Today we are thrilled to have author N.K. Johel here with a guest post for our This Is Why I Write Series. We’ve also got a giveaway of a set of both of her Bollywood Storm books fo you today which I adore, so sit back and enjoy!
For those of you that are familiar with our This is Why I Read series; This is Why I Write is a companion feature where we will be offering guests (in this case writers and authors from all forms and genres) the chance to talk about why they write and offer insights from the mundane to the monumental into why they personally choose to make writing a part of their lives.
This is Why I Write
Defying Orwell and Finding Light in the Literary Dark
By N.K. Johel, Author
As a writer who’s just recently published, and is working towards getting their work out to readers, I find there’s a lot of self-examination involved when presenting oneself. One of the questions I’ve come across in online interviews is “Why do you write?” Although a simple response like “because I want to” might be sufficient for blog or a short article, to understand why I write better, I decided to study why other authors write for this article. The first blog entry I came across on the web was a discussion of literary motivation by many writers, including George Orwell:
[George] Orwell believes there are four explicit motives for writing. “They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living,” he mused. For Orwell, writers put pen to paper — or these days, fingers to keyboard — out of “sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose.”
Alison Nastasi, flavorwire.com
Needless to say, my jaw dropped at such words. We live in a society where the use of the word ‘ego’ is often viewed as negative. It brings up connotations of someone who is self-centered and ‘egotistical.’ I remember my experience as a student at Emily Carr many years ago. I was struggling with a myriad of situations as a student that were coming to a head. A fellow student commented on my angry outburst, saying that ‘we artists are sensitive, and it’s okay to be a jerk.’ My response to her was, “Well, I guess any excuse will do,” thereby embracing my ‘inherent right as an artist’ to be a jerk. I don’t think I’m deflecting in suggesting that maybe we all carry these motives?
The article on Orwell continues with another quote from him:
“I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”
Okay, this guy was now ticking me off. I don’t think I’m vain, selfish and lazy. I work, I have a day job, I have a home to take care of. I have friends who I help, who help me. I have given time and efforts to organizations the best I can, along with the challenges of writing the best way I know. I know plenty of artists who give up the luxuries of every day to dig deep and bring art to the world. Something to evoke thought, feeling, spiritual growth.
I was reminded that words are powerful, and what you read, you must examine. Then, while researching Orwell, I discovered that he had a calloused view of life. But that was his view, and I won’t dismiss it here. As was recently revealed, Orwell, whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair, was born in India – in Motihari, Bihar. He grew up in Henley-on-Thames in England, but, nevertheless, Motihari is currently opening a museum in his honor. Looking at his early life, it seems he lacked a certain connectedness, especially to his father; and he was a sickly child, often left on his own pursuits. Loneliness and pain are sometimes reasons people begin writing or other creative endeavors. It’s a form of conversation with the higher self, or a higher power, or (in the absence of those) with the world. Orwell also lived through both the World Wars, and so perhaps it’s no wonder he became a doomsday prophet.
However, Orwell’s comments above are also how many everyday people view artists, and often how artists view themselves—as particularly vain, selfish and lazy creatures. But that is anything but true. I’ve met as many vain, selfish and lazy accountants, doctors, and politicians as I have artists. Recently, while participating in one of my guilty pleasures as a ‘#HashtagWarrior’ on Twitter, I got into a discussion about ego, writing, and suffering, with a fellow author:
@Bollywood_Storm in general, if you suffered lots & your ego is so needy enough, then you’re willing to suffer huge rejection long enough to succeed.
@1stungun Hmmm, if my ego were weak, I’d think that was a bad thing. It’s just the next level [of the game]….
It was just serendipitous that I came across the George Orwell quote the next morning (on a Saturday, after a difficult week at work) while I was musing about how to write this article. Orwell provided me with some ground to examine.
