Interview with Amrit Chima

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Aside from grammar school projects, I think the first story I ever wrote was about socks getting lost in the dryer. In high school at the time, I was still living with my parents when that little anecdotal (and yes, cliché) gem came to me. My mother was a fabulous cook and caretaker, but she was not particularly organized (which is an absolute understatement). Each time my father put his socks in the hamper, it was not without a great deal of trepidation; never a pair returned. He was plagued by mismatched socks, a great point of irritation for him. He even went so far as to bring home a set of snap-together socks in the hopes that he could defeat her absentmindedness. He never did.
Who are your favorite authors?
Margaret Atwood, Rohinton Mistry, Isabel Allende, Andre Dubus III, Toni Morrison, Minal Hajratwala, and David Mitchell, although I could probably go on! All of these writers have a sense of music in their work, a particular flow, a fingerprint of feeling that identifies them; their stories have great depth.
How do you begin a story?
I am absolutely an outliner. I have gotten quite a number of good-natured snickers about this within the writing community. Outlining is not considered to be very creative, but rather scientific, which is sometimes true, but not always.

I first begin with a large idea, a message I'd like to embed within the story, and then I sketch my characters, spend a great deal of time thinking about who they are and how they can best convey the feeling or idea I'm striving for. It follows that I then have to map out the arc of the story, create an outline, place my characters in a plot and in settings that lead to where I'm trying to go. In my first novel, I was so fascinated by the idea of inherited heartache, the notion of refusing to release not only our own sense of loss, but our parents' suffering as well. This kernel then led to the construction of a generational saga that required a lot of research on my part (time periods, big and small events, types of people, etc.) to get details and feelings so accurate and real that the reader would never even have an inkling of how much background work went into it. They would only FEEL the story. That's the beginning for me, an idea that first needs to be captured in an outline where I can view everything from a distance as a whole before tackling the particulars.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I admit, I'm sort of obsessive about things, which is probably why I'm such a disciplined writer. The thought of the days' tasks pulls me out of bed, the urge to DO. I can really pack a lot in, particularly if a specific goal is on my radar.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a small town just outside San Francisco, but the majority of my childhood was spent in the city, in schools there, on play dates with other children. Even my high school was in the city, my life sort of split between places. So I had this very odd sense of not knowing any one place very well, not the town where I lived, or the city in which I essentially grew up. And I was born to an Indian father from Fiji and an American mother of Irish and German descent, serving to add to my confusion. Despite the fact that I was raised in a happy home, in place and in culture I was very unsettled. My small town was homogeneously white, and even in San Francisco I was one of two Indians in my school, and the only half.

For some reason or other, as I got older I chose to latch on to my Indian-ness, perhaps because I was searching to clearly identify myself, and I felt it to be the more colorful and grandiose of my two backgrounds. Settings and/or people in my writing are usually Indian (although as I grow as a writer this is slowly changing). But the essence of my stories usually contains some notion of release, a letting go of things that you think are supposed to define you so that you can find what actually does.
Describe your desk
My desk is very organized and tidy, with the exception of a small pile of things on the left I need to take care of but that seem too overwhelming to deal with. This is my leeway pile, the allow-myself-to-procrastinate pile.
How do you discover books to read?
I spend a great deal of my time with other writers and readers, so many of the books I read are recommended, and ninety-nine percent of them are literary fiction, which is definitely my preference. My list is so incredibly long, it's overwhelming at times; I really wish I were a faster reader.

It's always amazing to find myself in the middle of a wonderful novel as I'm in the midst of producing my own work of fiction. Sometimes I select the next book on my list in the hopes that it will inspire me to write better.
How do you approach cover design?
Not much of a visual artist, it's important for me to find someone who can handle that. I know what I'm looking for, know the feeling that the cover should elicit. The best course for literary fiction is to avoid cliché (I learned quickly not to use silhouettes, particularly of a person), avoid a piecemeal look and go for something subtler, something that has the feel of a painting, but isn't really a painting. It should absolutely represent the novel as a whole. The person who designed the cover of my first novel is also a photographer (Kerry Ellis at www.kerry-ellis.com), which I think was extremely helpful in setting her work apart from the digitalized look of so many covers out there.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
As I'm sure is no surprise, BookBub has been an amazing promotional tool, mainly because for it to work, you need to first illustrate that your book is quality by earning fabulous reviews (this happens slowly, especially if you want reviews that come from complete strangers and not just your friends).

Being involved in a writing community is also very important, and better yet, finding the niche within that community where you belong. This may not translate to sales for some time, but it's exposure in the right area, and great support. These people are dealing with a similar struggle to be noticed and can offer advice and valuable opportunities.

Overall, I think the key is simply to keep writing. In her guide to life and writing, Anne Lamott makes great points about writers wanting to be famous or "out there" more than they want to write. But love of writing should be the key to it all. I really believe that doing what I love is the best way to market myself. Keeps everything genuine.
What is your favorite stage of writing?
Writing has always been a relatively painful process for me. I'm very impatient, and I tend to force a schedule that proves impossible to keep, especially at the beginning of a project. But the last couple of drafts, when I know I've reached the point of polishing and tweaking, that's such a huge time. Seeing what I spent years producing, years agonizing over, finally molded and shaped into something beautiful and poignant is so incredibly satisfying.
Published 2014-07-10.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Darshan
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 145,600. Language: English. Published: October 1, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » General, Fiction » Literature » Literary
Darshan chronicles the story of a family's 100-year journey across continents to escape a crime that haunts them through generations. "A multigenerational family epic in every sense of the term: nuanced, thoughtful, well-written, and deftly mixing history with fiction." -IndieReader