Microstories via #VSS365 on Twitter

#VSS365 is a very popular hashtag on Twitter. VSS stands for Very Short Story and Twitterati post micro stories, based on a daily one word prompt. The best part of VSS is the brevity. Weaving a story or a compelling slice-of-life piece or a memorable glimpse in a 280 character limit is a feat.

A bunch of pencils next to a stack of books.
Pic courtesy Pixabay

There are times when you do not know what to write. Or there are times when you have plenty to say but the words just don’t flow. Prompts help to be the starting point for your writing. Usually I feel constricted by the prompts, whether they describe a situation or are presented as a phrase or a sentence. The picture prompts are better for me but the one word prompts along with the required brevity have worked best for me.

I posted many micro stories based on these prompts on Twitter. The hashtag is the prompt for that day. Here are a few of my favourite ones:

What do you think of when someone says Grass?

The word ‘Close’ evokes warmth, nostalgia or even claustrophobia?

Chefs are the glamorous versions of cooks. Or are they?

Cakes bring celebration. But are things what they seem?

Have you tried writing microstories based on a prompt? What kind of prompts work best for you?

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Through the Mist: Excerpts from the Stories

Through the Mist, the book that showcases collaborative writing is a collection of five short stories.

Here are the excerpts from the book, one from each story.

A Middle Class Story

Pari is a young, independent girl whose parents are looking for a match for her. But things take a funny turn when she goes on a vacation with her family.

They drove back up from the valley and resumed their journey. It was dark by the time they reached the resort; a 30 km drive from the varnival. Their resort was at the peak. “Hill Top Resort,” it was called. An apt name indeed.

Rehan was driving now. The rest of them were almost asleep. Pari dreamt of her spa weekend. Shan imagined they’d go trekking.

And Rehan, well Rehan only hoped he could somehow stop staring at Pari like a hopeless dog. The group advanced merrily, unaware of the chaos they were about to fall into.

Shan had forgotten to make a reservation.

A Strange Life

Aarya has a strange dream every night-of voices and silhouettes. Where will it all lead to?

She had the vision of her dream
once again.

Dark clouds. Strange voices. Tapping of the rain. A silhouette in the dark.

The strange voice tuned to a mellifluous voice. The voice was coming from the direction
of her bedroom. It seemed to be saying… no, singing something.
Yes, she could hear it clearly now.

The silhouette in the dark became visible. An image of a woman singing the lullaby to get Aarya to fall asleep, flitted through her mind.

Languish in Love

Love and Heartbreak in this beautiful story.

Those were the days. The days of
happiness. It was the most delightful phase of my life. When each hour seemed like divinity. When love danced in the spaces between each second. When life was painted with all the scintillating shades of magic.

Rain splashed against the rusty window panes. The tapping of the rain on the roof weaved a pitter-patter symphony. Nature
lightened up with the showers. The vibrant flowers in my garden swayed and the silvery drops adorned the leaves. The garden became all the more iridescent. As the rain cast a spell on nature, my memories cast a spell a spell on me.

The Lone Man

John has lost his wife Sarah. It has been a year but his nightmares won’t stop.

I reach the edge of the cliff. I look below, and there’s water everywhere. It feels like the cliff is floating on top of the water. I get the strange sensation that I am being watched.

Suddenly, a hand shoots up from the waters below. I crouch down to take a closer look. It’s beckoning to me, as if to ask for help. Maybe it is the strange man I saw earlier. Maybe he fell down, and is asking me to help him.

No sooner do I get up to help whoever it is, the hand shoots up in the air and falls back into
the water. And right in front of my eyes, the clear water slowly turns a shade of red.

Another bloodcurdling scream. This time, my own.

Turn of the Tides

Nature is mighty but can it subdue human spirit?

I lumber forward; losing my balance; my hands clawing the mist, clutching at nothing. The cold air hurts my lungs; my breath comes in rasps. I touch the rocks, feel my way blindly through the dense fog that comes rolling out from the sea.

It is hard to be on the shore when the young ‘uns are all weaving nets and getting the boats ready for the journey yonder. I want to be the one going out to the sea, feeling the wind on me, my blood roaring in my veins like them waves all my long, sea faring life.

I cry out as I lose my footing and fall, a seagull squawking hoarsely, its voice merging with the wind. The bad leg sprawls; the red stains the sand, leaving a wet track on this dry day.

Buy the Book from Amazon.

Through the Mist: A Collection of Stories

Through the Mist is a collection of five stories and each story showcases collaborative writing. Every story is written jointly by 5 authors.

