Witches and vamps attack Delhi this Saturday

Oh. So much excitement.

It was an experiment to launch Cult of Chaos, an Anantya Tantrist mystery, with an occult quiz in Bangalore. The format worked so well, that my publishers, HarperCollins wanted to do it in Delhi too. So I’m super excited to announce Anantya Tantrist is heading to Oxford Bookstore, Delhi this Saturday to entertain you.

There will be a quiz on everything paranormal and supernatural. There will be freebies like blade-shaped bookmarks and giveaways and book prizes and snacks and laughter during the event. I confidently promise it’s going to be a blast. As much as the book is. So just come over!

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Oxford Bookstore and HarperCollins 
present
WITCHES AND VAMPS
A QUIZ ON PARANORMAL CRIME
to celebrate Shweta Taneja’s
CULT OF CHAOS
an Anantya Tantrist mystery
 
Think you know your supernatural sleuths? 
To celebrate the launch of Cult of Chaos, the first book in the Anantya Tantrist detective series, author Shweta Taneja takes you on a dark mission through detective thrillers, supernatural mysteries and investigators who dabble with devilish crime. So brush up on popular occult shows, comics and books and get ready to stun her with your psychic best. The duel is on!
For all ages.
DAY: 28th March
TIME: 3pm – 5pm
VENUE: Oxford bookstore, Connaught Place, Delhi
A quiz so scary, we had to have it in broad daylight
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To see photos and updates, connect with the event on Facebook or Google+ 
Here’s the invite if you want to download it.
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Leaving you with a gallery of photos from the Bangalore event.

On the front page of The Hindu

Oh my.  This is the fourth time the kind girls over at MetroPlus, the magazine of The Hindu, have done a story on me (see herehere and here) . And I remain amazed at how everyone I seem to know reads this newspaper in Bangalore. I am flooded with messages, tweets, emails and phone calls everytime a story comes out.

Mini’s interviewed me twice now and every time, we giggle together as friends and as people who enjoy poems about old age.  She messaged me a month ago to tell me how because she was so involved in Anantya’s adventure, she could  reading ignore her fear of flight (she was flying internationally). It was the best compliment ever!

Cult of Chaos, The Hindu, Hyderabad, Feb2415

Here’s the interview.

Shweta Taneja talks about the anger of Anantya, the tantric detective heroine of her latest book

There is a new gumshoe in town. She is Anantya Tantrist, a tantric detective solving horrific crimes in the supernatural underbelly of Delhi where magic seamlessly mixes with the mundane. The Bengaluru-based Shweta Taneja talks about the genesis of Cult of Chaos, where the feisty, foul mouthed Anantya makes her debut.

Can you tell something about the genesis of Anantya?

Anantya came to me from a now-failed novel. It was a revenge saga in an epic fantasy world. I spent months building up the world and then realized that I wasn’t excited enough about the story. So I left it and started to work on Ghost Hunters of Kurseong instead. Meanwhile, Anantya stayed in my head, an angry protagonist, a powerful magician. Then one day, while reading a detective story, I suddenly knew that she was an occult detective. Anantya’s anger is a reaction to a frustration in me on everyday violence on women. On the other hand, I did want to create a heroine who does all those things that are usually reserved for alpha male detectives – spews gaalis, has no-regrets sex on the go, is stubborn, talented and emotional.

Why did you set the story in Delhi?

After the book was created in my head, I knew it would be based in Delhi. The capital city is a fascinating mix of layers of history, combined with arrogance in power and violence. It has not belonged to anyone historically, but everyone feels a claim to it. Also, having grown up in Delhi as a woman who had to be aware of where she was walking and keep a layer on, I wanted to revisit Delhi with Anantya.

Is the weird quotient as much as you wanted or did you tone it down?

The weird quotient was one of the reasons that many publishers rejected it initially. Even HarperCollins had doubts, so I requested them to come on the table to discuss this. Thankfully they agreed and we signed a contract. In the final editing process, though the language was softened and toned down, all the scenes, the story and the plot are exactly how I wrote it.

