Social Media

Caroline Calloway and the Perks of Instagram

Last week the saga of the Instagram Influencer Caroline Calloway exploded in a big way thanks to a wonderfully-written essay by her friend Natalie Beach. Note that I am not calling Natalie her ghostwriter because she categorically states in her Insta feed that she ‘co-wrote’ those captions with her.

If you have no clue what I am talking about here, its best to hop over to these links and get up to speed on the whole thing. A brief summary: Instagram Influencer Caroline Calloway, who amassed close to 800k followers and became internet-famous for documenting her days at Cambridge University in the form of mini-memoirs, turned out to have a friend i.e. Natalie Beach, who helped her write them. Oh, Natalie also wrote her book proposal for the book that a publisher had bought for an advance of $375,000. Oh, also, Caroline bought followers to boost her profile. And one last thing – she did not turn in the book as she was on Adderall and going through a tough phase, and had to return the advance. Oh, and before I forget, she scheduled a series of ‘creativity workshops’ and had to cancel/refund them because she hadn’t planned them at all.

The whole epic tale of friendship unfolds in a multitude of layers and class differences. Natalie, after the essay appeared on The Cut, went from 500-odd followers to more than 10k followers. Caroline, not one to be left behind, grew her Instagram many-fold also. Natalie gave an interview to the NYT a few days later, and admitted that her “inbox is quite full right now”, and she had warned Caroline that she was writing the essay and also about its impending publication. Apparently, Caroline’s entire fan base had been anticipating the publication of the essay and Caroline herself posted daily in nail-biting tension.

I followed Caroline Calloway so you don’t have to! And this is what I have learned over the last few days. (see how I keep learning every day of my life and don’t just stop at the ABCD I learned in my school)

  • She posts as many stories as Instagram will allow in the 24-hour period
  • The mini-essays continue even now after the explosion of her (mis)deeds
  • She is clearly suffering an extreme case of narcissism, which I as an armchair shrink have every authority to declare
  • She’s currently running a series of screenshots of her old posts
  • Her selfies with the hand below her chin is her signature selfie shot
  • She has archived a lot of those old posts that made her famous in the first place
  • Screenshots of chats (that I would deem private) are commonplace on her feed
  • Here’s the zinger – she posted an NSFW pic on Insta the day after her father died.

Check out her feed – I know you want to! While you’re over there, check out mine as well!

My Instagram showcases my inept photography skills. But I have now seen the error of my ways and I am very inspired by Caroline Calloway and will henceforth compose entire mini-essays to accompany the photos I post on Instagram. Lit mags the world over may now rejoice. My submissions and inept cover letters will no longer plague the inboxes of editors all over the world. Instead they’ll be rolling down my Insta feed, gaining followers while you regular folk rot in the very hell-depths of social media.

Jokes apart, its my belief this whole thing is a very well-crafted, well-orchestrated saga designed to fulfill the dreams of both girls. They both appreciate each other’s writing a lot, and let slip only a word or two of criticism in between.

That’s my thoughts anyway, though I hope I’m proved wrong.

Have you been following the scandal? What are your thoughts on the whole saga?

reading, Writing

Writing Resources Roundup

It’s been a while since I did a roundup of useful and exciting writing-related articles on the web. Here’s the latest I’ve been reading:

Ten Writing Resolutions

If you’ve ever followed any kind of resolutions for writing, check this post. It offers a completely different set of resolutions, not the usual goal-setting kind.

How to Outline a Novel

The brilliant Roz Morris has a new post on Ingram Spark that details the various ways one could outline a novel. I am very much a plotter for long fiction, though I move into pantser mode for short stories. This article gave me a few good ideas on how I’d plot my next novel (even if the previous one lies unsold :D)

15 Exercises to Strengthen your writing

Searching for prompts to practice your writing and beef up some of those writing muscles? Look no further than this article from Writer’s Relief.

The Anti-Procrastination App from Hell

Ever yearned to watch your words evaporate in a wisp of virtual smoke? Then try the world’s most dangerous writing app! It will delete everything you write if you stop typing for five minutes. Frankly, I’d prefer that option, because under that kind of pressure anything I wrote would be super-crappy.

Why and Where You Should Start Submitting Your Writing This September

Once you’ve made your resolutions, tackled the prompts, outlined your story and overcome the dangerous writing app, you might have a finished story that you would want to start sending out to suitable venues. Check out this post to read a helpful guide to submitting, and it also includes links to markets. And while you’re there, subscribe to Authors Publish! It’s one of the best resources for writers filled with links to literary journals and publishers accepting submissions.

