Books by Melissa Bowersock

Friday, July 22, 2016

Author Interview: Mira Prabhu

Today I’m sitting down with Mira Prabhu to talk about her new book, Krishna’s Counsel. The book is a modern epic of a girl growing up in South India during the 1960s, and it brings together a very unlikely but fitting combination of ancient Indian wisdom, the 60’s drug culture and the recovery steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Additionally, it is currently enrolled in the Kindle Scout Program and could be chosen for an Amazon publishing contract. Part of the process involves nominations by readers (like you!), and if the book is chosen by Amazon, everyone who nominates it will receive a FREE e-Book copy. To read the first chapter and nominate the book, go here. This Kindle Scout program ends August 15, 2016.

Mira, when you started writing this book, what was your vision for the story?

MP: I had no intention of writing a contemporary novel until my Manhattan-based literary agent suggested I do so, way back in 1999. Considering the unusual life I had led, she felt I could pull off a contemporary novel about an Indian woman who had moved from East to West and thereby grown in ways she could not even imagine. I mulled over her idea, but nothing happened until many years later when I found myself marooned in a guest house in Rishikesh in northern India: my friends had all left town since the ‘season’ was over and a wild festival raged all around me, keeping me captive in my suite. With time hanging heavy on my hands, I decided to sink my teeth into something that would engage my monkey mind—and in six months, I had written the first draft of Krishna’s Counsel.

Krishna’s Counsel is a patchwork of a thousand tales I heard growing up in India and in the West. The title and theme were inspired by the luminous advice delivered to Prince Arjuna of the Pandavas on the ancient battlefield of the Kurukshetra by his charioteer and kinsman, the Blue God Krishna. Arjuna does not want to fight—his enemies are his own kin who have turned viciously against his family and Arjuna would prefer to offer himself to the enemy as a sacrifice rather than stoop to destroying those who once cherished him. Then Krishna shows him a dazzling vision of the cosmos and convinces the doubt-stricken Prince to fight the good fight: in essence, Krishna’s teaching is that the spiritual warrior must never give up the battle against evil—instead he must first decide on the best course of action, and then pursue that action, disregarding the consequences.

The backdrop of Krishna’s Counsel is 60s India, which was a fascinating time of change on many fronts. A supernatural thread runs through this work, for as a child I was imprinted with mesmerizing tales of the supernatural. Sometime in my teens I learned about the brutal conversion of my own community by the Portuguese Dominican priests and it sickened me. Still later, I was struck by the tragic story of a beautiful heiress who had been victimized by a psychopath. All these elements came together to create Krishna’s Counsel. Pia, my protagonist—by her own admission a coward—is forced to fight her own battle against evil; it is the brilliant teachings of all her gurus who empower her to do what is right when she is confronted by a handsome and charming man who could also be a psychopathic killer.

Krishna’s Counsel is the second book in a trilogy. Did you already have all three books plotted out when you started, or did one grow organically out of the next? Do any of the characters or story lines overlap between books?

MP: My first novel, Whip of the Wild God: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India, was born out of my love for the ancient philosophy of Tantra, which I found to be badly corrupted in both East and West. Its protagonist Ishvari is an intelligent and beautiful young woman who is elected to be the Royal Tantrika of a mythical civilization that flourished sometime around 2000 BCE. When Ishvari discovers that the Maharaja she is being sent to instruct in the high arts of tantric love-making is a narcissistic, devious and amoral tyrant, she falls into the most abysmal of gutters. Against all odds, and over the turbulent decades that follow, she rises up again to attain enlightenment.

Writing Whip of the Wild God convinced me to concentrate on sagas of enlightenment. Krishna’s Counsel too is about a child of 60’s south India who seeks answers via Eastern mysticism, and my third and final work-in-progress novel is Copper Moon Over Pataliputra, whose protagonist is driven by intense suffering to seek a permanent way to peace. Recently I came up with the idea of what I call THE MOKSHA TRILOGY (moksha means enlightenment, liberation, ultimate freedom in Sanskrit). 

Okay, I have to ask: how much of Krishna’s Counsel is autobiographical? Do you find that the ancient teachings help you in your own modern life?

MP: Much of Krishna’s Counsel is based on something that happened to someone I knew or something that sort of happened to me: after all, we all write what we know. As for the ancient teachings, they are my raft on this often turbulent ride we call Life on Planet Earth! The gifts of the Eastern mystics have become real tools to me, and I use them to guide me through what was once a bewildering maze—and which has now turned into a simple but profound path to inner freedom.

How long did it take you to write this book?

