"A writer and nothing else: a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right. " ~John K. Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune, 10 September 1961

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Old Arguments

This website and its associated comments, reinforce what I've mentioned time and again on this blog: the desi writers are just not doing enough to make a mark in the world in general, and the literary world in specific. The question becomes: what are we so afraid of, and why?

Although the article itself discusses the validity of MFA programs, the comments are fascinating reading and seem to echo so many of my own thoughts (and problems) with the current breed of desi writers.

There's the old argument of doing, again. Or lack thereof.

In the spirit of camaraderie, this is an article published by our very own desi writer in The News on Sunday. Shameless self-promotion, you ask? Absolutely. What else is this here for?

In other news, I seem to be having some trouble locating a suitable service provider to match my vision for DesiWritersLounge.net's upgraded version. I can only hope I locate one and try to release some beta form by December's end, although it doesn't look likely.

With so many changes planned, so much to rehash and revise, I wonder whether we'll have any time for e-zine editorial work. Or well, to be more specific, me. Of course, I can always reassign them to my minions, but then considering one's got a play coming up, another will be married by then, the other's got work and the last is a somewhat reluctant participant; things don't look particularly bright.

But December's still a while away yet. "We" should really stop worrying about it

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

New discussion: what makes a writer good or bad?

To be honest, I think the classification shouldn't exist. While it's true, that some writers are naturally more gifted than others, I think a lot of it stems from how much you're willing to put in, and how much you're willing to go running after it.

If publication is the measure of being 'good' or 'bad', then there's the problem right there. There are a lot of writers out there because of time and circumstance just haven't been discovered, and probably, in most instances never will. Does that mean they aren't 'good'? I don't think so.

A lot of good writers are rejected by publishers, not because their work isn't good - it could be the best ever - but a lot depends on its perception, and the timing, and on whether it's going to be received well by a rapidly undemocratic audience.

But, and I'm going out on a limb here, I'd say that a lot of it depends on the individual's own persistence.

And sure, contacts matter, especially in the publishing world. But at the end of the day, it's just down to one thing: how does the work sit with the publisher? Because if it doesn't sit with his/her appetite, it's not going to stand a chance at publication, unless you self-publish and do you really want to go down that path? There's nothing wrong with it of course - a lot of people self-publish - but although it's not a statement, it's the rule of thumb: self-publication is the mark of a failed author, who couldn't be published through traditional means. So if you want to keep your respect, you might want to think twice about it.

Of course, there are some glaringly bad writers out there...but then, they're the ones who get others to write their books for them! We should thank the ghostwriters of the world, they ease our palette just a little, and really, it's the wee bit that counts.

Will write more on this, later.

I'd ask you to discuss this in the comments section, but really, I know better by now. The audience of this blog, like its corresponding site, is largely silent. Oh well. I've been living with the silent treatment for a little more than a year now.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


People. They're all content with status quo - there is no longing to awaken. To do. To cause action, how can you be a writer without a cause?

In that vein, is Numb being written with a cause? Is there some social need driving it? My stories are worthless without a cause. They must exist for something, so to speak.

That characters (in N) are empty; almost soulless creatures. The purpose - the cause, if you will - is to bring forth the darkness in man. But it might not answer any questions, other than 'are we prepared to face the darkness in us' with the answer: 'no'. I believe the best we can do, is subjugate it, instead of really looking at it in the face.

A writer must write, after all, because he's got something to say and not the other way around.

The activist in me is back, just when I was wondering where she'd disappeared off to. But we all need our moments of reprieve, sometimes.

I need to move past this wordless state. I must.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Finding the center of gravity

Interesting conversation at the dinner table, today. Apparently, according to my mother, two sisters shouldn't sleep with each other (no, not like that - head out of. Gutter. Now.) on the same bed, because of the parentheses. I said the brother-sister union is one of the usual cases of incest, and then of course, the most common one came up - father-daughter. That started a further discussion how in some shows (most notably, Law and Order: SVU) they've shown twisted cases of each, including mother-daughter relationships. Yes, we often talk about incest on the dinner table.

But sarcasm notwithstanding, it brought up an interesting side issue: my mother and sister feel such insane, psychotic events shouldn't be depicted on TV for common, public viewing because it fills your mind up with things you wouldn't think of, otherwise. I disagree. I think it's an excellent way to create awareness - to let you know about the shit in this world - and the fact that you need to be wary of the realities of these situations, and the possibilities that they can and do happen in thousands of cases across the world. After all, if we hide them, how will we help get rid of the social depravities?

This kind of thinking has permeated through to our culture at large - hide it, subjugate the hidden truths - and yet, we turn our noses up in disgust about incidents similar to these when they happen in our vicinity. It's hypocritical.

I have a cause, and I firmly believe in this and it's among the reasons I write. Sure, in the beginning it was all about the story, but my recent pieces have been fueled by something else entirely.

Numb has restarted, thankfully although the style I'm writing it in is completely foreign. If I was worried about falling into the same snarkalicious one of yesterday, looks like I won't have anything to worry about. Or well, hopefully.

So just to clear the air: I'm not one who just talks and talks about writing on different subjects, and doesn't tackle them in an effort to better understand. I do, and I plan to continue doing it.

And if there are people out there, most notably members of my family, who think things like these shouldn't be addressed, I'm here to say: Tough. I owe something to society, or it owes something to me. In either case, I feel it incumbent on me to write the humanity of things, even if it isn't as pretty as we'd like to think it is. Or...well, I'll admit: Especially then. Some members of my conservative family don't like my tendencies on the Shi'a-Sunni-sectarian issue. If people ask what I am, I prefer to say I'm just a Muslim without classifying. Some people actually think this is a dangerous way of thinking and needs to be corrected, asap - I kid you not.

Yes, the fire of activism burns in my soul once again, alive and well. Nice to know.

As for DesiWritersLounge.net, it is my sincerest wish that it launches itself to become among the best independent desi magazines this country has to offer, gives the upcoming writers a place to flex their muscles and encourages thinking. Challenging, always - a place for independent judgments. Because if we're just going to create another breed of intellectual slackers, we've failed and my vision for the site and forums is lost.

Back at the dinner table, conversation's end found me locating the center of gravity of a fork on my finger. An appropriate end to the story, don't you think?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Contrary to one of my earlier posts, I'm pondering whether a strange variation of combined writer's block has hit the forums collectively, over at the 'Lounge. It seems every which way I turn, someone's mourning the absence of words. Words. It's all about words, isn't it?

Mine is a little more sinister: fear. And somewhere underneath it all, is the feeling I can't get away from: I am undeserving because I did the one thing I thought I'd never to - push it away - and now, it seems I'm terrified of calling it back. At the end of the day, I've defined myself through my work, and if I'm not a writer than who the hell am I?

Oh...and this just in. We've got a serious contribution request from a Daily Times reporter - just checked my inbox. Is that neat, or what? Seems like we're really kicking things off. Hinteresting, so very hinteresting, indeed.

Things seem to be looking up for the Lounge. It's been a long time coming, but we're getting somewhere. The only way to move is forward, after all.

Yes, this just lifted me from my writer's doldrums. How heavenly.

It also looks like I'll be starting the podcasts after all, and probably on my own. How strange that the first voice people will hear will be mine, representing DesiWritersLounge.net. I find that decidedly odd. However, it's all in the name of progress after all.

