Meet the Author: Saborna Roychoudhury
Hello, friends! Welcome to the first of the 2023 “Meet the Author” interviews! I met today’s author at the Texas Book Festival, and subsequently read (and loved) her second novel Everything Here Belongs to You. (You can read my thoughts on the novel here). I enjoyed getting to know Saborna through the interview, and hope you do as well!
What is your favorite part of the writing process, and least favorite part of the writing process?
I think my favorite part is when something unexpected develops as I am writing. I generally have an idea about who the main characters are and what’s going to happen next. But then I’ll find a minor character suddenly starts to become important in the story asking for more attention and trying to take the story in a new direction.
I do believe characters live somewhere in the clouds and have a consciousness of their own. They are looking for empathetic human partners who can understand their suffering, feel their pain and tell their stories in an honest way. I am grateful when they seek me out and trust me to tell their story.
I think the least favorite part of my writing process is the process of editing and revising. The revision process for my book took five years. My book needed quite a bit of work. I had wrapped my arms around a lot in this novel—female friendship, class, religion, first love, emotional abuse, pregnancy, terrorism etc. So polishing such a story was not a small task. My agent asked me to pull out the events that seemed tangential, and keep the ones that stood out as being important to the story. Thus some of my favorite chapters, characters and events had to be shed as they didn’t seem essential to the story. I was in love with everything I wrote and wanted to cling on to every scene. Erasing some of the chapters and scenes was very hard for me.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No. I always wanted to be a chemistry professor. I did graduate work in chemistry. Writing was not in my life then. In 2004, I was in between jobs and decided to take a creative writing class. The teacher gave us a writing prompt and I started writing my first short story.
When it came to sharing my story with the rest of the class---I felt shy. I was a chemistry teacher and this was my first story. But the class seemed to like the story a lot and gave me very positive feedback. My teacher asked me to send the story for publication and it got accepted in “New York Stories”. That’s how my writing journey began.
You grew up in India, and now call Texas home. How does being multicultural affect your writing?
Yes, I grew up in India, but left the country long ago and travelled far beyond its borders. So in my observations, I hope you’ll find both the intimacy of an insider and the distance and objectivity of an outsider.
Looking at my culture from the outside, now I recognize the many conscious and unconscious prejudices, bias and intolerance present in my society. As a child I thought nothing of this behavior because everyone else was acting the same way. Living in North America gave me the distance and objectivity to recognize this problem. I can see that what the middle class in India thinks is normal and acceptable is actually cruel and heartless behavior.
Also living in North America for many years helped me shape Michael’s character with nuance and sensitivity. Creating an American teenager from a military family was not easy for me. I had to pay particular attention to Michael’s dialogue. While everyone else in the book has the voice of a non-native English speaker, Michael had to sound convincingly American. So I had to be careful with his sentence structure and choice of words. This was possible because I spend many years in America.
What kind of books do you gravitate toward in your reading life?
I am a big fan of Jhumpa Lahiri. I think she writes linguistically brilliant and innovative prose. I sometimes find myself drooling over her sentences. But my favorite author is still Rohinton Mistry. I have rarely seen an author choose such unremarkable people and turn them into such extra-ordinary characters in a novel. The man’s honesty and empathy has the power to melt even the stoniest of hearts. He understands Indian politics and class/caste issues like no other author I have known.
What is your superpower?
I have no superpower. I can only write about issues that make me angry. Even then I find writing is very hard. It requires tremendous amount of patience, focus and dedication. It’s a bit like climbing Mt. Everest. No matter how many times I do it…it doesn’t get any easier.
What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve ever gotten?
When I started the book, I was writing it from multiple perspective but the narration even to me did not feel consistent and intentional. That’s when I got very valuable piece of advice from my editor. She said… it can be difficult to cook an elaborate meal when there are too many cooks. Similarly if we allow too many characters to have narrative privilege, the story can become unwieldy, lose its flow, pacing and center. Covering too many POVs weakens the foundation of the novel.
She asked me to decide carefully who has narrative privilege in my story.
So when revising, I tried to limit between two central perspective, a toggle between Parul and Mohini.
What are you working on next?
I haven’t given it much thought. I am so busy marketing and promoting this book that I haven’t had the time to think about the next one.
Thanks, Ms. Roychowdhury! You can find links to her books and connect with her at her website: https://www.sabornaroychowdhury.com/
And thank you for reading! If you liked this interview share Amanda Loves Words with a friend, and subscribe so you don’t miss an issue.
Excellent interview! Enjoyed learning about your writing process and advice. Hugs, C