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Interview with Ismita Tandon Dhanker

A “lesser known poet”, a brilliant author, and an extremely charming young girl – Ismita Tandon Dhanker made waves with her debut novel- Love On The Rocks earlier this year.

BookChums got talking with Ismita and here’s all that we found out.

We saw your blog and it has some real good poetry. So let’s begin with the clichéd one first – when and how did you start writing poetry?
Poetry happened to me at the age of twenty-six when I went sailing for the very first time. A stroll on the deck one evening gazing at the blue sky slowly turning crimson and the wind stroking my face, the thoughts kept flowing until they began to rhyme beautifully. Communing with nature was the turning point in my life.


Your first published book is a romantic-thriller and not a collection of your poems. Why?

People don’t read poetry. Where is the time in this mad rush to pack meaning in their fast paced lives?  And even if they do they don’t buy a poetry book and publishers have a tough time selling it in the market. But it’s my dream to have a poetry book that would sell like hot cakes. The dream has already begun to pay off since I won 50, 000 for my poem ‘I am Beautiful’. Life is much like poetry…beautiful, free flowing, cryptic.

Love on the Rocks had quite a heady mix of characters. What was the thought process while developing the characters? What kind of research did you have to do for the characteristics and the overall plot?
The characters are an amalgamation of all the wonderful people I have sailed with in the last few years. Sailors are quirky, a lot different from the average man you meet back home. Long voyages at sea in the company of colourful sailors, gross jokes, anecdotes, bizarre incidents, the loneliness it all turned out to be one helluva adventure. That’s all the research that I needed to put together a thriller.

If the book gets picked up for a movie- who do you think will fit the role of Sancha, Capt. Popeye, Aaron, Harsh, and Baldy?

If we are dreaming, we might as well dream big:
Sancha – Amy Adams
Capt. Popeye – Antonio Banderas
Aaron – Christian Bale
Harsh Castillo – Oliver Martinez
Baldy – I think Christopher Nolan can handle rest of the casting

The title, genre and setting of the book is unconventional and not been explored by many new age writers. What prompted you to work along the lines of suspense/thriller/murder…and not take the conventional route of a chick-lit or simple love story?
Everyone has a story to tell and the first book almost always comes from the authors immediate surroundings, experiences. I have always been inclined towards murder mysteries and it seemed like such a thrill to keep the readers guessing. And love is so twisted in this day and age that any story can hardly be termed as a ‘simple love story’. Hence the thriller angle.

What are the challenges you faced while writing the book –maybe in terms of its progress or the characters or maybe with the publishers?
Challenges were plenty. To carry the story forward from different POV’s, exploring their personal crisis while moving on with original plot required that changes be made to the draft very often.
Even after the final draft was ready, my troubles were far from over the difficult task of finding a publisher loomed large. A year long struggle, countless rejection mails and nail biting moments were an integral part of the books arduous journey. And I had to kept reminding myself every now and then ‘Its a good book and I’ll make it’.

Is there an incident that you’d like to share with our readers and budding authors that you encountered while writing the book?
The original manuscript was a grand, elaborate peep into the lives and work of sailors on a ship. Their hardship, the hectic work hours all that had to be pruned to make the plot tighter as editors from various literary agencies believed that the general public would not be interested in reading about the mundane. I differ on that point and today most readers come back to me and say ‘they loved the novel, the plot but a little more description of the life at sea would have made it so much more interesting’.
Persistence is what worked in my favour. It’s a tough call to roam around with a manuscript that doesn’t gel with the standard idea of Indian fiction, the story being narrated by different points of view. And then to be told that Indian writers can’t write good thrillers. Well, I just did!

Given a chance, would you think of giving this story an alternate ending?
Nope but I would prefer to stick to the original/working title of my book which is ‘Almost Lucid’.
How do you think your writing (fiction and poetry) has matured with time?
Clarity of thought and simplicity of expression are now the hallmark of my writing. Practise makes perfect!
Name the authors and poets who have inspired you.

