Author Interview: Deepti Menon on Satire, Stories and War


Deepti Menon is a well-known name among writers’ circles in India. Writing runs in her blood, as does teaching. She has lived in the Army as a child, and then as a wife, and travelled around the country to places, both beautiful and challenging. In 2002, Arms and the Women, her light-hearted book on life, as seen through the eyes of an Army wife, was published by Rupa Publishers, Delhi.
Many of her short stories have seen the light of day in anthologies as
varied as 21 Tales to Tell, Upper Cut, Chronicles of Urban Nomads, Mango
Chutney, Crossed and Knotted, Rudraksha, Love—an Anthology, The Second Life
and A Little Chorus of Love.

Today, Deepti Menon has agreed to give me an interview for my blog. We’ll talk about many a things, though our focus will be on satire as Mock, Stalk and Quarell, Readomania’s recent offering on satire in form of an anthology has been published and is available in online and offline stores all over India.

AN: How are you doing? Are you ready?

DM: Hi, Anirban! I am like that famed battery… Eveready!

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AN: Ha ha! Good. Our focus of this interview will be on mainly satire. Satire, as we know, is difficult to master. It is a fine art. Can you tell us what inspired you to write a satirical tale? What makes writing satire so difficult?

DM: Writing satire is like tightrope walking. You can either walk on it, perfectly balanced, like a professional artiste, or you can make a perfect clown of yourself as you tumble over in a heap. Satire is a fine-tuned instrument, the kind of writing that needs to hit the target that it is aimed at. If you miss it, you end up sounding ludicrous or hyperbolic.

AN: We have seen recently the bold steps taken by the government, and we are also witnessing the social and political changes India is going through. Many have different opinions about these issues and events. What do you think of the role of satire in expressing one’s opinion in present time?

DM: 2016 will certainly go down as a red-letter year for many reasons – money matters, (pun intended), the Trump card and of course, the end of the Amma era in Tamil Nadu. Is it a coincidence that Cho Ramaswamy, noted humorist and political satirist, also passed away soon after?

Right from ancient times, satire was always seen as a weapon to hold up the ills of society. It is no different today as well. If two pieces are written on the same subject, one in prosaic language and the other veiled in satire, it is always the second one that will evoke more curiosity, and drive the point home, in my opinion.

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AN: In the current Indian literary scene, we see a significant lack of satirical work. What is your response to such a situation?

DM: Very true, Anirban! The reason lies within ourselves. We, the homo sapiens, have turned into a dour, humourless society, unable to take a joke in the right spirit, be it in the case of cartoons, books, movies, newspaper articles or even WhatsApp messages. The powers above scream, like the proverbial Queen of Hearts in ‘Alice in Wonderland’, “Off with their heads!” And out pop the bans, which ironically, work well for those banned as they bring up the curiosity quotient.

Isaac Hayes couldn’t have put it more aptly when he said, “There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins.”

 
AN: In your story in Mock, Stalk and Quarrel titled, The Little Princess, we see a girl in search of true love, defying the social norms. Though, on closer look, it seems more like a parody. Through a mere matter of groom-matching, you have brought out the political situations of the country in a subtly humorous way. Tell us how you have come up with the idea of this story.

DM: Frankly, Anirban, this was a harmless little story that I had written a decade ago, because I wanted to come out with something light-hearted. It did not have any political allusions at all. When the idea of an anthology on satire came about, I stuck to the same story, but added on the rest, so that my story would fit the bill.

AN: Apart from situational comedy, we find many funny Wodehousian dialogues like:

“So what do you think? Isn’t he handsome?” Her eyes twinkled as she smiled at her daughter.

“Hardly, Mamma! He can get lost in a crowd of two!” The girl’s answer ruffled her mother’s feathers.

I have also read an article on Wodehouse by you. How has Wodehouse influenced you in your writing?

DM: I adore Wodehouse, and so, I love this question. I think his books are the epitome of good humour wrapped around in a writing style that is unique. I would often sit and chuckle over certain portions, even when I was travelling, and earned many strange looks in the process! I also feel that humour is one of the most difficult genres to master, and he is a master, indeed. I have friends who disagree with me on this point, but each to their own.

