Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cover Reveal : A Road not traveled by J Alchem

I am happy to host the  cover reveal of the much-awaited book from J Alchem published by Story Mirror.

Are you ready?
Here we go!




Blurb:


Niorgast Stinvins, a motivational speaker by profession, wakes up one day to a strange phone call from an unknown person asking him to attend a meeting. There he is introduced to two more strangers, Doilin Flenk (political advisor) and Bakintin Lenit (Journalist), and to a mission: “Can the world be a single country?’ Thus begins a journey on a road not travelled, learning new lessons, unlearning a few and finally realizing that life is much more than what you think it is.

Accompanying him on this journey are his personal demons, some ghosts of the past and a few random memories of the near future with his loved ones. One day he reaches a stage where he doesn’t know if he will be able to live or not.

Can the world be a single country? Will they be able to take this mission from a closed room to a goal post? What circumstances are they going to face? How will their journey be?

About the Author:

J. Alchem is a voracious reader and a critically acclaimed author. He is the winner of Story Mirror- 2015 (a nationwide writing competition), NaNoWriMo-2015, and superhero storyteller (2014). He has written in several magazines and newspapers and received the appreciation for the same. His stories have been published in numerous Anthologies such as Blank Space, Love Bytes and Mighty Thoughts and on various online channels.

He is actively involved in writing quotes and short write-ups which are often seen being circulated among the youth in Facebook, Whatsapp and other Social networking sites, which is a reward to him by his readers. 

www.authoralchem.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/Jalchem


You can read his interview on my blog here.





Monday, April 18, 2016

Why I don't read reviews of my book anymore

Image Source


This post was brewing in my mind since long. But I was not ready to publish this before. This is my story. The story of my shame. Of my insecurities. Of my friends. Of my hours of darkness.
But I guess every debut writer goes through such a phase. This is a post which had to be written. I hope some of you might find it helpful in your moment of confusion.

It requires immense courage for a writer to put his/her work out there for the world to read. We never know how the readers who are going to pay money and buy our book are going to react.

 
In July 2013, I started working on my book. I completed writing it in mid-2014. I had spent hours writing, re-writing and editing my manuscript. I had done so by setting apart dedicated hours to writing every day. Then, I sent it to a professional beta reader, did the corrections suggested, sent it again to trusted group of school friends to beta read. The response from everywhere was positive. So I decided to go ahead and approach publishers. I got rejected by a few, some wanted me to wait. Eventually, my book was published by Write India publishers.

On the day of the release, like any other writer I was tense. But luckily for me, my book clicked. It debuted on Amazon at #19 position. Thanks to the many wonderful friends I had on the social media and the small group of dedicated readers that I had on my blog. I got rave reviews. Especially from my blogger friends. Most of them bought the book and did not ask me for free copies to review. Wasn’t I one lucky writer? I was.

My book was released on June 3, 2015. It is going to be a year almost now. The majority of the til now have been positive, especially the blog reviews. I thought maybe the bloggers were kind to me because I was a fellow blogger. Many assured me that it wasn’t the case. It was because I had written a good book and I deserved all the praise that was showered upon me. I was happy beyond my dreams. Pumped up with enthusiasm, I promised myself to continue on the path as a writer. My book also continued to climb the chart.

 I started writing my second novel in July 2015. I was writing the last chapter of my second book in Feb 2016 when it happened. I received my first detailed critical review. It was from a blogger with whom I had interacted a few times on Facebook. She had won my book as part of a giveaway. It should not have surprised me the way it did as she had already rated my book on Goodreads before writing the detailed review. 

 I went to check the faults that she had found in my book. It appeared like a detailed review. But it was clearly one which was meant to project the mistakes than talk about the story or writing in general. What hurt me more was that many bloggers whom I had met at a blogger meet had commented on it ridiculing the book’s concept and storyline. I was devastated.

I cried a whole night. My husband was confused as to why I was crying.  I told him I was not going to write anything anymore. He told me it is part of the game. It happens to the best. My writer and blogger friends who had seen the review also told me the same. Wherever I turned on social media, I was seeing the review being shared. “This is the end of my book and my writing career,” I told myself. The days that followed just made me more miserable. The last chapter of my book remained unfinished. I couldn’t write. I was full of shame. I was facing writer’s block for the first time.

It was not the review which affected me, but the lack of support from my blogger friends that hurt me more. Most of them were ‘friends’ on social media with me. Most of them had not even read my book and were commenting how pathetic it was.

