Archive for Perveen Mistry

Milano, Milano!

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

I send greetings from the north of Italy, where Christmas lights are twinkling and it’s time to buy panettone.

It was a grand surprise a few months ago, when my Italian publisher, Neri Pozza, share an invitation to be a literary guest at Festival In Noir, an international festival for crime writers and film makers in Milan and Lake Como. The proposed four-day visit would involve connecting with festivalgoers, as well as giving interviews to the Italian press about La Vedove di Malabar Hill (in English: The Widows of Malabar Hill).

Allora! (As Aziz Ansari taught me to say in Master of None).

I have never been to Italy, but have dreamed of visiting since I was ten years old and first ate spaghetti carbonara. My interest only grew as I grew older and discovered neorealist cinema, cappuccino, Italian fashion designers, other popular representations of the best in Italian taste. I fired back an affirmative email to Neri Pozza, and off I flew—arriving on a sunny, cold Monday morning in early December.

After I’d checked into the marvelous Hotel De la Ville, just a short walk from the famous 14th-century Duomo Cathedral of Milano, I couldn’t believe what a sweet spot I’d landed in. But I was exhausted. I transferred a stunning welcome bouquet of roses from the festival into cool water, and then I slid into a hot bath.

I woke up two hours later, and it was dusk. I left the hotel and strolled nearby streets, taking in a grand city where historical architecture and holiday light displays made a beautiful combination.

That first night in Italy, Giuseppe Russo, the director of Neri Pozza publishing, and Daniela Pagani, communications/publicity head for NP, led me through the beautiful streets to dinner at Ristorante La Brisas, where I tasted Italian haute cuisine: pork with braised greens, a salad with cod and vegetables, a rhubarb and raspberry tart. So sophisticated and yummy.

The next morning, Tuesday, my real Italian job started. I set an alarm to wake up in time for breakfast and a quick blow-out at a salon across the street from the hotel—where I spied another writer doing the same. All morning and afternoon was filled press interviews mastered  with the help of Daniela and simultaneous translator Sarah Cuminetti.

There were straight interviews with note-taking for people who wrote for newspapers and magazines, and some very interesting permutations, like the radio host who asked Sarah a question, which she then translated for me. I spoke my answer in English over the phone, and then Sarah took the phone and recorded her translation. How the producers will put it together I can’t imagine, but he did say he was happy with the sounds of our voices. We also had plenty of breaks which included macchiato and an especially delicious pastry sweeping the international landscape called a krapfen.

If you don’t like reading about food, now’s the time to check out.

More talking the rest of the morning and then lunch with my Neri Pozza editor, Sabine Schultz. She is from Germany but speaks Italian and English fluently. What did I taste this time? Arancini balls of rice stuffed with ragu—and a green salad. Sabine and Sarah taught me how to dress my own salad with salt, some shakes of balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. It turned out pretty well.

Toward the end of the afternoon I had an interview with Mirko Giacchetti of Milano Nera magazine, which focuses on crime and thrillers. Mirko asked what I’d say if I was back in the 1920s and spending time over a meal with Perveen Mistry (my series heroine). l realized that the two of us would chatter about our favorite Indian dishes, and then Perveen would probably confess she hated cooking. And then, I would try to get to the meat of things: how Perveen could make her professional dreams come true.

Tuesday rounded out with an interview with Italian journalist John Vignola at a bookstore, Libreria Feltrinelli Duomo, which is underneath a grand outdoor space, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II. I was delighted that an Instagram friend whom I had invited after she commented on the Italian edition actually came to the event. It was rather crazy to have two people talking at once—John and another person doing simultaneous translation—but I made it. And the Italians who came to get their books signed had the most beautiful names. Paola, Flavia, Gabriella… they deserve their own book.

Tuesday night, the visiting writers and filmmakers feasted on beef slow cooked in Barolo, drank Pinot Noir, and mulled over a choice of gelatos and sorbets for dessert.

After tonight, there are two more days of press interviews, a panel about British mysteries at the university and very likely more delicious fare—both literary and on the plate.