AN: At the end, the man with whom the girl falls in love identifies himself as ‘the Common Man’. In context of love and politics, its significance is something interesting to note down. Do you think that both a lover and a leader can be found amid the Common Man?

DM: “I think comedy and satire are a very important part of democracy, and it’s important we are able to laugh at the idiosyncrasies or the follies or vanities of people in power.” So said Rory Bremner.
I think in an ideal democracy, it should be the Common Man who rules. After all, it he who votes and brings people to power. So, a lover and a leader can be found in the Common Man. Please note that I am not alluding to the present Common Man, high on cough syrup, who sports a scarf.

AN: Recently, you have published your new novel Shadow in the Mirror under Readomania. Many congratulations to you for this success. What difference did you find between writing a short-story and a full-fledged novel? Of course, apart from short stories are short. Ha ha!

DM: Ha ha, indeed! J Thank you so much, Anirban. I feel that short stories need more skill, and that’s purely my opinion, because an entire story with a beginning, a middle and an end, needs to be encapsulated within a given word limit. Hence, the writing needs to be brief, and yet, sparkle enough to catch the imagination of the reader. A novel is a longer read, and the author has time to meander through the theme and make it work at a more leisurely pace.

AN: I have read your stories in Defiant Dreams, Urban Nomads and When They Spoke. A recurring theme of women empowerment can be noticed in your stories. This is also true for the story in Mock, Stalk and Quarrel too. There has not been a better time when the topic of women empowerment is of such importance. What do you think, as a writer, of the role of women in modern creative writing in India?

DM: My stories write themselves. I have never deliberately written a story on women’s empowerment. However, the issue is, perhaps, so strongly engrained in my psyche, that it comes out as a subconscious narrative. I think that all writers, men and women, should try and bring in a renaissance of gender equality and the empowerment of women and children.

AN: Does your new novel touch on similar issues?

DM: ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ is a work of fiction that has autobiographical elements in it. Thus, one of my main characters, who is a journalist, does fight against various issues that impact women negatively.

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AN: What do you think of the current Indian literary scene? Also about the publishing trends?

DM: The current Indian literary scene is bursting at its seams with new writers being born and published every day. Today, everyone can write, and does, sometimes well, and at other times, with disastrous results. But I do think that it is a very positive trend which will throw up “full many a gem of purest ray serene” that would otherwise remain hidden “in the dark unfathomed caves of (the) ocean”.

Publishers have also mushroomed over the years. Today you have traditional publishers, vanity publishers and self-publishing, as well. Hence, it is easier to get your manuscript published than it was in the past, like back in 2002, when my first book, ‘Arms and the Woman’ (Rupa Publishers, Delhi) got published.

AN: Name a few of your favourite authors.

DM: George Eliot, Alexander Dumas for their classics, Somerset Maugham, O Henry, Guy de Maupassant and Jeffrey Archer for their short stories, and Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle for their mysteries, are among my favourites. I also enjoy Indian writers like RK Narayan, Ruskin Bond, Shashi Tharoor, Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee and Jaisree Mishra. I have also enjoyed all the books I have read from the Readomania collection.

AN: As an experienced writer, your advice to young writers?

DM: Love books, read and savour them, and identify the genre with which you want to be associated. Most importantly, enjoy what you write, for if you don’t like your own writing, no one else will either.

AN: Thank you for this interview. It’s been a pleasure.

 

DM: Thank you so much, Anirban, for the interesting questions. All the best with all your writing, and God bless!

AN: Thank you very much. Same to you.

 

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Review: Spy from Unaula by Alok Kumar


Introduction:

The story is set in pre-independent India spanning over a life time of a character. The story follows Ram, who born in a remote village Unaula and his adventures as he frees himself from the bondage of social prejudices and backwardness of the uneducated society there. He is inspired and supported by his brother Bhagwati right from the beginning.

