Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tips On Writing

Several years back  I was  attracted by this two full page ad in the NYT Book Review section highlighting two pages of a new book's opening. It was The Man From Beijing, an international mystery thriller. I had thought of opening the Mahabharata like a mystery story.   Those two provocative and well chosen pages were a powerful hook, although it turned out they weren't  the book's very opening pages. I got the book and it promised to be a powerhouse, as was the premise of the book, and the flashbacks. But after mid way,  the story began to unravel as the author moved away from the basic premise.

Henning Mankell is one of Sweden's great writers, so it was alarming to see such a potentially good story fall flat on it's face. The author tried to take the story where it really didn't have to go. He lost momentum in the process.  If Mankill couldn’t get a handle on his story, how was I going to do it with the vast Mahabharata. Later, I found the reviewers and readers had a mixed response to his book.  A lot of people still seemed to like the book because it was from Mankill. Unfortunately, I did not have a dedicated following like he did.

For me, however, the lesson was  simple. That is, to stick to the premise of your story. Premise means the purpose, the idea, the essential message or meaning of the story. The basic truth of the story.  The premise should be a compass for the author. It may take a while working with the story to begin to fully define and  understand your premise. It's easy to start a story. You might have one definite idea or a jumble of ideas and scenes. But in the excitement, you can't let that jumble carry you away, which it did with The Man From Beijing which got into superfluous passages and scenes.  Once you find it,  keep your eye on  the premise. Don't lose sight of it.  As a writer, that's what you have to serve.

For more tips see  - On Writing
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Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Lajos Egri, author of The Art of Dramatic Writing, tells us “A novel, play, or any type of writing,  really is a crisis from beginning to end growing to its necessary conclusion.”  So the problems are piling up for the hero or protagonist.  How do they pile up and where are they coming from? That’s up to you, the writer. 

The Vedas explain our problems fall into three categories:  adhiatmik, adhidaivik, and adhibautik. The first are problems which stem from the body or the mind – stories that deal with physical handicaps or emotional or mental difficulties. The second are problems from natural occurrences – hurricanes, tsunamis,  tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes (the 90’s especially offered up a slew of such films). The last category are problems caused by other living beings, most likely, but not limited to, human beings. You need to have a clear understanding of what type of problems threaten the protagonist.

Earlier I mentioned that the writer needs to clearly know what the protagonist wants. And the things standing in  the way of what he /she wants helps build the tension or drama. But identifying the problem first comes at the story from another angle. Maybe your character doesn’t  want anything. Maybe they don’t have a problem. Maybe he/she is just enjoying the day. Maybe he’s a retired cop who just wants to be left alone. Maybe he/she is on a cruise ship enjoying a well earned vacation. Then disaster strikes. Have an idea what problems the protagonist is going to come up against. Maybe you’ll even find more once you delve into the writing of your story.

Usually the problems of the protagonist should get more difficult  and mount up as the story goes on. Have fun. This is a chance for the writer to indulge in sadistic tendencies. Bring on the problems! Have your character crawl in the dirt. The writer can be merciful or unrelenting. Of course, when a writer gets really sadistic, that’s called a horror story.    

I like Egri’s words  “. . . growing to its necessary conclusion.” That means the ending can’t erratically emerge out of nowhere. The writer is bound by the story he/she is telling and the ending is formed in the context of that story.

To see more TIPS ON WRITING go to

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mahabharata - The Story Begins 2 0f 2

My new book Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest reads like you're watching a movie and begins with short scenes in rapid succession to introduce many of the characters, to foreshadow events and to gradually set up the main storyline. This continues throughout the first and second chapters. The first seven or so pages conclude with this second installment. 