But the worst was yet to come. At the end of February, another review came. This was written by another blogger whom I considered as a good friend. We used to chat on Whatsapp and she was also part of the anthology which I co-edited and co-created. She had even come to my book release function and bought my book there. Her review was harsh. It felt to me more like a personal attack than a book review. Most of the comments on this one were from the same set of bloggers whom I had met.  Some of these bloggers I admired. Some, I considered as friends. Some were contemplating a bonfire where they would burn books like mine. Mostly the discussion was about pathetic ‘Indian Writers’ of whom I was now a part. I was completely broken. I was blocked. I couldn’t pen a word.

 I decided to quit social media. All through this a few friends stood by me. One chatted with me all through night consoling me. Some others emailed me.They told me they could clearly understand it as they had faced the same at one or the other point in their career. One of them shared the following video by famous author Ravi Subramanian where he describes a similar experience.






 So, public shaming of an author in the form of a book review was not new. It seemed to be a practice especially when it was an Indian writer. Unfortunately, it came like an out of the blue punch to my stomach for me.

What was different in my case was that it came from someone whom I considered as a friend. If I was in her place, I would not have trashed her book publicly. I would tell her in private what I didn’t like in the book or what was wrong. I would never publicly shame her with something like what she wrote. A blog is, after all, a public platform. We can ignore such reviews easily if it came from a stranger. But it is hard when a friend stabs at your back. It is also hard when fellow bloggers join the shame-game.

 Many advised me to chuck these people out of my social media list. I hesitated initially but I did that. I unfriended and even blocked all of them for a while. 

I was still on the verge of depression. I stopped checking my emails and social media accounts.I was obsessing over the reviews and also about the comments. Writing was as dear to me as life and suddenly I was not able to write anymore. It was suffocating.

 March is also the month of loss for me. I had lost my father during March years ago. They say our loved ones become our guardian angels once they leave. One day when I was forcing myself to complete my household chores, one memory of my father came to me and it saved me entirely. I felt the love he surrounded me with. I drew courage from the lessons he had shared with me while alive. I began to share those lessons with my Facebook friends through daily posts. My writer’s block vanished and words started to flow easily again. I got back to my manuscript and finished the first draft of it by the first week of April.

Now I don’t read reviews of my book anymore, good or bad. Reviews are always opinions of the reader, never fact. And every reader reads a different book as they visualize it differently. I am not obliged to read such reviews which are written with the intention to hurt. I promised myself not to go digging for criticism. For constructive criticism, I have friends and editors whose wisdom and kindness I trust.

I hope writers/ aspiring writers will find this rant to be of use. I chanced upon one good piece of writing about dealing with critics written by Elizabeth Gilbert. Go ahead and read it if you need further assurance as to why writers should stay away from negative criticism.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

8 Toxic People to Avoid


It was a perfect day until she arrived. Within no time, my world became clouded with misery. I searched and yearned for a glimpse of happiness. She left after a while. By then, my emotional energy was at an all-time low. It felt as though I had faced a Dementor attack. All the joy had been sucked out.

Note for non-Potterheads: (Dementors are mythical creatures created by JK Rowling in Harry Potter’s world who suck out all joy from its victims)

Does this situation sound familiar? The ‘she’ I mentioned belongs to a category of people who are toxic to our emotional well-being.

Many of us don’t recognize them as we have been around them for long. They live among us. A friend, a colleague, a spouse, a sibling, a cousin they can be anyone. We accept their hurtful behavior and suffer in silence.

They come in many hues. Let me list eight such toxic people whom I have encountered.

1.     The Toxic temperamental

Do you know that one person who has a short fuse and hot temper? They are addicted to anger. Anything and everything might provoke them. The weather, a sneeze, a pet, a social media update… the list can be endless. They always have a justification for their anger. Their anger manifests as emotional, verbal or even physical abuse. We need to bend backward to please such a person.
It seems like walking on egg shells when this person is around.
Do you think they will change if you stoop and twist yourself into knots?
No, never.

Solution: Distance yourself as far from them as you can.

2.     The Toxic Victims

They are the perfect drama kings and queens. Always the victims of one or another sinister plot. The whole world is out to get them! The cruel mother, the Hitler boss, the bossy husband, the sick mother-in-law…
You are pleased initially that they are confiding their life problems to you. You spend hours on the phone, offering solutions. Do they listen? No. They will call the next day with a more serious and deadly problem. Sigh!
Will they change? Sadly, never.
Don’t invest a lot of time and energy on them. Every speed breaker in their path often appears like an insurmountable mountain for them.

