Friday, December 5, 2014

AUTHOR'S CIRCLE: ANJALI MITTER DUVA

On Author’s Circle today, I have author, urban planner, and dance teacher Anjali Mitter Duva, to talk about writing, life and her book, FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN


Hi Anjali, welcome to my blog. 


1.      So, what’s FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN about? (On a side note, Dear Readers, I've read it and loved it.)

My book is set in 16th century India, and revolves around a little girl, Adhira, born into a family of Hindu temple dancers just as a new Muslim emperor takes the throne. The story is about this girl caught between her tradition, her artistry, and her family’s fear of change, all set against the vivid sights and sounds of the Rajasthan desert.

Book Blurb: 
It is 1554 in the desert of Rajasthan, an outpost of resistance against a new Mughal emperor. In a family of Hindu temple dancers a daughter, Adhira, must carry on her family’s sacred tradition. Her father, against his wife and sons’ protests, insists Adhira “marry” the temple deity and give herself to a wealthy patron. But after one terrible evening, she makes a brave choice that carries her family’s story and their dance to a startling new beginning. Told from the memory of this exquisite dancer and filled with the sounds, sights and flavors of the Indian desert, this is the story of a family and a girl caught between art, duty, and fear in a changing world. (Available here and here.)

2.     What’s your favorite line from the novel? Why?

“In Rajasthan, where I was born, it is possible for a child of five never to have seen rain.” 
This was the first line I wrote, and the one line that never changed, despite at least a dozen manuscript revisions. I was reading a guidebook to Rajasthan and found this anecdote, that it rains so rarely in Jaisalmer, the city of Rajasthan in which the story is set, that in the days of royalty, the children’s rooms in the palaces were painted with black and blue cloud designs so that when it finally did rain, they would not be afraid. This was such a powerful and magical image, I had to write it down. I had no idea then that I was about to write a book. Even less a set of four books!

Writing is often compared to magic...hence it goes to show :)

3.   Now tell us how you become a writer? 

I think I always was a writer. I just didn’t really admit it to myself. My family is full of people who write, mostly in the academic world. Growing up, I knew implicitly that writing was a worthy pursuit. But I also had many other interests. Like many writers, I wrote in a journal, I wrote stories and poems I never showed anyone. I wrote a lot of letters. I received compliments on my writing in college and graduate school as I studied international development and urban planning. I wrote some more as a freelance writer, still in those fields, still not really considering myself a “writer.” And then I started studying kathak, a classical dance form of India, and I discovered a whole world, a whole history. I researched this history as I helped my dance teacher found a non-profit, Chhandika, dedicated to this storytelling art, and that same year I traveled back to India and read that anecdote I mentioned, and suddenly everything came together, and I was writing a book set at a particular junction in the history of India and of kathak. I realized the story was there, I just needed to put words to it.

4.  Do you have any strange writing habits?

It depends who you ask. If you ask my mother, then yes. I tend to do my creative writing in caf├ęs. I find it much harder to block out the silence of, say, a library, than the noisy hubbub of a coffee shop. The quiet feels oppressive, like it’s taunting me, making me too aware of the long pauses in my typing. The hum of voices and activity is more forgiving, and reminds me there is a world out there. Sometimes I place a little bronze Buddha statuette by my computer. A good friend gave it to me, as a way of helping me focus in the midst of activity. I find it helps create a don’t-bother-me bubble around me, averting unwanted conversations with some of the dubious characters who hang out at coffee shops. You know, like me. On occasion, it does invite a conversation, but I find those people who ask me about it tend to be interesting folk.

That's not so strange. Rowlings wrote HP in coffee shops too.

5.  Why write what you write?

The setting and main lines of the story for FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN came to me. Not in some divine epiphany type of way, more like I just unearthed, in the process of researching something else, a story that was itching to be told. So, thankfully, I never really had to ask myself—what do I want to write? That would have been terrifying. And it was a stroke of luck, I think, that my genre has turned out to be historical fiction. I’m a gal who likes structure—I am trained as an infrastructure planner, after all—and historical fiction gives me an established framework within which to set my stories.

6.  Which is the best character you have written? Is he or she your favorite? Why?

I have to admit I kind of fell in love with Hari Dev, who was to be a minor character but then grew into a complex, sweet and unique being who needed more space in the story. I’ve heard from several readers that they adore him, too. His mind is fascinating (yes, I love him for his mind!), and his relationship with his younger sister, Adhira, the story’s narrator, is heartwarming. Is he my best character? It’s hard for me to say. It’s like asking me which of my children is the best.

7.  Now to the non-creative aspects of writing. What is your best marketing tip?

Just be yourself, and be true to yourself. Really. I know it sounds hokey, but it’s so important. Understand your own personality, your strengths, your weaknesses. Don’t force yourself to do things that suck energy away from you. There are so, so many things one can do in marketing and promotion, just focus on those that energize you.


8.  What can we expect from you next?

Assuming I figure out how to fit writing back into my life after the flurry of launching my first book, you can expect another work of historical fiction. This one will be set in the sparkling city of Lucknow in the 19th century, at the very end of the Mughal Empire and the start of the British Raj. It will be the second of my set of four books. The main characters are a frustrated courtesan and kathak dancer, Malika, and her half-French son, Etienne. The story takes place over four years right before, during and immediately after the Rebellion (sometimes known as the Great Mutiny, depending on whose history you are reading) of Hindu and Muslim Indian soldiers against the British.

I know that event: The Mutiny of 1857. It's like tattooed into my brain as I studied it in high school and for a very major exam. Wow, first Kathak and now this. It seems as if the settings of your novels are connected to me. :) 

9.   To end lets try a Rapid Fire round. Your answer should be the first word/s that pops into your head when you think of:

LIFE: a gift
PASSION: necessary
HERO: prolific and socially conscious writers
LOVE: peace
HATE: strife





Thank you once again, Anjali, for being here and talking to us. It was fun!

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