I knew there was something odd about that chaiwalla on the corner….

Because I am a sucker for any good story inspired in part or wholly from the places, people, nature, art, music, history, politics, or social customs of the subcontinent, I had to post this link to an essay by Sami Ahmad Khan about speculative fiction in India. Khan’s just published Aliens in Delhi, a geopolitical science-fiction thriller depicting how contemporary India responds to an alien invasion. Speaking as someone who lived in Delhi for five years, If I were a member of an extraterrestrial race of reptiloids preparing to invade Earth, Delhi is the last place I’d try to invade, but the book sounds fun.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen times. We need more writers, native and foreign, sharing the fascinating particularities of the subcontinent with the rest of the world. And, we need better international distribution channels because, as I type this, I’m also trying to order the book and I am getting the dreaded  “not available to ship to the United States” message!!! Damn it, why? Why is this always an issue for books published in India? Ok, rant over. I’ll get it sooner or later. Watch this space.

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Lessons from the third draft

apsarae6edc5It’s been two years. People are beginning to ask, aren’t you nearly finished with your novel? You must be working on the final edits. And I have to correct them and explain that I’m actually writing a third draft. A tense silence falls, or there’s a lot of head nodding. Either convention will do to signal that we’ve got to move the conversation along. No need to dwell on the obvious problem.

Two years? C’mon? How can someone still be writing new scenes, heck even chapters, after two years? Dead novel writing, they suspect. Remember William Hurt in One True Thing? Yeah, like that.

But I am cool with it, pretty much. I’m learning something from round three, which is a mix of writing and editing. I hope it will be one heck of a cocktail in the end, filled with the right balance of syrups and bitters. One of the things that’s different this time is my lens. Instead of focusing on each chapter’s arc, I’m looking at three or four chapters together in a block and see if they hang together and make a working part.

Okay, I’ve only done this for the first four chapters so far, but here’s what I do know (shaking a finger and speaking with Bernie Sanders’ Brooklyn accent): Chapter four told me that chapter 1 was missing. I mean missing. The old chapter 1 had to become chapter 2 and chapter 2 had to move up to 3, etc. And the real chapter 1 was missing like a black hole. It was such a powerful hole that the whole novel was going to collapse if I didn’t write it. So I did.  Continue reading

Astonishing beauty lies in the eye of the predator: The Devourers by Indra Das / Belleza increíble yace en los ojos de un depredador: The Devourers de Indra Das

Note: The Spanish translation following this post is by Daniela Toulemonde. 

Having read several of Indra Das’s short stories (reviewed here), I ordered his first novel, The Devourers, as soon as I could find the North American edition from Del Rey Books. It arrived when I was in the last leg of my WIP’s second draft, so I sat it on my desk and admired the cover, illustrated by Chris Panatier, for three weeks before I so much as read the title page.

Devourers

Sorry for the sloppy photo of The Devourers cover. Hats off to artist and illustrator Chris Panatier for capturing the novel’s wonder and beauty.  

When I finally started the first chapter I was afraid I had such high expectations I would be disappointed and absolutely unfair to the author. I was not disappointed. I was overwhelmed by Das’s shape shifters, the beautiful writing and the creatively imagined Indian landscapes from the 17th century to today. This one is going to win prizes, people. I promise you that.

Here’s a little taste of Das’s writing.

When the sun rested at noon we passed a group of resting dervishes under the greened shade of a chinar tree, turbaned heads bobbing in a drugged stupor from drinking bhang, and I wondered whether I, too, had been drugged into a trance days long. I felt fevered, whether from the strangeness of these days or simply from catching a cold I couldn’t say. The holy men basked in winter light falling through the leaves, their reddened eyes rolling to watch us pass them by, their fingers soiled from crushing the buds and leaves they put into their potions. I wanted to ask them: Can you see this bone-white man walking beside me, dressed in pelts and hauling fardels? Can you see the thing he can become? Have you spied it at night, galloping across the land? Gévaudan peered at them with hungry eyes, and the air sang with silence.

The Devourers begins as a buddy story, and our protagonist, a history professor named Alok Mukherjee, is a bit Vyasa, a bit Watson, a bit Clarice Starling. His casually met counterpart identifies himself as half werewolf in their first encounter and puts Alok into a trance where he has visions of even stranger characters in a story that the half werewolf tells him. The history professor is hooked and compelled to discover more about this strange man, and so was I. Continue reading

Review: The dead rise and raise questions in “Breaking Water” / Reseña: Los muertos reviven y suscitan preguntas en “Breaking Water”

As regular readers know, I am a raging Indophile. and nothing makes me happier than reading good fiction from the subcontinent, which is what I found in “Breaking Water” by Indrapramit Das. Although probably best categorized as horror, the story is more fascinating than horrifying as it questions aspects of that most critical boundary–the one between life and death.

marigold3Readers enter the story when Krishna, a poor man bathing in the Hooghly river, finds a corpse. In the first lovely sentences we are hauled up close to the sacred and the profane.

“A face beneath sun-speckled ripples—to his eyes a drowned idol, paint flaking away and clay flesh dissolving. But it was nothing so sacred as a discarded goddess. The surface broke to reveal skin that was not painted on, long soggy hair that had caught the detritus of the river like a fisherman’s net.”

A priest suggests to Krishna that he might have some responsibility to care for the corpse, but Krishna ultimately leaves the corpse behind like so much trash on the side of the river. The corpse rises and starts following Krishna’s footprints in the mud. Others, and this is entirely believable if you have ever visited a river in India, ignore the woman or silently berate her for shamelessly wandering about the ghat naked. Continue reading