Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Unexplained Disappearances- Another Excerpt

For a while, everything was normal.

Riyan didn’t bother me again. I was happy to not have his attention. He went back to being the cool stud he was and I went back to being the studious girl I was. The classes were boring but bearable. The situation at home was under control.

The only sore spot in the day was when the maid cleaned Kartik’s room with the kind of precision a paid servant never shows. For some reason, I felt as if the room kept getting…bare, as if it was being stripped of its possessions. Perhaps this is what stagnation does to things- it turns them into faint shadows of their former self.

One day, upon coming back from school. I found my mother sitting in the verandah. I knew it was because the balcony allowed her to watch me as I entered the building? At what time did she seat herself there? What if I was late one day for some reason? That would wreak havoc.

“Hi”, I muttered. The cleaning lady- a thin, absolutely unremarkable-looking woman- waited for me to get inside and then walked out, closing the door behind her. I locked it and sat down on the closest chair to take off my shoes.
My mother came into the room and pulled the sliding doors to the verandah shut.

“Swamiji called today”.

Swamiji was an astrologer who said all sorts of things to my mother. He mostly suggested I wore rings with certain stones to bring my good luck. Last year, my name had changed from ‘Arya’ to ‘Aria’ because he believed the ‘I’ would be harbinger of good fortune.

But my mother believed him and there was nothing I could do.

The thing was that a month before Kartik disappeared, Swamiji had asked him to wear a ring. He had predicted danger lay ahead. Since most of his predictions were useless, my father had been unwilling to buy the ring, but eventually he had given up from pressure from my mother. My mother still insisted the last time she saw Kartik, he didn’t have the ring on.

But I knew that Kartik only wore the ring in front of my mother. He always took it off before leaving the house. He thought the heavy, round stone looked outdated, sitting there on his hand, trying to change his destiny.

I sighed. There were a lot of things my parents didn’t know about Kartik.

“What did he say?”

“He said times aren’t safe. We must protect ourselves”.

That’s what he’s been saying for eleven months. “I’ll be careful”.

“I wish I could go to college with you everyday”. She said it as if she would do it the first chance she got.

You can’t keep stalling your life and mine over someone who might not return. It sounded cruel even to my own ears. I was supposed to be miserable, missing my brother so much it hurt. But now, my parents had become my concern. I wanted them acting like my parents again, instead of zombies.

I walked to the kitchen cabinet and drew out my mother’s pills. She had to take two everyday. I gave her one before I left for college and one after I got back. If I forgot, she didn’t take them at all. But she needed them for her depression. Without them, she sometimes started crying in the middle of lunch. It was painful to watch.

I poured out a glass of water from a jug on the table and handed her the pill. She put it in her mouth and pushed it behind her molars. “You know, you could really consider wearing that diamond”.

“What diamond?” I pushed the glass in her hand, urging her to swallow her pill with it.

“The one Swamiji said you should wear”.


“He also talked about making your name Aria Raghav Suri, He think a middle name would bring you luck”.


She didn’t change the subject for another few minutes. Then, the doorbell rang twice. My dad was here. I let them settle in the living room in their own discussion. I was tired.

Friday, 23 March 2012


I consider 'Unexplained Disappearances' an original work. However, it would be unfair to say I didn't draw inspiration from certain sources. All my life, I've read books and watched movies- it's bound to rub off at some point.

1. Winter's Bone
This movie which came out in 2010, is about a girl in poverty-stricken Ozarks who goes out to look for her meth-dealing father. Even though both books are about missing persons, that is not the part I was inspired by. It was after I came up with the plot that I watched the movie. The character of Ree Dolly amazes me. Her single-minded pursuit to save her family is something we can all learn from. One similarity between Aria and Ree is the motive behind their search isn't to bring back who's gone, but to save those who still remain.

2. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Wonder how the story of four best friends and a pair of jeans can have anything to do with an action-packed mystery? If that's the case, you know nothing about Bridget Vreeland, one of the protagonists. Following her mother's death, her family assumed an unending silence. That's kind of what happens to the Suris in 'Unexplained Disappearances', except that it manifests itself in an entirely different way. As Tolstoy said, 'All happy families are the same, all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way'.

3. Entrance to the Galaxy
You'd think you've never heard of this one. And you'd be right. That's because this was never published. It's the first book I wrote. It had a subplot about a teen looking for her missing parents. I guess it was time to revisit old time ideas. In the end, the teen gets her parents back, but that won't happen in 'Unexplained Disappearances'. Or will it?

