Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On Writing: Zeenat Mahal and Jazz Singh

Today on 'On Writing', we have the talented duo Zeenat Mahal and Jazz Singh, talking about their book 'Twice Upon a Time'.

A brief bio of my guests:

Zeenat Mahal was born in Lahore, Pakistan. She has published three novellas, and a short story with Indireads: Haveli, The Contract, She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, The Walled City and The Accidental Fiancee. All of her books were in the TOP 100 BEST SELLING titles on Amazon, and two of them are still in the TOP 10 BEST SELLING titles. She Loves Me He Loves Me Not reached number 1 on Amazon Asia bestsellers. Her books were covered by Kitaab International, Bravebird Publishing LLC, Dear Author, The Sunday Observer, Readomania, and many bloggers and newspapers. She was also interviewed by the BBC and Sunday Observer Srilanka, among others. Her short stories have appeared in on-line literary magazines like Running out of Ink and The Missing Slate. Zeenat has a creative writing degree from London, and when she isn't writing, she's reading.

Click here to buy her books 


Jazz Singh who lives in Delhi, India, started out by working in the fashion industry and ended up in media. Always a reader, a hidden desire to write resulted in her becoming a published author. Her stories are simply told and set in the milieu she is familiar with.
Click here to buy her books


Welcome to ‘On Writing’ Zeenat Mahal and Jazz Singh!

JAZZ & ZEENAT: Thank you for hosting us. Happy to be here.

Both of you write under a pen name. Is there any reason behind that?

JAZZ: Well, I was looking for a name that would have recall. I figured Jazz is as jazzy as it gets! Initially, there was no intention of hiding behind it, but then I began to enjoy the anonymity. And I quite like it that way now.

ZEENAT: Lol. Mine was simply that I write more than one genre and readers tend to associate a certain kind of story with an author and if you, as a writer want to expand your oeuvre and write something different, they get disappointed because it’s not what they expect you to write. Look at it this way: Readers are ‘consumers’ and you can’t falsely advertise your ‘brand’ and expect them to stay loyal to it.

Do tell us about your writing journey.

JAZZ: Adiana Ray (Rapid Fall) introduced me to Naheed Hassan at Indireads who was looking for writers in the genre. Once I started writing, there was no stopping me. I fell in love with the whole process and find it’s something I enjoy immensely. My first two Only a Dream and Against All Odds are published online by Indireads.

ZEENAT: Well, it began with an old friend of mine writing to me about Indireads and how she remembered me scribbling away my first novel in school. So I wrote to Indireads with a sample of HAVELI and Naheed liked it very much. She published Haveli and The Contract in 2012. I was doing my MFA in creative writing when the two novellas were e-published.

Describe the differences in your styles of writing? I would like if you analyze each other’s style.

JAZZ: Zeenat has a more serious approach. She puts in so many details that I feel I should too in my stories. Her characters are more nuanced, her stories have many layers and there’s a nice balance between her plot and characters. Also, intentionally or unintentionally, her work is rich with social content.

ZEENAT: That sounds really wonderful, thank you Jazz. I actually always thought of Jazz as being a writer with a purpose. All her books so far have been about latent social issues. Class distinction, betrayal and forgiveness, and now Sunshine Girl in Twice Upon a Time is about materialism versus idealism. Jazz’s heroines are very modern, strong and independent women. Her heroes are practical and pragmatic. I’m a huge fan because she writes about everyday romance without frills and rainbows. That’s a difficult thing to do.

Why did you choose to compile two novellas in one book? What makes Twice upon a Time special?

JAZZ: We’d been chatting and Zeenat mooted the idea. I thought it was great. We both write furiously and love the whole process of writing and developing our stories and discussing each other’s work. This seemed like a natural progression and was born of those interactions. We decided individually which of our stories to put out there. Quite by coincidence, it turned out that both novellas are about orphans, but that’s not why we put them together in one book.
Twice upon a Time is special because it’s a labor of love! Both the stories are kinda cute if you ask me.
ZEENAT: They most certainly are! Jazz and I are both novices at self-publishing. This is our version of holding hands and jumping into unknown waters. Lol.

What kind of a writer are you? Do you plot the entire novel/story or make it up as you write?

