Sanjna N. Singh is the 2021 Winner of the A.C. Bose Grant

I’m thrilled to say that the Speculative Literature Foundation has announced the 2021 winner of the A.C. Bose Grant for South Asian Speculative Literature. This year, it’s Sanjna N. Singh. What follows is from their Facebook page.

Sanjna N. Singh has worked in New York City for over fifteen years, at HBO, and as a television producer for shows such as Mob Wives, Storm Chasers, Dual Survival and Killing Fields. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, Guardian, Zora, Tricycle and Bitch, among other publications. Her documentary Out of Status, which followed Muslim families detained or deported on post 9/11 immigration sweeps, was nominated for Amnesty’s Human Rights Award and aired on Channel 4 in the UK. She is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program.

THE A.C. BOSE GRANT

The A.C. Bose Grant will annually give $1000 to a South Asian / South Asian diaspora writer developing speculative fiction. It supports adult fiction, but work that is also accessible to older children and teens will be given preference in the jury process. The donors hope that this grant will help develop work that will let young people imagine different worlds and possibilities.

​The grant is founded in memory of Ashim Chandra Bose. A.C. Bose, a lover of books, and especially science fiction and fantasy, by his children, Rupa Bose and Gautam Bose, in fond memory and to honor the legacy of the worlds he opened up for them.

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A.C. Bose Grant Applications Jan 1-31, 2021

It’s time for the third AC Bose Grant applications! This Grant is made in memory of my father, who loved reading, introduced us to speculative fiction at an early age, and fostered our love of books and of open minds and open imaginations.

THE GRANT

If you’re a South Asian/ South Asian diaspora writer, you can apply for this.

The SLF and DesiLit are pleased to announce a co-sponsored grant, founded in memory of Ashim Chandra Bose, known as the A. C. Bose Grant beginning in 2019.

The A.C. Bose Grant will annually give $1000 to a South Asian / South Asian diaspora writer developing speculative fiction. It supports adult fiction, but work that is also accessible to older children and teens will be given preference in the jury process. The donors hope that this grant will help develop work that will let young people imagine different worlds and possibilities.

​The grant is founded in memory of Ashim Chandra Bose. A.C. Bose, a lover of books, and especially science fiction and fantasy, by his children, Rupa Bose and Gautam Bose, in fond memory and to honor the legacy of the worlds he opened up for them.​
More info can be found on the website: https://speculativeliterature.org/grants/slf-ac-bose-grant/

Applications are open from Jan 1-31, 2021. The award is decided by a jury, and will be announced May 15, 2021.  To apply, you need to submit a 5000-word (or less) writing sample (which must be speculative fiction), and a 500-word cover letter. Go to the website link for more details.

WHAT’S ‘SPECULATIVE FICTION’?

According to their website:

“Speculative literature is a catch-all term meant to inclusively span the breadth of fantastic literature, encompassing literature ranging from hard science fiction to epic fantasy to ghost stories to horror to folk and fairy tales to slipstream to magical realism to modern myth-making — and more. Any piece of literature containing a fabulist or speculative element would fall under our aegis, and would potentially be work that we would be interested in supporting.”

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The Monu Bose Memorial Prize

My mother was a wonderful person – and sometimes, I think, it’s only when I grew up and passed through the same stages of life that I truly appreciated how special she was. She was loving but not sentimental, and encouraged us to take her for granted. Which was a gift in itself, one that I understood only when I became a parent.

It’s been years that she’s been gone, and my brother and I have been thinking of  a way to commemorate her. Some of the ideas we developed were non-starters. But then the perfect one popped up.

THE MONU BOSE MEMORIAL PRIZE

The Monu Bose Memorial Prize is established in fond memory of Monu Bose by her children, Rupa Bose and Gautam Bose. Monu Bose was a lover of art of all kinds, and a graduate of Lucknow University and the College of Arts and Crafts. This Prize is to honor the legacy she opened up for us.​ The Prize will be administered and awarded by Dream Foundry. It will award $1000 annually to the winner of the Dream Foundry Art Competition. The donors hope that this prize will encourage new artists to develop their work and find their audience.

Apple tree with pretty girl wearing a wreath of flowers. Copyright Thaleia Demeter

The Apple Tree. Copyright Thaleia Demeter (ThaleiaDemeter.com) Published with permission

The winner this year is Thaleia Demeter. I think Mom would have loved her work.

ABOUT MY MOTHER

Mom was born in Kolkata, India and grew up in what was then called Rangoon, in Burma (Myanmar). The daughter of a doctor, whose childhood home was filled with music and books, she had a broad range of interests and a gift for friendship. When World War II tore through the region, she returned to India with her parents and siblings. They eventually settled in Lucknow, where she studied Economics – and Art.