Jeffery Archer, Sydney Sheldon, Kabir, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Frost.
Tell us something unique about:
Ismita the poet…is restless.
Ismita the author…is an author by default.
Ismita the girl…spends her evenings in the company of Trees.
Tell us:
The one quote that inspires you all the time
To practise any art no matter how well or badly is a way to make your soul grow.

The one character of LOTR that is closer to you than the rest
Manna and his journal entries.

The one dream/aim you still strive to achieve
To be known as a Poetess.

The one poet (and/or author) you desire to meet
Deepak Chopra.
What can we next expect from your desk?
I am half way through another thriller titled, ‘Drink and Die‘, weaved around DND, a rehabilitation centre for alcoholics in a town called Monele near Ooty. The story highlights a social malady, Alcohol addiction, an issue I have always wanted to address.
The plot is a heady cocktail of the different favours of life lust, power, money, incest and vanity. The protagonist of the story is Johnny Will, a man with a high IQ, who runs a rehab and is ostensibly helping the rich and not so sober get over their little alcohol addiction. He has no qualms about blackmailing his wealthy patients too. A crook selling a cure.

What other books/authors of recent time would you recommend our readers?
Deepak Chopra, Robin Sharma, Kabir.

If you had a book club, what would you name it? And what would you be reading in there?
‘The Poetry Night Club’ and would be reading poetry of course!

Well, there’s a lot more to this charismatic young author and we for one, eagerly await her next book.

To know more about Ismita check out her profile page, only on BookChums!

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How To Promote Your Writing

 

Writing is an enjoyable exercise, for most. It is a great way to express your thoughts and feeling with words.

And to garner appreciation for it just adds to the charm, doesn’t it? Further, the thought of “earning” a bit through your work sounds intriguing enough…true? The number of bloggers turning into writers speaks for itself. But not many writers/bloggers find it easy to promote their work. The key word here is “driving traffic to your site where you publish your writing.”
So I thought of putting together a simple list of things one can do to gather a bit of recognition, to begin with.

Attractive Blog Page
Once during our Marketing session in college we were told: jo dikhta hai who bikta hai. (One (product) that is seen is the one that is sold.)
So to begin with, make sure you have a decently attractive blog page. There are a lot of blogging/writing platforms available. WordPress, Joomla, Blogger, Blogspot, Drupal etc., and almost all of them provide members with easy plugins to further help you link it to social media sites. Choose the one that you find easy enough and start harping about your blog/writing.

Create a short and crisp (and may I add “killer”) bio or profile for yourself. Add a picture of yourself if you wish. Once people start liking your content/post, they do tend to read about you.
Blogging platforms also provide members with certain color and background themes to make the page more appealing. They also help with easy navigation layouts. This helps members to organize their blocks and make their “recent” or famed posts more accessible to readers. They provide space for certain ads as well. Easy navigation should be one of the key features of your page.

Do not forget to provide the RSS feed links for people who wish to follow you.

SEO and Link Building

Wise men have said: On the internet, Content is King! 
You have to churn out good, readable material. Know your niche, your strengths and your dominance. It will help you write superlative content.

And you needn’t be a techie geek to know the working of Search Engine Optimization. All you need remember is that SEO essentially banks on the structure of the content you put in. The content needs to be the one that readers are looking for. It needs to be of relevance to the readers to connect with. Make sure you keep the content current and update it on regular basis. This will help readers come back to your site and also share it amongst their friends.

Link Building refers to the back links your page is connected with. One easy way of doing it is by submitting to ‘bookmarks’. People suggest guest blogging and writing guest articles as an effective mean to creating and building back links.

You can also chalk out press releases and submit articles to promote your site. Make sure it has ample of back links to bring in readers.
Social Media Platforms
The mention of social media essentially pops two names in your mind –doesn’t it? FaceBook and Twitter. Yes, they are amongst the top ranking social media platforms to connect with people across the globe. And surely they are a great way to stay connected with people.

One major advantage of networking on social media sites is to help gather an audience and create more back links. You don’t really need to “know” people to gain popularity. Start networking and you’d be amazed to know how small the world actually is.