Here's to moving forward!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Our Religion & Bookworm: Revised

Just saw Misbah-ul-haq's final bow at the ICC 20/20 World Cup - poor man - no idea what he was thinking, though. 6 runs from 4 balls. We were so there, before he took that poor risk and bam! Out. Caught from behind. Oh sadness, sadness, sadness.

We can be happy for one thing, however: he singlehandedly turned the match around. Nerves of steel, the commentators said. Well, those nerves had to run out at some point, and sure it was terrible timing, but at least we didn't lose in the humiliating way we could've. So there are things to be pleased about.

That, and the realization that whatever the interim period, cricket remains our religion, where sects and the various divisions play no role whatsoever. It's amazing that a sport can bring people together like that.

In other news, I feel I've done my fellow desi authors a disservice by claiming that their work isn't as minded as it should be, and although I remain adamant in my opinion that it needs to tackle more mainstream dialog to make a greater impact, the work they have done shouldn't be ignored. After all, maybe it's important for us to remember the time of Zia and the East/West Pakistan shift and all the hatred that erupted in those times. That the Land of the Pure was inevitably born from a whole lotta blood. Sure, it doesn't deal with the present, but hey! It's a great way of giving us some measure of closure on the past, right? Right.

In that vein, Trespassing wasn't an altogether bad novel dealing more along the contemporary lines of the Gulf War's impact on the Pakistani population's thought process. 'Twasn't bad, as fictional desi analyses go. At least, we've got mainstream English writers, right?

But enough of this. We need more, damn it and subjects that haven't been touched on, or that people have been too afraid to talk about. There's so much to address - our country's got stories sitting in its veins - good Lord, even the shit it pours out's got a story to tell. Brilliant, eh? The multicultural, multi faceted, multi-colored society of ours needs to be addressed in its fullest capacity, and why must we, by definition write only about one specific city may I ask? To embrace the country, is to embrace it in full, to live it and I think that's one of the things that makes Islamabad a great place to live in - you're sort of removed from the inbuilt narcissisms of other cities - you make impressions on a more open-minded scale, less afraid so to speak, to understand. Of course, this could just be for a subset of people - the same subset that exist in limited minorities in any city of this country of ours. So maybe I'm just babbling? Maybe. It's always a possibility. One of the fundamental things about being a desi writer, is the capacity to babble, and to babble with conviction.

In other news, we've got a little "add-to" story running up on the E-zine forum, which, if all turns out well, we'll incorporate as a combined story effort by several of our members. The history of this lies in the original Internet Kahani begun by one of our moderators, while still at Orkut, in fact among its early and formative days. She began it and asked each of us to contribute a little bit to it, the next post starting off from where the last ended and though it began by a man being chased in the dark, it ended with the man having somehow made it into the desert, with a snake for a companion until finally being bitten by a vampire and being condemned to the undead! It was a great effort by each of us bringing to light the diversity of our skills and styles, and a story rich in both description and imagination was conceived within the few short weeks that it ran. In an effort to bring back that sort of imaginative team work, I've restarted it obviously with a different storyline.

If you're interested to read it, unfortunately it isn't public yet, so you can either wait for December, or you can join us and contribute. It's a fun little exercise.

Anyway, Numb seems languishing in its hole somewhere and if I wait for long enough, it'll disappear from my conscience altogether. But that mustn't happen.

Wish me luck - I may need it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Coffee Culture: Whipped Literati?

Today's Magazine (Dawn) had a plethora of articles about the budding cafe 'culture' in our dear Land of the Pure - I counted four, which is actually pretty sad because all of them were similar - "Down Memory Lane", "Eat, drink and be merry", "The lost kulcha gali" (why can't we do something instead of complaining about it, is the bigger question), and "Smell the coffee, please" which I must take offense against - the writer's need to appear witty was nearly as bad as the people she wrote about. The whole pot calling kettle black and all.

It's as if they all collectively decided to tackle this insane topic of discussion, which must have been written to death for the past two-three years when the houses first started mushrooming in the three cities. Point to note: Islamabad's growth hasn't been mentioned in either of the articles - hmph, typical. Usually, when Dawn presents a case, it's a for-against thing consisting of one article for each, not this insane idea of 2 for 2. Some respect for the readers here, please! Sheesh. You'd think all they were worried about was selling copies.

I believe writers are thinkers, and to be a writer you must, in some part at least, be a thinker, be the person willing to defy and challenge the conglomerate rules that bind the rest of society. To awaken, to change. Not sit back and write about idiotic things like the cafe culture. You have a problem with it? Well, you obviously do so let's stick to the rhetoric here, shall we? Do something about it. Don't tell me, show me, damn it! I'm tired of the constant whining and bemoaning of what the coffee "culture" (or lack thereof I should say) has infused into this country. If you're bemoaning the loss of doodh-patti, advocate for its return and I mean, beyond writing about it in Pakistan's third English language newspaper. Arise, arise! Move people to action. Constant criticism and berating never did anything except give the rebels further cause to rebel. Come on, people. A little creativity here.

You want forums for literary endeavors and lack them in coffee houses? Fine, that's perfectly acceptable, but then create those forums. Show you do care.

I know that the whole literary conversion thing is slow, but hey! At least I'm doing something about it - I'm running that website - bringing out a quarterly ezine for the amateur and budding writers of tomorrow, in the hopes of creating more awareness. So what are you bringing to the table aside from those nags and moans for yesteryear? Because if that's all, the door's that little tiny thing in the corner.

Don't let me stop you.

I guess you have to ask yourselves one question: "are we, the flag bearers of the grand Past whipped by the coffee culture?" Because if your answer is no, I beg to differ.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Given, I don't know as much as I would like to about the recent E-Crimes Bill, the ones who are in the know, private officials of course, seem to think the bill is a violation against any citizen's basic right to privacy. What I've read about it, I can't help but concur. The Government's Big Brotherish tactics it seems, are gaining more publicity and recognition although whether or not anything will be done about it, remains to be seen.

After all, wasn't the Chief Justice reinstatement supposed to herald 'change'? They ruled favorably towards the hair transplanted (wigged?) Nawaz but They (the Other They - don't want to be too specific - might land me in jail, apparently) deported him off again. Some power! But then, that might just my personal cynicism towards the sense of law and order in this country. To quote Ars Technica: Law & Disorder.

Although one thing can be said about living in this constant state of political unrest: there are no shortage of subjects to write upon. Then of course, there's the Victorian Era we still live in in terms of marital proposals and societal propriety. "Modernity" might cling wrap, attach itself to the highest echelons of society, but still we can't escape our Victorian roots. Among our last colonial heritages, we should be proud.

True, this entry isn't strictly about writing, but I did mention it somewhere in there, so I think it qualifies. Things go slow on the site - we have our periods of slumps apparently, and there's only so much I can do alone - yes, I have other responsibilities, but I don't believe that they should hinder my role of caretaker of the site. If only others shared in that noble conception.

Can you feel the snark?

One parting remark, though note that it's wholly unrelated to any of the above: writers are supposed to be the loners of society, and I've seen several in my acquaintance circle who seem to embrace it all too naturally. Indeed, I was among them. But one thing needs to be made clear: we might think we can make it, but man's inherent nature isn't to be alone.

