Witty, Quick, UnStoppable - The Man and His Novel. Presenting Laugh Riot "The Poison Pen" www.thepoisonpen.net

One-on-One with Mr. Laugh Riot, Greg Beesch (www.thepoisonpen.net), author of The Poison Pen, self-described man of "twisted steel and sex appeal", dis-ser of all things 'traditional publishing model', and creator of a most 'impeccable' ;) role model for boys ( and girls ) ages 15 to 115. And a holler to all you kids in the UK! Swap your Enid Blyton's and your Mallory Towers and dig into some Americana Boarding School lore instead! Buy it at Amazon.com, Booksurge.com, and Alibris.com.

Questions for the author? Email: Info@writersstudioworkshops.com

Q: Could you give us something in the way of a bio?
A: Born a Taurus. I’m 42, 5’10”, 175 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal, my eyes are blue and of such a vivid intensity that women swoon. I have curly brown hair which is a little long right now, not of Kramer-esque or manfro levels but getting into the Mike Brady of Brady Bunch fame season 3 level. I live in Arizona, I’m married to a spectacular woman and I have two daughters.

Q: Is your first book?
A: First book, yes. First piece of fiction I’ve written since I had to write an essay for a college admissions application back in high school.

Q: How would you describe it?
A: The single greatest book about teen sedition ever written, absolutely a classic among any genre that includes the descriptor ‘boarding school’, most definitely highly entertaining, of a certainty a total laugh riot, highly probably a vacation or beach reading essential, really just an infinitely enjoyable escapist faerie tale.

Q: Sedition and subversive behavior are main themes in your book, why?
A: They go part and parcel of the teen experience, especially for a boy, especially coming of age in America. Sedition and subversive behavior are key human traits when confronted by tyranny of any kind, that is, not just governmentally sponsored tyranny. The United States has a fine tradition, both before and especially after its creation, of its citizenry writing for the purpose of good old fashion mayhem.

Q: Is your book appropriate for, let’s say, a 15 or 16 year old?
A: I would say yes. It does have some profanity, but let’s face it, nothing that a 13 or 14 year old hasn’t heard at school. There is no sex, though there is a lot of teen romance, and almost no violence although the main character breaks just about every school and social rule there is, but, of course, in a very funny way.

Q: Alright, since it was your first novel, was it a difficult process writing it?
A: No, not at all, like falling off a bike when you’re bombed out of your gourd on home vinted strawberry wine. One of the funniest and easiest endeavors I’ve ever attempted and it made me a much much better typist, which is always a bonus.

Q: Let’s continue on. What qualifications do you have as a writer?
A: Qualifications? I have a B.A. in Political Science and an MBA from Arizona State University and 20 years of work experience writing some of the most sublime memos, proposals, business plans, emails, and miscellaneous missives since the invention of the written word, kid you NOT.

Q: Yes, well, most people who are writers have a degree in literature, maybe and MFA, a list of previous writing.
A: Oh, so by qualifications you mean an arbitrary set of criteria determined by as small group of lower order life forms?

Q: No, I mean-
A: I’ll put my MBA against anyone’s MFA anytime.

Q: Most people would not put an MBA as a criteria for qualification for writing a novel.
A: Of course, because analytical rigor is as foreign to the publishing industry as . . . well, an analogy of appropriate magnitude eludes me at the moment. The publishing industry mystifies the process, you know, ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’, to the detriment of book sales and reading in general in the United States.

Q: What writers have been influential?
A: P.G. Wodehouse, first and foremost. I think that despite the sheer volume of his works he is almost completely unknown in the mainstream US, which is kind of funny since he invented the character of Jeeves, the butler, and that reference is known but not Wodehouse himself.

Q: Others?
A: Old school influences would be Evelyn Waugh, Ambrose Bierce, and Mark Twain. More modern would be Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Philip Caputo off the top of my pointy head.

Q: No Bukowski?
A: Oh sure.

