Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Writer and The Hero's Journey

 THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Joseph Campbell,  struck a chord with me. In his study of world hero myths Campbell discovered that they are all basically the same story – retold endlessly in infinite variations.  He found that all story-telling, consciously or not, follows the ancient patterns of myth, and that all stories, from the crudest jokes to the highest flights of literature, can be understood in terms of the hero myth; the “monomyth” whose principles he lays out in the book.

Stories built on the model of the hero myth have an appeal that can be felt by everyone, because they spring from a universal source in the collective unconscious, and because they reflect  universal concerns, the universal questions:  Who am I?  Where did I come from?  Where will I go when I die?  What is good and what is evil?  What must I do about it?  What will tomorrow be like?  Where did yesterday go?  Is there anybody else out there?
The hero’s journey outlined:  The hero is introduced in his ORDINARY WORLD where he receives the CALL TO ADVENTURE.  He is RELUCTANT at first to CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD where he eventually encounters TESTS, ALLIES and ENEMIES.  He reaches the INNERMOST CAVE where he endures the SUPREME ORDEAL.  He SEIZES THE SWORD or the treasure and is pursued on the ROAD BACK to his world.  He is RESURRECTED and transformed by his experience.  He RETURNS to his ordinary world with a treasure, boon, or ELIXIR to benefit his world.

In The Writer & The Hero's Journey, Rob Parnell looks at  the importance of the hero’s journey in the context of writing.

He puts into words the answer to one of the questions I often ask myself. "Why do I write?" 

As an over-analytical person, I often wonder about it. Why do I write after all? Put myself through this torturous process of continuously looking inside myself, dragging out those pieces that hurt, then put it out there for others to read. I die with each book. And am reborn as a slightly better model. Laxmi 2.0, Laxmi 3.0 get it? Reading his book, I realized, I write to find myself. To understand the connection between the different parts of me. To hold on to the string that links me to the world. It's my way of finding my own little place in this universe, within which I often feel lost.

Rob Parnell lays it out more eloquently. Here are some excerpts from the foreword of his book, which I often revisit

 " ... we're engaged in our own personal hero's journey - writers, perhaps more than most... If we are not tested by life we must often resort to testing ourselves, through intention, through ambition. But not in some idle way, It is our duty to push ourselves, to change who we are on a regular basis,...

The courage to say "I am a writer" is fraught with self-doubt and hesitancy, 

The hero's journey is a metaphor for the artist's life: the journey from neophyte to master, from newbie to professional writer.

Human beings are surely not designed ot be content to merely work for  a living?

We must not fear independence of thought nor the loss of structured income generation. Because true self-determination is not just about being uncompromising, it's about taking responsibility for one's own life, one's actions and thereby one's destiny...."

More such nuggets in his book. 

Well, now you know.

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Sunday, 10 May 2015

Sophie & the Black Box

I can hear the sound of the doorbell clang through the apartment inside. It seems to bounce against the walls, only to be thrown back at my face. I give it a few minutes, and when there is no response, I ring the chimes again, this time impatiently. A few more minutes pass. Then, just as I am about to knock on the door, it is flung open.
I look into a pair of blue-brown eyes, positioned a foot above me, and set in a face, which is nut-brown and filled with a rough, light brown beard at the edges.
"What?" The man barks.
"K... Krish... Krishna?" My voice emerges all shaky and I clear my throat trying again. "I am here to see Krishna."


