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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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The Long And Short Of It

Walk into a book store and you are sure to find a heap of novels lined up meticulously. But how many are anthologies compared to the full length novels? Hardly a few!

I really can’t say what I like reading more – short stories or a full length novel. Though both have equal, if not less, rewards, they suffer their downfalls too.


My love for short stories began (and somewhat ended) during the school days, where in our “Gul Mohar Reader” had simple short stories that, at least I, used to end up reading even before school started for the particular term.  Stories by O.HenryRoald DahlErnest HemingwayGraham Greene, R. K. NarayanMark TwainLeo Tolstoy,Issac AsimovRuskin Bond, and so many other authors always interested me.
 But that affair lasted a short while. Once out of school, it got somewhat difficult to  track a good collection of short stories. Well, I must confess, I really did not try as hard, due to increasing academic pressures. But whenever I could, I would ask around for anthologies rather than novels.
It’s just that short stories are much easier to interpret, digest, and ponder upon. And the beauty lies in the fact that they could be read easily in one sitting. The restless soul that I am, I tend to get a little impatient reading a really long novel. I jump to a lot of conclusions before reaching the climax. Which in a way is good if the novel is exciting. But it just breaks my heart to see shoddy endings that leave me disappointed.

Also, short stories can be read (and re-read) anytime – while traveling to work, (sometimes at work), while enjoying a relaxed afternoon at home in a comfortable bean-bag, or any week night when sweet slumber deserts you.
Another thing about short stories is that you can pick up any story that you wish to read, without having to worry about the sequence. (Oh, but my OCD to follow a sequence is something I can’t help.)

There is a certain connectivity that is established in the very first paragrah usually, (if it is a well written short story) that takes you through the entire life of the character within those few pages. It’s just that the conectivity has to be established. If it clicks, you know you’re going to like it.

Let me not be completely biased. We cannot rule out the fact that in some anthologies not all stories capture your heart. Some do leave you disappointed. But the pain is bearable, as against spending time and getting involved with a lengthy novel only to be disappointed towards the climax. The effort is futile.

Coming to the writing styles, I must say, both are equally hard.
A well defined beginning, a progressive plot and a convincing climax make up for a well structured story. Be it a short one or a mighty novel.

Where a novel gives you the freedom to elaborate and dive in to the depths of a scene and describe even the sharpness of a harmless pin, a short story needs to deliver the same feeling in a few crisp sentences (or words). Come to think of it, short story writing is more of a challenge. It has the constraints of time and space and words and characters. In those few pages, you have to engage the reader so much that (s)he understands the plot, relates and connects with the characters, and doesn’t lose interest till the last word. That’s when a short story is truly acknowledged.
A novel gives the writer the levy of spinning a beautiful and lavish yarn that the reader is comfortable reading for a few pages before proceeding to the next scene.

Loosely structured sentences, clumsy dialogues, weak descriptions not only repulse the reader but also the publisher. Which brings me to one of the very important points – finding a publisher.
No doubt you can self-publish your work. But it would not gain as much visibility in the market. Social networking sites might help you to a certain extent. But that’s all. Promotions on a few blogging sites, sharing it with friends, family and acquaintances and maybe a few random stumblers is all you’d be able to gather. If you do look at the commercial aspect, finding a good publisher would become one of the priorities.

No doubt, India still has a long way to go when it comes to publishing a short story collection or an anthology. For some reason, publishers prefer full length novels over short stories.
It is only recently that new publishers like Grey Oaks Publications are coming out with continuous series of anthologies, giving budding writers a fair chance. Bigger and renowned players likePenguin, Rupa, Cedar, etc. have opened up more with bigger brands organizing short story competitions that publish deserving stories. Recent offerings that I’ve really appreciated include Urban ShotsDown The RoadSome Of The Whole, etc.

Reading the works of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, and other seasoned authors raise your expectations, no doubt, with the kind of presentation, plot and ideation they offered. Their style is what set them apart. And looking for such gratification today, I confess, is a bit difficult. It is a task. A tough one. Budding authors most give it an honest try, and we readers must appreciate the efforts.

Now, talking about full length novels, they aren’t all that easy either. Definitely more time consuming and involving. The plot needs to be reasonable enough to keep the reader hooked till the last page. A couple of main characters with a few minor characters; a main plot with sub-plots around it; ample amount of research; immense effort and patience; all sum up the process of a decent full length novel writing.
Also, length and quality are not synonyms. Quite a few times, an author, in the zeal to increase the word count ends up sacrificing the structure and quality of the plot.

Though getting a publisher is comparatively easy; and signing off as an author of a novel is more appealing than a short story writer, it is the quality that makes a novel a best seller.

Given a choice, I’d pick up a collection of short stories over a novel. To read as well as to write.

What about you- a short story collection or a full length novel?

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