Friday, May 1, 2015
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Ekta R. Garg
1. When/why did you decide to become a writer?
At the age of 8 I started writing—poetry and short essays, mostly, but eventually I started writing fiction. The world of words always fascinated me, and because my paternal grandfather was a journalist who wrote and reported in four languages I like to think this passion for words is hereditary. So as for the “why” I could almost say I didn’t have a choice; it’s in the genes.
My father is an avid reader, so I grew up around words. I started reading at the age of 4 and started competing in spelling bees at the age of 9. By the time I finished my competitive run at the end of high school, I’d won the South Carolina state title four times, the regional title once, and competed in two national-level competitions (the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1993 and the American Association of Christian Schools national spelling bee in 1995, where I placed second.) I started working on the yearbook as an eighth grader and by my junior year was its co-editor with my best friend.
By the time I reached my sophomore year in high school, I knew I wanted to do something in my future with words. As time passed and I started thinking about applying to college, it became official. No matter what I did, writing had to play a role in it. That “when” became solidified later in college, but I kind of knew in high school.
2. What authors inspired you when you were younger? What books do you enjoy reading today?
You know, it’s funny, as much as I thoroughly devoured books in my young age—and still do today—back then I never read one particular author and thought, “Wow, I want to do what s/he’s doing.” I knew at the gut level that words formed a focal point in my life, but I didn’t necessarily derive any inspiration from a single person. I just took what they did to heart and always looked for more.
I did enjoy a wide variety of authors, though: L.M. Montgomery, C.S. Lewis, Carolyn Keene, Ann M. Martin, among others. Later in middle and high school I read a lot of Mary Higgins Clark, Frank Peretti, some Daphne Du Maurier, Agatha Christie, John Grisham, Robert Jordan. In college someone introduced me to Jhumpa Lahiri, and her work bowled me over.
Since then I’ve read a wide array of books, including children’s books (love Mix It Up! by Herve Tullet!) and YA (Harry Potter and The Hunger Games both occupy premium space on my shelves.) Because I also review books in addition to writing them, I’m always looking for the next great read. Now I definitely read other authors and think, “Yes, this is what I want to accomplish in my work!”
3. What was the inspiration behind the stories in your novel book, Two for the Heart?
Both stories in the book, ironically, have roots in TV.
Because my parents migrated to the States from India and I grew up here, I’ve lived my whole life balancing two different cultures. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve come to understand the subtleties of both, the beauty of both, and the hypocrisies of both. Often, just as a mental exercise, I’ll compare and contrast a variety of situations between the “American” way of doing something versus the “Indian” way.
One day I was watching a show on one of the Hindi-language channels we receive via satellite, and it struck me that even in the twenty-first century and the age of modernity some of the
storylines exhibit the most archaic philosophies. Women stand up for themselves and make decisions for their lives, and then the scene will switch and those same women will defer to the men only because they’re men. I don’t necessarily consider myself a feminist, but I am appalled at times at the way some people differentiate between men and women.
This whole idea of the modern and the orthodox gave me the seed for the first story in the book, called “The Proposal”. In it Pooja and Akshay, both of Indian heritage, allow their parents to pressure them into getting married—the orthodoxy—but neither of them want to do it. Akshay has a solution because of a timeline constraint in his life, and they go to a lawyer to get their divorce papers all ready. They just have to sign the papers when the time is right—the mark of the modern age.
The beginnings of the second story, “Remembrance”, came to me after I watched a rerun of a 1980s sitcom. A character in the show declares that he’s going to bury a time capsule in the backyard, and after 25 years he’s going to dig it up and share with his wife some mementos of their early years together. The idea of the time capsule fascinated me, and while “Remembrance” doesn’t have an actual time capsule it does touch on a container of sorts—the memory.
Two sisters reunite because one of them loses her memory for a short period of time. The information is there in her brain somewhere, but it becomes sealed from her for a while because of a traumatic event. When she’s able to access it again, that information has a dramatic impact on the sibling relationship.