Drugs, sex and cinema — what about rock and roll?

The second adventure of Anantya Tantrist, which I am currently polishing and editing, has a pretty weird scene in the middle of a rock show. With Anantya Tantrist and her world, I want to explore all things that are considered vices or a taboo by the mainstream society.

Cult of Chaos is very different from Ghost hunters… Does genre hopping make you schizophrenic or does it come naturally to you?

With Anantya Tantrist, since she has a very unique voice you would feel it is dramatically different from my other books, but I see a connect. Both belong to the mystery or thriller genre, though the treatment in each is quite different. I do tend to challenge myself with each thriller that I write.

The book makes a strong case for the feminine principle. Would you describe Cult of Chaos as a feminist text?

I would rather not describe the book as a feminist adventure, because of the problematic ‘male-bashing’ tag to the word nowadays. It’s definitely about a woman, a strong willed woman who has gone beyond social relevance and taboos. In the book, I’ve taken immense pleasure in consciously turning everyday gender scenes on their head. To call it a feminist text would be unfair since you won’t use the word ‘masculine text’ for books or movies that have a male point of view.

The characters including Nawab sahab, Kaani and Prem Chokra are super colourful…

Aren’t they? I loved creating each and every one of them. Nawab is just so dramatic and still insecure after so many centuries of living a life of a ghost. Kaani, though talented takes his own time to describe things. I think their uniqueness comes from the fact that each of them is eccentric in their own ways.

There are stories that Anantya doesn’t tell… is that saved for future novels?

Yes. I’ve signed a three-book contract with HarperCollins on Anantya Tantrist mysteries, which means you will definitely read three books of her adventures.

I am already in the middle of the second book, where you will find out a little bit more about Anantya. The third book will be mostly based in Banaras, where she comes face to face with her past. Books four and five will head to explore her matriarchal past.

How come a novel set in Delhi is so filmy — it seems a Bedardi Bar can only be in Mumbai!

Oh, that’s a little unfair to say. Delhiwallas love both movies and drinking. Actually the love of both these things, with cricket is the only thing that binds us all as Indians. We all love movies, and all love to drink. I can even imagine Bedardi Bar in Bangalore, an illicit little dingy place which is run by supernaturals in the Pete area.

Anantya’s reaction to technology (as mysterious to me as tantrism was to others) is refreshing. Was that by design?

Yes. All of us who’re technology connected tend to forget that we’re only a very small percent of the population of this country. There are people whose life doesn’t revolve around technology. Who are not online or use gadgets. And they don’t need to in their everyday life. Since I am a technology writer myself, this weaving of technology, science and tantrism as an alternate science has been quite fun to build up.

Could you tell us something about the cover design?

Isn’t it just fabulous? I am so, glad that George Mathen agreed to make it.

I so wanted to ask him to do the cover. Even then I did and he agreed, even though the pay was pittance. He’s so sweet that way. I sent him a five-page cover brief, he read it, discarded it and created something completely different and fabulous.

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Five tips to a spectacular book pitch

First of all, congratulations of writing down your dream work! That’s a huge achievement. Now you’ve to do something that might be much more difficult. You have to summarise your book, which can be anywhere between 50,000 to more than a lakh of words, into a little, nightmarish thing called a ‘pitch’. A cover letter or email which you will send across to editors across the country. That one pager which will make all the difference on whether the editor will even pick up the first chapter of your manuscript.

Focus it well

We authors might be great at long form but when it comes to creating the right pitch, many of us fail miserably. In this scenario, the concept of an elevator pitch is quite helpful. If you meet a stranger in an elevator (the speedy ones), what will you say your book is about? You have five seconds. Do this exercise again and again till you cut all the vague meat off your book and know EXACTLY what to say about your book. Then write the email you’re going to send a publisher.

