Distant Echoes

At the beginning of 2014 I joined a group of eclectic writers for the Short Story Challenge, in which we committed to writing one short story for the month. We shared stories, exchanged critiques and reveled in each other’s successes. Nine writers emerged victorious, successfully completing the challenge.

The result is an amazing collection of stories called Distant Echoes, published this month on Amazon. It features my story as well as those of the eight other writers, which includes debut novelists and award winners among them.

This is very exciting for me. Though I am part of other collections available on Amazon such as the Bartleby Snopes Issue 8, eFiction and BookMuse Reader’s Journal, this qualifies as my first foray into self-publishing, albeit not with a book that has my name on the cover. But there is time enough for that. Do check out the collection and help spread the word. I hope you enjoy the stories.

In other news, I am striving hard to write regularly. A sprinkling of successes here and there keeps my spirits buoyed up.

If you feel funny, i.e. if you want to write funny and inject a little humour into your stories, take a look at my article A Shot of Humor on FreelanceWriting.com.

My personal essay Digital Devotion is up on Cecile’s Writers magazine. It’s one of my favourite pieces and I’m glad that it found such a good home.

As always, I continue to write one story per month for Short Story Challenge 2015.

What news on the reading/writing front for you?

Writing @ the Speed of Thought

My article 5 Tips to Refine Your Short Story is up on FreelanceWriting.com. If you’re writing a story, do check it out and share it with fellow writers!

This last week I’ve been ruminating on the speed of writing. Alexander McCall Smith mentioned in an interview that he writes at the rate of a thousand words per hour. How wonderful it would be to possess his writing speed! Sentences reeking of beauty seem to spill out of his magic fingers. He even manages to set a scene and convey atmosphere or even posit a nugget of keen human observation. This is no easy task, for this is 1000 words of fiction we are talking about. Even for a person writing fiction for many years this sounds prolific. I suppose the speed and efficiency improves with regular practice, but getting to that stage is a long way away for me.

I can write 500 words of a memory or writing practice easily enough. In fact if you asked me to write a thousand words about an incident of my youth or even what happened yesterday, I’d surpass that speed in minutes. But ask me to spin a yarn and I’d be left stumbling all over the place like a drunkard. No words of beauty or keen analysis in my passages – you would be hard-pressed to locate entire sentences that made sense of their own accord without the supporting structure of the sentences around it.

I suppose I could write that much fiction that fast only if I had planned it beforehand. If the idea comes fully-formed in my head I can just write it out in one sitting, as it occasionally happens. But this is the equivalent of waiting for lightning to strike, not a useful quality for one who aspires to regularly write and publish fiction.

One way is to maintain a tracker to note the number of words you write daily and the time that you write it. This is useful for two purposes. Firstly after you have accumulated a month’s worth of data, you can derive a daily average and aim for this as the minimum you should write every day.

The second purpose is to analyze the timings to find out when is your most productive time. I have maintained a tracker only for a couple of months, but it has confirmed what I already know – weekend afternoons are likely to be the best times for me to spin fiction.

The writer Rachel Aaron has a useful blog post, which turned out to be popular enough that she wrote a book which is now available as a Kindle eBook on Amazon!

I’m not sure how long I will continue with a tracker, nor am I positive that with regular writing and tracking I will ever attain the pace of Alexander McCall Smith, but I can always hope, can’t I?

New Beginnings and 2014 Wrap-up

Happy New Year, everyone! The year begins on a positive note. My humorous essay Its Not Personal is up at Page & Spine on The Writer’s Table. 2014 had been a stellar year for me in terms of my writing. I managed a grand total of 80k words which amounts to little more than 200 words a day. The breakup is as follows:

19 short stories
16 essays
10 pieces of flash fiction/nonfiction
12 blog posts

I made a total of 165 submissions:
Accepted – 15
Rejected – 108
Withdrawn – 8
Submitted – 23

The rest were no responses, even from markets that don’t have a ‘No response means no’ policy. Those befuddle me a little, but I understand there might be reasons for this, so for me it’s just better to chalk it up as a lost cause and move on.   On the final day of the year I received 3 rejections. Ouch! Luckily I’ve grown too thick-skinned to allow this to affect me! I have renewed my commitment to the Short Story Challenge, and will continue writing one a month for 2015. Among other writerly tasks, revising the stories I’ve written and submitting them is of paramount importance. If I don’t work on that soon then I’ll land up having acquired a platoon of stories and no action taken on them.

