30 December, 2017

#Interview with Rajat Narula, #Author of The Jasmine Bloom

About the Author:

Rajat Narula is a lead financial management specialist at The World Bank.  He has published several poems and articles and won Fairfax District award in USA for his poetry.  He has worked and lived in India, USA and Indonesia.      


An Interview with the Author:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
I wrote my first poem, as well as my short story, at the age of 13.  My poems started getting published, when I was about 18.  Around that time, I started writing a fortnightly column for a local newspaper for about six months.  The appreciation I received for it gave me confidence that I could write well.  It was at that point, I knew I wanted to write a full-length novel.  

What inspires you to write?
The inspirations are all around you. People you meet, news you read, movies you watch, books you read, random conversations you overhear, sights you see, places you visit - all these things remain within you. Sometimes they percolate for years, enmeshing with other ideas and thoughts and a story begins to take shape.

How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
Many years ago, I watched a Harrison Ford movie called 'Random Hearts'. In the movie, Ford's wife dies in a car crash, along with the Senator for whom she worked. After her death, Ford finds out she and the Senator were lovers - and she was thinking of leaving Ford. Senator's wife finds out too and the movie was about their coming to terms with that truth. Ford and the Senator's wife also have an affair and so on. The concept of finding out about your partner's infidelity after he/she is gone fascinated me. I thought what if the situation was reversed. If the husband was the having an affair and the wife (who died) knew about it, but didn't confront him, while she was alive. After her death, when the husband finds out that she knew, how hard it would be to deal with that guilt. When the person you want to apologize to, is gone. That was the kernel of the story of 'The Jasmine Bloom'. Of course, it needed a lot of development, fleshing out the characters, introducing children in the mix, a potential corporate fraud and so on to make it an engaging story.

Are there some stories tucked away in some drawer that was written before and never saw the light of the day?
There are a few short stories that were never published (and will never be – they are too juvenile ).  There are several poems that have made it my blog, but have not been published.  However, ‘The Jasmine Bloom’ is my first ‘big’ story.   

Tell us about your writing process.
I like having an outline of the story, at the outset.  If you know broadly, where the story is going to go, you don't get lost on the way. However, as I write, I think of new twists and turns, and the story eventually turns out a bit different (and richer) than intended at the start.  
I try to write every day, even though it may be little.  I have a day job, so I get up at five in the morning, to get at least an hour of writing.    
My first drafts tend to a bit long.  ‘The Jasmine Bloom’ started out as a 120,000 words book, but was edited down to almost half that size.  I believe in spending a lot of time in editing, and refining the book, after I have the first draft.  It takes me long to finish a book.  Way too long.    The Jasmine Bloom took five years, my second is likely to take at least four – but I have to be happy that it is the best book I can write.  

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
There are several scenes that are dear to me.  However, if I had to pick one, it would have to be the scene, where Ritu goes to the hospital to get a procedure done, but changes her mind at the last minute (I wouldn’t say anything more than that, so as not to spoil the reading experience).  The scene is special in several ways: one, it was a last-minute decision for me to have Ritu decide as she does – and I like that twist in the story.  Two, the initial interactions between the baby and Ritu are written in such a way as to give the impression she is dealing with a hot young guy, and I loved that deception, and three, it opens up the story to interesting possibilities that weren’t available if Ritu were to go with her initial decision.  

Did any of your characters inherit some of your own quirks?
All the main characters of the book have something of me in them.  Sameer’s deep-rooted affection for his daughters, Kavita’s love for books and her poetry, and Ritu’s small-town background and her missing that life – are all me.  However, they are also much more than me.  When I worked on their characters, I added colors that were not me at all.  That’s what makes them distinctive.   

What is your most interesting writing quirk?
I get immersed in the writing.  I laugh when I write humor, and I have tears in my eyes when I write a sad scene.  I forget it is all make-believe.  When I get feedback from the readers that they laughed and cried with the characters, it makes me feel it was all worth it. What comes from heart goes to heart.  

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
Write about only three things: what you love, what you hate, and what are you’re deeply conflicted about.  

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
First: Persist. I see several people starting, but then losing steam midway. It doesn't matter how good or bad your first draft is, but it is important you finish what you start. There is plenty of time, after the first draft is completed, to further improve the book. But the most important thing is to finish it. 
Second: Write the best book you can. I finished the first draft of 'The Jasmine Bloom' in 18 months but it took me another 42 months to ‘complete’ it. I understand there are shortcuts available (self-publishing, editors) and the quality of writing of some of the bestsellers in India isn't quite the best, but you still want to give it your best shot. The book may be a hit or a flop, but you won't want your name to be associated with a shoddy, half-baked product. 
Three: Buck the trend. Don't write what you think sells in the market. Write what you want to write. The story you think you can tell the best. For example, if college romances are what's selling in India currently, doesn't mean you must write one too. If that's the story in you, of course. But if you have another story to tell, go ahead and tell your story. That way your truth will make the writing stronger and the readers will relate with the book.

What do you have in store next for your readers?
I am currently working on my second novel, which is based in Virginia, United States. The central theme of the book is the inter-ethnic tensions and clash of cultures in US, particularly in the post-Trump world.

About the Book:

Sameer Chadha is in a mid-life crisis, unhappy with everything around him, even his name. His corporate career is languishing and he is increasingly alienated from his family.  His wife Kavita, a part-time poet and a full-time mother, lives more in the past than the present.  When their lives collide with that of Ritu, a younger woman coping with an abusive husband and an autistic son, a chain of events gets triggered that puts all their lives into a tailspin.  The Jasmine Bloom is a story of love, lust, ruin and resurrection.  It is a commentary on the fragility of modern family life; of terrible secrets and shocking choices.  However, at its core, it is the tale of a man learning to be happy in the here and now.  

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