4. News
I drew inspiration from real life. I know a lot of people who've lost someone close. I read the papers everyday. Sometime last year, TOI Crest ran a cover story about missing persons. Most people who go missing in India are never found again. Their families don't just look for them, they mostly look for closure. Most families preserve the rooms and belongings of those who go missing, thinking they'll come back and holding on to that thought with heartbreaking resolve. Some of the stories in the issue made it clear that the missing person's were dead. Some left no such clues- anything could have happened to the victims. They could've been sold into some form of slavery or been killed. A week after the issue came out, I started writing 'Unexplained Disappearances', although I still wasn't sure how I'd shape the plot.
I write for the YA demographic. This demographic either needs things they can directly relate to (school, friends, college admissions, boys, relationships) or something which allows them to live out their fantasies (all the dystopian and paranormal stuff swarming the market these days.) So, I couldn't just write something about missing persons. It had to be dramatic, larger than life. It had to have a beginning, a middle and an end. When I finally decided the frame of the novel, the rest of it just came out.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Unexplained Disappearances- An Excerpt

Somewhere in the early hours of dawn, I had the same dream again.

 I was in the desert. I remembered the place. It was in Jaisalmer, with an abundance of sand dunes and camels. I’d been there three years ago, the last family vacation we had taken. Even in the dream, I felt hot, as if the sand was radiating heat.

Initially, I was alone. I kept gliding forward, just reveling in the expanse of golden sand and clear blue sky. But then, I saw my parents. They were searching for something. They were yelling, their faces were worried. I stopped, unable to walk forward. Then, some inexplicable force, made me take two steps backwards. The more I tried to fight it, the more I kept walking backwards. But my parents didn’t look at me. They just kept going in round circles, shouting….someones’s name, maybe?

Finally, I brought myself to a stop with a jerk.

“Kartik!” I finally heard the name clearly. I turned on my heels.

Standing right in front of me was Kartik. He looked just like he did when he went missing- more handsome than I was beautiful, fair-skinned with smooth hair and rimless glasses. Before I could say anything, he put his hand on my mouth in a way that frightened me. He then put his finger on his lips and smiled maliciously. When h let go of me, I turned around to find my parents. They were still circling me, looking for Kartik.
“He’s here!” I said to them, but they couldn’t hear me. And when I turned around to face Kartik again, he had vanished.

I woke up, my palms sweating. I had seen the same things in the dream so many times, but had never gotten to know what happened after Kartik disappeared. Usually, I just woke up before I could see any more.
I looked at the clock mounted on my bedroom wall. It was six. I took a moment to steady myself and then forced myself off the bed. Today would be my first day of college.

Friday, 16 March 2012

A Writer's Challenges

What is the biggest challenge for someone who is trying to become a writer. Is it the difficulty of finding time to write (you see, this is a breed of writers who don't get their bread and butter from writing, and bread and butter earning sure takes up a lot of time)? Or is it the search for new ideas which often doesn't yield results and we have to go for formulaic ones? Or maybe it's the disappointment of reading a letter from a publisher which says your book 'isn't the write fit for them' or 'may not be commercially viable' and wishes you 'best of luck in your future endeavors', even though you feel you book just couldn't get any better.

I know I'm young, but I've already experienced all of the above.

But writing is addictive. Even when you're going through the 'business weeks' of your life, you make time to write, be it in the early hours of dawn or after the clock strikes twelve and all non-writers go to bed. Even when you can'e think of anything new to write, you just write anything you can, hoping it'll be brilliant anyways. Also, no matter how many publishers reject you, you always find the name of a new agent, a new publishing company and start sending your material after hours of reading submission guidelines on the Internet. And when publishers the world over reject you, you simply start with a new project, hoping this one will somehow be the next 'Girl With A Dragon Tattoo' or 'On The Road' or 'Harry Potter'. You might even settle for it being the next 'Five Point Someone'.

But for me, challenges can take a whole new form when my inexperience starts getting in the way. I tend to be a little angst-y in my writing, because I am at an angst-y age. My protagonist becomes everything I dream of becoming. I end up using too many words and eventually, I end up with a novel that might be great but will never find a publisher.

