That’s my spot

A little clichéd though it is, reading—and reading in a good spot—satisfies me any day. I’ve always yearned for a comfortable couch to envelope me as I nestled in it reading through the night. Although that remained wishful thinking for long, it became a reality on a recent trip. My hotel room had this chair which despite its plain and hard appearance, turned out so much snugglier than it looked. After a tiring day and a hearty dinner, I curled up in it reading a wonderful book. I fell asleep unbeknownst to myself—and it was the best nap I’ve ever had.

my spot

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Childhood

sheep

“How dare you do such a thing? You irresponsible, senseless, goat!”

She hung her head in silence, listening to her mother’s tirade. It wasn’t the first time, and wouldn’t be the last. She had done the unforgivable. Again. And her mother would teach her a lesson, again. Despite the many punishments for her carelessness, the little shepherdess couldn’t contain the family sheep. She’d try to steal a quick read from her poetry collection, and the sheep would caper, making her the scapegoat.

— — — — —

“Oh, childhood experience,” she reminisced, when her interviewer asked what had inspired her Pulitzer-winning novel, Black Sheep.

The Catcher in the Rye

It’s not often that you’d read a book that changes the way you look at the world and at the way you look at writing as an art. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger did that for me.

Five chapters into the book and I tweeted for the first time a long time illustrating my confusion. I hated the narrative. The writing tired me and slang threw me off. As I read through the first few chapters, I began to wonder what the writer—and the protagonist—of the story tried to tell me. (I later realised it, and even wrote about it, if you’re interested.) The purpose, the intent wasn’t clear. And as someone who enjoys well-crafted sentences and artful wordplay, I found the curt and bland sentences unimpressive. The lack of coherence, lack of respect for grammar, and the obvious disregard for the reader’s patience, all made me way to cast the book aside.

But the cover held me back. Something about the cover told me not to give up just yet. It only had the title and the author’s name. But the font and the background came together in a beautiful union, making me wonder in awe at how great a book should be within. Not every book gets the privilege of being so simple on the outside and still sell like crazy. And so, I wanted to know what was so great about it.

I read on.

One by one, as the chapters progressed I realised what the narrator was saying. The narrator, a 16 year-old boy named Holden, had flunked school and was about to go home for good. He had nothing to look forward to except the disappointment in his mother’s eyes and annoyance in his father’s. Such a boy, a whiner in a sense, lists out all the things that he hates about the world. He hates the two-faced people around him, the “phonies” who say something and do something else altogether.

As I read, I could feel Holden’s emotions; I had been there myself. His anger at people seemed valid in many instances. I was the same when I was 16, but then I grew up up understand the world better, to understand the realities of surviving in a society that’s convoluted and twisted, and always looking to “help” you in ways you don’t want them to.

That way, the book was relatable and close to my heart. It spoke to me unlike other social satires. This wasn’t an obvious satire in itself, but it did point out the evils of our society in a crude manner, through the eyes of a youngster in the brink of adolescence.

Having said all that though, I couldn’t help but realise what a disturbed soul Holden is. Looking at his life and his characteristics from an outside, much older person’s perspective, I think he needs psychological help. When his teacher stokes his head, he panics, anticipating sexual motives. That’s where I felt Holden as a character needs honing. Sure, he says he’s had many people doing weird stuff around him, but we don’t know that. As readers, we don’t hear anything that says he’s had a troubled childhood, no indication that he was abused in the past that justifies his running away from his otherwise most-accommodating teacher. When he notices swear words etched in his old school’s wall, despite wanting to, he’s too scared to erase it worried that someone might think he’d written them. Holden is immature and he’s insecure, but these qualities are also what make him more human and more close to the reader.

That way, Catcher in the Rye is a good read for sure.

Of Murder in Non-Fiction

There are two types of readers of murder: one who read fiction and non-fiction and know what they’re reading. The other is those who read non-fiction and complain it’s not as good as fiction.

I don’t care about the latter, but I don’t see how they don’t see the difference between the two genres. For instance, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is non-fiction, and it doesn’t read like fiction. For the adrenaline junkie, it’s no page-turner. For readers who expect an Agatha-Christie like unravelling, non-fiction murders are a bore.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Just a few weeks ago, a close friend recommended In Cold Blood to me. She enjoyed it said I too would. Well, since she knows me and my preferences, I decided to heed her suggestion. However, when I asked around to borrow the book, one voracious reader told me not to waste my time over In Cold Blood. It’s a slow and dull read, she offered.

I was surprised to hear such conflicting views from two well-read people. I read the book nevertheless. That’s when I realised the true difference between murder-fiction and murder-non-fiction.

For one, the intended audience in non-fiction is not the same as in fiction. While almost any reader can appreciate the thrill of chasing an evasive fictitious serial killer, not everyone can understand the subtleties of outlining an actual murderer’s mind. Truman Capote, in the book, isn’t addressing the impatient ones who want to finish the book and lable it “Read” on Goodreads. He, instead, addresses those curious to know the way the mind works. The author speaks of Dick and Perry’s childhood, of Perry’s troubled family and abusive upbringing, of his dreaming of a giant bird, and of his attitude towards his partner in crime. None of these details matter in fiction because no one would care. In non-fiction, however, knowing Perry’s reluctance to swimming because he’s embarrassed by the way his legs appear, makes him relatable—it makes him human. And that’s the kind of depth that no fiction goes into. For someone looking for short bursts of exciting crime, a non-fiction like In Cold Blood is just plain boring.

