More Sepia Mutiny Posts

Hello all...

here are some more posts from my guest-blogging stint at Sepia Mutiny...I very much enjoyed working with the bloggers, who are exceptionally articulate and interesting people. The comments section, however, leaves me a little cold...too many trolls looking for pointless argument. That said, it's a great site, and here are some links!

Indian Woman Marries Snake

Computers Without Words

Apu-Calypse Now

The Freedom To Write

So Long, Farewell

For all future lawyerwriter posts, go to And gentlemen--while the blog is run by three girls who like to dish and gossip, it is resolutely NOT a woman's blog. It will however, help you understand why smart women are sick of Cosmo and Glamour. Since all three bloggers are entertainment involved in various aspects of pop culture, get ready for a hefty dose of television, movie and book publishing commentary...

For all those who put up with my erratic blogging, this also means regular, near-daily posts. What are you waiting for? Click here for the latest lawyerwriter posts!

Big Changes For This Blog!


the lawyerwriter is guest blogging at Sepia Mutiny for the next month, so check out my posts there. There might be occasional entries on this blog, but probably not often--just the occasional musing on the evils of the publishing industry.


the lawyerwriter is moving house! Soon (though not sure when) the lawyerwriter is going to find a new, permanent blogging home at Sirens Magazine. Those of you linked to the lawyerwriter will be sent to my new, gorgeous home, and, hopefully, regular, reliable blogging posts.

So definitely check out Sepia Mutiny for my latest posts...

Nerd v. Geek

The source of my pop culture fixation, E! Entertainment Television (sorry VH1--you are dead to me, expect for America's Top Model marathons) is already promoting its Mother's Day show Rise of the Geeks, and while the link is incredibly unhelpful, the commercial flashes an unusual array faces: familiar ones, like Adam Brody, Zach Braff and Bill Gates, and the more radical choices like Adam Sandler (please. a total jock, not a nerd or a geek). The ladies are probably represented by the likes of Lisa Loeb and Allison Hannigan (of Buffy fame), who have their own brand of geek chic, usually involving glasses or band camp.

Now, it is important to get the terms straight, for a variety of reasons, but the most important of which is that I am both nerd and geek, and I like to have the various parts of my personality neatly labeled. I use the phrenology head in my living room as my example. To bolster my defintions, I bring in our guest consultant, Wikipedia, the largest growing encyclopedia (who would probably get a lot more writers and accurate information if they gave authorial credit, but are awesome anyway).

"Nerd" is a derogatory term for someone of high I.Q., academic standing, and either adequate or dubious social skills, depending on your definition. For example, in the 1980's, skinny underage Indian girls who spent all their time in the library were known as nerds, or, in a particular case, "Nerdja."

"Geek" is a derogatory term for someone whose passions/obsessions are outside the mainstream, making them oddballs. Many geeks are technology/science geeks, but regardless of the field, geeks are obsessive in their devotion. For example, in the 1980's, skinny underage Indian girls who stared endless into the San Jose night with an old-fashioned telescope, trying vainly to find the rings of Uranus, were known as geeks.

Therefore, please do not throw those terms around. Admittedly, I am not a geek/nerd on the outside. I do not embrace geek chic; I strive more for "corporate goth bombshell." That said, I am still a nerd and geek on the inside, which is why when the hot dog vendor on my dog walk flirts with me, I get embarassed and think he's making fun of me. Okay, briefly. As with rap, I'm old-school--if you were a geek or nerd before it became trendy, then you have felt my pain.

The following criteria will help you distinguish whether you are truly a nerd and/or geek, or simply posing as such because it is fashionable.

The criteria:

1. Own, or still own, some of the original Dungeons and Dragons game books. Don't waste my time if you just "played the game" or "watched the (crappy) cartoon or (even crappier) movie." Unless you know the difference between comeliness and charisma, know how to calculate the hit dice of a mature green dragon (breath weapon: noxious gas), why Dragonlance books rock and who the dark lord of Ravenloft is, you don't qualify. However--if you still have one of the multiple-sided dice, you have a shot. Bonus points for sides over twenty.

For the record, I own a few books, my most prized possession being The Oriental Ad&D Handbook. I was always the Wu Jen-Kensai--magic and katana power.

2. Was addicted, in a serious, disturbing way, to at least one video game in your youth. It doesn't matter if it's Castle Wolfenstein on your brother's Playstation or Tetris at work, or 3-D Tetris at work or Tekken on your cousin's X-Box. We're talking: visual impairment when not playing, blisters on thumbs, nervous twitch that causes you to stack and unstack boxes, or charge into street fights with large panda bears.

3. Love anime. I mean serious, old school, Voltron, Robotech, Starblazers, Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Thieves, G-Force/Battle of the Planets--not-just-porn anime. Anime is the true sign of the discerning nerd, before it got overly uplifted in Spirited Away and bludgeoned into hyperactive stupidity with Pokemon. Please note: the following do not count as anime: G.I. Joe (though I loved it), He- Man (go She-Ra!),Thundercats, Transformers (surprisingly!). Some argue for Inspector Gadget; I find this assertion dubious.

4. Took the SAT at least three times. I took it six. I was the only twelve-year old at the testing center. AND: took at least two (2) of the following standardized tests: PSAT, AP (at least 2), ACT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT. Extra points for GRE Subject Science. GMAT takers are neither nerds nor geeks; they were playing baseball and nominating themselves for Vice President of the student body in order to have stuff to put on their b-school resume.

5. Was continually, steadily picked last for every sport except for badminton, and that's only because the racket wasn't so heavy to lift. (Alternatively: unable to catch, throw, hit or even spot the ball during softball). Bonus points: consistently failing the state-required physical fitness requirements (fifty situps? who's in charge, Patton?)