So, this time, I have resolved to make 'Unexplained Disappearances' different. I'll make as much time to write as possible. I'll stay away from formulas. I won't send my manuscript to people till it is completely ready. But above all, I'll try to finally grow into a mature writer.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Mystery Girl- Constantinova Pasini

Constantinova 'Nova' Pasini is my mystery girl. She's the one who comes to Aria, claiming to be her last link to her brother.

Nova's appearance is striking. She's a tall redhead. She often stands out while in India, causing people to take more notice than necessary for her mission. For some reason, I based her look on Alice Burdeu (but she's not 6'1"). I know it's a little uninspired to make your characters look like international models, but Alice Burdeu is the definition of 'offbeat' and 'strinking'.

Alice Burdeu (left)

Nova reamains a mystery to Aria throughout the novel because she comes out of nowhere and never reveals much. She has a story of her own and her own reasons to look for Aria's brother. But she is an unskilled fighter. She has the will to uncover secrets, but not the experience. She claims to be the last person to have seen Aria's brother alive.

As far as her characteristics are concerned, there aren't much. She keeps a safe distance from everyone and as compared to Aria, she is ruthless. She knows her undertaking will save lives, but may also involve taking a few. This ruthlessness stems from the fact that she has nothing to lose.

Nova is Slovenian. That's because that's the last foreign country my dad was invited to and also because it's a place which doesn't always get mentioned in YA novels. But who knows? Maybe she's a Russian pretending to be Slovenian so nobody can trace her roots! With Nova, you never really know.

Amateur Attempt At Book Cover

Pictures speak louder than words. Really? Not very good to hear for a writer. But what if an image could summarize a full novel, be a reflection of the premise.

In case you didn't know, I did a lot of work till I was in my early teens. That was before writing took over and my high school art career was destroyed by petty school politics.  But that's another story for another day (and another novel). I got down with my pastels earlier today but was already preoccupied with my book. The result? A very amateur-looking book cover. Well, it wasn't a book cover when I started out. It became one when I edited it on Microsoft Paint.

Here it is:
The image gives you one clue though- there's going to be a lot of deserts.

The girl in the image is Aria Suri, my protagonist. I wanted her hair flying and to have some motion in her posture, because she is always on the go, constantly searching for her brother. Note the footprints on the sand and how they disappear before reaching Aria- her brother leaves a trail behind, but it leads Aria nowhere.

For those  interested in my progress with the book, I'm just about to write the climax. Lots of revelations, lots of drama and lots of fun for me. I have been waiting to write this for such a long time and now, the time has finally come. Wish me luck. If I ever have readers, this part will decided id 'Unexplained Disappearances' becomes one of their favourite books or not.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Where I Write Isn't What I Write

Does good writing have anything to do with where we write? I sure hope not.

I've heard a lot of good writers go away to picturesque, quaint locations to write their novels. I don't have that privilege. So, 'Unexplained Disappearances' will be written in the living room, mostly with my whole family surrounding me, with cars and trucks roaring down the highway next to my building.

So this is where the magic is supposed to happen:

But somehow, I still believe magic is possible.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

My Protagonist- Aria Suri

Let's start with a name. "What's in a name?" Shakespeare asked. My answer to his question is- "Everything". As a child, I was teased a lot about my name (Shreyonti Chakraborty can be a tongue twister) and with time, the teasing went away, but there is one thing that still persists- people who can't pronounce my name. Sometimes, my best friend gets it wrong. But at the same time, I love unique names, which is why I say a strict "No" to anybody who tries to call me by a nickname.

I wanted my protagonist to have a name which was striking, but still short and easy to pronounce. I didn't want it to sound too Indian as despite the story being set in India, it is not about India. I wanted her name to be kind of ambiguous, not giving away her nationality or ethnicity.

For some reason, I loved the name 'Arya'. The name 'Aryan' is a pretty common Indan boy's name. We sometimes have five Aryans in the same classroom (I am not making that up). I wanted a similar name for a girl. 'Aryan' means 'noble'. It is also the name of a race. I feminised it and made it 'Arya'. But that didn't satisfy my criteria for ambiguity. So, I changed the spelling and made it 'Aria'.

Aria Suri- the words just rolled off my tongue. It had a nice ring to it and I selected it for my protagonist.

Then, her appearance needed to be sketched for the reader. Let me get one thing straight- her appearance is not important. Aria isn't the kind of character who depends on being beautiful so she can have an interesting love triangle. But still, I wanted to give her a certain look to make her easy to visualize. So, I gave her medium-length, very wavy hair, but for the sake of simplicity f her character, she keeps it tied up with a scrunchie. She has big, expressive eyes and an olive skin tone. She is 5'6" (I like my characters to be as tall as me) and there is nothing striking about her weight or built. She is beautiful, but not in the most conventional way.

