A WRITER IN TRANSITION BLOG #12.

THE COVER STORY.

In my previous blog in this series, I had discussed the role of immediate environment and family support system in writing a novel. In this blog, I would discuss the visual impact of a cover of a novel.

Till I published my first novel, I was totally blind towards the importance of a book cover. Of course, this was partly due to the fact my father was a member of a public library. That library had a policy of binding all the books purchased by it. Since the binding was old fashioned leather binding, this policy ensured that the books had long shelf lives. However, as a result of this utilitarian practice, my impressionable mind was conditioned to overlook the book covers while selecting the books. Of course, my father would guide me about which authors to read. However, the visual appeal of new books had always been alien to my sensibilities in my formative years. It was only when I grew up and started buying books on my own that I began noticing book covers.

Even then, I would react to book covers almost unthinkingly. I would like some book covers and dislike the rest. To be candid, ‘ dislike ‘ is rather a strong word. I think it would be correct to say that I was indifferent towards some of the book covers. Of course, there were some book covers which I liked immensely. The turning point in my thinking about the book covers came about when I bought a novel “ A Chronicle of A Death Foretold “ by Gabriel Garcìa Márquez. It was a Penguin edition. The book cover was brownish yellow, with author’s name in white in the forefront. The title of the novel was written on a purple brushstroke. Till date, I can not analyse what happened to me when I saw that book at the Strand bookstore. I knew I had to buy it. I would like to admit that till then , I had not read any of Marquéz ‘s novels. Therefore, I did not have any expectations, but there was something incredible about that book cover. It touched my subconscious mind. That was the moment that changed my attitude towards book covers. The irony of that moment was that I became lifelong reader of his books , but I still don’t know the artist responsible for that book cover. The novelists become famous but artists who create the book covers remain anonymous.

Before I move on to my understanding of book covers, I would like to point out two of my shortcomings. Firstly, being a male, my colour sense is rather primitive. I realized this while describing that book cover in the previous paragraph. My description of that book cover is rather inaccurate. I am sure there are more specific descriptions of colour scheme of that book cover. However, I don’t think I can differentiate between different shades of brownish yellow. To me they are all same. This has nothing to do with my upbringing. It has to do with genetics. Very few of us are aware that genes responsible for color perception are present in X chromosome. Therefore, all males, including me, are endowed with only one set of these genes. Women, on the other hand, are endowed with two sets of these genes. Moral of the story is never argue with women about colours. They are better equipped to differentiate between shades of colours.

Secondly, having been trained as a scientist, I am more inclined to be analytical than being emotional. Those who have been reading my blogs, would realize that I tend to analyse and deconstruct human existence rather than describing the emotions that dominate our lives. I am more of a content person rather than an expression person. Maybe, that is why I was late in realising the importance of a book cover. Somewhere, deep within, I think of novels as vehicles of telling readers about life. I don’t think of novels as sensuous expressions.

However, this predominance of rationality started changing when I began writing my first novel. I had to, perforce, confront my emotions. The writing of novels has liberated me from analytical predilection. The climax of that liberation came when I was required to think about the book cover of my first novel. I am thankful to my publishers CINNAMONTEAL for guiding me through this process of making a book cover. I had some ideas about the design of the book cover. The artwork was provided by the publishers. Someone in my family is professionally trained in visual arts. So, the final outcome was a result of cooperation between three of us. I am already in the process of visualising a book cover of my second novel. This time, I am more comfortable with colours and the emotions that they evoke. However, the real achievement would be when I start visualising my novels rather than thinking about them. A graphic novel would be a pinnacle of creativity for me. I am not sure whether I would climb that mountain.

This brings me to the end of this blog and the end of this series of blogs :A Writer in Transition. I would resume blogging after a gap of couple of months. During this gap, my third novel would be under production and I would be busy with the ‘non literary ‘aspects of that novel, including its cover design.

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A WRITER IN TRANSITION. BLOG # 11.

