HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my dear, beloved Dance Dream. You’re my first gift from Lord Krishna, my first baby and my first bundle of joy. I’m proud of you as any mother can be. Sweetheart, you are the solid epiphany of who Deepika is, what she was searching for and what she is capable of.
I can vividly remember each and every minute of my book launch held on February 26, 2014. Dance Dream existed as a 298 page word document in my laptop for nearly three years, looking very nearly defeated with no hopes of ever climbing that bookshelf. But patience has its reward and it was gifted to me as a label, a label of becoming a published author even before I sat for my final year semester exams, thus bringing pride and joy to my college and beaming principal.
So where did all of this start?
How was she born?
What reformed Dance Dream into a paperback?
How many rejections and trouble did she go through?
I’m gonna confess every single phase of my journey on this special day 🙂 I hope you enjoy it, because it’s kind of long. Short and me don’t come in the same sentence 😀 Okay, so here we go, guys:
I was fifteen when I first had a spark for writing. Till then, I was a mousey looking wimp with no flair for excelling in the class. I’d never been one of those ‘cool kids’ or ‘star kids’ or ‘sporty kids’ or any part of the highlight group, really. It was like ‘Who’s Deepika?’, ‘Oh her? She’s just that girl sitting over there. Doesn’t talk much.’
I was incredibly shy back then to express myself and was always prone to getting an imbalance in my circulation every time my crush walks by or randomly roves his eyes in my direction (This guy was frustratingly good-looking, I’d always been irritated imagining his lucky girl 😛 )
I’d been wishing I could find some talent hiding within me. I didn’t want to be one of those girls who falls into a course and degree for namesake, and ends up being just a housewife or working in some clichéd office or company. I was searching for something different, something that can really imprint itself in people’s hearts, and I discovered my love for writing one evening I was watching the Animal Planet with my brother. I used to write fairy tales when I was five years old. Watching Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and the Little Mermaid provoked me into creating castles and knights in shining armour, ending the four or five page story with and they all lived happily ever after. But neither me nor my parents took that seriously and I hadn’t written much after that.
In this Animal Planet documentary, an eight year old boy discovered some cheetah cubs nestling in a corner of his dad’s garage. Him and his family lived in the grasslands (whatever job they did there was beyond me) and it was a shock both for me and him when he stared at the revelation. I suddenly had my mind wandering of what would happen if he decided to adopt one of the cubs and bring it up as his pet (Duma had an influence 😀 ). I started constructing a scene of the cub talking like Simba from Lion King and had to laugh at myself. What on earth was I doing? But I shrugged to myself going what the heck? and flipped open my dad’s laptop to write total claptrap about a ten year old girl and her darling pet deer on a fresh document. I still have that file in the back of the computer and the amateurish and immature writing still creates a silly smile on my face 😀 But no one has ever read it 😉
I remember how I used to sit privately in the corner during a free hour in class and scribble away on my rough note, riling up curiosity from my friends, but never did my reclusive timidity ever let them look at it 😀 But then we moved places and the story was forgotten. I was in the final year of high school and the daunting board exams threatened my life if I were to divert my attention from those science books and spend my time with people or creatures that didn’t exist.
But my self-inflicted amnesia didn’t last for long and my interest came back in the form of a burning need as my school life was reaching its end. I couldn’t tame it and knew my soul wouldn’t be pacified until I created a complete story. And I didn’t even want to write a short story 😛 It was a long one that I coveted *conscience makes an amused eye roll* Harry Potter books drilled themselves deeply into me and the fact that I enjoyed their length and description provoked this desire. I ignored my mother when she went ‘Aren’t you being a little insane? Starting off with a long story?’
Insane is my middle name and it’s kind of a boon for a freaky author like me. But neither she nor Dad ever did anything to prevent my writing. I’m infinitely grateful to Krishna that I was born as their daughter and had the liberty to do what I wanted. A lot of relatives raised stereotypical eyebrows when I happily said I was in the middle of writing a book instead of thinking about college and the future, but they didn’t raise a word, since I had a secret weapon. Her name was Mum ❤ Till this very second, she doesn’t hesitate to silence anyone who asks why I’m wasting my time. Using the most friendliest of words, she says, ‘Is she causing you any trouble? No? So mind your own business and leave my child alone.’ I love you, Mum ❤
So I got a fresh idea for my book, which came in the form of a girl the same age as me and I wanted to make her successful by going through some hurdles to put her dreams to reality. I initially went with the idea of sports and it came out well, but only for five chapters or so. The plot failed to bring out what I planned for the other characters and I had to forfeit the blandness and look for something exciting. And then I was watching dance shows (I love dancing) on YouTube when it hit me. Why not make dance my theme? And throw music into the mix? Turn the whole ordeal into a challenging competition? Idea after the other competed for my attention and my little sixteen year old self smiled impishly, cause of the teenage hormones running wild, and energetically opened the word document again, erasing all data pertaining to tennis and bat swishing styles I had slaved over a fortnight on the internet to acquire and learn properly.
