Tamraparni Dasu | Uncategorized
Tamraparni Dasu is an Indian American writer and published author. Her new book, Spy Interrupted, The Waiting Wife, was just released. It is the first in a trilogy.
Tamraparni Dasu, writer, author, published, Spy Interrupted, The Waiting Wife, India,
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Fall for the Book event

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It was 7:00 p.m. on Friday, Oct 2, and Hurricane Joaquin was churning away in the Bahamas, lashing Bethesda, Maryland with wind and rain. But that didn’t stop The Writer’s Center from hosting Jacob Appel (center) and me for an evening of book reading and other literary pursuits, held under the auspices of Fall for the Book festival.

After a very gracious introduction by Sunil Freeman (right), Assistant Director of the Center, Jacob read two passages, one each from “Phoning Home” and “Einstein’s Beach House”.  It was so much fun listening to Jacob read with his signature dark wit and dry humor. After that, I read from my first book “Spy, Interrupted: The Waiting Wife” and a passage from my upcoming book “The Perfect Candidate-Book 2 of the Spy, Interrupted Trilogy” (scheduled to come out 11/11/15).

A friendly discussion ensued ranging from the multiple talents of Jacob to my research on the CIA and elections, concluding with the fascinating background of Sunil.

My thanks to all those who attended the event. I am now looking forward to my next event on Oct 25 at Hunter College in NYC. Details soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Malala’s Fund: Educating girls

 

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IndiaWrites Publishers Inc., our non-profit 501(c)(3) publishing company, has contributed the latest set of royalties from Spy, Interrupted to Malala’s fund.

Those of you who’ve read  Spy, Interrupted: The Waiting Wife  (2014) will recall that the heroine, Nina, is an ardent advocate of making education accessible to girls all across the world. In fact, that’s what made the hero fall in love with her 😉

Girls’ education is very much in the zeitgeist right now. Malala Yousafzai addressed the UN Assembly on September 25, appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and has been a tireless advocate. Now, Mrs. Michelle Obama has added her clout to the US government-wide Let Girls Learn initiative with the 62MillionGirls campaign.

I can personally vouch for how critical education has been in determining the course of my life. Here is hoping that children all over the world will have access to good education by the end of this decade!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Judge a book by its cover

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Now that Book 2 of the Spy, Interrupted series, The Perfect Candidate,  is with the editor, I have the pleasant task of working with the cover designers. I know, I know, I am neglecting Book 3 for now…but I am half way through it, so I am not concerned. (Yes, there is a Book 3!)

Covers are very important because people do judge a book by its cover. Your publisher will push you toward a cover that will sell the book. Busty women, blood and gore, lots of drama, anything to grab “eyeballs”. Never mind if it does not reflect the nature of book. (Side note: One huge advantage of being an independent author is that you have complete creative control and can choose, even if it is to your own detriment, what the book should be both inside and out.)

With Book 1, the cover designers gave me two options. One was a flower draped house, like a Merchant Ivory movie on hallucinogens, to capture the romance aspect of the novel. It was completely over the top, even for a flower fanatic like me. The second option, to address the thriller aspect, was that busty woman I mentioned earlier. She was nothing like the Nina I imagined. A faceless man dragged her by the hand, presumably to escape the evil hordes. It didn’t come close to anything I had in mind. I vented at length about this in my previous post, Exciting Times.

With Book 2, I am again faced with two choices, and this time I like both. The designers took a cue from Book 1 and tried to capture the mood of the book and my personal taste, as well as elements from Book 1. The cover we chose strikes a fine balance (Sorry, Rohinton) between suspense, drama and aesthetics, and combines the best elements of the options created by the designers. You will have an opportunity to judge once Book 2 comes out!

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Exciting times!

I am getting ready to send the second book in the Spy, Interrupted series to the editor and then to the printers. So many decisions to make! This time around, I have a little experience but a lot more angst. With the first book, I just jumped in and made decisions fearlessly, happily oblivious to the consequences. After all, the book would and should speak for itself, right? Wrong!  From the title to the cover, it is a fine balance between what you really want and what will actually sell.