Food for thought.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I'm running on less than four hours of sleep, and yes I like announcing that - didn't I mention somewhere upthread that I'm horribly vain? For all the busybodies out there, I'm off the clock work wise, which means I'm free as a bee until Iftari. Genius! I rhymed.

I've been struggling lately with Numb, my latest "short" story although given the stuff I'm planning for this little foray into twisted personalized fiction, it might not be too short and maybe not even much of a story. Why the negativity, you ask, especially with all the grrreat vibes I've been sending out there with the perseverance and the persistence and all that jazz? The story and its associated characters, lines, alleys and byways have been on my mind for weeks. Although I must confess: the starting paragraph, as relentless and difficult as its been, sets exactly the tone I was aiming for. But then, I only did scratch and rewrite it four times. Those attempts are all saved of course...who knows when I might need them after all. They're good to save for a rainy day.

Speaking of rainy days, it poured here in Isloo for all of a little over 60 minutes before giving way for the sun to peer in through the nonexistent gaps of a few hours ago. It hailed too, as if He was trying to prove something. Last time it hailed, we were sitting at Civil Junction enjoying the first rains of the monsoons, and the discussion about the poetry of the season gave way to my own personal description of the scene soon after, in Color Me In while staring out onto the veranda of my lounge. (Note: my lounge, not the desi writer's lounge).

I think, as I expressed in The Writer's Journal forum, that a part of the reason for not being able to move past with Numb, is because a lot of it will come from experience with a certain crowd that I'm just not as willing to share, or more appropriately, I don't want to be affiliated with. And I really don't know whether my personal strengths still hold with the person I used to be, and who I've since struggled to unlearn.

There was a writer's quote I read a few weeks ago, about how writers strip bare in their stories, of how disrobed they appear to the public in their works, and how much of themselves really goes into each attempt. Because if you're committed to telling that story, invariably bits of you find their way in and the absurd fact is: once they're written and put up, that's it. There's no taking them back. You are what you write, really. It's actually that simple.

And I suppose a part of me is terrified with what Numb will uncover. Because aren't stories just always personal inroads, discoveries into your untold treasure chest of secrets? But of course, nobody knows specifics. After all, what fun would that be?

Being a writer is a shitty job, and it's more than a job, because you're often not paid for it, or not paid enough. So it's an obsession, a devotion, an insane asylum. It's many things to many people, but it's an art.

That's the only unarguable fact.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Because a member responded to the podcasting news on the main page of our website, I've come to the realization, sudden and absolute: I haven't really planned the entire operation. I should, because what if someone else steps up? Terrifying.

As it is, I'm still mulling over the different features the website should have when I outsource it to another company instead of doing it myself. There are limits to my knowledge, I must admit and besides, I'd rather have something classy which can be achieved by working with someone else. I dictate, they implement. It'll be a reversal of roles - I've never been a client before. Should be interesting.

Very small post, this just to keep those fingers moving than for any extrinsic value of its own. That's it for now.

I'm too tired and drained to write anything else.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bookworm: Arise

As a follow up to the original "Bookworm" blog post, I need to add that The News has its own literary section, dubbed 'Literati' and apparently runs a Zia Mohiuddin column on its front page (NOS). I must confess, that its been close to five years since I last picked up The News and in that interim have fallen quite in love with Books & Authors instead, so my ignorance needs to be appreciated.

In addition, I have been directed to a few equally informative links, posted at the end of the blog post containing among many, NYT's podcast book reviews, which yet again goes to show the limits to which literary podcasts are being put to. However, let's not talk about that, shall we?

Another interesting blog is a Booker Prize shortlist - Indra Sinha - the author of Animal's People. That brings up the rear to Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist and brings the number of nominated desi authors to two. Both books, it seems, have sold very few copies in England although Hamid's book I know, has done quite well in the US.

Out of the 6 links I was directed to, 4 were Indian which yet again goes to show how far the people on the other side of the border have come in terms of literary achievements. There needs to be a forum in Pakistan by which the creative talents of this country are heard. There is a very apparent gap between the two nations in terms of this. Even our writers write about widely differing things - you'll see a trend in most Indian authors - to write the common man's story, while ours almost always deal with the elitists - a small segment of the population. Are we really going to wake each other up to the horrors and realities of this nation by our own tales? Is this what will bring our people out of their stupor? The new "It crowd" generation of writers seems to have one thing in common: a demeaned sense of reality (and morality too, for that matter). It may seem naive, but I cling to the opposite side with an odd strain of optimism. In the end, my stories are real, they talk about reality and what's in the present and now, and how inevitably, the people we trust, and in particular - family, the importance of which - we must never underestimate. Perhaps my own strong relationship with the people in my life inevitably brings me back to this again and again, but I believe to be whole, we don't need to look very far in our lives. We don't need to write books upon books showing us mirrors to our own lives, albeit in twisted and convoluted ways.

Given, I find a comfortable home in the upper middle class, and there are times when my pride comes in the way of my better judgment, but I am no elitist. I must confess: I don't know how the very elite in our country live, and will go out on a limb to add another thing: I don't want to. I'm quite content with life on this side of the tracks. I do not look over the fence at the other side with longing, I do not look at all. And there are others like me. So how really do books like Kartography (from an author I admire: Kamila Shamsie has shown me much through her work), Moth Smoke, Trespassing and the like help us? What do they say about the country? What tales do those words weave? There are no common issues - issues understandable by all - issues like class, sectarianism, extremism, zina and the Hudood Ordinance and its true interpretation in Islam - the differences between that and how it's depicted socially. There is no mention of religion at all and yet the clash between the modernists and the moderates and the extremists has been a decades long one. So what subset of the population do these stories really represent? Because it isn't the upper middle class, in fact the middle class is entirely absent in these tales. The stories don't seem to be about anything - they don't seem to want to bring the population to its knees - to force them to understand both sides of conflicting issues. They seem only to add more fuel to the fire, to propagate not educate, to generalize not dissect, to be read and not understood. How true do their stories really ring, and are they truly written with a purpose in mind? The reason Pakistani authors are not completely on the map, is because we don't write about serious things - we pick up "safe" topics - nothing beyond the ordinary excites us.

Things must change if we expect to move forward. The next generation of writers - today's generation of writers must exact change, must think outside the box - must not sink in the mud of the writers preceding them.

Now is the time to surface, isn't it?

Links referenced in this post:
Indra Sinha's Blog
The Hindu's Literary section
New York Time's Book Review Podcasts

Saturday, September 15, 2007

It's not personal, right?

This article is an excellent example of what I've been mentioning time and again. Given, it is nearly two years old, but the fact that we're still facing the same problem, doesn't bode well for the next two. Talking it over with my sister, made me realize an important point: what we, the desi writers, are doing and who we're aiming for, are the intellectuals - the writers, poets, artists, playwrights, screenwriters - thinkers, and as such, aren't catering for the mainstream desi population but a very small subset.

However, I do believe, despite what the others say, that we need to up our quality. How else will we make our mark on the world wide web? I don't want to sound like one of those 'it's my way or the highway' kind of people, because that's not who I am. Part of the success of the site has to be attributed to the feedback and comments of others, which although I don't always like or agree with (it's my baby, for crying out loud! Would you like it?), I do try to incorporate if I think it helps the overall attractive quality. Within reason, so to speak.

