NDTV Gadgets on the tech stuff I need to write

As part of my work, I’ve been writing on consumer technology for four years now with Mint but didn’t really think on what kind of technology I used to write these articles, books and keep in touch with various things I do. Not until Gopal, the editor of NDTV Gadgets, wanted to feature me in NDTV Personally Tech. Here’s the interview.


In our weekly column Personally Tech we talk to people from all walks of life to learn about the apps and gadgets that they love and can’t live without. Technology has changed the way we all live and work, in myriad ways.

This week, we caught up with author and freelance journalist Shweta Taneja who talked to us about the gadgets and apps that she swears by. As an author, Taneja has a special interest in weaving myth and occult into the fiction she writes. She tells the stories of ghosts and monsters and demons through novels, stories and comic books. Her latest book Cult of Chaos is a urban fantasy story about a tantrik based in Delhi.

But at the same time, Taneja is a techie who loves experimenting with apps and gadgets to see how things can go wrong with them, and tells us that she can’t imagine her life without her smartphone. Read on to know more about her favourite apps and gadgets.

Describe your technology setup – what computer/ phone/ tablet/ camera/ gaming console/ other gadgets do you use and why

Shweta Taneja: Most of my day is spent on my MacBook Air on which I can be found hunched, furiously typing or fussing over. It is lightweight, portable and has a great keyboard, something that really helps considering I spend more time typing away than eating or even sleeping. I also have a Lenovo desktop with a 27-inch monitor, because when I’m editing, I need a bigger screen to work.

For reading, I have the first generation Kindle, and I sometimes read my own books on it while I’m working on them, to get a fresh perspective. Other than that, I have a Google Nexus 10, which I’m not too happy about in terms of performance but I like it because it’s handy to view comics in as well as see videos. My LG Google Nexus 5 is my life and is never too far away from my hand. It’s useful for work and for entertainment, or taking photos.

What are three apps (mobile/ tablet or PC/ Mac) you couldn’t live without and why?

Shweta Taneja: The most important app is an Internet browser. I use Chrome on my Nexus 5 but am not very happy with it, so I might switch to another one if I find a good alternative. When I’m writing, I am also reading online, either an out of print book from Archives.org, or an article or a folktale or myth on Wikipedia. So the browser is very important for me as a writer. I also love Instagram and PicsArt. PicsArt is the best way to create collages and for sharing, I find it easiest to post on Instagram.

The most used app is probably Gmail. I  use my Gmail account for all my official communication, with editors, publishers, agents or for my freelance work, with startups or NGOs or doctors.

Which is the one gadget (other than your phone) you never travel without and why?

Shweta Taneja: I definitely can’t travel without my phone. I use it as a camera, for Google Maps, to share photos on the go through Instagram. I use its flashlight when camping, and I love Sky Map to look up at the stars at night.

On holidays, I am never without my Vortex Crossfire binoculars, which are essential to see details on architecture, birds or monkeys.

What is your dream gadget/ technology setup?

Shweta Taneja: I would like to pick up an SLR now since I’m getting a bit better at photography. I am also curious about the iPad and portable keypad combination since I’m a writer and like to write from anywhere really.

How has technology changed the way in which you work?

Shweta Taneja: It has changed everything for me. I grew up using a 286 computer and remember programs being perennially stuck. By college, our machines at NIFT used to run Windows Vista and hang regularly! Laptops today are faster and much more powerful, and this affects all your work.

When I’m writing, I research online, find people/ bloggers/ social media hogs talking about an issue and it’s become much easier to find people, the right people to talk to. As a folklore researcher, Internet has also made it possible for me to have access to books, scholarly articles and information across the world. I have thousands of libraries at my disposal.

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What are the gadgets and paraphernalia you use for writing? Post them in the comment section below!

Why aren’t there more women in comics?