Be brief and precise

Any good publishing house gets a whopping number of book pitches a day. They call it the slush pile, because a lot of them are badly written emails, unclear and confused. Editors don’t have time to wade through each of them. They go by instinct and a well-written, focused email will always turn them on. It helps to know what each editor is looking for. So instead of a generic email to all, try and send a personalized one to up your chance. 

Edit it well

There’s a reason why editors are called ‘editors’. They are worshippers of grammar and spelling and the rules of language. They crave for great books, but one thing that completely alienates them is a badly written cover note. So once you’ve prepared your pitch, read it, edit it. Keep it there for a day or two, look at it with fresh eyes and edit it again. Make sure there are no spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes or badly structured sentences.

Be professional

You might be emotional about your book, but most editors will look at it with the possibility of its salability. Any kind of emotion, overconfidence, pleading, moral stance completely turns off most editors. Editors represent a business which wants to make money off the books they publish. So it’s best to be professional about it. Make a level headed, clear pitch, put in exactly which genres the book belongs to, who is the target audience (no, the whole wide world is not going to read your book) and how it can be sold and marketed. Your pitch should be creative but also focused and professional.

Do take advice

Know of an industry professional? Ask for help. Discuss the pitch with your initial readers, see what they say about your book. You’re just going to get a few seconds of attention from every publisher that you’re going to send your book to. So make sure the pitch is the best you can prepare. Spend some time over it now so that the chances of your book being accepted increases.

Here’s wishing you success! For more tips on writing, head to this section.

Cult heads to China and reviews

Oh, it’s such a treasure, when someone else posts a photo of Cult of Chaos over at social media, tagging me. And there are so many spaces online for these little delights. The book’s been sighted at various stores in Mumbai and Delhi and I’ve been informed on Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter and other places. But the best picture ever was this over at Twitter via @hershbhardwaj.

“@ Your book at @ stand in my friend Bob’s hand. Going to China. Had hard time exlpaining what a tantric is. He kept saying black magician.”

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I mean, how cool is this? Anantya’s a desi chick and till now, the book is just published in India (the only way you’ll get a copy out of this country is by opting for one over at Goodreads giveaway). I am hoping that Bob comes back to me and tells me if he could connect to the book at all, if Anantya was fun for him. Would be nice to know that and maybe I could think about other international markets for her.


On another note, I had two great reviews on two different blogs.

B00kr3vie3ws.com

Debdatta, not only came to the book launch and bought a copy (as well as made her blogger friend buy one) but also did this lovely review of it. Isn’t she a treasure?).

“Oh my! This book is a result of an amazingly creative and imaginative mind at work. The blurb of the book and my dismal summarization of it do no justice to the world of Anantya Tantrist. You have to read it to experience it.”

Read the complete blog on her website here.

Fantasy-smorgasbord.blogspot.in

Sachin runs an amazing fantasy book review blog (it’s a great place to find new titles if like me you’re into SFF stuff) so I was so glad when he called it ‘mindboggling’. Here’s a bit of what he wrote.

“Personally, what really excited me about the book was this mad bubbling brew of ideas and imagination that somehow gelled with an urban day-to-day setting (Anantya chugging along the crowded Delhi-Gurgaon highway cursing the traffic, for instance cracked me up like crazy!) and still made me shiver with both fright and anticipation. It’s a refreshing change from the genre as is now popular in India – where Fantasy is only inspired by mythological stories or perhaps a mix of history entwined with Dan Brownesque mystery-thriller format. Shweta goes on to break the mold and doesn’t check her punches – running amok with her imagination to give us a colorful account of a supernatural world juxtaposed against a modern-day Delhi where Apsaras do item numbers, CBI has special sections to deal with crimes of the “sup” nature and Tantriks are over-ground.”

Read the complete blog over at his website.

 

 

Terry Pratchett on the need for fantasy

More than a decade ago, when author Terry Pratchett won the Carnegie Medal award for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, he talked about fantasy and how it was so important as a genre to explore society. I’ve been heavily inspired by this fabulous author’s work and everything he says is gospel truth for me. So when I found this delightful speech by him  on the Carnegie website, I just had to share it with you (and remind me too). Take each line seriously and incorporate into your work. Now.

