Book Review: Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

“Age of Vice” by Deepti Kapoor is a sweeping epic of an India reaching toward the future while saddled with the shadows of its past. I’ve read a few chonkers lately that could have been 600 pages instead of 400 but not so with this book. Kapoor’s prose and characters had me hooked from the start.

This is the story of Sunny Wadia, a tragic anti-hero who’s a sort of Indian Gatsby, living under the thumb of his ultra-rich gangster father who runs a seedy chain of liquor stores. It’s also the story of a cast of characters that are all richly drawn, their motives and flaws vividly imagined. It’s his rise as a naive party boy who just wants his father’s love to his fall after he attains the one thing he’s ever wanted, for his father to understand he can be ruthless too.

There are no villains in this story, not really; no winners and losers, just a complicated portrait of pain and tragedy. This was an action-packed thriller but it was more characters and backdrop than defined plot.

Kapoor’s prose was my favorite part of the whole book. Haunting, lyrical, crisp and economical, she had me gutted from each chapter. This is a real tour de force, a gritty, glitzy epic that devastated me. Highly recommend.

What To Stream This Week

Here’s everything I’ve been watching and enjoying on my various streaming services lately.

NETFLIX

Warrior Nun – I only just discovered this fun sapphic show with elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Unfortunately it got canceled after two seasons even after fan outcry so now’s the time to watch it. It’s a thoroughly weird urban fantasy spin on the chosen one trope surrounding a nunnery with a unique, violent mission.

The Protector – A Turkish urban fantasy with another chosen one trope about a man who works at an antique shop in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul with a dark supernatural past.

Wednesday – The spinoff of the classic TV show the Addams Family is a fresh take with nostalgic nods to the original. Purists might find Wednesday’s teenage attitude too rebellious but I thought it updated the original in a way the original would have done.

Emily the Criminal – A dark, gritty film about a woman unable to hold down a job who turns to credit card crime to survive.

Emily in Paris – A very different sort of Emily who’s an American who works as a marketing executive in Paris and is always coming up with clever ways to save the day and has romantic adventures along the way. Finally, a show that uses social media that’s not obnoxious about it because Emily’s a marketing exec so of course she would document her life for millions of likes.

The Recruit – A young lawyer and adrenaline junkie takes a job at the general counsel’s office at the CIA and gets more than he bargained for but talks his way out of it anyway.

The Bastard Son of The Devil Himself – A pair of star-crossed lovers finds themselves at the crossroads of a war between Fairborn witches and blood witches, with some poly bisexual action in between. The universe in this show is quirky and different, urban fantasy at its finest, even if it runs to the gory for my taste.

AMAZON PRIME

The English – I’ve really been enjoying Emily Blunt’s portrayal of an Englishwoman in the American West forced to join up with a Pawnee and former military man to survive.

Three Pines – A quirky detective show about a bizarre murder in a small town in Canada that is at once both very French and very Quebecan. There is even an old lady who carries a duck everywhere.

James May: Our Man In… – A travel show featuring a funny, quirky, relatable British host who takes the time to learn the language and spends a whole season exploring a country. His takes on Japan and Italy were real and perfectly irreverent. I think the travel documentary as a genre has languished since Tony Bourdain’s death but people like James May and Stanley Tucci are putting their own spins on it.

The Devil’s Hour – A creepy psychological thriller starring Peter Capaldi in which a woman wakes up at 3:33 a.m. every night.

AMC+

Interview with the Vampire – I can’t say enough about this show. The original gay vampire dads with a fresh modern take.

Dark Winds – A crime thriller set in the 1970s on a Navajo reservation starring tribal police as the investigators, with a noir vibe and supernatural undertones.

HBO MAX

The Banshees of Inisherin – A wonderfully written drama about a friendship that is falling apart, a suicidal man in a world of Catholic guilt, at a time on an island off the coast of Ireland when rural life came to a reckoning. Dark comedy and so very Irish.

White Lotus – I have mixed feelings about this show. I keep trying to like it because I love dark comedy with a horror or thriller vibe, but I find the characters unlikable and I think the main dark comedy vibe is the cringe element which I am not a fan of. I keep expecting it to get better because it gets so much hype. I like the idea of it.

The Gilded Age – For fans of Downton Abbey and beautiful period costuming, I just loved this show.

Mare of Easttown – A depressed detective with eternally messy hair, who is played by Kate Winslet so of course I have to watch it, solves crimes in a small town.