Before you tag this post as that fashionable F-word, hear me out. I’ve been working in comics since a few years now. Much more than their western counterparts, the Indian comic industry is welcoming to both genders, across board. They’re open to story ideas which go beyond fanboy or superhero fiction. I’ve worked on two graphic novels (Krishna, The Skull Rosary), pitched a lot of work and worked on smaller comics and am yet to encounter misogyny or bad behavior of any kind in publishers or artists or other writers. Yes, I do tend to meet a lot of guys who’re into comics than girls, but they’re not necessarily looking out for superhero fiction. They’re looking out for good stories. Still, the industry, the artists, publishers, editors, and writers are mostly men.

Then I’ve been part of the children book industry (my first novel Ghost Hunters of Kurseong is for tweens), which again is teeming with talented writers and artists. This industry, catering to kids of both genders, is mostly female. The editors, writers, artists, are all women.

There are very few overlapping creators (either writers or artists) who do both kinds of work – children books and comics. Now I’m the curious sort and frankly this just doesn’t make sense to me. I mean writers are writers and should be able to write for any medium, right? And illustrators and artists should be able to draw for any medium. So why don’t they? This question irritated me enough to push Comic Con to do a panel on it in Bangalore this year. With me there was Reena Puri,  a well-respected editor with ACK Media and Devaki Neogi, who is one of those rare illustrators who draws for international comics. We took the idea apart, thought on it, brainstormed over email about the panel as well as on stage, but couldn’t find any concrete answers on why there is such a gender bias in comics.

The panel even made a journalist write an article on portrayal of women in comics in Deccan Herald:

Deccan Herald on women in comics
Deccan Herald on women in comics

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Except, it didn’t answer my question. Some of the sort-of answers that I’ve collated from various people (and not necessarily my opinions) are listed below. Poll on them and tell me what you think:

Why aren’t there more women in comics?
  1. It’s easier for women to get into children’s books
  2. Comics are misogynist, made for men by men and women don’t feel welcome.
  3. Women aren’t comic readers so they don’t create comics
  4. Superheroes and sexy women is just not a woman’s thing.
  5. There’s tight deadlines and not enough money in making comics.
  6. Why are you bothered about this question? Go write your books, will you?

Agree with one of them or have a  different answer? Add to the comment section below. (Till I figure out how to put a poll here that is.)

Anantya in Business Std, DNA, Telegraph….

Bits more of coverage for Cult of Chaos. Business Standard and DNA ran a preview of my book launch with an interview. DC Books Editors added it into their Editor’s Picks. While this is what Telegraph had to say.

The Telegraph, 5 April

While this was sinking in, She The People, a fabulous website on women achievers, approached me to do an interview.

Female authors in India mostly write about other women and their realistic struggles and you rarely find science fiction novels or  murder-mysteries written by women.  One woman to break the mould, follow her passion (and some of ours) and put some life into science fiction writing is Shweta Taneja, who recently wrote India’s first tantric-detective novel: ‘Cult of Chaos’ with a woman protagonist- Anantya Tantrist.

Read the complete interview here.

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The blog BooksAllAroundMe suggests a method to read Cult of Chaos and Anantya’s journey:

All in all if you have to read the book, the mind needs to be ready to accept the absolutely unexpected. It’ll throw a reader’s mind off gear with it’s charismatic story telling and an even effective story line. The book scores and relies heavily on ideas which might sound old and obsolete but that is where the boldness steps in and creates an aura of dominance and darkness. Everything is in equal measure and the scales of good v/s bad have been tipped to the hilt. It’s not everyday you come across stories out of the blue and this is one wonder which can leave you gasping for breath. It’s a deep dark temptation with it’s own set of secrets ready to pounce and devour the eager minds. A book with winner tagged in its own rights.If spice is what you were missing in your life get the book and traverse one of the most treacherous and over exciting path of tantrism and dark magic. Let chaos descend on earth and rule your hearts. 