AN EMOTIONAL ECOSYSTEM OF A NOVELIST.

In my previous blog, I had discussed the role of an editor in creating a finished novel from a manuscript. In continuation with my blogs on the ‘non literary ‘ aspects of fiction writing , in this blog, I would discuss the role of immediate environment and family support system in writing a novel. Normally, when one thinks of an emotional ecosystem of a novelist, first thing that comes to one’s mind is that of an inspiration that influences a novelist. Every creative person is supposed to have a muse who triggers the creative outbursts. However, in this blog, I would not discuss about any such muse in my life. This is partly because I am a private person and I firmly believe that there are aspects of my life that are out of bounds for my readers. However, let me admit that there is nothing that I would like to hide. It is just that I, as a person, is distinctly separate from I, as a novelist. Secondly, I have come to the conclusion, after writing two novels, that what prompts a novelist to write a novel is not a romantic love personified in the form of a life partner, but rather a nonstop feeling of angst. While romantic love with its many splendored glory, could suffuse one’s life with sublime emotions, it does not necessarily make one a novelist. The writing of a novel requires a constant struggle with one’s own self to make sense of life. Therefore, I think I would set aside this hyped image of a muse inspiring an artist.

Instead, in this blog, I would discuss the kind of emotional background that has allowed me to follow my creative urge to the fruition. When I began my first novel, the writing was irregular. Though, I would write almost every day, there was no rhythm and I would write at odd hours, depending on my professional work load. However, while writing my second novel, things have fallen in place. I write for couple of hours every day at a fixed time. This has been possible because my family provides me with a greater privacy. I still live in an emotional cocoon provided by my family, but within that cocoon, there is a complete undisturbed privacy that facilitates my writing. There would be scores of household chores that would have otherwise fallen on me. However, everyone ensures that these don’t interfere with my work. This mindfulness speaks volumes about the emotional ecosystem that I operate from.

In addition to this subtle adjustments, a novelist also needs an empathy. It is not necessary for a novelist’s family to read and approve of the novels written by the novelist, but it imperative that the family knows and appreciates the sincerity and commitment of the novelist. This alone is sufficient for a novelist to continue writing. I have realised that, as a novelist, I too am influenced by the overall mood of the novel that I am writing. This influence is of course, a short time influence. For instance, there is a description of a death in my second novel which occupies a few pages. I remember that while writing those pages, I was deeply disturbed. It must have also reflected in my demeanour. The family is normally unaware of what is being currently written by the novelist. Therefore, the family has to accommodate these mood changes of the novelist simply by intuitively guessing the reason behind the novelist’s changed demeanour. This is precisely what happened in my case. This is where empathy comes into the picture. A family undergoes trials and tribulations together. Therefore, there is no need for verbal communication to tell family members about how one feels. The family can relate to one another simply by observing. The shared emotions ensure that empathy prevails.

It is not just a novelist’s immediate family but even the larger group of individuals of cousins, friends, neighbours, and acquaintances also contribute to a novelist’s emotional ecosystem. Being surrounded by known individuals, adds a sense of belonging and comfort to a novelist’s emotional ecosystem. For instance, I don’t think I would be able to write my novels if I were to be kept away from my comfortable niche. Strangely, I would be able to do my scientific work even if I were to be banished ito some godforsaken place, but I would not be able to write novel. That sums up the importance of of emotional ecosystem in allowing one’s creativity to blossom. Writing a fiction is not a clever workmanship of a wordsmith, but an act of creativity.

In my next blog, I would discuss another apparently non literary aspect of writing a novel viz. importance of book cover of a novel.

A WRITER IN TRANSITION. BLOG # 10.

FROM A MANUSCRIPT TO A NOVEL :

AN INVISIBLE EDITOR.

In my previous blog, I had discussed the idea of artistic purity and its importance in the days of market driven publishing. In continuation with my decision to blog about “ non literary “ aspects of writing a novel, I would discuss in this blog, the role of an editor in presenting a novel as a finished product.