MP: I wrote the first draft of Krishna’s Counsel in six months flat, then picked it up from time to time as I traveled the globe. I began serious work on it only after I settled in south India in 2009—so I’d say I gave birth to it in about three years of real time over a span of seventeen years.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

MP: I don’t think so since I never suffer blocks. What I do have to endure are long spans of time when I can’t write seriously. I call these my fallow times, when spirit and mind need to rest in order for the field to become fertile again.

Did you ever have a sense of the ancient ones looking over your shoulder as you wrote?

MP: I felt Whip of the Wild God was literally channeled through me. You see, my community (Saraswat Brahmins, some say we were India’s earliest priestly class) are said to be the original settlers of the Indus Valley Civilization in which Whip is set. Oddly enough, a Vedic astrologer predicted way back in 1993 that it was my dharma (destiny) to write this book. As for Krishna’s Counsel, it deals in part with the brutal conversion of my community to Roman Catholicism by the Portuguese Dominicans, who brought the dreaded weapons of the Inquisition to Goa centuries ago and proceeded to cruelly exterminate tens of thousands. As for Copper Moon Over Pataliputra, a shaman friend told me she had a dream in which she was instructed to order me to write it for the sake of my ancestors. Since Copper Moon is set in 300 BCE, I cannot name these specific ancestors; however, as one immersed in notions of karma and reincarnation, it’s not a stretch for me to envision my spirit having lived in that distant time too.

We all know writing can be therapeutic, especially stories of growth and transformation like this one. What did you learn about yourself during the writing process?

MP: Writing keeps me sane; it has taught me who I am, relatively speaking, and forced me to think deeply about the baffling nature of reality. If no one read my work, I would undoubtedly be sad, but I believe I would still continue to write because it is perfect soul medicine and keeps me happy.

The covers of your books are absolutely beautiful. Tell us about them and the artist who does them.

MP: Mishi Bellamy is one of the most brilliant artists I have personally come across. Her work defies easy description, but you can decide for yourself (links below). I met Mishi years ago when I was one of the emcees at the Jaipur Literary Festival in north India and we stayed friends. She offered to do my covers because she had enjoyed Whip—of course I jumped at her offer! She has just completed the cover of Copper Moon, the third book in The Moksha Trilogy and it is just as fabulous as her first two. Mishi's facebook page.   

Can you give us a preview of the third book in the trilogy?

MP: Copper Moon Over Pataliputra is set against the backdrop of the magnificent Mauryan Empire in northern India in 300 BCE. It takes place during the reign of Ashoka, its third Emperor, who is considered by scholars to be one of the most powerful rulers of all time. A tortured man, Ashoka earned a reputation for appalling cruelty in his early days; later, influenced by the teachings of Gautama Buddha as well as by miracles that occurred in his own tumultuous life, he transformed himself into a benevolent dictator. Copper Moon weaves the fictional story of Ashoka’s daughter Odati who hates him so intensely for his violence against her beloved mother that she grows up vowing to take her revenge. Since she cannot strike directly at him, Odati concocts and executes a devilish plan to make him suffer. However, she has a spiritual awakening and realizes that she has sunk as low as her persecutor—whereupon her own journey of self-transformation begins.

Thank you, Mira, for the informative tour of your books, your homeland and your philosophy. How can people find out more? 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ever been to a book-signing or book festival where you’ve had to sign and personalize books over and over? Ever run out of ways to do that? Yeah, it’s tough, huh? (Don’t we all wish?)
Truly, though, how much thought do you give your dedications? Some readers may request specific things, but most are just happy to have their name and yours, maybe a sentence or two. Or some might say, “Be creative.” You know, that thing we can turn on at the drop of a hat?
I do try to be creative, but it’s not something I leave to the last minute as I’m sitting with the pen poised. I really have put some advance thought into it. What I try to do is make the sentiment of the signing match the story of the book. I’ll give you some examples.
My action/adventure Queen’s Gold is quite a wild ride, dashing from the US to Mexico in search of ancient Aztec gold. For this one I usually say, “Hope you enjoy the ride!”
My fantasy The Blue Crystal is akin to The Lord of the Rings, a sword and sorcery fantasy of magic and wizards both good and evil. My spiritual novel Goddess Rising is an epic saga of a future time when civilization has been destroyed and the few remaining people have reverted to a magical Goddess worship as they await a female savior who is prophesied to lead them back to greatness. For both of these books, I sign, “May all your journeys be magical.”
My only non-fiction (to date), the biography of my aunt who was an Army nurse and prisoner-of-war, is a true-life story of great hardship and struggle. Writing something light and fluffy just doesn’t feel right, so I might say, “Here’s to strong women everywhere,” or “Keep those family stories alive.”
On the rare occasion when I am signing multiple books and have all my genres on display, I usually fall back to the generic, “Best wishes,” for expediency. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve noticed that my brain doesn’t always operate at full capacity at a book signing. I may be so distracted by the goings on that I get careless, and when I’m writing in indelible ink, I really want to be sure I’m saying the right thing. In this case, I’d rather stick to the non-specific and be safe rather than write “Enjoy the ride!” at the front of my aunt’s story.
Some other generic but still heartfelt personalizations that I’ve used are:
“Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.”
“Hope you enjoy it.”
“Thanks for your support.” Okay, not the most creative, but still sincere.
An interesting twist to this that has come to my attention is that some authors are selling personalized books online and giving buyers the option of dictating their own message. For a time, I listed a few of my signed books on Amazon in the “collectible” category, but never got much response to that. I don’t sell books direct on my website—never seemed to have the time to set up a shopping cart there. Another author I know who doesn’t have shopping on his website is selling his autographed books on ebay. It’s just a matter of sending folks that way from his website or Facebook, etc. Once people buy the book, they then fill out the “message to seller” dialog box to say what they want the dedication to be.
I’d love to hear how others approach this issue, so please, chime in!