And bonus exciting news – Margaret Atwood’s book The Testaments is out! This is the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, a book that terrified me but was a brilliant read.

Do you have any exciting writing-related links or news to share? Drop it in the comments below!

Humour

Is Your Family Complete?

When I gave birth to my second child, the words I heard most often from friends and family were, “Congratulations! Your family is complete!” My first child was a girl (woe betide me) and my second, a bonny baby boy. I had done something fantastic and achieved the apparently “perfect Indian combination” of children – one boy and one girl.

Judging by the overly effervescent greetings from of my most well-wishers, I am delighted to report that my family can now be classified as “having all the necessary or appropriate parts”, as per the dictionary definition of complete.

This underhanded compliment left me astounded, so much so that I penned an entire humour piece on it, which is now up on Arre:

Mum + Dad + Beta + Beti: Why Are Indians Obsessed With the Idea of a “Complete Family”?

Please have a read and let me know what you think!

reading

The Grand Georgette

If you’ve been reading books for any respectable length of time, you would have encountered the works of Georgette Heyer, even if for some reason you haven’t read them. (Why haven’t you, by the way!)

Georgette Heyer is the final word in Regency Romance, though she did write detective novels as well that were equally funny and brilliant. She wrote her first book while in her teens, and churns out the wittiest dialogues in her novels.

Her books are often thick and published in tiny print, but I have read them all to ragged shreds and would never part with them.

My favourite books of hers include:

The Unknown Ajax

This is not the most popular choice even for those die-hard fans of Georgette. Most of her books feature lavish balls in London and plenty of shopping, but this has none of that and instead focuses on intrigue and mystery.

Cotillion

The rare book in which (spoiler alert!) the heroine unites not with the handsome devilish rake but the well-mannered and stylish hero. Freddie and Kitty are one of my favourite couples from all Georgette Heyer books.

Venetia

An unusual one in which the heroine does fall in love with the rake but is the rake as rakish as he appears? I didn’t mean to turn that into a tongue-twister but that’s essentially the plot.

Frederica

Another unusual one in which the heroine is not the prettiest girl, her younger sister is.

The Devil’s Cub

This one is more of a conventional romance with a rakish hero who, we hope, will mend his ways by the good influence of the feisty heroine.

Georgette Heyer remains one of my favourite authors whose books form my set of comfort reads. Whenever I want to read something funny and literary but I don’t want to tax the brain with the intricacies of a brand-new plot I reach out for my good old stack of Georgette Heyers and they never fail to disappoint.

Check out this website dedicated to her and her books.

Have you read Georgette Heyer? Which of her books do you love most? Or is there any other author who’s your favourite?

Lit Journals

Market Spotlight: On the Premises

Last year I had written about my story published in On the Premises. I’d been submitting to this literary journal for a few years before that. Like most markets, I discovered this one too on Duotrope.

There’s quite a few things I like about this lit mag. To begin with, it offers payment to winning writers while maintaining free submissions. Every issue is run as a themed contest, with the top three stories and one honourable mention earning handsome prizes. They also offer a critique for stories that make the final round of judging.

When I came across the journal, I read through a number of back issues in sequence, and I must say I liked whatever I read. The stories were well-written, but also had plot and character.

In 2015, a story I sent in made it to the final round of judging. I received a detailed and really helpful critique. I used the feedback to rewrite the story.

Last year the theme for the first contest of the year was ‘It’s On You’, i.e. clothes. I had been working on a story along those lines but something was missing in it. When I realized I could tie it to the ‘clothes’ theme, I set about rewriting it. I finished drafting and revising and finally sent it out literally minutes before the deadline.

Within a week I got the good news that my story had made it to the final round of judging. I yearned to place but had decided by then I would content myself with another free critique if I didn’t.

Another week later I got the great news – I had placed second.

As the editors promised, the stories went through a round of minor edits and within the month I was both published as well as paid.

Overall it was a great experience and I would recommend everyone to send in their best stories here.

Their next contest ends on 30th August, and this time the theme is ‘Tradition’.

If you have a story or can whip up a good one in that much time, please send it across! And let me know if you win!

You Beneath Your Skin
Book Reviews

You Beneath Your Skin

You Beneath Your Skin Cover reveal

Today it is my privilege to reveal the cover for Damyanti Biswas‘s debut crime novel, You Beneath Your Skin to be published this September by Simon & Schuster, India. I’ve known Damyanti since so long I can’t even remember. Though we’ve never met in person I feel like I know her as well as my in-person friends!

