Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What is A Season For Martyrs?

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because Grammarly is like a 12-Step program for pedants and grammar Nazis, and if there's anyone addicted to pedantry on a fascistic scale, it's me.

I've just finished the final edits on my new novel, A Season For Martyrs, and sent it in to my editor at Delphinium Books, who is now going to put the novel into production at the publishing house. Hopefully the novel will be out next summer, which seems like an incredibly long time to wait for a book. But that's nothing compared to the process it takes to actually write the book, go through several drafts, show it to a few trusted readers, go through more drafts... then send it to your agent who will also edit it at least once to make sure it's submission-worthy.

Then, once the book is sold to a publisher, your editor there will really go to town on it and you'll have to edit it again (I did this three times with my editor, the amazing Joseph Olshan who is an acclaimed novelist in his own right as well as being the acquisitions editor at Delphinium. My last round of edits was done on the plane here, at 35,000 feet - that's a first for me). And once I've handed the book in, a copy editor will take a last look at it before it is turned into proofs. And then we'll edit it ONE MORE TIME in proof form.

Oh my God, I've just bored myself to death, so I can't even imagine what you must be feeling like, reading this post. And if you're still with me, now I'll tell you what the book is about by showing you the synopsis of the novel. A synopsis is also an essential part of the book publishing process: you write one for your agent so she can show it to editors she's approaching with your manuscript. It had better be good because it's what will tempt them to even consider looking at the first few pages of the novel. And if the first few pages are any good, they'll read a chapter, then three, then maybe, if you're lucky, the whole book.

And then they'll have internal meetings where the initial editor has to sell your book to the rest of the editorial team, and the marketing team, and the publishers themselves. And only when they've decided that you're any good, they'll decide whether or not your book has potential, whether it will sell. These are the two most important questions they consider when deciding whether or not to buy your book: are you a good writer? and will your book sell? That's it. Nothing else matters.

So, without further ado:

A Season For Martyrs

Ali Sikandar is a young television journalist in Karachi, the son of a wealthy landowner originally from the interior of Sindh. Estranged from his father, Ali finds himself swept up in events larger than his individual struggle for identity and love when he is assigned by his producer to cover the arrival of Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader who has returned home to Karachi after eight years of exile to take part in the presidential race.

He joins the protest movement of the People’s Resistance Movement, a civil society group that opposes the current government of President Musharraf, the benevolent dictator turned strongman. Amidst improvised parades, protest marches, rallies in favor Benazir Bhutto and deadly terrorist attacks, the life of Ali opens in a new direction and the young man discovers love, the conflict with his traditionalist father, the desire to fight and the power of forgiveness.

And above all, Ali rediscovers its roots, gaining a new awareness of Pakistan and especially of his land, Sindh. The story of his experience, which examines the last three months of Benazir Bhutto - from her arrival in Pakistan on October 18, 2007 to her untimely, violent death in a shooting-cum-suicide bombing on 27 December 2007 - is told in an intense, confessional style.

This contemporary narrative thread intertwines with flashbacks told in dramatic multiple voices and styles that chronicle the history of Ali’s own feudal family and that of the Bhutto family; the powerful Pir Pagaro, the head of the warrior-like Hurs; of colonial British and imperialist American interference; and the influence of Sufi mystics on the land of Sindh throughout the centuries.

The double narrative composes an image of extraordinary depth which illustrates the many contradictions of a country that still struggles to enter fully into modernity.  With Benazir Bhutto serving as the potent and poignant motif of this novel, A Season For Martyrs by Bina Shah is the story of a country seeking justice and democracy, seen through the eyes of Ali Sikandar, a son of tradition, who is determined to learn the meaning of freedom, no matter what the price.

A Season For Martyrs had a whole other life before it came to Delphinium. It was published in Italy in 2010 under the Italian title Il Bambino Che Credeva Nella Liberta (The Boy Who Believed in Liberty). It won a literary award at the Amalfi Coast literary festival in the same year. But the book has undergone many, many changes in the painful editing process I've described above, and so it's going to be reborn, as it were, next summer, in the United States. I hope to have it published in the UK and in other languages, too.

I'm not sure whether I will feel like sending out a press release or a birth announcement when it's here, but both feel appropriate.

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