Sunday, July 13, 2008

Shiva's Arms by Cheryl Snell

1 - How did you get interested in the topic that’s featured in your book?

When I married my Indian husband, I became fascinated by the dynamics of the Indian “joint-family.” Since an ocean separated me from my new in-laws, I thought I’d explore the “what ifs” in fiction. So I pitted Alice, an American “unsuitable” bride, against Shiva, a traditional Indian mother-in-law and the namesake of a god.

2 - Tell us a bit about your background. What have you done in the past that relates to your book and that topic?

I come from a background of classical music and poetry. Each discipline feeds the other, and feed, in turn, the transition from image to scene that a novel demands. As far as subject matter goes, I was the child of immigrants, and the romance surrounding their struggles resonated with me, and gave me a frame of reference for my husband’s own emotional statelessness.

Although the set-up of Shiva’s Arms is drawn from my life—American girl finds Brahmin boy with seventeen opinionated relatives-- I am not Alice. She has my hair and my fashion sense, but her character is influenced by my fictional universe and the demands it makes on her. Even a true story is held hostage to memory and interpretation. When fictional truth wins over nostalgia, the story finds its own voice. I am not Alice, but I know her very well.

3 - What advise would you give to someone who is interested in your topic?

Read and listen. The Indian diaspora has given rise to many works of fiction that examine the question of divided loyalties. Lahiri, Desai, Divakaruni are all drawn to the stories of immigrant families thrashing in their domestic seas. It’s such a brave act, to move to a strange land. But here’s the thing-- when a person is part of two cultures, what part of the self goes, and what stays?

4 - What do you see as the benefit to participating in groups and organizations? My first thought would be networking opportunities and the chance for personal and business growth. What are your reasons?

There is a wonderful sense of community in a writer’s group, the chance to learn about the craft itself, the business of writing, and the chance to encourage growth in others. Online workshops have the extra advantage of semi-anonymity. It’s easier to tell the hard truths about someone’s writing if you don’t have cues in their expression or body language to influence your opinion.

5 - Who is the ideal person to read your book? If each person that reads this was going to recommend your book to one person, what sort of person would they want to chose?

Anyone interested in cultural cross-pollination; anyone who relishes musical language; anyone who ever had a mother-in-law.

6 - What do you think ignites a person’s creativity?

Reading widely and deeply, noticing details, developing empathy.

7 - What have you found to be the biggest stumbling block for people who want to start writing?

They try to carve out enough of the ideal chunk of time. There is no such thing.

8 - How would you suggest they can overcome that?

Try to write every day. Routine may seem uninspiring, but you want to be at your desk if inspiration happens to strike! Think about what you’re writing when you’re doing other things—plot the next scene while you’re doing dishes, etc. Stay connected to your project, in other words. Leave your physical writing in the middle of a sentence. It will help jumpstart the next session.

9 - What do you find is the biggest motivator for people to succeed? Is it money, security, desire for fame or something else?

Fantasies about money, security, fame don’t really help a person take the necessary one step after another to learn their craft, and build a success. I remember a sad story about a gifted new writer who submitted her first story to The New Yorker and was rejected. Her friends tried to shore her up by pointing out the many excellent lit journals in the world, but she said, “I had my heart set on The New Yorker,” and promptly quit writing.

10 - Who is the “perfect” person to read your book?

I’m hoping South Indians will enjoy the inside jokes and cultural references. The recipes in the companion booklet, too.

A reader who learns how to understand an “other” through this story would be just about perfect.

11 - Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
One reader asked me how I can write about the ‘other’. I can write about this community because I do not truly belong to it. Being a perpetual outsider, standing in the doorway, is a good place to eavesdrop. I’ll leave you with a bit of Mr. Faulkner’s wisdom: "I never know what I think about something until I read what I've written on it."

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