Author Interviews - Jayashree Srinath

 

Jayashree Srinath is a Penang, Malaysia based author. She recently published her debut novel “Keep My Love Frozen in Time” . Our Editor, Savita Narayan interviwed her about her book, literary influences, and the creative writing process.

 

1) What is your book about?

The book “Keep My Love Frozen in Time”, traces the lives of three women from three different generations, who not only share a roof but also a deep and abiding love for each other. Shalu, her mother whom she calls Maa, and her daughter Tara, are incredibly strong and courageous women, who face life head on, with steely grit and determination.


Even as they are trudging along, an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and the shock of a serious illness, places a tremendous strain on the family. Coming face to face with her own mortality, one of the three women boldly opts for cryogenic preservation. Her family is aghast and is confronted with the medical, social and ethical dilemmas of her decision. As they are agonizing over whether cryogenic preservation is the right option, they gain clarity from a very unlikely source. The narrative weaves in stories from Indian mythology and explores the conflict between medical advancement and religion to create an intriguing story about an ordinary middle-class family faced with an extraordinary situation.

2) What made you interested in the topic of cryogenic preservation? What was the trigger that got you started on thinking of this topic?
I have always read health updates-it’s part of my daily reading. When I chanced upon a BBC article on cryonic preservation I was very fascinated. The whole concept was so daring and promising. I wondered if immortality could be a possibility in the distant future. This thought remained in my head for a few weeks and I mulled over it for a long time. Then came the idea- why not write a story with cryonic preservation as the central theme?

 

3) How did you go about researching?
At a preliminary level, I read about the topic of cryonics on the internet. Obviously, mere internet research is not enough. Since my daughter was studying at the University of Washington at that time (she was doing a Master’s in Public Health), and had access to the library material, I requested her to buy some scholarly articles for me. I read extensively to gain a better understanding of the subject.

 

4) What came first when you decided to write the book-the unusual topic of cryonic preservation, the characters or the plot of the novel?
I was very clear- I wanted to write on the topic of cryonic preservation. I constructed a plot around the theme and then filled in with characters.

 

5) Do take us through your process of planning a novel. Are you a plotter or pantser?
Once I had the central theme in mind, I went about creating a storyline. Obviously, it had to have an illness and a death. My line of thinking was that only a youngster would opt for cryonic preservation- since he or she had not lived their full life and was keen to have another shot at life. Also, a new, revolutionary concept would be more appealing to a youngster than to an elderly person. So, it had to be a youngster facing a terminal illness. Then I went about creating the other two characters. I automatically veered towards a story which also talks about the innate strength of women. At that time, I remember there was a big discussion in Indian media about working mums vs Stay-at-home mums. So, I decided to make Shalu the working mum and the grandma as the stay-at-home parent. I hope that thestory subtly conveys the difficulties that both types of mums face!
To answer the second part of the question- I am definitely a plotter. I did a character mapping, to lay down rules to myself as to how the character would look, behave and react to circumstances. I tried to stay true to the character as far as possible. Similarly, I was very sure as to how long I wanted the book to me and how tight the script would be. I did not give in to any self-indulgence, and wrote only what was necessary and was an integral part of the story.

 

6) How do you create your characters?
I was very clear that my novel would be based in India-Though I have lived abroad for twenty years, my soul is Indian. Then I wondered which city in India my character would be based in. Mumbai appealed to me the most- I had lived in Mumbai (in Bandra) and was always intrigued by the excesses and the stark nature of the city. The glaring inequalities, the teeming millions, the space crunch, the migrants from other cities, the crowded commutes, all these things find expression in my novel. Once I hit upon the idea of three generations of women, I set about creating Maa, Shalu and Tara. I wanted them to be as real and genuine as possible as I wanted the characters to be accessible to every reader. After all, all of us have had a Maa in our lives and my character, Maa, had to remind every reader of his/her own mother.. I was clear that my characters would speak “Indian English” and would speak in a way that most people in India speak English. More than anything else, I wanted to be true to the milieu and did not want any pretense in my writing.

 

7) Have you written in any form earlier?
I had a blog many years ago when I was living in Hong Kong. This was a general blog, was much before the era of food blogs. It is now defunct. I had written a full novel earlier, but never sent it to a publisher!