6. Was consistently, steadily bullied by at least two (2) different individuals at two (2) different stages of childhood/adolescence/teen years. Bonus points are awarded for the higher in the social ladder your bully was--for example, a grabby stoner is far less significant than, say, The Girl Voted Most Attractive her senior year of high school.

7. Had at least two of the following at an inappropriate time: braces (say, during senior year around the prom), glasses (since kindergarten), bad skin (ah, puberty), untamed facial hair (I really should have taken a razor to myself), sudden changes in voice (singing lessons were not a good idea), cuticle chewing, an undershirt instead of a bra, nail biting, hair-chewing, unfortunate makeup choices (blue eyeshadow and big earrings), unshaven legs (learning the hard way in the locker room) and, worst of all, unfortunately ignored armpits (ditto).

8. An unusual (or unhealthy) interest (or aptitude) in technology (or pure science) to the point that when that kid from the 'Nsync tried to buy his way into space, you thought about dating him just so he'd take you along, even though you have a strict no-boy-band policy. Oh yes, and a tendency to read chaos theory or The Dancing Wu Li Masters or Brief History of Time when drunk, making for strange falling dreams. (Please: let's keep the threshold for this high. Science fair ribbons, yes. Ipod critic for Vanity Fair, not so much).

9. Knows why it's very, very important for X3: The Last Stand, to get everything about Dark Phoenix/Jean Grey/Madeline Pryor right, and if they muck it up with too much romance with Wolverine or bad special effects, they really won't get the full impact of the whole Dark Phoenix story. Plus they're already in the doghouse for the Rogue/Ice Man romance, which is so boring and not worth passing up an opportunity to introduce her Cajun, card-throwing, French-mangling lover Gambit, aka Remy LeBeau, to be played by Dennis Quaid as he was in The Big Easy, preferably with his shirt off. (I will accept Josh Lucas if he can do the accent). Which, may, MAY make up for the fact that the X-Men cartoon is off the air, even if it wasn't very good, and Jubilee was incredibly annoying and they kept fighting robots. But it doesn't make up for the fact that all the X-Men videogames SUCKED.

Sorry about that. Number (9) is an unhealthy obsession with at least one series of comic books to the point that you start drawing your own secret comic book where you have the power to fly and manage a complex, superhero-oriented lovelife.

And finally...

10. Could never really fall for someone who doesn't find it cute that, at your core, you are still a nerd and/or geek.

The Last Word on Opal Mehta

Look, it's bad enough that I've got to walk my dogs past a water-logged David Blaine five times today, but are we still beating up on that 17 year old with the unfortunately large book deal? All the browbeating is extraneous. Let the numbers tell the tale, simply:

Age of Kaavya Viswanathan when deal was made: 17

Age of person old enough to sign a legally binding contract: 18

Percentage of book completed at the time of the deal: 34, approximately

Dollars in advance: almost 500,000

Average dollars in first-time fiction advance: 15,000, maybe.

Number of William Morris agents involved: at least 4

Figures in Dreamworks deal: 6, at least

People involved in "packaging" book at 17th Street/Alloy Entertainment: uncounted.

Alloy Entertainment average percentage of advance: 30-50

Agent's percentage: 15-20

Kaavya's actual advance in dollars: 150,000 to 275,000

Date of deal: February 2005

Print run (number of books printed): 100,000

Copies shipped to bookstores: 55,000

Copies sold: 15,000 or less

Date of scandal: April 2006

Number of passages that are reportedly plagarized: 40 (some say 50)

Number of sources of plagiarism: at least 4

Publisher's loss, in dollars: 485,000 + publicity outlay, recall costs, productions costs, value of publishing reputation, smear on publishing as a whole)

Alloy's gain, in dollars: 150,000 to 250,000 (minus value of souls sold to Lucifer & Co.,)

Book deal Kaavya has now: 0

Film deal Kaavya has now: 0

Years of school she has left at Harvard: 3

Kaavya's current age: 19

Years left to live with this: 60-70, approximately.

Ebay average price for hardcover copy of discontinued book: $30.00

Number of people who have asked my dad about his daughter, Kaavya: 4

Number of people who have said to him that "She looks just like you": 2

Number of times my father wanted to say "My daughter, who goes to Harvard...": innumerable

Amount of money that I would have to be paid to make up for never be taken seriously as a writer: 7 figures, at least, and the promise that I could write privately.

Privilege of having a future as an author: priceless.

Our Very Own Rico Suave

Many thanks to mediabistro and tiffinbox for linking the yesterday's Kaavya Viswanathan post to their sites. My readers will be satisfied to know that, despite urging from some quarters, I do not intend to see my ridiculous connection to a teenage plagiarist to the logical pr conclusion: that is, mention from, article in trendy 'zine, artful pose in fashion magazine, book deal, high-profile boyfriend, Page Six mention, major network tv appearance, catfight, diva attitude, lawsuit, reality show, talk show, hell. Unless, of course, Kaavya starts doing any more of that shit, in which case we'll have to just throw down. She may be rich and overachieving but I'm older and ornery and I fight dirty.

Meanwhile, does anyone else feel that we are just not paying enough attention to Vikram Chatwal. Who is he, you ask? This 30-something Sikh billionaire graduated from Wharton and is ostensibly an executive in his father's empire and some sort of creative consultant (don't ask celebrity photographer Dave LaChappelle about it), but what he's mostly known as is the "turban cowboy," known for partying with Gisele and Leo (he has a "G" on his arm), crisscrossing through every velvet rope between here and Kolkata and Mumbai, but not Chennai, baby, that's a little too lower east side for him. This character has been nightclubbing his way into my party-going unconsciousness; he travels in a pack, usually all indian guys, and is supposed to be the messiah of the new Cool Indian American Party Animal. Think Paris Hilton with facial hair and a turban. And a shirt open to the hairy navel.

