Thursday, April 8, 2010

Smita Jain tells us how to craft a perfect chicklit-crime novel

Smita Jain gave us the howlarious Kkrishnaa's Konfessions, where she placed a murder in the penstabbing world of TV serial scripting and TRP rage. Now she's back with Piggies on the Railway: A Kasthuri Kumar Mystery, about a glamorous Private Investigator suddenly confronted with a corpse of a movie star.

Here is a short Q&A
1] In both your books, Kkrishnaa's Konfessions and Piggies on the Railway, you have gone in for what would seem like an implausible mix of chicklit and crime. What do you think is the reason the mix has has worked?
It has worked?!!!! But, seriously, why wouldn’t it work? The heroine is imperfect, glamour struck and insecure. In other words, she’s totally identifiable. Show me a woman who isn’t all that and I’ll show you a straight male fashion designer. In addition, the narrative is pacy, the situations outrageously hilarious, the tone self deprecating, the language simple, the mystery intelligent, what’s not to like?

2] You've worked across mediums, from scripting serials and films to writing books, and blogging. What are the highs and lows of each medium, according to you?
Actually writing books is not that different from writing film screenplays. After all it is about writing stories and rules for writing stories remain the same whatever the medium. It’s all about character and conflict. About plot points and resolving conflict. The highs and lows are the same. The impatience when the going is slow initially, the frustration when you unable to crack a flaw in the plot or character after weeks of consistent trying, the rush of excitement when you get it, and finally, overwhelming relief when it’s done. The only difference lies in the format of the script or the manuscript as the case maybe, and the language employed. And the tense. A screenplay is always in the present tense while an MS, not always.

3] In Piggies on the Railway, you've created Kasthuri Kumar, a detective with a penchant for Fendi peeptoes and fashion ripoffs, riding a bike, and a sex life that rocks. Isnt she a total antithesis to the profession?
Yes! And isn’t it fun? But seriously, only in India is she an antithesis of the conventional detective. That is perhaps because here the genre is in its infancy yet. In developed markets you have all kinds of characters. I’ve read capers of a woman who is a beautician by day and a PI by night. I’ve read stories of PIs who are models, TV reporters, supposedly idle high society ladies, manic depressives, split personalities, alcoholics...

4] What are your rules for crafting a detective novel?
I usually visualize the crime and then work backwards. So I think to myself, let’s have an old guy who’s stabbed. Then I give the situation some personality. For instance, when and where was he found? What were the circumstances of the crime? Next, I give him family, friends and colleagues. Since the killer is almost always from them, they all get broad back stories, aspirations, motives and opportunities and alibis. So, you see, it’s fairly simple once you get a hang of the rules. It’s intricate, but simple. It’s simply a matter of maintaining detailed notes.

5] How do you see the character of Katie evolving, since Kasthuri Kumar is planned as a series of mysteries?
Hmmm, too soon to tell. But she’s definitely not gonna get less glamorous! Or less sexual!

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