Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Are debut novels the worst or the best of an author's work?

The dictionary calls a debut "a person's first appearance or performance in a particular capacity or role." And an author is a "writer of a book, play...etc" This could be taken to mean that a debut author is one who has written a book for the first time. This is how the public sees it.

This is highly unlikely. All authors have written something or the other before their book goes out in the public eye. Some have even written and discarded novels. Therefore, when the world talks about debut authors, they aren't actually referring first time writers, they are referring to first time published authors.

But why quibble on words? As the title of this post says, the purpose of this post is to analyse whether the first published work of an author is the best or the worst.

This is what the Wiki says about debut works.

Often an author's first novel will not be as complex stylistically or thematically as subsequent works and often will not feature the author's typical literary characteristics.

This is apparently because authors haven't yet figured out their own unique style or perhaps because they like to do what everyone else is doing.

The examples given are J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937), Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman (1969) and Charles Dickens' The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1837).

Another school of thought believes that debut novels are actually better.
Ayana Mathis says in The New York Times:

A debut novel is a piece of the writer’s soul in a way that subsequent books can’t ever be.

This kind of rings true. So what does this mean? Are debut novels the best work of a novelist? Or they are not? There are many examples of debut works which are the author's best.

Here are 10 debut novels which are the authors' best work: Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Donna Tartt's The Secret History, Richard Wright's Native Son, Renata Adler's Speedboat, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and there are many more.

Here's my take on it. If a writer publishes a novel when he/she is ready, and the writing mature, then yes, the first published novel is likely to be the very best. This is because a novel doesn't just have to have the writer's soul in it, the style and clarity of the writing matters. It is a combination of the two which makes a novel brilliant. And the mature writer has already written a lot of stuff earlier, maybe poems, maybe short stories, maybe journalistic pieces or just creative writing in a diary.  This is why the writer's style has already been developed.

When a writer publishes early, the novel may have flashes of brilliance (the reason why it was published in the first place) but the writer hasn't yet developed a unique style which is the hallmark of a great writer.

Both these type of writers are called debut novelists and are clubbed together when they publish their first novel, but the truth is that they are very different breeds.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Hawa Mahal Murders in the Crime Fiction Lover Newsletter

I have a potential audience here in India who I can reach with my book The Hawa Mahal Murders but reaching out to an audience outside India is a challenge. We Indians happily read about Americans solving mysteries and going on adventures but the Americans have enough on their plate and don't go seeking Indian crime stories! If they do read anything Indian it's high brow literary stuff which goes on to win a Booker prize.

But there is another kind of fiction out there. My kind of fiction. Entertaining, racy and of course well-written.

That is why it was gratifying that a popular US site like Crime Fiction Lover mentioned my book in their newsletter.

Crime Fiction Lover was set up by two journalists who love reading crime stories – everything from atmospheric noir to thriller mysteries and police procedurals...Our aim is to bring you helpful and concise articles, covering as much of the genre as we can. From Scandinavian crime fiction through to hardboiled detectives, and from cutting edge contemporary right back to the Golden Age, wherever there’s a mystery novel, we’re interested. We can’t cover every new release, but we do our best, and try to provide fellow fans of the genre with the best impartial buying advice on the internet. 

They have written about an unknown author from a different continent. I think this kind of integrity is rare in the world of the web.

Added Later: My novel was also mentioned on their website crimefictionlover.com on Friday the 25th of October under the autumn releases section:

And on their facebook page:

Appreciation is food for the writer's soul

Now that a month has passed since the launch of my book The Hawa Mahal Murders, it is a good feeling to know that people are loving it. There are so far 10 Amazon reviews, all of them 5-star reviews.

While the first review has remained a favourite with me, there's another one I would like to show here.

The Hawa Mahal Murders turned into a mini-series? Maybe a movie? Well, things are on the anvil. So it is not a pipe dream. The characters in my novel are well etched, the story is fast-paced and scenes are described vividly. And people have shown interest.

There are 5 GoodReads reviews as well and they are shown at the bottom of this post. This is an excerpt from a new review:

The Hawa Mahal Murders is far better than a lot of books out there but like this article on Quora says, a debut writer finds it difficult to get exposure. My name has been mentioned in the Quora article, as a part of an answer to a question as to whether there are writers who are less exposed to the world but are better than Chetan Bhagat.

More on reviews later!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Author of the Month at Vishwakarma

This month, October, Vishwakarma Publications, my publisher has given me the honour of being their Author of the month for my book The Hawa Mahal Murders which was launched during the inauguration of PILF19 with Javed Akhtar.

These are some of the excerpts from the interview which was taken by Richa Singh:

Nita Kulkarni’s book ‘The Hawa Mahal Murders,’ published by Vishwakarma Publications is a treat to thriller lovers.

The genre of thriller originates from the Gothic which has a large rambling castle as its setting. Since Hawa Mahal is a typical Gothic building what importance does it hold to your murder mystery thriller? 

There’s a character in my book called Raja who comes from a poor family. He wants to make it big and even fancies himself to be a king. He has grandiose dreams of building a palace just like Hawa Mahal. He does become very rich, and when he does, he has a building made on the lines of the real Hawa Mahal. Of course, it’s an imitation and that is the whole point. It’s an ugly building from an architectural point of view. So, in the novel, this building in Mumbai, called Hawa Mahal, becomes a symbol of sorts....

Thrillers have seen quite a resurgence in India especially with the popularity of “Sacred Games”, which is itself an adaptation of the thriller novel of the same name. So, in your opinion, why have thrillers made such a comeback and why did you choose to write a thriller rather than a work of any other nature. 