When Writing Series, Third Time’s the Charm

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

Daisy’s checking up on the day’s progress

Did anybody ever tell you that it’s easier to raise three children than two?

I am fine with the two that I have, but I’m beginning to believe the saying could be true.

Especially when I think about books.

If each book a writer births is like a child, I have fourteen. I am like the old woman in the shoe, and all my children are troublesome in different ways.

But this week it’s been a lot easier. Every day that I’ve powered on my laptop to write, I’ve had an idea of the next sentence.  The words have been flowing now better than they have in years. That is because the book I’m writing is Untitled Perveen Mistry, the third book in a series.

Having been in print for more than a couple decades, I’m starting to draw some conclusions. Don’t hire me to teach any writing courses yet, but I’ll tell you that the third book is the magical point when a writer finally gets comfortable writing a series.

Okay, I’ll admit the first book is usually the most exciting part of writing a series. Book One is totally novel. A first book lays out the protagonist’s backstory and introduces me to her family, lover, friends, career, and the world where it all takes place.

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Book One for Perveen Mistry!

Because it’s a first book, there is plenty of time to flesh the characters and build the location. Editors don’t usually accept Book One without it being written in totality, so there’s not so much pressure (this was completely different for The Widows of Malabar Hill, which was written on spec for Soho Press. But the pub date stretched so I could revise it to my heart’s content).

My very first Book One was published in 1997 and had the typical lifestyle for such a creature. I wrote it over the course of four years of suffering and was thrilled beyond my imagination when The Salaryman’s Wife was accepted by HarperCollins. I will take off my hat to everyone who has finished writing a first novel, whether or not it made it to print.

After writing this first book in my Rei Shimura series, I discovered that the second one, Zen Attitude, came surprisingly slowly. Even though I had a due date to motivate me and could reuse characters from the first book, I still felt stalled. I remember trying many drastic

behavior changes to push myself to be someone stronger and capable of writing Book Two.  I changed my diet to avoid meat (it lasted two years). I ran daily around the Hopkins track. I went on research trips, not just to Japan but to a Buddhist monastery in update New York. I was thirty-three, childless and without the curse of a day job. I had no real pressures in life outside of the book… yet  I stared at my desktop day after day and wondered if I really could write more than one book.

The first three books of the Rei Shimura series

Rei Shimura’s Book Three, The Flower Master, was—ha, another story! I don’t remember much about the process, except I began the book in India when I was staying there due to delays with my daughter’s adoption. I did not have so much as a laptop with me, so to work on Book Three I had to go to my grandfather’s office where there was an old desktop with viruses galore where I could ply my trade. I had a lot on my mind—but I still was able to proceed at a reasonable pace with this book. Frankly, it was kind of mental retreat.

I have enjoyed writing the Rei series, but as time passed, I wanted to try something new. I had spent all that time in India–and I wanted to go back. In 2006 I began writing a long historical suspense novel titled The Sleeping Dictionary. That first-book process lasted more than four years, and the book was hard to sell. By the time it came out as a Simon & Schuster paperback in 2013, I felt all the work I’d done made it a natural opener for a new series. I figured that Book Two would occur several years later, when the daughter of the protagonist in Book One could grow up to be a moody teenager caught up in the horrific violence after India’s partition. I knew my characters well and felt the plot was sound, but as I worked on this book, showing my agent revision after revision, I never got farther in than a few chapters.

Writing a second book is always a struggle, and during that time, I was busy with two children and had no energy for tricks like changing my diet or starting a new sport. Also, there was no contract for the unwritten Book 2, which translated into no time pressure to press on with it. I also understood the book’s themes of violence against women and religious intolerance were darker than anything I’d ever written. Would my longtime readers be willing to spend so much time in sadness, when I thought writing this could put me into depression?

The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey

This “book of my heart,” first in a series that might never be.

The second book in the Daughters of Bengal series was simply too daunting for me. I chucked it. Although I did not give up on the idea of revisiting it someday.