Since I am not an editor, either by training or by temperament, I would try to present a writer’s perspective of the importance of editing. Writing, particularly fiction writing, is not a straightforward process. Though, I insist on writing few hours every day while I am writing a novel, my experience has been that novel does not move forward in a fixed pattern. There are sessions in my writing, when the novel moves at a frenetic pace and then, there are sessions, when I barely manage to move the plot forward. During the writing of my two novels, I have tried analysing my own mind during both these types of sessions. Though, I refrain from rewriting or editing my manuscript, I can see shades of different thoughts that run through my mind during those two types of sessions. However, I feel that these different thoughts are integral to my creativity. Therefore, I tend to retain my original versions of different sessions just as they were originally written.

In order to avoid sense of patchwork and maintain continuity (of style and substance ) , what I normally do is to read outputs of previous few sessions before going ahead. My objective during the entire writing of a novel is to bring about smooth transitions in the narration of the plot, development of characters and the background ambience of the story. This process continues right from the beginning to the end.

The trouble begins, in my case, when I read that manuscript before submitting it to the publisher. On rereading the entire novel, I notice lots of shortcomings. Firstly, there are typos. Then, there are problems of styles. Finally there are problems of continuity. I usually try to correct these shortcomings during this stage. While doing this, I realized that there were lots of implicit meanings which did not surface in the final manuscript in a manner that I wanted to express. In addition, I found on both the occasions, that there is lopsided emphasis is some of the episodes. Of course, this is a natural phenomenon because, at least in my case, the story does exist beforehand. The story is shaped as it moves forward. Therefore, the manuscripts that I have submitted were actually rather complex narratives with some amorphous structures.

I also realized that no matter how often I tried to improve upon the manuscripts, they would still remain incomplete and unpolished. This was because I was looking at them from inside. The implicit motives of the characters and implicit meaning of the plot itself were known to me but they didn’t surface properly in the manuscript.

That was when I realised the importance of editing a novel. The task of an editor is far more delicate than that of a novelist. A novelist has liberty to shape the novel as she/he wants. An editor is bound by his professional ethics. An editor is required to read a novel from inside as well as from outside. An editor has to get into a novelist’s shoes and experience the novel from inside, from the novelist’s point of view. Having done that, an editor is required to read the novel from outside, from a readers perspective. In addition, an editor is required to remain faithful to the linguistic nuances that is different for each novel.

I have begun to appreciate the role of an editor after the publication of my first novel. Incidentally, my second novel is in the early stages of publication. The kind of corrections suggested and the kind of explanations sought by my editor during the publication of my first novel, have convinced me about the important contribution that an editor can make in a success of a good novel. The most poignant part of publishing industry is that these editors remain, by and large, anonymous. While novelists are recognised and celebrated for their creativity, the tribe of editors remains in the background, unknown and even unacknowledged.

This blog is not a paean to these unsung heroes, but a heartfelt acknowledgement from a neophyte. In my next blog, I would discuss a role played by the household environment in a novelist’s writing.

A WRITER IN TRANSITION BLOG #8.

         A WRITER IN SEARCH OF AN AUDIENCE.

           In the previous blog, I had discussed the structure of a plot of a novel and what factors decide it. In all my previous blogs in this series, I have discussed several literary aspects of writing a novel. In the next few blogs, I would discuss the problems of a novelist that are not exactly literary but they are important nevertheless. These are the problems of finishing the novel as a product and delivering it to readers. In this blog , I would discuss the problem of finding an audience.

          For a first time novelist, this problem is nonexistent or to put it differently, a first time novelist is oblivious to this problem. To that novelist, novel writing is an abstract exercise to be carried out in the privacy of her /his mind. I am using the word ‘abstract‘ because no part of this activity is grounded in the reality, except perhaps the pen and paper  ( or a computer these days ). Everything else about that yet to be written novel is ethereal. The would be novelist is not even aware of whether and by whom that novel would be published. To her/him, the novel is like a newborn baby who needs round the clock mollycoddling. A novelist is on an emotional high during this phase. No mundane details are of any importance to the first time novelist.