My mother had many interests – she loved animals and birds, gardening, and art. Though she never pursued it as a career, there was artistry in everything she did. She always enjoyed the art created by others. This prize is in her honor and memory, and the hope that it will encourage artists of a new generation.

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Little Red Christmas Tree

Why is my Christmas tree red this year? It’s because of Covid.

So, to back track.

Though headquarters for us is in San Francisco, we have a pied-a-terre in Tacoma that we’d rented in February. We got moved in, keeping only one houseplant – a small cypress tree. It needed water maybe once a month or so, and was very low maintenance. In early March, off I went to San Francisco, with plans to return by the end of the month to complete setting up.

Then came Covid. We sheltered in place through March, thinking it would be done in 2 weeks. We waited through April and May, and then finally in June, as things seemed to be getting better, we drove up to Tacoma in one straight 15-hour trip.

Low maintenance, maybe, but not no maintenance. The plant was drying out. We tried reviving it, but it turned a convincing but unappealing brown. So I spray-painted it red.

Now that Covid numbers are extremely high again, we’re having a locked-down Christmas. This little tree seemed very appropriate, so I brought it in and decorated it. (The array of angels and Santa around it are handmade, but not by me. I found them at a vintage store and was quite charmed.)

The star I usually put on top was too large, so this year’s topper is a little angel fabricated from a paper doily.

HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON, EVERYONE, WHATEVER YOU ARE CELEBRATING!

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The 2020 Winner of the AC Bose Grant is Asha Thanki

Back in 2018, we started to set up an annual grant in my father’s memory. It was awarded for the first time in 2019 to Senaa Ahmed. That post is HERE.

Normally, the winner would be announced on 26th May, Dad’s birth anniversary. This year, there was Covid, so there was disruption and delay. But the winner has been selected! And it’s Asha Thanki. The story that won her the grant, “Somewhere in Bombay, a Fog Descends” was published in the Arkansas International magazine, Spring 2020.

This is from the website of the Speculative Literature Foundation:

‘Thanki’s winning piece is titled “Somewhere in Bombay, a Fog Descends.” Thanki is a fiction writer and essayist living in Minneapolis, where she is completing an MFA at the University of Minnesota. She is the winner of the 2019 Arkansas International’s Emerging Writers Prize and a finalist for Redivider’s 2020 Beacon Street Prize. Her work has appeared in Platypus Press’ wildness, The Common, Catapult, Cosmonauts Avenue, Hyphen, and more; more information can be found at ashathanki.com.’

THE A.C. BOSE GRANT



Here are the details of the grant. The application period is January 1 to March 31, so if you’re interested in the 2021 award, there’s lots of time.

The A.C. Bose Grant, established in 2019, is an annual grant given to a South Asian/South Asian diaspora writer developing speculative fiction. It supports adult fiction, but work that is also accessible to older children and teens will be given preference; the donors hope this will let young people imagine different worlds and possibilities. The grant is named in honor of Ashim Chandra Bose, a lover of books and especially of science fiction and fantasy, and was founded by his children, Rupa Bose and Gautam Bose.

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The A.C. Bose Award for South Asian Speculative Fiction Writers

Last year, we were thinking about some kind of award to commemorate my father. He was a wonderful person – an intellect, soft-spoken, broad-ranging in his thinking and values. One of the things he did for us, his children, was to get us interested in reading, and it was he who introduced us to Science Fiction and Fantasy (now broadly known as Speculative Fiction). It’s remained our favorite genre, with its ability to generate new worlds of ideas.

So when the opportunity popped up to fund a grant to writers in and from South Asia who are working in this genre, we took it. The Speculative Literature Foundation accepts applications, assembles a jury, picks the winner, and makes the award. It’s called  The SLF $1000 A.C. Bose Grant for South Asian Speculative Literature

The SLF and DesiLit are pleased to announce a new co-sponsored grant, founded in memory of Ashim Chandra Bose, known as the A. C. Bose Grant beginning in 2019.

The A.C. Bose Grant will annually give $1000 to a South Asian / South Asian diaspora writer developing speculative fiction. It supports adult fiction, but work that is also accessible to older children and teens will be given preference in the jury process. The donors hope that this grant will help develop work that will let young people imagine different worlds and possibilities.

​The grant is founded in memory of Ashim Chandra Bose. A.C. Bose, a lover of books, and especially science fiction and fantasy, by his children, Rupa Bose and Gautam Bose, in fond memory and to honor the legacy of the worlds he opened up for them.​

The first A.C. Bose award was made on May 26th (Dad’s birth anniversary) to Senaa Ahmad. It was announced at Wiscon, a major Speculative Fiction Convention.