Whenever I asked my grandmother why she was dark skinned, she would say it was because of the hours spent running wild through the moors when she was growing up.  It wasn’t until I inherited her little black box—upon her death that I discovered there was a little more to it than that. Here, I have to confess that, I was more than a little surprised to find she had left me something in her will.
 Perhaps it was because I was the darkest skinned in my family... and resembled her the most.
Or because it was because I had been named after her.
Either way I should have felt some affinity with Sophie. But I didn’t.  She and I did not have much to say to each other during the time she lived.
She didn't say much to anyone, actually, least of all to us, her grandkids. No, she existed in a parallel world, a reality far removed from my everyday life.
She refused to be admitted to a care-home, instead spending her last decade on her own, in her little cottage on Dartmouth moors. The same house where she had been born almost eighty years ago.
I marvelled that it was possible for someone so old to live this long. Was it even possible for her skin to hold the sea of wrinkles, which marred the placid surface of her forehead? Looking at her was like peering into long black tunnel, one that had no beginning. In comparison, I felt like a little spark of light - my life as short as the length of a matchstick.
Yet looking at the black box, which she had bequeathed to me, distant echoes from my childhood trickled down my spine. Scenes from a long time ago; when she had smiled at me, told me bed-time stories of what it had been to grow up in the city of her birth... a place too far away for me to comprehend. A city I had never been to. A country, which felt too alien, too exotic for me to be part of any way. Those memories had been wiped away in the haze of the electronica of my youth. Clubbing, boys and the allure of social media had long ago deleted the leftovers of any recollections.
My last memory was our family at the obligatory Christmas lunch, at her place. In my introverted teenage years I much preferred having Christmas lunch with Nana Sophie. I remember one particular Christmas—when I had just turned thirteen—I sneaked away to the cold draughty attic, and had picked up a book to read. A murder mystery written by Agatha Christie as it had turned out to be. Soon I was engrossed in the adventures of Miss Marple. Somehow it seemed apt that I should be reading about an energetic granny traipsing around the countryside, trying to solve murder cases, in my Nana's home. Nana had been agile enough then to walk up the stairs, and come in search of me. "Have you read all these books Nana?" I remember asking her.
To which, she had smiled, and walking to the bookcase had run her fingers lovingly over the spines of the, dust covered jackets of some of them.
"Yes, of course." She said to me over her shoulder. Picking out a book she flipped it open to a page and walked over to me. "This... This one is my favourite Sophie." She handed it over to me, and ruffling my hair gently, walked away. It was a compilation of comic books. The chronicles of the Legion of Superheroes- a fictional team of superhero characters set in the 30th and 31st centuries
 No, I didn't know Nana too well. Which I why, I cannot explain why I burst into tears at her wake. 
Perhaps, it was the sight of seeing someone dead in an open casket. Well, to be fair it was the first time I was seeing anyone dead. Or perhaps it was just that she was wrapped in her blood red, bridal saree. Rather incongruous on a freezing Tuesday afternoon with the rays of the setting sun pouring in through the stained glass window of the primarily middle-class, white neighbourhood area of Tavistock on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. Seeing her in those bright colours—a contrast to the greys and brown standard dresses, which is what she had normally worn— was like a piece of puzzle falling into place. She had never belonged here, had she? Somehow in death she had managed to do what she couldn't in all those years she had been alive... Send out the message clearly, that she had fought against her identity, fought to not belong to where she came from.
Now, here I am sitting in her little cottage; the one she has left to me along with this black box. Somehow I am sure she has something to hide. Perhaps I have known it all along. She had never so much as hinted so; as content as she had been to live within the bubble she had created for herself. And yet, she had been so transparent. Trapped below the surface, the rainbow colours had meshed into a tempest. One, which I am about to unlock.
Having coerced the parents to let me stay a night on my own in her cottage, while I can still feel her presence in the room, I reach for the box cradled on my lap. My toes dig into the carpet, as if holding onto the earth for support and I turn the tiny key in the lock, flipping open the lid of the box.
And am almost disappointed by the anti-climax. Nothing shatters. A pile of letters gaze back at me, paper frayed with age, the handwriting is a firm slash across it. Even without reading who they are from, I know they are love letters.