      When I recollect my life when I was writing my first novel, I now realise how naive I must have been. This dream like reverie exists because the novelist is , in reality , writing for herself /himself. The novelist is a writer and a reader at the same time. Therefore, there is no need for anyone else. However, things change after the novelist finishes writing that novel. The novelists, as a species, live a paradoxical life. On one hand, they are intensely private individuals, but on the other hand, they seek external approval for their outputs. Therefore, once a novel is finished, the second persona of novelists takes over. The first time novelists have all the more need to secure approval  (and even praise ) from people around them.

      That is when the reality sinks in. A first time novelist realises that there are real life problems in making people read that novel. Reaching out to readers requires an effort. Finding out the potential readers requires a skill, a strategy and resources which the would be novelist may or may not have. In earlier times, one needed to have literary agents who would try to sell the manuscript to big publishing houses. Thus, a novelist would have to wait for long periods before a publisher would agree to publish a novel by a new author. There have been several instances where the novelists who subsequently became best-selling authors, had to wait for long periods to get their first novels published. In the present times , with the spread of Internet and online publishing, the things have changed. It takes much shorter time to publish novels.

       However, finding the right audience is still a problem. The real problem is not that it requires lot of marketing to sell a novel, but rather that a novelist does not realise that without marketing no novel would find its audience. In addition, as mentioned above, a novelist has no such skills. It is sometimes tempting for a novelist  ( or for that matter for all creative persons ) to look down upon such marketing strategies. It is natural for a novelist to put the creative process on a pedestal and neglect everything else. In fact, it is this ideal of artistic purity that misleads an artist to relegate the importance of reaching out to an audience.

        It is a common mistake to think that this emphasis on marketing is of recent origins. It is tempting to think that this undue emphasis is a consequence of increasing commercialisation of every sphere of human activities. While it is true that, with the passage of time, things are increasingly valued at their monetary worth,  the real need for marketing is  for targeting the potential audience and not necessarily for monetizing a novel. It is not just  money but every resources are in limited supply. Therefore, what marketing does is to chalk out a strategy to put that novel within the reach of such resources. It creates a channel which makes a novel to connect with a reader who has either an inclination, a spare time or spare budget.

        I would like to admit that when I began my first novel, I was blissfully unaware of this wisdom. It was only after publishing the novel, that I found this out. A  large share of the credit of enlightening me goes to my publishers Cinnamon Teal publishing.

     In my next blog, I would discuss whether the artistic purity is really in conflict with the marketing strategies or not ? 

A WRITER IN TRANSITION. BLOG #4.

                 THE MORAL AMBIGUITY.

           In my previous blog, I had discussed my attempts to find a theme for my next novel. Having decided to write a novel in the third person narrative, I had suggested that I would like a narrative where the protagonist would be driven by two strong emotions of guilt and sacrifice. The core of this novel would be that the protagonist would never realise that he is driven by these two emotions and still he would find his redemption. In this blog, I would discuss what happens to us when we are not aware of our own subconscious emotions and how this ignorance leads us to moral ambiguity.

           As we grow up, we realise that our notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad ‘ are not clear cut. We normally define these notions in the context of what we are required to do. In other words, there are no perfect definitions of good and bad. We decide what is good and what is bad depending on the circumstances that we face. Every time, when we face such a dilemma, we make a choice of what is good and what is bad depending on our own understanding of life. More often than not, we arrive at our choice based on what our intuition tells us about the choice. Of course, once we have made the decision, we always conjure up very good arguments to justify our choice. Rarely, if ever, we realise that our arguments in support of our choices are justifications of our choice and not the reasons for our choices.