JAZZ: I write around a theme and build the story around a central idea. Everything else comes after – the plot, the character, the setting…. Only a Dream was about betrayal, Against all Odds was about class divide.
In Twice upon a Time Aanya is an orphan. So then I asked myself: how did she get orphaned, how does she earn a living, where does she live, why and where does she meet Gaurav, what brings him back to her time and again. Her character and his, too, developed from the dialogue that I had no control over. The conversation between them took a life of its own.
ZEENAT: It’s always characters with me. Sometimes it begins with a conversation between two characters and I just start writing as they talk and then one thing leads to another. Sometimes it’s one character, and her/his thoughts and feelings that just come pouring out, like with Fardeen, in She Loves Me He Loves Me Not. It was his anger and feelings of bitterness after his accident that got me started on that story. With Yours Truly, in Twice Upon a Time, it was Zoya and Sheru’s confused feelings for each other.

Do you have a favorite place to write or a scheduled time to write every day?

JAZZ: No, not at all. I don’t have a particular spot or time for writing. I write when I get time. That can be any time and any place at home. By and large, it’s in the evening after I get home from work when dinner etc is done. When most people watch TV, I write.
ZEENAT: Sigh! I wish. My home is overrun by a six-year-old. He finds me everywhere, any time, any place. I try and get as much done as I can while he’s in school, which sounds easy doesn’t it? It’s not. Writing is a hard business and you need to be disciplined.

Apart from writing, what are your other passions?

JAZZ: Reading. Meeting friends. Travelling.
ZEENAT: I love cooking, travelling and entertaining friends and family at home.

Do share a favorite quote from your respective novellas.

An excerpt from TWICE UPON A TIME: Sunshine Girl by Jazz Singh, when Gaurav and Aanya meet for the first time.
She looked delighted at what she perceived to be a compliment but said woefully, ‘No, not a child anymore I’m afraid. I’m eighteen, almost nineteen. She squared her shoulders with pride. ‘I’m an adult now. That’s why I had to leave the orphanage.’
He groaned inwardly. A child. She may have turned eighteen and be deemed an adult officially, but she lacked the maturity for a business proposition. He was dealing with a child and she had stalled his project.

Twice Upon A Time: Yours Truly by Zeenat Mahal

‘You are not leaving me here all alone, Agha!’ Zoya exclaimed, wide brown eyes reflecting her disappointment.
Shehryar squinted against the afternoon sun. He needed to get back to his latest adventures which hinged on being seduced by the pretty girl next door and Zoya was being a pest as usual, hogging up his time.
‘Leaving you alone?’ he asked irritably.  ‘What are Baba and Moor Jan then? Decoration? I’d rather you leave me alone, though, Bambi? And while you’re at it, make it a habit will you?’

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?

JAZZ: I can’t really answer that. But I’d say: never say never. There are some subjects that are easier than others, some that one enjoys reading and writing about, versus others that one ignores. Who knows when a mindset changes?

Zeenat: Ditto. Can’t add to perfection.

How important is marketing for the success of a book?

JAZZ: Vital. Unfortunately. It’s a pity that writers now have to be so involved with marketing their books, because most writers I know – genuine writers – would prefer to get on with what they love to do viz write and leave the marketing to those who have an aptitude and inclination for it. Some people are naturals at marketing and I’ve come to envy them.

ZEENAT: I totally agree with Jazz. Marketing is very important and how you do it even more so. I love to interact with people online. The best part for me is talking with my readers and fellow writers. I feel so blessed to have so many wonderful writers just celebrating each other and our love of reading and writing. It’s like a big support group and we tweet about each other’s books, and interviews and so on. I think that’s a sort of marketing too without having to virtually bludgeon people about our books.

What is different about your books?

JAZZ: I write romance. So there’s nothing different about that. My stories are about the world as I know it. This means there are more characters in them than most in the romance genre would have. My books are populated with interfering friends and family. This is typically the Indian way and my books are set very firmly in this milieu. Also, my stories have an urban flavor with the concerns and the attitude to life that working women have.

ZEENAT: I write sweet romance. I write what I would like to read, so my books are about Pakistani families, boys and girls falling in love forever after; Lahore; our wonderfully rich and diverse culture, our problems, our laughter, our idiosyncrasies, our history, and loads and loads of romance. Also, I like feisty, strong female leads and male leads who are tough enough to fall in love with intelligent independent women.

What are the three tips you have for readers aspiring writers?
JAZZ:  1) Write
  2) Just write
  3) Go on, just write

ZEENAT: That advice is pure gold. Follow it. Read books on writing. It helps, and I tweet a lot about the books that have helped me and other writing advice. Last, edit with a cold heart.

 Thank you, Jazz and Zeenat. That was quite interesting. Wishing you both success in all your future endeavors.

Thank you so much Preethi for having us!

I am sure, dear reader, you wish to grab their book now.
Get it here:
That is all for now folks!

Until next post,