Well, I say, let's keep him around. Wherever he goes, unintentional comedy ensues. For example, I urge you to check out the hilarious New York magazine article about his wedding. (Yes, it happened over a month ago, but what do you want from me? I've been in a publishing-induced coma). It's hard to point out the particularly fine moments of mirth--Vikram's Svengali father pushing a "nice" Indian socialite (with flat abs, natch) at his still-partying son, or a reference to the aimless Dustin Hoffman, lost in his own rites of passage, in The Graduate. The wedding apparently out Bollywood's Bollywood, which means there wasn't an elephant or dance choreographer in all of India that wasn't involved in the preparations. So all of you who get your jollies reading about exotic Indian marathon--er, weddings--will like that as well.

I was hooked up for a "job" for Vikram Chatwal back in 1996--to do a "treatment" for a movie about a Sikh hero. I use quotes because that's what he told me--even though he had no idea what those words meant. What the turban cowboy wanted from me was a full screenplay, for under a thousand dollars. I delivered a treatment, as promised.

Six months of phone calls later, he still hadn't paid me. So, naturally, not knowing his father's supernatural powers or Vikram's own innate star quality, I fired up my relic fax machine and faxed his father a letter threatening to sue. As my attorney, I put Nolan Ryan. I had meant to put Nolan Jackson, my father's boss, but for some reason, no one at Chatwal HQ seemed to recognize the famous baseball pitcher's name. Apparently he wasn't going to the right clubs.

This resulted in a phone call from Vikram in ten minutes. After much legal threatening both ways, I realized that the idiot truly expected me to write a full screenplay around the legend of Guru Gobind Singh (a screenplay-for-hire, with battle scenes, is rarely under $20,000. Rarely) and, instead of dealing with it, just hoped I'd go away. But the man clearly knew that hell hath no fury like some impoverished Indian girl, so he finally relented, saying that a driver would come over with a payment within the week. But he didn't. I called. Vikram blamed the driver. I gave him my address again, and waited. Nothing. I arranged to pick it up at one of the many glorious Chatwal restaurants. No check.

About two weeks after that phone call, I walked over to the lobby of some hotel and got my check. Apparently, all the FOB drivers (his term, not mine) were getting lost on the way to the West Village. The check was made out from a checking account by the name of Sant Chatwal. His dad.

I was angry then, but I'm elated to have him around now. Now Indians can celebrate their very own celebutante, watching him party around and try to be taken seriously as an entrepreneur and artist while his wife pursues her "acting" career, decorates the houses, pops the kids (keep those abs, honey!) and pretends not to notice. My verdict of the guy? I found him boring. Couldn't finish a sentence. None of that "deep spiritual calm" that Deepak Chopra claimed was in his soul. Maybe hungover, but still, no excuse.

But the restaurant served a mean salmon, and the Dream Hotel has a great bar. And Vikram? I predict big things for him. I predict...coverage in non-New York publications. Coverage in non-Indian publications. Coverage in national media...perhaps, dare we say it, US Weekly? In Touch? People? I'm just grasping here...a reality show? Other than MTV Cribs??

One can only hope. I rejoice in the stupidity of all people, but I celebrate it most when it comes in the form of a flashy, cheap Sikh guy who tried to stiff me.

A Viswanathan By Any Other Name

It's been a month since my last post--I've been treating writing very gingerly, saving it all up for revisions of The Devil Inside Her. (What? Not done, you ask? I'll save that for another post).

What has gotten me motivated to write is yet another publishing scandal, a teen-chick-lit Indian-American coming of age thing. God knows it's a hot market, but does any unknown first time Indian-American author deserve half a million dollars for two books?

That's what Kaavya Viswanathan got from Little, Brown & Company almost exactly one year ago. Her $500,000 advance for two teen novels got the national media's attention for many reasons. First, it's unheard of that a first-time novelist get that kind of advance. It happens, rarely, spectacularly, and the publisher almost never earns it back.

Second, Kaavya Viswanathan, at the time of her deal, was a 17-year old Indian-American girl from New Jersey, about to go to Harvard to become (god help us) an investment banker. Big money for young novelists rarely pays off--and by young, I mean teenage. Even if they go slutty and make Page Six, like Bad Girl by Abigail Vona, they rarely make back a big advance, mostly because very few 17-year olds know anything about the craft of putting a novel together, and the writing usually sucks. But Kaavya Viswanathan's first book, with its unwieldy cutesy title of "How How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got In, was different. It supposedly was well-written, well-plotted, and just tailor-made for the millions of Indian-American teenage girls looking for someone to identify with. A...role model, perhaps? This was all big news, a nation-wide story, but it got my attention a different reason.

You see, the twit has my last name.

Yes, the first Viswanathan with a ridiculous fiction book advance is not a struggling lawyerwriter, but an Ivy League overachiever who got her book published through an Ivy League admissions consultant who knew the right people. Viswanathan is actually a common South Indian name--I know at least six Viswanathans myself--but this is the first Viswanathan who has made an ass out of herself in my profession.

And not through hard work, either I'm not against college consulting--I do it myself--but when a respected, flashy, high profile agent like Suzanne Gluck gets involved, you know the big bucks are about clout, not manuscript. The actual agent is someone else, but the mere fact that William Morris took on a 17-year old author put this deal on another level. This was a handshake-behind closed doors deal, with everybody's eye on the almighty, oh-so-literary, South Asian teen market. Nobody was talking about the writing.