I’m working on my third series now. It’s about Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first woman lawyer working in the 1920s. I’ll admit that while The Widows of Malabar Hill (Book One) was very exciting to work on, Book Two was a pain to write. This time I could partially blame my struggles on a health issue. Lyme Disease was diagnosed after nine months and I bucked up with medicine, acupuncture, and Ayurvedic herbs. Heck, I got so excited about Ayurvedic herbs I worked them into Book 2 (because it’s set in the mountains of India, it’s not such a stretch). And this Book Two, The Satapur Moonstone, had a deadline. I turned it in a month late, it still needed serious revision, but I’d done it!

I’ve come to understand that only when I slay the dragon that is called Book Two can I get to the love affair with Book Three. And while it won’t be a romance that makes writing every series book feel like fun, it feels like being on honeymoon this week.

Book Two of the Perveen series slated for May 2019

Deadline!

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

My comments this week will be my briefest yet. I am on deadline with Book 2 in my Perveen Mistry series. A writer is always working on a book, but there are many times in the early days of a novel that it must be handed back and forth between the author and the publisher. And this process turns the work from private to teamwork, and can create stress.

The first time this particular tale met a deadline was back in February, when I handed in an 80,000-word book about 4 weeks later than planned. My editor wrestled with it and returned it to me in March, at which point I began the big improvement campaign. Most writers don’t spend months on a rewrite, like I do. Typically, novelists rewrite in a month or less. But I have learned I’m not the kind of writer who just swaps in a few words.  I delete sentences, create new paragraph after paragraph, and write many more pages. I do plenty of cutting as well. About ten weeks and 20,000 words since the handoff for Book 2, I am elated to be almost through, although I still have a supermarket’s worth of names and titles and typos to address. After I submit it, I expect to have to rewrite more bits (but not as much), and then there is the line by line evaluation of the copy-edit, followed by a couple of rounds with galleys. You could say rewriting and editing is a job in itself, but I should have started Book 3 back in February, when I was researching it in India.

Being close to a deadline—or knowing I’ve just missed it—changes my life. I exercise and cook less, I forgo social events, and worst of all, I SIT for hours. My back is often stiff and there’s a permanent dull pain in my unexercised hamstrings. The dogs are becoming too accustomed to having me home, staring at my laptop either at the dining room table, at my desk on the sleeping porch or my study, or on the living room couch. Daisy, pictured above, thinks nothing of walking across the keyboard to make the point that I should pay attention to something else (her).

Deadline is a concept I first met when I was a newspaper journalist. During those years I wrote articles that were conceptualized, researched and written by me and edited by someone else in the same eight-hour time span. The story would be printed in the next day’s paper. It seemed like plenty of pressure, but in hindsight, a 600-word story is not that hard to pull off. Getting the facts straight was the most important part of the journalism process, whereas fiction writing, it is not just facts but expository language, dialogue, and a sense of heart.

People sometimes ask what happens if a writer doesn’t meet a deadline. Will you lose the chance to have your book published? The answer typically is no. The book will still come out, but it’s likely it will shift to another month to allow time for editing, marketing and printing. If a book is late and the pub month can’t be adjusted,  it will be a major challenge for the book’s publicity arm to get clean galleys out to critics and the publisher’s sales force. That said, back in the 1990s I was with another publisher that suddenly axed a lot of writers with late books, actually demanding they repay their advances. Chief among them were authors who had signed contracts with due dates years earlier that were not met. It seems that turning books in late is a very common thing.

Deadlines are a necessity to keep books coming to the shelves. But serious editors and writers  agree that the quality of the book is the most important factor. A truly exceptional book coming in late is welcomed because it really is that good. However, a bad book arriving on the dot, driven there for fear of being late, hurts everyone involved its publication.

And the reader, too!

The Kitab Tour in India

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

Kitab is the Urdu/Hindi word for book and is pronounced just as it sounds. I find it a lovely word.

So too was my recent book tour in India for A Murder on Malabar Hill, A Perveen Mistry Investigation. You might notice the similarity in title to The Widows of Malabar Hill, my novel which came out this past January from Soho Press in the US. That’s because it is the same book, retitled by my South Asian publisher, Penguin Random India. They wanted to make no bones about the fact it is a mystery.

