(Absolutely nothing in life, can be compared to this remarkable journey from blogging to writing a novel. It’s a story of knowing myself as a storyteller, a learner, a listener, and a crafter. In this blog I share the splendid moments that marked this journey of being a novelist)
I hate writing advisory articles. Not that I have ever written one, or plan to write, I somehow hate to tread that path. And only after scores of friends and readers asked me to pen something about my journey from being a blogger to novelist, I got down to sink in this idea of probably writing my first advisory piece. I am a consultant by day, and even in that role, try my best to keep to the more traversed paths of drawing empirical evidences, underlying philosophies and insights. And so, yeah, a big no to ‘off the bounce’ advices. And in this blog too, I will keep to my journey and the many questions I have been posed about the book and my spur for writing a forbidden love story.
The first chapter, an unending passion
I’m sure you won’t be surprised if I say writing the first chapter is the most difficult part of a long journey called novel. Let me pour in a little of editorial advice I got – ‘most readers put down your book, after reading the first chapter, and quite a majority in this majority, after reading the first few pages’. In a novel that is destined to be more character led than narration led, the first chapter should be more ‘tell all, mince no words’ tale. As a writer, I was asked to pour in my individuality in this chapter.
My novel ‘The Other Guy’ starts with a sex scene, and just three pages after that I reveal the gay identity of the protagonists. My editor’s remarks ‘hide no emotions’ came hard and I chose to conceal it all, and as the book reads ‘chose candour over coy’.
Giving a title to the first chapter, that could express the theme of the novel, was another hard put. The idea of keeping it ‘The incomplete man’ came from an advertisement. I remember that moment well, I was in a bus, huddled, when this thought struck me. That was a moment, I was literally, living my work.
“In the last few days waking really hurt, a sullen feeling overcoming me. Mornings are just cold reminders of being alone, another day to drag through. It takes time to be my other self, to unclothe myself from my nightwear, in which I was me, and get into my day attire, in which I am as others perceive and define me – the unreal me. By the time I dress and become the sleek, polished guy in the mirror, I have donned the role I have to play the whole day.
I am gay; I sleep with my boyfriend at night and live the life of a ‘straight’ guy during the day. Looking into the mirror, I see myself; my predicament stares back at me.”
From chapter 1, ‘The Other Guy’
Writing a forbidden love story
Over an informal discussion, a friend had remarked ‘forbidden is usually beautiful’. I am not sure if a hint of this beauty inspired me or my rebellious nature kicked me to write on this sensitive topic, but somewhere, a being in me, who has always celebrated diversity and inclusion in its truest self and never believed in gender binaries; was certain of telling this tale. The notion intrigued me and I felt to make it more than a velleity, capture its real beauty, and thus this love story was born. But from the start, I was certain to not let the narrative get boxed in to more philosophical and theological ideas of justice, right, or even inclusion. This is a normal love story, set in indifferent, uncertain, and inhumane grounds, we call ‘society’. The story is forbidden, because we don’t want to talk about it, and that we are boxed in our conformities. The same-sex relationship narrative bursts the bubble, we chose to live in.
The story had to be told
I didn’t take on this subject because it was different, sensitive or would help me carve some niche. Writing on this theme, was a huge risk, and I was well aware of that. One, this isn’t a commercial topic, most publishers would not be interested in taking up; two, as a first time writer with absolutely no knowledge of the finer tenets of writing and then no constituency of readers to pitch one’s work too, this was a difficult decision; and three a sensitive topic like this requires a cautionary approach in writing. Just the opening of the novel proved a long trudge, and I must have spent a month writing and editing the first chapter, which has now shaped up as a kaleidoscope of emotions. And as I wrote, I felt stronger about telling this story, a story of emotional repression, uncomfortable silences, conditional acceptance, hidden feelings, and concealed identities. The more I talked with people, the more I could feel the deep fear, profound self-doubt, and inability to peacefully enjoy a family life. I lent my ear to many painful stories about lives ruined by the sheer fear of coming out of closet, and absorbed the reality of a socially disenfranchised community.
Highs and lows of this journey
I’m sure we all have heard of stories of writers with day jobs and devoting an hour a day to write. However, sassy it may sound, it isn’t an easy idea to romanticize with. Unless you are an established writer, writing won’t pay your bills, and however, spirited you are, seeing your idea through is a strenuous job. It took me almost two years to write this novel, a piece of over hundred thousand words (the book has 70K words). Most writers usually take much lesser than this. Sustaining myself, thinking and writing, for two years was the biggest low, and there were several occasions when I entered the dreaded ‘writer’s block’. My holy escape from this was visiting old chapters, trying to read them as readers’ would. Take a break, and let that fire for writing ignite again.
Sustaining the idea for this long was arduous, but more than narrative, I felt fixated with the impression of creating a character (protagonist of the novel, Anuj) who was looking for something outside of himself for comfort and in that search finds something, an undeniable truth, inside him. The quest to build that character kept firing me to take another step.
So far, I’m pleased, readers have been positive. I had my qualms about the climax of the story, comments from readers have proven it right. The ending is not convenient, and I never had plans to make it so. There is no scope of a ‘smile all’ faces, when you are telling a story, which had better remained in a closet. My readers questioned me of making it so, and that’s my take on it. I wanted a divided take on this and was in no mood to have a safe ending. Take it as an attempt to question the system and raise an alarm.
So what’s next? Right now I’m working on another story concept, sort of a leaf from life. It is a fictionalized account of one of the most ‘My Gosh’ moment in my life. So these days I am trying to structure the narrative and research some details. The story is set in Africa and bases itself on motley of issues.
For interested readers, here are the links to my novel ‘The Other Guy’ –