His Dark Materials – What if we lived in a world in which we all had our own personal demons and they manifested as animals? This series based on the books by Phillip Pullman follows Lyra, another chosen one child making her way through this mysterious supernatural world trying to find her stolen friend.

Book Review: Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel

I loved this book. “Tell Me How to Be” by Neel Patel is the kind of book that you need to read cover to cover to fully appreciate. It doesn’t have chapters, but it switches between the points of view of Akash Amin, an Indian-American struggling songwriter, alcoholic and closeted gay man, and his mother, Renu, a sharp-tongued strong mama with secrets of her own who’s upending her life to move to London after her husband’s death.

This is one of those books that’s very hard to read because of the realism; both Akash and his mother struggle with their shame and guilt, but over very different truths, and obsess over it over the span of a week in 300 pages. They talk to their loves who got away in the second person as they are narrating this difficult time – in Renu’s case, a man in London who came from the wrong religion and the wrong class; for Akash, his first love, a boyhood crush whose friendship ended disastrously.

I do admittedly get tired of reading queer angst and trauma narratives; I was happy to finally find gay characters not written by straight women, but sometimes it seems like the only things that get published traditionally are narratives over the shame of queerness before the eventual redemption arc. But I forgave this one because the shame was deeply connected to cultural influences. However, I want to read more queer joy – characters who just so happen to be queer, who might struggle and deal with homophobia and are messy people, but they get happy endings, too. I wish we had more narratives like that.

However, all in all, this was beautifully written, and the way mother and son come together and pull apart throughout the book is very lyrically done. I loved the author’s writing style, the depictions of race in America and abroad and even how race can be differently perceived even in cultures that are considered “marginalized communities.” For example, the Indian-American community is not a monolith of people who all think alike and come from similar backgrounds, as is so often popularly portrayed.

Highly recommended for fans of beautiful prose and marginalized characters authentically portrayed.

Author Musings #11

I thought I’d return to these ramblings about my writing and publishing efforts but not do them weekly; rather, just an occasional series. So I’ve decided to return to my original plan of self-publishing even though I didn’t query very long, and I’m excited about it.

Feels like I’m one of the few authors who’s not interested in querying, though. Maybe one day, if I have the right book, but the way the market is now, I would need to write sapphic books, since these days it’s all about writing characters that share your identity. Vampires and werewolves are an overdone, oversaturated trope and I think agents often reject them as soon as they see them. I even saw a publisher whose guidelines said paranormal romance but no vampires or werewolves or any combination thereof. What else do you write about, selkies? Mediums? More traditional publishers are picking up queer books, and vampires come and go; but it’s always wait and see every three years what an agent or publisher feels like buying in the heat of the moment.

I write the kind of books that fit into familiar favorites and popular genres, but I write anti-tropes that are difficult to market. I could see myself querying 200 agents and spending a year on sub to find the right person who loves my weird stuff and I’m just not sure it is really worth it; nor do I have the patience to chase that gamble even if I know I’m good enough and my book has wider appeal. Even after you land a book deal you still have to move copies or you’ll be in the midlist forever. Many traditionally published authors with several books under their belt that they’ve successfully queried still need day jobs.

Then small presses, you earn 30-40 percent of the royalties, and they do the work of cover art and editing so you don’t have to invest in that upfront yourself. But many of them rely on their authors for their exposure, you have to do all the marketing yourself, and you can’t track and guide sales plans as easily as if you were doing it yourself. I’d rather query or self-pub than go with a small press, personally. This, even though small presses are friendlier to edgier, riskier topics and subgenres that major publishers won’t touch. Half are vanity presses, poorly run out of the owner’s pocket, and nothing more than social clubs that won’t last for more than a few years, anyway. You can usually tell by their business model, by their website and by their marketing plans. Many, though, are completely legitimate and have an important place in the market.

So self-pub it is. I like the idea of creative control, and the fact that I know I’m good enough and my book has wide appeal means to me that I think it has a good chance to sell more than the average of 150-200 copies if I market it right. I’m finishing up final edits now; my editor finished his major edit, and now we are checking it for continuity issues. This is the dark werewolf m/m romantic suspense novel.

Then I’ll figure out cover art; I may invest in an illustrator or do the cover art myself as I’m a photographer and have graphic design knowledge; I haven’t decided. I bought Atticus for formatting. I’m researching marketing and launch strategies. I’m going through several different drafts of my back cover/sales blurb, which is very important for marketing self-pub books. Then to figure out ARC copies and a release date. I am getting so close to pushing this baby out into the world.