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Over at Goodreads, here’s what readers are saying:

“Its a part pot boiler, part feminist, part fantasy and just pure fun.”Sonali at Goodreads

“Anantya is a revolution in Indian fiction. She’s a tantric, and is pretty unapologetic of everything she does. She has casual sex, smokes beedis, has a foul mouth and a dirty mind too. In which universe would you have imagined that someone like that would be the heroine in an Indian novel? But she’s indeed the prime attraction of this book, you really take this journey along with her (the first-person narrative helping tremendously) and you really root for her. Her fearlessness is something I think will inspire a lot of young girls.” –  Uday at Goodreads

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Okay, off to jumping up and down with glee now. If you’d like to pick up the book, order from Amazon or Flipkart.

Seven creepy sights at ComicCon Bangalore

When I got a chance to cover ComicCon Bangalore for Scroll, I wanted to do something fun with it. So thought will write what I love: creepiness in things. And here’s what I saw.

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Sweet’s gone dead

Girls and women turned out at Cosplay not in demure, girly costumes but in kickass ones. Manga and Anime was popular as usual, as was horror. Here’s Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride for you peeps. Shivered us plenty.


(Photograph: ComicCon India)
Cold spots were a favourite haunt

Bangalore is known for one thing, the awesome weather. There’s only one period, from the second half of March and the first half of April, when the city heats up. And that’s precisely the period to which they shift ComicCon in Bangalore from a breezy September (we tell you!). The worse off were those who were sitting in panels on stage (including yours truly), with glaring lights on them, sweating while trying to swing the cool factor.

And then there were the unfortunate enthusiasts of Cosplay, who’d put on leather, rexin, wigs, paints and furs in order to look like their favourite characters. The attendees in their search for some relief, converged like a swarm of bees to cold spots, small, premium spaces in the White Orchid hall in Manyata Tech Park, where the air-conditioning was slightly more effective.  There they sat, on the carpeted ground, lounging.

“I’ve never seen Bangalore so hot,” said Jatin Varma, founder, ComicCon India, when I asked him why he shifted the event’s time to the hottest time of the year in Bangalore. “I thought it couldn’t get this hot!” Now you know, Jatin.


(Photograph: Ashwani Sharma) 
A scary crow indeed

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned villain to get chills down your spine on a hot afternoon. So it was that we caught this young man in his rather innovative makeshift costume, doing Scarecrow from the Batman comics. And then there’s Dr Octopus from Spider-man 2. Evil is nice, no?


(Photograph: Ashwani Sharma) 

 


(Photograph: Jatin Varma) 
The bloody iron throne

Treachery and murder, killing and destruction, were rather popular with the visitors of Comic Con. The Iron Throne was in the house thanks to HBO’s promotion of the latest season of Game of Thrones on its premiere channel in India. For the visitors that meant a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of sitting on the Iron Throne which is made of the cruelest swords in Westeros, keeps giving you nicks and cuts, and means that you will have to kill and murder and shed blood in order to be there. And you won’t believe how many were eager to.

There was an hour-long line outside the booth to go sit on the throne and pose with the sword. This guy, however, did the Delhi thing. “I cut the line and sneaked in,” he told me with a smirk. “It’s free but who will wait for this long?” Yes, my dear. Wonder if your evil tactics will get you approval from GRR Martin.


(Photograph: Shweta Taneja) 
The divination lady
Then there was this lady, who fell into the part of Professor Sybill Trelawney and quite enjoyed telling anyone who would listen (as the professor did to all her students in the Harry Potter series) that their tea drudge indicated that there was death around the corner. We love a little dark drama, don’t you?


(Photograph: Ashwani Sharma) 
Sale of indigenous comics? Ghanta only.
We love pop culture and art in Western movies, comics, cartoons and culture. We love Japan for its anime and manga. And we weep over the poor quality of comics coming out of our own country. Without trying them out.

“I’m tired of mythology,” said a reader, “why can’t they publish something interesting in India?” I asked him what he reads. The answer: Lord of the Rings. Case closed. “There is interest, but most of the people want to buy posters of the cover, rather than a comic,” said Kailash, who publishes comic anthologies under the name Pulpocracy and rues not buying poster rights from the artist, for then he would’ve made enough money for his business to survive. People come, spend more than Rs 10,000 each, but on merchandise and international titles. Most indie stalls are empty.

