Friday, 27 April 2012

It is Written

“Destiny or fate is a predetermined course of events. It may be conceived as a predetermined future, whether in general or of an individual. It is a concept based on the belief that there is a fixed natural order to the cosmos.”—
A predetermined course of events considered as something beyond human power or control.”--

As far back as humans can remember, there has always been the notion of destiny—the idea that our actions and their results have nothing to do with our own motivations or achievements. First it was the lightning and the Sun that determined if we ate that year, then the Great Goddess announced how many children we would have and then other Gods apparently wanted religious leaders to implement taxes. Now there are even comic book super heroes who determine how celebrities should spend their money. It’s all about destiny and fate and how much we like living in little boxes like lab mice. Why?

“…we perceive ourselves as passive victims of powers beyond our control, for which we take no personal responsibility. Accepting responsibility for those problems for which we are accountable is prerequisite to changing one's life. It is a matter of personal power: If we deny our power to engender destructive consequences, refusing responsibility for having, often unconsciously, done so, where will the power to creatively transform one's life and relationships come from? We are, for instance, clearly not responsible for our genes, nor the myriad physical and mental predispositions to which they render us vulnerable. Genetics are part of fate. But we are responsible for how we deal with our inherited biological and genetic makeup, and for doing what we can to cultivate our strengths and manage our vulnerabilities rather than exacerbating them through self-destructive lifestyles.”—Dr. Stephen Diamonds, Secrets of Psychotherapy (Part 6) : Fate, Destiny and Responsibility,

So people just don’t like taking responsibility for things that happen around them? But how can we, when so much just happens, without us elbowing Fate in the stomach.

Writing a novel is a lot like playing around with destiny. The author decides the fate of his or her (or its) characters. The flow from Chapter One: The Apple Tree Blossomed till Chapter Thousand: He died…The End has all been predestined and John, Gina and Mr. Louis never really had a choice. A writer’s Plot has to concentrate on laying the foundation and the subsequent steps needed for Harald the Alien to realize the significance of the novel and his importance in cutting the right-coloured wire one second before his side wins. The plot + the events + character choices + some funny stuff = fulfilling literary Destiny.

However, once in awhile, something magical happens and authors have to rethink a pre-chosen course because their characters simply turn around and say, “I don’t think so.” (Insert head wiggle, Attitude and Z shaped, three point finger snaps here). This has happened to me in the past and I have to say I was thrilled. It’s nice to know that even in a world of your own making you can’t always control everything (and you still make Susan say LOL although you know she loathes it).

I believe in God so I pretty much hope that He’s got it all planned out up there. It might be either the incompetence to accept full responsibility or just sheer laziness but I like the idea of Him leading me toward fulfilling something—the reason why He put me here in the first place. I find it easier to accept many things if I know that nothing happens by chance. If I’m called a well-trained house pet just because I trust and believe in someOne greater, so be it. As long as I’m well fed and have pedigree hair, I’ll just lie in the sun and get my belly rubbed if you don’t mind.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Riff Raff!

Well, I never! Seriously, the last week has been an eye opener. I knew that bullying goes on in all levels of society: celebrities with each other about their weight or that someone purposely revealed too much leg at an event, the Mercedes owners dissing BMW drivers, real vampires making fun of their vegetarian counterparts and the list goes on. As long as robots don’t take over the world, there will always be bullying (unless they start comparing chips and the quality of steel nowadays then everything’s going to go down the drain). What is it that gives people the need to compare and degrade fellow humans?

“… The Stanford Prison Experiment ( blindly divided a matched group into prisoners and guards. Students became bullies within a few hours; once they were given power and authority. Others became victims as they were stripped of their rights and dignity. This demonstrates one aspect of bullying. That anyone may become a bully or a victim. One common road to bullying is being a victim. It is part of human nature to mimic behavior. People who have themselves been victims are likely, given the chance, to become bullies. In some way, the bully may be retrieving that part of their soul that was lost when they were victims. Given the opportunity to bully another, people often repeat what was done to them. Victims who eventually bully may feel powerful and whole.”--

So it’s basically one’s need to feel important and if there are weaker people around to soak up the bashing, the better. Nice; what kind of world are we bringing our kids into?! Anyway, despite knowing all this, I was rather shocked by my findings in an author’s forum last week (no names shall be mentioned because that would be bullying too although I really wish I could). I would never have thought that bullying would find a foothold in the literary world. Aren’t writers supposed to be above social levels and materialism? Or have I been living in a dream world till now about my chosen path? (The clouds opened up, the heavenly choirs reached the peak of their beauty and then it all crumbled in one big fat author’s chat room!)