Q: Let’s talk about the nascent prep/boarding school genre, as you refer to it, you have mentioned Tobias Wolff’s Old School and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. When did you read those and were they an inspiration or an influence when writing The Poison Pen of Aberdeen Prep.
A: I read Old School about the time I was finishing up The Poison Pen and really loved it, but Old School is literary, The Poison Pen is fun, the tone in The Poison Pen is definitely more Wodehouse than Wolff.

Q: When you first describe The Poison Pen to me you said, ‘If Wodehouse rewrote Prep and made sedition the theme, that would be The Poison Pen’. So Prep was an influence also?
A: Oh yeah, I read Prep about nine months after reading Old School. I was in the Newark airport and saw it at a book kiosk, I bought it and spent the entire plane ride (four hours) reading it. When I landed back in Phoenix I wanted to sit in the car in the parking garage and finish it.

Q: What about it-
A: I related to the setting, that is, boarding school. I related to the emotional travails of the main character, Lee Fiora, that is, the self consciousness, the doubt, you know, all the teen turmoil, but as much as I loved the character I hated the plot, well, really the last 30 pages. I mean, I was depressed when I finished it, I wanted more for her, I wanted some triumph
Q: You decided to self-publish, why?

A: Going about the process of getting the book publish, that is, researching agents and publishing houses, reviewing submission procedures and forms, writing and submitting query letters, I came to realize that from a business process perspective the publishing industry was broken. To put it quite simply, there was an enormous entrenched bureaucracy in between me, as the author of a book, and the buying consumer. I saw no reason why I should buy into what I recognized as a broken business model (see my website www.thepoisonpen.net). SoI tossed out any idea of going through an agent or publishing house and once freed of that artificial constraint and then examining the numerous technological options I decided I would self publish.
Q: Where is the book available?
A: Through Amazon.com, Booksurge.com, and Alibris.com

Q: And what is your website again?
A: Absolutely, http://www.thepoisonpen.net/, the greatest book website in existence. Questions for the author? Email: Info@writersstudioworkshops.com

"Happiness and Other Disorders" - Honestly!

“The author’s stunning prose and subtle sense of the symbolic allow the tales to transcend their conventions. . .the author of Happiness and Other Disorders possesses an entirely singular form of ominous and lovely second sight; he also has the literary chops to give it voice. Saidullah is a tale-spinner of the first order, and this collection is both a mystery and a treasure.” —Quill & Quire (starred review)

“Saidullah’s stories are clearly the work of a painstaking and meticulous craftsperson. This is a skilled literary engineer.” —Toronto Star “Saidullah’s book is . . . studded with powerful images.” —The Globe and Mail

“Saidullah has thought seriously about what he wants to achieve. . . his decisiveness and descriptions are beyond those of most first — or even second — efforts.” — EYE Weekly

“Ahmad Saidullah is a storyteller with an engaging and original voice and a surfeit of talent.” —Bapsi Sidhwa, author of Cracking India and Water “These remarkable stories are propelled by a quiet but purposeful insight. They twist and turn in delightful ways. Where you would expect anger, there is compassion; where you might anticipate grimness, there is humour. An accomplished first collection.” —Rabindranath Maharaj, author of A Perfect Pledge

“Reading Ahmad Saidullah’s stories is like slipping on a pair of glasses that distort the world in fabulous ways. The dreamlike rubs shoulders with the real, the mythic with the contemporary, the riotous with the mysterious, assassins with Indian women who madly whistle Scottish tunes. Obsession and desperate attempts at escape propel these interconnected lives. This is a startling and memorable debut.” —Catherine Bush, author of Claire’s Head and The Rules of Engagement

“The short stories in Ahmad Saidullah’s Happiness and Other Disorders surprise and enchant long after the book has been set aside for future savouring and pleasure. Not only is his imagination unique, but his singular voice stands out from the myriad forms of expression in modern writing and deserves to be heard. Brimming with unexpected humour and poignancy, and rich in sub-text, Saidullah’s stories never disappear. They haunt you!” —Deepa Mehta, Director of the Academy Award–nominated film Water