The stories are in various genres. Here is a sneak peek into the stories.

Languish in Love is a love story with a twist. It is narrated by a poet who is searching for his long lost love. It meanders through bitter sweet memories till he is on the verge of finding his love.

A Middle Class Story is just that; the story of a middle class family, with typical middle class aspirations especially when it comes to marriage and looking for a life partner. It could be a commentary on social values but it is a good laugh riot.

The Lone Man portrays fear and loneliness from the loss of a partner which soon descends to chilling horror when John finds the mysterious book in the library he works at.

A Strange Life has Aarya, struggling to climb the corporate ladder and who finds herself slipping into an alternate reality when she encounters a strange dwarf who guides her to psychics.

Turn of the Tides is the story of the mightiest element of nature, the sea and of the men who are at the mercy of her power.

Read more about the Collaboration.

I am promoting Through the Mist as part of #BlogchatterProjects. Read the introduction to the Project.

Buy the Book from Amazon.

Diwali Stories

This week I read a charming collection of stories, meant for preteens and early teens. It is good to see that children and teens today have a wide range of books to choose from. When I was a child, I had to make do with comics, not that I complained. Then there were the Enid Blytons and adventure series for teens but nearly all of them were by foreign authors.

It is heartening to see many Indian authors writing for children. It is a good way to introduce them to the richness and diversity of our country and culture. I like to read these books along with my daughter and we talk about the different customs and viewpoints she encounters in these books. It is not only a learning experience for her but also a time for us to converse from the heart and bond.

The book that we read is called Diwali Stories. Published by Scholastic (I find their books very educational and entertaining), it is a collection of four little stories. Here is what we liked about them.

Rocket of Doom by Kaushik Vishwanath
It has the wildly funny, crazy antics of Thatha, the sort of crazy Paatti, that is reminiscent of Roald Dahl. I loved it for its impossibility. My daughter loved it for its craziness. The nostalgia of large families, plenty of cousins and mindless fun reminded me of my carefree childhood.

Dracula’s Diwali by Monideepa Sahu
This story is about special bonds between strangers and of kindness. On a visit to Kolkata, the little girl Chandana befriends the old and sick Dragomir, who lives across the street. It is an unlikely bond, one that is sweet and emotional. This story is the only one with a neat ending which my daughter liked very much. In a way, it was eye opening to me. Children like things to be definite, we adults like slices of life.

Lights against the darkness by Umakrishnaswami

This one is my personal favourite. It is because of the theme of innocent friendship. Deepa and Bani are neighbours and bff. They fall out due to a little misunderstanding. The language is lovely; the shifting moods so well described, the emotions that the young girls don’t even know they have and cannot express. This is the only story that is set outside India, talking of the Indian diaspora. My daughter liked the concept of ‘unfriend’.

Jugnu’s ‘out of the world’ firecrackers by Vivek Tandon

This story is an out and out fantastic story of 6 yr old Jugnu, with a three armed, three legged and single eyed ET like Bluebob who has crash landed his space craft on Earth. The situation and the firecrackers are fantastical. But the child gets his celebration of Diwali-in-advance. This is the only one with an overt message.

The stories are bound together by the theme of the festival of Diwali. The settings and the characters have a wide and delightful range of settings. The stories are not overly moralistic. The language is appropriate for the age group it targets. It is an entertaining and engaging book. A good read for preteens.

Next on the reading list is Eid Stories. My daughter is already excited.

Do you read books to your children or along with them? Let us talk about your experiences.

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How my Collaborative Team helped me become a Published Author

First Anniversary

This September marks one year of the publishing of my first book, Through the Mist. It’s been an unparalleled experience of working with a diverse team. The book is not just a collection of short stories; it involved working with four other authors to finish the stories. It wasn’t only writing but also switching points of view; thinking not just of the reader but also the writer who was going to complete my story.

Through the Mist, a collection of five stories, written by five authors was a unique idea to start with. The starting point of each story was a picture. Each author started a different story, a different genre, with a set of characters that she liked. Then that story was handed over to the next author for her to take the story forward. The process repeated itself till each story had been written by all five authors.

So, we got five stories born out of the rich imagination and diverse experiences of the authors. Even though we all looked at the same picture, we had very different takes. The protagonists and the settings were wildly different from each other.

Languish in Love is a love story with a twist. It is narrated by a poet who is searching for his long lost love. It meanders through bitter sweet memories till he is on the verge of finding his love.