The story that won Senaa Ahmad the award is The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls – a grim fantasy about girls who have been weaponized as radioactive bombs. It was first published in Strange Horizons and you can read it here: The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls.

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Corruption Perceptions, 2016

From time to time, I report on the Corruption Perceptions studies by Transparency International. It’s interesting to watch the trends, though I have to admit they’re slow-moving. In 2016, China caught up with India, and Myanmar – again is the surprise.

Transparency International tracks corruption, and each year they make a ‘Corruption Perceptions Index’ across 175-180 or so countries. For 2016, it was 176 countries. This measures how business people both local and international perceive corruption in each country. The map below shows the findings graphically – lighter is better. (The Transparency website has a larger interactive map. Take a look if you want to browse – scroll down from the large map until you find the interactive one.)

cpi2016_transparency-international-map-excerpt

So here are the results for 2016.
In 2014, India ranked ahead of China for the first time since year 2000. People thought India’s corruption environment was improving, and China’s worsening. I speculated that it might be the Modi Effect. In 2015, a year I skipped, China improved its rank and this year – it’s caught up. Both countries have a “normalized rank” of 45. The US is stable at 10.

Since the number of countries Transparency covers changes each year, I normalize the ranks. You could think of them as percentiles.  So a rank of 45 is around the middle of the pack.
corruption-perception-rank

Myanmar is the surprise. In 2013, it improved its Corruption Perceptions sharply. At that time, I wrote, “While a normalized rank of 89 is nothing to brag about, the improvement is. If Myanmar can keep this up for a few years, people will be able to dismiss corruption there as no worse than anywhere in ASEAN.”

But then it seemed to flatten out, and 2014 and 2015 weren’t much different that 2013. This year, it’s shot up to 77. Again, not bragworthy exactly, but it’s pulled it out of the company of countries like Somalia and Sudan and North Korea, and is now in the same group as Guatemala and Papua New Guinea (and Kyrgyzstan). It’s climbed 12 ranks in 4 years. If it can do it again, it could in a few years be within shouting distance of other ASEAN countries. Thailand and the Philippines, for instance, both have a normalized rank of 57.

Here are the actual Corruption Perception Scores (out of 100, higher is better). According to the organization, the scores before 2012 are not comparable with the ones from that date onward. I’ve tweaked them so I think they’re good enough, but a data-purist might object.

corruption-perceptions-2016

I’m using the US as a standard of comparison, and this shows it’s been quite stable.

But it’s not the top of the world.  The US only scores 74 (out of 100). It’s behind New Zealand and Denmark (90),  Finland (89), Sweden (88), Switzerland (86), Norway (85), Singapore (84), Netherlands (83), Canada (82), Germany, Luxembourg, and UK (all 81), Australia (79), Iceland (78), Hong Kong (77) – though I don’t know why Hong Kong is separately reported, Belgium (77),  and Austria (75). I wonder if the new government in the US will have an effect on corruption perceptions in 2017.

Watch this space.

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Smells Like a Man…

The other day, we went to an Indian grocery store in Seattle. In addition to replenishing our spice stocks, and picking up a few veggies that are difficult to find in regular grocery stores (and what turned out to be date-expired, fungus-growing idli mav), we picked up a tube of shaving cream. Old Spice, old familiar brand, right?

A little later I was startled to hear laughter from the bathroom. When I went to investigate, I was handed the cardboard outer package. The ad copy on the package went like this:

SMELLS LIKE A MAN

For gentlemen with exceptional taste in scents, rugs, and TV shows.

Dear Man, your hands were not made to carry shopping bags or stroke furry kittens however cute they may be. No, your hands were made so you can sculpt statues of yourself. Or squeeze out a handsome amount of this smooth, man-friendly tube of Old Spice Shaving Cream. Buy it, and all else will be forgotten.

old-spice-shaving-cream

Old Spice has been doing a whole bunch of amusing, tongue-in-cheek video commercials. They’re more American in context… so I guess this is the stripped down, desi version.

And then, of course, there’s also the Indian video commercial, Mantastic
“It’s a telescope. But it’s also a flute.”
“Wonderful!”
“Aami jani.” (I know)

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If ‘The Donald’ Were a Book, He’d be a Bestseller

(An earlier version of this article was published in Naradanews.com )

When I read The Bestseller Code recently, it felt oddly familiar. It reminded me of Donald Trump.

