Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My Inagural Interview: With Shobhan Bantwal

Hey all. For my first interview, I got the chance to ask the lovely author, Shobhan Bantwal, some questions.

Without further ado...

1. When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

When my husband and I became empty nesters a few years ago and later when he accepted a consulting job that kept him out of town on weekdays, I took up creative writing to occupy my lonely evenings. I started writing small social interest articles for a number of Indian-American publications as a hobby. Then I changed gears to short stories, and when I won three awards, I decided to write full-length novels. Therefore my writing career was a “Menopausal Epiphany,” that started at the age of 50 and it has gradually turned into a second career (besides my full-time occupation as a public service employee).

2. Do your novels take directly/indirectly from personal experience?

My stories are entirely fictitious and do not come from personal experience. However, what does come is the cultural detail of small-town India in all its colors, flavors, and textures. Some of the characters’ qualities also come from my personal life. Stern fathers, soft-hearted mothers, idealistic young men who are willing to sacrifice a lot for the women they love, and women who are strong and stubborn on the inside and appear compliant on the outside are based on people I know.

3. What was the road to the publication of The Dowry Bride and The Forbidden Daughter like?

The road to publication is full of pitfalls for most writers, except for a handful of lucky ones who get discovered with minimal effort. I am no exception to the other plodders. Honing my writing to bring it to a level good enough to make it marketable was a lot of hard work. It was also a rough path to finding an agent, and then a publisher. I find that marketing the books is the hardest part of being a published author.

4. What is your favourite part about writing? Your least favourite?

Creating the characters and scenes is the most enjoyable part of writing for me. I can clearly see both in my mind. My least favorite is the plotting. I am not a disciplined writer, so I don’t have an outline when I start on a story, but just a tiny seed of an idea. Therefore my stories wander away in all sorts of directions and I have to pull in the loose ends constantly to prevent myself from getting lost and make sure I stay on track. But at times that, too, can be a pleasant creative experience.

4. Is there a fictional character - past or present, in one of your books or someone else’s - that you strongly relate to?

I am such a hopeless romantic that I relate to a lot of female characters in women’s fiction, especially romance. Without relating to one’s characters it is impossible to create true-to-life characters. To that end, I relate strongly to every one of my protagonists. I put myself in their shoes in every scene, so I feel every one of their emotions.

5. Are you technologically savvy? Do you think technology has altered the literary experience?

Although I use a computer regularly for my writing and my full-time job, my technical skills are on the poor side. But I believe technology has revolutionized the literary experience by making it easy for anyone to write. To add to that, POD publishers have made it simpler for writers to self-publish their books and sell them via Internet. Online booksellers have further changed the way books are marketed. No wonder there has been an explosion of new writers on the literary scene in recent years, and more new ones keep coming each year.

6. Is culture important to your everyday life?
Culture is what makes each one of us unique in so many ways. Although I have lived all my adult life in the U.S., my Indian culture is still very much a part of me. The food I cook and eat, my taste in clothes and entertainment, my accent, my outlook on life -- they all color my personality and my lifestyle.

7. How do you think young people would benefit from reading your books

My books are unique in that there is a social topic that is the central theme in each of the two books that have been published so far. In The Dowry Bride, the issue is India’s notorious and abusive dowry system around which the story is woven. In The Forbidden Daughter, gender-based abortion, which is practiced in some instances in India, is what drives the plot. I feel such hot-button issues can become interesting if they are interwoven with romance, intrigue, humor, and emotion.

Young people can learn a lot about Indian culture and its richness while becoming aware of certain social problems that plague women in that culture. Many of my readers have thanked me for opening their eyes to certain elements of Asian cultures and harsh women’s issues they had never been aware of. In that context I believe my books are eye-openers for readers of any age.


Again, thanks so much to Shobhan for graciously answering my questions!

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