“Saidullah's love of language is evident within the first three pages. . . [he] has done a great job of using various devices to keep things interesting. All in all, this book will appeal to anyone interested in South Asian culture.”— Desi Life Magazine

AHMAD SAIDULLAH was born in Ottawa, Ontario, grew up in India, and now lives in Toronto. His writings have been published in Academic Matters, Altar Magazine, Blackbird, EnRoute, L Magazine, Gowanus, The Quarterly Conversation, The Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing Abroad, and on CBC Radio One. Although he began writing fiction in 2004, his short stories have already garnered many honours. CBC Literary Awards jurors Catherine Bush, Anne Collins, and Eden Robinson praised his award-winning short story, “Happiness and Other Disorders,” for its “idiosyncrasy, humour, and empathetic breadth.” The short story, “Flight to Egypt,” was a finalist in Drunken Boat’s Pan Literary Awards, and “The Sadness of Snakes” was longlisted for the Fish International short Story Prize. He was also named a New Voice in Fiction by New York’s L Magazine.

A Requiem for the Lost

As I read through the works of fellow writer Sandhya Nankani on her blog www.literarysafari.com, some of her writings posted as early as 5:00 a.m., I wonder what’s happened to my own writing. I realize, with much clarity, that it has gone the way of hacks. I just write. Write without feeling, without thought to whether I or the reader will learn anything worthwhile from my writing, or whether it will give me or the reader reason to pause and question life, or wonder at its ways.

In the beginning, in the very beginning, all I wrote was a conversation. There was a story to tell, a matter to discuss and I wrote in order that I and the reader could reach new vistas in understanding. It wasn’t about meeting deadlines. It wasn’t about throwing words across a page just to get the job done. It was about writing to find myself and invite another into my world. Reading http://www.literarysafari.com/, I realized how far I’d wandered from being that person.

Do I suddenly know all the answers and hence have no need for ruminations? Or am I just not sitting still long enough to have those thoughts? Most recently, however, there has been a reason to pause and ponder. My grand-mother’s house, the one where all my pre-wedding day festivities were held, the house that became my home each summer for years on end, that home is to be sold this coming week. The house brought us all from across the globe to one place, a place all of us considered 'home'. My grandparents, without question, extended their roof to every short-term and long-term visiting child, sibling, niece, nephew, grand-child, friend. That symbol, that house is soon to become another’s. Another’s only to be demolished.

I remember the tall eucalyptus tree in the courtyard, it’s branches swaying dangerously, threatening to fall on the roof, each monsoon. I remember the rooms in that house – my aunt’s paintings dotting the wall. I remember the curtains long and limp at each wooden door, the high, curved ceiling, white paint, peeling limestone walls. I remember the monkeys that descended to devour our guavas that were ripe for the picking and my grandfather taking aim with his rifle, from behind the iron gated door in the inner courtyard, intending to frighten them off.

In that same house, I also remember my great-grandmother being ill and bed ridden for eight years. The same great grand-mother who hid chocolate in the mouth-piece of her phone to keep it safe!!! The great grand-mother whose love for After-Eight chocolates inspired my own love for them. Even with bent fingers, for old age and frail bones had taken their toll, she wrote letters to each of her grand-children and children who lived in countries flung across the globe. That’s what I remember of Nanna. She was Nanna to our father and that’s what we learned to call her too.

My own paternal grand-parents, though, are a more vivid recollection and that house is taking with it the most vital, non-living symbol tied to two people I loved so very much. In fact, the last time I visited India was to say good-bye to my grand-mother, five years ago. It’s strange that I still call that house my grand-mother’s house rather than my grand-parents house.