4. You wrote a follow-up titled More for the Heart. Will it feature any of the same characters as its predecessor?
That’s precisely why I released it! Readers meet Pooja and Akshay in Two for the Heart and find out about their odd relationship. In “Making The Proposal”, the first story in More for the Heart, readers will find out what drove Pooja and Akshay to agree to the arrangement in the first place. The second story, “Reminiscence”, offers readers the transformation that one of the sisters goes through in the midst of their difficult situation.
The second book follows the production schedule I’ve set for my publishing company, Prairie Sky Publishing. Three times a year I’ll release the major stories; in this case, the major stories came in Two for the Heart.
I’ll follow up each book of major stories with the More… books. In these books I’ll offer readers more about the Two… books, and these stories can include deleted scenes, continuations of the stories, or even alternate beginnings, middles, or endings of the stories.
The entire series is called “Stories in Pairs”. Each book contains a pair of stories, and readers will get a pair of stories about each set of characters.
5. Why decide to write a story about amnesia?
As I said before, the idea of a container for precious things really made me think. The brain is an amazing organ, and the most minute change can cause radical changes in a person’s life.
I needed a strong draw for Rose, the visiting sister in “Remembrance”, to stay in town. Her younger sister, Helen, experiences a tragedy, but when two people become estranged and stay
apart for more than a decade it becomes easier to stay apart than to come together. Even when bad things happen. When Helen becomes afflicted with retrograde amnesia, it forces Rose to stay in town.
6. Were any of the characters’ personalities or emotions taken from real life?
My husband is a physician, and we got married before he started his residency so I’ve seen what that life is like firsthand. Much of Pooja’s life in “The Proposal” and even the terminology she uses came from what I observed in my husband’s career.
Pooja experiences the death of a patient, and a similar situation happened with my husband. During his residency he lost a patient, a young man with a toddler and a sweet wife. This wasn’t the first time one of my husband’s patients died, but it definitely made a lasting impression on him. That situation formed the basis for the scene I wrote of Pooja.
For “Remembrance”, I actually derived a lot of inspiration from my own daughters. I have a younger sister, but she and I are almost seven years apart in age. By contrast my girls are only two years apart in age. They’re best friends, and as I watch them grow up I can’t help wonder once in a while what kind of challenges they’ll face in their relationship when they get older. By doing a little extrapolation and using a lot of imagination, I created the characters of Rose and Helen for the second story of the book.
7. What other genres would you like to try your hand at?
One of the reasons I created “Stories in Pairs” was so I could experiment on a smaller scale in other genres. I actually have the idea for a dystopian story kicking around in the back of my brain, but it hasn’t come along far enough for me to put it on paper yet. I’ve also got an idea or two for a tech thriller and would like to try my hand at a mystery.
Because I’m writing short stories and not novels, I think I have a little more freedom to experiment because my readers will expect me to try new things. I’m open to almost anything.
8. What would you do if you were cornered into marriage like Pooja and Akshay?
I actually had an arranged marriage myself, so I do understand some of what Pooja and Akshay feel in going through this whole process. If I had a high-profile, high-commitment career like Pooja’s, I might work up the nerve to tell my parents that I don’t want to get married. Or that I’d want to delay marriage.
But culture is a funny thing. It binds a person to his/her family and causes that person to make some decisions completely contrary to the rest of his/her life setup. That’s another reason I wrote this story, to show that juxtaposition of individualism and social commitment.
9. You wrote for medical journals and even about Hindi films. Did working for those outlets help shape your fiction writing at all? If so, how?
Writing for nonfiction outlets, especially writing articles that required a high degree of attention to detail, forces me to keep my stories grounded.
In my current work in progress, two minor characters fly from South Carolina to Spain for a vacation, so I started checking flight schedules online on that route (and now I’m getting bombarded with banner ads about travel to Spain, which make me sigh and just wish I could go there.) I wanted to use part of their flight schedule as a plot tool, and I wanted people to believe that the problems I’d engineered could actually happen based on the schedule the characters have to follow.
When I wrote the first draft of “Remembrance,” the story about sisters Helen and Rose, I consulted my husband on the differences between a coma, a medically-induced coma, and a physician putting a patient under sedation. Most readers won’t realize there’s a difference between these terms, but there is. Any fiction readers who have connections to healthcare will find it harder to lose themselves in the story if they keep getting distracted by a factual error.