A Middle Class Story is just that; the story of a middle class family, with typical middle class aspirations especially when it comes to marriage and looking for a life partner. It could be a commentary on social values but it is a good laugh riot.

The Lone Man portrays fear and loneliness from the loss of a partner which soon descends to chilling horror when John finds the mysterious book in the library he works at.

A Strange Life has Aarya, struggling to climb the corporate ladder and who finds herself slipping into an alternate reality when she encounters a strange dwarf who guides her to psychics.

Turn of the Tides is the story of the mightiest element of nature, the sea and of the men who are at the mercy of her power.

The five stories were overseen by the in house editor who made sure that the stories were coherent, that the expressions did not vary widely and there was a smooth flow in the narration.

It has been a labour of love, right from the putting together of the team to publishing the final product.

Collaboration: A Supportive Process

Writing can be a very lonely process. For me, the story arc gets intimidating. I spend too much time in creating the setting. My characters need a lot of space to develop. I flounder at ending stories; I just can’t seem to get to the finish line.

In this entire process of writing Through the Mist, I was supported by my team. The photo acted as a prompt. Even though it showed a mountain, my mind imagined a sea beyond that mist. This helped me create a two-protagonist story with alternating point of view, both in the first person narrative.

For the other stories, it became easier to take over the baton. The setting was there, the characters had been introduced, I only had to write the next part. This was helpful because I can get quite indecisive about which direction the story should take.

Ending another story was challenging because I had to unravel a mystery and explain the loose ends. But the hard work done by all the authors before me helped.

The editor took care of the flow of the story. I really did not have to worry about how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Gratitude

Immense Gratitude and Thanks to every person in my team. Jithin, who conceptualised the idea and gave all the five authors their first published book. Aadhira, who worked tirelessly over the months, co-ordinating, editing and smoothing out obstacles.
My four excellent co-authors, Abirami, Aadithya, Nimitha and Rupali who helped me in giving direction to stories and tying up the ends neatly.

Holding the paperback in my hands was well worth the effort of the preceding months.

If you would like to read this unique book, you can buy the paperback from the Publisher.

Kindle edition lovers, buy the book from Amazon.

You can read the book free on Kindle Unlimited.

This post is part of #MyFriendAlexa. I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter.

Murder in the Palace and Other Stories by Priya Bajpai: Book Review

Title: Murder in the Palace and Other Stories

Author: Priya U Bajpai

Genre: Short Stories

Murder in the Palace and Other Stories is a delightful collection of stories where world building and exquisite language go hand in hand.

Review

The book has twelve stories, short, sweet and tangy. Starting from a contemporary detective story, the book moves on to other genres that explore time travel, sci fi, romance, feminism among others with a wide variety of settings. There is a story for everyone here.

The book starts with the eponymous story, Murder in the Palace and the most striking detail of the story is the detective herself. It seems a complex whodunit but the answers are found surprisingly fast and through deduction. I liked the way the story gets straight to the point from the first paragraph itself and yet there is no glossing over the backstory.

Geisha is expectedly set in Japan. It is such a lovely and poignant story. I was transported to a world of beauty, grace, elegance and love that is expressed in subtle ways.

Horrific Holocaust is set in Germany and brings into focus the Holocaust through teenage angst.

I’m II is science fiction that is chilling and is a little too real for comfort. The narrative is captivating.

The Mysterious Globe is almost magical, but it teases and seems unfinished.

I liked the Killer very much. It has an interesting twist in the tale and was so different from the stories I had read till that point.

Mia of Maya is wondrous. The narrator here is from the Mayan civilization and it is not the mere life but the wiping out of an entire people that the story addresses.

Dazzled and Banon’s Conundrum are also very striking stories, with completely unexpected endings.

Neil’s Shoe closes this collection and I was left with an other-worldly feeling, not just from this story but from the heady mix that I had just finished.

What works well

Priya has a very literary writing style and a way with world building that is very elaborate and yet succinct. All through the book, I was constantly struck by how versatile she is, through the choice of the storylines.

Each story is a different world and an experience in itself. I did not read the stories in one go. I picked them at random, savouring them.

The cover art of the book is gorgeous and is a definite plus for the book.

About the Author

Priya U Bajpai is a short story author and poet. She has also been published in mainstream newspapers. This literature scholar is a versatile story-teller. She is adept at writing fast-paced and layered tales across genres. This extremely modest writer lets her craft do the talking.