I was pulling my hair out for an appropriate title for my book and there were five choices, all of which sounded mediocre or too long. I even considered naming it after my protagonist, Nikki Delaine, but it sounded stupid and I had to put that off until I got the rough draft ready. However, the words DANCE DREAM struck their chords a quarter of the way through and that was it. I’d nailed it. Only two syllables to highlight what this was about. It took me four months to finish writing this book. In between, college started, and though I was taking care to ace my classes, I made sure to slide at least two hours into my schedule for Dance Dream. I couldn’t let it go. I wouldn’t let it go.
And then came the real challenge.
Searching for literary agencies.
Searching for publishing houses.
Trying to learn how to pen a proper query.
Trying to learn professionalism as much as a seventeen year old could master.
My target was the United Kingdom. I lived there during my childhood and the characters and setting of this book was British, so I sent out countless queries to every promising agency and publishing house of England the Google search provided. But only five of them wrote back, all rejections. One of them actually asked for the first three chapters and that was my first taste of jumping up and down, but the smile turned upside down at their response.
I lost all hope of publishing as two years gave me and Nikki no luck. It was too depressing and it was only because of my mother’s wise words of assurance I sighed with a strong heart and learnt to accept things as they were. Plus, college work was so demanding and I had the misfortune to hold the position as the class representative during my second year 😥 It was a complete nightmare to babysit ignorant girls (it’s a women’s college) and get the blast they should have received first hand from the department teachers. I’m very prim and proper when it comes to work and make sure to hand in assignments in time, that determination magnifying with this badge since I had to set a good example, but my class tested the last ounce of my patience. The stress from publishing rejections, the outrageous trouble the girls gave, the explosions the department detonated on my head day after stupid day for no effing reason at all, the fact that I had to end up doing extra project work because the other members can’t get their arses to type and scrounge info – everything amalgamated into one single ruthless unit to successfully destroy the barriers and unleash the waterworks. I never cry. The last time before that was a few years ago, inside a bathroom during a flight journey from London to Chennai because my summer holidays in UK were over and I had to leave my mother to come back to India. I lived apart from my parents for three years before we permanently moved back here.
After so long, I burst into tears one raged evening by slashing my pen across the pages of my personal diary as I poured all of my fury into them, ripping random sheets of paper and crumpling them, and curled into a tight ball on my bed, biting into my pillow to prevent me from screaming. This abnormality had a temporary effect on my personality, which caused me to have a fight with my bestie 😦 And that was the very first time I ever fought with someone. It was so strange and an experience I never expected I would have.
The second year of college was the incarnation of hell.
The third and final year was liberation.
My bestie tearfully apologised by hugging me tight for leaving me when I was vulnerable, and we joined hands tightly. We keep in touch a lot till this very second and know each other’s deep dark secrets 😉 😛 But I’d have to say there was actually one good thing that came out of my fight with her. You automatically seek refuge with another, don’t you? ❤ Another heart, that is ready to shelter you in her warmth. And I discovered a girl who was the mirror of my personality. She’s from the English department and I became incredibly attached with her during my phase of hell.
Joelah is the main catalyst to Dance Dream getting published ❤
How, you ask?
Her mother, Professor Jessie, is an English professor in another college and I asked her if both of them could read Dance Dream and give me a review. No one had ever read it. So why not get an opinion before setting up another round of battle with the publishing world? Jo enthusiastically agreed and I had a new boost of confidence in me as I printed the manuscript, spiral bound it, and handed it to her after college one day. I spoke with her mother, who’s a gem of a lady, on the phone too. She promised to give me a detailed feedback and I crossed my fingers.