Check out the reviews and project at

Chapter 1  

The Vow

“Your sons and their forces are ready,” Sanjaya told the blind king. “As ready as they’ll ever be.”  
King Dhritarastra listened with both expectancy and regret, hovering in a world of his own, molded of past and future. If only he had listened to Vidura, it would not have come to this.  He feared for his sons, the Kauravas.  What would happen to them now? If he could, he would make Duryodhan give back all the land he had taken from the Pandavas. But of all his sons, Duryodhan had always been beyond his control. Surely, Providence would now have its way.
Sanjaya, the king’s aid and confidant, sat in the royal palace at Hastinapura by his side.  Though Sanjaya’s gaze was drawn within, he looked far beyond the city’s streets and walls. With Vyasa’s gift of mystic vision, he beheld the valley of Kurukshetra over a hundred miles away. There, as the two armies prepared for battle, Sanjaya could observe every aspect and scan every detail. He could hear any conversation and even know someone’s thoughts.
“This is quite unusual,” Sanjaya continued, and he paused in disbelief.
Dhritarastra impatiently stamped his jeweled cane for attention.  “What is it?” He insisted on knowing.
 “Yudhisthira has stepped off his chariot. He proceeds across the valley on foot and unarmed toward your sons.”
“Unarmed?  Does he mean to seek a truce or to surrender?”  Dhritarastra inquired. His mind hoped against hope. Could there still be time for reconciliation, for peace?
The morning air was crisp. Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, walked toward the expanse of Kaurava warriors and their allies. The army Yudhisthira beheld far outnumbered his own.  In the distant ranks, amid his sworn enemies, he spied Bhismadev’s splendid chariot, decorated with many weapons. He headed straight for it. Bhismadev was the respected Grandsire of the dynasty, the eldest and wisest. He was also Yudhisthira’s ever well-wisher and like a father to him. Even now Bhismadev observed the solitary figure with pride. Yudhisthira took each step with such ease and grace. Bhismadev knew the last thing Yudhisthira wanted was this fight. 
Bhismadev was surrounded by men impatient for battle, for blood and glory, for the sweet taste of victory.  Duryodhan, Dushasana, Karna, Sakuni, and Ashwattama. They had waited years for this moment.  The horses drawing their chariots whinnied in anticipation. The nobles snickered upon seeing Yudhisthira approach. Maybe this would be easier than they thought. Had Yudhisthira lost his nerve when he saw the sight of their intimidating forces? After all, he had retreated to the forest to spend thirteen years in exile without a word of complaint.
 Bhismadev’s mind drifted away from the moment at hand and settled into the past. How had he let it come to this, a civil war that would rip apart this exalted Kuru dynasty? It was the one thing he sought all his life to avoid. His mind wandered back to his youth, and to his father, King Santanu.

*  *  *  *  *

Santanu followed the maiden from the river to the far end of the village. She was of slender waist and golden skin, but above all, a remarkable fragrance emanated from her being.  Santanu could not take his eyes off her. Actually, he could have closed his eyes and followed her just by her enchanting scent.  He would do anything to have her as his wife. She looked back at the king riding upon his silver-encrusted chariot. She welcomed his unmoving gaze. This was the man and the world she would have. She smiled at Santanu and entered the house of her father, the chief of the fishermen. 

*  *  *  *  *

King Santanu returned from his trip markedly sullen. No matter how much he tried, he could not hide his mood from his son. He was pensive for days afterwards. Time and again, Bhismadev tried to find out what weighed upon his father’s mind. But Santanu only looked down and remained silent to all of his inquiries. Santanu loved his son. Bhismadev was the only surviving child born of Santanu and the goddess Ganga – the Ganges River personified. In his childhood, Bhismadev received his education and training from the Celestials, and especially from the sage Vasistha, in the heavenly regions from where Ganga had come. After his multifaceted education, Ganga brought the boy back to Earth to reside with his father. All the citizens knew this boy as Gangadatta – Son of Ganga – and they considered him the most blessed and fortunate person to walk the earth.
The king was unabashedly proud of Bhismadev and he continued to groom the youth with utmost care to become the future lord of the Kuru dynasty.  In turn, Bhismadev loved his father, and as a faithful son, he would do anything and go to any length to ensure his father’s happiness. 
Bhismadev privately questioned the king’s chariot driver about his recent excursions. When he informed the youth the king had lingered at the village of the fishermen, Bhismadev hastily proceeded there.

