Archive | September 2014

Author Interview: John Green

How do you use humor while describing a sad situation? Does an author who has tasted publishing success think of the market while choosing his next project? How does it feel to have your readers? How do you publicize your work on the net?

These are the questions (and more) that John Green, the author of the bestseller, The Fault in Our Stars, answers in the interview below.

My favorite quote:  “It’s a great gift to have readers and to know that your next book will have readers. It’s a blessing.” Oh, I’m so envious! I wish I’ll be able to say just that–someday. 🙂

Well, meet John Green, my friends!

John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars”

200px-The_Fault_in_Our_Stars[1]Mortality. It’s natural to think about it in old age, especially if elders become seriously ill. What’s not natural is when young children and teenagers think about dying. Not hypothetically thinking, but for real, while looking death in the face. It is heartbreaking when teenagers who are supposed to have many years ahead of them plan their own funerals—with eulogies, caskets, dress, the works.

That’s what John Green’s bestseller The Fault in Our Stars is about: teenagers, whose bodies are being eaten by cancer and who, despite their struggle to beat it, very often lose.

Hazel is only sixteen, but her thyroid cancer that has metastasized to her lungs prevents her from having a normal life as a teen. The oxygen tank that she carries with her at all times makes her the object of curiosity for people wherever she goes. She says, “That was the worst part about having cancer, sometimes: The physical evidence of disease separates you from other people. We were irreconcilably other…” 144

At the meeting of cancer patients’ support group, Hazel meets Augustus, a seventeen-year-old cancer survivor. Like any star-crossed lovers, they’re immediately attracted. They talk, text each other, and visit. They’re both well-read and sharp-witted. Their verbal exchange is a treat for the reader. They are smitten. But Hazel shuns away from love. She’s thinks of herself as a “grenade” that will eventually go off, so she wants “to minimize the casualties.” 99

Still, Hazel and Augustus can’t stay away from each other. They swap books they love. Hazel gives him her favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction, about a teenager Anna, afflicted by cancer, whose life mirrors her own. The book ends abruptly, and Hazel has been obsessed with finding out what happened to Anna and her mother. But the author has moved to Amsterdam and doesn’t respond to Hazel’s letters of inquiry.

Together Hazel and Augustus embark on a journey to Amsterdam to meet the author and get answers to their questions. Their trip is an adventure filled with both exciting and heartrending discoveries.

The Fault in Our Stars touches a painful subject, yes, because it’s hard to read about doomed kids dying way before their time. Yet this story is uplifting too, because it shows the courage of these kids, their early maturity. Their suffering and fighting the disease, their will to live, can put us to shame when we whine about some mundane problems in our lives.

Favorite lines: “The sun was a toddler insistently refusing to go to bed: It was past eight thirty and still light.” 167

“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” 157

Strongly recommend!

Author Interview: Thrity Umrigar

Every published author is usually asked this question: When did you start writing? Their usual answer: Pretty early.

Well, Thrity Umrigar, the author of The Space Between Us, began writing when she was just 6 years old! That’s early, all right. And at the age of 14, she realized that she would definitely become a writer. She had “a sense of herself” as a writer, you see. Well, what triggered this realization? And why and when did she decide to move from Bombay, India, to Ohio? And why did she, a successful reporter who loved her job, leave journalism? Oh, and by the way, does she outline her novels?

Watch this interview and find out! 🙂

Thrity Umrigar’s “The Space Between Us”

SpaceBetweenUs-big[1]In The Space Between Us, Thrity Umrigar explores class divisions and gender bonds in Indian society, as well as universal themes, such as love and loss, marriage and family, and the ghastly problem of spousal abuse.

Umrigar portrays two women, one from the privileged upper-middle class and the other, her servant, from the lowest class. Sera is rich, living in an affluent neighborhood, whereas Bhima is dirt-poor, living in filthy slums. So by birth, they stand as far apart on the societal scale as they can possibly be, but they have something in common—the shattered dream of a happy marriage—and they are more friends than employer and servant.

Bhima has been faithfully and self-sacrificially devoted to Sera for decades, and Sera reciprocates with kindness, treating her with lenience and paying for Bhima’s granddaughter’s college education, despite the criticism of such “indulgence” coming from her social circle.

Having lost her husband and daughter, Bhima has endured hardships throughout her life, and now she’s facing another plight, the pregnancy of her unmarried granddaughter whom she has raised alone. This pregnancy is not only Maya’s disgrace in the eyes of the community, but it is the end of her college education, which means the end of their dream to ever rise above their wretched lives in the slums. Bhima considers education as the only way to succeed in life, so she (with Sera’s approval and help) insists on an abortion.

Sera, a well-educated woman from a well-to-do family of intellectuals, is married to an abusive, egotistical, controlling tyrant. She realizes that she has made a disastrous mistake very early in her marriage, yet she keeps taking abuse from him and his cruel mother, and she keeps it secret even from her parents. Her weakness and meekness, her subservient position in marriage, her servitude and sacrifices, and most of all, her humility, made me sick to my stomach, and to a point that I wanted to stop reading the novel. And when this husband of hers, this brute, who used her as a punching back throughout their marriage, dies, Sera laments, “My husband! I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything. Forgive me for being such a poor wife….”

