Writing

The earliest selection of my writing I have is a story I wrote in kindergarten about going to McDonald’s, illustrated with stick figures and a crayon-colored rendition of the iconic golden arches. I’ve written a bit since then, and on this page I’ve listed my more notable writing.

I still have some unfulfilled writing ambitions. I’ve outlined a novel, though it may be another decade before I actually get around to writing it. I also want to write a book on the Indian Emergency of 1975-77, which was a significant and fascinating historical event that hasn’t been studied very deeply. Perhaps some day I’ll also publish a collection of essays, short stories, and maybe even a comedic novel in the style of my favorite in the genre, A Confederacy of Dunces.

Books

Remain Free: A Memoir (September 21, 2015)

Remain Free

  • 2016 Georgia Author of the Year Award Winner
  • Foreword Reviews INDIEFAB 2015 Book of the Year Finalist
  • 2016 IPPY Awards Bronze Medalist
  • 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist

Before he was executed on September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was the world’s most famous death row inmate. Anderson Cooper reported live about the case shortly before he was executed. His execution caused one of the highest tweet spikes in Twitter history, and celebrities were tweeting about the case. A million people signed petitions urging Georgia not to execute Davis in light of all the doubt in his case.

I first met Troy in September of 2008, a few days after the Supreme Court had intervened just 90 minutes before he was to be executed.  I was 15 at the time, and over the next three years Troy and I became close friends. We wrote letters and frequently spoke over the phone, and I visited him several times on death row. I was on the inside of a growing movement that spanned millions of people worldwide. As I grew up and, in some ways, came of age on death row, I saw and learned a lot of things.

Although the case received a great deal of media attention before the execution, the media quickly moved on after Troy Davis was dead. I saw people chanting “I Am Troy Davis” without really knowing what that meant. What did they know about the man whose identity they took on as their own? I didn’t want people to forget Troy or what he stood for, and I didn’t want him to just be some caricature in a death penalty activist’s playbook. He was much more than just an icon: he was a human being with dreams, fears, triumphs, and failures, just like the rest of us, and more importantly, he was my friend. I decided to write about my experiences.

I knew things most people didn’t. I saw firsthand some of the ugly politics that went on behind the scenes. I had heard Troy’s stories of what went on on death row when nobody was watching. I had observed the legal complexities of the case, the hangers-on who hoped to profit from Troy’s rising celebrity, the diverse range of people who had come together to fight his impending execution. I knew just how close Troy had been to living: in many cases, the decisions to deny him clemency were decided by a margin of one vote. There were things Troy told me, about the case and about the justice system, that I couldn’t publicly say while he was alive. But, in his death, I wanted to truth to finally be heard.

I thought I had a story that was worth telling, an exposé of the case intertwined with my own story of a teenager from a well off suburb of Atlanta forming an unlikely friendship with a 40 year old death row inmate from a rough part of Savannah. On my nineteenth birthday, I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to fund the publication of the book, with all profits being donated to the Innocence Project. Fundraising was far more difficult and time consuming than I imagined–I spent many late nights making phone calls, sending emails, doing an AMA on Reddit, recruiting friends and family members to help out (thanks mom!), all while simultaneously writing the book. In 30 days, I raised over $11,000, mostly through Kickstarter.

There are a lot of pitfalls to navigate in writing a memoir: being accessible to the reader without becoming self-indulgent, revealing hard truths about the people and organizations you worked with without burning bridges or damaging friendships, remaining detached enough to gain deeper insights from life events but rooted enough in them to bring them to life. This has been the most exciting, and most difficult, challenge I’ve ever taken on in my life.

You can find out more information on the book’s website and Facebook page, and read it online for free or buy a hardcover copy on Amazon. I’ve also posted a recording of a phone conversation I had with Troy. You can even hear Troy’s last words, recorded minutes before he was executed. The book has won or been a finalist for several awards and also been featured in USA Today, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, and The Red and Black.