I’m about 62k words into Book 2, as well, which focuses on halfbreeds and a side character, Eamon, and his love story with an FBI agent, Isaiah, who has a child whose mother was killed.

In other projects, I’ve decided to work on multiple WIPs this month to see what lands. I’m still working on my sapphic romantic psychological thriller from NaNoWriMo; I’ve got about 24k words in that one. I started a new m/m steamy contemporary fake dating romance about a guy who comes out as bi whose new gay friend is helping him get comfortable with his sexuality; problem being, he’s socially awkward as hell. I’m about 9k words in that one and constantly daydreaming about it so I think I’ll stick with it.

That’s about it for writing and publishing news. Until next time.

Instagram tips for writers looking for a Twitter alternative

One of the things I always hear from writers who want to dump Twitter when Instagram is suggested, “I’m a word person. I don’t do visual content.”

When really, that’s their first mistake, in thinking of it as “visual content.” When you say “visual content” you think you have to have a fancy DSLR, frame a shot with good composition and lighting, and engage in high-class production values. That sounds like a lot of work. When you’re tweeting, you’re also producing content, but you don’t think of it as marketing content because you’re tweeting about your day, chatting to your writer friends, or posting your word count.

Instagram is much the same. In fact, professional photographers struggle to use it because it wasn’t set up for professional photographers. You have to practically hack it to get it to work on your desktop. Slick, professional shots don’t do well in the algorithm. Instagram was originally envisioned as a place for friends to share pictures of their day. They didn’t need to be professional “visual content.” Think snaps of your garden, your food, books you’re reading; I use it to hold myself accountable with my new gym habit I’m hoping to form.

Most of all think of your audience. What does your audience consume? Is your audience even on Instagram? Maybe you don’t need it, if your audience isn’t there. Instagram is all about the aesthetics. Memes sometimes work. But snippets don’t play as well here. No one wants to go to your profile and scroll through a grid full of blocky word pictures. They want to see you, even if you’re not a model. I see a lot of nerdy types on Instagram, so don’t think you have to be skinny and hot for your selfies to get attention. If you’re a horror writer, take spooky, moody shots of your street at night, for example. It’s all about the vibes. And you don’t need a fancy camera. You just need your phone, and to hold your hand steady so you take a non-blurry shot.

But some of my grainiest, poorest lit photographs, too, will get more likes, because people respond to the heartfelt caption. Captions are huge too. Instagram is about words as well as visual content. And you can still post your word counts here; just go to Canva, pick a template, and make it pretty. Don’t forget alt text for the visually impaired. Just please make it pretty. Instagram is all about the pretty aesthetics. It’s where you go to relax from the politics, controversy and arguments on Facebook and Twitter, by scrolling through meditation prompts, pictures of the Northern Lights or even hot people.

Reels are also huge; they started as Instagram’s competition to Tiktok. If you’re stuck with reels, just repost your Tiktok videos. It’s part of the culture; lots of people do that and you won’t be looked down on for cross-posting, since Tiktok and Instagram users often are not the same. Posting reels and stories will help you get boosted in the algorithm because you’re using all of the service’s features.

Most of all it works like any other algorithm-based social network. The more you like and comment on other people’s posts and stories, the more visibility you will attain. It’s slower to build on Instagram because people aren’t as interactive as Twitter and its word-based alternatives. But there is an audience who uses Instagram and no other platform. They tend to be Millennial age, because we grew up using Instagram before Facebook bought it, after we got sick of Facebook when all our parents and grandparents joined up for baby pictures.

Just take a look at the #bookstagram tag and see what genres are popular. YA, fantasy, women’s fiction and romance do well on Instagram. Hashtags also help raise visibility but if you use too many you just double up on tags – and your caption will look ugly. Pick a few and make sure to share your latest posts to your stories so people know how to find it.

Thus wraps my top Instagram tips for writers; hope this helps make the platform seem less intimidating.

How I Did In NaNoWriMo: Wrap Up Report

As I fully expected, I failed to win National Novel Writing Month; but it’s all good, I still feel satisfied with the progress I made on my new manuscript, SAKURA SEASON, a psychological thriller set in Japan. The biggest reason why I did not make it is that I didn’t write every day and took too many breaks.

I think I need to learn to not overthink things as well; I put too much pressure on myself to make perfect sentences and make sure the plot is flowing. To win NaNoWriMo you have to vomit it out and that’s what makes it fun.