This new book analyzes the secrets of bestselling novels. Authors Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers developed a computer algorithm to dissect and measure various aspects of a novel, from the number of times the author uses the word “of” to the topics and themes. Then they had the computer ‘read’ thousands of books, and differentiate between bestselling books and those that weren’t. The algorithm succeeded 80% of the time.

donald-trumppublic-domain-sm1

Donald Trump (Public Domain clipart)

So why Trump? Here was a candidate who emerged from nowhere to defeat all the front-runners for the Republican nomination. He was the bestselling candidate. Whether for supporters or opponents, his campaign always drew attention.
The book describes the algorithm’s criteria that differentiated best-selling books from others.

Many of them mapped perfectly on to Trump’s campaign. Here’s how:

THEMES

Focused themes.
Best-selling books limit their themes. The authors give the example of John Grisham and Danielle Steel as iconic best-seller authors. A single theme took up about one-third of the book. Secondary themes – and only a few of them – took up the rest. That gave the novels a cohesiveness that made them easy to follow.

Trump’s campaign does this. His main theme is: “We need somebody who can take the brand of the United States and make it great again.” The underlying appeal implies that America is not what you want and I can change that. (I’ve taken the Trump quotations from: http://www.yourdictionary.com/slideshow/donald-trump-20-most-frequently-used-words.html)

Implicit conflict.
Grisham’s main theme is always legal; his secondary theme is everyday life, warm moments of human connection. Steel’s main themes are domestic, but her second commonest theme is ‘Hospitals and medicine.’ In both cases, there’s a threat to the family – legal or physical.

Trump’s campaign brings in the danger of the immigrant, the outsider. “They’re pouring in. They are bringing drugs, they are bringing crime.” The conflict he implies is that they’ll have to be stopped in order to “make America great again.”

Mainstream and relevant themes.
With a few exceptions, people prefer to read about here and now, a world they can relate to. They like to read about work. They like to read about families and human emotion.

Everyone can understand when Trump talks about his work. He’s not from an esoteric political ivory tower or the halls of government. He’s a businessman. And wife Melania and daughter Ivanka provide that sense of human connection.

EMOTIONAL PACING AND PLOT

This is one of the most important things that separates best-sellers from others – the emotional pacing and plot turns. Bestsellers start with a ‘hook’ that draws you in. Then something changes. After that, things get better and worse more or less like a sine curve.

sine-curve

(Source: Wikipedia)

(The authors of The Bestseller Code actually graph these curves, finding seven basic patterns for novels.) In the end, either the emotional curve turns up into a happy ending, or down into a downbeat one that often implies a sequel.

bestseller-code-image
(This graphic is from The Bestseller Code. Used here as “fair use” with a link to the book.)

Trump’s campaign followed this pattern quite closely. The initial hook was, look, a candidate who’s entertaining! He’s not spouting all that boring language the other candidates use. He’s watchable. If you look at the graph on fiverthirtyeight.com, it’s clear that all eyes will be on him right to the end.

538graph6nov2016

Trump’s chances of winning through November 6, 2018 (source: FiveThirtyEight.com)

The graph above is taken from fivethirtyeight.com as of November 6th. (I edited out the non-Trump lines.) It doesn’t actually tell the whole story, because it doesn’t cover the primaries… when Trump defeated, one by one, all the other Republican contenders.

WRITING STYLE

The authors had the algorithm analyze the writing style of these thousands of books, and found each author had a style that was as easily identifiable as their DNA. They also found a difference between bestselling authors and others in the way they wrote.

  • Straightforward language. Bestsellers didn’t use complex writing. Fewer adjectives and adverbs, more verbs and nouns. Full stops and commas, not semi-colons and colons. “The everyday language of the common man.”
  • Ellipses (that is, when the sentences fades away into three dots… ). Bestsellers used ellipses more than other books did. They allow a reader to fill in the blanks and identify more closely with the character.
  • Contractions are good and so’s colloquial language. The word “okay” appears three times more often in bestsellers. “I’d” is better than “I would,” “Can’t” better than “can not.” The authors note: ‘The contraction “n’t” appears four times more often in books that master the sweet spot of bestselling style…” Again, this reflects everyday language.

Trump has mastered colloquial, straightforward speech – which may be why teleprompters don’t work for him. There’s nothing convoluted or complex about his language.

We used to call it the quiet majority but people are fed up – they are fed up with incompetence, they are fed up with stupid leaders, they are fed up with stupid people.”

He also uses the ellipsis in its spoken form. For example, the now famous: “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know…” (he was speaking of his opponent Hillary Clinton, and the 2nd Amendment gives Americans the right to carry guns).