First of all how should the title be listed? Should it be (1) The Perfect Candidate (Spy, Interrupted Book 2) or (2) Spy, Interrupted: The Perfect Candidate? I like (2) because it is consistent with Book 1, Spy, Interrupted: The Waiting Wife. But the danger is that both the books start with the same “Spy, Interrupted: The ” and might not show up as distinct listings on book sites if the titles get truncated.  So  I will end up listing it as (1) though it offends my sense of symmetry.

Next, the cover. As anybody in the publishing industry will tell you, the cover is almost more important than what’s inside. For Book 1, I was advised to put a buxom young thing on the cover, the sexier the better. After all, I was told, the protagonist of The Waiting Wife is a young woman on the run. But that was not my mental picture of Nina at all. She’d probably slap me if I put her in a slinky little top and tight leather pants and splashed her on the cover. She’d rather be seen standing on a soapbox hectoring the crowds to be of some use in this world. But who’d buy that book?  Anyway, I really liked the photo we chose, the one my husband took in Jaipur, of birds in flight. For me, it captured the mystery, heartache and uncertainty at the core of The Waiting Wife.

For The Perfect Candidate, I am still debating the cover. We are leaning toward a minimalistic, highly stylized cover. Should it continue the bird theme from Book 1? Should we hang on to the same font? We’ll have to decide soon.

And we haven’t even got to formatting the interior yet!

But the process of creating a physical book is like building a house. So many decisions, so much debate, so many setbacks and course corrections. Yet, when it comes together and you behold the finished product…it is a thing of beauty, joy and great pride.

 

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Department of literary causes

 

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Our not-for-profit publishing company, IndiaWrites Publishers Inc., was set up in 2006 to support literary causes. One of our primary goals was to make it a platform for supporting non-English writers in India through high quality translations of their works into English. This would give the authors  greater exposure and most importantly give coverage to a writing oeuvre that is still not fully appreciated world wide. However, we realized early on that raising funds for non-humanitarian causes, particularly something so introspective and non-visual as literature, was very difficult. So we decided to fund it ourselves.

Meanwhile, thanks to the publication of “1947 Santoshabad Passenger and Other Stories” which was our first translation of contemporary Telugu fiction, and “Spy, Interrupted: The Waiting Wife”, which was an original work of fiction, we’ve learned a lot about the publishing process. We intend to use our experience  to revive our translation activities.

IndiaWrites will use proceeds from sales of our original Spy, Interrupted series to fund our translation efforts and support humanitarian organizations–we’ve already donated to Kiva and International Rescue Committee–as well as  those that support the fine arts. You can read about it on our giving page.

Thanks to all of you who have supported our cause!

 

 

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Jumma, a collection of short stories by award winning Telugu writer, Vempalle Shareef, was translated into English by Dasu Krishnamoorthy, and published in June 2015 by Prism Publishers in India.

 

 

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A funny thing happened at a Flatiron cafe

The other morning I was sitting in a cafe in the Flatiron neighborhood of Manhattan, waiting for a bookstore to open. Since I had more than an hour, I thought I’d get started on the next chapter of the third part of the Spy, Interrupted trilogy. I had been dragging my feet for days and distracting myself with various computer trivia instead of writing. I took out my black ink pen and fished around inside my bag for my notebook. Alas, I had left it at home. But I had three sheets of reviewers’ comments on a technical paper I had coauthored, printed only on one side, leaving three beautiful blank sheets for me to write on. Once I started, the words flowed and I began to fill up the page with sentence after sentence arranged in tightly spaced lines to pack in as much as I could into those three sheets.

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I had reached the end of the first sheet and was about to move on to the next one when I heard a voice. The young man at the next table was saying something. I looked up at him.

“May I take a picture of you writing?” he asked.

I must’ve looked puzzled because he continued. “It is so beautiful, that letter covered with flowing handwriting. I wanted to take a picture–it is rare to see that these days. I am afraid that it will die out.”

He took the picture and we had a nice conversation before we parted. And then just today I saw this article: David Sax’s  paean to Moleskine notebooks  in The New Yorker about how tech startups are going bananas over the simplicity and efficiency of notebooks and handwritten notes.