In other news, The Jane Austen Book Club is due out next weekend. That's one I want to see, but forces me to ask the obvious: what is it with Hollywood and Jane Austen this year? We've got two films featuring the esteemed authoress in some capacity, in two very different flicks. Not having seen Anne Hathaway's representation of a young Austen in Becoming Jane, I can't pass judgment, but from the trailer I did see, her accent slipped and that's saying something. It was a two minute trailer. Now don't get me wrong - I like the actress, and I think she's talented - but appropriately conquering the Colonial accent has long been a challenge for thespians from the other side of the Atlantic. Whereas I think the ones from this side of the ocean seem to do a better job of capturing the nasal tones of the Americans, in general. And when I say "the ones from this side", I'm not including desi talent, which seems to overemphasize the r's, lose the t's and substitute them with d's, case in point: water - wader. I kid you not. As someone having lived the better part of my life in the American educational system, I can say something with complete confidence: you're missing the point.

Chowk, my prime competitor for now (it's been there a decade so obviously they've got a huge edge, and they can also be said to boast my work. What?! What better way to clobber the competition than from within enemy lines?) doesn't figure into my plans for world dominion. Our writers are by far more talented, but they've got the big wigs. Doesn't matter. We've got contacts, and might be willing to pull those strings if needed. But I think I need to remind myself that a lot of this is going to take some time. Especially since we're not really politically oriented, which is Chowk's major advantage. We cater more to the hardcore creative thinkers, so there's the "subset" theory all over again. We're the kind who go to coffee houses and cafes for the intellectual company, and less for drinking the beverage.

To that effect, there is something of a hang out in Isloo's Civil Junction, most especially their politically effusive menu. And sure, maybe somewhere down the line, you might see a Desi Writer's Lounge in the flesh grace the streets, but that's still a while away yet. So why don't we avail the resources on hand, now?

There will be a revamped site however - and there will be more columns - and something more of a magaziney feel to it. I do promise a higher level of quality if I have to handpick the pieces myself, because unlike some, I believe we've earned the right to pick and choose.

Any comments? No one comments on anything. If you keep this up, I'll start to take it personally.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Process of Things

Because I am now in a position to afford to hire a professional team to redesign and develop the site, I'm going to take the opportunity. There are a host of things I've always wanted to incorporate but because of a lack of time, knowledge and updates for the software solutions I've elected, haven't been able to.

Besides, this way the forums will be our own instead of the phpBB framework we run currently, and might possibly move away from Joomla, but that's only a distant forecast. Before I start getting all techno geeky, I should divert attention.

Alert: It seems me and my pieces are making a mark on the popular Chowk network - Pakistan's first independent thinking and encouraging, for that matter, website. I find it odd, for some reason, that the piece attracting a great deal of attention, although among my better ones, doesn't seem worthy. My own personal favorite is Color Me In which hasn't received enough good press as the more mellowed out, reminiscent All My Love. At the risk of ruining all that is so beautiful about the piece: this was written with my mind still transfixed on the beach house in Karachi's Manora district, and is not related to my own experience as a lover at all. I did find it easy to put myself in that position however - I mean, how can you not think about it with the sea breeze and the miles and miles of sea - whatever else I may be, I'm not heartless. Suffice to say, seeing the sea at such close quarters for the first time in my life, had a profound effect on both my life and my work in a way I couldn't possibly have foreseen boarding the plane en route to attend a family wedding. Why is it always weddings, I wonder? Or more appropriately, why is it always Karachi?

I was asked today, how I write, what my exact process is. I find it so difficult to quantify how to go about things. Is there really a set of rules by which all writers must adhere to and abide? Do we measure our work against a yardstick of writers past and present? And does that really do justice to our own abilities as writers and creative thinkers? My personal opinion is to look upon your influences as just that: influences, and write whatever you want in whatever style appeals to you at that point. As you continue writing over the years, you will be able to gauge what specific attributes of a particular style appeal to you, and in general, you'll always stick to some form of that original concept. But this of course, is what it was like for me. What it will be like for you, I have no idea, but I can guarantee the process of discovery is in itself the most thrilling aspect of writing.

Above all else of course, you must really want it. Writing, as mentioned earlier, isn't for the faint of heart. If you want to set out on that deadly path, you have to be prepared for the rollercoaster ride and possible madhouse, each day will be. There's nothing easy about writing - it's brutal, time consuming and each story seems after your own heart - but then it's over, and oh the joy! You love to hate it, but the reality of course, is always (and rightfully so), different.

I'm past my allotted bedtime and I need to be up in less than four hours.


Thursday, September 13, 2007


A strange thing has occurred - anything with *.blogger.com works - but the second you hit something.blogspot.com, all hell breaks loose. Nothing opens. I kid you not, and I'm wondering whether Pakistan's government has imposed the blogging ban all over again? Anyone knowing anything about this, feel free to email me and let me know. This is ridiculous, otherwise.

With great difficulty, I've landed here, into the posting of things.

(ETA: Nothing was wrong: blogspot was misbehaving and apparently, that's usual. Tragic. Google's definitely the new Microsoft).

Ramadhan's started tonight, with our first fast tomorrow although it's started for Muslims based in America, so if you're a Muslim and you're reading this blog, wherever you are in the world, Ramadhan Mubarik ("congratulations on the start of the holy month", although it seems so small when it's translated).

And now, I should come up with something really productive since I really have no idea when I'll be able to login again (if this blogspot love/hate relationship stands to continue indefinitely).

The Addams Family recently wrapped up production, although I'm not sure what the response was. Since very few of my circle actually bothered to turn up, I'm thinking it might not have been all that great. But that's only a prediction, not fact, so don't quote me on this.

A steady stream of traffic has been coming our way, courtesy of this blog, so maybe this is turning out to be a good idea after all. However, one suggestion: you could drop a comment at either the blog or the site, regarding your thoughts and opinions on it. Who knows? We might implement one of your thoughtful suggestions. I think I should put up news about our site on the site too, from time to time. At least let people know what's happening, for those who don't frequent this blog as much.

Among the theatrical production houses, a common stream of thought seems to be propagating like fire: the development of Islamabad's first theater for theatrical productions. It's true: we do need one, it sure would compensate for the limited seating Islamabad Club (bless it) currently offers. The problem with plays here, is that the commercial/advertising partners seem intent on making as much money (read: sell as many tickets as humanely possible) for a given show, so the result is, if you don't queue up early, you might have bought the same priced seat, but have to sit on a stair or worse, stand. My line has always been: stretch the shows out for longer if necessary, and sell only the amount of tickets as there are seats. What's the point, if you're getting no value for money in terms of comfort? It isn't fair at all. You pay, you should get what you pay for. It is that simple, and corporations in other countries recognize this. Sophistication (like corruption), begins at the very top.

Besides, I feel we've had enough adaptations and we should be ready for a little creative maturity and start developing original works of art. How long are we going to stay within the shadow of Hollywood, and not step into our own limelight? But really, how much can we take living off the creativity of others, is the far bigger question. I mean, enough is enough already, no? Real, original productions with real, original messages and real, original humor. "Real, original" being the watchwords in the sentence, apparently.

