A Brave New World

Through the Crucible is finished. A preliminary draft of it is, at least. This is the first time I’ve been solicited to write something for a literary journal and to start off with a piece about two women in love in Pakistan is not a typical plot point I thought I’d tackle, but if working at TMS taught me anything, it’s that acceptance and tolerance are all fine in theory. They only matter if you can back up your beliefs. Otherwise, what’s the point?

TMS has not been far from my mind. It’s just something that I’m thinking about rather than looking at it purely from an “I’m so passionate about this” perspective. I am passionate; I care, of course, I care, but I also know that that isn’t enough. That to succeed, having a financial plan in place to both pay our staff and contributors is essential to, if not turning a profit, then at least breaking even and building sustainability. Will this encapsulate print, too? I’m honestly not sure.  I know only that the fire burns in me still, just not in the same feverish way that it did in my twenties. And that’s a good thing. If this is to succeed, levelheadedness will win the day. Grace under fire, in other words.

If there’s something I learned when I decided, at 16, that a graduate degree in creative writing would be my reward after pursuing a first degree in IT, it’s that the road to creative fulfillment is fraught with obstacles, mostly in the form of rejection, which dovetails nicely into self-doubt, because of course. The determination to persist despite that is what’s kept me going. In the meantime, and once TTC is in a shape I am confident with, there are other stories to write.

What I’m thankful for, though, after all this time writing and focusing on just one large piece (and the project that was TMS 1.0), I’m back to my writing short fiction and through it, exploring issues and threads that are important to me.

The road may be long, but I’m not going anywhere.

Through the Crucible

My only barometer that the novel is well and truly over is that I’m writing short pieces again… and that I’m getting ideas and concepts for them again. I’d started wondering if I was just a one-trick pony, having concentrated almost exclusively on writing this thing for the better part of six years. I am happiest with it today, after two premature attempts at sending it to agencies; once in 2014 (which was way, way too soon) and then in 2016. But the latter version was still tarred with the same brush as the version preceding it. The current draft is quite finished.

I’ve always said my essays come out fully formed because they’re so angry; fed up with the status quo, these pieces are yowls of frustration. But I’m looking at translating a lot of the ideas that might once have fueled essays back into writing fiction. Because what sets my soul on fire the most? Social upheaval and the desire to do something about it.

The angle of my work hasn’t really changed in the last decade–when I started writing the “towel girl story”, otherwise known as ‘Blue Line’. The piece takes place in a transit hotel while the protagonist, a woman, contemplates aborting her unborn child on the one hand, or telling her parents she’s been having sex.  Both unsavory options, but over the course of 1,500 odd words, decides it’s her life and she intends to live it. Of course, the woman is Pakistani. If you’re looking for a fuller resolution, don’t read my work. I like character pieces. Something changed along the way for me as a writer when I started putting character progression on a higher bench.

‘Grey Unrest’, as the novel’s titled, doesn’t veer too far from the misogynies and double standards Pakistani women face in living their lives and owning up to their careers. It throws cultural Islam into the mix, too, and the tricky webs we weave of misunderstandings and missteps, acknowledging that so often the power is in our hands to own up to our decisions to really move forward.

The current piece I’m writing–‘Through the Crucible’ (working title)–focuses more on that, specifically about the intolerance two professional women face when running a clinic specializing in IVF. First, that they’re women; second, that it’s IVF, a procedure that’s fairly common, but is still considered somewhat of a taboo; third, how often not being able to conceive is considered a “female issue”. This mayn’t fall strictly into my core themes of “place, identity, and family”, but it’s all about social constructs, with some focus on female relationships thrown in there. I have an ending in mind and know it’ll need to go through a couple drafts to really tease out the story I want to tell. But tell it I must. And I think it’s that connection to writing that I really missed.

The ideas are coming quickly and close together. In the complex realities of contemporary Pakistan, there is so much ground to cover, so much to write about. So many dialogs to foster. And amidst all of it, I hear Victor Hugo in my head, in his preface to ‘Les Miserables’–

“So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality […]; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”

Social asphyxia isn’t going anywhere.

Baby Steps (or Hello, World!)

I confess: this isn’t the first time I’ve built a website or run a blog–ambition always seems to belong to a younger me, though persistence and determination are hallmarks of an older, less idealistic, more cynical me. A me who knows the road to publication is long and arduous, and never the goal. The goal is to tell a good yarn; everything else is secondary.

I’ll chronicle my journey here, though, if you don’t mind. Add my voice to the already deafening cacophony. Maybe I’ll learn something from it, and if I have something to learn, I reckon you (disembodied Reader) do, too.

Onward, then!