[This interview, with editor Morgan Parker, was published in the December 2016 issue of Amazon’s Day One Literary Journal. A year later, the journal closed up shop. My story, The Golden Amulet, is still available on Amazon.com but the interview isn’t there anymore.]
Tell us about yourself.
I am a global nomad of Indian origin. Having lived and worked my way around India, England, Germany, Scotland, and various parts of the US, I now split my time between Atlanta, Georgia in the US and Ahmedabad, Gujarat in India. In 2012, I voluntarily left a long-time corporate career in Silicon Valley to focus on literary interests. I ran an online literary magazine for a couple of years, getting up to 500 email subscribers. Then, I decided to focus on my own writing.
How did you come to write this story?
Having read Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’, I could not stop thinking about its premise: how immigrants to any new place bring their gods/spirits with them, but their belief systems weaken, and new gods representing new obsessions with things like media, celebrity, technology, drugs, etc., take their place. This was where I started: the struggle that immigrants from India have with reconciling their deep-seated Eastern values with their evolving Western sensibilities.
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Anything else you want to add about this story?
I did not want this to be yet another story about immigrant assimilation. It is also about a couple dealing with an ongoing grief and negotiating their relationship. And I wrote the scenes with alternating POVs — wife, then husband, then wife, and so on. This was not just for literary entertainment. I wanted to show how differently they both were trying to cope and deal.
What inspires you to write? What’s your writing process?
I have been writing stories from age eight or so and had my first short story published at age ten. It was a children’s competition for a national magazine in India and my fifth-grade English teacher had encouraged me to send it in. Both her vote of confidence and the win that followed had a huge impact. Growing up, I wanted to pursue writing as a career but my parents insisted on a more practical choice: engineering.
Writing has always been how I explore and engage with the world around me. It is my way of thinking through, reframing, and understanding multiple perspectives of various issues that interest or bother me. Often, it is also a sort of ongoing conversation — with another writer, with myself, with someone I know (but cannot, for whatever reason, actually have that particular conversation with). I also enjoy the creative process — the aesthetic pleasure of playing with language and words, making interesting images and ideas that did not exist in my own perception quite the same way before.
My writing processes for fiction and non-fiction are a bit different. Fiction stories begin with either a what-if question or a character. Once I have a general idea of a who and a what-if, I have to outline both the plot and the basic scenes. I have to be able to visualize at least some of the story in my head like bits of a movie and be clear about POV and narrator. Then, I start writing the first draft. It’s slow-going because, despite all the upfront time outlining/visualizing, I doubt every sentence I write. But I’m getting better at ignoring the inner critic and letting the first draft be shitty. I now know, from experience, that all writing is really rewriting.
Other than the above, I have no real process though I wish I had more discipline to do a certain quota of words daily. I’m working on that.
Who are some of your favorite writers and influences?
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Oh, so many. Let’s start with Virginia Woolf — a lifelong influence. I had a short piece published in The Atlantic about how ‘A Room of One’s Own’ was life-changing for me. I’ve read her letters and diaries over and over again. And her novels continue to be such terrific masterclasses in writing.
I am also a huge fan of short story writers like Katherine Mansfield, Grace Paley, Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, Lorrie Moore, James Joyce, John Updike, John Cheever, Rohinton Mistry, Zadie Smith, Jhumpa Lahiri, Yiyun Li, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, and many more. They stun me with their insightful storytelling, their facility with language, and their ability to say so much with so little. Sheer magic. These writers are like my best friends, guides, and mentors — both in writing and in life.
What are you working on now? What’s next for your writing?
I am more than halfway through my first short story collection. The twelve stories chart the many Indias I have known in my lifetime and which, amazingly, still jostle with each other today. There is rural India where more than half of her population still lives with no running water or toilets but more mobile phones than people. There are the teeming dream cities where rural immigrants exchange their former destitution for another, more lonely one. In those same cities, there is an evolving India where the rising middle class aspires to the kind of material success promised by globalization. And, finally, there is a globalized India as manifested in its Western diaspora. Together, these Indias are much more than Bollywood, cricket, and rape culture.
After finishing the above collection, I want to work on a novel. That said, I also have another entire collection of short stories brewing on a back burner. So, we’ll see. No shortage of ideas, that’s for sure.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Zadie Smith wrote this terrific essay titled ‘Fail Better’. The entire thing is one of my favorite go-tos when I need to remind myself why and how to write. This, particularly:
For writers have only one duty, as I see it: the duty to express accurately their way of being in the world. If that sounds woolly and imprecise, I apologize. Writing is not a science, and I am speaking to you in the only terms I have to describe what it is I persistently aim for (yet fail to achieve) when I sit in front of my computer.
When I write I am trying to express my way of being in the world. This is primarily a process of elimination: once you have removed all the dead language, the second-hand dogma, the truths that are not your own but other people’s, the mottos, the slogans, the out-and-out lies of your nation, the myths of your historical moment—once you have removed all that warps experience into a shape you do not recognize and do not believe in—what you are left with is something approximating the truth of your own conception.