It's 38 degrees. I know because the temperature on my iPhone screen says so. It seems I am going to be spending my gap year in India. In Bombay, to be precise.
All I have to go on is that the person sending the letter is a Krishna.  I had known Nana Sophie grew up in Bombay, but she had left the city when she was thirteen, moving with her parents to Dartmoor. She had met and married my grandfather at eighteen and had proceeded to have a series of miscarriages before finally giving birth to my father at twenty-six. Grandpa had died shortly afterwards leaving a young widowed Sophie to bring up her son. On the only trip she made back to Bombay in her later forties—around which time my father would have just already been married—she met her childhood friend, with whom she re-established a friendship. She had proceeded to come every year over the next ten years and then had abruptly broken it off. Refusing to write to him. And yet the letters were there. They kept coming, pleading with her to write back, worried about her, the helplessness from the letters pouring out of the pages, the barely contained passion leaping out at me, surrounding me, forcing me to open the window of that overheated little living room of the cottage and taking deep breaths to clear my head.
I didn't sleep that night.
The next morning my mind was made up. I was going to Bombay. To find my roots. Or at the very least to track down the only living embodiment of what had been a very important part of Nana's life. Enough for her to keep it a secret from all of us. The very fact that she did not mention the letters to any of us before she died intrigued me. And yet in death had left me with enough clues to follow the trail. It was reason enough to find out what had been eating away at her in her final years. Besides I did need destination for my gap year.
She had left me a small cash inheritance too; enough for me to book my tickets to Bombay would blinking an eyelid.
Now, seated in what passed for air-conditioning within the confines of the cab I had hired at the airport, I look out of the window... At the four-lane-wide traffic of cars and beyond that, to the blue-green of the Arabian Sea. The wall separating the traffic from the waves seems fragile. Like it's too weak to hold back the whites of the choppy sea, which even as I watch splash over the side onto the pavement. It drenches the couples that sit with their back to the world. They seem lost in each other, oblivious to the sun, the heat and the water anointing them with sweat and tears.
All I have to go on is an address, and I can't wait. I take the cab straight to Krishna's flat. The phone number scrawled below the address has not responded despite my having called it a few times. But, then, I haven’t come to India, only to meet Krishna after all. I can do what any respectable person on a gap year would. Go clubbing, meet the locals, have a one-night stand. As my mind wanders over the possibilities, the car turns off onto a side road, and suddenly we have left the traffic behind to enter a different dimension.
Here, it's quieter, the trees overhead providing an umbrella from the elements. The car drives smoothly now, and it is almost as if a carpet of leaves has covered the vehicle, muffling the street sounds. We draw up outside a tall building. Coming to a stop the driver turns around indicating I should pay him the amount showing on the meter reading. It's a big number, with many zeroes. Certainly more than what I have paid for any taxi ride in London. Yet, my hasty calculations indicate it's just short of £20. All too soon, I am standing in front of the door on the eleventh floor of the building, pressing the door bell, which rings through the interiors.


"Krishna?" The man looks at me, brow furrowed.
I nod, and fishing around in my bag, remove one of the letters I have bought with me to give to the guy. As he reads it I try to see past him into the darkened interiors of the house. A sudden tiredness overwhelms me and I sway slightly, dropping the bottle of water clutched in my hand. I bend down to pick it up and straighten to see, that his face has gone carefully blank. He steps aside and indicates I should follow him.
 I walk behind him, dragging my suitcase.
"Leave it here," he points to a space next to the overstuffed sofa in the living room. Thankful to be rid of my load I deposit both, my wheelie and my backpack, before following him through a corridor. I peer into the kitchen and the three bedrooms we pass, before reaching a room at the end of the passage. He knocks, and listens at the door before opening it and indicating I should go in. I walk in to see someone standing at the window. I blink at the silhouette, which turns to me.
She nods, looking at me. Her face is expressionless, grey and pockmarked. Just like Nana's beloved moors.