 


(Photographs: Ashwani Sharma) 
And then there was Obelix

A cool relief after all the horror at the Con, this man made us laugh out loud. Not only had he sized up for his Cosplay, including some natural sweat and beef (though boar would have been more appropriate), but his costume was perfect as was his chilled out attitude, which made you want to revisit the Asterix series yet again. He certainly brought a smile to our sweaty faces.


(Photograph: Ashwani Sharma) 

To read the complete article, head to Scroll.

 

Author Zac O’Yeah talks about Cult in Mint

Author Zac O’Yeah has to be one of the sweetest creature one can find in the publishing industry. First he roams about in Bangalore and beyond writing beautiful travel tales on Malgudi. Then he doles out free advice on writing over email, meets you for a cup of coffee and offers a beautiful guest post for your blog about meeting author Nirmal Verma. Thirdly, he includes you in his popular column in Mint, with a name like Avtar Singh, the author of Necropolis and many other things. So when this came out, I was literally jumping up and down on my bed.

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This is the story at the core of Necropolis, a novel by Avtar Singh, former editor of TimeOut Delhi and official nightlife expert of Delhi. I wondered if I’d spotted a trend when I opened the next book in my review pile, Cult Of Chaos, by Mint contributor Shweta Taneja, in which the protagonist, Tantrist and ghost-buster Anantya, inhabits an ancient 24-room haveli in Old Delhi where she’s set up her nest of sorcery along with a mascot cat, a snake god and an Urdu-blabbering ghost.
Compared to the moody Gothic ambience of Necropolis, which in lyrical prose bemoans the demise of the Delhi of yore while it ponders New Delhi’s alienating newness, Cult Of Chaos is a chick-lit take on the horrors of the megacity. Be warned, though. This is not soft-focus romance. In between blind-dating, there’s plenty of pulpy gore as Anantya fights rakshasas (demons) that fart foul-smelling substances in posh Connaught Place restaurants.

Taneja is more pleasantly surprised at being labelled a horror writer. “Now that you mention it, yes, isn’t it true? I wonder why more authors haven’t written horror, for there is definitely a market out there,” says Taneja, who grew up in Delhi and as a woman had to be constantly on the alert. The Tantrist hero, then, is her way of revisiting that city of dread.

Personally, she’s a fan of more psychological thriller writers like Stephen King. Regarding her novel, Taneja states: “What I wanted to do was explore the hidden side of Indian society, the things that lie beneath the veneer of the middle class, the arrogance, the thirst for power…which is perhaps why I chose an occult detective. Tantrism has always lived on the edges of the society, shunned, considered evil or disgusting or feared like monsters. Tantrism is quite fascinating for us, sort of like serial killers are for the West.”
And now that I think of it, this might well be a subgenre emerging, with writers like Singh and Taneja measuring the horror quotient of the modern metropolis.
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Read Zac’s complete column over at Mint. Fabulous, isn’t it?

Five myths about an author

I’ve been writing books for six years now. When I began my journalist career more than a decade ago, I was sure I couldn’t write an article. It took me five years of wanting to write fiction, a Master’s degree, one failed novel and millions of procrastinating moments to finally do something that all blogs, all writers keep suggesting: write. After a year of stalling, I started to write fiction and once I did, I couldn’t stop. In the last five years, I’ve written six books, four of which are published and two lie at various edit levels. The longest of this, my first of Anantya’s series, Cult of Chaos, touched 1,20,000 words at manuscript stage. I became an author when I started to write (and not when I was published). Here are a few myths I’ve come across in my life as an author.

