1) Hello Ma’am, can you please introduce yourself? So that the audience would get you know you better.
I’m a journalist, author, singer-songwriter, romanticist, mystic, an occasional painter and an incorrigible nomad, all rolled into one! Having grown up in many cities and countries, I enjoy traveling to new worlds and absorbing different cultures, practices and perspectives. I play with words, data, imagery, video, multimedia and other forms of sensory stimuli to descend into the life-worlds of people and organizations and weave stories of varying textures and gradients around different strands of lived and imagined experiences. In fiction, I take this process one step further by accessorizing it with ‘maybes’ and ‘what-ifs.’ I believe that connecting with people at a deeper level through love and playing a small part in uplifting the collective consciousness of humanity are the primary purposes of one’s incarnation on this plane of existence. I see storytelling as a medium, which can facilitate and enrich that journey. After all, stories have existed since time immemorial – in literature, music, dance, art, cinema, theater and the news!
2) Congratulations on your recent thriller novel, “Victims For Sale.” The title sounds so dark and deep I would love to know the story behind it. When did your book actually get published?
Thank you. Victims For Sale was published in 2018. As a writer, I try to get into the shoes of my target readers. I thought the title ‘Victims For Sale’ would be compelling enough to spark interest and curiosity. This novel had two previous titles, Falling Bridges and Bread Breaker’s Society, before it became Victims For Sale. I suppose I am a bit dark as a writer. But I also like to give readers enough hope for the protagonist(s) and/or characters in question..
3) Do you remember what you wrote first? How did you develop your interest in writing?
It began in early childhood. I started writing when I was adrift in an oasis of trauma, tragedy and culture shock upon relocating to India from Europe. My first short story was published when I was eight. Long before that, I had won a Kindergarten contest when I told the story of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Malancha.’ When I got older, I drew inspiration from Enid Blyton (the Magic Faraway Tree series and the Wishing Chair series were the best!). I was nine when I took a stab at my own version of a fantasy novel about children in a magic land! The writing picked up after I had a near-death experience preceding my diagnosis of Type-1 Diabetes in 1996. Not long after, a middle school crush inspired a series of school-based novels that continued through most of high-school – mostly a combination of scenes, ramblings and reflections. The notebooks where I wrote all of that are tucked away somewhere in a loft in my childhood home. But all of those years of voracious writing – and reading – gave me practice.
4) I consider writing a thriller is so difficult, it’s a genre which demands a lot, what you have to say on this?
As human beings, many of us are often curious about matters of life and death as well as imagined worst-case scenarios and/or how far something can go on before there’s a breaking point. Exploring various permutations and combinations of each intricacy in that space in our psyche is what interests me about the thriller genre. I’m starting to write a corporate thriller novel, which will most likely be a sequel to Victims For Sale. My approach to writing thrillers has involved laying trauma as a foundation for characters to explore dark, disturbing, lurid and/or creepy thoughts, behaviors, actions and interpretations, and justify their subsequent choices with the trauma they experienced. Having minored in psychology, I like drawing upon my insights into various intelligence measures, personality theories and drivers of social and interpersonal dynamics. These insights have been very helpful in my writings. Today, readers are increasingly interested in thrillers inspired from real events or those that carry elements of realism.
5) I assume you have gone through a lot to bring the things inside your head on paper, so would you like to share your journey?
This novel grew out of my experiences as a journalist investigating into the sterilization of mentally challenged women for a newspaper story. The sources I spoke to included a widower who had considered a hysterectomy for his mentally challenged daughter and gynecologists who decried that practice. I wanted to channel my anger and empathy toward fiction. Victims For Sale was originally intended as a literary novel, but evolved into a commercial crime thriller upon elaborate research on the ground in London. Those research efforts involved sitting in on a murder trial at the Old Bailey (or Central Criminal Court of England and Wales) in London, shadowing with producers at the BBC and having face-to-face interviews, discussions and follow-ups with multiple subjects across the UK, including Scotland Yard officials, a gynecologist, a care home director and a barrister. The court experience at London’s Old Bailey helped me flesh out the character of my antagonist.
6) Are you a full time author?
I’m not a full-time author at the moment, but I do hope to eventually be one! I try to be disciplined about setting time aside for my fiction-writing. I have completed writing another novel, Twin Flame, which is a multi-geographic love saga with historical overtones and elements of magic realism. I am now seeking a new literary agent for that novel and future titles. It’s always a balancing act for me to do give enough time for my husband and family as well as my fiction-writing, my tours / promotions and a heavy-duty newsroom job that I’m currently holding,
7) What makes your book different, I mean why you think people should read it?
Victims For Sale endeavors to stand out in terms of how it addresses a social issue that is relatively understudied / underreported yet so rampant among South Asian communities worldwide – that of stripping mentally challenged women of their reproductive rights without their informed consent, especially in the context of their families’ desire to preserve their honor, avoid unwanted pregnancies and/or keep these women from romantic / sexual relationships. If you look at the bigger picture, the concepts of sex and abnormality continue to remain taboo in India. I think readers will be interested in this book as I have sought to create a strong character-driven story touching upon these issues in the form of a racy, fast-paced psychological thriller with elements of crime, suspense and romance. Finally, the instance of an Indian female student heading to the UK for higher studies and embarking on adventures there while embracing her vulnerability is one that many readers across India will likely relate to.
8) How much time did you take to complete this book? No doubt this book is so amazing. Which was the most difficult part of the book, writing wise and why?
Victims For Sale took me 12 years from conception to publication, but the actual writing part would have been about 5-6 years; it was written in the midst of two post-graduate degrees, multiple relocations between continents and full-time editorial or consulting jobs. Once I finished writing it, it took me nearly a year to get a literary agent, another two years to sign with a publisher and an additional 18 months after that for the book to release.