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Saturday, 25 April 2015

Never trust a writer who smiles

One of the sessions I attended at the London Book Fair featured Mexican author Valeria Luiselli. She spoke about here new book Story of My Teeth

In this the protagonist Gustavo 'Highway' Sanchez is a man with a mission: he is planning to replace every last one of his unsightly teeth. He has a few skills that might help him on his way: he can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums, he can interpret Chinese fortune cookies, he can stand an egg upright on a table, and he can float on his back. And, of course, he is the world's best auction caller - although other people might not realise this, because he is, by nature, very discreet. Studying auctioneering under Grandmaster Oklahoma and the famous country singer Leroy Van Dyke. 
Highway travels the world, amassing his collection of 'Collectibles' and perfecting his own specialty: the allegoric auction. In his quest for a perfect set of pearly whites, he finds unusual ways to raise the funds, culminating in the sale of the jewels of his collection: the teeth of the 'notorious infamous' - Plato, Petrarch, Chesterton, Virginia Woolf et al.  I was hooked. What a cool and very different story. 

I also came away with some very interesting one-liners: "How the teeth are a window to the soul."
"How one should not trust a writer who smiles." And that was only the beginning.

I was also fortunate to hear from the electrifying Carmen Boullousa, a leading Mexican poet, novelist and playwright. Carmen writes about feminism and gender roles within a Latin American context. 
She spoke and the audience listened, enthralled.  Her passion for life—for living shone through. She talked about her love for cooking, and how for a long time she denied herself that pleasure, for she associated cooking with female subservience. 

Coming from a traditional Indian family where my mum spent the better part of my teenage years in the kitchen, whipping up freshly cooked breakfasts, lunches and dinners for her family... I totally got it.  And then she delivered this stunning one liner: "If I talk about my current project it just gets putrid." That's my most basic fear right there.

Listening to these authors was like being afforded a peek into their soul, a teensy-weensy view of what inspires them, what they obsess about; about why they write on the themes they do. I am hungry for more. I want to know what they are thinking, how they feel, how they react to situations. About life and death, loving and hating, about lost loves, our fears, our secret obsessions. Just the many emotions we face on a daily basis and which we reflect in our books... Know what I mean?

It's why I write - to understand myself better. To find out more about my connection with the universe, to unravel the mysteries of time and space and why people do the things they do.

I acknowledge the importance of and indeed pursue my mastery of the every-changing Amazon algorithm for it is important to sales of my book. But I'd also rather spend a lot more of my time obsessing about the algorithm of life.

You may also like to read How I became an Author Entreprenuer

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Sunday, 19 April 2015

Why I became an AUTHOR ENTREPRENEUR (aka Authorpreneur)

Five exabytes of content were created between the birth of the world and 2003.

In 2014, the same 5 exabytes+ of content was created, each day.

Every minute of every day
      Facebook users share nearly 2.5 million pieces of content. Just two years ago that was 684,478 pieces of content every day. Which is quite insane
      Twitter users tweet nearly 300,000 times.
      Instagram users post nearly 220,000 new photos.
      YouTube users upload 72 hours of new video content.
      Apple users download nearly 50,000 apps.
      Email users send over 200 million messages.
      Amazon generates over $80,000 in online sales.

So when I launched my little 82,000 word-novel, The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer, to join that 5+ Exabyte (equal to one quintillion 1018 bytes) of content out there... Then I knew I had to either  1) hope and pray that someone, somewhere will actually read what I am putting out.   Or 2) Do something a little more proactive about getting the message out.

Which begs the question, why did I embark on the insane task of actually writing a book? 

Well, I didn't have a choice. Ruby Iyer had a mind of her own. She led and I followed.

I wrote Ruby initially as a weekly web-series. From day one, people responded to her. 

Readers asked me in real time what she was going to do next. This was quite unusual, so I knew there was some traction, interest around her. It spurred me on, to tell her complete story in The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer.

