich looks less like the chief of a budding media empire than a mother trying hard to be her daughter's best friend.

And there, next to her, is the daughter, Alexandra, whose dyed platinum-blond hair befits her stint as a freelance graphics designer for a heavy-metal band's fan site and her love for her red Ducati motorcycle, looking nothing like a corporate marketing guru.

Yet the two women are all of those things - best friends, metalheads and meticulous businesswomen. Together with Janet's son and husband, both named Peter, who handle everything from investments to the packing of signed books for shipment to stores, they make up the family enterprise known as Evanovich Inc.

And they have transformed Ms. Evanovich, 62, from a failing romance writer who once burned a box of rejection letters on her curb into a mini-industry whose success is beginning to emulate the sprawling domains of authorial heavyweights like James Patterson.

Last year, she sold an estimated one million books in hardcover and three million more paperbacks, earning more than $3 million in royalties from the paperbacks and several million more in advances and royalties on the hardcovers. The empire now includes two continuing mystery series: one featuring the sharp-elbowed bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, published by St. Martin's Press, whose latest installment, "Eleven on Top" went on sale June 21, and a second, published by HarperCollins, which began last fall with "Metro Girl."

While her success speaks to her tenacity and devotion to family, it owes as much to marketing prowess. When fans, impatient for her next novel, began asking her to recommend other writers like her, Ms. Evanovich hired one instead. Thus began a separate line of paperback romance-thrillers with Charlotte Hughes as co-author and St. Martin's as publisher. Four books in that series became best sellers.

"I'm a writer, but this is a business," she said. "You have to look at it in the way you would look at any business. You have to have honesty to the product. You have to meet consumer expectations. You give them value for their money and give them a product that they need. I don't see anything wrong with all these things. And I don't think it's a bad thing to meet consumers' expectations."

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Two kinds of writers

There is this interestingly unusual interview with author Jonathan Safran Foer in The Morning News. Here are some words of wisdom from this famous young writer:

"It’s like there are two kinds of writers, those that want for there to be more writers and those who want there to fewer writers. I feel like you could almost divide the world up like that. All those cases we just talked about Miller, Sontag, and Thompson—they all wanted more writers. They felt like the world would be better if there were more people writing books."

(Which category do you belong to? The first or the second?)

"When you write a book, you are able to concentrate on very, very specific things. Individuals doing very specific acts. Orhan Pamuk once said that every book, at the end of the day, is about showing how similar people are to one another. And how different they are from one another. And you do that by showing how somebody pours coffee and drinks it. It’s not by speaking about diplomacy. It’s not by troop movements."

(This is such a nice observation...)

"In New York if a first author gets a $100,000 advance, that’s news. But a $100,000 advance for a book that took four years to write, you are talking about wages that a receptionist makes."

(We agree but even that's not bad! Poor single-income writers, without a rich father or a rich uncle leaving behind any windfall for them, have to put up with many things. So sad!)

"If it takes a hundred thousand bad books to make a good one, do we cry for the trees? What is so upsetting? Have children died because a novel was a failure? It’s just not that big a deal."

(True. No big deal. We are free to damage our eyes with e-books).

Monday, June 13, 2005

Sean Penn in Teheran

I was quite amused by the news in today's NYT about the actor Sean Penn being in Teheran and working as a journalist. Let me quote from the news item:

"Sean Penn, the Hollywood actor who has taken out ads in newspapers in support of his political beliefs, has moved over to the other side of the media business. He is in Iran working as a journalist for The San Francisco Chronicle ahead of Iran's presidential election this Friday.
Mr. Penn, who arrived in Tehran on Thursday and is expected to stay until today or tomorrow, is preparing an article on the election and Iran's controversial nuclear programs. On his first day in Tehran, he met with Mehdi Hashemi, the son of the powerful politician Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who is running for the job again. He attended Friday Prayer in Tehran where the hard-line head of the watchdog Guardian Council urged worshipers to vote in the election next Friday." There is more actually.

Interesting to see how far a celeb goes in search of the truth! Pretty unique in these politically-charged times, isn't it?

Watch out Amis, McEwan and all the other big shots!

Watch out Amis, McEwan and all the other big shots! Mr. Dhaliwal is here.

Curious to know who this challenger is? In fact, I too became curious when I read about this London-based guy called Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal. I first read about him in Outlook. The magazine carried the news that Random House is setting shop in India, and it will start it off with a bang: Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown, Mark Tully's provisionally titled The Certainty of Uncertainty and a debut novel by UK-based writer Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal.