As my aunts and uncles and dad divvy up my deceased grand-parents belongings, I’ve asked for some of them for myself as well. There are black and white photos of my grandparents and myself. In one dada is holding a two-year-old me as I point at the love-birds he had as pets. He had a cage as huge as a room for them. I can’t recall how many love-birds lived in there but I remember small earthen pots being their nests. I’m wearing a short dress. My thighs are fat and chubby and I believe have stayed the same in honor of that picture. There’s another picture of dada and me eating ice-cream, another of me with my aunts watching over me…. I don’t remember all of them but I’ve asked my aunts to give those pictures to my parents who’ll keep them for me. My mom is an ace pack-rat and never loses a thing. For safekeeping, hers are the best of hands.

I’ve asked for those pictures and for a piece from a wall that was a lattice. It is cement but has a pattern that lets the sun through. I want one square I said to my aunt Mahnoor, in jagged broken sobs. I had already taken my grand-mother’s hair curlers and her night-gown as a memento in the days following her death. Everyone seemed surprised. My grand-mother, who was always immaculately dressed, wouldn’t I want one of her sari’s instead? Yes, she was immaculately dressed but no one sari seemed to leave the imprint that the black-and-white print nightgown did.

I remember that night-gown all too well. The lights would have been dimmed, mosquito coils smoking and my grand-ma in that nightgown, glasses on her nose, would sit in the spray of lamp-light, figuring out a crossword puzzle. Or she’d be wearing that nightgown to attend to Wimbledon. Or, that nightgown and the curlers, those were a frequent pairing. She was as stylish as she was well-dressed, and put more time into looking great than I’ve ever mustered the patience to do. My cousin Huma asked for my maternal grandpa’s dentures when he had passed. Considering that, my request for the hair-curlers, nightgown and lattice don’t seem so odd, even if Huma was all of ten when she requested the dentures. It’s strange what we remember about our adults.

“You have good in-laws and a good husband. Look after them well,” was the advice both my dada and dadi gave me. I think that was the only time they weren’t patting me on my back and instead seeing that I needed to be set on the right track. When my grand-mother died, and people spoke about her, they all seemed to say one thing. She took such an interest in each of their lives. I saw that she had cared to be involved in their lives just as she had been in ours. Listening well is another way of saying I love you, after all.

My maternal grand-mother, I believe, went to heaven the day she died. I don’t think she had to wait for the Day of Judgment and her record to be read. As Muslims we believe that the graves of those who are pious are filled with light and are roomier. I believe my nani’s grave has a forest for shade, the song of nightingale, light from God’s throne filling its insides and cats for company because she loved them so much. She hated to smoke out bee hives, even when they clung just beyond her room doors, knowing that it could kill them. She had a temper but kept it within the walls of her home. Her life comprised reading novels and reading the Quran. My cousins too recall all the times she cajoled us to eat one more ice-cream when she took us out in the evenings after those hot, hot days. “Why do you all come at all when you have to leave?” she’d ask us as we bid goodbye for Bombay, happy to be done with boring old Hyderabad and its searing summers, each year. Children are lucky to have grandparents for the unconditional, unhurried love they receive. My nani, her brief if any tenure in the grave done, I bet is sitting in heaven.

The impending sale of my Grand-ma’s house has brought with it this storm of memories and it's not my feelings alone that are in tumult. "Even we feel we're becoming homeless," said my grandma's sister-in-law, Manglee Aunty. Nor are all these memories just sentimental longing or nostalgia. They are a reminder to me that relationships are precious and need involvement. Further, I see that time is a-shrinking. I need to spend more of it amongst my nearest and dearest. As I told my husband, the last thirteen years of our marriage have been spent in the shade of his parents love. It’s time now for me to reap the benefits of having my parents in close quarters. I’ve said this before, but this time I want actions to follow where words and unfulfilled desires have long been lingering. Maybe Muscat should become home for us soon.

As for our family home, my grand ma’s home, being lost, nature abhors vacuums, or so they say. A new one will need to be created; a place that connects all of us relatives with memories and feelings of kinship and belonging. Perhaps, its foundation stone will be laid by my grand-mother’s eldest child – my father. Perhaps my parents home will become the next family-home, the next family haven. I think the need to belong and to be part of one big picture will set the wheels in motion. After all, if anything at all, hasn’t life taught us that as one door closes, another one opens?