On FaceBook: You can link your blog/writing page to your profile information tab. You can create a Fan Page for people to “like” and enroll for updates.
Request feedback from friends and family regarding your post. Take criticism positively and work towards betterment.

On Twitter: Tweet in accordance to content relevant to your blog post or writing. Use keywords that work as links to your site. Be creative. Have fun. Tweet links to your content a few times during the day. Oh, don’t forget to re-tweet good posts to gather a good following.
Keep a track of what’s trending on Twitter.
Use hash tags, wisely please.
Place a re-tweet button on your post for people to talk about it.
Follow relevant, popular and interesting people. Reply to relevant, popular and interesting people.

Then there are other sites like LinkedIn (more professional), Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc. The internet has millions of other blogging and community sites. Spend some time researching them and registering with them. Leave your blog post links at relevant junctures. This helps in generation of good will. Please make sure you don’t end up spamming. You have to look at it in terms of a long term investment. Make sure you don’t get in the “bad books” of people by spamming them unnecessarily.

Indulge in commenting on blogs you like and find interesting. The comments could be praising the blog post or adding value to the post. Writers can indulge in writing book reviews and posting them on relevant sites – like Amazon, Flipkart, GoodreadsBookChums!
Indulge in forum discussions on relevant sites. Register with forums that are of interest to you and interact with other members by answering their queries, if you can. Do this regularly. It helps in good brand building. Wherever necessary and relevant, leave links to your post.

 
Guest Blogging
It is always good to keep a check on the blogging community. Interact with bloggers/writers that have similar concerns and interests. Invite fellow bloggers to write on your site, and you write for them in return (with your by line of course). This free advertising bit helps in image building and gaining more exposure and visibility online.

 

Stay Active
Popularity doesn’t come in a day. It’s not magic. Unless of course you are controversy’s child. But considering how mortal we all are, there is a considerable patience we all need to hold for results to start pouring in.

You ought to stay active online and look for means to constantly promote yourself and your blog if you really want to stay visible and gain popularity. Always remember: Consistency pays.

 

Other Cool Stuff
Make sure you do something new each day. You’ll have something new to write about each day.
Get creative with video blogs and upload them on various portals. There’s YouTube, Tubemogul, etc. to experiment with. Check out Scribd. That might interest you too.

And if all this is still mumble-jumble for you…I’m around to help you.

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Interview with Kunal Dhabalia

A renowned blogger and a lover of…words, Kunal Dhabalia is a software  professional who enjoys traveling and capturing images for life.

Here’s a quick interview with him.

Where do you draw inspiration from? Any author/book that has had the most  impact on your or your writing?

My inspiration for writing can be anybody. Most of my stories have been the result of  traffic jams. When ever I’m stuck in crawling traffic, my thoughts would veer to what  could be the story of the guy driving the bike next to me. Sometimes I think of the  start, at times I think of how the story should end, and from there the complete story  develops.
Share your experience of writing “Love All” and getting featured in Urban Shots.

Getting featured in ‘Urban Shots‘ was a scintillating experience. I had been a short  story writer for some time, and although I was getting good feedback from the  readers I did not have a good reach. That is where Ahmed stepped in and asked  me to write a short story for ‘Urban Shots’. Writing “Love All” and “Driving down the Memory Lane” was an interesting experience. I wrote the stories in 3-4 days but the editing took at least double the time. And it is very difficult to edit your own writing. Multiple re-readings and editing sessions later I finally felt that the stories were finished product.
If you had to choose one short story from Urban Shots, which one would it be and why?
‘Stick Figures’ by Vrinda Baliga. It has been told from a kid’s perspective and even then it is a very powerful read which is something quite hard to achieve. Vrinda has captured the emotions flawlessly.



Is there something else from your desk that you’d like all your readers to read?

Another anthology of short stories based on school & college life by Grey Oak Publications is already out – ‘Down the Road’. I’ve contributed a short-story in it – ‘The Accidental Author’. Apart from this I’ve been working on few more short stories for further publications. And all other random writings happen on my blog.


