It’s a multicultural literary novel called Rescuing Ranu. It follows the headstrong mathematician Nela Sambashivan from my first novel, Shiva’s Arms, into her a new crisis: what sacrifices will she make to save ten year old Ranu from a forced marriage in a backward village governed by a man who believes everything is for sale? Will she give up her marriage, her home, her university work for the sake of a child not her own? This book explores the theme of altruism the way Shiva’s Arms explores the Rashomon effect on multicultural relationships.
Tell us something about yourself.
I’m a classical pianist who came to writing late in life, at fifty, first as a poet and then a fiction writer. I’m married to a South Indian mathematical engineer whose research in collectives sparked my own in subjects that inform the structure of Rescuing Ranu — so you could say that I’m married to my muse.
What inspired you to write this book?
Sometimes a writer is just not finished with a character. I wanted to know what Nela, after being ousted from her family and developing a life of her own design, would do when her hard-won independence was threatened, and her idea of what she really wanted was challenged.
How did you choose the title?
Both sound and sense come into play. The child who causes Nela’s transformation is called Ranu, and the theme of altruism is highlighted in the act of rescuing her.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I always loved language and wrote for my own pleasure, but I also loved music. I trained as a classical pianist, performing in recital halls throughout my twenties. I turned to writing again only when I married my South Indian husband. It was a way to understand my new community. I suppose. Didn’t Faulkner say, “I never know what I think about something until I’ve written on it.” Amen to that.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I start each session by playing Bach on the piano. There’s something about his nuances of harmony that transcend the ego and ground me at the same time. Music and writing have so many elements in common– line and dynamics and rhythm, that it’s difficult to assign value. I’m immersed in all of it, and the process of mastering a piece of music is not unlike getting a piece of writing right. When at last I set whatever it is aside, the work continues underground.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
For fun, I might initially name a character for one of the in-laws, but I usually change it to another South Indian name.
How is writing poetry different from writing a novel?
“In the novel or short story you get the journey. In a poem you get the arrival,” May Sarton wrote.That’s not to say that it’s an orderly progression. When characters run amok, and suddenly have their own plans, it’s hard to force them back into the author’s. Mary Lee Settle advised that empathy without identity is one way to keep control of a character, but it’s difficult to maintain that distance. Transformation, the way the characters change, what conclusion the narrator comes to, are born out of writing one’s way into the piece again and again, trying on different plots, tone, voice. In both forms, I feel my way.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
Literary fiction and contemporary poetry, since that’s what I write. My favorites are always changing, and on my nightstand right now, I ‘ve got novels by poets James Schulyer, Kenneth Patchen, Djuna Barnes, Tobias Hill, and Elizabeth Smart.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Write every day, read more than you write, and remember what Samuel Beckett said: Ever tried, ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
People who like literary writing, who care about language.I pull my poetry right into my prose, so my books are certainly not for everybody. I think that’s as it should be. My readers needn’t know details about the Indian culture to enjoy my books, or the scientific,religious, or philosophical concepts that underscore my work. I tell you everything you need to know as we go along. Trust me.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?