It hasn’t been a great year for me in terms of reading as I finished only around 20 books this year, a record all-time low for me. However I’ve made up for it by reading tons of short stories and entire issues of literary journals, both to understand markets I intend to submit to as well as to analyze the components of well-written fiction and non-fiction.

Resolutions are passé, or they should be, at least for people like me who never manage to keep them. However I do plan to commit to my writing and make time for it as much as possible.

What are your plans for the New Year?

Re-kindling my love for Reading

Since I last posted, I’ve enjoyed two writing successes:

  1. My story The Facebook Identity placed in Words with Jam’s Genre Spoof contest.
  2. My vignette ‘Singapore City’ was chosen for the Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2014 collection.

 

These two successes have proved bright lights on a path littered with rejection notes!

 

Over the last five years, the publishing landscape has changed dramatically with the advent of the smartphone and e-readers like the Kindle. Whenever Nathan Bransford ran his poll, I’d silently vote for the option ‘you can pry my paper books out of my cold dead hands’. Between the library and online retailers offering huge discounts, I didn’t think I’d ever move away from print books.

 

This year, however, I’ve done most of my reading on my smartphone using the Kindle App. I can’t be thankful enough for this device that has lit up my lunch and snack breaks in office!

 

Some amazing e-books I’ve read this year:

 

Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn

I’d read quite a few reviews of this book which aroused my curiosity. It is a satire centered on the Elysian Literary Prize, based apparently on the Man Booker prize. Critics disliked it, but I found it extremely funny, and though I hadn’t read any books by this author earlier, I’ve added the Patrick Melrose novels to my TBR list.

 

The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini

Many years ago I’d seen the movie based on this book, and found it quite touching. I came across it while browsing titles on the Kindle Store and purchased it immediately.

This is a beautiful novel, with simple but lyrical prose that touches the heart.

 

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom by Amy Chua

They say if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. If that wasn’t the case then I might have written a separate blog post on this book alone.

The way Amy Chua obsesses about her parenting style, it sounds as if her children have discovered a solution to world peace or invented a viable alternative source of fuel.

Reading this book, I discovered that I’m almost a ‘Western parent’, one who gives their children freedom of choice and doesn’t force the kids to do something they don’t want to. Of course, some tenets of Asian-style parenting are common and ingrained in me –being respectful of parents, aiming for first place in studies etc. But forcing a ten-year-old to practice the piano for three hours straight without a bathroom break? No thank you. I’m happy to forego such madness, even if it means I or my child won’t ever perform at Carnegie Hall.

 

14 Stories that Inspired Satyajit Ray by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

Satyajit Ray, who received an Academy Honorary Award in 1992 while on his deathbed, made many films from short stories and novels, but he imbued each film with his own touch even without straying too far from the original storyline. This book contains 14 of the stories that inspired the great director’s movies, and though I’d read many of them before, it was a delight to return to them again.

 

Also, do take a look at these helpful blog posts I came across recently:

A list of reasons for writers to be thankful

If you’re writing short stories, polish them and send to Short Story Competitions 2015

How to write 1000 words a day every day

 

 

Any interesting books/articles you’ve read recently?

Stories to Write

First off, if you want to know what software programmers really do at work, take a look at my Poetic Cyber-war published in the recent edition of Work Literary Magazine!

On the writing front, I’ve been exploring some experimental writing these last few months. You know how writing prompts and exercises push you to attempt different forms? Here’s my list of the kinds of stories I want to write:

  1. List form
  2. Epistolary story
  3. Second person story
  4. Diary entry
  5. News items
  6. First person plural
  7. Chats, tweets or blog-posts

There are other kinds, of course, like prose poetry or dialogue-only stories, but the seven above are the ones I feel most comfortable about trying out.