So here’s the story (disclaimer of the highest sort--I DON’T SHARE THIS OPINION): Many published authors look down on self-published authors and don’t really want their work associated with such “riff raff”. Well, well! As I’m an author with a publisher by my side, I don’t really have to worry about these better than thou writers. I shouldn’t feel personally affected, but I do! Who gives them the right to decide if someone’s work is good enough without reading it first? A writer is someone who uses the written word to express opinions, emotions and ideas. No one should judge how he or she goes about it and no one should have the right to draw lines in the lit world (unless Shakespeare comes back and tries, then that’s another thing).

I’m probably upset by this because I’m still a minnow in this world of tiger sharks and sperm whales and have no idea how things work. But what happened to the beauty of just writing and living in another world despite the fact that you’re actually scribbling from the back seat of your car cum living room? How did it become a power play of he’s better because he’s got BLAH BLAH doing his marketing for him? Seriously, I’d rather hang out with the cool, indie, self-published authors than the stuck ups who think their better because they’ve got MR BIG publishing their book (and all this for 10% of sales, mind you). I’m probably making myself super unpopular with the leviathans of the publishing industry with this but it’s my diary and I’ll spill if I want to. Writers rule: if there is even one person who wants to read your stuff than you’ve done it!! Don’t let them tell you otherwise.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Matters of the Heart

Most novels have some sort of relationship tango or other—be it platonic, family relations, in the work environment, at school or in a romantic setting. We all love a good story where two people meet, fall in love and live happily ever after. But is that really how it works?

“There are many kinds of relationships and a given kind may fit a given person or couple at one stage of development but not at another. Driven by our personal history, we choose partners who help us meet our present needs, fulfill our expectations, and if we're lucky, work through our issues and grow in the directions in which we need to grow. For a person or couple, recognizing this can open doors to a broader spectrum of ways of being with ourselves and each other.”—Victor Daniels, ‘Patterns of Relationships’,

I place a lot of emphasis on Love in my novels simply because I think there is no point waking up in the morning if there isn’t someone worth waking up for (and I don’t mean only romantically—friends and family are as important as a partner, maybe even more so). However, ever so often, I stumble onto a scene where I’m not sure if the characters should fall in love right away, or if she needs to find out if he snores first before handing her heart over to the walrus. Novels show us that love at first sight happens but is it really love or simply infatuation (or other more R-rated stuff)?

“Most of us have some kind of idea in our minds about how a "good" or "correct" relationship is supposed to be. We can cause ourselves needless distress by comparing our own relationships with such an idea of what a relationship "should be like" and then concluding that our own is defective by comparison. Psychologists may imply something of that sort when they formulate criteria for a "healthy relationship" which few real couples ever meet.”—Victor Daniels, (source as above).

As a writer, I want my characters to believe in the intensity of that first meeting—of someone tripping over their own feet in awe of another person. Love is such a wonderful notion. How many of us sighed when Ewan McGregor first sang with Nicole Kidman on the roof top of the Moulin Rouge? Why did we cry when Harry Potter first kissed Cho Chang? What makes our hearts race every time we hear the theme song of Titanic? All these people hardly even knew each other and yet we cheered for their discovery of cupid’s arrow sticking out of their cheeks (Author’s note: For my more blur readers, cheek here has nothing to do with their faces). I suppose it’s those things we call Drama and Theatrics running along beside us with their fake swords and love letters.  We read to enlighten ourselves but also to escape our sometimes dreary world. If I wanted reality I could just sit outside my neighbour’s window and watch her and her husband eating their chips and dozing off on the sofa to Who Wants to be a Millionaire (yes, I know this for a fact).

So what can a writer do to make sure that the feelings between two characters are real enough to be believable and yet Hollywood enough to make us wish the story was about us?  I guess that’s yet another thing I’ll just have to find out on this adventure that I’ve set out on. Hope it doesn’t take too long though, because I really don’t want to live in a novel where Love has to be measured in how many times he takes the trash out without being shouted at first.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Ideas and Inspiration

“We got to roll with the punches, play all of our hunches, make the best of whatever comes your way. Forget that blind ambition, learn to trust your intuition -- plowing straight ahead, come what may.”
-- Jimmy Buffett, Cowboy in the Jungle (song)
“Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.
-- Emily Dickinson
“Genius is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration.”
-- Thomas Edison

I remember my sister telling me a goodnight story about a boy with a lightning scar on his forehead even before Harry Potter was dreamed up. I imagined a world with mobiles that didn’t need actual keys way back when mobile phones (with a satellite antennae the size of a spatula) were larger than the average house telephone. As I sat reading Enid Blyton novels about children having the time of their lives in boarding schools, I wondered why no one thought to write about a school that taught magic. Every time my father missed a turn on his way to take my mother sari shopping, she wished that someone would come up with a device that could warn them about the junction beforehand. This was way before Tomtoms and the like were invented to make our lives easier. After many such premonitions that came true around me, my sister told me that it was possible that ideas swam around the universe and it was our job to grab it. Is that how inspiration works? If you don’t seize the moment, will it just canter off to the next willing recipient?

