Archive for May, 2017

Wednesday Reflection #19 – The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide by Debby Holt

51yq82nv1sl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Title     The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide

Author     Debby Holt

Genre     Women’s Fiction, Chick-Lit

Publisher      Pocket Books

Publication Date      February 1, 2006

Format      Paperback

Setting     England

ISBN     1416502467

Synopsis: With her twin sons’ yearlong pre-college trip to India coming up, Sarah Stagg is finally ready to put up her feet and spend a little quality time with her actor-husband Andrew, star of their local theater. But Andrew has other ideas. He has been having an affair with his new co-star and soon moves out. Now, with the kids gone and the house empty, Sarah is experiencing an existential crisis. She spends her days waiting for her husband to realize his mistake and come home or wondering how she will spend the rest of her life alone if he doesn’t. Her best friend Miriam suggests she spends her time more productively by doing everything to prove she’s enjoying the independence – especially if Andrew is to find her desirable again – and pushes Sarah to join their town’s upcoming play, placing her at the scene of her husband’s crime. Suddenly Sarah finds herself cast as the female lead and the male lead Martin Chamberlain – an already divorcé with a cheating former spouse – becomes her closest confidante and comrade, and real-life savior too. Sarah’s life turns into a whirlwind of misadventures, between starring in the theater, adopting a psycho-dog bent on killing everything in the neighborhood, helping her neighbors spy on their husbands, and being whisked away to Majorca by her best friend where she enjoys a little fling with her college crush with a potential to relocate. The only problem is Sarah’s still too busy wavering between trying to reclaim her husband and finding solutions at an off-shore island to realize true love may be found in the most unexpected of person living closer to home than she realized.

Experience: It’s been a while but I really enjoyed reading this novel. Ever since I took up full-time writing, it has been really difficult for me appreciate works for the sheer pleasure of the entertainment but The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide brought me home. It reminded me why I love reading and writing stories so much – for the sheer joy of living many lives. I could totally put myself in Sarah Stagg’s shoes and it was a pretty nice pair to boogie in.

It wasn’t so much that the characters were deeply explored. In fact, everything that took place was only observed from Sarah’s POV, and she is the type of character for whom the other shoe drops only in the distant future. But this aspect of her personality was so consistently pursued that I have to raise my hat to Holt for her patient custody of not revealing the plot to Sarah too soon. Rather, Sarah’s oblivious observations of her surrounding while keen perception into the characters of those with whom she is detached but taking close one’s for granted, all the while wincing and tiptoeing for things to only get worse, was hilariously adorable.

Moreover, Holt isn’t afraid to introduce a host of funny characters. As writers, we are always told to keep the character count limited to those absolutely necessary. Well, since Sarah is a neighborhood sort of gal, her many wacky neighbors are necessary. It is perhaps one of the reasons why no one’s but Sarah’s character is explored in depth. When you have the main character accidentally molesting priests, her maniac dog chewing up the town gossip’s guinea pig, your closest local pal trying to project her need to cheat onto her husband, and your best friend planning romantic getaways without her husband, it is difficult to dedicate much of the text to anyone but the main character. But on the whole, it worked out fine because they each helped to build up or reinforce Sarah’s own flaws and fitness.

However, there was one character I wish who deserved a little more than Sarah’s self-absorption. Martin was such a swell guy, I couldn’t but feel sorry for him. He was dependable and sweet and all things that would make most girls take him for granted, which is exactly what Sarah does throughout the book. But there were a few moments when his dependability and sweetness came out very masculine and I wish there was more of that. As far as the potential hero goes, I wish he stepped out of the shadows a little more and asserted himself. He was fully capable of it. For the sake of the plot, however, he was much sacrificed.

For the most part, the book shows that Sarah is a character to whom things happen rather than one who makes things happen. It wasn’t only being cheated on, but also all the mishaps that followed that were just a great way of preserving that Sarah Stagg had no control over her life. There was such a Bridget Jones appeal to her that made the reading fluent. Of course, as the story progresses, we see her attempting to take a bit more charge and stand up to – or at least try to stand up to – what is right, but she is essentially a pushover. Thankfully, not forever, which was hinted upon somewhere in the middle to keep the reader’s hope alive.

Recommendation: An excellent chick-lit that deserves to be read if you enjoy rom-com and women reclaiming girl power.

