Wednesday 11 July 2018

Author Interview: Shuchi Singh Kalra

Shuchi Singh Kalra is an Amazon best selling author of two romantic comedies - 'Done with Men' and 'I'm big. So what?!'. She is the wife of an Army Officer, the mother of a pint size daughter, and two lazy cats, but she's also been an optometrist, a wine connoisseur, baking enthusiast, a restless traveller and a compulsive nomad. She's a sucker for funny romance and does her best writing surrounded either by mountains or the ocean. The characters in her books are the kinds everyone knows at least some of, in their real lives. She also runs a quaint writing and editing studio and is currently a full time editor managing the official blog of India's largest travel portal. When not doing any of the above, she loves engaging with people on social media and inflicting her opinions on random strangers. She loves creating quirky craft work and is a hoarder of eccentric fashion accessories for no reason at all. 

You can also go over our review of her latest book "A Cage of Desires" by clicking here. It was fun interacting with Shuchi. Have a look at the compilation our interview with her.

Where do you belong to? Our readers want to know about your education and family.

I was born in Lucknow but I spent most of my childhood in Libya. My parents returned to India when I was 11 and I completed the rest of my schooling from Seth MR Jaipuria School in Lucknow. I went on to study Optometry from the Bausch & Lomb School of Optometry in Hyderabad and then did my Masters in English Literature. I belong to a family of academicians, mostly doctors and professors. Both my parents are independent medical practitioners, and my husband is an Aviation engineer in the Army. I am the first in my family to go take up writing as a profession.

Tell us about your book.

It's been a long and arduous journey but my third book  ‘A Cage of Desires’ is finally out there in the stores now. Although it straddles many genres but if I had to label it, I think it would come closest to contemporary romantic erotica. It initially started off as a short story published in New Asian Writings anthology. The story received a lot of praise which encouraged me to develop it into a full-length novel. Like all my other books, this one too is also woman-centric but the central theme is far more intense. It's about a woman's journey towards facing her inner truth and finding freedom. At the same time, it also explores the depths of female sexuality, toxic love and emotional abuse. I'm sure every reader will relate to it at some level. 

Tell us about your other books.

My first Book was ‘Done with Men’. It was all about the romantic (mis)adventures of Kairavi Krishna – serial dater and ditzy girl extraordinaire. She is a travel writer and is urban, young and…single. After an unfortunate rash of loser boyfriends, she is pretty much done with men and ready to focus on her career. But her latest assignment, to cover Sunburn in Goa, packs more surprises than she bargained for. In the middle of partying, falling off her balcony, food allergies and ex-boyfriend encounters, Kairavi develops a hopeless crush on her dreamy doctor, but she isn’t sure if he would possibly be interested in more than her broken clavicle. And then we have Kay’s best friend Baani, Kapil (Baani’s fiancée), Ravi (Kay’s boss), Ricky (Kay’s latest ex) and the The Thought Bubble (Kay’s alter ego) to add to the mayhem. It was a fun romantic comedy.

My second book was ‘I’m Big so What?’. I have always felt that plus-sized girls have been severely underrepresented in Indian mainstream fiction. There are so many books from western authors that have plus-sized heroines but that space is severely lacking in India. I thought it’s high time the plump girl breaks out of the stereotypical role of a friend, sister or comic relief, and takes over as the main lead – with a strong personality of her own and dreams to boot. Through Roli, the protagonist of IBSW, I also wanted to explore and bring forth the social and emotional challenges that a person of that size might typically go through, and how it would impact their confidence and self-worth. 

While my first two books were at their core, breezy romantic comedies, my latest book ‘A Cage of Desires’ is comparatively more serious, dark and brooding. Like my previous books, this one is also women centric but it has more complex characters and emotions which are deeper and more layered than the first two books of mine.

What is your writing journey like, where and when did you start? Are you a writer by choice or by chance?

I have wanted to write for as long as I can remember. My first unsuccessful attempt at writing a book was when I was ten. It was a science fiction written in a school notebook, and it eventually got lost somewhere.

I have always found solace in writing, even as a child. I remember writing little poems and stories although I never tried to get them published. All through my school years, my writing skills were my only saving grace as I had no other talent to speak of. I can’t say I wanted to become a writer because those days (using those words makes me feel very old), it wasn’t really seen as a career option, at least where I came from. But I did maintain a personal journal and won the occasional writing/essay competition.

