Going by the attention that my story Just Another Love Story has generated, and the number of people who have thought that it's my "own love story", I thought I should write about the birth of the story and what it was before it ended up in its current state.
And, hey, it's another reason to blog :)
It was early October 2003, and I was in New York. (Yes, already in New York, not in Chennai). Since I was living in Secaucus and working in Manhattan, commutation to and from work everyday involved taking a 10 minute walk to the bus stop, catching a bus to Port Authority Bus Terminal (Times Square - 40th or 41st street), catching the number 7 subway train to Grand Central and finally the number 4 or 6 trains to 32nd street which dropped me a block from my office building on Park Avenue. Same thing on the way back. (Except in reverse, of course)
One day as I was returning home, I was not sitting with my roommate (probably because both of us wanted a window seat that day), and the seat next to mine was occupied by a nice looking girl in a suit and carrying a blackberry. I was tempted to start a conversation, to find out what the blackberry was (I'd never seen one before) if for nothing else. But, I didn't. I preferred to sleep instead. Travelling to and from Manhattan does tire one out.
The ride lasts around 30-40 minutes in the evening before the first stop, and if I remember correctly the bus driver dims the lights in the bus to allow people to take a short nap. People who intend to read can turn on their personal lights.
A few minutes into the ride, when I was awake and was looking out the window, she asked me if I could put my light on. Her light wasn't enough to see her blackberry with. Or it was something like that. Can't remember the exact reason she spoke to me, but it was about the light above my head. Anyway.
So we got talking about what the little PDA-like thingy was, and other stuff. A comfortable conversation, that lasted till I got off the bus.
That was the end of that story.
A couple of weeks later, (I assume it was later, though it could have been earlier, in which case the last few paragraphs would be unconnected to the rest of this post - though I don't really think that's true), I had got a hold of the song "As I Lay Me Down" by Sophie B Hawkins. I'd never heard this one before, though I'd heard one other song of hers.
I fell in love with the song instantly. It was sweet, simple, and so positive, that I must have heard it 8-10 times the next morning on my way to the office (on my MP3 player). I believe while I was in the bus to Port Autority, I came up with the idea of JALS, though I'd pictured it a little differently. (But the important thing is that it was while listening to the song umpteen times that I came up with the initial idea for the story. It's the one that inspired the story! Do listen to the song if you like slow but foot-tapping sweet music. Of course, my brother loves Heavy Metal, and even he loves the song, so try it either way.)
As soon as I reached office, I started writing. Considering that I do have to work while I'm in the office, it took me the whole day to pen the first two thousand words. And it had an ending that I scratched out as soon as I had finished it. It was that bad.
And, the story had started out quite differently too. The first sentence itself was pointed in a different direction. The earliest version of the story that I can locate, began with "It all started on a lovely December morning in the hottest city in the world" as opposed to "It was a lovely December morning in the hottest city in the world". Because when I started penning the story, I'd intended to meet Preeti Mehra for the first time in the bus itself. And I'd originally written something like "On this particular day, a new girl got on the bus" and not "a girl got on the bus". Of course, the second I'd finished that sentence I scratched out the "new" and decided that I must already know her, or she just wouldn't come up and say "Hello". Things like that don't happen to me. Of course, I was also feeling too lazy to dream up a reason for starting a conversation. (No, I couldn't use the real life example. The story was based in Chennai. We don't use Blackberrys in Chennai.)
In fact, in the earliest version that I currently can locate (dated November 13th 2003), Preeti actually used to try to get me introduced to other girls.
If there were a girl I was interested in, she’d do her best to make sure I got an introduction. In spite of her best efforts, though, I was still single. I think she tried too hard. Girls never get romantically interested in a "Nice Guy".
The point I'm trying to make is that as I get farther down the story, a lot of stuff I've already written, becomes inconsistent with the stuff I'm writing. I have a basic idea about the plot, but haven't really decided where the characters are going to end up. I think it's because at some level they begin to have a life of their own, and I just have to let them live it out!
Anyway, so at that point I was also reminiscing about my first published article "Rants Of A Single Guy! " which had been published on Sulekha less than three months previously.
The first ending, was all teary eyed, and "I love you", "Oh I love you too!" "boo hoo hoo", and so on. I hated it before I'd finished it, and as soon as I was done, I selected the last paragraph, and sort of seperated it from the rest of the document (I use MS Word), putting the comment "Pathetic Alternative ending" or something like that. I wish I had a copy of that document. (Even in its current version, the anguish levels keep increasing from the point where he finds out he loves her, to the point where he says "I don't want to go.")
Anyway. So I started again at the point where they are sitting at the airport and he's about to blurt it out. This time, I went more or less like the current version of the story, except that I stopped with "And that moment, my dear friends, was magic."
It stayed that way for a day or two, I think. It wasn't feeling complete. Too many things were unresolved. I hadn't even started the second draft yet, to iron out the kinks. But that wasn't what was bothering me. What was bothering me was that it seemed too cruel to have them spend only a couple of hours with each other before being separated for two whole years. (Even if it was only an exaggeration of something that happened with a friend of mine - 4 days and then 8 months).
So then I added the bit where she's the one who's been scheming, and is coming to New York after him. Once I'd done that, the story did seem complete.
So I left it that way for a few weeks. These early versions with small changes made every few days, were seen by a few of my friends - in all their inconsistency. She introduces him to other girls while she's pining away for him. How selfless! She's very tomboyish but gets quite droopy in between.