*  *  *  *  *

“Yes, your father came here seeking the hand of my daughter, Satyavati, in marriage,” explained the fisherman curtly. He eyed the young man suspiciously. Had he come to make trouble for him and the village?
After a moment of strained silence, Bhismadev inquired further. “And what happened?”
“I told your father, the king, my terms for marriage.” The fisherman paused again to gauge the youth’s response and continued. “He can marry my daughter with the condition that her children must ascend to the throne and inherit the kingdom.”
Bhismadev had not expected something like this, but now he understood the reason for his father’s despondency. He considered the proposal and what it meant to the well-being of his father.
“If that’s all you’re worried about,” he said rather nonchalantly, “I promise you here and now, and I will swear it before anyone you wish to bring forth as witnesses, that I relinquish all rights to the royal throne.”
 “This is indeed a generous offer,” said the fisherman,  “but it is not enough.”
“Not enough!” Bhismadev’s voice trembled with anger.
The fisherman continued cautiously. “Please. Let me explain. You’re a handsome and courageous young man. In due course, you’ll marry a woman worthy of you. In the future, you’ll have children, and when they grow up, your children will become envious of my daughter’s children. Your children will certainly feel they have been cheated out of a throne that is rightfully theirs. Their enmity would rip apart the dynasty and lead to a war that would only threaten to destroy this great kingdom.”
Understanding the human condition even in his youth, Bhismadev conceded, “It’s a point well made. Therefore, for the sake of my father’s happiness, and to preserve peace in the future, I make a vow to never marry and to never have children. I make a vow of lifelong celibacy.”
When Bhismadev spoke these words, a thunderous applause was heard from the heavens and flower petals fell from the sky. The Celestials were amazed one of their own would make such a vow.
When Bhismadev returned home with his father’s bride, Santanu was overwhelmed with happiness. The king was so grateful toward his son, he summoned all the power at his command to give Bhismadev a supreme benediction: he could choose the moment of his death. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mahabharata - The Story Begins - 1 of 2

My new book Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest reads like you're watching a movie and begins with short scenes in rapid succession to introduce many of the characters, to foreshadow events and to gradually set up the main storyline. This continues throughout the first and second chapters. Here are the first seven or so pages below and in second installment. 

Check out the reviews and project at


One/ Endangered

Bhumi, the Earth goddess, soared heavenward, beyond the Moon and the Sun and through the starry Milky Way, up and up, all the way to Brahmaloka, the planet of Lord Brahma, the topmost Celestial. Her steps quickened as she ascended the grand, crystal stairway and entered his ethereal, multi-domed palace with its magnificent, stained-glass windows. As she knelt before the four-headed one, the grief she carried in her heart gave way and tears flowed from her eyes.

“O Brahma, born of a lotus from Vishnu’s navel, you bear all things in this world. Please hear me. The Earth, like a small craft precariously adrift at sea, has become burdened by the military might of wicked men. It seems the Asuras, the demoniac forces, wish to seize control of my world. In the guise of royalty, and driven by insatiable greed, they ravage the Earth. No one can live in peace. The people, the animals, the birds and the land suffer terrible injustices. I implore you. Something must be done!”

Alarmed by her distress, yet sustained by inner calm, Brahma rose and reached out his hand. “Come with me, my child.” Together they at once set out for Svetadvipa, Lord Vishnu’s abode in this material universe. On their journey they were joined by Lord Shiva and the various gods of universal affairs: the thousand-eyed Indra, god of rain and king of Celestials; the wind-god Vayu ; Agni, the fire-god; Surya, the sun-god; the water-god Varuna, and many other Celestials. Arriving at Svetadvipa, they patiently waited on the shores of its milk ocean. Frothy waves lapped the shoreline laden with emeralds, diamonds, rubies and gems. The Celestials appealed to Vishnu, the God of gods. The crimson sky resounded with their prayers. But no response came from the Lord. Their prayers were met only by the sound of the waves crashing on that pristine beach. Their hearts were troubled by His silence. Why did not the all-compassionate Vishnu respond? At that moment, the Celestials experienced the anxiety and sufferings of those on Earth, and they understood Bhumi’s plight and were humbled.

