Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Author Interview: Atulya Mahajan

In conversation with very hilarious Atulya Mahajan, author of Amreekan Desi, Masters of America :

Congratulations on such a huge success of the book! Most of us are aware that you are very witty. But, Amreekan Desi is actually, your wittiest best, in my opinion. Did you expect it to be such a success?

Aww, thanks. I am so flattered by the praise. I felt this book was more earnest than witty/sarcastic, though that has been my favourite writing style till now. I haven’t really dabbled a lot in fiction before this book, so I look at it as a small first step for mankind.
To be honest, I didn’t expect the book to be such a success. I expected it to be a MUCH bigger success. I was half-worried about crazy stalkers, paparazzi hiding in bushes around the house, being invited to Oprah, or at least Arnab’s Newshour, and such like. Luckily I’ve been spared all of that insanity, so just happy that people have liked and appreciated my work.

Did you frame the characters based on your friends and yourself, or built them on a fresh mould?

Some of the characters are based on friends and people I have known and interacted with. But they don’t map one to one. I might have clubbed different aspects of multiple people to create a single character, but the intent was to show what people become when they live abroad, through this group of characters in the book. A mix of sincere and wacky characters, some of them consciously exaggerated to highlight the impact.

Untouched topic, in a way. How high was the anxiety?

I was fine till about a month before the book release, and then it sunk in that the book is going to be read by all sorts of people, some of whom would like it, some of them would not like it, and so on. I felt like a parent whose child was now off to go out in the world, would be judged by strangers, called names, and it was quite a nasty feeling. You can never really be prepared for the sort of reception your work will get when it is out in the public domain. It is nerve-wracking, especially the first time around.

Tell us something about your struggle with getting published. We have a fair idea that it isn’t a cake walk. But how was the real deal for you?

Oh, getting published is super-painful. I won’t name any publishers because I need to stay in the industry, but they are just so picky that getting through almost seems like a lottery. You hear all those stories of manuscripts piling dust in the trash without even getting a look. And then you hear of writers whose books were rejected by everyone, only to eventually go on to sell a gazillion copies.
I got lucky though. I got rejected by the first publisher I approached. The second one never responded, but they picked it up after I sent them a nudge using one of my, *cough* links. Eventually one of my Twitter ‘fans’ at Random House asked me to submit to them after seeing me ranting away and the rest, as they say, is history. I still remember the sweet feeling after seeing Milee’s email confirming that they were going to make an offer.

Comedy is a difficult genre. The reason I liked Amreekan Desi, was because it stuck to the basic human emotions. Every situation, dialogue seemed out of my own experiences. So would have a lot others; while a bigger group won’t identify with the theme at all. Was it a difficult gamble to play?

As a first-time writer, everything is a gamble & experiment  and over time you find out what works and what doesn't  In my case, while there is some humor in the book, it is intentionally not a comedy as such, but more sincere in trying to go through the journey one makes when you leave India to travel to a new country. 
So yes, while people who were looking for a very funny book like Sidin’s Dork series might end up feeling underwhelmed, it was by design. It also meant that I was in new territory, given I have done mostly humor and satire on the blog so far. But all in all, it was fun. There are so many aspects to writing meaningful fiction, which I am still learning about. Still a long way to go as a writer.

How and when did you decide to be a published author? Was it always a plan, or did you start thinking on the lines when you thought you had a plot with you?

More than a plan, it was always the dream. In terms of the plot, I genuinely felt that my experience during the two odd years of my masters was something that could be built up into a story that people would like to read, because it was truly a voyage of discovery for me, and I saw so many unique characters around me that I just had to write this story. 
But I did want to build my writer ‘cred’ first before jumping into writing a novel, so once I thought I had got sufficient experience writing on the blog and my ToI columns, I started the project.

Is it difficult to write with a full time job?

Very difficult. It becomes a constant struggle to find time to write, made even worse by other temptations and distractions like family, Twitter, Facebook, Temple Run, food etc.


What do you do apart from writing and cracking us up with your tweets? Give us a sneak peek into the real Amreekan Desi!

I have been working in the financial industry for the last many years, and currently work at Royal Bank of Scotland as a Vice President, which is just a fancy title I can’t show-off enough. My day job involves getting people to do work, while I sit back and relax. [I am kidding. I am a workaholic who needs to be dragged away from his desk. God! I am kidding again.]

What next? New genre; or you would want to stick to comedy?

I have a few ideas. Will see where life takes me. As for comedy, I would always want to keep a humorous tone in my books, but even Amreekandesi wasn’t an all-out funny book. 
One thing I am learning is that to get critical aclaim and win awards, you need to have poor people, death and misery in your books. Maybe I’ll try that next. Who knows!
Who do you read, who are your favourites?

I don’t get enough time to read as much as I would like, but I recently read Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger, which is a fascinating read – the sort of story I would love to tell one day. I also enjoy Jhumpa Lahiri’s work. Among other favorites - Jeffry Archer, Michael Crichton, Harry Potter, Amish’s Shiva trilogy and Ravi Subramanium’s thrillers. I don’t have the strong biases many people are so proud of, so I really read and enjoy all sorts of books, whether the characters are wallowing in their misery or not.

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