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To all Android users: The above 4 books are now available on Google Play. The first 20% of each book can be downloaded as a free sample. For the owner of a not-so-new smartphone (3 year-old Samsung) like myself, the text was surprisingly easy to read in both vertical and landscape modes. Downloads were almost instantaneous using a reasonably standard wi-fi connection. To access the books, select the “Entertainment” header on the Google Playstore app, and then open the category “books” to search under author or title. Hint: The entire title story of the Ironwood Poacher collection can be downloaded and read as a free sample.
Forthcoming: All 4 of the above titles coming soon to the iTunes store, plus Desert Dreams, an illustrated travel guide to the fascinating and history-laden state of Rajasthan that will be published only as an e-book on Google Play, iTunes and Kindle. Additionally, a brand new website (aviottjohn.com) designed by a young professional based in Munich, plus a subsequent post on some small steps to save the iconic Indian tiger. Follow this blog for automatic notifications of updates.
Way back in 1982, industrialist Clive Sinclair was at the height of his business career. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was among the first and most successful mainstream home computers in the world, ultimately selling more than 5 million units world wide. Clive Sinclair is credited with launching the UK IT industry and products like the Spectrum and its successors earned him a knighthood. In that same year, he instituted a literary prize, the Sinclair Prize for Fiction, to be awarded to an unpublished manuscript of social or political significance. Two of the five judges (including the Chairman) thought that a novel called ‘Chasing Cursors’ by an unknown Indian author was the clear winner. The other three judges demurred, saying the novel was of no social or political significance. They took the problem to Clive Sinclair, who threw some additional money into the pot and said the novel in question should be given a special award. The Sinclair Prize ultimately was awarded to an author whose book about battling the apartheid regime in South Africa was clearly of great social and political significance. ‘Chasing Cursors’ won special mention for merit and was awarded a small cash prize.
Since this is a short story, a long story is omitted here about two literary agencies (one in the UK and the other based in the US) seeking a publishing home for ‘Chasing Cursors’ in its new avatar of ‘Sudarshan’s Gift.’ According to the agencies, the manuscript was rejected by more than four hundred publishers on four continents over the next ten years. In 1999, a new e-publishing venture called Online Originals picked it up for their list of e-books to be sold online in pdf or PDA formats (Anyone remember the Palm Pilot, the Psion or Apple’s Newton?).
Publisher David Gettman, convinced of the book’s literary merit, nominated it for the Booker Prize in that year, perhaps the first ever submission of an e-only book for the prize. The Prize committee rejected the nomination, on the grounds that the author had changed nationality since the book was written, was no longer a Commonwealth citizen, and hence could not be considered for the prize. Fast forward to 2015 when publishing rights revert to the author and it now appears as a paperback and Kindle edition on Amazon. Here are headlines from the 8 reviews of the books so far.
Powerful, lasting story….. Heartwarming….. a Lesson in Love and Tolerance….. Intriguing….. Such a gift is pure….. A Well-Written Tale….. A journey through India and the human heart.…. Great Storytelling ….
The re-publication of Sudarshan’s Gift and its first appearance in paperback has meant that the appearance of “Grace in the South China Sea,” has been delayed by several weeks. More about Grace in the next blog.
Grace came from nowhere, caught me unawares, like when you’re sitting in a park totally engrossed in your whodunit and suddenly there’s a delicious aroma of baking bread, yeast and dough with overtones of garlic and perhaps the gentle bubble of melting cheese, sizzling oil and fat, and you wonder what else is in the pizza topping, book totally forgotten, and you remember that you haven’t had breakfast yet, only a cup of coffee and you came out of the house to run a couple of errands on a Saturday morning, wandered into a bookstore on the way home and found this book someone had raved about, bought it on impulse and sat down to read and then were lost in the murder mystery. Life’s something like that. Creeps up on us. The best lives are lived mostly unplanned. Correction! The best lives are planned and then lived with so many deviations from the plan so that we ultimately arrive at a destination more perfect than we could ever have imagined. Life is as perfect as you make it to be. No great secret here. It’s what you make of it. I know that. You know that. So how do I imbue Grace with that knowledge without preaching?