Vishnu channeled His message into the heart of Brahma who in turn revealed it to the gods. “The Lord of lords will descend to the Earth, into the realm of man, to alleviate the anguish created by the Asura kings and to counteract their military might. Many of His close friends and servants will also descend to assist Him, and He wishes you Celestials should assist them.”

Two/ The Stolen Cow

She had to have it.
The kamadhenu cow held extraordinary powers. A cow of plenty, one that could fulfill all wishes. Whoever drank her milk would remain youthful for thousands of years. The cow, however, belonged to Vasistha, a sage who resided among the Celestials.
“Please get her for me,” she begged her husband.
“You should not desire that which belongs to another,” he chided her.
“It’s not for me, my love. It’s for a friend who is in need of the cow’s powers. My dear husband, please.” She touched his cheek. “It will not at all be difficult for you and your brothers. You are all great heroes. And Vasistha’s hermitage is nearby. Please, Dyu. For me.”

Dyu was one of the eight Vasus – the Shining Ones, protectors of Indra’s celestial court. Dyu called the Vasus together and they quickly arrived at the hermitage of Vasistha, deep in the forest. They were cautious, and not wanting a confrontation with the powerful, mystic sage, made sure to take the cow in his absence.

Vasistha returned shortly after they left. He knew something was amiss and quickly searched the nearby meadows where the kamadhenu usually roamed. The cow was gone. To locate her, he entered samadhi, a deep meditation, and engaged the energies of the sun, clouds, trees, and the earth itself. Sitting in stillness, he projected his astral body in search of the cow and her abductors.

The skies darkened and fierce winds began to blow. The Vasus hurried along the path with their prize. They had gone some distance when a towering figure of the sage loomed before them, blocking their way.
“You dare take my kamadhenu! What insolence! I shall curse you all!”
Lightning streaked across the sky as the earth shook. The once brave Vasus fell to their knees. “Please, spare us!” they cried. Thunder boomed above the trees. Branches and leaves fell all around them.

“None of you are fit to reside in the heavens. As punishment for your reckless act, you shall take birth on the Earth for one lifetime.”

“A lifetime on Earth!” The Vasus were aghast. “No, please don’t do this to us. Be merciful. Anything else.”

Vasistha paused to reconsider. “The curse has passed my lips and cannot be revoked. You must be born on Earth. But, if you can find a way to shorten your lives, you may return to the celestial realms quickly. But not Dyu. Dyu, you are the instigator of the group, and for your misdeed you will spend a long life on Earth. So be it."

Three/ Krishna Tells a Story

All was quiet. The night sky blanketed the valley. The stars sparkled, vying for attention.
Krishna pondered, “Can truth ever undermine Dharma? Or can a lie ever be preferable to the truth in upholding Dharma?”
Yudhisthira responded with a question. “But is not a lie under any circumstances still a lie?”
“My friend, morality might not be as easy to understand as you think. I’ll tell you a story:

“In the forest there lived a sage by the name of Kausika who took great pride in always telling the truth. He was known far and wide for this unwavering quality. One morning, when he sat outside his hut, three men went rushing past and bound into the thick woods. Shortly, a murderous gang came in search of the three men. Knowing he would never tell a lie, they asked the sage, “Which way did they go?” Kausika told them exactly where the men went. The gang took off in pursuit. They caught the three men and robbed and killed them.

“Kausika thought by telling the truth he had protected Dharma, but it led to the deaths of three travelers. In truth, he was very foolish and unable to discern the subtleties of Dharma. Dharma may point the way for moral behavior, but that doesn’t mean we should suspend our judgment when danger arises. At times, as in this story, truth may harm Dharma and falsehood may uphold Dharma. The wise men say Dharma protects us and sustains us. But we must also use our intelligence to understand the best course of action and protect Dharma.”