(Anyway, folks, this is the way to get a literary agent. Connections. Stop sending slush out now and start inviting people out to drinks. I'm not kidding).

So little Kaavya gets all sorts of attention, from the Harvard Crimson, to Dreamworks pictures, already envisioning another Bend It Like Beckham, only more American. The book is published, gets decent reviews, is put on a co-op tables--the tables in front of the bookstore--and does fine. For the record, I found the story familiar, to the point of cliche. But then again, I hate teen lit.

Since young Kaavya and I write for very different markets, I wish her no ill will, except she says the most ridiculous post-adolesence nonsense, and they keep quoting her as Ms. Viswanathan: (Example: "Opal Mehta has no sense of fashion. But I love shopping. I take pride in my collection of high heels and short skirts." Listen, you my lightheaded auteuress, I was Ms. Viswanathan before you learned your cursive lettering, and I will be a Viswanathan long after your arranged marriage takes place).

And then writer--an adult--named Mega McCafferty reads the book and realizes that it has HUGE similarities to two of her books (the unfortunately titled Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings). Estimates are that 30-40 passages from Kaavya's book are virtually identical to McCafferty's work. She, in the all-American tradition of a legal suit, alleges that Kaavya, in the all-Bollywood tradition of lifting plots off of American movies, neglected to write her own work and instead ripped off an existing Western novel. In fact, she just colored the characters brown. That's the part that annoys me the most--the sheer lazy cliche of it all.

So today she has admitted the following carefully public-relationed statement:

"Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, and passages in these books. While the central stories of my book and hers are completely different, I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious. My publisher and I plan to revise my novel for future printings to eliminate any inappropriate similarities." More here.

Lovely, darling. All this is code for "you got caught." But before we gather the lynch mob, let's not lose our heads.

A teenage writer of any color, gender or nationality is a sponge. I remember absorbing Jackie Collins and Jack Kerouac, Nabokov and Katherine Chopin, Raymond Chandler and John Grisham indiscriminately, along regular doses J.D. Salinger, Isak Dinesen and Agatha Christie. That's what you're supposed to do in your teenage years--write like all your idols until suddenly it changes, becomes your own voice. These writings are meant for private notebooks, self-indulgent book clubs, and girl-bonding sleepovers. These are NOT meant for publication in trade paperback. Those who walk around saying "this girl has no conscience" should probably take a deep look at what they would have done for half a million dollars when they were 17. This girl was told she was a great writer, worth more than twenty put together, better than all the adults she knew. She was given a ridiculous sum of money for her private scribblings, cobbled from fantasies created from her favorite books. If they were unknown books--so much the better. Is it wrong? Of course. Should she have known it? Absolutely. Do teens like to cheat? Without a doubt.

By the time I graduated college, I had indulged, at least once in all sorts of vices, from minor league drug abuse to dating bad boys to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day to cheating on pop quizzes. It was easy. More importantly, it was fun. There wasn't material enough to hold my attention, and I liked to see what I got away with. No adults encouraged me. No one told me to go further. No one gave me money. Eventually, all my efforts at bad behavior--the rebelling, the conning, the living-by-the-skin-of-my-teeth--seemed pointless. So, like every other rebellious teen, I grew up.

And that's when I became a writer. Because in between the smoking and the hangovers, I learned the craft of writing. I had to read authors I hated, and learned to enjoy their quirkiness. I fell in love with literary criticism. I had a lot of poorly formed opinions that I was forced to back up. I had to write, and rewrite, and be judged, constantly. For my senior thesis I wrote an unfinished gothic novel. My grading professor said it was more like Jane Austen than anything he'd ever seen. That went to my head pretty quickly, but that wasn't enough for me to send it to publishers. I knew better. I knew what really good, really publishable, really classic writing was supposed to be, and I didn't want my words to be judged any less.

So this is How Kaavya Got Published, and Got Caught. But who cares? The only child of two doctors, with access to private Ivy League consultants and a Harvard business degree awaiting, she can put the money in the bank and toddle off. Because she's underage when she wrote the book, it'll be pretty hard to sue her for libel or slander. Only the truly vengeful--or, alternatively, Ms. McCafferty--should care enough to do so. As for the editors/agents/adults? Indian journalist Nilanja (yes, that sounds like my name too) S. Roy notes in The Business Standard that "Kaavya’s editors were comfortable admitting that Opal Mehta needed more work and more “inputs” than most manuscripts, though they gave her credit for an “original” idea" and that the public "did have a fair idea of the many processes that went into the manufacture of this book, complete with the advance, the hype, the deal."

The truth is, this is solely at the feet of the publishing industry, thinking that writing is some sort of game that anyone can play, if they get enough high-powered advance press on their side. Writing, even in this age of publishing, should be for writers--trained, experienced, accomplished writers who understand the business of publishing. (I hope to be one). Throwing a half million dollars at a kid with only her own judgement to guide her is irresponsible, offensive to those who work at our craft, and just plain dumb in terms of business. Kaavya's agent agrees with me 100% arguing--in her defense no less, that "teenagers tend to adopt each other's language" and "as a former teenager myself, I recall that spongelike ability to take popular culture and incorporate it into your own lexicon." Great. I applaud your emphathy, baby, but why are you paying a book packager to "massage" the plot? Why encourage a clever, ambitious, apparent highly absorbent teenager to work with a company, only to come out with a ripoff she could have done herself in her sleep? She's seventeen--you can't even sue her! You don't trust her to walk into a bar to drink or vote for the President--but a six figure advance for a fiction novel when you know that "teenagers adopt each other's language?" Sure. And you'll get exactly what you deserve.

