One of my projects for the early winter is compiling a number of Anita Ray stories, both old and new, into a single collection. The published stories in this group first appeared in Level Best Books anthologies, beginning in 2003, with the publication of “The Silver House.” The stories are consistently around five to six thousand words. That was no surprise. To balance these and vary the reading experience, I’ve written six new ones three of which are fewer than two thousand words.
After I arranged the stories and began reading, I expected to encounter certain editing problems, such as two characters in different stories with the same name, or changes in the details of a certain store or hotel. I expected some inconsistencies in spelling, minor copy-editing issues easily corrected. But I found a few other surprises.
First, my writing has changed over the years, becoming tighter in description and sharper in dialogue. I expected some change in my style, perhaps new quirks and idiosyncrasies to be removed, but I didn’t expect this. The discovery raises the question of what is necessary in terms of consistency and creating a whole. Do I go back to the older stories and revise them to match more closely the more recent ones, or do I leave them all as they are?
Second, the more recent stories are more traditional in terms of the crime and criminal, and offer less in the way of the anthropology of the region in India that I find so interesting. I can’t and don’t want to change the stories in terms of theme and cultural features, but I am taking note of the change and trying to find balance in the arrangement.
Third, I have remained consistently inconsistent and indecisive when it comes to the transcription of certain Malayalam words into English. I can’t seem to decide between Pongala and Pongaala, the name of an annual ritual that is known as the largest gathering of women in the world, verified by Guinness Book of Records. They’re up to five million by now. Nor can I settle on one transliteration of the breakfast food called idli or ittali. I most often use idlies but also sometimes use iddalies or ittalies. The first one reflects current pronunciation in the area where I lived.
Fourth, several recurring characters don’t have given names in these stories; not until a later novel do I finally name them. Do I add those names here, to make things easier for readers who know the characters from later stories, or do I leave things as they are?
Fifth, the role of some characters has changed over the years. For a brief period Ravi served in the dining room, but that soon came to an end. Should I simply remove him from that task and replace him with the established waiter, Moonu. (And I should definitely settle on one spelling for his name.)
Sixth, Anita is addressed in different ways depending on the speaker’s perceived relationship with her. Those who know her well but consider her a superior and want to show respect address her as Chechi, Older Sister. Those who have known her most of her life, perhaps as a family servant, and still consider her the child of the family, might call her Anita Missi. I’m relieved to find that I’m consistent in the use of madam and memsahib.
All in all, compiling this collection has been rewarding as well as a reminder that writing is an ongoing job, and what has been written can always be improved.
If you’re interested in reading one of the Anita Ray stories, go to
or to http://www.amazon.com/Silver-House-Anita-Mystery-Story-ebook/dp/B0165WGQP4