A desi writer member and friend, feels that creating an original play takes a lot of courage, which is natural. Or is the indirect point she's making that we don't possess any truly courageous talents in the country? Could be, but I disagree. I believe we've got the talent in the right sectors, but no one knows it yet, and why may I ask? Why aren't more people stepping forward? And I don't mean the people who think they can write, but the ones that know they can and do a good job of it? Why aren't the truly talented playwrights really getting out there, and showing something to the world? Sure, another desi writer and friend and now producer, director and playwright, Osman Khalid Butt, with his house The Living Picture Productions, is out there but he's just one person in a multitude of so many. I run a writer's website, I interact with these talented individuals on a daily basis. My question is simple: why aren't more of them out there? Why not show some confidence and pride in your work? Strive to be different; don't feed on existing material. Create your own.

Besides the writing of things, we need serious, strong, committed actors not students right out of school or college or worse, working in other fields. They always end up with musical toned, pretentious, one-dimensional portrayals of otherwise, very interesting characters. Theater should be pursued as a dedicated field in our country.

How else are we going to spread the word?

The only way is up, people. Let's not slow ourselves down, here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


That's the title of a story I'm hankering after. Note the word usage - "hankering" because I haven't got anywhere yet - throws my last post into a tizzy, doesn't it? I've got a nine hour work day, which comprises mostly of sitting before my laptop, doing market research and trends, and then writing about it. So at the end of the day, you'd much prefer not spending any more time with the widescreens of this world. Hypocritical, I know.

The problem isn't with the idea - I've got it all nailed down - I've got the two leads and their lives all planned out...okay, mostly, not completely but still. And now of course, my time table's changing after tomorrow - Friday, I'll be reporting for work at 6.30 am. Yes, you read right. But we're off at 2.30 pm so something needs to be said. No sleep after sehr, then eh? Worse things have happened. I'll live.

But back to this elusive idea - the story appeals to me - it picks up on the emotional underbelly, which for anyone who has ever read my past stories, knows I love. It isn't just the darkness that's drawing (while simultaneously repelling) me closer each day, it's the wealth of emotions I'll be dealing with. And of course, the families and their protagonists are from backgrounds I understand and to a degree, can empathize with.

And after pushing away my trademark conversation dialog: dry, witty, sarcastic - I'm finding myself being drawn back. Though, let's face it: I'm good at it. I like looking at life through unfocused lenses - it's like looking at the world through the bottom of a glass - I like the skewed, distorted images transmitted back. That may be the reason the darkness of things so attracts me, because here's a fact: it's so much more fascinating to write about. How much can you write about happiness and birds chirping? The evil, dark side of our emotions are so much easier. No? Am I the only one seeing the complexities, here?

I suppose, to put it simplistically: the psychological and anthropological aspects of it are what really attract me.

I think we each have the capacity to commit something truly heinous, but the right blend of time, circumstance and the fortification of our relationships is what stops us. I also believe that the root of all evil, lies in society and the lack of understanding it affords to the lesser fortunate, and if we are to truly realize that in every walk of life, we should at least try to understand. The only way I can understand, or at least live through their lives (from my own perspective, of course - the writer's perspective inevitably seeps in - or if it doesn't, that's just another thing I need to learn), is to write about it. Sure, it might not be something I know, but we often need to step out of our comfort zones to straighten the crookedness in our worlds, to get a broader experience and perspective.

Choose to be broadminded.

I've said time and again, that the perspective and changes my work affords me, are unparalleled and have forced me to alter my opinions and mind on things I observed with rigidity, to the surprise of family and friends. And yes, I can be torn sometimes between following what's right and what's expected, but that's only human.

But I believe in justice, in finding the truth no matter how unfavorable or ungainly it might be and my journey often takes me to places (both personal and social) I wouldn't be able to traverse otherwise. So I'll keep doing what I'm doing, in the hopes that I will continue to find answers.

Maybe someday I'll write those socio-religio-politico stories everyone thinks I'm in the midst of, but until then.

Now, all I need to do is move past this first line...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lightning...thunder! LIGHTNING.

Writer's block. You hear about it a lot, but the concept is a relatively new one, created like all new things by the American writers. Blocks weren't considered or even accepted by the English speaking world at large, until the Americans came along and decided to compartmentalize the world's woes. Don't believe me? Do your research. I did. What can I say? I'm curious.

But I jest - it traces its earliest roots to the Romantics - it seems a little "artistic" to justify a lag in creativity by suggesting that the artist is so talented and immensely chock full of ideas, that when something's wrong, it's presumably because something has happened stemming that flow. Does it exist or is it just an excuse? I think it's a bit of both, but I do believe with careful dedication and determination, you can push right through.

"Writer's block? What writer's block?" That kinda thing. I remember reading a quote somewhere about having to chase creativity with a club, instead of waiting for it to happen, which is a sound concept. You can't expect lightening to strike twice, after all. Or you can subscribe to the Romantic notion, and imagine it does.

But what about Edison's golden rule? Genius is 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration.

Although writing is part of the arts, in general, it does merit respect on its own. The wonderful thing about writers is that they're able to see art in everyday life. What separates us from the rest of the world, after all? One of the major things we're always asked is: where do you get your ideas from...I mean, that's just it isn't it? We don't wait for them to come to us, because how does that separate us from the people who write occasionally or the office worker who sits on his report for the next big thing, because the idea hasn't "come" to him yet?

I used to be among the lightning crowd, not realizing that writing, like its counterparts, requires discipline. Sit down each day and go after the idea, honing, refining, allowing it to bide its time, and you'll never suffer a writer's block. Your mind isn't blocked - it's a state of mind - if you want to think it, you'll want to believe it, because isn't it just so much easier to say you're "suffering" from writer's block instead of "I lack the drive to finish what I've started"?

And I find when I open my mind up to new and different ideas, they come with no hint of subsiding. As long as the wheels in your mind are turning, what else do you really need? And let's face it: the mind never stops working. If you're serious enough about your craft, you'll chase the words down, and they won't stop until you tell them to. Because writing is a lot about control - it's part of the reason why writers feel like gods in their worlds - they're in total control. What happens when you let it slide?

You get lazy, that's what.

No idea what's on the horizon next. As it is, I don't feel this was written quite as well as my other posts. Oh well...long day. Lame argument, I know.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bookworm: Items on Display

Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, to the confusion and disillusionment of the desi crowd over at the Lounge and from the reading I've been doing lately, at large. One of our writers and site's moderators, based in Washington was at hand during Hamid's readings at Barnes & Noble, and read the book. The vote was unanimous: it just wasn't up to par. So why has it been shortlisted? Everyone else, it seems, is wondering the very same thing.

Is it the theme of the novel? The overdone Muslim living in America-fallen in love with an American-now looked on with suspicion-in a post 9/11 world-thing again? It might be. The literariness of things which so concerns us, doesn't seem to concern the English community as well. Oh well. I suppose beggars can't be choosers. Or something like that.

Fortunately, we're not discussing Hamid's latest attempt at an international bestseller coming a few years (but not enough, it seems) too late.

My last post ended with the intimation that this one was going to be about book clubs. Well, it is and it isn't. Blogs are so hard to classify sometimes, don't you think?

Book clubs are, to put it quite simply, non-existent in countries like ours where government officials refuse to allow now exonerated politicians to enter their countries, and instead deport them elsewhere, even when the Supreme Court has ruled otherwise. It seems some things just don't change. But I digress. Book clubs aren't evident here, and if they are, they're mostly private gatherings (although I confess: I haven't heard of any local or national or domestic, for that matter). But the whole "this thing isn't here either. Screw the country!" is getting a little old for me. I like to switch things around a lot, which is something the readers of this blog will become accustomed to over time. Although, if you're ree-eeally interested, check out my space (shameless self-promotion, I know. I'm a horrible human being, let's move on).