Yet, all the time I was writing the story, the marketer in me continued to watch, and began crafting, the positioning of the novel to the world. What was Ruby's point of view? What set her apart from the millions of other novels out there. What was I trying to say? Why would people want to read Ruby Iyer's story?  You could argue I needed to answer these questions while resolving the plot. But it's almost like there were two of us writing the book. The author in me who was caught up in the antics of this hot-headed, kick-ass-character who had a mind of her own. Ruby led and I followed.

But at the same time the communicator in me kept looking for clues, kept trying to understand the DNA of this brand I was creating. Trying to understand what brand values she (and the book stood for), what would be her single-overriding-communication-objective. What did Ruby really stand for to the world. What did she mean with everything she said and did? It was pretty awesome really. 

Where else does one have the opportunity to both be the content creator and the content amplifier?

So when The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer was ready to launch, well, it was just natural that I was going to put the book out there and wait for people to find it. I had to increase its discoverability, to get in front of the right people. The interested readers.

What do you call someone who creates her own content, then proceeds to market it too. I call it being an Authorprenuer.

In my efforts of getting Ruby Iyer to her readers, I realised I had to treat this entire chain of events I was initiating like a startup. I had to create the platform for my author brand and at the same time, I had to also build the Ruby Iyer brand.

In Ruby's case is that she was such a strong persona that people automatically expected her to have a voice of her own. They expected her to have an opinion. And so from very early on, even before the book was complete she had her own twitter handle @RubyIyer and her own Facebook page.
It grew from there.

Initially Ruby Iyer quoted from her own life and her book. But as she grew in confidence she began to have an opinion on world events: When the Taliban massacred the children in Peshawar; on #JeSuisCharlie... On these it seemed natural that she wanted to comment, to take a stance.

But more than that, her voice grew to the everyday confusions a eighteen-year-old faces. Surviving social media, getting through a break-up, the angst of falling in love with strangers, her pizza fixation, her frustration with the cheeriness of the festive season, trying to figure out what to do with her life. As readers responded to her, Ruby's voice amplified, it became larger than the story-arc in the book.

So it was that I found myself with a little marketing machinery in place of my own, PR, social media, editorial guidelines, graphic designer. Looking at how much I was making from sales vs. what I could spend on building the brand. Trying to keep track of the break-even point.

Somewhere along the way I had become a business. An Authorprenuer.

For any author to survive to make sure her book stands out among the 90,000 books published each year in India, and the she will need to do the same. Become an Authorprenuer... Or be resigned to see your book consigned to the post-apocalyptic toilet paper stockpile.

Note: India is one of the few (if at all any) major markets in the world which is still seeing growth in both print and digital publishing. The value of the Indian publishing industry in 2012 was estimated at USD 2 Billion with an overall growth rate of around 15% (conservative estimates) One-fourth of the youth population of India, a staggering figure of 83 million, identify themselves as book readers. About 90,000 titles are published in India every year and India ranks third behind the USA and the UK in the publication of English language books. UK tops chart of publications per million inhabitants (184,000 titles in 2013) by a huge margin, with only China and US publishing more titles in absolute termsIn total I estimate 2.4m books were published last year worldwide.

Thanks to following articles which aided my research

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About the author

Laxmi is the creator of The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer which debuted #1 Hot New Release on Amazon Asian Lit. She has been a journalist with the Independent, and a global marketer with NBCU and MTV during which time she helped launch fifteen TV channels across fifty countries. Laxmi also blogs for Huffington Post among others.
The Many Lives of Ruby is available here 
Download The Ruby Iyer Diaries, free here on Amazon US
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Saturday, 18 April 2015

Batman vs Superman

I don't do this often, but this one deserved its own short post

Great piece of marketing - they are teasing us in mid 2015 for a 2016 release. It looks awesome. Everything rocks. Except that last combined logo. Nope, doesn't work for me. If you combine yin & yang you get anarchy. You have to keep them apart, on opposite sides. Agree?