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WRITING CHRONICLES #19: nitty-gritty to watch out for when publishing

When writing fiction with the intention of reaping glory or sale, it is very important not to become overly simplistic about one’s passion for the act of writing. So you have a great story to tell, so it’s all you can think about, so the high will not be tamped until you have flushed the words onto some surface for later reading. But if you want others to feel even nearly as passionately about your work as you do, it is important to keep your eye on some of these following rules:

  1. Write a story that your audience wants to read not just the one you want to tell. A little compromise can take you a long way. You have built up your writing voice by reading up on a particular genre and know what you enjoy. Well, since the books you are reading sell, there are others with similar needs as yours. Invest in a little research to see what this audience is actually looking for when they pick up the same books as you do instead of relying on guesswork, imagining that your customers are just more of you. Hard data is a trouble worth the results they will get you.
  2. Be honest about what you are writing. I know, it seems to contradict the previous rule, because if you are writing to market to an audience, then how are you also writing the truth? Simple, if you don’t believe in it, don’t dish it. Writing exists on a truth-enhancement continuum. Find your place on this spectrum and go with it. One way to do this is by drafting your ideas, outlines, cluster passages/chapters before going into the research part. You have gotten the passionate bits recorded so now you may calm down and employ some cool calculation. Remember, if fiction writing was not a professional career, it wouldn’t have a whole gamut of systematic rules to getting published.
  3. Hit the nail with a strong opening. When readers are shopping for new books, whether at a brick-and-mortar or at a dot-com, a lot of them will flip the first few pages to see if they can connect with the content. This means they will go through the first chapter, poem, or what have you. Most online book retails also provide a “Look Inside” or similar preview tools to entice shoppers. Your opening scene can be a powerful marketing tool and you should make the most of it. I posted a blog on creating great First Impressions previously that you may wish to check out 🙂
  4. Add viable conflict. Interestingly, this is a point that requires mentioning because a lot of novel (as in, new) writers forget while in the throes of writing that even though the conflict must tempt the readers to turn pages, it must also match your character and plot personality. It’s all good when James Bond is flying through Bangkok in an airborne tuk-tuk but will this the way the good reverend would travel to deliver his Sunday sermons?
  5. Length does matter so it’s best not to prolong the conflict unnecessarily. Despite the fact that I hate when a good book comes to an end, I can appreciate that all good things must be enjoyed in moderation. Adding conflict after conflict, dishy scenes after dishy scenes might be enjoyable to you but will probably diminish the value of your book. When outlining your story, make sure you always keep the scenes and chapters you add remain true to why you are telling that particular story. Nip anything irrelevant when you edit. This is especially true with today’s readers who have endless TBRs to get to.
  6. Don’t info dump on your readers. Again, just because you put in all that effort into your research, doesn’t mean you keep looking for ways to pass on all that you learned while writing. The entire chronicles of Queen Mary’s rivalry with Queen Elizabeth I is probably irrelevant in a historical romance novel about a lowly girl marrying a duke just because the setting is 16th century England.
  7. Finally, write a good blurb. No one knows the story better than you – yet, most authors have a difficult time arranging a summary that emotively allures readers to their novels while not giving away the end. Authors, by nature, tend to bounce back and forth between a state of self-importance and diffidence. Even before reading the first chapter, your audience will judge you by the synopsis on the back of your book jacket. It doesn’t matter how epic your story is, before the word-of-mouth goes viral, you will have to rely on those first few readers. And unless you are able to convince them with a blaring announcement selling them why your story is worth spending a day of their life on, your book will probably languish on their shelves for eternity. When writing the blurb, put yourself in a book reviewer’s shoes and make sure you remember to add that very valuable conflict that makes the story important. It took me only about a hundred try to get my blurb for Bad Daughter to satisfy me, and let me tell you, it looks a lot different from the original blurb I had posted on Amazon. It currently reads like this:

BAD DAUGHTERWhat would you do if you were taught that the price of safety is silence?
At the age of six years, Obaira Osman was sexually abused by her uncle, the memory of which she manages to keep buried for a decade. At sixteen, she is a dedicated daughter, loving sister, and an ideal student. When she wins a national essay writing competition and finds herself wooed by the most handsome and intelligent boy in school, life seems like it couldn’t get any better – even if cultural constraints demand she keeps her love affair a secret. However, after a planned rendezvous, which should have been a simple rite of passage, goes awry, Obaira’s memory of a terrifying past comes crashing around her and she realizes she has been far from being the perfect daughter. Her response is to shackle herself to the rules and regulations of her home environment in order to reclaim the safety she once knew to be true.