For me, the physical process of writing gives great pleasure, particularly when a silky smooth sheet of white paper meets an ink pen that flows easily and evenly. The brain seems to respond better when it sees the writing take shape on paper…not impersonal characters on a eerie glowing screen but shapes and forms that have evolved with me from my childhood, with idiosyncratic flourishes and irrational curlicues that are as unique to me as my fingerprints, symbols that are physical manifestation of what’s inside my head.

The art of writing by hand is aesthetically fulfilling and creative in its own right. Calligraphy was a high art form in many cultures. While I make no claims to calligraphy or even a particularly beautiful handwriting, I am happy to be on the leading edge of an analog revolution–bring back the notebooks!

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Of Hollywood, Bollywood and Spies

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Book lovers are an opinionated bunch. They have strong likes and dislikes, and love to argue. But they are also  curious, funny and warm, and unfailingly courteous. I thought it would be interesting to share some of the discussions I’ve had at author events, as well as some other questions I’ve been asked frequently.

Most popular question by far: Are you a spy/work for the CIA?

No, I am not, and I do not know anyone who is. In fact, if a real spy reads my book, I am sure that she/he will fall of the chair laughing. Just as I do when I read breathless articles in newspapers and magazines about machine learning and artificial intelligence. Recently, I met a former secret service agent who used to be on the security detail of a very high profile US cabinet secretary. He promised to read my book and let me know what he thought. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

There are many famous Indian women writers who write about the immigrant experience; how come you chose such an unusual genre?

I know that when publishers and publicists see my name or photo, they expect the whole immigrant “caught between two cultures” schtick. I am fed up with that.

I write about what I enjoy and what I would personally love to read. And I truly feel that there is a big gap in the “classy romance meets good thriller” genre. Besides, my cultural roots will come through no matter what I write about. People loved the alu parathas and New Delhi scenes in Spy, Interrupted: The Waiting Wife, not to mention Nina’s extended family dynamic.

Your book would make a great movie. Why don’t you turn it into a screen play?

I’d love to! But, I don’t know where to start. In the meantime, for your amusement, here are some casting choices that have been suggested.

Stephen James: Bradley Cooper, Tom Hardy (Too bad that my favorites, Colin Firth and Daniel Craig, can’t pull off a 30-something look anymore).

Nina Sharma: Deepika Padukone, Mila Kunis.

As promised, my friends at BHPL and I will either have bit roles, or will visit the studio set when it happens.

Are the places you write about real? For example, the beach where Stephen and Nina have a romantic picnic?

Yes, they are. A beach fitting that description can be found along the coast of Rhode Island.

 

 

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On a personal note, I am happy to report that my father is back home from the hospital and is doing really well. Thanks to everyone for their best wishes. And special thanks to Anne deFuria  of Berkeley Heights Public Library for being so thoughtful and considerate during that week of uncertainty.

 

 

 

 

 

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Smart is the new sexy!

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A few years ago, a literary agent read my manuscript (Spy, Interrupted: The Waiting Wife) and said that she loved it…but that I should spice it up, and not be so subtle. Sex sells, she said. It was clearly good advice coming from years of experience. But, that is easier said than written. After all, who wants to be on the short list for Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award?

Among writers that I have read, Jonathan Franzen is guilty of the most gratuitous use of sex. It appears randomly and frequently, jumping off the pages at unsuspecting readers. Among the old school, D. H. Lawrence spent considerable time on that subject writing with poetic passion and intensity.

South Asian cultures are quite uptight in this respect. It takes a very talented writer like Hanif Kureishi to create a raucous world filled with bawdy humor. There are many others without his skill and wit who just come across as coarse and vulgar.

The romance genre is even more challenging. Chemistry is the beating heart of a great romance novel. How do you build that chemistry between the hero and the heroine without being sickeningly coy (as Indian stories and movies used to be) or utterly in poor taste by letting it all hang out (some music videos)? How do you write a classy romance without dumbing down the characters, plot and quality of writing? Without condescension, or worse, manipulative marketing tricks?

I personally believe that much of chemistry is cerebral. That’s why the romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is so compelling. To quote from Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch, “Smart is the new sexy!” In the hands of a master like Marquez, that bright human intelligence, combined with incandescent passion verging on madness, turns into magic.

“Tell him yes. Even if you are dying of fear, even if you are sorry later, because whatever you do, you will be sorry all the rest of your life if you say no.” — Love in the Time of Cholera

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