Over to you Terry. (Wow, never thought I will say that!)


I’m pretty sure that the publicists for this award would be quite happy if I said something controversial, but it seems to me that giving me the Carnegie medal is controversial enough. This was my third attempt. Well, I say my third attempt, but in fact I just sat there in ignorance and someone else attempted it on my behalf, somewhat to my initial dismay.

Quotation-Terry-Pratchett-yourself-Meetville-Quotes-82112The Amazing Maurice is a fantasy book. Of course, everyone knows that fantasy is ‘all about’ wizards, but by now, I hope, everyone with any intelligence knows that, er, what everyone knows…is wrong.

Continue reading Terry Pratchett on the need for fantasy

Winners and importance of gifting books

As part of spreading the word around about Cult of Chaos and Anantya Tantrist, I’ve been hosting giveaways of the book at various spaces, online and offline. As a result of buying copies of my own book to giveaway to a few people I know or do not know, I’ve realised how important it is to gift books. Till now, I didn’t gift many books as I always thought of books as a personal choice, much more personal than the crockery in your cupboard or even the spectacles you wear. It’s something that each person or kid should pick up on their own (except for me and my brother who always gift each other books on rakhi, the only time we exchange gifts). So I ended up giving something banal, like chocolates. However, gifting is actually a lovely way to explore new authors and adventures that you would never have started on if you hadn’t got a copy. And it also encourages the industry. So from now on, if you call me on a birthday or a party, expect a book. No more flowers/chocolates.

And now for a bit of announcements on winners of various contests.

Over at HarperCollins webpage

These are the two questions we asked. (Answers at the end of the post)

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Winners:

Krishna B, Coimbatore

Aastha Jain, Delhi

Over at author Kiran Manral’s website

Kiran was superbly helpful and did a detailed interview and then a contest. (details)

Aditya Anand, Jaipur

At  The MJ Show

The amazing Mihir Joshi had a Twitter chat and then declared winners in his Youtube show which covers fabulous inde-musicians

Abhishek Prusty, Cuttack

So glad that Anantya will be shipped to all these lovely people and cities. Congratulations all of you! Hope you enjoy the book :)

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Didn’t participate? It’s not to late. One contest and one giveaway is still on!

Contest on superstitions

At author Sharath Komarraju’s website.

Giveaway at Goodreads

And if you’re too lazy to write, just apply for this giveaway at Goodreads. And hope you’ll win the copy!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Cult of Chaos by Shweta Taneja

Cult of Chaos

by Shweta Taneja

Giveaway ends March 10, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

(Answers to Harper Collins contest: Answer 1: True Detective. Answer 2: Ouija board. Could you guess?)

 

 

Three breasts and their stories

Everything to do with a woman’s breasts is taboo in our society, even though most of us have drunk milk from our mother’s breasts for the first year of our lives. The word ‘breast’ itself is a bleep on Indian television and cleavage mostly is blurred.

I had attended a theatre workshop some years back, women only, where the lady conducting it asked all of us to hide our body part which represented the word ‘shame’. All of us, Indian, speaking different languages, put hands across our breasts.

Like with all things, the ones that are most shameful or taboo are also the most attractive, desired in pornography, in Bollywood films and giggle-worthy MMSes in our Parliament. Breasts have become a complex symbol that combines both our sexuality and shame, something that we desire highly (both men and women) and at the same time are shamed by.

IMG_20150208_142901 This brings us to the first story I have for you, a hair-raising story of shaming breasts that I read thanks to an artist who shared something recently on Facebook. It’s the story of Nangeli, a dalit woman who lived in early 19th century in Cherthala. And unlike the stories I retell, this one is based in history and not myth, or in oral history as is the case with most past things one hears. In 19th century, the kings of Travancore had a breast tax on dalit women, called mulakkaram, which was to be paid by dalit women so that they could cover their breasts. The bigger the size of their breasts, the more the tax was to cover them up. Upper caste women could cover their bodies, without needing to pay any money to the state.

