About the author:
In conversation with the author:
1.What was your life like, pre-book?
I don’t know if I would classify my life into pre-book and post-book. Because, I have been writing since adolescence and always dreamed of my name on a book or rather, many books. Further, I have been with this debut novel of mine for eight years by now, two years in writing and 6 years in editing, querying, waiting and all that again and again until I received the message asking for my manuscript.
Before that, in 2011, my first poetry book was launched and in 2016, my second poetry collection was accepted for publication by a publisher as well.
To sum it up, my life ever since 13 years of age was always directed at one goal – to be a published author. Even the pre-book life was about having my own books out there.
I pursued medicine, I got married, I became a mother, I practise medicine and I have a Masters in Applied Psychology. Life has advanced normally but so has my writing journey. Neither stopped each other.
2. Is there a book that inspired you to be a writer or that has a particular influence on the characters you create today?
I used to be a voracious reader and finished three books a week during high school days. As a reader, I love a wide range of fiction and authors. But, I became a writer before reading so much, so, there aren’t many authors who have influenced me as a writer through their books, except one.
I love women’s fiction with strong female characters and heart-rending storylines with romance, family and friendship in the crux of it. The same themes make up my recently published novel Sandcastles.
The author who has made me fall in love with the genre and story-telling style is Kristin Hannah. Her books effectively handle a lot of emotions and characters with depth and reasonable history. I have yet to read her latest works. My favourites from her so far are Night Road, Between Sisters, Firefly Lane and Fly Away.
I also love books by Elif Shafak. There is also an affinity towards Psychological thrillers with something really good going on.
3.What authors do you currently find inspiring?
Recently, I read ‘The Woman in The Window’ by A.J. Finn. To be honest about the book, I was not very smitten by the story plot. But the writing style really had me. I dug the book to devour his writing and I was so inspired by the style. Especially since I was already working on my own psychological mystery with a protagonist who has a tendency towards sarcasm and snappy prose.
But no, it is nothing like Finn’s book.
I also love Paula Hawkin’s ability to make me turn the pages. Her debut was exceptionally good, too. I have a stack of to-read books on my shelf which I hope to be good.
4.Looking back, what do you think you did right that helped you become the novelist you are now?
Three P’s – Persistence, Perseverance and Patience.
I am not someone with constancy, consistency, or the above three P’s in anything in my life because I get bored easily, I get easily affected by things and people and I also find a lot of excuses to justify myself when my priorities are mixed up.
But in the case of writing, I kept them.
5.How did your current novel, Sandcastles, come to be?
Sandcastles is essentially a fiction story set in a place I have never been to – Goa. For the sake of storytelling, I set it against the Goa Medical College in Bambolim. I have never been there either.
But, a Facebook friend who had graduated from there described the place, the procedures and academics there to me. I had an outline. I wrote the book during my college days, after the first year. Way back in 2010, when I was 22, I started writing the novel in newsprint papers because, I had no laptop.
Sometimes, I used to write in classes, too, during breaks, between breaks and when not. When I would visit home once in two weeks, I would type up all that I had written in papers to the home computer.
This continued until I procured a used mini-laptop that would let me use word processors and browsing. Towards the half of 2012, I got my own laptop and I finished the story through sleepless nights.
Fuelled by passion, I queried publishers and agents right away. But naturally, it got rejected and some offered editorial services – if I had the money to take editors, I would have bought a laptop first. Anyway, I was young and naïve, totally unaware of the market except about how I hated that it had gone downhill and bad literature had climbed the charts.
I wanted that to change. There was a down time after querying and rejections happened.
Then life happened and the files were closed. I didn’t know what to do with it anymore. I was also deeply depressed, a new mother stranded with a baby at home, lonely and feeling useless and fatigued. And one day, my husband told me, “You are depressed because you are not writing. When you do what you must do, you won’t have the need or time to stay depressed.”
I opened the file, read as many helpful articles about editing processes and started editing it myself. The humongous word count started coming down. On and off, sometimes starting new books in between, sometimes not writing for months and sometimes just writing poetry, finally, over 4 long years, of which the last one year was with the ruthless hand and eyes of my mentor, the book was edited from 250,000 words to 87,000 words.
After all the editing and polishing done, I would say, it is not the same book I wrote in 2010-2012. It is almost rewritten completely.