Verdict

This eclectic mix of stories show case a wide range of settings and emotions. Pick this collection if you like vivid descriptions and a literary writing style.

Download the book here. It is free for a limited period.

The Contemplation of a Joker by Manas Mukul: Book Review

Title: The Contemplation of a Joker

Author: Manas Mukul

Genre: Short Stories

The Contemplation of a Joker is a collection of 12 tales, with the overarching theme of love and loss. It touches on the various facets in relationships, about the coming together and the moving apart.

Review

The book starts off well with ‘Made for Each Other‘, a story that spans an entire lifetime. There is a deep pathos in love. I could also relate very well to the cultural background of this one and it stayed my favourite through the reading.

Most precious gift of God‘ is a lovely little tale of sibling love. There are others that are impressive, ‘Somebody that I Used to Know, ‘The Shortest Story of my Life‘ and ‘The Absence of her Fragrance‘, among others.

There are stories which have more rounded characters, ‘The First 100 kisses‘ and ‘With Love, from Russia‘.

The writing style of the book is very good. The language is easy to understand; it is colloquial and contemporary which gives the book a kind of lightness and relatability.

Most characters are drawn well, are likeable and the reader can root for them.

The stories are written with a lot of passion and emotion. There is much detail which draws the reader in.

However, I found a sameness in the theme, throughout the book. Also, the stories seem like the retelling of incidents. In many places, they feel half finished, with either the beginning or the middle missing.

The cover art is good, colourful, drawing the reader’s attention and the style elements put it into sync with the title. But the book fails to come up to the explanation of the word ‘Joker’ in the title.

About the Author

Mukul always liked stories but he loves telling them even more. He believes things are better said than kept behind curtains; that emotions are meaningful with expressions, and
so are thoughts which are of no use till they have words to support them.

You can connect with him on his blog-The Contemplation of a Joker.

You can write to him at mukul.manas@gmail.com

Social media links:

Twitter: @manasmukul
Instagram
Facebook

Verdict

Love stories with a twist. For the ones who have loved deeply and the ones who dream of a deep love.

Download the book for free(for a limited period) from the Blogchatter website.

Twelve Tales of Christmas by Cathleen Townsend: Book Review

Title: Twelve Tales of Christmas

Author: Cathleen Townsend

Genre: Short stories, Fiction

Synopsis

Christmas isn’t always Jingle Bells and “Ho, ho, ho.” In these Twelve Tales of Christmas, even Santa has to deal with unexpected German shepherds and reindeer who suddenly want to learn the tango. A dryad works feverishly with a teenage boy to save her tree, now in a stand in his living room, and everyone begs Death to hold off for just one more day.

And no one knows what to do with the fire-breathing dragon. He’s not going on the Christmas card list anytime soon.

Come enter worlds of beauty and dread. Join a house hob as he raises his cup of eggnog high, and enjoy yuletide yarns delicious enough to tempt even St. Nick.

Review

The stories in this collection, meant to be a Chritmas vacation read are delightful, surprising and thankfully all positive because no one wants to feel sad in this season. Every story made me smile. Some for the kindness, others for the love. These tales are magical, more than literally so. The language is lovely. The stories touch your heart in unexpected ways. You feel love, empathy, kindness, hope and joy, which is quite a lot for this short and sweet read.

The language is precise, sharp, witty and the stories present different flavours. Christmas makes up the theme and the spirit of the stories but the settings and the protagonists have a lot of variety.

Short and longer stories are mixed together judiciously. There are short bursts of positivity interspersed with longer, deeper ones. The shorter ones usually leave you with a mood and the longer ones with the feel of the characters. At places, the characterisation is surprising and refreshing like Mori and the irritable dragon in the last and the longest story. The narrative voice is very mature and I loved the language. Each story threw up lovely words at me that evoked new feelings.

I really could not decide which were my most favourite stories. Each one seemed better than the last. ‘The Gift’ portrays the mind of an elderly woman so well that the reader is as delighted as the protagonist. I wished ‘Chritmas Tango’ was longer. And ‘Snowflake’ is both poignant and beautiful. These stories tantalise and because they are short, the reader to forced to think up what happens later. ‘Department Store Santa’ shows a world that is hard up. Everyone has troubles but it is possible to forget them in little lovely moments. I loved the sensitivity of ‘The Angel in the Tree’. ‘Dragon Yule’ is a wonderful fantasy read.

This collection is easy enough for a quick read and rich enough to savour. Read it as your mood demands.

Buy this fantastic book here.