Chess for the Novice Player: A Guide for the Beginning Chess Player (2010)

Although it was branded as a second edition, this is an entirely new book that was more of a reboot of the first edition. I reused the book’s cover and rewrote the entire book, paying much closer attention to formatting, content, and writing style. The self-publishing process was more familiar to me now, and my voice was deep enough that I could handle phone conversations with printers on my own. I financed the publication myself, and finally completed the book during my senior year of high school. Although the book has sold modestly (chess isn’t exactly a hot selling topic, and being an unknown author didn’t help), I think it still made a novel contribution to the chess literature aimed at beginners. There is still some room for improvement, so someday I will write a third (and final!) edition.

The Novice Chess Player’s Manual: A Step by Step Guide and Workbook for the Budding Chess Player (2006) (Out of print)

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I first began writing this book in 2004, when I was in sixth grade. I felt that most chess books aimed at beginners were written by grandmasters and other strong players who were too far removed from the a beginner’s mindset to effectively write for them. Apparently, I thought, an eleven-year-old could do better. I finished the book shortly after my 13th birthday, and my parents offered me a choice. I could go to summer camp like most of my friends, or they would pay to have 100 copies of my book produced. I opted for the second choice, and I’ll never forget to excitement when the books finally arrived at my door.

I went through the whole self-publishing process on my own. I wrote the whole thing, and edited it after having family members review it. I found software to make chess diagrams and learned about creating book layouts. I contacted book printers, using a pseudonym so they wouldn’t know they were talking to a thirteen-year-old. I had my dad read from scripts I had written when I wanted to talk to printers on the phone, so they wouldn’t hear my high pitched, pre-pubescent voice.

I never made much of an effort to sell any of the books, because as soon as they arrived I realized the book wasn’t good enough to sell. The awkward title wasn’t the only issue. The book was poorly formatted, riddled with typos, and had a quality of writing that just wasn’t up to par. So, with a heavy heart, I put the books away and began rewriting the book from scratch.

Articles

I’ve written, edited, webmastered, and coded for the Georgia Political Review, an undergraduate journal of politics and foreign affairs at the University of Georgia. Some of my writing has also appeared on other sites around the internet.  Below are all the articles I’ve written for GPR.

The NSA’s War on the Internet (November 2013)

Politics in the Age of Big Data (March/April 2013)

Ron Paul and the Paradox of Modern Conservatism (November 2012)

A Conversation with Clarence Thomas (May 2012)

The New Hampshire Debates and the Republican Nomination (January 2012)

I Knew Troy Davis (October 2011)

Three Years Later, I Am Still Troy Davis  (October 2011)

Anna Hazare and the Indian Culture of Chaos (September, 2011)

 

Other

Clearly Established Innocence: An Account of the Troy Davis Evidentiary Hearing, June 23-24

In June 2010, when I was 16, I attended the Troy Davis evidentiary hearing held in a federal court in Savannah, Georgia. It was the first time in nearly 50 years that the Supreme Court had granted a death row inmate a hearing to prove his innocence. As I sat in the courthouse I had this strong feeling that I was witnessing something that needed to be preserved for posterity. I wrote down what I saw, even the most minute of details, and turned it into the most detailed account of the hearing ever written. If you’re interested in the legal angle of the Troy Davis case it’s worth reading.

 

2 thoughts on “Writing

  1. Guatam,

    Your chess article came up and brings me to you!

    I note you wrote, “My primary method of tactics training was using Chess Tactics for Beginners, which is absolutely fantastic…”

    I purchased the program but seem to have some difficulty – as far as the functionality of the program – it isnt as smooth and easy to navigate as, say, Josh Waitzkins (which I didnt use much!) I have an 8 year old and decided to learn chess so followed your advice.

    Are you in the States? It would be great for me to chat on the phone, with the program on, to see how I could best navigate and utilize it? I wrote to Chess Ok and they replied but it wasnt helpful.

    Thanks….

    1. Unfortunately, CT for Beginners doesn’t have the greatest user interface. Josh Waitzkin’s lectures on chess master are very nicely organized, and that is something lacking from CTB.

      I am based in the US, but unfortunately I don’t have much time to do phone support for CTB. If you email me any specific questions, I’ll do my best to answer them as thoroughly and quickly as possible.

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