Shoban Bantwal explores controversial Gender-Based Abortions in her second novel The Forbidden Daughter

Ten years after a law was passed in India, banning doctors from discussing the gender of a fetus with the parents following an ultrasound test, some Indian doctors not only continue to break that law, but even perform abortions if the parents decide to get rid of a female fetus.

Now, Indian-American author, Shobhan Bantwal, takes us into a world where the corrupt and covert practice of gender-selective abortion still thrives, in her second novel, THE FORBIDDEN DAUGHTER, scheduled for release by Kensington Publishing on August 26, 2008. Her first novel, THE DOWRY BRIDE, dealt with the topic of dowry deaths in India.

THE FORBIDDEN DAUGHTER tells the story of Isha, a young mother who refuses to abort her second child, another girl, despite her in-laws’ dictate to have the abortion. When her husband suddenly becomes the victim of a mysterious murder, she is convinced that her rebellious decision has something to do with it. When Isha leaves her in-laws to raise her daughters on her own, she is faced with the most dangerous battle of her life.

To quote Bantwal about what inspired the book, “After being raised with love and care in India, amidst a family of five girls, it was difficult for me to comprehend that female children are disdained in my country of birth, so much so that female fetuses are aborted without regard for the law, moral values, or even the delicate balance of nature. I felt compelled to write an interesting tale about what could happen if an idealistic woman refused to abort a female child. But I also wanted the story to be one of hope and triumph and the resilience of the human spirit.” However, Bantwal maintains that gender-based abortion is not the norm. “The instances are quite rare when juxtaposed against India’s vast population, but the fact remains that gender-based abortions continue to occur.”

Bantwal weaves the universal themes of love, morality, and courage into a story set against a dramatic and rare backdrop. It brings to light the contradictions of a culture that is both modern and quaintly archaic, a society where women can aspire to the highest elected office and yet be plagued by the dark shadow of female fetus abortion and infanticide.

Many of the cultural elements come from the author’s observations and personal experiences from growing up in a small town in India.

Naazish: What motivates you to pick the topics you do?

Being passionate about women’s rights and women’s issues, I tend to veer towards topics that are dear to my heart. If I can weave a compelling story around a particular theme that has both emotional appeal as well as social/political implications, I feel it gives me an opportunity to both fulfill my creative urge and express my opinion on certain subjects.

Additionally, I find many of my American friends, neighbors, and coworkers have no idea about such issues. Some of them have never even heard of the term “dowry,” or come across a culture that is so male-centric that girls are considered a burden and can be aborted as fetuses and denied the chance to live.

Writing about such topics gives me the perfect opportunity to educate and entertain at the same time. Consequently, my first two books, THE DOWRY BRIDE and THE FORBIDDEN DAUGHTER, deal with hot-button social issues and yet have a romantic story of love, hope and the resilience of the human spirit.

Naazish: What kind of response have you gotten from readers. What's some of the best feedback you've gotten?

Feedback to date has been mixed, and it has been very typical—something that I expected long before my book was published. Most American readers of mainstream women’s fiction with romantic elements seem to love the book. Various book clubs across the country, Canada, and especially in my home state of New Jersey have read the book and continue to do so. I address many of them in person or by phone, and the overall feedback I get is very positive and encouraging. One instructor at a community college made THE DOWRY BRIDE required reading for her course on global cultures and I was thrilled to be invited to address the class.

However, South Asian readers, particularly my fellow Indians, feel that the book is too melodramatic and portrays dowry as an evil custom with no redeeming features. Personally, I find no good qualities in the system as it is practiced today. It probably started out with good intentions, as a way to assure inheritance equity between sons and daughters, but it has deteriorated into something destructive and redundant in a society where women have become economically independent to a large degree.