Signing at Crossword Books in Ahmedabad

India doesn’t have a large number of indigenous mysteries, but it has billions of regular readers. In fact, 43% of Indians report reading books every week for pleasure. The world’s fastest growing economy has had a leap in the number of boys and girls in K-12 education. As a result, the largest selling category of books in India is educational. It makes sense: parents are investing in their kids.

A Murder on Malabar Hill was hitting the shelves at the same time a very big bestseller was launching from the same publisher. In a sense, it was like my recent experience of having Widows released at the same time as the White House tell-all Fire and Fury. I was sitting in a car with a sales rep whose phone would not stop ringing with orders from booksellers wanting one hundred to one thousand copies of Exam Warriors.

The startling thing about this children’s educational book is that its author is India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. Exam Warriors hits publishing’s sweet spot because is a how-to study workbook for children, featuring 25 mantras for studying and reduction in stress. It includes yoga exercises and is illustrated in cartoons. Priced at a bargain 100 rupees (about US $1.60), it is affordable to many and published in English and Hindi.

Blogging Meetup in Gurgaon

Back to A Murder on Malabar Hill. So far, it’s just in English, and it costs a lot more than the Modi book—399 rupees. My novel is being published in English, and one of the amusing aspects to the copy edit was turning American English into British English. Some revised spellings of words for India were practise for practice, and jewellery for jewelry.

With English language being a subset of India’s vast book market of 22 official languages, I was interested to see that brick and mortar bookstores were nevertheless dominated by English language books. The majority are Indian authors writing in English, but Dan Brown is big, too.

I enjoyed a number of bookstore visits in Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. One store in Mumbai was actually called “Kitab Khanna.” With my limited Hindi, I thought the store name meant something like “books food.” However, the way Khanna is spelled in the store name makes the meaning a “Book Box.”

That’s RJ Sarthak Kaushik of Radio Ishq

Visits to places like the independent bookstore Kitab Khanna, as well as multiple locations of the small chain stores Crossword, Om Books, Full Circle Books and Bharison’s, were a very special opportunity. Sales reps for these stores brought me in to sign newly-arrived books and talk about the book’s heroine to the salesclerks, who’d be better able to explain it to customers. This has never happened to me in the United States. I also did radio interviews on 3 different pop FM radio shows, two of which were syndicated.

I did have a couple of book talks and signings, but they were not in bookstores. No—in India, a book signing is closer to theater!

At right, actor Aishwarya Jha-Mather dressed as Perveen Mistry

My biggest event was in Delhi at the intimate OddBird Theatre within an old mill complex in the Chattarpur district. My editor had arranged for a talented local stage actress to read a chapter of my book aloud. The actor, Aishwarya Mathur-Jha, had dressed in an antique lace sari and arranged her hair in a curled updo typical of the time period for Parsi women. She became my character, Perveen Mistry. Her reading was powerful and had the large audience spellbound. For me, it was magical to hear my written words uttered by someone with the right accent and intonations. It’s a concerted effort for me to write dialog in Indian English; so when I heard the Aishwarya’s dialog sounding as natural and passionate as she made it, I was heartened. All I had to do after being transfixed by Perveen Mistry on stage was chat about the book with RJ (radio jockey) Sarthak Kaushik, as radio hosts are called. Lots of jokes and good fun.

The second book event was in Mumbai. This was an interview with a journalist, Jane Borges, who was working on an article about the book that came out a few days later in a newspaper called Midday. Jane’s interview and my reading was held at a small cafe where every table was set with delicious cookies. It was a small event, but the questions were good, and so were the treats.

Another event that was a new thing for me was a meet-up with book bloggers. About ten bloggers—all quite friendly with each other—showed up to the new Bharison’s bookstore in Delhi’s posh Gurgaon suburb. They’d read advance copies and peppered me with good questions. Many selfies and even a short film made by one blogger appeared very quickly after the event.

Speaking of social media, the publisher shared the surprising news that movie star Amitabh Bachchan had tweeted a photograph of his adult daughter reading in his home. If you zoom in on the book in her hands, it turns out to be A Murder on Malabar Hill. Somehow, this woman had a copy of it before it reached the bookstores. Nobody could figure out how.