6.Did you have any writers or mentors who helped you along the way?
My teachers for English literature in school were my earliest mentors. We connected quickly. They encouraged me to read and write poetry and one of them even read my first ever written novel in 9th grade (which is now no more).
Later, I became close friends with a professor of English Literature. I am a fairly confident kid right from the beginning. But his confidence in me was surprisingly high, and when someone with so much knowledge in Literature digs your writing, you simply know what kind of material you are.
Dr. Varghese C. Abraham has been a mentor and editor since 2016, initially for my poetry and then for my fiction as well. If it wasn’t for his passionate and brutal editing of Sandcastles, apart from his great confidence in that book, it might still remain in my Writing Folder. He provides me with honest feedback, constructive criticism and where necessary and sometimes more, he never forgets to appreciate and admire my work.
7.What resources helped you the most during the querying process for publishing or editing?
Ever since the publication of my first poetry book, I have been researching widely about the publishing industry, educating myself about everything involved in the publishing process. The querying process was also researched.
My only resource was the Internet and it was enough with information from all over the world. But however, that is not what got me my book deal. I was almost accepted by an agent at one of the most renowned literary agencies in India but a twist of fate and I was unpublished for another two years.
Querying process is essential in the traditional publishing journey; however, after years of efforts and waiting, it was time for me to halt and get on with my second book. That is when it happened. My publisher queried me over Facebook, seeing my frequent posts about the editing process of my book. They liked my work and proceeded further.
8.How did you cope with rejection during the query process?
I had read enough to know that rejection is an inevitable part of being an author. Every author has faced it, for one reason or another. As for the rejections I got, I knew the reason most of the time. And it definitely wasn’t about writing quality, given the kind of upmarket books that flooded the marketplace. I believed in myself enough to cope with rejection and keep trying. Giving up was a more difficult prospect for me.
9.People constantly say that publishing lacks diversity and that we need more diverse books. What are your feelings on that?
There are new voices in the literary world and recently I find diversity is dawning. But, the publishers do look for what sells. If they kept looking for what sells instead of trying to sell something fresh, they would not move on from last year’s trends, which was the previous year’s as well.
I do see some diversity in books now, but most are self-published books except for some prolific authors. I hope traditional publishers do give a chance to new voices with something different rather than the same story in different covers.
There is also a trend of big publishers buying the publishing rights of bestsellers that came from smaller publishers – while it is a good way of finding new voices, it is also just bringing more of the same things out. I’m sure a lot of good books have drowned in slush piles in publishers’ computers. Further, good readers are pleading to give them something different, something that is not clichéd. Which means diversity is still a risky area as far as most publishers are concerned.
10. What are you currently writing?
Currently, I am working on a psychological mystery fiction, a tortuous tale of impulsive human behaviours, revenge, regrets and the lengths humans can go to get what they want, a story that will at once showcase the best and worst part of being human and of course, rooted in an unusual love story. It deals with emotional abuse and the resultant self-derogation parallel to a normally led life on the exterior.
Once we stop to think why humans do what they do, it is one vast ocean of possibilities.
11.Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
So far, I have not thought about any series or connected books. I have always felt tempted to think of doing a sequel to Sandcastles but that would take some more years for the characters to have one more story to tell. I might bring out Nayna and Ruby in another book after they have grown up.
But I prefer stand-alone books to read as well as write. The only series I might have read would be Harry Potter (unforgettable) and the Twilight Saga (just for the heck of it, to see what it was all about).
12.What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
I do not write about a particular period of my life or even about myself. My books are purely fiction. And most of the characters are drawn out of well-placed histories, which will deduce for the reader who they are now and why.
Sandcastles had bits of familial backgrounds that explain why each character is the way he or she is. My work-in-progress is rooted in childhood trauma, stemming into a disastrous adolescence and youth. I guess I believe that childhood is when a person is the earth. What is sown in childhood is what grows and shows.
13.How can readers discover more about you and you work?
I am active on social media as an author. All updates about my works will be on my website, Facebook page, Instagram and sometimes, even Twitter. I also rant about little things, especially the writing process and my author journey on my blog named ‘The Writeous Way’ on my website, which I plan to make a better area for budding authors to interact or find advice.
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