Here’s a chart from Scrivener of how I did for the month.

I ended at 22,457 words, so that’s a pretty good start. When I get past 20,000, I usually know I will stick with a manuscript. I tend to lose interest quickly especially if I feel it’s not going well. I am not very good at vomit writing. I always want to go back and edit and make it perfect. Perfectionism means I take awhile to finish manuscripts, though.

I missed about 14 days I’d say. If I’d kept up my pace I think I could have easily gone past 30,000.

I feel much better about NaNoWriMo than in past years though. I didn’t give into the pressure of comparing myself to others although I fully admit to feeling jealous of those who made it to 50,000. Only human, right? I may try again in June for Camp NaNoWriMo with a new mental attitude and some of the tricks I’ve learned. I’m going to keep working on SAKURA SEASON because I like how this manuscript is taking shape. It will be a shorter book, around 60-75,000 words I think, so I think it’s manageable.

In December I’m going to keep trying to write most days, but I won’t write every day. I think I will take 2-3 day breaks every week. Seems to help refresh my creative engine. Writing every day isn’t the most productive for me unless I’m really in the zone. I am also going to switch between multiple WIPs in December. I think I will take fewer breaks if I jump between ideas and it will help me feel less bored or stuck.

I have:

  • The thriller
  • A contemporary fake-dating holiday romance between two guys
  • Book 2 of the werewolf trilogy
  • Getting Book 1 ready for release
  • Possibly also a horror novella

So I have a busy end of the year ahead of me in writing.

Can’t believe it is already December.

Book Review: House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson

I enjoyed The Year of The Witching on audio book, which I listened to after finding out about Alexis Henderson’s newest release, but I liked House of Hunger even better, although it had its issues.

I liked the main character, Marion Shaw, and found her plight of abusive brother and abusive workplace to seek a better life compelling, if derivative. Scrappy Marion doing whatever it takes to survive intrigued me. The universe Henderson created as a backdrop was also interesting, the democratic South with lots of poverty and income inequality versus the aristocratic North with its royal houses and debauchery. Marion answers an advertisement in the paper for a bloodmaid, which the south views as nothing more than whores but in the North are held with a creepy reverence. Marion, used to servanthood, views the role as a highly paid servant and jumps at the chance to leave Prane behind. I thought she should have questioned a lot of things more at the beginning; for a seasoned street thief she seems entirely too trusting and naive.

It turns out the source of the power of the North is blood in this fresh take on vampirism, where Northerners are human but not quite human with a hunger for blood. Marion is thrust into the world of bored Northerners with their lavish sex parties and becomes besotted with the Countess she is contracted to, the mysterious Lisavet with an odd blood disorder.

I felt the middle of the book really dragged, and Marion went from curiosity to obsession in too much of a lightswitch. It got bogged down in petty noble games and female infighting between the bloodmaids. Had the standard problem of the saggy middle where the author seems to have just lost the train of ideas. But the ending really picked up. I’ve read enough books classified as gothic horror that just weren’t scary, or the horrors in the book were just horrible things and there was no sense of dread or suspense. By the time the pace picks up, the dark twist on the romance between Lisavet and Marion and the whole bloodmaid operation is properly scary.

I also was confused about what properties blood had that made it so special to Northerners. It felt like more of a fetish to me than anything that had truly special powers. The blood didn’t seem to give them any power or have any magical properties. The reason for taking the blood was never properly explained other than some random folk tale legend that didn’t really make much sense.

Other than that I enjoyed this book, despite its predictability and familiar tropes. If you love sapphic gothic you’ll be entertained.

NaNoWriMo Week Three Progress Report

Image from Pixabay

Truth is, I don’t feel like I really did make much progress over the last week, but I don’t want you to think I have given up like past years, so here I am, faithfully checking in.

I skipped four days because I was so exhausted. Haven’t been sleeping well and felt like I’d be forcing creativity if I made myself sit down and write. It’s always a balancing act between forcing yourself and making yourself do something instead of coming up with excuses, I think. But one day passed into the next until it was four days.

However, I have since caught up over the weekend, and now I’ve hit 20,387 words, so I’m happy with that. Slow progress is still progress, and there is hope even if you have not made huge gains like others. I usually give up after 20,000 words, thinking my first draft isn’t worth pursuing, I lose interest in my characters and I think I can’t possibly add enough conflict. 20,000 words is my usual wall. But this time I am determined to stick with this till the end.