Perhaps it’s just pure marketing magic. I  met with some future marketing geniuses—India’s business students—at the Indian Institute of Management Udaipur’s Leap Year Literary Festival. The kids had taken their Sunday to sit and listen to six of us—authors, comedians and screenwriters—talk about our work. It was a pleasant surprise that business students would care enough about creative writing to organize a writing festival.

But this is India. After all, the prime minister has written a dozen books!

Announcing The Widows of Malabar Hill

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

January has been a big month for Murder Is Everywhere writers. After cheering for the long anticipated launch of Jeff Siger’s An Aegean April, Anna Maria Alfieri and I had the crazy good luck to share the same pub date, Jan. 9, for our new historical mysteries. On Pub Day, the two of us found ourselves not in a pub but with elbows on the same table at Mysterious Bookshop in New York. It turns out that we have both written mysteries set in the World War I era about dangerous and degrading customs women living in the British Empire. No, it’s not the same book. I have a signed copy of Anna Maria’s fine book, The Blasphemers, that I mailed home.

I’ve got no room to carry books because I’m on a book tour. And what a tour it is: starting off in the golden warmth of Scottsdale Arizona, zipping up and down the Atlantic Seaboard with its rain and snow, steering south to Virginia and North Carolina, and treading on thin ice in snowy Minnesota and Wisconsin.

January is a tricky month to tour in the U.S., but it’s high season in India, the setting of my book.

Here’s my spiel: The Widows of Malabar Hill is the first novel in a new legal mystery series. In 1921 Bombay, a young solicitor named Perveen Mistry works under the supervision of her father, Jamshedji Mistry, at his small but reputable law firm. Perveen is the first woman lawyer in Bombay, and many clients are wary of her abilities. She’s eager to prove herself and get beyond the numbing routine of handling contracts and wills.

Looks like Mumbai but it’s Scottsdale, AZ, near Poisoned Pen Bookstore

First book signed on the tour at Poisoned Pen

An opportunity presents itself when a man sends a letter to Mistry Law asking for assistance in helping three widows donate all their inheritances to a family trust. The widows live in purdah in a communal household that was once headed by their husband, Omar Farid, who has passed away. This leaves the widows unable to go out into the world to talk with bankers or anyone else. When Perveen goes to call on the Farid widows, trouble ensues, and she becomes embroiled in a murder investigation. Should she protect the widows—or is doing so leaving a dangerous criminal unfettered?

Signing in Chicago with Soho author Samira Ahmed, left

Fun sign at Subtext Books in St. Paul

This novel is inspired by India’s first two women lawyers, Cornelia Sorabji and Mithan Tata Lam. In the 1890s through the 1920s, respectively, these pioneers specialized in serving women and children whose voices had gone unheard. Cornelia Sorabji is well known enough to finally have a bronze bust statue in London’s legal power place, Lincoln’s Inn. Its fitting as this is where she was admitted to the London Bar after her years working as a solicitor in British and princely India. Mithan Tata Lam is not as famous as Cornelia, but she was the first woman admitted to an Indian bar association  (the Bombay Bar) and was instrumental in revising the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act in the 1930s.

Winter lake scape in Milwaukee. I signed at Lynden Sculpture Garden

The laws that kept women down are a major force in my novel—a force that Perveen Mistry has to reckon with when seeking to protect the women’s interests. This part of the book is only too real. Indian family law was established by the British government and senior men in the Muslim, Hindu and Parsi communities. Each faith group had a separate legal code that outlined rules such as the allowable age for marriage, what percentage various family members were allowed to inherit from an estate, and whether divorce was allowed.

Winter wonderland in Minneapolis

We were all dressed for a snowstorm at Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis

The other big element in Perveen’s story is the city of Bombay (now renamed Mumbai). It’s a setting I’ve visited several times and truly adore.  The book has scenes all over the city, in places ranging from the title’s Malabar Hill (a lovely hillside neighborhood for the rich) to Fort, the original British settlement in the center of town, which includes Elphinstone College, the Sassoon Library, and Bruce Street, which houses the family law firm and Yazdani’s, a delightful Irani café that actually does exist. There’s even a jaunt to Bandra Beach, a popular spot for lovers now… and back in Perveen’s day.