Some Indians also feel that I have denigrated a particular segment/caste of society by introducing a rape scene where a lower-class man attacks an upper-caste woman. In the book, this incident occurs nearly 60 years ago and the consequences are being felt by the families affected by the act to the present day. I have portrayed that segment from the point of view of an 80-year-old woman (the victim) and it is her prejudices and her bitterness at her attacker that I have put into words. Many readers are offended by this because they feel I have been politically incorrect in my portrayal of the dalit community and that I should be more responsible in my writing. Unfortunately, a writer can never please every reader and I accept that fact.

However, the best feedback has come from one or two e-mailers who have offered me balanced comments—what they liked and what they didn’t, and what they feel would have improved the book. I feel theirs are the most honest commentaries I’ve seen on my book, and perhaps the most useful.

Naazish: What would you say to a potential comment that you're washing dirty laundry in public?

I have read one man’s feedback expressing these exact sentiments. My answer is that the world has a right to know the good and the bad about every culture. It is the only way to make others aware of what goes on in certain cultures and how they could possibly help the innocent victims of certain social customs that continue to be practiced despite laws to ban them. Someone has to speak out on behalf of women who either cannot or do not have the means to request aid. No society is perfect and to write about the negatives or “dirty laundry” is one way of starting a meaningful dialogue on how to eradicate or at least diminish the negatives.

Naazish: Have you always wanted to be a writer or was this something you fell into accidentally?

Although I was a voracious reader all my life, I stumbled into writing at the age of 50. When my husband started working on a project that forced him to stay away from home during weekdays, as an empty-nester, I decided to take up creative writing as a hobby. I started by writing social interest articles for a number of Indian-American publications like India Abroad, Little India, India Currents, DesiJournal.com, and Kanara Saraswat. Then I moved on to short fiction. When my short stories won awards and/or honors in nationwide fiction contests, my ambitions gradually expanded to full-length fiction. I wrote my first novel and it got sold to Kensington Publishing in a two-book contract when I turned 54. I call it my menopausal epiphany.

Naazish: Can you describe the pitching process and how to land an agent?

I wrote very simple query letters to my top-tier of agents. During the first round I received a lot of rejections. So I wrote another book, one set in the U.S., which seemed to elicit plenty of interest from good agents. All of a sudden I got requests from seven agents wanting to see a partial manuscript and four that asked to see the whole book. Eventually three offered me representation and I picked the one that I felt was most suited for my needs. It was also the agency that represents Khaled Hosseini of “The Kite Runner” fame, so I felt the agency would be as asset for me. Sadly that particular manuscript never got sold, but when I asked my agent to look at THE DOWRY BRIDE, she did and she liked it. Luckily it got sold within a few weeks.

Naazish: What advice do you have for other writers?

Other than to keep plugging away and writing what they feel is the right genre for them, I have very little advice for aspiring writers. I took a calculated risk when I started writing Desi romances, which are what I call Bollywood-in-a-book. When I started writing them because I happen to enjoy mainstream fiction with romance as a theme, I never dreamt that a publisher would actually like them, let alone buy them, since most agents and publishers expect serious literary novels from South Asian writers. If a writer enjoys reading and writing a particular genre, they should stick with it. One never knows which publisher is looking for something different.

Naazish: How has life changed now that you're a published author?

Writing has taken over my entire life. I now have two full-time careers (one day job that pays the bills and the other my writing career that makes no money but consumes most of my time). I have no time for anything else lately. One of the risks of taking up writing seriously is the amount of time one needs to invest in it. Marketing the book consumes a very large part of a writer’s life. It is a time and money pit, where the more you pour in, the more it demands. Currently I’m working on a marketing plan for my second book, THE FORBIDDEN DAUGHTER, ready for release on August 26, 2008.

Naazish: Do you have other books in the making?

Yes. Kensington just offered me another two-book contract, so I expect my third book to be released in 2009 and a fourth in 2010, if all goes well and I can produce the stories they are looking for. I love the creative part of being a writer, but I don’t look forward to the marketing end. Overall, it has been a mixed experience—an exhausting yet exciting journey.