So granted, there aren't book clubs and let's get down to the dirty stuff: we at DesiWritersLounge.net know what you, as readers and possibly, budding writers want - a place to discuss everything. We provide it. Interested? Good. Frankly, I was hoping I raked your interest much earlier in the blog, but as mentioned before, beggars really can't be picky.

Fortunately, Dawn provides an escape with its rather well-worked, although concededly poorly edited, weekly - Books & Authors. They've got book reviews, interviews with authors, the whole shebang. And if it weren't for this thing, my Sundays would be largely boring and banging-head-on-the-wall days. Fortunately for both of us, it exists. So if you haven't subscribed to Dawn yet, do. I'll admit the newspaper in itself, is paltry compared to the hardcore news The News provides, but it's plethora of extras is well worth it, especially if you've got an internet connection and can skedaddle off to their website.

So that's one problem down.

Dawn's extras are miles better than the ones The News provides. Sorry, The News fans (of which, I used to count myself as one. Things change...or I'm more open to the good stuff), but it's true. You, Us, Instep, The News on Sunday...can you really compare yourself to ScienceTech (or whatever it's called), Young World, Books & Authors, The Review, Magazine, Images etc? I mean seriously, can you? It's not just the amount of pages on display here, it's the content they're stuffed with. I love the SWOT (I'm in love with the acronym) column that appears each Sunday at the very end of the Magazine. And of course, there's the Gallery, a review of artistic ventures in the country. So really, if you need to be aware of anything literary or artistic, consult Books & Authors and the Gallery circulations. They're decent.

Also, all those Lahore-walay out there, there's an excellent bargain book store on MM Boulevard, right next to the Telenor building, called Readings. Of course, if you're an Islamabad resident, you're well aware that what it lacks in literary activities, it makes up for with its variety of old book stores. I found a treasure in a book store in Jinnah - in the Vogue furniture store line - Rilla of Ingleside (the last of the Anne series, which I own). So they are all over the city, although I haven't been able to find any in its most youth oriented district - F-11. But who knows? One might spring up. There are three in the F-10 area and of course enough to write home about in F-6, F-7 and F-8. I lived half my life in the latter two.

Anyway, aside from domestic chatter, I'm off.

Next post (whenever that might be): writing strategies, or to be more specific, how to get the work done, instead of staring at an empty page all day. Having been there and back again, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve. But more on that next time.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Be heard.

A few months ago, a discussion sprung up on the community about the viability of podcasts in the writing world, or to be more specific, in the Desi Writer's Lounge writing world. It has, like most great ideas, petered out until someone revives it (presumably me).

Podcasts. In case you're wondering what they are, they're broadcasts for the internet, subscription based and mp3'd so you can download them to your iPod or mp3 player of choice, hence the term - "podcast". i"Pod" and broad"cast". Nifty, eh? It's one of the best ways to create literary awareness, and contrary to public speculation, there are a wealth of podcasts for Pakistanis by Pakistanis and if there aren't literary based podcasts, well someone has to create a market for them, right? For something to have a market, it has to be created. Basic economic theory. To create demand for a product, supply it and if it's decent, people will flock to it.

I don't think the writing community has really understood the impact of podcasts - I have seen a few sites that offer readings of select pieces as a podcast - but they aren't updated regularly, and subscribing to their feed is entirely pointless. And why should we limit ourselves to readings? If we can start a show about literary offerings in the country - have scouts around the country in major cities - and ask them to monitor and keep an eye out for any happenings, well...? T2F (The 2nd Floor) in Karachi is doing an interesting job of it - they've got readings by some newer local authors, and impromptu readings by aspiring authors - they haven't limited themselves to just that, they've incorporated government policies as well. But that's in Karachi, and anyone who lives in Pakistan, knows that Karachi is a country in itself, separated from the rest of the country in both geography and population. If it were closer to either Lahore or Islamabad, traveling there wouldn't be entirely impossible. No one wants to spend close to Rs 18k for one trip there, as opposed to the 1k it'd take to take a return trip to Lahore via Daewoo.

And that's another advantage podcasts have over their more traditional counterparts - location. You don't need to be in either of the reporting cities, or even in the same country, to get the information - readings, people talking about h-interesting things, the latest happenings in the arty world.

So expect podcasts to hit DesiWritersLounge.net's airwaves over the next few months or so. This is one idea I'm not prepared to let go of just yet.

There is other news: preparing for the fourth issue of our e-zine in April '08, I'd like to have assigned editors in charge of our various column/sections (The Poet, The Writer, The Rambler and The Abstract Thinker). So if you're interested, drop me a line at maryam@desiwriterslounge.net. Be prepared however: you'll need to do this pro bono, like the rest of us. So if you're looking for a way to make some extra cash, this isn't it. Sorry.

We'll also need podcast gurus - people who have interest in creating a show and/or being a correspondent for their city - and those who have experience in creating one. True, I hail from a Computer Science background, but those days are largely over. With my jobs spanning from being a project manager to technological consultant (largely marketing) and now, an entirely marketing job. I've done my fair share of programming, etc but would prefer to move out of that life although I do run a website, but hey! We're hiring...or...well, you know what I mean.

I do however, encourage you to participate in the forums first, to see how well you and your experience would gel into our existing community.

Oh and news: we're starting our official Book Club. True, we had one before but that was more of a "let me tell you what book I'm currently reading" or "I'm confused, people! Tell me what I should read." Beginning this month, we'll all start reading a book together and then meet every two weeks to discuss, which brings me to my next post.

Book clubs and reviews.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Do you know what you're getting yourself into? No, really. Do you?

To start with, I should confess: I don't know much about teaching, but I can list the qualities I would like a good creative writing teacher to have, if we must learn about writing. I'd much prefer a creative writing 'guide'. I for one, don't believe writing can be taught: you either have it or you don't.

At the most, a Creative Writing MFA can give you a structured life and a writing support system in the form of writing professors, a community of writers and your peers. It enforces a writer to do just that: write, no excuses. You can hope that the program you choose, and which ultimately accepts you has a program which is both flexible and whose instructors don't condition you into a predefined mold, encouraging you to diversify and experiment with your work. At least, that's what I would look for.

My reasons to apply for a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing are primarily a chance to focus on my craft solely and completely, to get that perspective and direction, focus and concentration. My intentions and reasons are, as you can see, quite pure. I don't want the glory and I'm not doing it for the publication (which is blurry as it is - no program guarantees you publication upon graduation. If you do get it, consider yourself lucky. It does however, stand to put you on the map). I want the knowledge of realizing that I've done something I set out to do, accomplished a personal ambition - the degree will be an extremely personal endeavor. Above all, I want the experience of working with like minded peers.

However, I do know what focusing exclusively on writing can do to you and I think it's quite normal to lose your mind. I know this, because I've experienced it. On multiple occasions. A friend tried to explain it by comparing it to a relationship: it's entirely one sided and you often don't get much in return. So you need to know what you're doing, going in and know that this will be the most demanding and taxing job you will ever commit to. Don't underestimate that. Above all, know that the pangs of loneliness you will feel now and again, are perpetual and they'll never end. Not when you're surrounded by friends and family, not even when you've met the undying love of your life, because inevitably, you'll be spending much of the time alone. Alone with your writing and your mind. It's one of the things that appeals to me about writing - that one can survive quite well on one's own - of course, you're human: you feel lonely, but eventually those pangs pass and you're writing again and everything just melts away.