Today I may be in Connecticut, where the sky is gray and snow is supposed to fall. So what else is new on this tour? I’ll find a way to get to the Wilton Library.

But Bombay’s on my mind.

Phil Schwartzberg, who drew the beautiful maps of Bombay in my book, shows the antique inspiration of an old map he used.

Bookworm’s Paradise in New York

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

The program ad for my next book!

The program ad for my next book!

Last week, I got caught in a perfect storm: hot weather and hotter books.

I was in New York City for BookExpo—once known as BEA, or Book Expo America. Starting this year, the show’s name was shortened to emphasize the global nature of the event. BookExpo is the largest book trade fair in North America and has bounced between convention centers in Washington DC, Chicago, and New York since 1947. Although it’s not as populated a gathering as those in Frankfurt and London, I was impressed by its scale. I hadn’t known it was possible to produce book banners the size of a house, and that no space could escape advertising: not even the stairs.

Precisely positioned Pullman steps

Precisely positioned Pullman steps

Who's got the biggest banner?

Who’s got the biggest banner?

My marquee event was the Library Reads Dinner at the elegant Yale Club. It was humbling to be invited by a librarians’ association to set on a panel with five other writers with serious credentials. I was there with Corner of Bitter and Sweet bestseller Jamie Ford; powerful National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward; humor memoirist John Hodgman; science journo Annalee Newitz; and debut true crime guy Ben Blum.

Librarians paying attention in the gorgeous Yale Club

Librarians paying attention in the gorgeous Yale Club

Do I sound too buzzy? I guess the marketing and PR focus of BookExpo has gone to my head. We were each charged with pitching our books and speaking of the power of libraries at 13 minutes per writer. I’d practiced with a stopwatch.

Jamie Ford, myself and Annalee Newitz after the pitching

Jamie Ford, myself and Annalee Newitz after the pitching

My turn arrived in the middle of the Library Reads dinner, when the petit fours and coffee were being served. I spoke about my misadventures getting library cards at the National Library of India and the British Library and explained that my new mystery series is inspired by the legal cases of India’s first woman lawyer, Cornelia Sorabji. I told the librarians that I wouldn’t have thought of a woman lawyer series if Cornelia’s early 20th century memoirs hadn’t been preserved. I also went into some detail on how her scanned memoir’s pages were riddled with holes made by a hungry bookworm. I thought my comments about the true origins of the word “bookworm” would get some knowing chuckles, but no luck. Maybe it was because they were trying to eat dessert, or because insect-damaged paper is not a joke for anyone working in a library. Fortunately, they laughed at some other parts.

It was inspiring to hear my fellow panelists talk about their own library experiences—and the next day, to see Annalee with Charlie Jane Anders and Malka Older on a women’s science fiction panel. I also scored a signed copy of Jamie Ford’s next book, picked up ARCs from other writers, had bagels with my agent and hung out with the gang at Soho Press, who are bringing out my new Perveen Mistry series.

Charlie Jane Anders, Malka Older and Annalee Newitz are sci-fi wiz women

Charlie Jane Anders, Malka Older and Annalee Newitz are sci-fi wiz women

Soho Friends: PR Paul Oliver and Managing Editor Rachel Kowal

Soho Friends: PR Paul Oliver and Managing Editor Rachel Kowal

A friendly parade of librarians, journalists and booksellers came by Soho’s booth to chat with us and get signed advance reader copies of The Widows of Malabar Hill. Signing these paperback galleys was a surreal experience. I had to remind myself this wasn’t an actual book event, because the hardcover first editions won’t hit bookshelves until January 2018. That’s seven long months away.

The haul I brought home!

The haul I brought home!

That afternoon, I rode the train home to Baltimore. My nose was already in the galley for Timothy Hallinan’s next Bangkok thriller, Fool’s River, and I had twelve more ARCs jammed into several promotional tote bags.

The bookworm felt rewarded.