Sideffects of bad reviews…

Okay, finally, after all these years, I am ready to accept bad reviews as part of the deal for authors.

The first really bad, read harsh, review I got for my first ever attempt at writing and publishing (self) a novel – back in 2013 – was, wait a minute, maybe I didn’t get a bad review at all!

But when I decided the book was not good enough, I retired it and worked tirelessly revising over and over, till I could not do it anymore, sending it to three more copy editers , costing me (US$ 1,200). The first book had gone to four editors, one developmental editor, a line editor, a copy editor from India to recheck the facts were right and a proof reader, making me 3,000 US $ poorer. I am not even mentioning the formatting, cover and promotional expenses to spare any aspiring writer reading this a heartache. bleeding-heart-800x800

I was pretty sure I had it right this time. I had spent about six months revising and perfecting the book structurally, chopping off scenes that I thought bored the readers, basically gave it my best shot, and published it as a Kindle book, renamed it ‘Meantime Girl’ chose a more suitable cover to match the story, as a novella of 32,000 words approx (the original novel was 50,000 plus words!).

cover copy fullI sat back and hoped for some appreciation. I still didn’t think I would earn millions. But I knew I had made an honest effort to “unbore” my readers.

bad reviewsInstead, I got really merciless reviews,and mostly from readers who got free copies to read during promotional offers for which I had paid myself. (I did get some good reviews as well, one got removed by Amazon admin who suspected it was by one of my wellwisers!, my efforts to convence them failed :(, sadly).  In short I paid for those harsh reviews, again hundreds of dollars to get pelted with stones. I have been flogged in life, literally and metaphorically; but here I was doing more than what I was expected to do, and hence the hurt surpassed the bleed.

Initially, whenever I read a really bad review, it used to feel like a slit thorugh my heart. Now it is better, I mean easier to bear.

Maybe I am getting used to it; is it a good thing? Don’t know.

But each time a harsh review appears on my Amazon page or as an email, it hurts like hell and robs me a couple of weeks of productivity. I feel like a looser and am unable to write, read or live normally.

So dear readers, if you don’t like my book, please resist an urge to be mean or so harsh. Don’t ever read my books, tell all you friends what a lousy writer I am; but don’t, please don’t, put it where I can read.

Why am I writing this? Can’t waste any more time over bad reviews. Don’t know how much time is left for me on this earth, to live and write. I really want to leave behind a legacy my son can be proud of when I am gone.  No, I am not suffering from any known tricky heath condition. I just feel within this nagging urge and rush to write something brilliant. Hopefully…

Story behind the story, and some more

Some empathised with her, completely understood her choices, even the emotionally-drivens. Others found her foolish pursuit of love unbelievably appalling. That’s Anjali, whose love story makes my novel, ‘The Plunge’.Image

That baffled me, for I never anticipated such conflicting views from regular book lovers and professional reviewers alike.

Anjali, the protagonist of my story, is close to my heart, a character crafted out of real women, friends I have known closely and grown up with. Anjali is not exactly what one of my critics called, ‘incredibly foolish’ or ‘immature’, not the person. She is naïve in a certain subject, namely love. But lovers behave foolishly in real life too, without them being foolish, don’t they? That’s where my critics went wrong, failed to differentiate between the individual and the behaviour. One need not be stupid to behave stupidly in certain aspects of life, like matters of heart.

Siddharth, was convincing enough for everyone; strange! Did it mean men were indeed on earth for the sole purpose of procreating, when they were not fooling around with women’s emotions, pitifully hormone-driven? I don’t accept that idea. Men and women have equal rights to self-worth. But I did not write this story to promote that thought. I wrote to clear my mind of clutter, the self-talk accumulated over years that threatened to crystallise into toxic imprints; that I would have had to carry along and suffer through rebirths. I feel free now, liberated.

I hope to see a movie-adaptation of my novel someday, preferably in the Hollywood. The screenplay, location, historical mentions and characters could be effortlessly modified to fit the frames. I would want the story to remain unaltered.

Who should play the female lead? Ann Hathaway, of course (in the Les Miserables look), with Al Pacino as her lover (I know it sounds like a crazy pairing, but am convinced they would work up a striking chemistry) would do justice to my story. ImageImage

I am sure with a talented script writer like Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) and a bold woman director like Meera Nair (Kama Sutra), Anjali’s story would touch hearts, immensely.

I initially called my novel ‘The Scandal’, then changed it to ‘Sleepwalk’, then to ‘Stains of the Last Monsoon’, and kept changing many times in two years, finally settling for the simple ‘The Plunge’. Anjali’s involvement with Siddharth was a plunge into unknown depths of the ocean of life, therefore.

When my cover designer, Jennifer, came up with this face-down cover image, I liked it instantly, for it embodied Anjali in many ways. Never mind bookstores complaining that customers turned the book face-up (inadvertently inverting the title) each time they passed by the shelf that stacked ‘The Plunge’.

A journalist even published a story about my novel with the cover image flipped down. When I pointed out the error the next day, he blurted out, “Never thought a woman could be of any use when hung upside down!” I could not help laughing, ignoring the chauvinist undertone.

Girls of Riyadh – Review

Girls of Riyadh

By Rajaa Alsanea

Penguin Books

 ImageDubbed as a novel that takes on an imperious society, ‘Girls of Riyadh’ by Saudi writer Rajaa Alsanea is certainly a trendsetter, even if not swell enough “to shake up an entrenched society”, as was initially projected.