What if you one day realized that the cost of silence is freedom?
Over the next two decades, she finds herself atoning for the burden of shame that is her legacy. She attempts to earn back her parents’ faith even while trying to find peace by lending a voice to women who have been crushed by similar forms of abuse – much to her conservative parents’ chagrin. But she is kinder to the women she helps than to herself, as she remains unwilling to accept a second chance when fate takes her across the world to the doorstep of the man who just may be the one to emancipate her tortured soul.

I’m sure there are about a thousand other rules to keep on the lookout when writing fictions to sell, but these seem to be some common mistakes authors make. I know, I am guilty of at least half of them 😐

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #18: free! free! free!

Via: Daily Prompt – Survive

FREE EBOOK SATURDAY

Image Designed on Canva

You must be wondering why I’m posting my Wednesday Reflection on a Thursday night-Friday morning. Yes, that is indeed how long I reflected on this issue. And I have decided that this week, instead of reviewing works of others, I shall engage in shameless self-promotion and request review for my own work. After all, it’s been a whole week since Bad Daughter was published via Kindle Select and all the factors – starting from being an unrecognized self-published author to trying to advertise online using the rigidly controlled monetary outflow imposed by Bangladesh Bank to having my book initially under lockdown to appear only on Amazon UK – have cast my book into the pit of obscurity in the reader’s market. Tinkering all day on Facebook Ad Manager to only receive continuous “your ad has not been approved” e-mails (tell me, what is wrong with the above creative?) has not been a ball of laughs either. So I return to my one outpost of comfort, WordPress. A girl has to survive somehow…

I’m sorry to be in such a choleric mood tonight but choleric I am. I went to the bank twice this week in order to get my dollars endorsed so I can run some campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. When I finally returned home successful, I was primed to conquer the world of social media engagement, believing my years of honed marketing communications skills would, at last, come into use for my own product. I had spent all of 2015 and most of 2016 running pre-opening launch campaigns and post-opening promotions for a global chain hotel online so I though this should be as easy as 1-2-3. Not so. My ad, as mentioned above, has been rejected by FB numerous times and all the feedback I receive is a vague “does not meet the Ad Policy Guidelines”. No direction as to which policy it violates. I have tried changing everything from the creative to the target audience to the objectives… it just does not stick. And always the same vague feedback, even upon appeal. With Twitter, I can’t even seem to upload all the information properly before the page routes to error. All this has made me wonder if I am a total web illiterate. In which case, how the hell did I manage a quarter of a million dollars in PR earnings and Social Media engagements for our hotel’s grand launch campaign in 2015?

buy_my_book2

Image: Bidinotto

Which brings me to the reason why I was trying to run ad campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. I realize it’s a bit like putting the cart before the horse but I finally have planned out a marketing schedule to campaign my book. My first objective is to simply get people to read and review it. So I have set up a Free eBook Download promotion for this Saturday and Sunday (to run according to Pacific Standard Time) on Amazon. The links to my book (by market) are provided at the bottom of this post and all a reader needs to do is download the eBook and read it via Kindle App, which is available for free on iOS, Android, PC, and Mac. The image to the right says “Buy My Book…” but, this Saturday, purchase is not even necessary. All I’m requesting people at this point is download it for free, read it at your leisure, and if you think it’s worth a review, please return to Amazon and leave a couple of words. Do I sound desperate? Well, it’s because I’m feeling pretty desperate. You might be thinking I’m losing it too soon but my frustration reaps from the deluge of technical difficulties I’m facing. Because, you know, even if I don’t get stellar reviews, it would still mean people read it.

The good news is, at least the Free eBook Download is scheduled for the weekend. Nothing can go wrong there anymore, right? Knock on wood.

Links to download Bad Daughter by Region:

Amazon UK

Amazon Australia

Amazon Brazil

Amazon Canada

Amazon France

Amazon Germany

Amazon India

Amazon Italy

Amazon Japan

Amazon Mexico

Amazon Netherlands

Amazon Spain

And yes, I’m still waiting for the book to become purchasable in the USA, even though I re-selected the country as the primary market.

Update: It’s finally on Amazon US, yay!

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WRITING CHRONICLE #18: A note on Contest Submission & other accomplishments

Via: Daily Prompt – Unmoored

 

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So Friday I finally submitted my story for the Amazon UK Kindle Storytelling contest, as I had mentioned in last month’s blog. My planned 20K-word novelette turned into a 34,480-word project. You must be thinking, ooh… an editing crisis, right? Not so much, I hope. I kept everything that was relevant to get the story to the finish. I stuck to the plot outline, scripted only the scenes necessary to develop my characters, and did not embellish on the descriptive narratives. I stayed 100% flourish-free. At least, I tried.

