Saturday, March 22, 2014

An Interview with Manjiri Prabhu :)

Author of 'The Cosmic Clues' and 'The Astral Alibi' (Bantam Dell, USA) and 'The Cavansite Conspiracy' (Rupa Publications).  Also, 'The Gypsies at Noelle's Retreat' - coming soon. . .

Here she lets her readers know a little more about herself and her journey so far:

1. How did The Cosmic Clues happen?

‘The Cosmic Clues’ was bound to happen, one day or the other, simply because of my love for mystery stories and because of the atmosphere of Astrology in my house. 

My mother, Shobha Prabhu—a noted Astrologer—taught us all the basics of Astrology. Since childhood, we—my family—have been using Astrology to solve domestic problems like locating lost articles, missing animals or even guessing exam results and later solving professional problems. Astrology has always been advocated in our house, by my mother, as a guide. 

Also, I saw some of my mother’s startling predictions coming true—like disclosing illegitimate children or predicting political campaigns/ elections and on an international scene even predicting royal divorces. It made me realize that the horoscope, if studied well, is a base and an X-ray of a person’s past, present and future. And that the potential of this magnificent science had been untapped, for whatever reason.  

But it was only a few years ago, when I was writing a script for a Hindi feature film, that the idea for ‘The Cosmic Clues’ really struck. I realized that I could combine Astrology with crime. Being a voracious reader, I had never come across such a literary combination and realized that perhaps no one had handled crime with Astrology before. The added advantage was the ready-made research I got from my mother. The fascination for Astrology as a problem solver and a science which can plunge deep into people’s secrets and reveal them, made it a perfect tool for crime-solving in a novel.

2. How do you envision your book will impact your readers?

My book, although a mystery novel on the face of it, is actually a novel on relationships, and touches some core social issues in a subtle manner. I hope that it will create a rippling effect and trigger thought processes which would help understand life better.

3. What made you want to become a writer?

Good books that I devoured as a child: my wild imagination and my capacity to lose myself in daydreaming; my need to express myself and a need to create magical worlds that I could control, also my desire to see happy endings on stories and finally the need to create happy memories in the lives of readers. . .The craving to create memorable characters, a world which is entirely mine but which will grow beyond me and last beyond me.  Ultimately a human being lives on in the form of memories which are passed on from generation to generation. I would love to create a world which would create similar warm memories in the minds of the readers. If the readers would allow my characters into their hearts, and if my novels could live on, side-by-side with their own real-life, personal memories, I would feel honoured and blessed. This thought gives me a sense of satisfaction and prods me to write more.

4. How do you make sure the information used in your books is accurate and up-to-date?

Research is extremely important in a novel. There is no alternative to correct and factual information and I take utmost care to ensure the authenticity of the research I use. The Astrological references used in the stories are authentic, meaning the horoscopes and planetary positions depicted are plausible and realistic. There could be real persons existing somewhere with those exact horoscopes with similar traits. Though none of the stories are based on or borrowed from any real life incidence. The resemblance if any is purely coincidental and unintentional. 

5. Tell us something about your book?

‘‘The Cosmic Clues’ is a novel in the Mystery/Detective genre and has some unique features in the Indian literary context :  It is the first novel with a lady detective. The style that the detective Sonia Samarth uses to solve the mysteries and for her criminal investigations is based on authentic Indian Vedic Astrology. She uses horoscopes of the persons involved, but she also takes help of traditional investigative methods of direct and circumstantial evidence, eye witnesses and the likes. 

Each chapter has almost a new story with many new characters, but has a common thread of an ongoing main plot with Sonia, her Assistant Jatin and a few other characters. In that, it is an interweaving of several distinct stories within a main storyline in an episodic manner. 

The first thing that I can most easily admit about “The Cosmic Clues” is that writing this book was one of the most difficult things I ever did. I started off thinking, “Oh well, they are short stories!”. But before I knew it, the characters and stories had taken over, so that each short story became, in terms of plot and length, a mini-novel. The stories gathered together, like in a TV serial. There were plots within plots and everything just grew into something so much more huge and exciting, than I actually anticipated. That’s why I like to call my book a serialized novel.

6. How and why you decided to publish your book through Jaico Publishing House?

‘The Cosmic Clues’ was first published in 2004 by Bantam (Random House, USA) and was chosen as a ‘Killer Book’ by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association of America. Jaico Publishing has re-published and reintroduced the book to India and the world. Firstly, Jaico is one of the oldest publishing houses in India. They have strength and network and they are wonderful people to work with. I couldn’t have asked for a better publishing house to relaunch the novel in India. 

7. Name some of the writers whom you look up to and why?

I mainly write Romantic Suspense. So both Romance and Suspense play an important part in my writing. As a child, the first influence was undoubtedly of Enid Blyton. In fact I still read the Five Find Outers and Famous Five. I loved their world to the point of wanting to create one for myself through my own works. You could say that it was Enid Blyton who pushed me towards writing. This was my first introduction to mystery writing.  Later Jane Austen, who I think is simply great with her super understanding of human nature and romance – was my first introduction to writing romance. Then Agatha Christie, the ‘Queen of crime’ who unknowingly taught me the craft of mystery-writing and creating intricate plots. And Wilkie Collins – also great plots. Victoria Holt with her romantic suspense and Daphne Du Maurier. I guess the list kept growing as I grew up! 