 

8) How long did it take from the time you had idea to first draft?
It took me about eight months to have my first draft ready.

 

9) Who are your creative influences, ones you draw upon to keep your creative juices flowing?
As I have mentioned in my acknowledgements, I am deeply influenced by many writers. In facts this book is an ode to my favourites- Elif Shafak, Khaled Hosseini, Jodi Piccoult, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Actually the idea to introduce stories from Indian mythology to the narrative came from Chitra Banerjee’s “Palace of Illusions”.

 

10) Do you think it’s important for writers to be open to explore other creative outlets apart from writing?
Definitely! Writers should be open to exploring anything- it’s all about experiencing life. Varied experiences help you write better. I have done a lot of pottery and take Carnatic music lessons. I like to explore different avenues! Above all that, I listen to people. A writer should be like a fly on the wall, unobtrusive, quietly listening in and observing things. All these observations come in handy while creating a character. Travel really helps too. It broadens your horizons.

 

11) How many hours do you write in a day? Do you have a target?
While writing the novel I wrote for at least six hours every day. I wrote from 1 pm to six pm every day. I never kept a count of number of words. Some days I would get into a zone, and the words just flowed. Other days, it was a struggle.

 

12) How do you maintain work life balance?
I’m an exercise addict and can’t do without my daily dose of yoga and walks. I start my writing only after finishing my exercise for the day. I hate it when people interrupt my writing sessions. Which is why I schedule my writing between 1pm and 6pm. But very often, when I am in the ‘zone’ that I mentioned earlier, I become very quiet and subdued and find it difficult to hold conversations with people. I’m thinking of the story all the time! That way, my writing does spill on into my personal life.

 

13) Coming to your publishing journey, did you work with an editor at your publisher or did you contact an editor of your own?
I worked with an editor at my publishing house.

 

14) Which is the one aspect about the editing process you think every first time author should know about, but may not be aware of?
First of all, editing and publishing is a long- drawn process. It is more tiring than writing! Secondly, don’t assume that your editor knows every rule in the grammar book! Not true-Editors are human and make mistakes too! Thirdly, you have to stand your ground and not agree to any changes that you are not convinced about.

 

15) Where you invited to give your inputs for the cover design?
Yes! I rejected a few designs since they did not appeal to me.

 

16) Now that you have had some experience of the process, which do you recommend-self publishing or traditional publishing?
Well, I contacted a literary agent, who is also a social acquaintance. She told me that her agency itself had piles and piles of manuscripts and it would take them years to actually get to my manuscript. She herself gave me the names of some decent self-publishing houses and I chose one of them.


Advantages of self-publishing:
Chances of your book seeing the light of the day is very high!
Greater control over your script. Editor willing to listen to your point of view.
You have a say in the creative aspects like design, layout etc

Disadvantages:
They tend to pass on the work to inexperienced editors and you have to cross check and verify every single thing.
You have to get involved in all the marketing activities. A large onus of marketing is on author.

Both types of publishing are OK, but the biggest problem with reputed publishers is that they don’t respond, they don’t want to take a look at the manuscript. The publisher’s table is groaning under the weight of unopened manuscripts and how do you make him take notice of your work? Also, these days, publishing houses are more interested in publishing books of wives of actors/directors/celebrities since they are sure to rake in the money, regardless of the quality of the product. First time authors have no hope of attracting the attention of the publisher!

 

Jayashree Srinath is the author of the novel “Keep My Love Frozen in Time”. Her debut novel explores the concept of cryogenic preservation. The narrative weaves in stories from Indian mythology and explores the conflict between medical advancement and religion to create an intriguing story about an ordinary middle-class family faced with an extraordinary situation. A self- confessed bibliophile with an enduring love for the written word, Jayashree’s fascination with medical science and her philosophical bent of mind, find expression in her debut novel. She has lived in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and has been greatly influenced by the culture and the people of all these beautiful places.

An avid reader and traveler, she looks forward to reading new books and visiting new places. Being a yoga enthusiast, she devotes an hour a day to a refreshing and invigorating yoga practice. She dabbles in pottery and her home is dotted with numerous pieces of her creations. She lives in the picturesque island of Penang in Malaysia, with her husband who works in the corporate world. She has one daughter, who lives and works in Seattle.

 

 

 

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