Exactly a week later, she called me at nine a.m in the morning and went into a gushing of how much the book absorbed her. I was staring at the wall speechless, holding the phone in my hand, and sitting very still as she went through the strong wave of nostalgia and teenagerish memories Dance Dream presented her and how she couldn’t stop reading for five hours straight. I could only stammer my gratitude and she was amused at my response. My mother had a hand over her mouth as she gazed at me in amazement and after she talked on the phone with her too, Mum and I hugged each other and fell on the bed squealing like little girls 😀
And that was not all she had to offer. Two weeks later, she called us again, this time with the news that she knew a local publisher in Madurai – Mr Vetrikarthick of World Books Centre – and whether we’d like to publish Dance Dream through him. I jumped at it immediately with a firm nod, ignoring all my desire to get it out in England. I was still in college and releasing the book as a student will bring in laurels to the institution. My parents agreed it was a great idea too and then we stepped on it 🙂 It was action packed for the new few months, collaborating in person with the publisher, signing the deal, formatting the pages, proofreading it etc. Plus, there was something else I hadn’t thought of: the cover.
The publisher left the choice to me. I used to be a good artist when I was a kid, having the VCD covers of all the Disney movies beside me and drawing the images with accuracy. So my drawing trait came in handy.
But I didn’t use it at first.
I searched for images that weren’t copyrighted on the internet (having no luck in getting the one) but it was Mum who grabbed the mouse and clicked on the x button, turning to me with a raised eyebrow and saying, ‘This is your book. Your creation. Why do you want to use an image you don’t own? Draw it, darling. You can do it. Create the cover yourself. You’re the only one who can grab the essence of the story and make it unique.’
I smiled and scouted my crayons, pencil and eraser, and then grabbed a plain sheet of paper.
With the crux of Nikki’s dream swirling in my mind, I let my fingers do the talking as I sketched for an hour straight. Which ended up like this:
I gave it to my uncle who knew animators in my hometown and two days later, I received the enhanced image in my mail inbox. I stared at how beautiful it had become and without a second thought told my uncle it was perfect than I imagined it would be. Here’s my book:
Preparations for my book launch fired like a canon, the action unfurling full swing. But we encountered some trouble here. The publisher was intent on the venue being my college, saying the effect would be majestic since I was still a novice, but some clashes with the department (Just saying that certain people really need to learn to appreciate one of their students doing something different from the course aims) caused us to relocate to a grand hotel. Then change of plans occurred when the principal heard of the run in and all but pleaded us to have the book launch in the college. The pride was theirs and this was the first time something like that was going to happen.
February 26, 2014 dawned with a bright golden sun as I woke up with nerves and excitement. The big moment was scheduled at four and we got off at one. We’re part of the morning batch so our timing’s eight a.m to one p.m and during the entire time, my large group of friends were repeatedly hugging me and congratulating me on my special day. It was hard to control my overwhelming emotions. They knew of the fiasco I encountered with the department and swore they were there to help me with anything I need during the evening. I went home to have a shower and change my clothes and as my relatives from my hometown arrived right on time, we headed back to the college at around quarter past three. There were a lot of delicacies we stocked up for my classmates and the rest of the audience, so my friends gave me, my mother and aunts a huge hand as they helped serve everything. There were meals ready for the chief guests and teachers after the ceremony so the arrangement was different, and my loyal comrade-in-arms tirelessly pitched in to do anything my Mum needed. She had everything planned out.
And then the event began.
That one hour, that precious one hour where I was on stage with some deemed personalities of Madurai city along with my principal was completely flabbergasting. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening to me. One by one they facilitated me on the microphone and the words they spoke came from various dimensions of tremendousness. Two of them gave record-breaking reviews of my book and I had to hide my shaking hands in the folds of my dress so no one could notice the author in question being jittery 😀
After this amazing session was over, we stood up to launch the book. In tribute to the theme of the cover, I wrapped blue ribbon over the book to be honoured as well as the copies I was going to hand out to the chief guests. So with me standing in between all five of them, they pulled the strings apart to flashing cameras that came from Times of India and The Hindu. Not to mention my brother as well ❤ He had our Nikon camera in hand and was clicking away diligently like a professional photographer. The kid actually outran the media 😀 LOL.
Then it was my turn to take the mike. Praying I had my speech in the front row of my head, I put on a calm composure and spoke for ten minutes. I was nervous for the first forty seconds or so but as I got into it, it was easy to loose the tightened muscles and express everything much better than I had feared, ending it with a big smile.