The hardest part for me to write was the ending. I struggled a bit to find just the perfect closing scene for it. I remember that earlier iterations of the draft had a climax that involved a helicopter ride followed by a fire breakout scene, which took up almost an entire chapter. My former editor at the literary agency, Subhojit Sanyal, was extremely helpful in making the climax the best it could be. I think writing the ending was challenging for me because it was quite violent, and I’m a person who feels very faint at the sight of blood, needles, knee-scrapes, injections, etc. I can’t even see a kid getting vaccinated on television and I once blacked out during a biology class when I was made to talk about red blood corpuscles. So, it was challenging to manufacture that violence in the ending – and then read and re-read those scenes and edit them numerous times.
9) Do you think your family and friends have shared in your success?
My family has been extremely supportive of my endeavors and has certainly been instrumental to my success. My husband, Swami is a sounding board for most of my career pursuits and has never given up on me. Right from my childhood, my parents have encouraged me to do whatever makes me happy and have actively assisted with many stages of my professional and personal development. Given the success of Victims For Sale in India and the fact that I’m based in New York, my Mom, Swati, who is a journalist and writer herself, is managing all my affairs as an author.
10) Do you belong to a literary background?
My Mom used to be a banker. However, she transitioned from banking to the media and became an editor and writer. She has written tens of thousands of articles over the past few decades as well as a book of short stories and a few novellas. My Dad works in finance, but he’s a creative and spiritual person. He often made up stories from figments of his imagination on-the-spur-of-the-moment and told me those stories to entertain me when I was a child. He did this until I was about nine or ten!
11) What should the reader expect while reading, “Victims For Sale”?
When I write, I like to encourage my readers to take ownership of their own creative and interpretative processes, so I’m not comfortable suggesting what readers should expect while reading Victims For Sale. As it is said, ‘the customer is the king.’ For me, readers are leaders. Readers are my lifeblood. So, my readers have as much right to dislike or detest one or more parts of the book as they do to fall in love with the story and its characters. Every reader is different too. What has greatly appealed to one reader might not appeal to another. So, the process of fiction-writing and reading is also highly subjective. I have received such tremendous support from bookclubs and the reading community that I have been encouraged to write more. Victims For Sale’s protagonist, Sandy has also captivated many hearts, so much so that it has been suggested to me that I make my new corporate thriller novel a sequel to Victims For Sale. I was ambivalent about that, but now, I’m writing this new book with Sandy in mind and it is a story that is set in New York and Washington, D.C.
12) Is the book entirely fictional or some parts are also inspired from real life events?
The book is fictional. But, as I said, it’s inspired from one of my field-reporting experiences as a journalist in the mid-2000s. Around that time, I was one of the youngest journalists in India, if not the youngest. I have projected parts of myself as well as friends, coworkers, sponsors, patrons and other people I’ve interacted with through my work onto the characters in the book. I feel my enriching experience of England during the years I lived there has made the novel more authentic too. For instance, I worked for some time a court interpreter in London while I was a student at the London School of Economics. This gig as an interpreter gave me an opportunity to visit Wormwood Scrubs Prison, which was dark, foreboding and scary. In my head, it was a vague sense of this image of that prison, accentuated by my own imagination, which guided my description of the Bread Breakers’ Community Residence in Victims For Sale.
13) How writing has changed you as a person?
I was a precocious kid who always challenged many ways of doing things and wondered about life, death and the afterlife. Writing was a perfect channel to explore those constructs and ideas. For me, storytelling is a way of guiding and expressing one’s wishful thinking and desire for escapism by bringing life and color to words through imagined yet realistic characters that one can birth, empower, destroy and rebuild through self-created situations whose outcomes one can maneuver as an author. So, writing is helping me evolve into a truer and more real version of myself. For me, writing is addictive, meditative and cathartic. It helps me make sense of this plane of existence and draw upon my external experiences to delve into the infinite world within me and share my perspectives with the world. Writing has become a part of me that makes me feel whole and complete.
14) Who are your favorite thriller writers?
Oh, I grew up on Sidney Sheldon, Mary Higgins Clark, John Grisham and Robin Cook! My more contemporary favorites are Gillian Flynn, Tana French and Nora Roberts. I read across genres and I’ve always enjoyed Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy classics as well as Wilfred Owen’s war poems and Erich Segal novels. J.K Rowling is my biggest source of inspiration as an author. My latest read is American Dirt by Jeannin Cummins and I can say that Jeannin has now found a new fan!
15) Any advice you would like to give to the upcoming authors or your buddy authors?
Being a writer involves embracing every part of yourself, the good and the bad. It involves being fearless. Writing is hard. Every process it involves, ranging from character development to scene construction, is intense. Finding a literary agent and publisher is hard. So is marketing and selling a book. And all of this is an extremely slow process. None of it is for the faint-hearted. Neither is any of it for people who don’t feel they’re passionate enough about writing to die for it. I would advise authors to be patient, believe in themselves and their work and continue to write, write better and get better every time. I understand it might be easier said than done. But all of it helps you find your voice as an author. That isn’t an overnight process. A unique voice comes with rich experience and self-belief, so it’s also helpful to be open to different realms of every personal and vicarious experience life throws at you as all of it gives you substance and experience as a storyteller. I’d also advise aspiring authors to continue reading ardently across genres, subjects and categories.
Only from the heart can you touch the sky.
Thanks again, Nish for taking out time to have this amazing conversation with all of us. I hope you continue to inspire us more. Good luck.