Between my academic deadlines and manuscript commitments, I’ve not had much time to lift my head and look around...and with kids being washed ashore...I kind of felt keeping my head down was a better option.
Right now...I’m in the throes of that familiar restlessness. The kind that makes you wish the earth could spin faster so that time (or at least our illusion of it) lapses faster. It’s a sense of urgency that makes you want to scream at a slow poke world. My second book is out there somewhere; the manuscript is being typeset...the space between alphabets and words and sentences and paragraphs are being meticulously measured...the printer all ready to transfer those bytes permanently on to paper....that final, irreparable act.
The gestation period for Encounters has been at least five years. Five. In fact, Encounters came into its own shape and being only last year, after I managed to put together pieces of writing that I’d done over a period of time. These were stories that had started off as “warm-up” ideas. You know...the kind that occur to you as a fleeting thought, and the thought hooks on to a misshapen fold in your brain, refusing to go away. And so, you have no choice but to write it down. Your own escape pod from the (sometimes) overwhelming tediousness of the daily grind. Yes...that’s when you can sneak into this scribble of a paragraph, leaving the dishes, the laundry, the world ...to see what can come of those blurred outlines.
So, over the period of last five years, as the stories for Encounters emerged, I had a vague idea that I’d publish Encounters as a short story collection. Last year, when my dishwasher and washing machine broke down at the same time, and my flat began to look like a gym locker...I did the only thing I could. Escaped to shape Encounters as the plumbers took their time to swagger in.
It did not take much time for me to realise that Encounters will not find any takers. Not a single aspect about the manuscript conforms to any commercial benchmark of the publishing world. At least Kaivalya, despite its complex plots and sub-plots, had some elements that rendered commercial viability. But Encounters has no such attractions. I suppose if you are a parent you’ll understand this – you might love your cherub more than your life...but hell...the little one ain’t never gonna climb those University steps. Not because s/he is dull – but because s/he is different. And different is not good enough in today’s template-driven world.
How on earth do I pitch something like Encounters? I did not want to use the word “collection”. A collection is a group of entities that have a lot of similar characteristics. The stories in Encounters are very different from each other – in form, word-count, themes, protagonists. They are not evenly measured out short stories...not in the sense of the word-count. From that perspective, some are novelettes. A “collection” also refers to a significant number of entities. I had only five uneven stories. So, I decided that Encounters is a clutch of stories in the truest sense. I’d been clutching on to them for so many years, like a forlorn lover holding on to drying stalks of flowers. But then, my small triumph was extremely short-lived. That very week David Davidar released “Clutch of Indian Masterpieces”. My word...taken away.
As if a great pitch line would solve my problems. Indeed, Encounters presented a more fundamental problem when it came to proving its commercial mettle. A story collection usually has an overarching theme. Encounters has rebelled even against that. No theme jumps out, even though a thread...a mere wisp of a paranormal hue...brushes past the stories.
That brought to the fore the second challenge. What genre do I slot Encounters in? It would be very wrong to wrestle the stories into the confines of a genre. The minute I stick a genre label on a story, expectations are set. If I say, hey, this one is a ghost story, then, there is an expectation of “thrills”. But that’s not what the story set out to do. Even though there are “other-worldly” phenomena, the anchor of the stories is the man-made strangeness of human existence...the fear, the disgust, the hope, the will to survive...all stemming from merely being a human.
So how on earth do I pitch this? Is it literary fiction? The narration is. But the plotline is horror? No...not in the literal sense. Is it romance? No...not in the commercial romance sense. In other words Encounters fiercely refrains from conforming to any template that can bring in profits. As you can see, creating a commercial story for Encounters is a lost cause. A false cause.
But you can’t abandon your child just because s/he won’t become the regular 9-7 employee bringing in the monthly pay checks. You have to cut the cord and set your baby afloat, to find his/her own way in the world. And that’s what I did with Encounters. I went back to CinnamonTeal. Built the ledge for Encounters to take off. Whether it soars or glides at the ground level...I don’t know. Only the readers can be the wind beneath the wings.
I leave you with a nugget of one of the stories...
If you are interested in an excerpt, you can read it HERE!
© Sumana Khan - 2015