8. Describe yourself as a writer.

Emotional, involved and intense. I consider myself blessed to be chosen as a channel by the universe for creating something that is destined to be born. . . Writing for me is meditation, a cardinal passion and an insatiable need, which keeps growing. I love being surrounded by my characters and interacting with them. Reality for me is what I create. I feel wonderful and alive with my characters and often when a book ends, the feeling is heady and exciting but also sad. Parting with the characters is not always a pleasant affair.

9. What’s the biggest mistake new writers make according to you?

I don’t know if they make mistakes, but I do think that developing your own style is very important – whether you write a mystery,  a campus story, or a college love story from real experience. 

Secondly I think a big myth is the idea that writing a novel is easy. . .and that anybody can do it! Or the feeling that if so-and-so can do it, why not me? Writing a novel is not about competition. It is not about trying to do better than the other. It is about passion, about the need to want to convey something. It is serious business. Treat it like one. 

10. Any specific tips you have for newbie Authors who want to make it in the publishing Industry?

Write, write and write till you can really claim ownership of your work! Write for yourself first, so that when you look back at your work, you will love it and appreciate it. Appreciation from others will then follow. . . Do not write with a commercial approach and simply for material gains and fame. Write because you want to say something, because you have something for the world, you want to give a message or describe a unique thought or feeling.  That’s where the potential success of your work lies.

11. How do you take criticism?

Criticism is of three kinds. 
1) That which comes from an in-depth understanding of literature and the craft, 
2)  That which comes from skimming through a book and wanting to make a point for the sake of it, 
3) That which emerges from a passion for reading. 

I would seriously consider criticism that comes from a connoisseur, would ignore the superficial one and would embrace the spontaneity of the passionate reader. 

12. What are your future plans?

‘The Cosmic Clues’ could be turned into a film and I hope to be associated with it. I also plan to write as much as I can. The sequel of ‘The Cosmic Clues’ is already ready and is titled ‘The Astral Alibi’. Also published earlier by Bantam Dell and I hope to launch it as soon as possible. I have started the Pune International Literary Festival which will now take place every year. So I shall be busy dividing my time between these activities. 

13. What’s the best thing a writer can give to his readers?

An honest and best effort on his or her part. A complete finished product which would leave no scope for complaints. 

14. What is your least favourite part of the writing process?

The beginning. The first word, the first line and the fear of it not happening the way I want it to. . .

15. What motivates you most in life?

Life in itself and its mysteries is a huge inspiration. The many unanswered questions, the twists and turns, the unpredictable and the unexpected, the enigma – everything to do with life is a full-on inspiration to write. Other than these, walking and lots of it, then music, reading, watching films, free-style dancing, playing with my dogs, interacting with my family and friends and lastly, whenever possible, travelling recharge me for my professional and personal endeavours. 

16. What genre do you particularly like?

Mystery and Suspense laced with romance. 

17. Are you a judgmental person, do you prefer to take sides instead of standing neutral while writing?

I cannot stay neutral while writing. I am balanced. I know all the sides of all the characters, although they tend to sometimes surprise me.  I know where the story is headed, which means that I know which message has to go out. So, even though as a writer I may appear to be neutral, a stand has already been taken and the novel is already headed in that particular direction. 

18. What are your views on co-authoring? Any author or newbie you would like to co-author with?

Writing is a process done in isolation, in the company of one’s own imagination. To work with another writer, you have to be perfectly tuned, you need to share the same vision and ambition for the story you are co-writing, and your writing spurts and writing blocks need to balance out. If I ever find an author who fits this equation, I certainly wouldn’t mind, giving it a shot. But as for writing Film and TV scripts & Screenplays, as well as some kind of non-fiction work, I can definitely give co-authoring a serious thought. 

19. What was your biggest inspiration behind this book?

My mother and her perfect and startling predictions. And my office cat Rambha.


Sonia Samarth couldn't have predicted it--after only a day, her first advertisement had drawn dozens of responses. In the bustling city of Pune, India, with its winding alleys and exotic customs, Sonia is launching a brand new business: private investigation--using Hindu astrology as a crime-solving tool. In an ancient city steeped in tradition, Sonia's unique brand of investigation is raising eyebrows. But she seems to have found a niche--and, before long, a case of murder.

When a cat leads Sonia to her very first investigation, she quickly unmasks a killer, using astrology as her guide. Suddenly clients begin streaming in: a persistent, handsome TV personality; a terrified bride-to-be; a missing husband with suicidal tendencies...all challenge Sonia's astrological abilities to prevent a crime. All apparently isolated experiences, but bound by an invisible thread. And while Sonia has stellar success in unraveling the truth, very soon she'll have to look closely at her own stars. Because the most notorious international criminal has just crossed Sonia's path--and he has his own plans for her future!

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