The best dialogue to employ:”Oh, dear, I hope everything turns out well. I will keep you in my prayers. I think I hear another call coming. Speak to you later. Bye.”

3.     The Toxic Manipulators
These are professional guilt-trippers. They won’t take no for an answer. They employ a variety of methods to manipulate people to get what they want. Emotional blackmailing, threats, rosy prospects, they have all the tools to trap you. When you feel you are being pushed to act due to a feeling of guilt or implied obligation, beware, you are walking into the web of a manipulator.

The word they need to hear: ‘No.’ In fact, NO is a complete sentence. There isn’t any need to explain further.



Image Source




4.     The Toxic One-ups

You have this one ‘friend’ who always has done everything better than you. The moment you finish telling them of your latest achievement, they take a moment to jog their memory and vomit out a grandiose version of the same event. But this time, they are the stars in it. Your experience is nothing, you see! You feel disappointed that this person doesn’t congratulate you or share your excitement. Sadly, these people have no idea that they are annoying you. These lonely people crave attention and want to impress you with their accomplishments.

Solution: Tell them in kind but clear words to let you enjoy your time in the spotlight. If they don’t get it, remember to never share your happy moments with them the next time.

5.     The Toxic Unreliable

This person makes promises one after the other and never keep even one. They will miss get-togethers, appointments and never honor their commitments. They will promise to call on you and never turn up. They will make plans with you, promise they will be there for you and will slip away leaving you stuck.
Often such relationships leave you feeling unloved and worthless. Sometimes, seething with anger.

Solution: Set boundaries with the person ahead of time clearly stating that you value your time. Any delay means the deal is off.

6.     The Toxic Critic

The critics are experts at finding faults with you. They will correct your grammar, pronunciation, snigger at your dressing sense and ridicule you openly in front of others. When you protest, they will blame you for being sensitive. If you live with such a person, you are bound to develop a low self-esteem.

Solution: Tell them exactly how they make you feel. If you are lucky enough, it is an unconscious habit which they will try and change.

7.     The Toxic Controllers:
         These people need to be in charge at every point of time. They will make rules, others shall obey. If anyone steps out of the line, they are doomed. They turn on their unpleasant bossy behavior on everyone. They often turn abusive; verbally or physically.
Solution: Controllers are usually insecure persons and have deep-seated fears of abandonment. They think of everyone as a problem. It is a no-win situation with such people. Stay away from them and seek professional help if the situation goes out of control.

8.     The Toxic Gossip:
We all like to indulge in gossiping every now and then, don’t we? But do you know that one person who is always up-to-date with all the latest juicy gossips? Be aware of them. If they tell you tales about other people they are equally capable of talking about you to others. Never trust them. And gossiping spreads negativity. The whole aura of a chronic gossipmonger is always negative. Check how you are emotionally after a particular gossiper leaves you.

Solution: Stop encouraging them. It is the only possible way out.

Now friends, check this list. How many such people do you know? Are they always around you? Are they lurking around disguised as friends? If yes, cut them out of your life. Such people make us miserable. Recognize them and weed them out of your life.

Tell me about the other kinds of toxic people you have encountered.







Monday, April 4, 2016

Lesson 5: Health is wealth

Series: Lessons from my father ( A tribute to my late father, Dr. K. KunhiKannan)

Lesson 5: Health is wealth


My father with my son


Every evening, my father would do Yoga after he came from the clinic. It would include exercises and meditation. It was his routine from the time I remember. On Sundays, he worked half day and hence would sometimes join us for a game of badminton or go for a walk.

His theory was that we should take good care of the body which is home to our soul. We don’t know whether there is an afterlife. But this life, which is a gift, we should live to the fullest. We should feed ourselves healthy food and do exercise so that our body functions properly.

My favorite time to study was always after everyone slept; when the world grew quiet. I could never make myself get up early in the morning to study. Sometimes I would study through the night during exams. He would come to check on me at intervals and would urge me to go and sleep. My eating habits were often very erratic. He would scold me whenever I skipped breakfast or any meal.

He once told us the story of how he never came to like alcohol.
When he was small, maybe ten or eleven, he was fascinated by what his father drank at night before going to bed. His father would retire to the store room and take a sip of liquor from a bottle well hidden. He was not addicted to it but this was a nightly routine. My father one day found the bottle in the darkness and took a sip. Immediately, he spat it out. Instead of the bottle of liquor, he had drunk from a bottle of kerosene. That ended his foray into the world of alcoholic beverages.