What I like about the story:

The content of the story is very unique, fresh and something we don’t see in present piles of romance, mythology and crime-thriller novels. The characters are normal, real-life people and events are told in good detail (the war with Japanese, the process of selection, the atmosphere of death). Especially I like the sketched images which frequently try to bring out the scenes going on in the book. It has social messages, about how a little person from some remote village can become big.

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Critical Comments:

The narration puts me off, to be honest. It is top to bottom telling in dull way. The story here is huge and if it is written with more patience it could become a 400+ pages epic, whereas solely due to the school text-book style telling, the book is merely 210 pages long. For example, it is not enough if one tells me that Ram is courageous and nervous at the same time. One can show that simply by his actions (like he elopes from his house just before 2 days of his forced-marriage but at the same times, trembles, cries sobs, wanting for water etc. when he is walking away from his home.) Or if one really wants to stick to telling, he should use similes, allegories to evoke cruelty, humor in the tone. For example, let see if the same situation can be written like : Fifty kilos of weight, he felt such pride and determination that he could alone conquer even Achilles if he tried to force him to marry that unknown girl, who definitely was not a decedent of Helen. By the way, when Bhagwati fights against Japanese in army of British, I have expected the mention of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, who was using the Japanese force to create the menace British felt.

To be Specific:

Plot:

The plot is has potential, as I have mentioned before. You’d agree with me after completing the journey of the characters in this book.

Dialogue:

It is natural and okay, but the amount of dialogue is very less in this book which is not compensated by good narration.

Characterisation:

It is good but could become livelier with more developed style of presentation. I wanted to feel the same disappointment was Ram was prevented from going to school, I wanted to feel the tension Ram felt when he was leaving his home forever.

Pacing:

Unnecessarily fast which neither creates the thrill it intends to create, nor allows the reader to feel for the characters.

Narrative:

It is mentioned in critical comments section.

Editing:

Not many typographical and grammatical errors. It’s neat.

Resolution:

Satisfying but could have been of more impact.

Overall impression:

A good read for readers searching for something new based on Indian setting which could become a far better piece of novel.

3 out of 5.

Amazon Link.

View my other reviews.

How to receive a review (both positive and negative)


A book can get both positive and negative criticism from a reviewer. This post is about how to handle such criticisms. Now, if you search in internet, there will be plenty of posts regarding handling a negative criticism, but no one tells you about the positive one. We shall try to discuss that too in this post.

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Before reading any review, remember the following:

1. The reviewer has invested 6-10 hrs of his time on your work. He has the right to voice his say.
2. If he thinks his time is wasted by reading your work, he can say bad things about your work.
3. If you get offended by that (and yes, you have also the right to get offended), you should be okay with it. Tastes vary.
4. If a reviewer tells that “this part of this novel is crap, and should have been written in this or that way”, it doesn’t establish that the reviewer himself can write the way he has expected to read.

Read the last sentence again.

Now, let us divide our discussion in 2 parts.

  1. Handling Positive Criticism: If you get positive views from someone about your work, then pat yourself, you deserve it. You should use this praise to boost your confidence and work harder to bring better work. 36657610-Cartoon-of-businessman-dog-receiving-excellent-performance-review-he-is-a-good-dog--Stock-PhotoBut I have seen in many cases, the recipient gets so inflated that he refuses to work hard anymore. Remember, every work will require equal and preferably more effort than you have put in your previous work. So boost your confidence with positive criticism but don’t become overconfident. If you become overconfident, points in italic in following will happen.
  2.  Handling Negative Criticism: If someone bashes your book showing valid reasons, analyze if those reasons are at all valid for you. In many cases, the reviewer may not get your intentions or visions. In those cases, as you are the creator and know more about what you are doing, you may (not must) ignore those points. But this is the way we've always done it.- Barron's Cartoon - by Kaamran Hafeez.

    Source – Barron’s Cartoon – by Kaamran Hafeez.

    On the other hand, if a good reviewer gives negative review and justifies his points with enough reasons and examples, preserve the review and apply the lessons learned from it. Due to overconfidence, if you respond with hostility to the review and ignore everything he has said, two things will happen: people will get a pretty good idea about your nature and you lose the chance to learn from your mistakes which you will iterate in your next works.