So the MFA in Creative Writing program isn't a "how-to" guide for writing - it's for serious writers who want the structure, framework and time on which to focus on their craft - and working towards a goal, which in their everyday lives, they wouldn't get a chance to. Think of it like a retreat...away from home, from people, from the world and where you will be expected to be alone and write.

I know a lot of Sub-Continental (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Afghani etc) writers who have pursued the MFA have used their perspectives once outside of their countries of origin, to write a more informed representation of their countries and the politics within. It does give you perspective after all.

I've been a prospective applicant and I've devoted the last four years to exclusive research on the program and all it entails and what it sets out to accomplish.

One thing though: writing? It isn't for the faint of heart. You have to be committed and have the heart to see it through, wherever your path takes you, whatever depths you have to plummet, and heights you need to scale to reach your destination.

Know that and you're all set. Have a great weekend!

Till my next post.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Necessary Evil

The last several posts have denoted a void for members or aspiring members, of the literary circle and this one introduces a diversion: writing competitions. Are they the necessary evils to propel awareness into our society and create a workable market and solution around the problem?

As a rule, I don't like competitions. I think a piece of writing is largely subjective and open to interpretation by its readers, and as such, can it really be judged and not only judged, but (horror of horrors) compared? But then, we subconsciously do it all the time when we compare one book with the other, one author with another, one genre with another. So my rules should be discarded, shouldn't they?

Writing competitions are, like other literary pursuits in this country, a forgotten breed. That when they do arise, they bring a wealth of submissions denotes a promising thing: there are aspiring writers in this country, or at the very least, earnest amateurs. One noted example is the recent Young Writers' Competition on Women in Pakistan held by the Heinrich Boll Foundation in conjunction with the Goethe Institut, Karachi and Oxford University Press. Out of 600 submissions, the top 20 writers were selected by a panel of literary heavyweights to participate in a workshop held at the Heinrich Boll Foundation, Lahore to prepare their texts for publication by OUP on International Women's Day. This is the first serious venture taken in Pakistan, exclusively for young writers. Now that's promising. One can only hope, this is one step in a continuing series of right steps.

Now of course, there have been other competitions open to Pakistani writers in the past, most notably the Commonwealth Writing Competition, but those are almost entirely for school going young adults, and don't cater for the 18-30 year olds that form a key subset of the current population.

The Young Writers Competition provided a good approach - there were cash prizes for the monetary inclined and the chance to pursue a workshop under the guidance of a published author - for the more serious writers, and of course the chance to see their work in print. My advice would be for more competitions of this kind and to open up a realm of mainstream literary journals to encourage writing and publication. Because if the only option for publication for serious writers is still Jang's Us - Magazine for the Youth in five years - I'll jump off a cliff.

Giving examples of either the US or the UK is laughable, because those two countries are far ahead of us in every mainstream field, and it goes without saying that they're beyond us in this one as well. One of the reasons for that of course, isn't just the lack of competitions, but the lack of understanding that writing and literary pursuits are not derogatory and nor should they be made to be. There are a handful of universities offering liberal arts degrees, and good ones. Most recently, Beaconhouse National University opened its doors to providing a solid, decent experience with an excellent staff of teachers. This information is still unverified, since time and chance hasn't allowed me to take a look at their campus, although I have been to their website (http://www.bnu.edu.pk). Among its notable features is the MA in English Literature which provides workshops by established Pakistani authors, which needless to say, is an excellent thing! It's a marvelous step in the right direction.

Now all we need are more universities who offer their students a rich, diverse literary experience and an environment to really dive into, and we're all set.

Another consideration is the art of teaching creative writing, which brings me to Creative Writing programs, most notably the MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing which is becoming a craze for the younger generation of writers, with particular reference to local authors because of a lack of opportunities here. In my next post, I hope to discuss whether pursuit of this program is the most lucrative option available, whether writing can be taught, and just what the MFA experience offers.

Till then...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Writers, write! Or something like that.

I am a writer. Agreed. But I want something more - I want publication - is that wrong? Given, I want it eventually, on my own terms and when I believe my work and I are ready for the commitment. Of course, writing in itself is a commitment.

But that's not the point. Of course.

To this end, I've tried to do my research. There are options here, but not many - there's your traditional Oxford University Press, who until recently had stopped their liaison with local authors - and then there's Al-Hamra, which also runs it's own literary journal but circulation and printing is just alright. I've bought a few books Al-Hamra's reprinted and they're passable - the grammar freak in me shudders and dies every time. But that's beside the point.

So what else is there? The publication industry in itself is a relatively impossible one to break into in any country, but in Pakistan it seems a conglomerate of red tape. That Pakistani authors are published by non-locally affiliated publishing houses (Fabier, Bloomsbury, Penguin India etc) says they are publishable. So why doesn't anyone pick them up locally? That, my friends, is the world's biggest mystery.

We've got some very talented writers who aren't branded or even publicized under the local banner. We do have playwrights associated with well known theater houses who write about socially tabooed subjects, but that's not the same thing. There's nothing in the mainstream, and it's not for the lack of talent.

It's extremely frustrating.

Why should local artists look outside the borders of their country to their neighbors, or cross the Atlantic in search for better opportunities? Why can't there be a market for writers within our own? So yeah, DesiWritersLounge.net might seem a little ambitious in its goal for creating literary awareness and encouraging literary voices to be heard. It's a slow process, absolutely but it needs to be done.

There's been another update - our main section forums split into your traditional poetry, prose and non-fiction - have now branched into more specific sections. Non-fiction was more like creative rambling - well-written to be sure - but not groundbreaking or anything. So we've renamed one of our e-zine sections to The Rambler and taken the existing section The Abstract Thinker and given it a complete face lift, encouraging writers to write political rhetoric, creative commentaries or any other journalistic venture, where thinking outside the box and writing to set the world on fire (to spark a "hmm...s/he's got a point") are the definition. I'm hopeful. Our members seem to have responded well to the playwriting ordeal.

So there is a market for local writers - sure, it's a small publication and we're picky with who we choose to let in - but we're a committed band of people. And chances are, our policies although in core values remain the same; will shift to incorporate a set of differently evolving, and opinionated set of writers. We want quality. That's all we're promoting.

Take a look, and if you like what you see then hey! Join.

You've got nothing to lose.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Because we might produce the next screenwriter

I'm waiting to hear from the HR department of my sister's company asking me for some employee details, and I find myself here again.

A few days ago, I decided to add two new forums to our existing standard (poetry, prose, abstract non-fiction) - scripts. There was a bit of on site discussion on how well it would do, or whether or not we even needed the addition. The points raised were valid, primarily copyright issues. But here, I should mention that the pieces considered for the e-zine can always be vetoed by the author if he/she doesn't want them put up and made public. The forums are currently members-only.