Beaten by my curiosity, I looked for Dhaliwal in google and pronto I learnt that his first novel, Tourism, will be published by Vintage next spring. Dhaliwal has also penned a fiery piece in The Times. Here's a sample:

"The truly talented members of Britain’s ethnic minorities don’t want meaningless baubles for work that doesn’t deserve attention; they want to make it in the big league, competing with everyone else. By allocating prizes according to race there’s a danger that not only will true talent be marginalised but also that mediocrity will be rewarded. The woolly sentimentalism of London’s literati made them laud a writer as unremarkable as Zadie Smith to the skies; the same thinking must be why the BBC repeatedly commissions The Kumars at No 42. I cringe whenever I watch that junk, hoping the public doesn’t think that all Asians are as naff and unfunny as they are."

He has even issued a challenge to the literary bigwigs of UK. Savour this:

"I’ve written a novel myself; when it is published next year, I want it to cut the real mustard, not the sentimental treacle of the establishment. I don’t want the marginal recognition that might come with winning the Decibel; I want to go toe-to-toe with Whitey. I want to compete with Amis, McEwan and all the other big shots. And I don’t want a helping hand from anyone."

Packs a punch, right?

For more please go here.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Giving Your Novel Away in the Sreets...

In Delhi, I used to see poor kids hawking magazines and newspapers like Free Ads at the crowded traffic signals. Delhi traffic is mad and jams are not uncommon.

When my first novel had come out, I contemplated why not use this medium to increase the publisher's bottomline? But then I had brushed it off as a cheap and crazy idea.

Little did I know that a crazy novelist will do something similar in the far off United Kingdom. The guy is Robert Chalmer and here's what he is doing to promote his novel:

"At lunchtime, the Otley branch of HSBC is a hive of activity. On the pavement outside, a writer stands with a bag bulging with copies of his latest novel. He's attempting to engage with a Londoner who is fidgeting uncomfortably under close questioning.

"Hello. Would you like a book?"

"No, you're alright, mate."

"It's free."

"No, really, I don't want it."

"I wrote it. Go on, you might like it."

"I don't really read books, so it'd a bit of a waste of time."

"You could sell it on eBay and buy beer instead."

"Nah, you're alright, thanks."

"You sure? Do you know anyone else who reads books?"


"Oh. What, no one?"

Read the full story here.

Making of a Book

There is an interesting story, How to make a book, that gives you an insider look into the book publishing industry. In the story, Oliver Burkeman follows the 18-month-long journey of one novel, from the author's flash of inspiration in a pub, to the moment it hit the shelves at Books Etc. It is a must read for all wannabe novelists.

Sam Binnie is the winner of this year's Harpers & Queen/Orange Prize for Fiction short story competition. I guess her story, The Dress, is experimental and could easily come under the category of creative non-fiction. If you haven't read it, you can read it here.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Why is Chopra angry with Mehta?

In the big bad world of Bollywood, two titans have clashed or so it seems, from a recent interview published in Tehelka. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Bombay's well-known film director-producer, is angry with Suketu Mehta, author of the now-famous Maximum City.

In the interview, Chopra has said: "Mehta is crazy. His marriage is over, he’s on the street."

Chopra is angry about what he thinks Suketu wrote about him in Maximum City, even though he hasn't read the book.

"He writes, I’m told, (I haven’t read the book) that he came to my house and there were my three wives. What is this nonsense? Renu (Saluja) was my ex wife, Shabnam is in Canada. I have had one wife for nine years. I haven’t spoken about this to the press, but talking about it to you makes me think I should sue him. It suits him to project this image of an Indian director, because it fits into the dangerous mind of Americans, who like to feel superior to everyone else. The book should be banned."

"I’ve slapped a couple of critics, which is why I never get good reviews. But I hven’t slapped anyone for a long time. I have young children so I try very hard. But I get angry with people like Mehta. If he came here now, I would slap him."

You can see how angry is Mr. Chopra with Mr. Mehta.

Mr. Mehta is yet to get back with any clarifications in the media (he is based in the U.S.).

It should be remembered that Mehta had collaborated on the screenplay of Chopra's Mission Kashmir a few years back. Chopra is proud of this film.

Reading, Writing and Happiness

Some of the happiest people I know hardly ever read books. They did read books when they were in school or in college. But in their working lives, they hardly do. It was amusing to see Michel Houellebecq echoing similar views in his piece on HP Lovecraft in The Guardian recently. Here is what he says:

"Those who love life do not read. Nor do they go to the movies, actually. No matter what might be said, access to the artistic universe is more or less entirely the preserve of those who are a little fed up with the world."

And did you think writing was tough business? Michel thinks so.