So, that’s it about receiving a review. This is the last post about reviewing and receiving them. Coming up: few short-stories, few discussions on books, some amazing workshops/articles/interviews by various well-known authors and a serialized post about something (I’ll reveal later). 🙂

How to write a friendly and honest review.


Reviewing a book is a tricky job because

  1. The writer is eagerly waiting for the review you’ll be writing. This is true for every newbie writer. If you write a beaming review praising it, the writer will read it again and again and will feel a sheer joy. I have felt it.
  2. The reader i.e. the reviewer also has invested some emotion into the book and it’d bound to reflect on the review.

The reason this is a very tricky job is that a pretty well amount of emotions is connected to it, and a review is absolutely, completely and definitely a professional business. You may have reviewed a work written by your friend and given a corny, lovely review of that. That’s okay. But once you become a well-know reviewer, you should become more professional.

So, let’s get started, shall we? It’ll be short, I promise.

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Reviewing means ‘a critical appraisal of a book, play, or other work’ (ref. concise oxford dictionary) which, upon expanding tells: you read a book and you give honest opinion based on your experience of reading books and the opinion would be such that it’ll help the writer/artist ‘appraise’ his/her work.

In straight words, from your review both the writer and readers must get something of value.

Now, if the book is good, the work becomes pretty easy and everyone feels very happy. What happens if the book is not so good? Read on.

Basically, you have two options here:

  1. You praise the work anyway and the author gets happy. But after reading your review when a reader buys it and gets disappointed; believe me, he’ll never ever going to read your review.
  2. You point out the issues point-blankly. That’ll hurt the author brutally. He/She has spent hours creating the book and getting such a review will hurt. When other writers will read your review, many may get scared of your review and will not prefer to get their book reviewed by you. Because your review do affect the sales.

Here is what you should do:

  1. Point out the good things first. And don’t forget to justify that with required quotes as it’ll increase the credibility of your review(without spoiling major plot-points). Don’t spoil a book in your review.
  2. Point out what you think of it in context of the current society. It’ll help the reader understand if he really needs to read the book. (for example when I wrote the review of ‘Voices of the silent creek’; I started it like this: The book ‘Voices of the Silent Creek’ tries to bring out raw truth about women hidden behind the curtains of big houses and how knowing their situation, people choose to keep their mouth shut. The hypocrisy of people calling themselves supporter of women empowerment will strike you fiercely in this novel. A very different attempt for a debut novel and definitely deserves a round of applause.  Read the full review.)
  3. While handling critical points, do it honestly but candidly. Never ever underestimate or insult the ability of the writer. That’s the greatest insult a writer can have. For example, if you see the dialogues are not good, instead of writing “The dialogues are very badly written and doesn’t interest me at all”, write, “I believe if the dialogues are constructed tautly, the effect of the story would become more lasting.” Basically, you did the same thing, but the later is more candid.

With that I am listing few quick points that may be of your help in any other review:

  1. Don’t write summary and spoil the entire story.
  2. Show proofs of your opinions and justify that.
  3. More detailed the review, more spoilery it may become. Try to write a review that doesn’t spoil the story but gives enough glimpse into the story to justify your point.
  4. Personally, I don’t like to rate books, but it’s not a sin to rate a book either. Everyone assesses everything in this world by some certain scale.
  5. Don’t add blurb in your review. It makes it look less professional.
  6. Try to learn something from the book because your love for books is the whole point of becoming a reviewer or a writer.
  7. Don’t promise to review more books than you can read properly. This is very important. Try to review as much as possible by you, not more than that.
  8. It’s preferable to restrict yourself to your favorite genres. But if you are an avid reader who eats everything that come in his way, then you go for all the genres.

So, that’s it, I suppose. Lately, I was not much active here, but now on, you’ll see regular blog posts. Thank you for reading. Do leave your comments.

Interview with Aditi Bose


Me: How are you feeling?

Aditi: I feel like a frozen icicle. Delhi’s getting darn cold slowly. Jokes apart, I’m currently in a content state. Things seem to be on the right track. So I am not complaining.

Me:Yes, it’s quite cold in here too. Let’s start with a conventional question. Tell us something about yourself.