My inspiration comes from many places: the cause and effect of everyday life, other books, movies, dreams, music and of course sudden, vivid pictures floating around in my head at the most inopportune times (like when I stop at a red light or have curry all over my hands and can’t get to my notebook). Where do these invasive pictures come from? (Please don't bother telling me that I should be worried about my mental's nothing I haven't heard before.)

“…Some people can identify an obstacle and see only the obstacle, while others have an ability to see an obstacle and immediately start devising solutions to overcome it. The skill to be able to see a way to overcome a problem is a great starting point for innovation, and despite the plethora of creative thinking programmes, such as making people pass their colleagues through a rope maze, is still a rare commodity.”—Les Hayman, ‘Where does inspiration come from’,

So it’s probably a matter of subconsciously coming up against a problem and trying to find a solution to it. Cool. My first novel started out as a diary to help me sort out some issues and it worked, so I can probably agree with this theory. However, people I meet ask me how I dreamed up the world of The Scarlet Omen and I seriously can’t tell them. They look at me as though I’m being a secretive, arrogant know-it-all and that is exactly the opposite of how I feel. Some things just happen; there’s no way to describe it in words (and it’s actually my job to describe things in words, so this is something I’m not proud of!).

Daydreaming is a great way to let the ideas flow (don’t do it in school, please, or I’ll have to answer some educational hate mail soon and I’m a little scared of teachers). The problem is: how do you know if an idea is truly original or if it’s just something that you’ve heard of before? Google, my dears. There’s nothing Google can’t tell you! However, there will always be someone else who thought of those sexy pumps that double up as practical sneakers first. It doesn’t really matter—as long as you have an original voice telling the story. And once the tale starts flowing, it becomes yours and no one can take that away from you.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Omens of the Weird Sort

The sky turned an ominous red as the wind picked up its pace, turning the girl’s hair to a golden wayward river. She knew then that the dreaded event was upon her; the signs never lied.

Omens. Crows, magpies and a scarlet ring around the moon: all taken as signs through the centuries as supernatural gossip of things to come. The sages used them to enlighten us while the madder took the advantage to instill fear in the more gullible. Poor men rose to power while mighty leaders fell to the mercy of double-jointed chickens and crones’ visions. Why? Because of the power of omens.

“Omen: an event seen as a sign of future good or bad luck”—Oxford English Dictionary, 2006
“…An omen is a phenomenon that is believed to foretell the future, often signifying the advent of change.”--

A few things that I grew up believing in (please don’t freak out):
1. Itchy left palm= you’re going to spend money
2. Itchy right palm= you’re getting money (this doesn’t work if you apply itching powder so don’t even bother)
3. If you bite your tongue, it means that someone’s talking about you.
4. If you cough (practically choke) during a meal, someone is talking BAD about you.
5. Itchy left foot= you’re going on a journey
(Author’s note: People, I know there’s a lot of itching going on, but bear with me; it does stop eventually.)
6. If a photo of someone falls without human (animal or plant) intervention, something bad will happen to that person.
7. If your left eye twitches uncontrollably (and people huff off because they don’t appreciate being winked at by total strangers), someone is missing you.
8. If a very sweet smell suddenly permeates the air around you (and there isn’t a crazed perfume sales girl running at you), there is a ghost nearby.
9. A dog howling in the middle of the night means that the spirits have come out to play (insert eerie opera vocals here).
Now you can scream and run!

So how did the existence of and our readiness to believe in omens come about?
“...Traditionally the treatments of omens have assumed a sequence where first a peculiar feature of the environment is detected (an omen), it is then explained so that one can find out its meaning (result) which most often is of concern to the individual. Thus the sequence has previously been taken to be (indeed this is the pattern assumed by Victorian anthropology, which rendered interpretation of omens a pseudo-science): Omen  – Explanation – Result – (Concern)”--
No, that wasn’t French just then. In laymen’s terms, like in the case of superstition, all we want to do is interpret what goes on in our surroundings, based on our experiences and culture. I often wonder if our belief actually makes these things come true—if the power of suggestion plays a part in how omens gather their cronies. No one has actually given it much thought, so neither shall I. All I know is that we have always moved house every time a woodpecker knocked on our roof and that everyone I know who have moles on their feet end up living away from home. Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge of that.