This is how I can break down my work on this submission:  Read the rest of this entry »

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#AuthorToolboxBlogHop 02: First Impressions

Last week, in the 17th installation of my Writing Chronicles, I discussed the various ways to “Punish Your Protagonist“. I thought this week, I would make up for it by talking about how to Save the First Chapter.

Wherever you look, literary agents and editors impart a few golden rules: research the agent/editor before you submit your query, provide an economic-yet-comprehensive synopsis of your story in the cover letter, and make sure your manuscript is ready when you send in those first three chapters. In other words, try not to waste this rare opportunity to be read by a professional. Your book’s opening will decide if your story gets picked or tossed.

Getting the first chapter wrong is a piece of cake. We’re writers – an absentminded-yet-observant breed riddled with insecurities throughout our creative process and beyond. Even when we get the story right, we know it could have been better. It can always be better. But with a few simple precautions, that first chapter can be GOOD. What is better than good?

Here’s my two-cents’ worth to a workable first chapter:  Read the rest of this entry »

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #17: English Vinglish starring Sridevi

Via: Daily Prompt – Pursue

english_vinglish_ver2Title     English Vinglish

Starring     Sridevi, Adil Hussein, and Mehdi Nebbou

Director     Gauri Shinde

Writer(s)    Gauri Shinde

Genre     Comedy Drama Family

Release Date     October 05, 2012

Filming Location     NY, NY, USA; Pune, Maharashtra, India

Parental Guidance     PG

IMDB Rating     7.9

Synopsis: Shashi (Sridevi) is a dedicated wife, loving mother, dutiful daughter-in-law, and an efficient homemaker. She is also a small time entrepreneur, filling orders for celebration sweets from her home kitchen, and her laddoos are to die for. But her talents and individuality are overshadowed by the responsibilities she fulfills for her family; her gracious and unassuming personality has only enabled them to take her for granted. She is often ridiculed by her preteen daughter Sapna (Navika Kotia) and corporate husband Satish (Adil Hussein) for her inability to converse in English and very traditional manners, with only her mother-in-law (Subha Deshpande) to sympathize and younger son Sagaar (Shivansh Kotia) as a source of solace. And while she accepts the indignities with a pinch of salt, she is observant and is fully aware of what is lacking in her life. She believes if she learns English, she will belong better. When her elder sister Manu (Sujatha Kumar) invites her to the USA for her niece’s wedding, Shashi finds herself navigating a new world and discovering independence despite her language barriers. She finds a friend in Manu’s younger college-bound daughter Radha (Priya Anand) who encourages her to explore her potentials and give in to her desires. A chance observation at a bus stop takes her to a four-week English course, where Shashi finds a host of new friends and one potential romantic diversion Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou) whose admiration of her is apparent to all.

Experience (some spoilers to tempt you): This is one of those movies that capture the everyday life and the characteristics of the human soul with acute awareness. Nothing world shattering transpires other than the transformation of a woman through her ability to recognize the void in her life and mustering the courage to fill it. With superb acting by the legendary Sridevi in her returning role and excellent effort by the rest of the cast, the movie captures the complexity of Shashi’s dilemmas with the simplicity of her personality.

Gauri Shinde, film’s director and screenwriter, does not waste time in exposing the conflict in this movie. We straightaway see the efficiency with which Shashi manages her household as well as her business and how her achievements are overlooked. We see that Shashi is a keen observer of her surroundings, she is conscious of the injustice in her life, and that a lack of confidence stops her from righting the wrongs committed against her. The abuse is cruel though not always intentional, but it is abuse all the same because it is slowly crippling her very existence.

Alternatively, we see her happiest when she is out delivering sweets to her clients, where her talent is celebrated. We see her attempting to share her joy with her husband but he is too busy to appreciate the value of her accomplishments. Then we see her walk off the resulting disappointment by dancing like Michael Jackson with her young son, who is still too young to be busy for his mom. Shashi’s fears and desires are exposed without any delay, making the story an effortless journey.

Intelligently titled English Vinglish, Shinde uses the traditional take of Hindi speakers to add rhyming suffixes any word to portray English as an active agent in class stratification. Her daughter openly treats her with contempt for her lack of English proficiency unlike her friends’ mothers even though her friends love Shashi’s cooking. We see her worry that her husband may one day tire of her and run off with a more modern woman. We watch her practice correct pronunciations in isolation. We know she needs an English course. It piques the audience sympathy for every step of the way.