Myth 1: Writing is a hobby for them

If you want to get published, writing fiction is a creative business. Like any other commercial designer, you’re selling your ware in the market. If you look at writing as a hobby, there will be no sales involved, you will write whatever you feel like writing, chuck the rather painful process of editing. It will be pure art, and you won’t care two-hoots if it’s appreciated or understood by anyone else. For those who want to write this way, I suggest heading to a vanity publisher so they can distribute their books to friends and family. For the looners who want to publish a book with a commercial publisher, wake up to the fact that you’re starting a business. It would have all the pains of a new business. You have to present a spectacular product, polish it till it becomes commercially viable and acceptable, take the pains of editing it again and again and yet again at various levels,

Myth 2: Authors earn a lot

While interacting with students at IIT-Kanpur, one of them asked me, how much do I earn from writing book. I gave him a few figures, pittances mostly. He counter question was: ‘Then why do you write?’ I looked at him point blank and said that if he wanted to get into writing for the money of it (in spite of the fact that I think of it as a business), he was choosing wrong. Better to do a start-up and sell it for a few lakhs or millions. For majority of the authors don’t earn anything in comparison to the effort put into the making of the book. In India most publishers give you an advance on the book that’s calculated on how much the publisher thinks it’s going to sell. In hard figures, if you’re not a celebrity author and most are not, the advance is anywhere between Rs 2,000 for a children’s book to Rs 1,00,000 for what they call ‘genre fiction’. Many books never earn beyond the advance, so authors get no royalty beyond it. Each of these labours of love take around one year to write, edit, finish and market. And I am estimating a fast turn around. If you put the same year into a job, any job, even at a call center (which begins at Rs 25,000/month), you will earn much more than this book is going to give you. Keep this in your head so you’re not disappointed later on. If earning royalty is your motivation, most likely you’re headed for the depression pit.

Myth 3: They have it easy

‘Oh you work from home? That’s so nice. I wish I could do that.’: You will get it again and again and yet again. Writing was the hardest thing I took on myself and as you can see from the first sentence, this line of thought gets me burned up. Because I know that being an author is the most difficult person I will be. For one, there’s no security in this work. I can cease to be an author the minute I’m not writing or don’t have another book in my mind. It’s not easy, this constant insecurity I’ve to deal with.

Myth 4: Authors are naturally creative

As a lot of people who write will disagree to this. Creativity is like a friend who makes plans on Whatsapp and never really comes to meet up. It’s unreliable. What makes an author is not creativity, which all of us have to some extent, but hardwork, perseverance and determination to write, to pen down or to draw that spark that the creative soul’s left in us. To scratch that itch. Write everyday, even if you’re sick, busy, have a lot on your mind, stressed, feeling in dumps. Write even if no words come. Being at it constantly, chipping away the stone is what makes an author.

Myth 5: Authors are chaotic

Most of the ones I know are meticulously planned when it comes to the book they’re writing. They might have strewn a few books around, I know I do—papers and books and whatnots, but I know exactly what is there. There’s a method to that madness. Just that you might not see it.

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For more tips on writing, head to this section. Know of any other myths you’ve heard? Please put them in the comment section below.

 

Ten secrets to marketing your book – 2

After three months of extensive marketing for Cult of Chaos, I am back on the desk, somewhat wiser, somewhat still the novice and definitely a dreamer.  As I move on to various other exciting projects that are brimming up (including the third installment of Anantya Tantrist’s series), I thought I should whisper all the trade secrets I learnt. And in our age, that means writing a blog. So here it is peeps. If these are useful, comment below. If not, comment still!

First five secrets to marketing your book

Look beyond a blog

A personal blog/website is great but online audiences are fractured and each has their own preferred social space. Today, you need to be present on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, YouTube, and others. If you know your audience well, try and find where they hang out and be there. There’s no use to be on Facebook if you’ve written a non-fiction and most of your audience hashtags over at Twitter. And be on as many social networks as you can. You don’t need to post separately on anything. But connect them all together, use auto-posts, schedule posts and let it be. I wrote Anantya Tantrist‘s voice over a day, for two months and put it on auto-schedule. She two months, she talked on TumblrFacebook, Twitter or Google+. You’ll need to be efficient with this otherwise your writing time may be eaten into. Another important thing for you to do is have a strong voice across these social networks. It will be a reflection of who you are as a person and as an author. Like I love supernatural/fantasy stuff and I constantly write on folklore, tribal and occult things, which matches my interest in writing supernatural and tantric fiction.