Maybe Kaavya will write another book in a decade or so, but I can't see how she would dare. Still, a good book is a good book, so if she can grow and evolve enough to write one, more power to her. I don't hold grudges when it comes to good writing. We (fellow authors) were all jealous of her advance--admit it, you phonies--and now she has some schadenfraude to deal with.

Just one word of caution to the young authoress: if you do write another book, change your last name. Viswanathan is taken.

The "Hole of Kolkata" Just Doesn't Sound Right

I have been corresponding with one of my favorite artists, Madame Talbot, about our mutual interest in Victoriana. I have always been fascinated with Victorian culture beyond the usual Indian tendency towards anglophilia. Now, of course, the tide has turned, and as Bombay becomes Mumbai and Madras becomes Chennai, I find myself out of the mainstream once again.

It started with stories of Sherlock Holmes, mixed with a steady dose of Louisa May Alcott and the wonderful Maud Hart Louvelace, whose Betsy-Tacy series forever solidified my view of what the world was like. Betsy and Tacy were two small girls growing up in turn-of-century Minnesota. Because the town was heavily German, the girls' third friend, Tib, said things like "Ach" and "liebchein." Theodore Roosevelt was the best president; the pompadour was in style; everyone was just converting from gas to electricity. Living in my own head as always, I was sure that this was how things still were, somewhere. Over the years, it continued with the stories of Edgar Allen Poe and the plays of Oscar Wilde, with their sardonic dark wit. When I was nine I cherished our library's copy of the 1901 Sears Catalog; I dreamed of getting a brand new gramaphone for only $2. Over the years, my interest spread: Rudyard Kipling, accounts of Egyptology expeditions, opium dens, the British Raj era, gothic novels, Harry Houdini, courtesans and dance halls and steamship trunks plastered with labels from the Golden Age of travel. I hated the writing style of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, but I have never forgotten their stories--the Moonstone, and an India that was still revered by my grandfather a century later.

I don't deny the British oppression of India, and that we are still recovering from our injustices. But I still find the era fascinating. Much has been written about how the British affected India in the 19th century, but little has been written about how India affected the British. As I studied the era, the casual racism and its implications became unavoidable. This was not an era that I would have been happier in. I would have been in the third class compartment, if I was lucky enough to get on the train at all.

And yet, I am interested. The Indian, the coolie, as the Other--the exotic, dark other, bringing a whole new face to the Victorian underground. Myths of Kali cults and thugees litter Victorian novels. Darker Victorian literature references the Kama Sutra in lurid terms. Bombay was considered the most gothic city in the world, with exquisite Victorian architecture. While the Indian people themselves were oppressed, the culture infected the British and seduced them. It was dark, yes, and unfair, but it was beautiful. By the time I was reading of Madame Blavatsky and her spiritualist movement in India and Europe, writing about Mata Hari's claim of being raised as a Hindu temple dancer and discovering what an Anglo-Indian was, I was hooked. The dark side of the British Raj was inescapably...goth.

Again. Not mainstream. I'm having a hard time finding out any information on India's effect on the popular culture of the Victorian era that's not excruciatingly scholarly. If anyone has any thoughts, they would be greatly appreciated...

They'll Never Invite Me To A Party Again

I think it's time I confessed: I'm an Indian girl who doesn't get along with other other Indian girls.

Okay, that should be qualified. I happen to like and love a very select group of Indian girls, the ones I grew up with. To a certain extent, I'm still the oddball of the group--not just for leaving Northern California for so long, but because it was inevitable that I would be the expatriat, always feeling like a little bit of an outsider. I'm a compulsive writer, and all compulsive writers become expatriates, to a certain extent. We have to step outside to look in.

But however much I'm out of touch with these girls, I don't really question their loyalty. They're not catty or competitive. There's not a mean bone among them. I've never experienced such loyalty, such solidarity in the face of the worst life deals out: death, heartbreak, scandal. I really don't care if we don't listen to the same music (although their allegiance to J.Lo is really getting out of hand) these girls, along with a few select boys, are family.

So those Indian girls, naturally, don't count. But outside of them, I can honestly say, I don't really seem to get along with Indian girls as a awhole. I get thrown out of their parties or snubbed at the door or accused of flirting with their boyfriends. And admittedly, I am the one who shows up with six people or bottles of cheap vodka, but I am NOT flirting with their boyfriends, who tend to be preppie investment banker types with a permanent leer in their eyes. Around most Indian girls, I always end up feeling that I'm talking too loudly, laughing too much, viewed as an ungainly combination of tomboy and slut. I have felt like this at Indian social mixers and bhangra clubs and weddings and Wall Street networking events, a sense of slow unease as I realize that, except for the person who brought me here, I would once again be standing the corner, leaning on a while and trying to look cool while no one talks to me. Or, alternatively three or four suave types circling like sharks, asking me what caste I am. Smooth, fellas, real smooth.

Because, I can say without a doubt, that Indian girls are exclusionary. Even my girls, God bless them, can't always be counted on to make an effort to a newcomer (explaining inside jokes, asking questions, including in conversation), but at least I can count on seeing new faces and no judgments. In other areas, I've gotten the cold shoulder and the murderous stare, and everything in between. And while they all brag about how much they like sex, they seem to have colossally bad taste in men, and while they claim to party all the time, the buzz seems to begin and end with a few beers. Nobody walks the walk, but they sure can talk.

