Discussion · writing · Writing Diaries

On Writing: The World According to the World

A decade ago I wrote a little snippet about a girl running through the streets of a city, desperation on her heels, her face contorted in an expression of anguish, the skies dark and threatening, the roads dirty and wet. Her name was Fatima.

As I grew up, the girl grew with me. Much in the same way that Croi, the protagonist of my first novel grew with me, so did Fatima. She learned from my lessons, learned from my mistakes. She hurt when I did, she knew the same joy and happiness I did.

Now I am writing her story.

And it humbles me. The idea that I am writing her story–who is so much a part of me but is her own person at the same time–humbles me. I could make some analogies to explain this feeling, give a sense of this experience, but I don’t think I want to.

A lot of Fatima Ghazala’s story is shaped by the world today. Even though the setting is fantasy and ultimately an escape from the real world, I have peopled it, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes intentionally, with characters going through the same things as we are.

It occurred to me that there are more females in my book than males (with major speaking parts anyway) and I worried about that until I realized that so many books exist in which women are present at the periphery, often limited to roles as wives, girlfriends, maids, or whatever subservient position is available.

There are a host of different cultures in The Fire Within and I get so much pleasure in exploring, even slightly, the different facets of that culture. Just the greetings alone are so different and give so much information about the kind of people they belong to. I grew up in a hodgepodge of cultures and I live in a place that is incredibly diverse. I wanted to convey that in my book so I did. I also want to present all the women as fully realized as possible but also reflecting their different cultures without any commentary on the disparity that exists between how the white feminists expect all women to be and the reality of how different women exists as feminists in their culture of origin.

Perhaps I have made the book more political than it ought to be. I am almost 48k words into the book and feel so very determined to make it as beautiful a piece of literature as I can.

I will just forget about how the sentences don’t sentence very well right now and just get the story (in all its dubious glory) out on paper.

Discussion · writing · Writing Diaries

On Writing: This is YOUR book until it isn’t.

It feels remarkably self-indulgent to be still concerned with the lighter things considering everything that is happening politically across the border and around the world but here we are. Still concerned with art and the making of it. (Also the marketing of it but that is a different post for a different day.)

I am still working on my current project for which I wrote the back copy as:

“You are a child of flesh and blood and I am a being of fire and ink. Were I merciful, I would bid you run and end this tale here. But I am Ifrit and my stories are eternal even though I am not. So come here child, and in return for the kindness I have shown you, become the ink that writes my tale.”

Qirat is a country ruled by the humans who claim its forests and the Ifrit who claim all that is desert. The City of Noor, located on the border between the forests and the desert, is the seat of power for both the human and the Ifrit rulers. When Fatima, a human citizen of the city of Noor, delivers a letter to the Name Giver of the Ifrit that ends up fatally wounding him, she becomes the unwilling recipient of an ancient power not meant to be wielded by humans.

The days following the Name Giver’s murder are full of fire and smoke. Fatima is stalked through the city by the Djinni Guard which is led by an Ifrit called Zulfikar. The Name Giving power she received from the murdered Ifrit leads Fatima to discover a name and its associated Djinn fire that, inexplicably, belongs to her. She is captured by Zulfikar who finds himself drawn to Fatima for reasons he cannot understand or accept.  (This doesn’t happen because things are a bit more complicated than the above sentence implies.)

Old enemies resurface and chaos threatens to submerge Qirat into war once again. Fatima is thrown into a world where danger wears many faces and all roses have thorns. She learns that those who love often have the most to lose but that those who don’t love are often the most easily lost. With the war coming, Fatima has to decide which loss is more palatable to her.

Today I will talk about how your book is your book and no one else’s book and how you are writing it as the person you are and not the person you wish to be or the person you will be in a couple of years.

And obviously all these thoughts pertain to me because I am self-absorbed like that but perhaps these thoughts will help you reach some clarity in your own work so here goes nothing.

I spend a lot of time reading articles and posts on writing, taking in advice, talking to people about writing, and generally just learning the craft. So sometimes when I sit down to write I don’t know where to start because sometimes the advice I get is contradictory. I flail, I eat cookies hanging upside my bed, I have heart to heart conversations with my nephew whose entire lexicon is a variance of the word “goo.”

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that this is my first draft and I am going to make a lot of mistakes writing it. And that it is okay to make mistakes. This is YOUR book and you are allowed to write it the way you want to. Sometimes that will mean not taking the advice given to you and sometimes that will mean doing exactly what people told you not to. Because this is your book and it is the first draft.

So write it. Get it all out. Make all the mistakes. Flail. Cry out loudly. Scream. Get it done.

Because it is your book.

And then, once you’re done with the first draft, woman up. Because as soon as it goes to beta readers, editors, critique partners, it becomes their book too. Learn to take critiques, take all praise with a grain salt ESPECIALLY if it comes from your mother.