7 Write columns 

Journalists don’t have time to review all books or do interviews of all authors. But you’re a writer, so play on your strength and write free content for as many magazines, papers, blogs, ezines that you can connect with (some of them might pay for it too). Most editors are open to new ideas, especially content from authors (thought being, if you’ve written and published a book, you might be able to write well). Pitch ideas around your book, not things that are directly promotional but things that you feel strongly about, or the themes of your book. I write columns on folklore and tantrism and writing, things I know. (Check out my columns at Swarajya, HuffingtonPost, DailyO, Scroll and Discover India. On each site, I get about a 10-300 shares every time I post something new.)

8 Work with your publisher

Publishers usually have decent marketing teams but they’re really busy people, so keep a track of your marketing representative, give them a call once in a while, send them an email, inform them of all your activities and ideas and thoughts and keep asking what’s happening next. And if you have an idea, always ask if they would do it, even though you feel it’s too expensive or weird. You know what’s best for your book.

9 Do go on bookstore tours

A lot of us go by the recommendations made by the staff of a bookstore. Use that to your advantage. Understand the people who’re selling your book on the ground, for whom it’s just a day’s boring business. Tell them about your book, enthuse them with what you love about your book. Do bookstore tours in your city, speak to groups that sell books and figure out how they do it. Convince them to push your book out.

10 Keep in touch with sales

You don’t need to find out how your book it doing (that dreaded question that is asked one too many times to all of us), but I’ve found it quite useful to understand how your book is being sold. Who is the sales person? Do they read? Do they know about your book? How do they recommend? What kind of pressures does their bosses put on them? What are their targets? It’s essential to understand the business of sales within a publishing house. What kind of distribution do they have? Is your book going to be available in all stores or just a few? Who decides these? I am still figuring out these things myself and you should see a post on it soon enough.


First five secrets to marketing your book

For more tips on writing, head to this section.

 

Tantric tales: a relaxed Sunday with supernatural

It’s taken me a month to post this. Reason: I promised myself that I’ll finish Anantya’s second adventure before any posts on my blog. So here I am, with a finished book (yay!) and a story for you. Tantric Tales happened on the last Sunday of April. The whole team of The Beehive, a collective of creative people, organised it, taking over over the event, setting up the venue, plannning Anantya’s favourite drink soma-on-the-rocks, deciding and creating the graphics as well as the documentary which needed to be screened. It was really kind of the Beehive girls to go so much out of their way and do all of this! That’s the Beehive team below.

With the bees of BeeHive at the end of the event
With the bees of BeeHive at the end of the event

 

It was one of the funnest events I’ve done, a chilled out Sunday evening at a beautiful venue (if you haven’t checked out Humming Tree, I suggest you go. Now. Nikhil, the introvert-ish sweetheart that he is, always has something fun up his sleeve.) where friends and strangers sat on carpets, high chairs, low chairs with a beer bottle in one hand and a pen in the other. For the quiz was on. Ashwani, the quiz master of the evening kept them all inthralled. I even saw a group of people who left their burgers, ON A SUNDAY, to solve a quiz. This city will never cease to amaze me.

Ashwani, the awesome quiz master
Ashwani, the awesome quiz master

 

Then there was the fiery soma-on-the-rocks which Anantya would’ve gobbled in a second. I avoided it in case I fell into a giggly fit right before my discussion on stage.

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Post the quiz, I came up on stage, chatted with people, talked about researching on tantrism. Frankly, I could’ve done a better job, selling my book, talking about it, etc, but it was a Sunday and I’d just had a high after a successful book launch in Delhi and before that in Bangalore, so I became like the crowd at Humming, relaxed. The evening ended with a circle where a lot of people shared their stories and experiences of the paranormal and supernatural. Amazing, that part.

The event was covered extensively by the kind MetroPlus at The Hindu, Jagran CityPlus and  we all came on Page 3 of the Indulge of New Indian Express. Thrilling for a day, that. Leaving you with a few photographs (taken by the kind Prasad N).

Fantasy writer. Author. Daydreamer

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