This is my first non-fiction murder novel. And so it struck me how different the author’s tone is than in fiction. Capote doesn’t try to lure the reader with mysterious adjectives and goosebumps-inducing alleyways. Instead, he sticks to the facts—the cold facts that chill the bone one page at a time. For instance, there’s no element of surprise in In Cold Blood. I had gone less than fifty pages into the book, and I knew the killers, their appearance, and their uncanny ability to smile as they killed—so to speak. That’s how non-fiction works; the author has little to nothing to fold in a heart-stopping moment into the plot. The whole world knew the victims, the killers, and the history of the investigation—even before Capote began writing the book. It’s no surprise that there’s no surprise in the story. Nevertheless, the book reads like a true work of art. The crime was slick, chilling, and brutal. And Capote does nothing to make it sound any less.

Come to think of it, when reading a non-fiction murder story like In Cold Blood, a reader shouldn’t expect anything. The purpose of non-fiction is in itself different from fiction. While fiction has a perfect beginning, a crescendo, a plot twist, and the climax, non-fiction serves a larger purpose: understanding. Non-fiction readers don’t look for the climax, because the book opens with it. Instead, they look to look into the lives of the murderers, the routines of the victims, what they ate the day they were killed, who Nancy helped bake a cake, which part she played in the school play, how much she loved riding the horse with her friend. The non-fiction reader looks for life in murder. They find reality in hostility, and they seek to read the killers’ intentions. Because non-fiction murder isn’t just revenge, it’s the result of an entire lifetime of bottled emotions—boiling down to a moment of unsteadiness. And that’s what a reader hopes to discover.

It’s not just the reader, though. Even the author of non-fiction murder has a purpose that varies from fiction. Writing about murders takes more than time and patience. It’s takes more than writing itself. Capote would’ve spent a lot of time researching the facts, but he also would’ve spent years trying to uncover the mystery of human psychology. I can imagine how it must be for a writer to flip through gruesome photos and statistics. The purpose, again, isn’t to write the most spine-tingling novel. It’s more than that—it’s to bring to life, and show the world, the soul of a human who happened to take a wrong path.

I enjoyed every bit of In Cold Blood. If you haven’t read it already, you should. Be warned, though: if you’re the fiction lover who is reluctant to spend time (even as long as a month) on a single book, then don’t bother. But this is one wonderful book. Capote’s sharp writing would drive through your chest, and you’ll yearn to know more about the men—who could well be your neighbours—who also murdered a family in cold blood.

Writer’s Trauma

About three years ago, I was thrilled when I finished writing an entire novel. I had great expectations for it. It didn’t see the darkness of the press or sit in bookstores where fans cradled it and smelled the fresh print, as I had hoped. But it’s on Inkitt.com, and that’s better than it being locked inside my cupboard. A few days ago, I got an email from Inkitt about a new contest called the Teaser Awards. It’s pretty straightforward: I have to write a 200-character teaser for my novel.

Fun, I thought. It would be a great way to persuade people to read my story. I needed more readers because most of my cheerleaders (immediate friends and family) didn’t even get past the first chapter. It’s not because the story was crappy, (I checked), but other pressing stuff came up. And with this teaser assignment, I thought I’d use my creativity to re-ask my friends and family to give my novel a second chance.

I sat down to write.

Three years was a long time ago. Of course, I know every scene almost by heart, but when I had to drill it down to a 200-character teaser, I got stuck. Not that I had so much to say and didn’t know what to pick, but because I had nothing at all to say. All of a sudden, the story I spent hours pondering on and nurturing, didn’t seem interesting enough. I tried digging my memory for something worth talking about, and it was as if my story was worth nothing. I didn’t have adrenaline pumping action, no sword fights, no heated arguments, not even a trace of romance. For fifty chapters, I had rambled on an on about a normal girl going about her normal life. I didn’t know what to say in my teaser.

I panicked. If I couldn’t find excitement in the story, myself, how would anyone else find it? I was so shattered I couldn’t work on my teaser anymore. I gave it a break, a day. Then it hit me: perhaps that’s why my family couldn’t read the story. Because there was nothing interesting about the everyday life of a teenager.

It was a depressing revelation, because when I wrote the story, I thought I’d made it as relatable as possible. A handful of readers told me they got bored after the first few chapters, but again, folks who did manage to read the whole story told me they loved it. (Well, not “I loved it” verbatim, but most of them said things like, “great work.”) And now every time someone tells me I’ve done a decent job, I can’t help my widening lips, my glowing face, and my joyous swelling, heart.

That’s how it is: You’d never know how others would react to your stories. There will always be mixed feelings and varied reviews. Some would like your story, some would hurl at it. Some give you constructive feedback, some would just throw unhelpful opinions. Variety is the essence of life. And it’s also the curse of writing.

I did rework my teaser to this:

What if you don’t know your calling? You’d try to figure it out, making decisions you’d regret – or love. You’d break your heart a few times, too. Until one day, you’ll succeed and all will be well.

If you think it works, you can read the story here. I would appreciate your feedback, whether good and bad.