Each form, I believe, serves a different purpose. The content should be appropriate to and suited to the form, and the form should not be a gimmick. If it is, the reader can easily figure it out and there won’t be any pleasure in either the reading or the writing of such a story.

Each form warrants a certain kind of story, or a certain kind of protagonist. I cannot think of taking any of my stories and rewriting them in one of the ways given above. It simply wouldn’t suit. So instead, I trawl my trove of ideas to find one that will suit the form and make the story come alive.

Of all the above, I have tried a list-type story last month, which went in as my September entry for the Short Story Challenge. I’ve also tried a story written in first-person plural, as in ‘we did this’ and ‘we did that’. For a fabulous example of how to pull this off, please read Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris.

To get these stories working and in publishable shape requires more effort than traditional stories, but I think its worth it just to stretch that creative muscle. Even if its not good enough to be published, it counts as valuable writing practice and a great opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t, and also to help us writers identify strengths and weaknesses.

Have you tried any experimental stories? Can you think of any other experimental forms to add to the list above?

Successes to Share

The month of September has brought with it great tidings for me. I’m pleased to report a couple of successes:

This was my first story for the Short Story Challenge written way back in January when we started. I had put it on the backburner as I tend to do, and returned to it much later to make the changes suggested by those who critiqued it. For the most part I’m happy to leave my stories to percolate so that I may read it with renewed energy and a fresh eye. This turned out to be a good move for this story.

  • My story Reading the Leaves won 3rd place in the themed short-story contest held by the Creative Writing Institute. They don’t seem to have announced the winners online, but I got this news in the email last week!

The theme for the contest was to write a story of any genre between 1,000 and 2,000 words, but it must contain the given sentences in order without any changes:

I have a list and a map. What could possibly go wrong?

I had a draft of a story that fit the theme. Days before the deadline I rustled up the story proper and whipped it into shape for the contest.

 

These wins have given me the motivation I need to continue writing. Though the last few months have been hectic on the work front, I continue to plod away at my stories, even its only one page at a time, or revising a little as I go.

So what have you been writing lately?

What I’ve been Reading

I haven’t been reading much. There, I said it. I’m ashamed to have said it but it’s the truth, especially coming from me – a person who used to finish 2-3 books per week with consummate ease. 

To clarify, I haven’t read too many novels this year. But to compensate, and because I’m writing 1 short story every month as part of the Short Story Challenge, I’ve been gobbling up fiction and essays from literary magazines everywhere, mostly online. 

At the rate of 1 short story a day, I might have easily read as much as 2-3 books a week! 

Despite that, I craved my novel fixes. So I got back in the game with two of the most talked about books that have recently been made or are going to be made into films. 

 

Divergent by Veronica Roth

I came to the Divergent party a little late, because I didn’t know how much I could stomach. I was also worried that it would end on a cliffhanger and I’d be forced to read the sequels just to know what happens next. 

Luckily I’m pleased to report this was not the case. I enjoyed reading the book. It ended on a note that surely promised a sequel, but it is no loss if you choose not to. 

Though I found it very exciting, the premise felt a little too derivative to me. The sorting of people into factions reminded me of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, and the violence between adolescents brought to mind The Hunger Games. I understand the appeal, of course, but I’m happy to see the sequels solely on screen, with my niece serving as my guide to plot lines that I may not follow. 

Here’s the trailer for Divergent:

 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

If you haven’t read the book already, then there’s nothing I can tell you about it. I knew that there was a halfway plot twist but I didn’t know what the twist was. Briefly, all that I can tell you about the book is this: 

On Nick and Amy’s 5th wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. Nick is the prime suspect – because, almost always, it’s the husband that did it. The book is narrated alternately by Nick, and Amy’s diary entries. 

Now that I know the twists and the endings, I can safely say – please read the book if you haven’t already!

The film is out in October. The trailer is brilliant, as is the casting for the movie:

 

Right now I’ve started on The Silkworm, written by Robert Gilbraith aka JK Rowling. So far, all I can say is, JKR is JKR. She hasn’t lost her touch, or her sense of humour, or her writing skills, one teeny bit.

 

What have you been reading lately?

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