The book is an attempt to expose to the world the shacked lives of young women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In that sense it is bold. The novel was promptly banned in the Kingdom when the Arabic version was first published seven years ago by the Beirut publisher Dar Al Saqi.

‘Girls of Riyadh’ is a controversial novel, but to call it Saudi Arabian ‘Sex and the City’ would be misleading.

Rajaa wrote the book ‘Banat Al Riyadh’ in Arabic way back in 2005, and it became a sensation almost instantly in the Arab world.

The novelist narrates the story of four lovelorn girls from the velvet class society looking for and finding love. Along the way, the author also talks about issues such as absence of chivalrous suitors, casually revealing the freedom that exists within families and disconnecting the stereotype image about the country.

Young writer Rajaa grew up in Riyadh, and was educated in Chicago. Two years later, the novel was published in English, translated by her with Marilyn Booth. Within the region, however, everyone seems to know about the “hidden lives” of women in the upper crust of Saudi society, but shocked that it could be publicized as a novel.

The book opens quite promisingly. An anonymous girl writes the first e-mail in a series: “To all of you out there who are over the age of eighteen, and in some countries that’ll mean twenty-one, though among us Saudis it means over six for guys …”

The story is unfolded as “scandalous” emails send to subscribers to a Yahoo group as ‘Memoirs Disclosed’ from a rebellious Saudi girl who goes by the identity ‘seerehwenfadha7et’.

The girls in the novel, Gamrah, Michelle, Sadeem and Lamees, whose trysts with men starts off in Riyadh and make headway during their travels outside the country, when they shed their abayas (traditional garbs). The story details their emotional mutinies, big and small, but generally focuses on their disappointments with the men they love.

Yet, along the way, the story loses steam and the last few chapters of the fifty-chapter book (each chapter, an e-mail) become tedious.

The letters begin on February 13, 2004 to February 18, 2005, over a year. Each chapter carries a brief introduction (which is interesting at times and boring other times) before a significant incident from one of the girls’ life is shared. Since the girls are thick friends, their stories overlap. The introduction also carries some poem or holy verse, mostly hints to the tone of the chapter that follows.

The most striking difference in the life of Saudi women is the law that makes it compulsory for women, including non-Arabs to wear abaya in public. Another cultural prohibition is for unrelated men and women to move around together in public. These are tough laws for those new to the Kingdom; but the rest are universal problems women face in some degree anywhere in the world.

In her author’s note Rajaa writes:

“I did not think the Western world would actually be interested. It seemed to me, and to many other Saudis, that the Western world still perceives us either romantically, as the land of Arabian Nights and the land where bearded shaikhs sit in their tents surrounded by their beautiful harem women, or politically, as the land where women are dressed in black from head to toe and where every house has its own oil well in the backyard!”

She adds, “Being the proud Saudi I am, I felt it is my duty to reveal another side of Saudi life to the Western world. The task was not easy, however.”

She says she hopes through the book to make the outside world understand that Saudi Arabia is a very conservative and male-dominated Islamic society. But the women there dream and have determination. More importantly, they fall deeply in and out of love just like women elsewhere in the world.”

Overall, the story is interesting, till about the most part of the book.

 

 

Excerpts

 ‘The divorce document was not particularly gruesome-looking, but its contents were indeed pretty horrifying. When her brother handed it to her, Gamrah read the lines of script and collapsed onto the nearest chair, screaming, “Yummah! yummah mama, he divorced me! Yumma, Rashid divorced me. It’s all over, he divorced me!” Her mother took Gamrah into her arms, weeping and cursing the wrongdoer…’

 

‘Sadeem packed away her wound along with her clothes and carried it all from the Dust Capital of the World to the Fog Capital of the world. London was not new to her. In fact, spending the last month of summer there had become a familiar yearly ritual.’

 

Webwrecked…

Lost. Yes, that’s what I am at the moment.

Having published my novel, I thought I could relax. How foolish a thought! I now know; the work has just begun.

black bookshelvesI need to market my work, and online is the best bet for a writer with no fancy agent or hands-on publisher to negotiate the book to the best seller league, on Amazon or New York Times or elsewhere. So I say a little prayer and set out to beam my book into the cyberspace,  a web journey or sorts.

And then I realise to my horror, it is all so complicated. There is a really huge bundle of virtual jargon I need to get familiar with before I can use some of the online marketing tools. And each step confuses me and I am compelled to slow down, at times QUIT, only to return after a few days and be lost again!

I would like to use the virtual blog tour, I would want to set up my own WordPress website, blog and tweet spontaneously, and interconnect all my online social networking tools, I would want to give away books for traditional reviews and reader reviews, I would want to interact with live audience, but all this can be possible only if I have a friendly and reasonably, genuine, ethical and affordable marketing service that I could hire! A one-point online marketing resource to do it for me. I know if people read my novel they would love it because whoever read it so far have love it, and it’s not just family or friends.

But ‘The Plunge’ being my debut novel I can only make prospective readers SEE it and buy it if I make it to the top seller league, and I can reach there only if I get some charitable marketing HELP since I am in no financial state to BUY the expensive but guaranteed top spot.

The other option is DIVINE INTERVENTION. I hope God follows blogs and tweets. I hope God reads this. I hope for a MIRACLE… I know they happen even these days of hopelessness. I know they happen to non-celebs such as me. I know you are listening God, and sorry and am sounding desperate, but you know I can’t hide my emotions… hurry please, ok?