My journey as a professional writer began in 2005, when I was working as an Optometrist at an eye hospital. I took up some academic writing assignments just to escape the drudgery of 9-5 (which was more like 7-9 at the hospital where I worked) and it was only when I received my first payment that I realized that I could make a full-time career out of this. I quit that job, took the plunge and kept at it. Looking back, I feel so glad that I did. I wouldn’t trade my career and lifestyle for anything else in the world.

As far as writing my first full length novel goes, a friend of mine was telling me about her sister who had gone on a vacation after a breakup and had landed up in the hospital injured – that’s how the seeds of this story were planted in my mind. As for the title, I saw a random tweet by someone who wrote “I’m so done with men” and I realized that so many women (me included) have gone though that post-breakup phase when we say “I’m done with men” only to go falling in love all over again. It is not merely a phrase, but a feeling that most of us have actually experienced at some point. Since it encapsulated the essence of my story so well, I decided to weave it into the narrative and use it as the title too.

As a new author, what is your favorite part of the writing/publishing process? Least favorite?

My most favorite part of the writing process is the moment when I finish a book. It’s an amotionally overwhelming moment. I have never not cried every time I have finished each of my books. My second most favorite part of the writing process is reading the reviews for my book. Friends and family will always tell you that your writing is great but it’s really heartening to read a review from a reader I do not know that says that someone found your fictional characters so relatable and that it reminded them of themselves or some other real person. It’s a great feeling to read that.

My least favorite part of the entire publishing process is the marketing and promotion part. As a newbie author you assume that once your book is accepted for publishing, your job is done. It’s only after my first two books that I have come to realize that the hard part starts after your book has been accepted by the publisher. Even though my books were received well, in hindsight I realize that they could have fetched much better sale figures if I had concentrated more on marketing them well.Marketing and publishing are the hard, sweaty, boring part of the publishing process and I hope I get better at it with my future books.

Are you an avid reader as well? What kind of books do you read? What is your frequency of reading?

 I love reading all kinds of books from rom coms to classic literature to Indian writing and everything in between, I’ve lapped them all up. I believe that my writing style carries the influence of all the authors I have read till date. Unfortunately, between my current full time day job, my kid and managing my home, the worst casualty has been my reading frequency. I hope to make up for it soon.

Which is your favorite book and why?

There are too many, different ones in different genre :)

Who are your favorite authors?

There are just too many authors I love! I have been a voracious reader since childhood and I never missed a chance to bury myself in a book. From the Bronte Sisters to Enid Blyton, and Shakespeare to Sophie Kinsella, I’ve loved a whole lot of them. I am currently reading a lot of Indian authors and I think some of them are extremely good story tellers. 

Do you pursue any other profession apart from writing? How do you manage everything? How do you find family time amidst all this?

I have been writing professionally for over a decade as a freelance writer and editor with my small firm that went by the name of ‘Pixie Dust Writing Studio’. Currently I'm in a full time corporate job working with India’s leading travel platform. This is my first full time office job. I have a school going daughter and manage my home alone since my husband is in the Indian Army and posted in another city. It’s hard to manage everything alone and find time to write but I am trying to get better at stealing more free time to concentrate on my writing.

What does your writing space look like?

Every time I have moved houses, the first thing I have done is set up my study. That cozy space is always my favorite place in my house where most of my writing takes place.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

When it came to my professional assignments while I was running my writing editing firm, I couldn’t afford writer’s block because there were deadlines to be met and clients to answer to. However, when it comes to my books, I give myself more leeway to slack. When I do face the reader’s block while writing my books, I have discovered that reading books from the same genre I am writing is the best way to break out of a block. It helps bring my mind into the same zone and usually I find a trigger for the words to flow sooner or later.

What motivated you to write this book?

It was a discussion with a Pakistani author who writes under a pseudonym that triggered the story. I wrote a short story titled Maya which received a lot of critical acclaim from the readers and I decided to develop the story into a full fledged novel. From there, it flowed on its own.

How long did you take to finish this book? What was the process like?