Continue reading Three breasts and their stories

Interviews in Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle

Having been part of media for a long time, I know how easily and how fast people working there tend to forget you, moving on to the next thing they haven’t covered. But oh my, isn’t it fabulous to have that 15 seconds of attention? I feel like that now, when I post two really, really good interviews in different papers that came out a week or so back, both talking about chaos and supernatural tales and all things I love about Cult of Chaos. Check them out.

This came out in Deccan Chronicle and I haven’t been able to find a e-link for it. They used photographs from the last year’s coverage when I was doing detective workshops for The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong.

Deccan Chronicle February 2015
Meanwhile at Asian Age, the really polite Rohini who took my interview, told everyone about the book and mentioned my love of folklores. Read the complete article here or below.

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Shweta Taneja’s new book features India’s first woman tantrik crime buster, and marries the author’s twin passions: Detective fiction and fantasy

An adventure based in the “supernatural underworld of Delhi”, featuring India’s first “tantrik woman detective” — Shweta Taneja’s new book Cult of Chaos promises to be a crime-busting story unlike any other. Featuring Anantya Tantrist, a “spunky 23-year-old, gaali-spewing, beedi-smoking fearless tantrik who solves crimes”, Cult of Chaos combines its creator’s twin passions — detective fiction and fantasy.

It was when Shweta was working on a graphic novel called The Skull Rosary (which collated the occult tales of Shiva) that she got deeply interested in tantrism and the occult. “I started to explore tribal folklore, oral stories, goddess cults and non-authoritative tales in our villages. These tales, with their violent, sensually rich content surprised and fascinated me,” recounts Shweta. “Then one day, while reading a detective novel, the idea of creating a tantrik detective suddenly struck me. And I had a name for her: Anantya Tantrist, a leftover from a previous unfinished novel. Before I knew it, I had the beginnings of Cult of Chaos.”

Shweta spent the next year researching practising tantriks, shamans and superstitions. Articles, scholarly books, sensational texts even whispered stories, all of these provided material for her story. Then there was the daily newspaper, which also provided enough fodder for the dark details of her novel. “There’s nothing better than a newspaper to give you ideas. It has enough horror, disgust, hatred, violence, evil in its pages to keep your creativity flowing,” says Shweta. “There were so many scenes in the book that have been inspired by real incidents, things I read in the news. Not only about superstition or witch hunting, but also something that a crass politician would’ve said when yet another woman got raped. Everyday domestic violence, which is reported in a single paragraph, taken verbatim from police notes or crimes of caste and religion which are all about power — there’s no dearth of inspiration in our country, especially when one is writing a thriller.”

With so much material to draw on, Shweta knew Anantya’s adventures wouldn’t be ending with one book. She’s already busy at work on a second story, set among “Delhi’s rich socialites who’re abusing a supernatural species for immortality” and a third, which will see the action shift to Varanasi as Anantya works on a case that will force her to confront her past.

“The more I write about Anantya, the more I continue to be spellbound with her and the world she inhabits,” says Shweta of her protagonist. “She’s completely opposite to all ideas of ‘decent’ women we have as a society… I think she has come from the desires of women of this country, the ones who have had it with restrictions and men keeping them safe. I think she is born from the frustration of being an independent woman and having to protect your choices, defy authorities, families, every step of way. I have tried to break gender boundaries with her character… I am freer, more confident today, because I wrote her. And I am hoping reading about her, has the same effect on other women and girls too. Sort of what Superman or Spiderman or Salman Khan has on boys. We need that for women.”

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As I was saying, isn’t attention so fabulous? Sad that it goes away in those mere 15 seconds. Still, I am rather enjoying the tick-tock in my favour. :)

Fantasy writer. Author. Daydreamer