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Drunk on Ink Q & A with Thrity Umrigar and “The Secrets Between Us”

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 

Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

Thrity Umrigar is the author of a memoir, a picture book and eight novels, including The Space Between Us, The Secrets Between Us and Everybody’s Son.  Her books have been published in over fifteen countries.  She is the recipient of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard and is a professor of English at Case Western Reserve University.

About The Secrets Between Us

Bhima, the unforgettable main character of Thrity Umrigar’s beloved national bestseller The Space Between Us, returns in this sequel in which the former servant struggles against the circumstances of class and misfortune to forge a new path for herself and her granddaughter in modern India.Poor and illiterate, Bhima had faithfully worked for the Dubash family, an upper-middle-class Parsi household, for more than twenty years. Yet after courageously speaking the truth about a heinous crime perpetrated against her own family, the devoted servant was cruelly fired. The sting of that dismissal was made more painful coming from Sera Dubash, the temperamental employer who had long been Bhima’s only confidante. A woman who has endured despair and loss with stoicism, Bhima must now find some other way to support herself and her granddaughter, Maya. Bhima’s fortunes take an unexpected turn when her path intersects with Parvati, a bitter, taciturn older woman. The two acquaintances soon form a tentative business partnership, selling fruits and vegetables at the local market. As they work together, these two women seemingly bound by fate grow closer, each confessing the truth about their lives and the wounds that haunt them. Discovering her first true friend, Bhima pieces together a new life, and together, the two women learn to stand on their own.

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Thrity Umrigar: East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Wine, baby.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

One Hundred Years of Solitude. I couldn’t understand it as a teenager, so I gave up reading it, back then.

Favorite quote from your book

Or perhaps it is that time doesn’t heal wounds at all, perhaps that is the biggest lie of them all, and instead what happens is that each would penetrates the body deeper and deeper until one day you fine that the sheer geography of your bones, the angle of your hips, the sharpness of your shoulders– as well as the luster of your eyes, the texture of your skin, the openness of your smile, has collapsed under the weight of your grief–

from The Space Between Us

Favorite book to film? And why?

Q&A, which became Slumdog Millionaire. Because it was one of those rare occasions where the film was better than the book.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Loganberry Books in Cleveland; Powell’s in Portland; Book Passage in Marin County, California.

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

That people like me—female, brown, immigrant–could tell stories and didn’t have to ask someone’s permission in order to do so.  And that everyone has a story to tell but most people get distracted by other things in life and so their stories remain untold.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

No. I still love the writing part.  But the publishing and marketing doesn’t get any easier because publishers want the new, the young, the undiscovered.  And more and more, writers are expected to market their own books on social media etc. so that you’re forever begging the same fifty friends to please buy your book.  It’s hard and embarrassing.

Dog, Cat, Or?

Cat. But all animals, really.

Ideal vacation?

Any city with bookstores, sidewalk cafes, and museums that’s on the water.

Favorite book cover?

Love the classic “billboard” jacket from The Great Gatsby.

Favorite song?

A Day in the Life by The Beatles

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

Favorite memory is when an Indian reader, who was temporarily in the U.S., came to a book talk and pulled me aside and told me about the time she’d dismissed her maid in India after she caught her stealing a bottle of milk.  After she read my novel, The Space Between Us, she said the novel changed her life.  She had sought me out specifically to tell me that she’d resolved that when she returned to India, she would provide food and milk for the new maid’s children everyday.  That’s the first time I realized the power of words to change hearts.

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

Unbridled Books publishes some great books.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Look At Me by Jennifer Egan because I love Jenny’s work but had never read this particular book.

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. PRE ORDER . Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dream, is about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz Bathena, A Girl Like That, YA novel

Drunk on Ink Q & A with John Kessel and “Pride and Prometheus”

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 

Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

John Kessel’s speculative fiction includes the recently published Pride and Prometheus, the novels The Moon and the Other, Good News from Outer Space, Corrupting Dr. Nice, and Freedom Beach (with James Patrick Kelly), and the story collections Meeting in Infinity, The Pure Product, and The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories. His fiction has received the Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Locus Award, the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award. Kessel teaches American literature and fiction writing at North Carolina State University where he helped found the MFA program in creative writing and served twice as its director. He lives with his wife, the novelist Therese Anne Fowler, in Raleigh.

John Kessel with his wife, novelist Therese Anne Fowler .

In Pride and PrometheusPride and Prejudice meets Frankenstein as Mary Bennet falls for the enigmatic Victor Frankenstein and befriends his monstrous Creature in this fusion of two popular classics. Threatened with destruction unless he fashions a wife for his Creature, Victor Frankenstein travels to England where he meets Mary and Kitty Bennet, the remaining unmarried sisters of the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice. As Mary and Victor become increasingly attracted to each other, the Creature looks on impatiently, waiting for his bride. But where will Victor find a female body from which to create the monster’s mate? Meanwhile, the awkward Mary hopes that Victor will save her from approaching spinsterhood while wondering what dark secret he is keeping from her. Pride and Prometheus fuses the gothic horror of Mary Shelley with the Regency romance of Jane Austen in an exciting novel that combines two age-old stories in a fresh and startling way.