“Later on in life, whenever someone offered me a drink, the bitter taste of kerosene would creep into my mind and I would promptly refuse. It was a blessing. There is no bigger killer of humanity and health like alcohol. I have seen many lives reduced to ashes prematurely because of this monster,” he would often say.

Luckily, none of my family are addicted to alcohol or smoking. He walked the talk and led by example. Nor are there many in the extended family. Many feared my father’s wrath and never ventured towards such addictions.

He taught me Surya Namaskara and some basic yoga exercises which I still do. Whenever I sleep late, I remember him. I feel as though he is about to come and urge me to go back to sleep. Whenever I skip a meal, I feel I can hear his scolding.



Lesson 4: It is never too late to learn a new skill

Lessons from my father (A tribute to my late father)

Lesson 4: It is never too late to learn a new skill




My father believed in the power of knowledge. He never wasted an opportunity to learn a new skill or a new science. He encouraged us to do the same. Whenever I created anything new using some new craft I learned, I would show it to him first. Because he would appreciate it for what it was and won’t look for mistakes. Then if I asked for suggestions to improve it, he would say use your imagination, don’t ask others for help.

Once I had to go out during my summer vacation while I was in Class XI. I wanted to leave him a message about where I was going and at what time I would come home. I began my message in Malayalam. I addressed him as ‘Acha’ (Malayalam for father) and began the note. I studied in a Kendriya Vidyalaya from class IV where Malayalam was not taught as a second language. So my writing skills in Malayalam were very poor. Whatever way I wrote ‘Acha’, didn’t seem quite right. The words in Malayalam can be quite tricky. After three failed attempts, I turned the paper over and wrote the message in English and left it on the study table for him to find.

When he found the note, he understood exactly what had happened and asked me to write the word ‘Acha’ again. I failed to do it. He laughed but told me to start at the beginning. To write the vowels and consonants of Malayalam. To my horror, I found I did not remember many of the Malayalam vowels or Consonants. I promptly blamed it on the many years I had not touched a Malayalam textbook.

Next day, he brought a two line copy book and asked me to borrow the Malayalam textbook from my neighborhood kid who studied in class 1.
I protested. I was ashamed. I told him I was too old to begin learning it again.
“There is no age for learning,” he said.

So began my classes. I was made to write the vowels and consonants over and over again till I mastered it. After that, a Malayalam newspaper was subscribed to, which I had to read every day. Before that, we read just ‘Indian Express’.
Thankfully because of his efforts, I can still read and write Malayalam properly. It is because of that lesson he taught me that I joined for MA English literature during my sabbatical from my Civil Engineering job after my son was born. Ten years after I had left college!
Today I am proud to say that I hold an MA in English Literature. There indeed exists no age limit for learning.



Lesson 3: Nourish your creativity

Series: Lessons from my father (A tribute to my late father)


Lesson 3: Nourish your creativity




My father valued creativity in all its forms. He encouraged us kids to nourish our creative side from early on in life. I, being me, never completed any course that I was enrolled in; be it music, art or dancing. After attending six or seven classes I would become bored (or declare myself an expert in it) and go in search of new hobbies.

My father, on the other hand, was creative right from the time he was in school and often won prizes in poetry, story writing and also in elocution competitions. Despite his busy schedule, he would take time out to write articles on medicine for local newspapers, in their association magazine and also sometimes poems.

I remember he wrote a poem called ‘Agni’ when APJ Kalam sir fainted after project ‘Agni’ was canceled. A drama he wrote for their Annual association function about the rampant atrocities in the medical field was greatly appreciated. He also acted as an old man in the drama. There would be poems scribbled in his diaries. He would cut out and keep articles he liked from newspapers. Wherever he went, he would return with a book. He maintained a journal regularly.

They say kids become readers in the lap of their parents. I became a reader that way. I still remember the illustrated storybook of ‘the hunter and four friends’ which he must have read to me umpteen times. Whenever he was relaxing, he did so with a book. Mostly it will be medical books or politics. He introduced me to the world of books by taking me to the village library and would also buy me my favorite comics.

Yes, I firmly believe whatever little creativity I have inherited I got it from him. My mother swears she doesn’t have any such bad habit. When my first story was published in our college magazine, he was excited and proud.

Now that I have been part of many anthologies and have also published my debut novel, I often wish my father had seen them. Whenever I receive the author copy of any book that I am a part of, I thank him silently. For introducing me to the magical world of books and letters.

And I try to follow the way he nourished his creative side.




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