Then came the characterizations. All I know is that I like Nina Dobrev's 'Elena Gilbert/ Katerina Petrova' more than Kristen Stewart's 'Bella Swan'. Also, I like Anushka Sharma's 'Shruti Kakkar' (my pick for best young female protagonist in recent Hindi cinema) a lot more than the bimbettes that are in every Bollywood movie these days. I wanted Aria to be deep and complex, not just a cookie-cutter character with a personality that can be described in a few words.

Aria can be cold sometimes. She is indifferent to her peers, often considering herself above them. But that's because she has the life experience of a fifty-year-old. She takes her responsibilities seriously, but she still repents having to take them and does not try to be noble because she knows her brother's disappearance changed her life. She has a firm resolve and is determined to do what's best for her family. But she still takes a back seat when her parents try to be in control, knowing she is after all, just a young girl. She is brave, but more than that, she is practical. She's not trying to turn her life into a sob story. She also doesn't want to embark on an adventure to find her brother until she is forced to; she is not really a sucker for thrills.

When I started writing Aria, I said, "The hell with sweetness!" Aria is sweet, but on the inside. I understand it's important to make a character likeable, but I don't like to make their likeability obvious. Take Bella, for instance. She is shown to be such an innocent girl who is also a bad liar, but ultimately, she is pretty good at lying when it comes to hiding truths about vampires.

But still, if I had to describe Aria in four words, they'd be- sincere, courageous, smart and most importantly, real!

The Most Important Thing For A Novel- The Plot

Now, it's time to reveal the plot.

Aria Suri is struggling to keep her head above water in a family torn by loss and grief- and she's pretty good at it. Her brother disappeared a year ago, leaving no clues behind. When police searches yield no result, Aria is determined to move past the tragedy and start her life afresh.

That is until she realizes she can never really bury her brother in the past. Soon, strange things start happening to Aria and her family and Aria realizes not only her brother, but her whole family is the victim of something unexplained. A meeting with an East European stranger changes her life forever, as it becomes clear there are people's lives as stake, and Aria sets out to solve the mystery behind her brother's unexplained disappearance.

Even though 'Unexplained Disappearances' involves many larger than life situations, it is still based on real life events. I understand how family affects our lives and how any blow to this particular institution can change our lives. Although 'Unexplained Disappearances' is mainly a mystery, it is also the story of how a boy's disappearance (Or is it kidnapping? Or...murder?) breaks a family down completely.

I will be the first to admit that my story is no 'Hunger Games'. It's not a totally new concept, neither does it have any elements of paranormal activity. But, it is the story of loss, betrayal and struggle, and I believe every reader will find something to keep turning those pages for.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Beginning of 'Unexplained Disappearances'

I started writing 'Unexplained Disappearances' a few months ago. In my long (I've been writing for eleven years) yet unpublished writing career, I have gone through a lot of phases.

The first was the 'Children's book' phase. But when you're seven, that's the only genre you could dabble in.

The second was the 'Sci-fi' phase. My sci-fi didn't have much genetic mutations, infrared signals or end-of-the-world dystopian scenarios. It just had lots of evil villains, secret organizations, spaceships, UFOs and brave heroes. At the age of twelve, that's about as sci-fi as yu can go.

Then came the 'Realism' phase, which basically meant I started taking inspiration from my own life. My satire 'Adventures of the Cynical Bystander' stands out as my only work that my father read in one go (and it had hundreds of pages). I realized I liked being sarcastic and real.

Just as things were heating up, 'Twilight' bit me (pun intended) and I was off to 'Fantasy Romance Land'. So I wrote a YA love story about two confused teenagers in their afterlife. It took a while for the phase to pass.

Now, I'm all grown up and ready to experiment with something new- mystery. Thant's what 'Unexplained Disappearances' is- a mystery. But unlike my previous outings as a writer, I have decided to document the whole process of writing this time. Hence, the blog.

I hope you enjoy reading and stay tuned to my posts, as I take you through the writing process, the search for locations to set my book in, the full-on creative phase where I make book trailers and covers, the trial and error phase where I  coerce my friends into reading my book, the critique seeking phase and hopefully, at some point, the search for a publisher.