            The trouble with growing up is that, as we grow older,  we become  more and more aware of this gap between the arguments as a justification and arguments as a reason behind our choices. As a child, each one of us lives in a blithe ignorance and believe that our desires are synonymous with what is good and therefore we pursue our desires and wishes with an endearing naivete. However, as we grow old, our moral sense tells us that life is not as simple as that. There is something more to life than the endless pursuit of wish fulfillment. The real problem with growing up is not that our moral sense tells us about what not to do, but rather that it doesn’t tell us what to do. Our sense of morality is, in some sense, negative. It reduces the number of choices that we can think of  what we ought to do. However, it never suggests any choices, on its own,  of what we ought to do. Therefore, sometimes we never know the morally correct choice until it is too late. This is the origin of our moral ambiguity. More importantly, it defines the human angst of modern times.

           I am tempted to believe that this story of individual development from naivete to ambiguity is also reflected in our collective history of our culture. In the ancient times, the societies  (and even religions) were founded on the simplistic notions of good and bad. With the passage of time, due to social and cultural evolution, we have evolved very intricate rules of justice and equity. However, somewhere deep within, we know that our laws also tell us what not to do and rarely tell us what to do.

            My focus however, is not really on this moral sense per se. My interest, as a novelist, is in the consequences of such a muted moral sense. If human beings are driven by their subconscious emotions  ( of which they are not aware of ) and if they are handicapped by this muted moral sense, every human being would be facing angst that arises from this moral ambiguity. Most of us have experienced situations wherein we know that what we want to do is not exactly right thing to do and still we want to do it because that gives us an emotional satisfaction. The tragedy of human life is that vague awareness of having transgressed and yet experiencing emotional deliverance. I think human being are not good or bad. They are good and bad at the same time.

            I think that Nature, in her infinite wisdom, has deliberately endowed us with this muted moral sense. Had she given us a complete morality, we , human beings, would be reduced to machines following Nature’s instructions. The value of human life lies in the fact that she/he has a freedom to pursue what she/he thinks is good and make mistakes. This freedom to commit mistakes also gives human beings a chance to redeem themselves. Our subconscious need to experience catharsis is actually a substitute for our destiny to experience our redemption. The true moral ambiguity lies in our need to experience this catharsis and redemption. I think there is no way to explain why we need to experience the subconscious emotional drives, the subsequent sense of transgression, it’s catharsis and finally a sense of redemption. I believe we don’t need to undergo these emotional cycles. We would be happy to be always correct and always satisfied. . However, I am convinced that in that case , we would not be human beings,  but some automatons. To quote a famous saying, to err is human. I am tempted to modify that saying and assert that to err is human destiny.

            I am planning to write my next novel where the protagonist is acutely conscious of his own moral ambiguity but he is driven by his subconscious mind to transgress. Of course, in the light of what I have written, the protagonist would have to find his own redemption.

           In my next blog, I would discuss what kind of protagonist I would want. This is because his profile would decide what  form of transgression the protagonist would be forced to commit by his own subconscious mind and how he would find his redemption. 

A WRITER IN TRANSITION. BLOG#2.

THE NARRATIVE FROM OUTSIDE.

                     In my previous blog, I discussed the emotions that I, as a novelist, felt while finishing my second novel. In this blog, I would discuss my problems with the literary style of writing a novel in a third person narrative. This is important because my both previous novels were first person narratives.

                     Traditionally, it is easier for a new novelist to adopt a first person narrative while writing a novel. There are two reasons for this preference. Firstly, it is easier for a novelist to express her /his thoughts and feelings through the narrator. This is because there is a sense of identification for a novelist with the narrator. Therefore, without being aware of it, a novelist finds her /his own expressions being expressed by the narrator as a proxy. However, as a novelist becomes more adept in writing novels, she /he learns to become detached from all the characters of her /his novels. Therefore, she /he doesn’t require such a proxy. Instead, a novelist is more interested in observing the evolution of the characters from outside. Therefore, the first person narrative which was necessary for the proxy, is no longer a prerequisite. Thus , in most cases , the shift from a first person narrative to a third person narrative is a mark of evolution of a novelist. I was aware of this aspect of writing a novel when I began my first novel. After having finished two novels, I agree with this rationale.