"Life is painful and disappointing. It is useless, therefore, to write new, realistic novels. We generally know where we stand in relation to reality and don't care to know any more. Humanity, such as it is, inspires only an attenuated curiosity in us. All those prodigiously refined notations, situations, anecdotes ... All they do, once a book has been set aside, is reinforce the slight revulsion that is already adequately nourished by any one of our "real life" days."

Pyaasa in All Time 100 Movies

Guru Dutt's Pyaasa is one of my most favourite Hindi movies, along with his Kaaghaz ke Phool and Saheb Bibi Aur Ghulam. Now The Time has included Pyaasa in its list of All Time 100 Movies. I am so gald. Finally, the movie is being acknowledged and feted in the West. The story of an unpublished poet and failed lover whose work achieves fames and acclaim after his being presumed dead is one of the most moving tales told on the celluloid. Nihilistically, Dutt declares in the movie: Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai... (So what if I become materially successful in this world...)

Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy also makes it to the list. That is not surprising. Surprising is the inclusion of Mani Rathnam's gem of a movie, Nayakan. I think Kamal Hasan has given his best performance in this Godfather-like movie.

Once New in Indian Writing

What is new in Indian writing?

Amitava Kumar poses this question in an article in The Hindu. He asks: "How is newness to come into the world? In India, didn't all those who found fault with the innovations of, say, Salman Rushdie, or Arundhati Roy, or Raj Kamal Jha — didn't those readers and critics show similar impatience with what was new by finding it gimmicky or overwrought or incoherent? How were the detractors able to separate what is merely show-offish and self-indulgent from that which is unanticipated and truly brilliant?"

Kumar finally builds a case for intermingling of ideas and the cross-fertilisation of views in new fiction, Indian or of any nationality. He concludes by saying: "What was true then is also true now. In the case of current Indian writers working in English, what is new is also the result of the conversations ongoing with writers all over the world, older writers like Philip Roth, J.M. Coetzee, and Alice Munro, but also younger ones like David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, and, why not, even Jonathan Safran Foer."

One cannot agree more. Literature does not happen in a vaccum. It does not happen in isolation either. One idea generates another, adding grist to the mill of literature.

By the way, Kumar's new website is up and running now. You can check it out at

Friday, June 03, 2005

Can anyone make cinema?

When the cheap digital camcorders came into the market, everyone claimed that now anyone could make a movie. The medium became cheap, accessible, opening the creative possibilities for anyone with an imaginative eye. Even Samira Makhmalbaff, the acclaimed young Iranian filmmaker, came out with a piece saying that digital filmmaking has democratized the process of making cinema. Shekhar Kapoor came out with an annual digital film festival in Delhi, only to flounder two years later.

So, was it true-the digital democracy in terms of creating works of cinematic value?

I often wondered. I was searching for an answer for a long time. Even after the coming of digital filmmaking gadgets, digital cinema had not flourished as promised. More so, the outputs, from wherever they were, were not very encouraging.

At last, I found the answer from the Master himself. Gordard has commented on this process in a recent interview in these words:

"What's bad is that students think that because they've got a little camera, they can film something. The manufacturers, even the critics, say: 'It's great! Everyone can make cinema!' No, not everyone can make cinema. Everyone can think they're making cinema, or say, 'I make cinema.' But if you give someone a pencil it doesn't mean they're going to draw like Raphael or Rembrandt."

Isn't it true? Not everyone with a key board can write a stirring story or a valuable novel.

Godard has come out with a new film, Notre Musique. It is on Sarajevo. Read his interview here.

Michael Chabon, the Wonder Boy

Continuing with my passion for learning and exploring about the writing process, I came across this piece by Michael Chabon in The New York Review of Books. In this piece, Chabon describes how he wrote his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. It is really worth reading.

Here is a brief profile of Chabon also. Read the last para carefully. It is pure truth, powerfully told:

Michael Chabon was just 23 when he wrote his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. He turned it in as his master's thesis in a creative writing program. He turned it in on a Friday. On Monday he heard that his professor had sent it to an agent. The book was published the following year, in 1988. It was a big success. He was compared to Fitzgerald and John Cheever. He was asked to model clothing for The Gap. People Magazine wanted to include him in its list of "50 Most Beautiful People." He turned down both offers.

He started working on his second novel. He had seen a picture of the original plans for the city of Washington, D.C., and he got an idea for a novel about an architect. Chabon later said, "It was a novel about utopian dreamers, ecological activists, an Israeli spy, a gargantuan Florida real estate deal, the education of an architect, the perfect baseball park, Paris, French cooking, and the crazy and ongoing dream of rebuilding the Great Temple in Jerusalem. It was about loss: lost paradises, lost cities, the loss of the Temple, the loss of a brother to AIDS, and the concomitant dream of Restoration or Rebuilding."