Because the community is Pakistan based, and copyright laws are practically non-existent here unless you have a plethora of contacts and the money to back you up, we could risk losing the creative material we so boldly put up. But since the e-zine's already out there, there's nothing we can really do. Besides, I've known former classmates rewriting O-level (high school) English assignments from young people's magazines like Jang Group's Us, so there goes the morality thing. However, thanks to a member's research, our work is now licensed under Creative Commons - it can be reused as long as the original author is credited, or the link is pointed back towards DesiWritersLounge.net, it's not put to commercial use and no derivative work from the original source is published. I am however, looking into creating a copyright for the site and all its contents in the US since that's where our server's based.

So once we've cleared the copyrights issue for the scripts, we've got another problem or so it seemed: because the jargon is entirely different from traditional prose, there will be added things to consider, so what if readers can't move past that or don't understand something or find it too distracting? My answer to that is: choice. They can choose to enter that forum, knowing that a screenwriter's job is different from an ordinary writer's and move past that or simply click on something else. Nobody's force feeding them anything, here.

Those issues are now effectively out of the way. The next thing that hounds me is quality. Will this arena suffer as well? Will we be plagued by younger writers? We need an older set of people writing on the community - what we've got now are two very clearly defined age groups. The 15-20ers who all write in a particular way and the 21-35ers who have an entirely different take on things. Members from both sets are active, although I'm sad to say some of the more talented younger members from the Orkut community don't seem to have made the transition with us. This can only be a failing on our part, so ideas and suggestions to improve would be very helpful.

Lastly, because I want the web version to be the first step to creating literary awareness in Pakistan (many of the South Asian countries are far ahead of us in this regard), I am very interested in taking this offline and into the real world as a print publication. However, knowing that that would take a lot of time, planning and smart marketing, I'm willing to let this be the beginning. To create the willingness to be published in our off-line magazine, whenever that comes to fruition, we need to have a serious literary online presence. People need to know that we take our work and what we publish very seriously, and in that respect I feel the polls are a hindrance, something that will inevitably bog us down rather than push us forward. They almost seem painfully amateurish.

To explain the polling system, let me expound: there are two separate forums at this point. One catering for writers who want feedback but held back, who don't want the brutality the desi writers have become almost known for. The other forum holds nothing back - 'your balls for breakfast' to quote the forum description - also known as the e-zine forum, so anything posted in this automatically becomes a potential consideration for the quarter's e-zine. Polls are set up on every e-zine bound piece and select pieces from the regular forum, where members are encouraged to vote on their favorites. Deadlocked pieces - ie an equal number of votes for and against the piece - are set aside and judged by an independent jury of moderators. Since last quarter, I allowed pieces sent in by a few votes in, we now have a required minimum of votes before the piece can be voted in. Less than that, and it doesn't qualify which I think, is only fair.

So yeah, the process was definitely more defined and organized this time around which I want to perfect when we bring out our next issue in December.

What I'm really looking for of course, are serious writers who share our goals and are willing to take the criticism we give and give theirs in return on other pieces. We thrive on community participation. Think of it as a daily writer's workshop, 24/7, 365 days a year and a very thankless job.

That we're now on 153 members has been solely on word of mouth although out of that number, less than 10% post which is the heartbreaking reality. So when I say "serious writers", I'm referring to writers who actually post, who make our hard work mean something.

God! This is an impossible responsibility, but we're still rallying forth, can't give up yet can we?

Policies, Reborn

Ahh...it's nice to see the site's header and color schemes here - it gives this place a touch of familiarity - it seems a little strange that I'm writing here instead of on the forums.

I mentioned the editorial policy yesterday, which I'm going to expound upon now. When we first brought out our e-zine in March 2007, there were some problems - formatting irregularities, how pieces were sent in, whether or not they were revised, and the entire brunt of the work aside from managing the site and the people within, seemed to fall on my shoulders. So going into the second issue, I knew something needed to be done about it.

Now, we have a little panel of people who effectively moderate the site and who've been there from its inception, so naturally the "policy" itself needed to be discussed in conjunction with them. End result being: editors (moderators) would work with the approved writers themselves to produce an edited version of what was up on the forums, which would only make it into the e-zine if it had been given the seal of approval by its assigned editor. All documents would then be sent to the assigned editor who would then forward them to me. Neat, huh? They would of course, need to stick to a preassigned format.

I must confess however, that although the process in itself is organized and an accomplishment, it doesn't take away from the disappointment I felt when I reviewed the edited work. Somehow I thought my editors would come up with something better. Most especially the prose pieces. The poems assigned were truly something - especially those I thought were lost forever - reborn. It was a nice turnaround.

Eventually I would like, although my moderators disagree on this, to turn this into a more professionally run amateur literary journal, which would include editors more suited for the task. People who understand that with each new issue, the bar is being raised higher. Quality was better this time around, but still not up to the bar of some of our pieces. I must confess: at this point, the original members are still miles higher than the newer posters, although improvement is a two-way street.

It can get frustrating sometimes - knowing there's so much potential out there - and yet, still not moving forward.

Somewhere down the line, I'd like to actually open up a physical Writer's Lounge with impromptu and planned readings, book signings, workshops and general literary awareness in the capital. Something of a budding theatrical society seems on its way to being canonized. It just seems like we're waking up, and it's a slow process of reawakening, like a snake shedding it's skin.

Now the problem is: do I have the patience to sit through the transformation?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Desi Writing Forums?

I remember when the community first started - it found its home on an online networking community - more popularly called a "social network" - Google's Orkut. It began a little slowly but then quickly grew to a modest size, although a very small faction of its 600+ members actually posted. I never understood the reason behind joining a community and not letting your voice be heard. It's a problem we're facing on the site now, and it becomes irritatingly acute when the moderators of the site are involved in the intensities of their own lives.

Although we've since moved off of Google's servers and onto our own, establishing a dream we'd planned out for two years before it formalized and took concrete shape, thanks to yours truly. Yes, I am going to toot my own horn here, and frankly, I don't see why I shouldn't. We would still have been on Orkut because the other moderators, bless them, are brilliant writers but horrible implementers.

And that brings me to the site. A little marketing rumble, if you please. We've got a quarterly e-zine with a first of its kind polling system to determine which pieces should make it (remember that strange little thing called: democracy?), and we've got the forum where all of it "goes down".

But, and here's the catch, there don't seem to be a lot of people aware of it. I mean, we've got a burgeoning mass of people keen to join the now, moderated Orkut group, but relatively fewer people flocking to its very prevalent successor. That community, for all purposes, is dead. Its forums are lifeless and people who do post aren't, pardon the chauvinism, writers from any stretch of the imagination. And we like our writers - we have a system of approving requests based on a valid reason for joining - are you a serious writer? Looking for some serious criticism? Because you're going to get it, and if you think you can handle it, that's who we're looking for.

We're trying, in our own way, to encourage literary and creative thought in the desi population - a fast fading thought, it seems - but I rebel! There are people out there, who like us, are looking for an appropriate forum to voice their thoughts. And I'm here to tell you: there is hope.

And there is a lack of desi writing forums out there - I know, I checked - I searched intensely and found a lot of "desi forums" but nothing catering to readers and writers. Sure, there's desilit.org and desiwriters.com which, by the way, was formed by a member of ours, but lacks our official seal of approval. Hey! The man stole our domain name, I think we have a right to be picky here!

So, we're here for any interested. The blog's here, the website's here, the forums are there, the e-zine's up and running with a newly created editorial policy but more on that tomorrow.

Lovely! I've got something to talk about tomorrow.