Aditi: I am a mother. This is what will always come first. The rest follow – writer, swimmer, shopper, foodie, and an utter romantic.

Me: When did you start writing & what/who inspired you to begin writing?

Aditi: I have been writing for a very long time. As a child I used to write my personal diary and a travel journal. Writing a novel is a recent entrant though.
My parents and the stories they told me are an inspiration. My child is too – when you have to tell a kid a new story every night, there is no choice but to keep your creative juices flowing.

Me: What did you like to read in your childhood?

Aditi: Enid Blyton and more Enid Blyton. A few years later I was hooked onto Satyajit Ray’s Feluda series.

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Me: Feluda is my favorite. I have read every story of Feluda in my childhood days. 🙂 So, who is your favorite Author? Anything specific that keeps you hooked to his/her writing?

Aditi: I like reading a plethora of authors. Usually the story line and the book cover is what attracts my attention. But, in general, I like Danielle Steele and the poignancy that she brings up in her stories.

Me: Oh, I see. What is your current book about? Can you tell us something about it?

Aditi: My Dream Man explores the changing relationship between a professor and his student. I don’t think I want to divulge any further.

Me: How have you conceived the idea about writing this book?

 

Aditi: Ideas just come to me suddenly – out of the blue. This one also just happened.

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Me: Could you tell us something about the main character of your current book?

Aditi: The female protagonist is a vivacious Bengali girl and the professor, who is twelve years older to him, is a mature and calm person.

Me: Tons of other books are being published every day out there. What makes this book different and attractive for a reader?

Aditi: Because it has been written by an attractive lady! (Giggles). Jokes apart, I think the teacher-student relationship in a romance plus the kind of twist that it has hasn’t been experimented with yet.

Me: That seems interesting. It is said that a writer should always read a lot, do you agree? Does it influence one’s writing? How do you avoid the influence & maintain the flow?

Aditi: The words should / have to doesn’t apply to writers. We are a bunch of creative people and we do what we like. For some reading works and for some staring into open space does.

If one were to read only a single author’s writing then it is likely that some influence would brush off. As for avoiding influence, there’s really no need to avoid it. Every writer, eventually, always finds his own style coming out.

Me: Do you follow a special regime to write? And how do you go about writing every day?

Aditi: The only regime that I follow is that I need to feel happy and energetic. When I do I can write even an entire chapter in an hour. But when I’m tired or upset I can’t get the words out of me. So there are days at a stretch when I give myself a break without feeling guilty about it. And I never set myself goals like ‘X words in X days’ etc.  I write when I feel like.

Me: Do you like to plot and plan everything beforehand or just let your writing lead you though the story?

Aditi: I have the basic plot in mind. That’s it. Names of characters, incidents, the twists everything happens as I write.

Me: You are a management graduate. Does it help you in your writing career? 

Aditi: Nope. But, having an MBA degree, being a good student, and being an alumna of well known educational institutes in the country does give me a sense of self pride.

Me: When you sit to write, how do you create the flow/mood to keep writing without getting disturbed?

Aditi: I don’t create because I can’t. I have my responsibilities which I need to fulfil. So I just avoid times when disturbances are high. So till I know I can get some silent time in the house I stay away from writing.

Me: Do you see yourself exploring other genres like crime thriller or fantasy?

Aditi: Fantasy maybe. But in the distant future, if ever. The only other genre I like writing is tales for kids. My first book – an ebook – was a collection of short stories for children – ‘Hama-Guri goes to School’.

Me: What is, according to you, are some of the traits of a successful writer (be it’s a blog writer or a fiction/non-fiction writer)?

Aditi: When a writer can write without thinking how much royalty he will be getting, he’s a successful writer.

Me: Well put. In what position do you see yourself five years from now?

Aditi: The mother to an almost teenage daughter! (Laughs)

Me: 🙂 She is lucky to have a mother like you. What do you like to do when you are not writing or reading?

Aditi: Sketching, swimming, being with my kid, Whatsapping.

Me: New Year is around. Do you want to give any message to our readers?

