My Books in progress and published

My current obsession has no working title

A novel about a young woman from my home town, Stoke-on-Trent–the Staffordshire Potteries. Set in the years immediately before and after World War II, it’s story about balancing duty to family and desire to succeed as an artist, while growing up. I’m revising, hoping to be ready for beta reading in September 2021. Title suggestions welcome!

Photo: Judith Chopra

The Burslem School of Art, where my protagonist begins her career.

Seeking representation: Unsuitable Girl

Here’s the elevator pitch: an effervescent girl from Nairobi’s traditional Punjabi community dreams of opening a restaurant. But before she can follow her own dream, she needs to follow her family’s: she must get married.

Nishanth Jois
Photo: Nishanth Jois

In beta reading: What Happened at Blindbend Farm

A novel about a group of middle school children in the 1960s is in revision. The kids are on a week-long escape from the suburbs at their teacher’s farm in cottage country, but there’s something very wrong about the teacher’s friends….It’s mayhem and murder, and lots of things that would never happen to children today–but it was the sixties. The working title is What Happened at Blindbend Farm.B eta readers  welcome!

Photo: justenoughfocus.com

Published

Non-Fiction: Something Worth Doing, W.W. Norton, New York

In May 1985 Aqua Star, a custom-built steel cutter, set out from Toronto for Churchill, Manitoba, on the west shore of Hudson Bay. No sailing vessel had ventured beyond Hudson Strait since the 19th century; it was a sparsely inhabited area of harsh terrain with ice-and fog-bound coasts. On board were the owner-skipper Leslie Sike and wife Carolann, both in their 40s; also Gay Currie, a young woman with sailing experience, and David Farr, a photographer. Chopra, who covered the voyage for Canadian Yachting and had access to the personal journals and ship’s log, here re-creates the adventure in a gripping narrative of derring-do and of discord. Nearing Hudson Strait the sailors encountered ice; in the Bay they ran into heavy weather and fog. Arguments and ill-feeling continued unabated. That September, after 108 days and 3600 miles, Aqua Star reached Churchill. And all agreed, as will readers, that the voyage was something worth doing. From Publisher’s Weekly, copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

 The reader gets a beautiful photographic glimpse of sub arctic Canada and an interesting sociological glimpse of the four crew members as they make a record-setting trek across Hudson Bay in a 40-foot sailboat.  Amazon reviewer

The moving hands have written–now what?

I took a lesson from Joe Bunting last week from his How to write a short story and wrote a story–my shortest ever at 1,500 words. I’m pleased with it. Now it’s like windfall cash in my pocket, burning its way out, demanding to be read.

I put it on Story PenPal and one kind writer reviewed it well.

So far, so good.

But what now? This morning, I opened the Gotham Writers Workshop Newsletter and found a link to this: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Published in a Literary Magazine, by Lincoln Michel. It’s so much better than anything else I’ve ever seen on BuzzFeed. This is a terrific essay from someone who knows the ground about every unpublished fiction writers’ struggle with how to approach literary magazines. The only question Michel didn’t answer, the one that lingers despite the clarity and fullness of his writing, is about the gap between stories like those in Gotham’s own Fiction Gallery and those in most of the literary magazines. And by this I mean the gap between stories that tell a story, and stories that leave the reader puzzled–not just wondering about the ending and so on, but about what the writer’s entire purpose in writing was. What was that? Why was it in print?

Michel says to send work to magazines that print what we write. And that’s my problem. I subscribe to three literary magazines (one more than the average writer, Michel suggests) . I don’t enjoy most of their stories; I find them dull, obscure, grotty, without value. Many don’t qualify as stories in the way that short stories we were taught with did. I’m still looking for a journal that prints what I write.

Ah well, writers complain, apparently. But I’d rather question.

Where do editors draw the line between writing that tries the reader’s ability to stay awake, takes her into cold and dry territory for no memorable end, exercises some skill only the editors can explain, and writing that engages the reader and leaves a mark on her mind?

I’d like to know.

 

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? Writer’s Edition.

Bracing advice for the days when we fear even the kindest of critiques.

Carly Watters, Literary Agent

It’s a simple question, but I found it tucked into Sheryl Sandberg’s wisdom when I was reading LEAN IN a couple years ago and it’s never left me. Whenever things seem overwhelming this simple question takes us back to the heart of our passion and the reason for our struggles.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

For many people reading this blog it will be: finish their novel, send out some queries, tackle the revise-and-resubmit letter from an agent, join a critique group, sign up for author head shots, attend a writer’s conference–or something along those lines.

However, when you frame it like a question it becomes painfully obvious that you don’t need permission to achieve your dreams. They’re hiding inside of you and no amount of force is going to get them to escape. Writing doesn’t happen by chance, it happens by discipline and all you have to do…

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Sticky pictures

For a few years now I’ve thought about writing a biography or historical fiction. I work on who I might research, who I might write about or develop a story about, and eventually set it aside. Next book, I think. But who?

The Blue FlowerI recently read Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower, a novel about the poet Novalis–or rather about the man who became the philosopher poet Novalis. It’s a wonderful piece of work, full of what I think of as sticky images: visuals that I can’t get out of my mind. It’s set in houses and locations that are fundamentally unhealthy; where tuberculosis is the wolf tracking the weakest members of each family, waiting to find ways to strike them down.

The story focuses on Fritz, the brilliant student in love with Sophie, a twelve-year-old girl, light and frothy as gossamer. In spite of her age and lack of all that might be valuable to him in a wife, Fritz drives towards an engagement. As Sophie displays signs of illness, he first denies it and later takes her for special treatments, until her sister suggests that he might spare her the painful effort of trying to seem better for him.

English PatientdownloadThis book feels to me like The English Patient–full of images such as the one of Almásy carrying Katherine wrapped in a parachute, with the white fabric billowing around them against the desert stone.

So these are my ideals–marvelous stories about real people, full of sticky images. But who will I write about?

 

 

You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backwards. James Thurber

Yesterday I received a very pleasant query decline from an agent’s intern.

To date I’ve had “not right for our list,” declines [as well as other types of positive responses] so this one, which made a comment I didn’t understand, and may even disagree with, gave me pause. I wondered if some rewriting was in order. Not wanting to be inflexible,  I discussed it with a few people.

I was told in no uncertain terms to give my head a shake and wait for more detailed commentary. So that’s what I’m doing–but I know I will wake up at two in the morning and wonder, what did she mean?  I really wish that a) writing wasn’t such an insecure exercise, and b) the process wasn’t so one-sided. I would love a little dialogue, a little elaboration. But never mind. Thanks for saying something more.

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