So the initial "Tomboyish" became "Slightly Tomboyish". She didn't introduce him to other girls, she took him to the opera.
The feedback until then had been positive, but I knew as a reader, that the story wasn't that good, so I was looking for some real critics. I showed it to a couple of more friends. One who always praises anything I write (she's one of the reasons I actually wrote Rants, and submitted it to Sulekha), and one who tends to be a little more frank about her opinion. (You've got to have balance. Only criticism would have killed my intentions of showing the story to anyone, for sure.)
The first one, of course, came back saying "I was glued to my monitor for the entire 3000+ words!" and the second one came back saying "It's nice, but I liked your first article better". So I probed and she verbalized my exact feelings about the story in its current state. That it left too many open issues. There were a number of things that could be interpreted in more than one way, and have the reader say "But if he did that two paragraphs ago, why is he doing this now?". Or general stuff about characterization.
The argument against these kinds of questions, is that people are inconsistent by nature. That people actually do things that you can't explain. And, of course, sometimes it's a bad idea to tell the reader everything. Doesn't leave much to the imagination.
Which is why I'd not bothered to tie up all the lose ends. But hearing the same concerns outside of my own head, made me realise that they might be important enough to tie up. Still, I didn't touch the story for another couple of weeks, till around 17th December 2003. And even then, I only updated it because...
Wait. Gotta have a bit of a flashback.
On November 13, 2003, I decided that I wanted to preserve a version of the story somewhere online, so that even if I lost my harddisk, or anything like that, I'd be able to get my hands on the last version. So I uploaded it as a Private contribution on Sulekha. Which meant no one but I could see it. (I hadn't got into the blogging scene at that time)
The problem, was that Private contributions on Sulekha weren't working very well. So, though I could upload the story, I couldn't see it, or download it.
I wrote to Sulekha with my problem and the editor responded with an email (they used to be very prompt at that time) asking me to send the Word document to her and that she'd upload it for me. I complied, stating very clearly that the version I was sending her was only a draft (might have used the caps lock here), and that it was only supposed to go as a Private contribution. I didn't want it put up for public view when I knew it wasn't really complete. I'm normally quite nervous about anything I write that is supposed to be a serious piece of literature before it becomes public to the whole bloody world. The next mail from her was one telling me they'd work on the Private contributions issue, but that until then I could post it as a Private Weblog. I more or less ignored this mail, making a mental note to myself to try that some day. That was November 17th.
Now, coming back to the 17th of December. Swapna (then editor of Sulekha) wrote me a mail saying
Nice story there.
I want to publish it on Sulekha next week.
If the final draft is ready, please send it across to me at the earliest.
PS: Sounds very autobiographical. If I am right, I suppose Preeti must be busy baking cakes for you..:)
So. She'd read my story. She liked it so much that she didn't even wait for me submit it! You can imagine that my ego was bloated. By quite a bit. Until then I'd decided to submit it for the Love Story contest I knew they'd be having around Valentine's day. (It's really difficult to come up with a story on demand, even if they give you a whole month. I'm not Asimov, you know).
But I was so delighted that someone who was an editor of a popular online magazine had actually asked me if she could use my story - for someone like me, that's like an offer to publish my book - that I changed my mind, and decided that I would send the latest copy to her so that she could publish it the next week. And of course, she thought it sounded realistic, which meant that the holes in the story couldn't really be that big.
So, I picked up the story again, and for the next day, went through it again and again, ironing out more kinks, removing paragraphs which made the story inconsistent, and then putting other paragraphs back while maintaining the continuity of the story, adding lines in between which explained a couple of more as yet unexplained things, and so on.
The next day, I sent the story to two more friends asking for an immediate review. One who I think had seen an earlier version, and one hadn't. Both different kinds of people. Both of whom I didn't think would be that hugely impressed by any story that fell into the category of a "love story". The guy loved it. Which was surprising. Did not expect that kind of response from him. The girl - she'd read the earlier version - asked me to change one or two words which sounded wrong (I'd had them in mind, but wanted to know if anyone else noticed them, since I couldn't think of what to replace them with). Changed one. The other is still in there. Any guesses? ;)
She also told me what parts of the story she especially liked - like the conversation in the beginning where he wants to sleep and she wants to talk - and so my confidence in the story increased. I'd been biting my nails (metaphorically, of course) until then.
So, finally, with fingers on both hands crossed, (and typing with your hands in that state is not easy) I sent the story to Sulekha with the title "Yet Another Love Story". Simply because I couldn't think of a better title that did not give the ending away.
Swapna complained that there was already a story with that name on the site. So I had to think of another one. (I'd complained about their changing the title of my first article from "Rants from a nice guy" to "Rants of a single guy" without asking me, so I guess she decided let me do it this time.) She said she would think of something too.
While I came up with:
Yet Another 'Yet Another Love Story' (which I thought was funny)
Yet Another Love Tale (Ew)
Tale of Love (I hated this even while I suggested it)
Not Another Love Story! (which is what I'd thought of the first time I started writing the story, except that I thought many people might not understand the significance of the "Another" in italics. And that that might give them the wrong idea.)
Oh No! Not Another Love Story! (which was a remedy to the problems with the previous title, but had too many exclamations.)
One More Love Story (which I might have used if a brainwave hadn't given me the next idea)
Just Another Love Story (which I really liked)
She came up with:
Way to a man's heart (which I hated, of course)
So on the 20th of December, we decided on Just Another Love Story.
And that's how the story came to be! :)