So, without further ado, here’s the cover! The red and black suggests blood, murder, intrigue and suspense – all the key ingredients of an awesome crime story. The shadowy face beneath the title provokes curiosity. It makes you wonder who she is, and what her story might be.

You Beneath Your Skin

Lies. Ambition. Family.

It’s a dark, smog-choked New Delhi winter. Indian American single mother Anjali Morgan juggles her job as a psychiatrist with caring for her autistic teenage son. She is in a long-standing affair with ambitious Police Commissioner Jatin Bhatt – an irresistible attraction that could destroy both their lives.

Jatin’s home life is falling apart: his handsome and charming son is not all he appears to be, and his wife has too much on her plate to pay attention to either husband or son. But Jatin refuses to listen to anyone, not even the sister to whom he is deeply attached.

Across the city there is a crime spree: slum women found stuffed in trash bags, faces and bodies disfigured by acid. And as events spiral out of control Anjali is horrifyingly at the centre of it all.

In a sordid world of poverty, misogyny, and political corruption, Jatin must make some hard choices. But what he unearths is only the tip of the iceberg. Together with Anjali he must confront old wounds and uncover long-held secrets before it is too late.


Check out this book if you like pacy reads that also engage with various social issues.

Pre-order YOU BENEATH YOUR SKIN here.

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You Beneath Your Skin Back Cover

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You beneath Your Skin Damyanti
The Author Damyanti Biswas

Do you read crime novels? What do you think of the cover of You Beneath Your Skin? Would you like to read You Beneath Your Skin, and make a pre-order?


For You Beneath Your Skin, all proceeds to the author would be divided between Chhanv Foundation and Project WHY.

To support the organisations, pre-order HERE.

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Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and works with Delhi’s underprivileged children as part of Project Why, a charity that promotes education and social enhancement in underprivileged communities. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. You can find her on her blog and twitter.

Writing

To Hell and Back – My Writing Process

A budding writer recently connected with me offline and asked me how I write my stories. My initial reaction was ‘Duh, I just write them.’

But I realized, that’s not really true. After 30 published stories I have a fair bit of process. There is quite a bit of thought that goes in and I do have a process, if not an elaborate one.

First things first, I maintain a document listing out my ideas, and another one for prompts I collect. When it’s time to write a story, I choose one from either, and then I percolate the idea a bit, let it stew in my brain for a day or two so that I have my characters and scenes in place. This is what I call focused daydreaming, and it’s important to the outcome. For me it’s not even during the day – my go-to time for plotting out stories is usually in the minutes before I fall asleep, because that’s when the best ideas hit me.

A day or two later, I start writing. If the story is clear to me then I start typing straight away in Word. Many times, however, I’ve preferred instead to write by hand in a notebook and at some point, transfer the contents to a document. The point at which I transfer varies for each story. Sometimes it’s after a page or two, other times its almost until the end. I don’t always write the entire first draft by hand.

Once I’ve written it out completely, I close the document and forget about the story for a week, longer if possible. When I return to it I do so with a blank slate and renewed focus, and realize that all those quirks I deemed brilliant are not really so.

Then it’s back to the drawing board. I hit ‘Save as’ and create a version of the doc with a tentative title suffixed by date. I’m a programmer so I’m obsessive about version control 🙂

The title I choose initially may have nothing to do with the story, and may land up being just a descriptor, like ‘Friendship breakup story’. I brainstorm titles much later.

I edit the story once, then return to it again after a day or two. This cycle repeats until at some point when I feel it’s good enough, I send it out for feedback to one of my many writing peers. Or if it looks like I might miss a magazine’s submission deadline, I just go ahead and send it with the version I think is best. I try critiquing it as critically I can on my own, but of course it’s always best when another pair of eyes has looked at it.

Then comes the time for submission, which is a separate whole post by itself, but I’ll summarize here. I first try to find markets that have themed issues where my story might fit. If I analyze my published stories and even essays, I find this has the most chance of success. Apart from this, I search up to 5 venues where my stories might fit best.

If the first five lead to rejection (as it usually does!), there’s always the next five and the five after that! So on and so forth the process goes, until its either time to shelve the story or clap your hands in joy because its finally published!

So that’s my process. Not really rocket science, is it?

What’s your writing/creating process like? Any tips you would like to share? Let me know in the comments below.