I read somewhere once that the difference between fiction and nonfiction is that fiction has to be believable. I think that’s another way of saying that a writer has to ground a story in the most plausible foundation. When an author reassures readers that the story has a strong basis in plausibility, readers will be more willing to suspend their belief for the fantastical portions of the story.
10. Would you like to see the stories in Two for the Heart as a film? If yes, who do you want to see play your characters?
Hmm. This is a hard one, especially since both stories are so close to me. I think I’d love to see Bollywood superstars Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma as Akshay and Pooja, respectively, from “The Proposal.” As for “Remembrance,” I think Kate Winslet would make an amazing Rose (and I just realized that was her name in Titanic too!) I’d love to see Reese Witherspoon as Helen, the younger sister who endures the trauma, and Anne Hathaway as Katelyn, Helen’s best friend (Katelyn’s role becomes more prominent in the second book, More for the Heart.)
11. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?
Definitely still writing, most likely still publishing, and hopefully helping other indie authors in ways other than just editing their work. Since I launched Prairie Sky Publishing in December 2014, a few people have asked whether I’d consider publishing other authors. I’m keeping that option open, but I want to get Prairie Sky on solid footing first. I’ve spent years reading about the publishing industry and learning about it, but there are some things a person can’t learn until s/he actually does them. Before I take on the responsibility of someone else’s work, I want to work out all the kinks of running a publishing company by using my own books as test subjects.
12. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?
This is a really hard question to answer, because writing is such an integral part of me and my day that I honestly couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. If I had to pick, though…I’ve always thought event planning would be a fun gig. Exhausting, but fun.
13. Can you tell KSR what you're working on next?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m working on the next book that I hope to release in June. This one is called Two for the Road, and it contains two brand new stories that are related to the idea of
going from one place to another. Because people spend a lot of their summer traveling, I thought it might be fun to release a pair of stories connected to being—what else?—on the road.
14. What authors, dead or alive, would you like to collaborate with?
Another tough question. I’m not sure if I have the writing chops yet to collaborate with her so much, but I’d love to undergo a writing workshop with Jhumpa Lahiri. Her books just exude grace and poise, and I’m actively trying to write with as much thoughtfulness and innovation as she does.
Also, I would have loved to have had the opportunity to spend time with the late Robert Jordan. I’m not a huge fan of sci-fi/fantasy work by any means, but the Wheel of Time series holds a special place in my heart. Jordan just blew me away with this mammoth series that, magic powers, fantastic weapons, and mythical creatures aside, really is about a group of kids trying to figure out where they fit into the world and how they can best contribute to it. That’s a storyline anyone can relate to, and the world building Jordan did along the way made everything so clear to me.
This is almost like asking a bibliophile to pick her favorite book, a next-to-impossible task!
15. Thank you for participating in the interview. Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?
1. I could spend hours window shopping…in grocery stores. It sounds a little nerdy, I know, but I think it’s fun to walk up and down the aisles and look at new and unusual products. I love to cook and sometimes will get menu ideas by visiting different parts of the store.
2. I appeared on the Rachael Ray show a few years ago via video. The show’s producers put out a general call for people who repurposed household items and use them for something else. I responded and told them how I use the jars in a spice rack for storing my daughters’ hair clips and rubber bands. A producer asked me to shoot a video at home talking about how I use the jars and to show them, which I did, and they aired the video in January of 2013. It was a lot of fun!
3. I drive my family nuts with how much of a neat freak I am, constantly harping on everyone about storing things where they belong right away and hanging up wet towels, etc. The one place where I let go of this completely is my nightstand. It’s usually covered in papers, receipts, books, tubes of body cream, my cell phone, and a dozen other things. My husband even commented on it once, saying it was like the place that my brain just let go of it all. I agreed with him; even us Type As need a dumping ground!
Thank you so much for this opportunity! I’d like to invite everyone reading this interview to download a free ebook. You can find it here:
http://prairieskypublishing.com/contact-me/ [Also where you can contact Ms. Garg online!--KSR]