This post originally published by Indies Unlimited on August 5, 2014.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Consider the Criticism

Nobody likes getting criticism, at least nobody I know. It’s painful. It’s debilitating. It’s confidence-destroying.
I think it’s pretty normal to want to dismiss criticism out of hand. Bah, what do they know? They haven’t published 15 books. They haven’t been in this business for over 30 years.
The other alternative is to take it all together as a soul-crushing package and think your work is terrible. Who were you kidding? You can’t write. Look at that critique. It’s over. Done with.
Not so fast. There’s a middle road. There’s a demilitarized zone somewhere in the middle where you can walk safely between hubris and defeat.
Consider the criticism.
I know it’s not easy, but take every single comment, every single critique, and hold it up to your story, like holding up two typewritten pages, one on top of the other, to the light of a window. See how the criticism lines up with what you’ve written. Does it make sense? Is it valid? Does it make a point? If it doesn’t, then you haven’t lost anything by considering it. If it does, then you stand to gain. If the truth is that the criticism has hit its mark, that’s to your benefit.
I am reminded of an excellent book called The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women (1979 Sally Miller Gearhart).It’s a wonderful bit of feminist utopian literature about a time when women have broken away from civilization, gone out into the wilderness to live without men and without men’s aggressions and  intrusions. There’s one point in the book where two characters are at loggerheads. A mediating cooler head asks them, “Would you be willing to yield?” Not, “Would you yield?” but only, “Would you be willing to yield?” Would you consider it? Would you be open to the possibility? Just being willing to yield opens the door to all manner of options, all manner of conversations, all manner of communications and resolutions. It’s a first step. From there, you may step forward, or you may step back. But you’re not locking yourself out of any options.
One point to remember: bad spelling and bad punctuation are never okay. If you’ve got mispelt werds and incorret puntuation, in your book, you’re making the reader work twice as hard to figure out what you’re trying to say when they should be gliding along on your words. This is one area that I would say is non-negotiable. If the mistakes are in there, and someone has been good enough to bring them to your attention, fix ‘em.
The rest of criticism is grayer, less black and white. However, if you get the same reaction from more than one reader, you might want to take a good long look at that aspect. If more than one beta-reader or reviewer says they had trouble following your dialog, understanding your characters’ motivation or feeling empathy for them, you might want to revisit that. One of the largest disadvantages to being a writer is having the entire story (including backstory) in your brain, while you’re only parceling out bits and pieces to the reader. Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re giving the reader enough or too much. If you’re getting frequent complaints about similar issues, look closely at that. Please.
Consider it.
Then, after all that, you’re the final authority. Only you know what the story is, where it goes, what it wants to say. Only you know what your characters want, need.
I once had a publisher try to change the way my main character spoke. The character repeated herself. It could be annoying. She had very low self-esteem, very low self-confidence, and she felt she needed to justify every decision she made. The way she spoke embodied the way she felt, deep down in her soul.
But I considered what my publisher said. I imagined changing the dialog. I imagined my character not being quite such a pleading doormat.
It didn’t work.
The style of her speech told us who she was. It revealed, in its tentative way, how she felt inside, what drove her. It showed us who she was.
I didn’t change it. But I did consider it. And that same publisher made some other suggestions for changes with which I did agree. I’ve gotten to the point that I find myself comfortably taking roughly half of the suggestions given to me.
Getting criticism is never fun, but it really could be doing you a favor. Criticism just could be the grit that polishes your work to a brilliant shine.
Have the guts to be willing to yield.

Originally published by Indies Unlimited on July 29, 2014.