He called the novel Fountain City. He spent five years working on it and wrote 1,500 pages of manuscript. He felt he just couldn't put the pieces together and then one night got an idea for a whole different story and decided to follow it. He wrote 15 pages in four hours. He kept working on it in secret for the next few weeks. He didn't tell anybody. He said, "I didn't stop to think about what I was doing or what the critics would think of it and, sweetest of all, I didn't give a single thought to what I was trying to say. I just wrote."

He finished the book in seven months. The novel was Wonder Boys. It came out in 1995, about a creative writing professor named Grady Tripp who can't seem to finish his latest novel. It was made into a movie five years later.

After Wonder Boys, Chabon stumbled on a box of comic books he'd kept since childhood. He hadn't looked at them in 15 years. He said, "When I opened it up and that smell came pouring out, that old paper smell, I was struck by a rush of memories, a sense of my childhood self that seemed to be contained in there." It gave him the idea to write a novel about the golden days of the comic book trade called The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It came out in 2000, and won a Pulitzer Price. It was the story of a Jewish kid who flees the Nazis just before World War II, has to leave his family behind, and come to America. Along with his cousin, he creates a comic book super hero called "The Escapist."

Michael Chabon said, "Literature, like magic, has always been about the handling of secrets, about the pain, the destruction, and the marvelous liberation that can result when they are revealed. If a writer doesn't give away secrets, his own or those of the people he loves, if he doesn't court disapproval, reproach and general wrath, whether of friends, family or party apparatchiks... the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth."

So much happened while I was away...

So much happened while I was away...

Sunil Dutt and Ismail Merchant passed away. I loved both these gentlemen. I loved Dutt for his being the gentleman that he was, for his secular beliefs and for his pacifism and humanitarianism. He was one of our most handsome politicians.

Merchant was a towering figure for me and for many of us: he brought to us the kind of cinema that was so uniquely Ivory-Merchant, that sepia-tinted look into the human condition during the Raj. Apart from his Raj stories, I loved his Surviving Picasso and In Custody.

Talking of films, I came across this interesting bit of confession (on writing) by Hollywood screenwriter, Charlie Kauffman. I had loved his Adaptation. He talks about the process of writing here:

"Vegas: What's the hardest thing about writing - concentration, perserverance, etc - why, and how do you overcome it?

Charlie Kaufman: I mean, there are a lot of things that are hard for me about writing. I guess sticking it out is hard. And I try to stick it out by keeping the process interesting for me. And so I try to look at writing as kind of an exploration, rather than starting out with a conclusion and filling in the blanks. Like, "I'm gonna write about passion. Or confusion. Or identity." And things get surprising, and I let things change as I'm working. If things go in a new direction, I force myself to go with it.Another thing that's hard is trying to stay with something that's true. There's a tendency with me that I'm influenced so much by movies and TV I've seen, it's a struggle to keep things in the real world, rather than unconsciously falling into something I've seen in a movie or relationship. It's sort of a monumental task."

Read this entire chat script here.

Book Tagging for Asya

I am doing this for Asya. She introduced this idea on her blog, and here it goes:

How many books do you own?

Must be nearing a thousand now! Not a great number though as I recently read that Umberto Eco has about 40,000 books in his library. I don't know if I will ever be able to amass those number of books, let alone read them. Most of my books are in Delhi. Includes books in English and Urdu. I love English fiction and Urdu poetry. Unfortunately, I could never connect with English poetry. I guess this is due to lack of exposure.

What is the last book you bought?

I already have a long list of books waiting for my attention. Recently, I bought a couple of books in Kolkata. Some of them are Mahabharata (R K Narayan), The Lexus and Olive Tree (Thomas Friedman), India Wins Freedom (Maulana Azad), The Holy Wars, Transmission (Hari Kuzru), Salem's Lot (Stephen King), and On Literature (Umberto Eco).

Which is the last one you've read?

I am reading The Lexus and Olive Tree. It is an interesting book on globalisation.

Which five books have meant the most to you?

The answer will vary from time to time I guess, as I am yet to read so many great and well-received works. Anyway, here is my tentative list:

Mera Daghistan by Rasool Humzatov (Russian translated into Hindi)
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (English)
Short Stories by Chekhov
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (English)
Collected Stories by Raymond Carver

And whom would you like to book-tag?

You started the whole thing and have already asked Susan to do it. Shakeel has stopped blogging. Who do I ask now? Anyway I am troubling these two gentlemen for book-tagging:

Manzoor Khan