Aditi: It is easy to make promises to oneself and even easier to break it. Don’t do that in 2016. Have smaller goals if need be, but live upto it.

Me: Thank you so much, it’s a pleasure interviewing you. Tell us when your book is going to be released and where can one find it? 

Aditi: My Dream Man is already on the stands. You can order it from Amazon or PustakMandi. It will be on Flipkart soon.

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Me: Also, if you are okay with it, how can someone get in touch with you?

Aditi: They can follow me on FB or on Twitter.

So folks, that’s all about Aditi and her book, The Dream Man. From her words, it seems intriguing. Watch this space for more interviews and discussions. Thank you for reading. ❤

—-interviewed by Anirban Nanda.

How it is possible to read more than one book at the same time.


As a voracious reader and an ambitious writer, I am member of many book-clubs where we share what we are reading and discuss it. So, when I say that I am reading 3 books at a time, people get surprised and ask how it is possible to do so and still not mix up themes and characters.

First of all, it’s not a matter of pride for reading more than one book at a time. People who read one book at a time normally plunge themselves in the book and become lost into it, which is a great thing and truly depicts how one should enjoy a book.

But as for me, like many others, who reads many books at a time gets a different experience, neither superior nor inferior to the previous case.

Let’s get to point about how someone does read a lot of books at a time, let me tell you from my own experiences. I am currently reading Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy; all of which are well respected. Each of these has separate plot, themes, styles and characters. As a writer who doesn’t say he earns his bread by writing, he has to go through separate realms of life-styles/thinking processes; for example: a writer who also works as an accountant has to be a good serviceman, good reader, good husband, friend etc etc. So many personalities where you are supposed to think separately and behave accordingly. Do they mix these up? This is the source for me to find the reason of my reading many books at a time. While I am reading the story of Caulfield I am thrown into different world and different tone and while I am reading Elizabeth Costello’s story which revolves around struggles of a writer at old age, I see a new style and premise and a lot more though provoking literature. But I do not mix them up because I do not read them as a reader, rather I read them to find the tricks the author is using in his writing. I do not get surprised/delighted to face a plot twist, I normally get drawn to a novel solely because of the writing style and set up and how the writer is building the whole plot. I do get lost into the stories but on some level, I’m also aware of the techniques the author is using.

That’s is most probably the case with me. I don’t know if I am able to make myself clear enough, but right now, this is all I can think of (and blogging because the thought is tormenting me).

“How to write a fiction and so on…” kind of posts are never actually helpful.


You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me that. You have asked others, before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you worry when certain editors turn your efforts down. Now (since you have allowed me to offer you advice) let me ask you to give up all that. You are looking to the outside, and that above all you should not be doing now. Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself. Examine the reason that bids you to write; check whether it reaches its roots into the deepest region of your heart, admit to yourself whether you would die if it should be denied you to write. This above all: ask yourself in your night’s quietest hour: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if it should be affirmative, if it is given to you to respond to this serious question with a loud and simple ‘I must’, then construct your life according to this necessity…

——-Letters to a Young Poet by R.M. Rilke

I have seen in many blogs that people are posting tips and tricks for writing a good fiction.

Well, to be honest and with no intention to sound offensive, those who try to read and follow those tips and all are in search of some short-cut or easy way to write a great book. In this computer age, to have such ideas are of no surprise.

To make my point clear, those posts are mostly written by published writer from their own experiences. They have worked hard to reach that goal and you have to pass that too. There is no short-cut ‘tips’ to write a novel. It’s not a mathematics problem or a rocket science theory that you need tutorials and techniques.

You are writing or planning to write because you have felt an urge to write something and you are passionate about it. More importantly, you believe in it. So to make it the best book you can write you too have to read thousands of books, spend hours doing research on your plot  and identify your narration style and genre.

If you are writing from your heart, and if you have read enough on the same genre, your writing bound to be thrilling and enchanting. In this process, you will develop your own strategy to write your own fiction which works only for you. Hence, pour all your heart on the paper and just submit it to your editor.

And when you will become successful, maybe someday, you too can post a similar post on ‘how to write a good novel et al.’ and increase page-views of your blog.