Some authors write after calculating how commercially successful a subject would be, while some write for the pleasure of expressing and sharing their feelings/observations. For some, writing is as natural an activity as eating or sleeping. And one such contemporary writer is Sweta Srivastava Vikram.
Sweta began writing chapbooks titled Because All Is Not Lost, Kaleidoscope: An Asian Journey of Colors, and Beyond the Scent of Sorrow and has now released her first piece of fiction - Perfectly Untraditional.
BookChums gets talking with this new age author about subjects that fascinate her and how growing up across continents has enriched her writings.
Your books - Because All Is Not Lost, Kaleidoscope: An Asian Journey of Colors, and Beyond the Scent of Sorrow are chapbooks (a small book with poems in not more than 20-30 pages). Tell us a little about why you chose this relatively uncommon style of writing and what are the challenges associated with writing chapbooks.
I wouldn’t call poetry chapbooks uncommon. They have been around since the early 19th century. In fact, poetry chapbooks are widely accepted in the poetry community. Many publishing houses hold competitions for them.
Chapbooks can be based around a specific theme or they can be a part—small collection—of a full-length poetry book.
There are innumerable reasons as to why poets write chapbooks. They are cost effective in terms of production and dissemination. Honestly, to me, poetry chapbooks are a creative and pragmatic way to write and share poetry. Poets might not always have enough material, for a certain topic, to write a full-fledged book. Instead of being repetitive and boring, chapbooks allow a way for the poet to create a short, meaningful collection.
I don’t see challenges associated with writing a poetry chapbook. Poetry, overall, is not a mass-market genre. The audience is niche and the reach is restricted in some sense. I would say, at least for me, chapbooks give me a chance to connect and engage with people who appreciate poetry.
You grew up and lived in so many cities - Rourkela, Africa, Mussoorie, and Pune before shifting to New York. How do you think it has enriched your writing?
Growing up across several cities had its advantages. I am a keen observer and extremely inquisitive about different cultures. My nomadic life introduced me to innumerous cultures, cuisines, and people at a very young age, which broadened my horizon of the topics, and people I chose to write about. It gave me exposure and unbiased perspective. It’s made me tolerant and open to different viewpoints. It has taught me objectivity—no person is always good or always bad. Our circumstances often influence our actions. All of these factors are visible in my writing. Be it a poem, a personal essay, or a character in a fiction piece, I strive for freshness of thought and language.
What made you write poetry and verses on different colours in Kaleidoscope: An Asian Journey of Colors?
When I was younger and lived in Libya in the 80s, there was no system of emails for communicating any messages. My parents once received a telex saying “Brother-in-law dead.” We were all completely shocked and kept wondering what had happened and to whom. It was hours later that we found that one of my phuphas (father’s sister’s husband) had passed away in India. When we visited India and I noticed my aunt’s “widowed” look, I was baffled. Years later, I realized that the colors in a woman’s wardrobe in India is subconsciously and consciously guided by the absence or presence of a man in her life.
Also, when my American friends saw my wedding pictures, they were awestruck by the range of colors adorned by me—the bride—and everyone around. I got thinking. There had to be a journey and a story about the different shades. These colors are pre-determined for an Indian woman by the society: red for the bride, green for fertility, white for widows and so forth.
So, in Kaleidoscope, I have focused on the colors in a Hindu woman’s wardrobe and the importance of each of them in her life.
The youth today is hardly interested in poetry. Among the people who read, poetry is a form of writing that comes after fiction and nonfiction. Then what makes you write more of poetry?
I don’t decide that I will sit down and write only poetry at a certain time. It just comes naturally to me. The trigger could be anything. I don’t try to decipher the reason; I focus on the emotion waiting to enter my journal. Frankly, I write poetry for myself and I believe if you are honest with your words, every book finds itself an audience.
I find writing poetry healing. It’s calming and helps reach into indescribable emotional depths. Plus, I find my family’s legacy in poems. My father writes poetry and his older sister too was a poet. She left him a journal full of her scribbles right before she died. So, writing, words, rhythms give me a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Even though poetry might have a smaller audience and limited reach, it does have loyal readers who enjoy poetry for it is meant to be and beyond.
Your novel Perfectly Untraditional has controversial characters and a dark storyline. What made you choose a dark plot for your first piece of fiction?
The female protagonist in Perfectly Untraditional could be viewed as “controversial.” But it is definitely not a dark novel. Not at all. It is a book about relationships, modern India, happy immigrants, circumstances, cultures. It’s a book about people—like us—imperfect but wonderful with shades of good and bad. People who have read the novel, across different age groups and both genders, found at least a few characters or instances in the book that resonated with them.
There were many reasons why I chose to write Perfectly Untraditional. I wanted to explore the possibility of no villains, no bitchy mother or daughter-in-law, no cheating husbands. When you read the book, you’ll realize that the underlying message in my writing is that the victim can be a perpetrator too and vice-versa. It’s all subjective and situation-oriented. Jekyll and Hyde coexists inside all of us.
Additionally, I was tired of India being portrayed as a nation with stereotypical, predictable characters. The country, like the rest of the world, has undergone tremendous change in the past decade or so. The mindsets are altered. The energy is different. I figured why not write about the India today and not the country that my parent’s generation grew up in.
You have taught creative writing at many workshops. What is the most important thing an aspiring writer should learn?
The most important quality that aspiring writers need to practice are two things: discipline and persistence. These are the two elements that writers can control.
There are many stereotypes surrounding writers: that they should write when they want, wake up when they like, work erratically, etc. etc. To each their own. But for a writer to succeed, I strongly believe it is important to be devoted and regular with your work. Writing should be treated like any other full time job. If a writer doesn’t take his or her work seriously/professionally, no one ever will.
Also, rejections are part of the game and shouldn’t be taken personally. Learn from them but outgrow them quickly. So what if five publications send you a rejection letter? Just continue to write. Julia Cameron said, "Writing is like breathing, it's possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what."
Could you elaborate a little about what you are working on currently?
I have a chapbook of poetry, titled Beyond The Scent of Sorrow, scheduled for October 13, 2011 release. And I am working on a nonfiction collection of prose and poetry, Mouth full, which will be released in London in early 2012.
Tell us which recent book (preferably published in 2011) would you like to recommend to our readers?
I do not have a single favorite author or book. I enjoy different styles of writing and creative storytelling. Many authors have influenced me along the way and I have found their writings relevant and beautiful. For me a good book should be timeless and leave an impact.