I wrote what I love to read. I love reading thrillers, always did. But my book is more than a thriller. I like to think that it tackles some important underlying issues in this society....

Overcoming a bad marriage, as your character Smita does, involves laying bare the vulnerability of being a woman. Why was it important for you that your character should have such an arc? 

A vast majority of Indian women put aside their hopes and dreams and follow society’s dictates. The hold of the parents is very strong...I created a character with high self-awareness, someone who faced her fears and tried to make sense of her life.

How did you get the idea of the book? Walk us through your writing process. 

I wanted to write about a middle-class Indian woman going through issues common to our society. I wanted a relatable character and relatable issues, in the Indian context. Even my other main character, Jai, goes through issues that people commonly face – a corrupt system for example....

How was your experience of publishing with Vishwakarma Publications? 

I consider myself very lucky to have got a publisher like Vishwakarma Publications. I found their team sincere, helpful and friendly.

What is on your current reading list? 

I have read one of Margaret Atwood’s novels and plan to read the others too. I like her writing style.

Read more about The Hawa Mahal Murders.

Monday, October 21, 2019

MITWPU Book club launch

On the 19th of October 2019 I was invited to speak at the launch of the MITWPU book club launch on the MIT campus at Kothrud. It was wonderful to interact with a group of enthusiastic and bright students eager to become a part of the book club.

It was a two-hour programme which started with introductions, felicitations and talks by the MIT faculty about the importance of reading.

It was an honour to be felicitated by the Vice-Chancellor and an honour to be invited. Prof. Ajay Nagre is the person who initiated this project.

Two other authors were also invited. One of them is Vinod Bidwaik who has written a Marathi book for rural students to improve their soft skills. The other is an alumni of MIT, Chayan Bahety, who has written a fiction book.

I talked about my book The Hawa Mahal Murders and its launch at the inauguration of PILF19 with Javed Akhtar who was the chief guest. The manuscript of my book won a contest at PILF18 and Vishwakarma publications awarded me a contract to publish my book.

During my talk I referred to some of the points the professors made about the importance of reading. Prof Nagre had talked about how reading fiction has the effect of enhancing one's creativity and imagination as opposed to absorbing canned stuff from the screen. Prof Thakur compared reading to meditation and how it improved concentration. I added two points. One, that reading improves one's language if one reads good books and secondly, reading fiction (as opposed to reading non-fiction) can develop one's character. This is because one learns about morality, especially when reading the classics. It helps us distinguish right from wrong.

The website of the book club was inaugurated during this time. A professional looking website which reveals the hard work the students put in. Instagram posts advertised the event.

I was quite relaxed speaking in the warm and informal atmosphere.

Friday, October 4, 2019

A book launch and reviews!

The days leading up the launch of The Hawa Mahal Murders on the 20th of September were tense as there were public appearances at the Pune lit fest. I am not used to speaking in public or going on stage. It all went off fairly smoothly, thankfully.

The moment when I actually walked on stage for the book launch felt surreal. It still does.

The aftermath wasn't as relaxed as I expected it to be. Yes, the book is launched but what next? People have to know that it's a good book, right? For that I need reviews! I was in contact with several book marketers but hesitated. Couldn't I manage good reviews on the sheer merit of my book? It was an idealistic way of looking at it.

The result of it was that I did not have ready-made reviews on the day of the launch, unlike some other books which were launched around the same time. I heard about the modus operandi of garnering reviews as the days went by. You have to hand over preview (free) copies of the book to selected people so that when the actual launch happens they flood GoodReads and Amazon with reviews. Who would have thought that this is the done thing? I could not help but think that these dozens of "preview" reviews were suspect.

Recently I checked some books by Indian authors which had around a hundred glowing reviews but when I read the sample, I found the writing not up to standard. Either publishers are lowering their standards or people are. It's not surprising that the best-sellers are all foreign authors. No one is really believing these reviews.

My reviews are slow in coming but they are organic. They are coming from people who bought my book after the launch. The reviews are good. The first review I got sent a thrill through my heart. It was from an unknown person who spent her/his money to buy my book. All my reviews/ratings so far are from people who have purchased the books and liked them.

This particular reviewer bought the book from Amazon early on. Even before I started to tell people about the book. I have no idea who it could be but that is exactly why I love the review so much.

Here it is. It was posted barely a few days after the launch. Like the reviewer said, the book must have been finished in one sitting. What I liked about the review was that she/he appreciated the setting. Mumbai.

There are other reviews now but this was the first. All the reviews so far are from people who actually paid for my book and they all found my book thrilling.

I am getting more reviews on my whatsapp messages! People are not comfortable with putting up reviews on Amazon but are telling me privately that they loved my book. That they found it thrilling and exciting. And that it was well written. That they admired my craft. All these people paid for my book. I know I am repeating this but I like the sound of it!

A couple of them said they tried putting up the review on Amazon but there was some glitch or the other. Never mind. They liked my book and that's what matters.

Anyway, I am thinking it's time I gave out free review copies. Better late than never. Maybe even hire somebody.

Genuine reviews have a way of making you feel good. In my case, though I always knew I wrote well, I wasn't sure about how well I had handled the suspense. When you read and revise a book so many times, you are never sure about that. Now, doubts have been set at rest. My book, The Hawa Mahal has suspense in plenty. According to one private message: It's a thrilling, exciting enjoyable ride!