Language barrier is a tangible tool in Shinde’s exploration of lifestyle and status quo in both India and the USA. At the same time, we also get to see that if two persons truly desired to communicate with one another, they may understand each other’s needs without even speaking the same language. There are some notable exchanges and moments in the movie that demonstrate its value:

SHASHI TO SHATISH: “Important discussions only happen in English?”

AMERICAN VISA OFFICER TO SHASHI: “How will you manage in our country if you don’t know English?”

INDIAN VISA ASSISTANT WITH TIMELY PRESENCE: “Same way you manage in our country without knowing Hindi.”

Or watching the first time Shashi successfully navigates the subways and streets of NYC and Manhattan to locate the NY Language Center. Or the way she can speak in Hindi to Laurent while he speaks in French to her but they are able to perfectly communicate their individual needs and troubles.

Yet, while language barrier is used as the central tool to explore Shashi’s struggles, the story exposes a more prevalent predicament faced by housewives – that of allowing one’s herself to become lost in the roles. This is not only a lifestyle perpetuated by housewives in India but the world over. We see an underappreciated and often disrespected supermom and cheer for her as she reclaims her individuality. We are pointed out how loved ones can hold her back from reaching her full potential when they fail to appreciate her contributions and talents. How the family for which she sacrifices everything can fail to make her feel like she belongs.

LAURENT: “But your food…” (gestures A-Ok)

SHASHI: “No, no. Your cooking… hotel… expert. I’m… in-house cooking… Very small.”

LAURENT: “Not small, not small. Food is… food is art.”

SHASHI (REFLECTING ON HER HOME LIFE): “Man cooking – art. Woman cooking – duty.”

LAURENT: “Food is love. You cooking with love. Good food. You make people happy. You artist. Not small.”

SHASHI SMILES TO HERSELF WITH SELF-APPRECIATION.

SHASHI TO RADHA: “I don’t need love, I need just a little bit of respect.”

SHASHI’S WEDDING TOAST: “This marriage is a beautiful thing. It is the most special friendship. Friendship of two people who are equal. Meera, sometimes you will feel less. Kevin, sometimes you will also feel less than Meera. Try to help each other feel equal…”

The movie aims to encourage homemakers to take me time for herself and not become a martyr to her family’s needs and demands.

And all through this, Shashi is also presented with temptation in the form of a handsome Frenchman who is a professional chef (sharing her talent) and belongs to her language class (facing her struggle) who can’t keep his eyes off her because he finds beauty in all her actions. We wonder if she will give in, we would even understand if she does. Will she pursue a new life as well as she has pursued a new skill? Her family is her weakness in more ways than one and we wonder if she will seek escape. Nebbou’s personification of kindness is just what Sridevi’s demonstrations of self-awakenings deserve. It increases the tension in a perversely hopeful way.

Recommendation: Well, language barrier to Hindi might put off some audience but this movie can be watched for that very reason – to appreciate cultural differences (I have seen this movie in my hotel room in Bangkok once in Thai). Moreover, stories this valuable if missed is a great miss. I can tell you that it is not the first I have watched it nor will it be the last.

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WRITING CHRONICLE #17: Nine Ways to Punish Your Protagonist

Via: Daily Prompt – Exposed

 

640px-TheKnightAtTheCrossroads

Image: Wikimedia

My life is perfect. Said no one ever. If they did, they’re lying. Human beings aren’t happy until they are bogged down by burdens and bellyaching about it something awful. Be it loud as a hungry cat or as passive-aggressive as my mother. [Hey! I love my mother but she gives me plenty of reasons to complain.]

See? We are never entirely happy and without troubles and flaws. This includes a writer with all expenses covered and the only task to accomplish is finish composing novels to publish and sell. So if the author’s life isn’t perfect, and the readers’ lives aren’t perfect, why should the hero and heroine have it easy?

No one wants to read about people who have it made. Stories are driven by characters and their challenges. Having too much sympathy for your heroes and heroines is equivalent to tying the proverbial noose around the shelf life of your book. You were too kind to your protagonist while writing? Well, get ready to have your readers write off your protagonist.

The solution? Make it hurt and make it count. In other words, make your characters believable and garner enough sympathy – even for that evil douchebag – to make them memorable. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find causes for their miseries – after all, we humans manage to complain about even the best of gift horses.

Easiest is making life difficult for the protagonist. Heroes and heroines tend to hold very deep-seated values, even the anti-heroes/heroines. Ego and integrity raise the stakes for them. Here are some great ways to drive that stake deep enough to leave your character with a gaping wound (by the way, gender-neutral usage of the terminology ‘hero’ henceforth):  Read the rest of this entry »

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