In my corner of the world, my reality was that of a Sikh-Canadian girl living between two cultures, and struggling against very deep lines drawn between the East and the West, and with my role as a woman within my South Asian and family cultures. The rigidness of that tradition and the lack of recognition of people’s individual, intrinsic value and humanity, always seemed to be forefront in my mind as I grew up. I didn’t decide to address these issues artistically when I was writing my first story, drawing my first picture, or attempting to write my first song lyrics, and I don’t think most young artists start out that way. But the grist for my writing and art has often come from those experiences, and from my responses to them. Indeed, every intention is a pebble tossed into a pond.
Beyond my personal struggles, I also experienced a Western world full of imposed limitations. In his high school yearbook, the Canadian guitarist, Bruce Cockburn wrote that he wanted to become a musician. I wonder how naive his intentions were, as mine were when I announced in my own yearbook that I wanted to be a famous songwriter and travel the world. Coburn’s political concerns were first hinted at on the albums: Humans, Inner City Front and The Trouble with Normal. I see it as a call towards a vision unknown, and not utopian, but where personal and spiritual growth is involved, it may be necessary to deal with the world and the reality of the historical karma we live in. Dangerous thoughts. But a place to go. Art and literature begin with the selfish pursuit of recognizing and honoring one’s thoughts, honestly. That’s the mystery.
George Orwell’s writing seems to express no hope, and it sees no underlying beauty in the people, places and things that exist within the limitations imposed by all our historical realities. In Orwell’s work, the dreams and hopes of humanity are regularly dashed in favor of responsibility to the economic, cultural and religious machinery that runs our world. Indeed, in Animal Farm, even attempts to reform these systems are doomed to fall apart:
Years pass. Many animals age and die, and few recall the days before the Rebellion. The animals complete a new windmill, which is used not for generating electricity but for milling corn, a far more profitable endeavor. The farm seems to have grown richer, but only the many pigs and dogs live comfortable lives.
Animal Farm, Chapter 10
Orwell uses satire effectively to rip the covers off the propaganda of his day, lay bare the ruthless systems to be seen for what they are, and demonstrate there is no hope in them. I will not dismiss what he saw and experienced in life, but I will dispute his portrayal of artists.
I write, paint and engage in creative activities because I love to. But also, because I have to. I’ve tried walking away, but like a great love and obsession, it drags me back. Reason tells me that I should do other things: make a living, pay my bills, keep respectable in my society. But, sooner or later, the struggle gives way, and I find myself sitting down with a pen or a paintbrush, resigned to my fate, like a scolded child. Then, it all begins to come together, and I start to examine my universe and my relations with others and attempt to re-balance myself.
In Bollywood Storm, I created my imaginary world and employed many, many characters to expose to various situations and examine what happens. My lead character, Elanna Forsythe George, was trying to solve the murder of Simryn Gill and her illegitimate father, a licentious Bollywood Director. But every clue brings her to a dead end until she finds herself interrogating her last possible lead, Gary Dhami, a two-bit Bollywood actor, in a secure hospital room. Gary wants to be a top-top star. He’d do anything to stroke his own ego and achieve grandiosity, fame and wealth—yes, even commit murder. (And isn’t this the way people tend to see artists?) But Gary fails, and despite the extremely high security, he’s unexpectedly assassinated, taken down by the powerful and mysterious forces of the underground cartel that runs Bollywood.
Elanna loses it. Gary’s death breaks her exterior cool. Now, she becomes angry and unreasonable, and indeed rather childlike, until finally, she’s blind to any consequences. In this passage, she’s sitting with her colleagues, who recommend that she turn the case over to someone else:
“. . . I know what you’re thinking! You think I’m a little too big for my pants don’t you? You think I think I’m up there. You think I think I’m ‘so‑o‑o‑o much’. Well, I’ll tell you what, I don’t just think I’m ‘so-o-o-o much’. The fact is, I know that ‘I’m so‑o‑o much’ and no one will ever be able to take that away from me!
Bollywood Storm I (New York), Ch. 17.