Then jump into rewrites. Buy lots of chocolate.

Good luck.

Discussion · writing · Writing Diaries

On Writing: The Process and What it Does to the Writer

That is a very ambitious title for what I want to talk about and I have no confidence at all that I am going to be able to express myself with any clarity but…

what the heck… it is past midnight and clarity is optional on this side of the night.

Last autumn, I experienced autumn as if for the first time in a while. I crunched through the leaves and watched winter bloom and wane all as if I had skipped the previous year. Which was odd because I hadn’t gone anywhere.

Everything felt new to me. I felt more alert and more present in my own reality than I had been for a long time.

This made me realize what writing does to a person. Fiction writing specifically because it’s the only one I am familiar with. And okay, I am generalizing so this could totally be my experience alone. I’m sure other writers will pitch in if they read this.

I feel like to write somebody else’s story, you somehow have to thin yourself out so much that you exist as nothing but the pen which is doing the writing. Your you-ness is cast in shade and you become nothing but the reflecting lens for the characters whose stories you are writing.

And it’s bloody exhausting.

But in some ways this process of writing is deeply fascinating. I wonder if someone has compared the brains of writers with the brains of non-writers. What differences exist? How do our brains differ? Are the differences significant?

I should probably sleep. I always get into trouble when I think about things like these…like thinking about writing a book about writers writing books. Hah.

And you know, this also makes me understand how people married to writers suffer. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be married to someone who wrote if I wasn’t a writer myself because they’d always be selfish of their alone time which would differ from their thinking time and their writing time.

I should stop talking to myself now.



Evolution as a Writer

I wish I could go back to my 22 year old self and be a little nicer to her. Give her a hug and tell her to save the unkind words for the people in her life who will constantly try to run her down with their hate.

I wish I could tell her that some day somewhere someone will believe in her. That her writing is beautiful and that she should continue doing it.

I cannot do that sadly. But I can show you what she wrote in her diaries.

Short Sips of a Long Drink

The night is drenched with
unfinished dreams.
There is a fat orange moon
holding dominion in the phantasmic sky.
And the stars shine in soft supplication to him.

A night flower blooms –

there is a chasm in the darkness
a deepening of the languor that
arrests my submissive soul –

I have to write you a story
of the third house on the left side of my street.
It’s protected fiercely by
azaleas and marigolds
and the grass boasts immaculate
chaos in the sunshine.
Sad, ragged curtains peek out timidly from
the unwashed windows on the first floor
the faded rose pattern on it speak pensively –

But I will save that for a molten afternoon and an acquiescent ear.

Forever demands a wrathful reckoning
and I have no truths to tell.
You are so glorious in your surety of the universe
So convinced that all doors have keys
what if I showed you one path that led past
destiny and settled somewhere behind a
door built for the entire purpose of remaining closed.

My streets are long stretches
of cobbled grandeur.
I stumble in the footsteps
of calamitous pirates
who stole the songs from the cowrie shells.

I sit cross legged on my downy sheets
enraptured by the night
Eolian kisses grace my inky fingers
I pour myself into you
through these words,
I gift you with slivers of my soul
they carol in the midst of the jangled syllables.

I am always saying goodbye
a farewell to you, beloved
That is my complaint to the universe.
I am composed entirely of goodbyes.

And so,
the emptiness spreads.

I spent the better part of my Sunday morning
in a teacup,
pondering the crevices in my battered heart
Weary and worn
an old leather shoe, with brown crease marks on the sides
and a scuffed tongue

My thoughts are a dusty china blue.

I am an afternoon under a mango tree
I am this and that too.

I wonder if butterflies ever wish to
return into their cocoons.

writing · Writing Diaries

On Writing #2: We’re Still Talking About Info-Dumping

So I sort of finished the first chapter of The Fire Within, my current W.I.P. and…


I am not even joking. The chapter felt like the most difficult thing I have written in ever and you guys, I am old so that is a long while.

You see, with The Fire Within I have to establish the world (have I already said this? Let me go check) (no I haven’t, let’s continue) in which the story is set before I can tell the story. It’s the best way (I know) to give the story as much weight and drama it deserves.

But let me tell you the things I discovered:

  • Not info-dumping while giving information is possible.
  • Not info-dumping while giving is possible and extremely ‘will make you throw up blood’ difficult.

I am not certain I have it down, to be completely honest.

I shall give you an example.

First Draft: The City of Noor never sleeps. Located on the border between the forest and the desert, being the nation’s capital, and being a profitable stop on the Silk Road makes the City of Noor the busiest place in the nation.

(Look, I know this is terrible. But it’s the dirty draft so I am allowed!)