The Indian girls I have liked and known, I have usually met individually, not in packs. There was V. who I lived with, with the 30's pencil thin eyebrows and 0% body fat, her friend T. jolly, openly, happily slutty. Both dated only black men. N. who I met recently, is the first in a long time to radiate smartness without snobbery, something that always leaves me cold. Another thing I like: experience. An Indian girl with a taste for adventure experiences as much as she can, something an acting teacher told me, in a private meeting. She could tell that I had lived my life in a bubble. It's been thirteen years, and I've done everything I can to step out of the bubble, to experience the good and bad things life offers to an Indian girl. I'm not interested in meeting people with too many rules and hypocrisies, whether they're Indian girls or not. But they usually are.

Midnight Ramblings

Yes, I watched the Oscars, mostly to see my man George win. But what was with all those neutral colored dresses? blond hair, blond dress, blond lipstick--ladies please. Kudos to Michelle Williams, Salma Hayek and Keira Knightley for looking, well, hot. As for Crash over Brokeback, I have no opinion, having seen neither, but now that "It's Ain't Easy To Be A Pimp" is now an Oscar winner, I can forgive the oversight of Coolio's Gangsta's paradise in 1995.

Laren S. read from The Bohemian Manifesto tonight, always a pleasure to see her read, as she looks both glamourous and demure. She and her husband recently adopted a ferret, who I love more than words can say. When I was a lawyer I dreamed of spending my nights at literary readings; now it seems I go to one every other night. Rooms of tipsy, drunken writers and stressed out editors--I think I need a vacation.

Toying with article ideas...Lessons from agorophobic lawyerwriters? Haunted houses in the bayou? An article for the chronicle of higher education about why law schools fail their students? why rock music should be taught in high schools?

Too sleepy to deconstruct my brainstorms...

Rock On

Everybody drills into you the importance of watching the news, reading the newspaper, scouring blogs, being informed, aware, blah blah blah. I've grown up thinking this is important, and am always baffled by people who avoid the news because it's "too depressing." Of course it's depressing, we live in depressing times, but it's a matter of responsibility. If you don't know what's going on, you don't get to complain about it. And right now, complaining is very important. Everything in the news sucks, especially politics. I've found that I get my news online and can't stand to watch it on television--except for the Daily Show. My information sources are blogs and Comedy Central, but that's fine, since you can't really understand current culture without watching comedy, particularly television comedy--if you don't know Dave Chapelle or Ego Trip, you don't know race relations, if you don't watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, you don't see the full picture of American politics or broadcast journalism. Eddie Izzard has his own special class of relevance--he's relevant because he's said so, and it works. Nothing is real until it becomes a Simpsons reference; the South Park paper dolls are still dirty, still sensible. Every joke is taken to its logical extreme on American Dad and Family Guy; Bernie Mac is as close as you can get to an heir to Bill Cosby. And, if he gets the movie he deserves, Chris Rock will win an Oscar in the next decade. Everything I learned about feminism and female friendship I learned from I Love Lucy and Absolutely Fabulous. Everything about New York I learned from Seinfeld. No other comedy dissected our foibles quite so neatly, putting them all on hilarious display. And for those who like gross-out and the extreme, the vomit gags and masturbation jokes, there's Drawn Together. I feel really bad for having seen more than one episode of those show, but not as bad as I should. At least there are always people out there pushing the boundaries of good taste. I would worry if there weren't any.

Television comedy is what rock music used to be, the only remaining ource of rebellion and refuge for the otherwise thoroughly defeated American leftie. And even it is not invulnerable--I really think the neocons conspired to get Arrested Development canceled. It was the only show with consistently incisive, consistently, corrosively funny running jokes about Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi War, American "peacekeeping" and Abu Gahraib. Stop laughing at me for a minute and just think about it. There is no other way to explain why that show is no longer on the air.

So sue me if I read the news and the only newstory on Yahoo news I follow up on is about the giant squid going up on display in London's Natural History Museum. I've been fascinated with the giant squid forever, although they've found a colossal squid that's even bigger, since I saw it wrestling with the sperm whatle in the Submarine Ride at Disneyland. Twenty-five feet long is scary enough, I mistakenly thought the eyeball was three feet in diameter, and spent my adolescence having surreal dream-mares about a giant eye floating outside my window. This is either Freudian, Hitchcockian or Dali-nese, I'm not sure which. But it does make me want to go see the exhibit, even though I don't like dead animals and it will probably give me more day-mares.

Lots of Literati

Having finally finished the rewrite of Wicked Women, I have been going out a lot. And it's all been very literary--lots of writers, would be writers, former writers. Friday was spent in the company of Opium Magazine, headed by one T. Zuniga, offering literary humor for the deliriously captivated. Don't ask Todd what this means; he'll just tell you it looks good on the sign. The writers of Opium are rowdy and delirious, and generally captivating, so maybe that's a clue. We ended up where First meets First, the true center of the universe, where I had yet another uncomfortable encounter with someone I always have uncomfortable encounters with. I really, don't know why this happens; it's based on nothing and is very Seinfeld. Does he hate me? Does he think I hate him? Why can't we just do small talk, like normal acquaintances?

Saturday was spent in plummeting temperatures with the pop culture savants of Entertainment Weekly, where I learned much about the various parts of the magazine. Though they offered apologies for that later, I actually found it all very interesting.

Upcoming literati events include another of George Whipple's literary salons, as well as a lively debate between Norman Mailer and his son John Buffalo Mailer at the New York Center of Ethical Culture. This is highly recommended as they have just written a book together entitled The Big Empty: A Dialogue on Politics,Sex, God, Boxing, Morality, Myth, Poker and Bad Conscience in America. Mailer Pere is known for his bluntness, and I can vouch that Buffalo is likewise not shy about his opinions, so it should be a fun event...for those of you in NYC this Thursday, click for details here.