That to me will be a win for me, because in past years, I’ve given up by now, seeing how far along everyone else got and how I’ll never catch up. I will be plugging away every day until November 30 and I’ll feel accomplished.

So my next goal is to make it past 25,000 words this week. I have a four-day weekend for the American Thanksgiving holiday coming up, and no big plans other than a small dinner with my partner, so I should have plenty of time to catch up, or keep going. All I care about right now is not quitting. I can do this! And you can do it, too, if you are sticking with it and also behind like me.

Book Review: Sweetland by Dareth Pray

I’ve had such a spotty track record with indie novels this year, hit or miss and generally veering on the miss, that when I run across the gems I have to leave a review. I really enjoyed “Sweetland” by Dareth Pray, a gripping thriller about a CIA operative going deep undercover in a domestic terrorism plot.

I loved the author’s character development. Erin Stark was as promised, a badass spy woman from beginning to end. I liked the very plausible take of a highly organized crew of redneck militiamen and fringe far right groups annexing Tennessee and engaging in sex trafficking, infiltrating local sheriff’s offices and the far reaches of government along the way. It spoke to the times and a threat I think isn’t taken seriously enough. Though in the real life scenario I am not sure the government would have the means to fight back, but that’s the pessimist in me.

I could tell that the author had done her research or had some intelligence training and experience because the descriptions of intelligence work rang with authenticity, although the pacing got somewhat bogged down by granular detail on operational methods. I also enjoyed the use of present tense that put the reader into a more immediate sense of place with the action. In some of the present tense sections, however, there was some distracting tense switching inconsistencies that could have been better edited, but largely the author’s copy was well edited.

Overall, this was a fun, fast-paced ride. I usually expect glamorous international missions from spy thrillers and enjoyed instead the fresh take on a homegrown mission in the heartland. This author is definitely one to watch.

NaNoWriMo Week Two Progress Report

Image from Pixabay

Commencing Week Two of National Novel Writing Month. I am still feeling good about my project but this is usually the time I give up on my WIPs. I see how much further along everybody is in their manuscripts and I give into the pressure. I’ll never catch up so why bother? But since I started off slow with 500-1,000 a day word counts, and I didn’t anticipate I’d actually make the 50,000 words, I am giving myself grace and using those power word counts from the community as motivation instead. I need it to light a fire under my belly to keep going and push through.

I have failed in my goal to write every day, however, but that is okay. I skipped the 14th, when I was exhausted after going out of town to visit friends. I also skipped the 10th. But because I know I’m playing catch-up I am using that as fuel to stay consistent with my daily writing sessions since then. Sometimes you need to make yourself sit down and write even when you’re tired, like making yourself go to the gym when you really don’t feel like it; other times it is better to rest, instead of to force creativity.

However, right now it feels like I’m endlessly playing catch up. But I am really proud of my progress so far.

I am currently at 17,299 words in my psychological thriller, and I have ramped up my daily word count sessions from 500 words a day to 1k-2k words a day. My goal is to exceed 25,000 by the end of this week. I feel like the momentum is lagging in this part of the plot and I need to raise the stakes and increase the external conflict and action, so I am planning on taking some notes to inspire me to push through the rest of the next milestone. I usually don’t outline much, I just daydream my way through; but I don’t want to write a bunch of muddled, boring chapters just for the sake of a word count that I will have to cut later. The word count isn’t as important as whether the words are good, and if the words are good it will motivate me to keep going.

That said, I am not getting bogged down by editing as I go. For me, as I am a perfectionist, that is a sure way to get mired in an endless loop of perfectionism. For instance, I realized a different POV served my story better; I switched to writing it in first person present tense. The first 10,000 words are all in third person limited, but that is too much work to change that as I go. I will never get anywhere in the plot.

The challenge now is since it’s a psychological thriller, I feel it needs to take place in a confined area. In this instance, it’s a haunted ryokan. So I am taking notes and daydreaming, visualizing my story as a movie, to try to increase the conflict even in a tight physical space.

But overall I am feeling good about my project. I am not giving up. I just need to be consistent and write every day because it’s fun and I need to know what happens next. If I am in suspense, the reader will find it unpredictable, too. This is part of what I find joyful about discovery writing, without a detailed plan to guide you. It is a more visceral, nerve-wracking way to write, and it’s what I need to keep myself interested in the story. It doesn’t have to be perfect; the magic happens in the editing. I just need to get the bones down.

Hope your Nano projects are going well. If you’re flagging, maybe it is time to re-evaluate your goals or your plot. Hang in there writers!