Yes, Grace! There’s me on that metaphorical park bench, reading the metaphorical whodunit of life and then, like the waft of baking pizza smells, Grace sneaks into the corners of my mind, invades it with tendrils of soft enticement and then I’m completely lost, I have to type, to search, to pin down this elusive character who beckons with so much mystery. What is Grace made of? How did she come to be? She has certain powers; powers that she herself is not aware of, perhaps. So how does she comes to know her own power? Is she humbled by it? Do they, these powers, make her over-confident and over-reach herself?
So for a frenzied three months, I sat down and typed. I typed in the morning and I typed in the evening, sometimes late at night I woke up with a vision and I was Grace seeing the answer to a puzzle, a mystery. Who poisoned the harmless old lady’s friendly Jack Russell terrier? And why? And why was the old lady so sure the poisoning was deliberate? What a shock to find that on this idyllic, almost paradisical, island! It was an island in the South China Sea near Hong Kong, very hot, very steamy, and the writing was like an outpouring from a fever of the brain. But somewhere in the soul of the scribe sits a heart of ice that dissects and says, no, no; this is implausible, this cannot be true. But life is like that! Life often cannot be true, and yet these things do happen. Take the disappearance of MH370, for instance; the best aviation brains and experts in the world still cannot deduce what happened, or how; until recently, a bit of wreckage was washed ashore that perhaps will provide some conjecture of the truth. But a novel does not have this luxury. And so the fevered search for the soul of Grace continued.
More about Grace in the next post…
Two years ago I wrote a short story called Enigma. It was a rather bleak story of a group of adventurers who volunteer for a space mission to the Red Planet, knowing fully well that they might never return. The story was prompted by a news report that more than 150,000 people had volunteered for a one-way trip to Mars, offered by a group that calls itself Mars One. At the time I wrote it, the story seemed (even to me) hopelessly fatalistic, but I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of space travel, so I included it, with some hesitation, in my last collection of short stories (see The Ironwood Poacher and Other Stories). I tried to put a positive spin on the fatalistic elements of the story by hinting at some kind of a superior intelligence or presence that shows that the indomitable nature of human striving is not futile, that it is a quality to be nurtured; a quality that has rewards beyond death as we know and fear it.
Imagine my surprise when I read an article in Time magazine this morning entitled “Why I’m Volunteering to Die on Mars,” about a young woman named Sonia van Meter. Sonia is one of the Mars One finalists (100 have been chosen from more than 200,000 applicants in the third round of the selection process), and she gives her reasons for wanting to go on a one-way trip to Mars (planned to depart every 2 years, beginning in 2024).
Here are some of the reasons Sonia (who is married and has 2 step-children) gives for volunteering for this mission. Space exploration is worth a human life. Every astronaut that has ever flown has known the risks they were up against once they strapped into that ship. And there’s no guarantee that I won’t be crushed by a collapsing roof tomorrow or diagnosed with a terminal illness next year. Some call this a suicide mission. I have no death wish. But it would be wonderful if my death could be part of something greater than just one individual. If my life ends on Mars, there will have been a magnificent story and a world of accomplishment to precede it.
To know more about why Sonia, and hundreds of thousands like her, who volunteer for such a mission, read the Time article here.
See more books by this author here.
A short story deals with a tiny slice of life on a local scale but can, like a hologram, contain the big picture or illustrate universal themes. A novel does the same, but tries to give the hologram greater depth and detail. In choosing new fiction, a prospective reader looking at an unknown author can decide based on the genre: crime, thriller, romance, sci-fi, and so on. For an author who explores the world and writes stories that do not fall into any of these genres and therefore classes his work as “literary fiction”, the task of finding a readership is close to hopeless, given the number of fine writers and superb new books that appear online and in bookstores every day. It takes a certain stubborn foolishness to attempt to do this. On this count alone, I consider myself eminently qualified to be a writer of literary fiction. The rest is up to unknown readers out there to take a risk and invest some of their precious time reading a new author’s work.
I am keenly aware of this formidable entry barrier and therefore grateful to several unknown reviewers and three friends who have taken the time and trouble to write a total of (currently) fourteen four and five-star reviews of my three books on Amazon’s various sites and on Goodreads.
Napoleon Hill, in concluding his famous self-help classic “Think and Grow Rich” quotes Emerson as he states: if we are related, we have through these pages met. So to those many unknown reviewers I say, we have, through these pages met, and I am honoured to make your acquaintance. This is why I write. It is you who make the work worthwhile.