Many bloggers nowadays end up sequencing their blogs and getting them published. Or maybe make a full fledged story out of their experiences to get them published. What is your take on this shifting scenario where bloggers are taking their work offline to reach more people?

It is good in a sense – you reach a much wider audience. Although there is a chance, that a few of them would not enjoy the writing at all. The biggest advantage with a blog is that one has a very targeted audience. The blogger has already built a reputation, has a style of writing, the readers expect something of him/her – all of these things go for a toss as soon as the blogger reaches the offline audience. But if the writing is good enough, these things do not matter. What matters is that the writer has made an impression, and expanded his horizons.


Your idea of a vacation would include…?

Some place where I am completely cut off from the world 🙂 No internet connection, no cell-phone towers – no external factors to distract me from spending a good time with my family.

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Interview With Rikin Khamar

Not many know about the man whose first book has garnered rave reviews and is topping the bestseller charts steadily. We are talking about a bright new author Rikin Khamar and his first book
The Lotus Queen.

There’s more about this bright author who grew up in London; enjoyed his vacations in India; professionally is a business strategy advisor; a passionate photographer and artist; and a poet by choice.

The Lotus Queen, is the story of the beautiful and spirited Queen Padmini. Based on actual historical events and figures, the novel is a tribute to one of India’s greatest heroines. Set in the backdrop of 14th century Rajasthan, the narrative weaves together a tale of love, friendship, and inner courage.


Tell us something about your growing up years in London – campus life in London and the vacations in India. Was it during your early days that your tryst with writing began? And how did the shift to Dubai happen?

Wow – this question covers my whole life! I guess the short answer is that my life growing up and even now is filled with the people that I love and books that have become as close to me as some of my friends. My early days were filled with memories of being either very British or very Indian activities or surroundings. I guess being in Dubai allows me to have the best of both!
As for writing, I didn’t really set out to be a writer. I have always been an avid reader, and thought unless you can write as well as the greats, you should really bother. Ultimately, however, as with many authors I imagine, my writing has just powered its way through the surface – spurred on by the Legend of Queen Padmini, and my need to create something, something on paper. How good it is, and how it is received only time (and my readers and publishers) will tell!

We read somewhere that you are a senior business strategy advisor for a global real estate and finance company. How do you balance time off to write, given the fact that strategy advisors barely can spare time for family sometimes?
The honest answer is that I can’t. People can choose to be the best in a certain part of their lives, but that usually means trading it off with another part. I imagine great writers often have to sacrifice some part of their personal lives to do what they do best. As for me, I cannot make that sacrifice so fully. I am content to be good at many different areas than great in just one. I have a family, and I have a job that takes up twelve hours of my day, and so writing usually comes last. I would love for that to change in the future but I guess for now it remains a passion that unfortunately occupies very little of my time,

What triggered the passion for photography and painting? How and when did ‘Invisible Horizons’ commence?

I have always loved art – since I could hold a pencil or a brush. For me, I have always been fond of sketching Animals and Nature. I still have sketches of trees since I was four and portfolio of sketches of African animals made during my teenage years. As I grew older, somehow art or love for nature seemed to creep into my life – I found myself working next door to the National Gallery in London, taking my wife on our honeymoon to Cuba, or my holidays in Nepal or Africa.
Since I have no training as painter or an artist, I turned to photography. Invisible Horizons project is just a collection of my favourite pictures that I wanted to see showcased. It is a private project that perhaps is there just to forcing me to search for beauty in the world around me.

How and when did you start penning poetry? When do we get to read Voices Of Silence?

How did I start? I am not entirely sure. It just came out of me one day, when I was at an extremely difficult point in my life. Somehow the poetry provided a release for my sorrow. Since then I have begun, extremely fitfully, to write poems whenever I feel the urge to. Sometimes I write three poems in one go – other times years have passed between poems. ‘Voices of Silence’ is an apt title for this collection – the voices of the silence inside of me. I wrote my first poem roughly when I was eighteen.