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

John Kessel: I can’t remember the first I ever read. I did fall in love with the early Andre Norton science fiction novels like The Stars are Ours, The Time Traders, Star Man’s Son. And my uncle gave me an anthology of sf stories he found in a house he rented, Groff Conklin’s Omnibus of Science Fiction, which I read cover to cover repeatedly.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Wine. I like Spanish reds.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

The Poacher” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

To Kill a Mockingbird. I might have read it then but at this point probably never will.

A favorite quote from Pride and Prometheus

“. . . she had no power to change what the world would think and do. But that was the nature of love: one did not offer it with any assurance that it would change the world, even if in the end it was the only thing that could.”

Favorite book to film?

The Maltese Falcon

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

You always feel like it’s Sunday night and your homework is due tomorrow morning.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

I may know more, but that does not make it easier. But it’s still worth it.

Dog, Cat, Or?

Cat, most definitely.

 

Favorite book cover?

My own or somebody else’s? I like the cover of Karel Capek’s 1936 satirical novel War With the Newts. Of my own, I like The Moon and the Other from last year.

 

Favorite song?

“Solitude” by Duke Ellington

Favorite Small Press and Literary Journal?

Tachyon Books of San Francisco

Last impulse book buy and why?

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker. I had never read anything by him; I knew he was controversial and suspected I might not agree with everything he says; I believe in science, reason, humanism, and the possibility of progress; I wanted to hear some good news about the human race.

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. PRE ORDER . Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dream, is about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Kirsten Imani Kasai, The House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz Bathena, A Girl Like That, YA novel

 

 

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Lisa Romeo and ‘Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 

Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

Lisa Romeo is the author of Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss (University of Nevada Press). Her short nonfiction is listed in Best American Essays 2016, and has appeared in the New York Times, O The Oprah Magazine, Longreads, Brevity, Under the Sun, Hippocampus, The Manifest Station, Brain Child, Sweet, Inside Jersey, and many other places. She teaches in an MFA program and lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and sons.

Starting with Goodbye, published by University of Nevada Press, asks if it’s ever too late to (re)connect with a parent. When Lisa Romeo’s late father drops in for “conversations,” she wonders why the parent she dismissed in life now holds her spellbound. Lisa reconsiders her affluent upbringing and the emotional distance that grew when he left New Jersey and retired to Las Vegas. She questions death rituals, family dynamics, Italian-American customs, midlife motherhood, and her own marriage as their new father-daughter relationship transforms grief and delivers powerful lessons about the bonds that last past death.

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Lisa Romeo: From the time I could read at age 5, there were so many children’s books about horses that I read in nonstop gulps, and I can’t remember the name of a single one. The earliest books I remember for certain loving were National Velvet by Enid Bagnold, and Karen by Marie Killilea. The former because I lived and breathed horses, the latter I think because it was the first nonfiction book I read for pleasure and I was so taken by the idea that someone’s life—a non-famous person—could be in a book

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

One glass of Moscato or Riesling. Unless I’m hot, then I only want ice cold water!

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Hmm…this is tricky. I want to ask, mandatory for whom? But absent that, the way I’m feeling most days, I’d say “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

A lot of them! I read nonstop, but my schooling didn’t include a lot of classics…or maybe it did and I can’t remember. Which I suppose means I need to read or re-read them all. I think in my teens I would have had more patience for Jane Austen, especially because I always longed to live in England.

A favorite quote from your book J

“This father is gone, never was, and is sitting right next to me.”

Your favorite book to film?

I’m so easily and consistently disappointed by most film adaptations of books I’ve loved. Purely for fun I’d say, Under the Tuscan Sun!   Based on the book by Frances Mayes.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Just a few miles from home: Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, NJ. The staff really know their stock and make interesting recommendations but will also leave you alone; there are author events at the store several times a week; and it has that quiet but sublimely buzzy vibe I like in a bookstore.

The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?

How long the learning curve is, how that learning curve never ends, how you’re never really finished nor completely satisfied with what you’ve produced, even after it’s published!

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

I’ve just published my first book, so I can’t speak to what it will be like to move on to book two. Though I’m guessing: equally difficult!  I’ve published hundreds of essays, articles, and other short nonfiction pieces, and each one poses its own challenge to write and place. It doesn’t get easier, you just know more and can avoid the obvious mistakes.

Dog, Cat, Or?

I’m a horse person from way back. I had five horses over about 17 years, and I rode and competed in hunter-jumper horse shows from my teens to my early 30s.

Favorite book cover?

This changes constantly! I suppose I should say my own, since it’s a photograph of my father that I took. But recently, my favorite cover is Still Life with Horses, a memoir by Jean Harper. A horse’s eye is very special and the artist (Benedicte Gele) captured it perfectly in pastels and chalk. Take a look, you’ll see.

Favorite song?

Strictly because it takes me back to meeting my husband and hearing him sing for the first time: “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin.  (My husband, I must note, became the anti-thesis to the neglectful father in the song!)

Recommend a Small Press and Literary Journal?

Sarabande Books does a lot of interesting things with essay and other nonfiction forms.

Missouri Review, for overall consistency and readability. I’m never disappointed.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek, MD and T.J. Mitchell. Because I was wandering through a bookstore after doing a reading, and my eye always lands on books about death and the many things that might come after! (I’m strange that way.)

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. PRE ORDER . Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dream, is about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.