Out of all my books, ‘A Cage of Desires’ took the longest for two reasons. First, it was unlike my first two books, which were breezy romantic comedies, a genre which naturally comes to me. ‘A Cage of Desires’ is a dark, brooding, contemporary romantic fiction with a sprinkling of erotica. The characters are way more complex than my other books and the emotions are darker and more layered. It was an emotionally exhausting process to write it and took me more than two years to finish the book. 

What are you hoping people to gain from your book?

‘A Cage of Desires’ hopes to connect with the darker side in all of us that lies hidden under layers of our superficial real public self. I hope that people struggling to bridge the gap between their deep real selves and the roles they are forced to play in the real world can identify with the characters in the book and believe that if Renu can break from her cage of desires to discover her true inner self, then so can they. 

What were some of the challenges you faced on the road to publication?

It’s really difficult to accept the fact that when you have poured your blood and soul into writing a book, the publishers might not love it as much because they receive hundreds of manuscripts a week. That rejection is hard to face, especially when you are a newbie author. It’s extremely demotivating and often makes you want to give up writing altogether. But once your manuscript gets accepted by a publisher then this challenge is over. The next hard part comes when you are waiting for the book to finally release in the market. The gestation period between a manuscript being accepted and the book finally seeing the light of the day is extremely long in India, frequently extending to well over a year. It’s pretty frustrating to wait that long. And once the book is out, then the next challenge is to market and promote your book. That part is another long sweaty journey along a dreary boring road. But if you love writing enough, all this pales in comparison to the joy of holding a book in your hand with your name written on top of it :)

What kind of research have you done for the book?

I mostly write from imagination, but I draw from my personal experience and those of people I know. So far, I haven't written anything that requires very intensive reasearch or fact checking but I will delve into that too soon enough. All thanks to the internet, most of the research I have needed so far has been possible with the help of a broadband connection.

Any story behind deciding the title of this book?

‘A Cage of Desires’ traces the journey of Renu who escapes from her cage of desires to discover her real self. It’s an inner journey of pain and hope. The title just popped in my head one day thinking about how all of us are trapped in a cage of our desires and how much we want to escape from it and discover our true selves without needing anyone else to validate our existence.

Why should we read your book?

There is no end to the issues we as women face everyday! Right from safety, sexism, social pressure, career limitations, family dynamics, gender prejudices, abuse—there are so many issues that need to be talked about. One might say that some of these are relevant to men too, but women’s voices have been stifled for far too long. And as a woman writer, I felt I owed this to my tribe. We women live in the same world, but at the same time our realities are very different. I was brought up by very progressive parents who never discouraged me from voicing my opinions, or expected me to put up with the social norms just for the sake of it. I was a wild, rebellious teen but nobody asked me to tone down my personality and be more ‘ladylike’. My father taught me to hit back at bullies, and not take nonsense from anyone. As for the society, I could somehow never bring myself to care enough about what other people think about what I say or do.

Gender biases existed all around me but they were not a part of my immediate environment. It took me a while to realize that the way I was brought up was not the norm. My relationships with men opened me up to a lot of grim realities.

A large number of women in India continue to struggle with gender biases on so many fronts every day that it is insane. I want to be a voice for all these women and write about big and small issues that affect our everyday lives. Through ‘A Cage of Desires’ I have tried to carve out characters that everyone can identify with, at least in part, and believe that if they can discover their true selves, then so can everyone.

Do you have any blog or website the readers can visit?

I have a website that your readers can connect with me at . However, I admit that I am more of a social media person and the best way to connect with me is through my twitter handle @shuchikalra

What advice do you have for budding writers?

I don’t think I am experienced enough to dole out advice. I myself still am on the learning path. But I can definitely say that don’t wait for the perfect moment to write that book cooking in your head. Set a routine, write a few words everyday and FINISH that first draft. Don’t waste time on fancy words and expressions when you are writing – just let the story flow. And some of the harsher things that I wanna tell young writers are

- It’s going to be slow. Very slow. There’s no such thing as instant gratification.
- It’s not enough to be a good writer. You have to learn to market yourself well.
- Don’t count on books for money, at least until you have a few bestsellers out in the market

Becoming an author requires a lot of patience and perseverance. It is an unbelievably slow and painful process, at least for most of us. There will be times when you feel like giving up – just remind yourself why you write and keep going at it.


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