Second Draft: The City of Noor never sleeps. Being one of the more profitable stops on the Silk Road means a steady stream of caravans enters or leaves the city at all times of the day or night. With the merchants come goods to be traded and people who either want to visit the City of the Djinn or who want to live here. Dark-skinned Bayars dressed in stately robes jostle for space on the same sidewalk that the lighter-skinned Hanguk people do.

(This needs more work but it will do for the moment.)

I was so frustrated by my lack of progress on this chapter that I finally grabbed a notebook and wrote each sentence on one line and attempted to unwrap whatever felt like info-dumping in ways that would make the world seem more alive than it would otherwise.

You might be tempted to cry tears of blood but please refrain as it is difficult to see the screen through blood….which is also difficult to clean up later.

Happy writing.

Nonfiction · review · Review Copy · writing

The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani


Paperback, 160 pages
Published January 5th 2016 by Graywolf Press
Source: Raincoast Books

I am so extremely glad that I chose to read The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani as my introduction to The Art of series. Since then I have read 1.5 more and I am afraid any other book would have either intimidated me or turned me off for its snobbery.

In The Art of Perspective, Castellani asks who it is that tells a particular story. That is, whose perspective is the audience following, whose glasses colour our vision, and what biases does the audience knowingly or unknowingly have or through which view the events unfolding the narrative.

Castellani does close readings of many texts and teases out active (and sometimes distanced) narrators to show how and why it matters who tells the story. He talks about how some of the story is evident simply from what the narrator chooses to say and how he says it.

Another observation of his I found fascinating is the way modern writers take pains to ensure there is no overt narrator in the stories they write. The story and perspective always rests with one of the characters in the book and not some omniscient narrator who is everywhere and sees everything. I rather think modern writers are wary about the big brother aspect of such omniscient narrators but this is an interesting observation anyway.

Castellani writes in an extremely accessible way and while volumes of critical work on literature is not everyone’s cup of tea, Castellani’s tone is often not one of a superior talking down to the ignorant masses but as someone who is talking, maybe over a cup of tea, on the vagaries of literature and the way we tell stories. It was an extremely interesting read and made me want to read every single book in The Art of Series because I figured if they all read even a little like this one, I was going to love them.

But of course that is another story. If you like literature and would like to read more critical work (not exactly theory) on it, you should definitely start with this one.


Nonfiction · review · Review Copy · writing

Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy


Paperback, 173 pages
Expected publication: October 18th 2016 by Graywolf Press
Source: Raincoast Books

I have been, recently, reading a spate of books on writing by authors because I learn better through example rather than instruction. So in a partnership with Graywolf, over the next few months, I will bring to you guys my reviews of some of “The Art Of…..” series by Graywolf Press as well as the odd book about writing (not necessarily from Graywolf).

The first of these reviews is from Benjamin Percy who I was not at all familiar with and whose fiction I still haven’t read mostly because he writes horror and I don’t read horror. What? I happen to like sleeping.

Let’s have the details before we continue.

Thrill Me begins with a essay about Percy’s own life, a glimpse of the things that inspired him and made him the person and writer he is. One thing I know for sure, he was a terrible big brother. As a younger sister with two older brothers as well, I fully empathize with his younger sister.

The chapters following the first are less essays on fiction and more an explorations about the techniques that make for a good novel. Let’s be clear that we are talking genre fiction here and not the so-called literary fiction.

The second chapter deals with suspense and discusses the times required to create suspense in a novel so the reader is compelled to continue reading. Percy lays down clear rules that lead to good fiction, for example, creating urgency and deadlines to give tension to the plot.

The third chapter discusses set pieces; the pieces in a work of fiction imbued with particular (if not logical) importance. These can be anything from an orange that appears just before anything important happens in a book or something benign like a smile on a particular character’s face. Sort of like a cue or a low-level foreshadowing. I didn’t know this technique at all and can’t wait to try it out in my next project.

The fourth chapter which talks about the importance of being judicious in your portrayal of violence lest you make your reader insensitive to it has been very helpful to me. I was stuck on this scene where someone has to die a particularly gruesome death but I didn’t think I wanted to describe it but felt I had to. Percy’s chapter helped me write my way through the scene and I feel particularly happy about the result.

Thrill Me tackles a whole lot of writing techniques like designing suspense, fictional journeys, flashback scenes, and modulation. While I do not agree with all his advice (styles differ and what works for one writer may not work for another), I appreciated all of it. It is the first time someone has so clearly articulated answers to my questions in book form. The look at how another writer writes is fascinating. His close reading of many other texts plus the discussion that follows his readings is also a treasure trove for both writers and literature students.

If you are a writer or are interesting in honing your craft, you should definitely pick up a copy of Thrill Me. You won’t regret it. I know I don’t.