STRONG AND ACTIVE CHARACTER

Bdonald-trumppublic-domain-smestsellers have strong characters with ‘agency’ – that is, they make things happen. The characters need and want things. They are not passive. Their actions are described with strong, active verbs: “Tells, sees, hears, smiles.” Or “pulls, pushes, starts, works, knows.”

Trump has mastered this. It’s why it was so devastating when he called his opponents Jeb Bush “low-energy” and Marco Rubio as “Weak like a baby.” Or when he called all his competing Republican nominees weak. “All of ’em are weak, they’re just weak. Some of them are fine people. But they are weak.

Of himself, he says:

Show me someone without an ego, and I’ll show you a loser — having a healthy ego, or high opinion of yourself, is a real positive in life!

I am worth a tremendous amount of money” and “I have had tremendous success.” Not to mention, “I’m, like, a really smart person,” and “I am strong; politicians are weak.”

TITLES

Bestsellers, apparently, often have the word “The” in the title. Examples the authors mention include The Goldfinch, The Firm, The Circle.  It’s probably a coincidence, but remember when Donald Trump was called “The Donald”?

NOVELS, STORIES, AND FACTS

My analysis doesn’t look at whether any of the statements are factual or not. That’s not an issue with a bestselling novel, which is obviously not “true.” The questions for a novel are: is it engaging and is it believable?

It seems as though Trump is being held to the same standard. For nearly half of America, Trump is a strong, active candidate with a simple and gripping story. He’s believable if not factual.

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2014 India Corruption: Modi Effect?

Last year, when I wrote about Corruption Perceptions, I said: I’ll be very interested to see if the new government in India significantly affects corruption perceptions in the next survey. The 2014 data are available, and it’s had an effect. How significant is it?

BACKGROUND

corruption map 2014scale for corruption perceptions mapTransparency International makes an annual Corruption Perceptions survey, covering 170-180 countries. (In 2014, it covered 175 countries and territories.) It calculates a score for each one, and ranks countries according to the score. They provide this information as a table – and in the neat map I’ve shown as a screen-grab above.

(The actual map on their website is interactive. When you mouse-over any country, it shows its current score and rank, and the scores for the two previous years. It’s a really user-friendly website. If this subject interests you, it’s worth checking out.)

Here’s how they describe their survey: “The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country or territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). A country or territory’s rank indicates its position relative to the other countries and territories in the index. This year’s index includes 175 countries and territories.”

CORRUPTION IN 2014

I look at these data for India and Myanmar – both countries where I follow the business conditions – and also for the US and China as reference points. So here are the 2014 scores.

corruption scores to 2014(I’ve massaged the pre-2012 data to account for Transparency’s change in methodology. It’s probably good enough, but if you’re a purist, then you only can compare the last three years.)

  • India’s better, China’s worse. India improved its score, from 36 in the last two year to 38 in 2014. It’s a nice, though small, turnaround from the 2007-2011 slide. China meanwhile sharply lost ground, falling from a score of 40 last year down to 36 (its 2011 level).
  • This change means that India actually ranks better than China for the first time since I started looking at these numbers. The people surveyed consider governmental corruption worse in China than in India. India ranked 85 of 175 countries while China ranked 100 of 175.
  • Myanmar leveled off in 2014 after a sharp improvement in 2013. Unless there’s a significant change on the ground, people are unlikely to change their views of the corruption there. Its current rank of 156 of 175 isn’t in itself impressive, but it’s a whole lot better than its 2011 ranking of 180 of 183 countries (only ahead of North Korea, Afghanistan, and Somalia). Right now, it’s similar to Cambodia though well behind Indonesia.
  • The US improved its score from 73 in 2013 to 74 in 2014, also continuing a gradual rise since 2011 – which was enough to give it a rank of 17 of 175, in the top ten percent of countries.

corruption ranks to 2014(Since the number of countries surveyed changes from year to year, I use a Normalized Rank for this graph, showing the country ranks on a scale of 1 – 100. The graph is also inverted, because of course a lower rank is better and I wanted to show that visually.)

What I find interesting is that while these scores and rankings shift from year to year, the variation is usually small. In 2014, none of them have moved enough to change their color on the map above.

This suggests that there’s a “corruption environment” that is easier to tweak than to change dramatically. Also, since this survey measures perceptions rather than any objective reality, I’m never sure how much of the shift describes changes in perceptions unrelated to any change in the extent of corruption.

So I have mixed feelings about this exercise. I think it’s valuable to shine the spotlight on corruption, as Transparency does. Perceptions are also important in terms of willingness to do business. But it also demonstrates how much effort and commitment is required to make significant changes.

http://media.transparency.org/maps/cpi2014-640.html

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