Can Indians be Goths?

This is a question that I have pondered since high school. I didn't go for the seriously Goth-y music--nothing crazier than Nine Inch Nails and no thanks to Manson--but everything else (books, movies, stories, fashion) I loved. Of course, being brown, it's hard to go fair and I was never one for white makeup or anything that would ruin my skin. I consider myself more of a fashionable goth--perhaps even a corporate goth, if you will.

Think I'm the only one? Think again. At, goths who work in the corporate world discuss how they individualize their outfits in even the most fascistly fashion-less world. I would love to see the fashion tips get more attention, so all you corporate or Indian goths out there, check out the site and post.

Goth culture is so endlessly's no wonder that teenagers love it...

Great Moments in Movie Sex

A very pleasant day spent wandering around the city. I am days away from finishing Wicked Women, and I have no other book idea in sight. Can I take a break from publishing? It's so...addictive.

Prowling around in the Columbus Circle Mall made me want to shoplift badly. Street Law taught me to look for holes in security and it's not too hard to figure out. But if I were to shoplift, it would have to be something big, a la Winona Ryder. Only I'd plan it much better. And wear a better outfit--something between Audrey Hepburn in How to Steal a Million and Angelina Jolie in Gone in 60 Seconds.

Have been walking around with stringy goth hair. Blue hair, okay, but stringy blue hair--I can't make it work. I've seen at least five men in the last weekend who have better hair cuts than I do.

What does all this mean? I am still trying to unravel it. In the meantime, go read my article on Great Movie Sex . My valentine to my one true love: le cinema.

Comfort Zone

Looking around my room now, it's clear that an agorophobic lives here. But for me, agorophobia is more a form of laziness; I have never outgrown dorm years where everything circled outside my door. I love Brooklyn, but go there barely twice a month; these days just leaving Hell's Kitchen is a challenge. I've gone through periods like this before, and I think they're inherently part of being a writer--and inherently responsible for some very over decorated bedroooms. Seriously, it's starting to resemble a teenager's room, with posters and scribblings and Christmas lights. Even I'm starting to feel it's becoming a little...theatrical...

Because that's all I seem to be doing now--nesting, redecorating, rearranging. The challenge is to do it without spending any money, a challenge that I'm finding incredibly irritating in my thirties and as my tastes get more expensive. In between nesting, I write articles I've promised people, I edit Wicked Women, I go to the gym and I walk dogs. The gym is in my building; the dogs are on my block. I leave only on weekends, and am starting to feel like those old ladies with small dogs. In fact, I think I'm starting to overdress just like them, only instead of wearing a head-to-toe lavender Chanel and walking a King Charles Spaniel, I'm in head-to-toe black H&M and walking a finicky Daschund. It's all a little terrifying.

I do have a life on weekends, when I get blind drunk with my girlfriends at literary readings and flirt with shamefully with very talented authors. But for the most part, the internet and the phone and television connect me to the world outside my high-rise. And within the high-rise there are friendly, gossipy doormen and a fair number of good-looking yuppies for me to have half-hearted crushes on. There's neighbor's mail to be collected and bonding to be done in the gym, cats to feed, and endless, endless, endless laundry, and lots of dogs and babies to fuss over. I have created a miniature Manhattan, all at one address, 52 stories high.

I'm not sure that's particularly healthy, but what writer is?

Frey Sadism

I admit it. I never watch Oprah, but I TiVo'd the episode with her and James Frey. And watch it repeatedly. A Million Little Pieces was a self-indulgent grab-bag of macho posturing and misinformation, with breathtakingly bad grammar. The guy posed like a badass all over town, bragging about how he managed to quick his multi-narcotic and alcohol addiction through sheer will rather than wussy self-help programs. And now, well, he's just caught.

I like watching a braggart go down, but let's get real, here. This guy went on publicity tours and was almost always well-rehearsed. Publishers don't let you breathe if they invest any money in you. And watching Nan Talese chomping smile on Oprah made me wonder--as did--how much Doubleday knew. I mean, who was going to find out? What were the odds that this little book with the cool cover was going to go anywhere? Who knew that Oprah would get involved?

They sank him, and maybe they should have, but he's probably laughing all the way to the bank. Even I picked up his book again, to re-read that ludicrous paragraph where he's semi-conscious and covered in vomit and can't figure out what plane he's on. Oprah is "protecting her brand," as homespun, generic and powerful as it is. Who's losing here? Just us. The slowly disappearing discriminating reader.

I think they--the publishers, the publicists, the journalists--knew, each on some level, and knew not to ask too many questions. My book has been repackaged as the publishers see fit, and will be marketing accordingly. But women's history and pop culture are both non-fiction. I'm not making shit up. "It was doing so much good" they cry--for god's sake then, file it in self-help. Don't tell me that it's true. Maybe that should be its own genre: Fiction, Nonfiction, Truth.

With all that said, I almost wish he got away with it--pulled the wool over the eyes of the whole industry, the world, the Oprah-ness of it all. And then, like the character in the book, or like the man himself, running off to the Bahamas stroking his royalties and whispering "My precious, my precious..."

Wish I thought of it first...without getting caught.

To #1 Single from #2 Single

It was inevitable, and it has happened. Reality television has infected my life.