                  The second reason why this approach works is that it is always easier for a new novelist to create a subjective world view of the story being told through a narrator. While telling a story through the subjective view of a narrator, a novelist is required to make sure that the story remains internally consistent. In other words, a novelist just has to  ensure that  whatever the drama or the conflict that the story contains, must appear to be consistent with the narrator’s understanding of the story. While this task offers a challenge to a novelist’s creativity, it ignores one essential feature of real life. In real life, every individual has her /his own understanding of life and these understandings are in conflict with one another. Therefore, in real life , there is a constant conflict. We, each one of us, live parallel lives. Sometimes, our views converge and sometimes, our views diverge. However, most of us live our lives by pretending that our own narrative of life is a real narrative while the narratives of others are faulty. Our belief in our own understanding of life is inevitable in some sense. This is because such a pretense enables us to retain our sanity and a sense of well being. Just imagine a situation where you know that you beliefs are wrong and you are still forced to believe them !! Though, we know, somewhere deep within, that there could be other ways of understanding of life, our conscious mind does not allow that deeper understanding to surface. This is  because such a realization would increase the workload of our conscious mind to keep reminding itself about what is its own belief and what are other’s belief . A good novel enables us to experience these different understandings of life without creating any additional burden.  Therefore, a great novelist is required to give us a perspective that enables us to understand why different understandings of life are equally valid. This is best  exemplified  in our epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata.

                   Therefore, when a novelist makes a transition from a first person narrative to a third person narrative, she/he develops an objective view of life. It must be kept in mind that not every third person narrative is an epic , but every epic is a third person narrative. Ever since  I finished my second novel, I have felt an urge to opt for such a third person narrative. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that my next novel could be an epic, but at least it would be broad enough to accommodate different narratives together. These two reasons why a new novelist prefers to write a first person narrative, are generally known and even I was aware of them. Therefore, in some sense, my own journey as a novelist has so far followed a predictable path.

                 However, there is a third reason why a novelist prefers to write a first person narrative. Frankly speaking, this is one reason which I was not aware of. I have discovered this reason while writing these two novels. Therefore, I would end this blog with this new perspective.

                  When I began my first novel, I I was strongly influenced by my own favourite writers. There were two genres which I admired greatly. They are literature of the absurd and magical realism. Therefore, these influences are plainly visible in both my novels. Since I was determined not to imitate any of my favourite writers, I have ensured that my novels are rooted in Indian sensibility. However, it never occurred to me till I finished my second novels that I chose to write in first person narrative because it allowed me to hide my own shortcomings. I always thought that magical realism was a good literary device to incorporate parallel narratives into a novel. For instance, in my first novel, I have used three different time frames of a protagonist’s life in a single frame of narrative and show how self contradictory the protagonist’s life has been. Similarly , in my second novel, I have used a device of reincarnation to show cognitive dissonance in the protagonist’s mind.

               It is only now, after finishing both these novels, that I have realised that great works of fiction don’t need such devices to describe deeper insights into the nature of human beings. In other words, realism, at least literary realism, is more magical than the magical realism. It is also more absurd than the theatre of absurd.This is because literary realism is capable of making us experience  the depth of human mind without resorting to any such artifices. The name of Premchand comes to my mind. He didn’t need any such artifice to make us aware of fundamental angst of human existence. The literary realism achieves this enlightenment by simply placing before us the stark inequities of life in front of the readers. It believes that an average reader has an ample innate wisdom and an emotional depth to grasp this angst. It occurred to me that it is possible to be a realist, in a literary sense, only if one were to employ a third person narrative.

                Therefore , I have decided to employ a third person narrative in my next novel. I aim to bring out the inequities of life by depicting the parallel narratives without a narrator. More importantly, I hope to restrict myself to the traditions of literary realism in my next novel .

               In my next blog , I would discuss the theme of my next novel.