Tuesday, April 6, 2010

And here's Sidin....

Columnist, blogger (http://www.whatay.com/) and now, with the publication of Dork:The Incredible Adventures of Robin 'Einstein' Verghese, an author, Sidin Vadukut is undoubtedly the funny man to read when you're in a bit of a funk. Sidin took time out to respond to our questions on his writing, and his book, and yes there will be sequels, so keep your money ready and waiting.

1] When you began blogging, did you imagine that this would lead to a book someday? Or was there always a book at the back of your mind?

Absolutely. When I began blogging, way back in 2002 or so, I was convinced that all this typing and posting was inevitably leading to literary achievements and fame and glory and all that. As was/is everyone else as they fill in that online form to open their Blogger or Wordpress account. At the time, in 2002, I was full of the stupid conviction of youth that I was an amazing writer and all this blogging was a distraction from the book writing and prize winning.

Now when I go back and read what I wrote in 2002... shudder.

But since then priorities changed drastically. Gradually I realized I sucked at fiction, realized perhaps journalism was the way to go, and then plunged into that whole-heartedly. This shift happened sometime in 2005 I think. I did work on a book at the time, and that period saw a slowdown in blogging which I have never really recovered from. And then that manuscript got shelved as I got on with the business of making ends meet, getting married and joining gyms.

I was once again coaxed into the book project by friends and family in 2006. Then a combination of luck, good timing and LinkedIn.com made Dork happen. So no, I was never carrying Dork in my head and waiting for the perfect moment. First I decided I wanted to write a book, Dork was the idea everyone liked best.

2] How easy or difficult is it to make the transition from blogging short posts, to writing a full fledged book, what is the shift in mind required?

The process of writing wasn't difficult. But the substance of the manuscript itself was a challenge.
I was able to cope with the process because of three reasons: Having been a journalist of some kind helps deal with deadlines, editing, correcting and, most importantly, helps you somewhat distinguish good writing from bad. (I've had some amazing editors over the last few years. Touch wood.) Secondly, I'd always written very long blog posts, 2000 words at a time. And I spend a fair amount of time on those posts. So typing into the night on a tight daily word-count wasn't a shock. And finally in Dork I'd chosen a format, the diary entry, which wasn't all that different from a blog format. This was not entirely accidental.

The substance itself was a problem. Thinking and creating a plotline that runs across 65000 words is very difficult. It was only after writing half the book that I developed a system of plot outlines, notes and character descriptions that made things easier. This was the hardest element. Creating a sequence of events that lasts AND sustains interest. Very hard.

3] How do you respond to the criticism that most bloggers turned authors recycle the same stuff from their blogs into their books?

While this is probably true, I don't think there is a problem here per se. This is a little bit like saying William Dalrymple is obsessed with history no? I don't mind blogger-authors sticking to a genre or a topic or a style. The real issue is recycling and originality. But remember that most bloggers get commissioned to write exactly what is on their blog. It is not like publishers will approach a humour blogger and tell them to write the next War And Peace with a gritty Mumbai feel.
And unless the blogger tries something drastically different, frequent readers WILL predict punchlines, plot twists, dialogues et cetera, et cetera. The blog reader can be pretty unforgiving.
Blogger-authors have it tough.

4] Who are your favourite authors and which are your favourite books?
Whatay hard question. Favourite authors: Bill Bryson, Dave Barry, Martin Cruz Smith, William Dalrymple, Sjowall and Wahloo, Anthony Beevor.
Favourite books: Netherland, Stalingrad, D-Day, Red Square, The Laughing Policeman, From the Holy Mountain, Maus, Dave Barry Slept Here, e by Matt Beaumont... so many.

5] Any advice you would give bloggers aspiring to be authors?
Write about sex. Sex and IITs. Or Sex IN an IIM. Five Point Threesome.
Otherwise develop one of two things: style or substance. Develop a style, ala Greatbong, Amit Verma, Krish Ashok, that lets you handle any topic with unique flair. Or specialize in a particular topic in great depth and enthusiasm. Like the Indian National Interest guys, Jai Arjun Singh or Bharadwaj Rangan. I can't think of another way to make it. Newspapers and, I assume, most publishers wants a killer style or an awesome story. You have to have one of those.
Then work at it. Get published. Network heavily so you get bylines everywhere. Indeed we are lucky to be in a country where new magazines still open and newspapers still look for writers. There is a dire need of good writers across all topics. Meet that demand. Caferati and book readings are good places to network.
And please be open to feedback. The earlier you get solid feedback in your career the better.
And once you feel what it means to be edited, to meet deadlines and to really craft nice sentences and tight endings, the book deals will begin to be within reach.
Oh and read lots. Of everything. No output without input.

6] What should readers watch out for, are you working on a next book?
Dork 2 is afoot. Very, very slowly. Due in June. But I am also working on a non-Dork novel outline. Hoping to send out pitches to publishers by June end. I am very excited about this project. A strange and macabre idea. Fingers itch to type. But hush hush for now. Dork 2 first.
And then that magnum opus World War 2 book that someone will have to fund me copiously for. Dream project. Much traveling involved. Unless I kill two birds with one stone and enroll for a PhD in History in 2012.

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