My moment was followed by my maternal grandparents, aunt and uncles coming up on stage to honour me. My grandpa put a privileged sandal garland on my neck and draped a blue silk towel of reputation around my shoulders (earlier, my principal draped me with red silk); grandma slid a platinum ring onto my finger and blessed me; and after my uncles shook my hand and patted my head, my aunt tied a watch of my favourite purple shade on my wrist. All the while, my conscience was going ‘Don’t you dare cry … don’t you dare cry … don’t you dare cry …’
My lachrymal glands gratefully obeyed 😀
My mother gifted me a gold chain with a pretty little dolphin pendant to go with it earlier that morning and ever since she put it on me, I haven’t took it off ❤
As my dad prepared himself to present the vote of thanks, another grandfather of mine who is quite young hurried up to my mother to whisper something into her ear, and she came up to tell my dad, who paused in what he was doing and welcomed him on stage. He fascinated and delighted me with how shy and quiet I usually was during family parties, and to see that I boldly spoke English with perfect articulation and fluency had completely thrown him off board. I never exhibited my language efficiency to my relatives much 😀
The end of the ceremony was followed by all of my relatives showering me with hugs, kisses and gifts. My cousin sisters couldn’t make it, since they had college, but they called right on time when they knew when the function would end and squealed happily from the other end of the line, very despondent they weren’t there to witness everything and wrap their arms around my waist. They still pose threats to my body if I don’t hold my next book launch during a weekend or holiday XD
A couple of reporters from Times of India approached me for an on the spot interview and as I faced my first ever media attention, I was very nervous, but managed to present my answers with smooth words. The article appeared the very next day:
*Note: It mentions me living in the UK till three years ago, but that part of it was overdone 😀 I was fourteen the last time I was there*
The subsequent week was filled with phone calls from various directions. A lot of people who knew my dad had seen my photo in the paper and had called to congratulate and order my book. Added were the calls from our family friends in UK. One of their daughters is my best mate from childhood, and she sent me a long email of her love and pride, demanding snapshots from the book launch. All the attention made me feel like a celebrity of some sort and it frightened me 😀 People I hadn’t talked with before wanted to get on the phone with me. And by the end of the week, all I wanted to do was to get back to normal life, where I download Saurabh Raj Jain’s Krishna avatar pics from Google and immerse myself with watching Mahabharat episodes, and reading pdfs 😀
Every single young adult who is striving to achieve her/his ambition should be successful. The country needs our confident spirit in order for it to dazzle and it is possible only if we’re spirited enough. No one in this world is useless. God has not only given us beautiful bodies, but a talent that lies somnolent until we get the epiphany and ignite that rocket. Force and pressure only strains the young mind that it will be a great hindrance to one’s goals. Realise yourself, know what you want, have faith in you, and everyone will be in awe at the extent to which you rise. You are a strong independent individual who knows the right thing to do and knows what you want. You are a warrior in this modernised world, fully capable to fighting the battling obstacles and reach that promising star. Don’t ever let anyone discourage you or pass nasty comments for your efforts in succeeding. What do they know what you’re going through? What do they know about the source of your happiness? You know what you want and you should step on it. You will always choose the right ambition for yourself and that inner urge when exhibited will turn you into a dazzling person amongst many, and prove how worthy you are, resulting in priceless happiness for your soul.
I had an idea for a new series, a theme dissimilar to Dance Dream, but I couldn’t work on it while I was still in college. It came to me back in 2011 but unfortunately, I had to put it off until I was free to give it my undivided attention. As I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, I took the decision of completing my education with my undergraduate course and staying home as a full time writer. I graduated in 2014 and the past two years have been dedicated to my five book series. I’m done with three and currently seven chapters through book four.
This time, I don’t want an easy way to get my book out 🙂 I want to achieve this through my own efforts and have sent out queries and submissions both to England and North India. As of now, eight rejections and eleven no replies have come my way but even though they all had fresh knives to stab me, I haven’t let the wounds spread. Because my chance is still ripe as ever, which is what I keep telling myself. Patience is my weapon to block the attacks and I’m waiting – no, burning – for that precious day a company will finally sign me on.
The new saga is titled Ethereal, a fantasy fiction composing of a parallel world where the protagonist is transferred to and as she encounters skirmish confrontations, the journey directs her to a destiny she doesn’t realise until much later, therefore defeating the demons that have been chasing her for a long time.
Keep a lookout for book one Ethereal: The Dawn of the Blue, guys 🙂
Thank you so much for having the fortitude to read such a long narration of my memories.
To other aspiring writers and authors out there, here is a heartfelt wish from your sister that your dreams will come true. It will take time, but don’t ever lose that ray of hope. All the very best and keep rocking.
Jai Shree Krishna ❤
Lots of love,