Elanna displays an awful lot of pride here, doesn’t she? But, I think, she also shows an awful lot of compassion. She’s willing to go through anything to solve this case—including Hell (which is how it turns out). This phenomenon is sometimes called “kicking the darkness until it bleeds daylight”, the choice to rail against the walls until – we hope – they all fall down.
That’s the mystery of writing. I’m surprised at how much light can be found in the literary darkness. I discover how irascible, opinionated, passionate and compassionate, unreasonable and hopeful I am. Despite my friendly, warm and generously harmless exterior, I can be such a jerk. It’s human. It’s real. And it’s foolish. But that doesn’t detract from the writing. I’m surprised at the uniqueness of each character and what motivates them, and how each of them responds to the history they’ve brought with them. I’m fascinated by the themes and patterns of each character and discovering what they create for themselves.
N.K. Johel is a third generation Sikh-Canadian. Her grandfather (who was born in the 1860’s or so) emigrated to North America during the first decade of the twentieth century. Yet, due to many complex, historical happenings in the mid-twentieth century, she didn’t begin to learn English until she started primary school.
She gravitated to the fine arts during her school years in Lake Cowichan. As a young adult, she moved to Nanaimo to study theatre at Vancouver Island Univerity, and then to Vancouver to study painting and fine arts at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. Her interest in literature developed informally. She credits Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Michael Ondaatje’s Running In The Family as the works that rekindled her interest in writing.
Find Her All The Places
Title: Bollywood Storm Book I: New York; Bollywood Storm Book II: Mumbai
Series: An Elanna Forsythe George Mystery
Author: N K Johel
Genre: Literary, Mystical Thriller
Format: E-book and Paperback
Publisher: EFG Publishing
ISBN: 978-0991797783, 978-0991797738
Date Published: Dec. 27, 2015
Elanna Forsythe George is a Boston-born New York forensic scientist who takes on cold cases. Stone cold dead cases. She solves murders in an unusual way, with her accidentally acquired paranormal abilities. Her cases usually come to her a few years after high-powered mainstream investigations, police and legal proceedings have all failed and there‘s a dead end. But she doesn’t take every case. . . .
Book I – New York. Elanna is hired by the Bollywood starlet, Simryn Gill, to reopen the case of Rajesh Sharma, a Bollywood director who died, supposedly of a heart attack, two years previous. Even though it appears to be a simple heart attack, there is no drama, no gossip, no controversy in the Bollywood media. Somewhere in that odd, conspicuous silence, Elanna smells a big rat.
Book. II – Mumbai. Elanna’s powerful and unpredictable powers lead her encounter a wild and reckless persona named Christine, who works the Bollywood scene to try get the two of them inside the Bollywood mob, but Christine’s mission fails. Soon after, Elanna endures a vision of the Goddess Kali Ma, who transforms her into a beautiful, pure talent; a dancer named Rakhi. Now, the two headstrong women must work together to infiltrate the mob scene and expose those behind the serpentine Bhujangen cult that controls Bollywood, and uncover the dark forces behind the deaths of Rajesh Sharma and more than half his illegitimate children.
Bollywood Storm is a dark, multicultural comedy classified as a Bollywood Murder Mystery. Along the way, it’s also a meditation on Eastern and Western cultures, self, identity, ego, and intimacy; and it’s got the five song and dance numbers in it, too.
Find The Books All The Places
N.K. has generously decided to give away a paperback set of both books in her Bollywood Storm series (which I really did love.. review to come very soon!) to one winner.
Up For Grabs:
One Paperback Set: Bollywood Storm Book I: New York AND Bollywood Storm Book II: Mumbai
Bollywood Storm Book I: New York AND Bollywood Storm Book II: Mumbai
(US Only) (Ends 3/6)
CONGRATULATIONS to our WINNER
Good Luck and I hope you enjoyed N K’s post. Please feel free to leave comments for her below!