Argh! I wanted to scream.

Well, as I said before, that’s what good writing does to you–it evokes all kinds of strong emotions in you the reader.

Thrity Umrigar has chosen a good title for the novel. The Space Between Us  is about desired breathing space (by Sera, from her domineering and oppressive mother-in-law), the safeguarded space (Sera preserves distance between herself and Bhima, as tradition requires), and fortified space (between the castes and classes).

The Space Between Us is a beautifully-written, realistic depiction of the life in India, which many readers may find fascinating.

Sources of Inspiration for Writers

I love art. Strolling the halls of a museum is my favorite pastime. Needless to say, I love reading art books and stories exploring the art world. Some of them (The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, Girl with a Pearl Earing and The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, The Passion of Artemisia and Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud) I cherish, keeping them on my bookshelves. Now, I’m about to start reading The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt and I have several others on my reading list.

From the clip below that I stumbled upon on YouTube, I’ve learned that nowadays, contemporary art captivates the attention of novel writers  more often than before. Why?

Well, one of the essential factors of writers’ fascination with art is that its “high drama can be a backdrop for their novel.” So naturally, they love to attend art exhibitions.

Learn about the other factors in the dialogue below.

Claire Messud Reads an Excerpt from “The Woman Upstairs”

Here’s the first chapter of  The Woman Upstairs, read by the author, Claire Messud.

As I never listen to audio books, I find it fascinating to hear an excerpt from a novel read out loud by the very person who has written this piece, who lets us see how it’s supposed to sound and feel. Or at least we know how the words felt and sounded for their creator during the writing process, and what she was trying to say.


Claire Messud’s “The Woman Upstairs”

cover[2]When I finished Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs today, my heart raced and my throat was tight. I was shocked and angry and extremely upset. I still am, after several hours. I feel for Nora Eldridge, the protagonist, as if she is my friend. And I ask myself a question: Is there no limit to human treachery and cruelty? Judging by what has been done to Nora, apparently no. No limit.

That’s a visceral emotion for you, evoked in me by The Woman Upstairs. Frankly, I don’t remember another novel that made such a strong impact on me, and I’ve read a lot of excellent ones.

The revelation! It’s not just a fireworks effect that Claire Messud has achieved; it’s an earth-shattering explosion! An explosion that will reverberate in us for a long time.

After I read the last lines, I flipped the pages back to the opening, to Nora’s question: “How angry am I?” And she answers, “You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.”

This “that” hooks our interest immediately. Just what disaster has struck this woman so badly that she wouldn’t wish it on anybody else? And we’re dying to know. Especially after she tells us about herself—in a tirade, throbbing with rage and pain—how good she’s always been.

She says, “I’m a good girl, I’m a nice girl, I’m a straight-A, straight-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody’s boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents’ shit and my brother’s shit, and I’m not a girl anyhow, I’m over forty f… years old, and I’m good at my job and I’m great with kids…” and on it goes.

No, Nora Eldridge is not a girl, but a forty-two-year-old elementary school teacher, unmarried and childless, and she really is good—generous, kind, accommodating, even-tempered, polite, loving, selfless, reliable, and totally undemanding. But that’s what people see in her. As Claire Messud said at the Book Festival (see my blog entry, Sept. 1st), she likes to explore the “interior” life of a person. And explore she does. No one even suspects that Nora is also passionate, dreaming, ambitious, and deeply dissatisfied. Yes, she helps everyone willingly, but it doesn’t mean that she likes to be taken for granted, to be overlooked. A closet artist, she wants to be her own self, to create her art, to be recognized, but she’s too unsure of herself and of her artistic talent. She’s always dreamed about a career as an artist, but she doesn’t “seem to make the cut.” She can’t connect her dream in her head of being an artist, and her dream in the world of being an artist. (196)

And then she tells us about what has happened to her, why she’s left devastated. She tells all of it. How she received a new student in her class and how she met his intellectual, well-traveled, fascinating family from abroad, and how they became close friends, and how at the end she’s “rewarded” (my word) for her devotion to them. This “reward” is their betrayal on an unprecedented scale. Which astounds us to the core.

I hope I haven’t revealed too much, and if so, I do apologize. Actually, I haven’t said more than you can read on the jacket of the book.

Claire Messud shows us just how blind and gullible we can be when we admire and love someone; and how the betrayal and treachery of someone we admire can feel worse than murder.

Claire Messud is an extraordinary writer. I love her writing style. Her sentences are long. And I mean, long! But there’s so much passion and meaning packed in every one of them that you read them in one breath, eager to go on and on, until you finish. Yet, paradoxically, the novel is not a page turner in a usual sense of a thriller (despite its suspense), because it’s so profound and thought-provoking that you want to take a break, here and there, and think, really think. The novel is brilliant; it engages your entire being—your heart, your soul, your mind. It is a masterpiece!

With The Woman Upstairs , Claire Messud has set a high bar for other writers. And I applaud her! She’s certainly my big inspiration.

One of my favorite lines: “I’ve discovered over the years that the simplest explanation is almost always the right one; and that hunger of one kind or another—desire, by another name—is the source of almost every sorrow.” (57)

I highly recommend The Woman Upstairs and I would absolutely love to talk about it with you—it is so rich for discussion!