As for when do you get to read it…as soon as a publisher agrees to publish it! But given my newcomer status, and the limited appetite for poetry, I don’t imagine that will be anytime soon. I am looking for an outlet for my work, for now there are some examples up on my website.


How did you venture into short story writing? 
House in Ali Bagh, that featured in ‘Urban Shots’ is set in Delhi and is about an old house that is about to be pulled down. But the night before a construction worker experiences something extraordinary. How did the ideation of this story come about?
To answer with a metaphor, I honestly no idea where the where meal came from, but do recognise the ingredients. My wife is from Delhi, so the environment and the house itself comes from my various experiences exploring that sprawling paradoxical city. The seeing the supernatural or super-sensorial is one that I have always desired or wished for, and is a theme of one of my favourite authors L Adams Beck. Largely forgotten, she wrote some unique stories about seeing the ‘real’ world behind the veil of our everyday perception. One particular book, the Ninth Vibration, has probably been the strongest influence on me as a writer. Looking back on it, I think the urge is almost universal – don’t we all want to have an experience with the other world? Isn’t that the object of meditation? Of fantasy itself?

However, where and how the story itself came about I am not sure. My dear friend, and fellow author (and now publisher) persuaded me to submit the story to his evaluation team at Grey Oak. That’s how it came to be in Urban Shots.




Talking about Demon Diaries – are those random doodling ventures or are they true thoughts about the sham our real world offers?

Hehe, a bit of both. Demon diaries is my experiment with myself; stripping away my everyday mundane, emotionally-charged thoughts to reveal an undercurrent of my thinking. It sounds very lofty, but I guess it’s something that’s for me allows me to tap into something deep inside myself. Most of it is therefore a good serving of doodles with some side servings of meaningful insight.


Talking about The Lotus Queen –how did the ideation of the story come about? What prompted you to pick a historical figure (Queen Padmini)? What kind of research did this require? How much time did you take to wrap up the book?
The idea of the story first came about during a family holiday in Rajasthan. We were driving to Udaipur, when we took a detour and visited the fort Chittor. It is not an understatement to say, the fort blew my mind. Or perhaps more accurately got me dreaming. Where the rest of my family saw ruins, I saw gleaming palaces, and tragic queens. Finally a year later, I decided to put pen to paper and the result is The Lotus Queen.

Research for the book was conducted through my visits to Chittor, and through books and the internet. Given obscurity of the era, I had to be informed not just about the events, but about the people: what they wore, what was used in warfare, what was the layout of the fort at the time, etc…,. This was crucial to forming my own version of the story in my head. To answer the last question, I wrote very, very quickly; finishing the heart of the book in less than two months. However, for different reasons, the book then stayed on my shelf for almost seven years. Finally, last year I revisited, and rewrote, the book in about four months.

Apart from indulging in the creative world, what do you like doing the most?
Spending time with my daughter and wife – my ‘real’ world! I usually love lounging at the beach near my house, sitting at a shisha bar with my friends, or watching a movie at home.

What next do we see from your desk? A novel? A short story? A different genre?
I am right now trying to finish the planning around the second in the ‘Chittor’ series – which will cover the events of the second siege during the 16th Century. Given my pace, I hope to have a first cut done over the next year. I would love to keep working on some short stories in the meantime – but sometimes I feel it’s harder to write a short story – it has to be extremely well written and to the point, and that something which requires a lot of inspiration, and of course, practice.

In the future I would love to experience with the mystery and horror genres – I am a big fan of books like Dracula and stories with a twist from authors such as Poe, Dahl, Du Maurier and Saki. A collection of spooky tales perhaps?
Would you like share one thing about:

–          Rikin the author that not many people know?
I am worried about my sacrificing my time away from my family and work to write. Isn’t it selfish, isolationist pursuit after all? At the same time, it’s something that I love and makes me happy…go figure!
–          Rikin the person that not many people know? 
Two of my principal mottos are ‘Try everything at least once’ and ‘Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile in any task that you do…’


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