It probably has before. I'm sure I stumbled upon one of the cast members of the San Francisco Real World and I have a hazy memory of seeing Lisa Loeb in concert. Lisa Loeb? Reality television? Surely you jest...sold out, si? But no, there she is, the sta of E! Entertainment Television's #1 Single, in which the icon of cute girly geek chic has her a show about her dating life, or lack thereof. Of course, the show hits on every stereotype imaginable (chastisement by a rabbi's family for being 37, advise from a very Jewish mom, half-naked Mizrahi moment). I still like Loeb, who looks really hot and really clever for her age. Finally, it's a reality show that you don't feel utterly stupid watching. After all, I can relate to a thirty-something Jewish girl's dating problems in New York.

On the second episode, Lisa goes on a blind date on an airplane ride from Los Angeles to New York. That is true commitment to finding a mate. I want to sit next to no one on my plane rides, and then no one again, so I can have three seats to stretch out in, a pharmaceutically or spiritually induced slumber until we land. However, Lisa sits next to Allen S., a writer and author of Festivus: A Holiday for the Rest of Us. Allen S. was also my writing teacher back in 2002; we have kept in intermittent touch over the years. I was surprised to see him on a reality dating show--not entirely surprised, since he's very good at self-promotion and Lisa Loeb seems like his type.

So, on last night's episode Lisa and Allen seem to be getting along until she sees a Page Six gossip excerpt about Alan's book party and the fact that Allen and Lisa are an "item" after what looks like two dates. Allen says he had nothing to do with it, and then admits he gave a quote about the book signing because the gossip was a done deal. Lisa looks wounded and a song about broken promises plays. Allen looks like a shameless parasite hoping to capitalize on poor Ms. Loeb's celebrity for his book.

Now, I am dying of curiosity about how Allen feels about his portrayal--and, how much of it is editing, or even scripted. The mind boggles with theories. I remember a writing class when the mysterious girlfriend stayed in the downstairs bedroom the whole time. Allen wrote for the New York Post for years, which could enable him to plant the gossip, or ask that it be planted. Was Lisa really mad, which is surprising for a woman going on a reality show about her lovelife. The Festivus book signing was a zoo--my roommate and I went and I distinctly remember seeing reality television-worthy lights there. Allen sold all his books--not in part thanks to the presence of Frank and Esther Costanza--or, as they are more commonly known, Jerry Stiller and his wife Anne Meara. It is very hard to sell all your books and get that much press for a book signing--how much of it was due to the Page Six gossip which Ms. Loeb seemed so betrayed by? Or was it all a massive publicity stunt? Tell us, Allen, please.

Fascinating. We'll see if Allen is in the next episode.

Can We Trust Lawyerwriter?

This is a legitimate question. Can lawyerwriter be trusted to continue as a blog?

When I first started to blog, it really wasn't about building an audience. I just liked writing and instantly publishing.

For the last few months I have loathed writing and publishing. But I'm coming out of that now. So maybe this blog can be trusted.

Here are some answers to some of your other questions, as I imagine them.

1. Why did you hate writing and publishing?

Alas, some things are personal.

2. What the hell is this blog about?

No one knows. It just appeared on the internet like a funky smell, and refuses to go away. The comment section now attracts spam like flies. And yet, I run into people all the time who tell me "I read your blog every day." So the topics must be touching some audience--other people like me.

3. Who the hell are you?

I am a lawyer who does not practice but thinks of practicing (part-time, anyway) and a writer is loves writing, but doesn't want to do it for a living. Essentially, I am a very poor person with a vivid imagination.

4. Can't we have some idea of what to expect if we, say, want to be distracted for that last five minutes before we go home?

These are the topics I'm interested in: being a writer, the whole law school/lawyer phenomenon, the mythic quality of celebrity gossip (particularly anything about Brangelina), being a dog walker, being a freelancer, what band I saw last night, angry ventings of real-life situations that are hopefully readable, being Indian-American, being from Northern California, living in New York City, sketching out chapters of upcoming books, the worlds of publishing, journalism and, oddly, anything about management techniques, poverty of the artistic, and, embarassingly, reality television. Seriously.

Dpes this make sense? (No.) Will this get me a regular audience? (No.) Shouldn't I have advertisements on the side of the screen somewhere? (Yes). Isn't the lack of topic and consistency just a part of your total self-absorption? (Yes.) Can you even justify this blog at all? (Yes. It gets me writing everyday). How accurate are your descriptions of your night out? (I have been known to omit details, like stuff about my lovelife. Don't worry, you're not missing much.)

5. Can't you spellcheck?

You know, I really am THAT lazy. So, no.

6. How about some more images on the blog?

Again, really--that lazy. If you see any pictures, it will probably involve Angelina Jolie. I'm obsessed with her--but, you know, in a spiritual, personal way.

7. How old is that picture?
Last year. My hair is longer now.

8. Isn't the fact that you were recently published in Cat Fancy magazine the first sign that you are not normal about your cats?

Well, technically, I am not normal about animals. I love them wholeheartedly, without reservation, which is the only reason I can forgoe chicken tikka masala, grilled salmon and Big Macs to be a vegetarian. But the article was easy, paid decently, and I liked the fact that I could do something for cat-kind, as they have done plenty for me. (I do recognize that this is still more extreme than some people, and no, it really doesn't make a difference to me if the rest of human-kind is vegetarian or not. I just which we were smarter and more considerate about it).

9. How's freelancing?

It bites. That's why I'm looking for a part-time job. As a writer, I charge $50 an hour. That rate goes up or down depending on the level of my desperation, but I have to at least make half that. Keep me posted if you hear anything.

10. Can we count on a new lawyerwriter entry every day?

I'm aiming for daily. Bear with me while I get my groove back. It's really nice to know that people out there like the blog and my writing. It is back, I promise.

I'll leave the rest of the questions for you. Fire away!