Thu 27 Feb 2014
by Aliza Greenblatt
Rohini Gupta is a writer who lives by the sea in Mumbai, India. Rohini says: “I have published nonfiction and poetry books and am now writing fiction. Flash fiction is keeping me happy while writing longer stories.” Rohini’s blog is at wordskies.wordpress.com.
Aliza Greenblatt: Usually I open these interviews by asking what inspires people to write, but you had a blog post on the subject that had one of the most eloquent answers I’ve read. “You write because without words to express it, the world is brittle and prickly and almost unlivable. You write to survive and you write to become. Most of all, you write because it gives you wings.”
Do you find yourself writing about the same themes to better understand them or do you enjoy exploring new ones?
Rohini Gupta: I have been writing and keeping a daily journal for so long now that I cannot imagine a life without writing. Writing has been my most constast companion and it’s been a life raft when the years were one unending thunderstorm.
I do like exploring and that’s the beauty of flash fiction. Because of its brevity you can try out all kinds of styles and genres which I might never do in a longer piece and even less in a novel. I can write a literary story one day and a fantasy story the next, or try my hand at a thriller – all with very little commitment of time.
The underlying themes which are important to me will show up, somehow, in every piece, but the stories can vary wildly.
I think the experimenting is an essential education, at least for me. Once upon a time, when I was struggling to learn the story form, I wrote a story a day for six months. Naturally it could not be the same story, so I went wild and tried out all kinds of styles. All unpublishable, of course, but that’s an education quite as valuable as any formal one.
I feel the best way for a writer to find a voice is to play around with flash – try everything and see what fits. It’s never what you expect. Where else can you try out every theme, style, and genre and fall right off the cliff and still, maybe, have something to publish at the end of it.
AG: What draws you to flash fiction? For you, how is writing prose different from poetry? Do you know what form the words are going to take before you start writing or do they tell you as they progress?
RG: I started with poetry, wrote it for years and published books of poetry too. In some ways flash fiction – and flash nonfiction – is not so different. The brevity means you can work with every word just as you do in poetry and yet, its a complete story.
However it’s a different mindset. I cannot write poems and flash at the same time – it just does not work. I write haiku too – I am editor on a major haiku magazine – and that is a third mindset. In poetry the emphasis is on words and rhythm, in haiku on image and a single moment, in flash it is on character and plot.
It’s sometimes difficult to write various forms and lengths. I have to be very clear before I begin that I am writing a story or a poem, so that the muse, like water, can flow into the structure I want.
Then it’s the highway of surprise. I never know what is coming. Even if I have begun with an idea, a character or a situation – even then, it rarely goes the expected way. I may end up in another country altogether and that is the fun of it. It’s totally unpredictable and does not happen on demand. Some days you are blank and some days the muse floods you out, wanting to finish ten stories at once!
I know it’s working well when I have to ask, where on earth did that come from?
AG: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?
RG: I do like writing by hand, especially for poetry. I like writing down ideas, lines, openers or even a quick short story by hand before I take it to the computer. If I get stuck I go back to the notebook to get unstuck.
Of course, the actual writing, editing and rewriting is done on a computer. I don’t belong to the ‘no rewrite’ school. I do many drafts and poetry has taught me to work with every word and make sure it fits. Every story I submit is edited, strengthened, rewritten many times, and polished like a poem.
I have daily and weekly schedules and keep a planner to track my progress. The creative process is so fluid that I find I need a schedule to keep me going – but a flexible one. I have learned the hard way not to have too tight a schedule otherwise I won’t do any of it. Keep it comfortable and easy and the work will flow.
Being part of a group like Write1sub1.com is a huge help in keeping me writing and submitting every week. Writing is a lonely business so a friendly and supportive group like that makes a big difference and I highly recommend it.
I am not as prolific as many others. Quality is more important to me than speed. It may take me twice as long to kindle a fire in a piece but I need to feel I have gone as deep as I can go in that story.
Perhaps the most important thing I have learned about writing over the years is this – keep writing every single day. No excuse or procrastination. Don’t think, just write. Edit later but very thoroughly.
I have seen enough writers to know that the ones who don’t succeed are also the ones who don’t write.
AG: Resolution is about trying to keep one’s promises to oneself, even when no one else is watching or holding you to it. Why do you think it often takes another, like a helpless kitten depending on you, for people to want to make a change for themselves?
RG: Late in December some friends were discussing New Year resolutions. My resolutions were all work related – I will write so many stories in the coming year, submit one a week etc. Theirs were all about staying with a diet and not getting depressed. I knew very well that one week later it would all be history.
Change is the hardest thing in the world and very few do it willingly. A crisis may turn everything upside down but normally a resolution will not make a life shifting change. So what if it was something else, something which touches the heart – the only way I know to make a really deep change.
So, I wondered is there a resolution we can keep?
I knew there was a story there, but it was not yet clear. For me, a good flash story needs two or more dissimilar elements to thread together (a bit like haiku) and I had one end of the two, the need for change with New Year resolutions – but I did not have the other.
In the mysterious way of the muse, the kitten came into it. I don’t quite know how that happened. It suddenly appeared and jumped very firmly and determinedly right onto my page. That kitten just hijacked the story!
Then I chose Delhi as the setting. Mumbai, where I live, has a winter hardly worth the name. Delhi never goes to zero but it does get into single digits. And it’s a colorful city.
I wrote the story, rewrote it three or four times, edited it and then I almost did not send it. I was worried it might be too sentimental. So then I thought, what’s one more rejection, and submitted it. Unexpectedly, it worked and the responses I got were very positive and some even said it was not overly sugary.
AG: According to your blog, this story was inspired by an actual little kitten. Did you find him under similar circumstances and how is he doing now?
RG: Yes, there was an actual kitten which had appeared out of nowhere. It came in a very famished state, still on milk. I put up pictures on my blog and have also put an update. The kitten is doing very well, growing up now, no longer skeletal, pouncing on the other cats, chasing their tails and getting into all kinds of mischief.
When it came to naming him, my sister said, let’s call him Resolution.
AG: What other projects are you working on now? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?
RG: I am hoping to publish a collection of flash fiction this year and am writing longer stories too. I am also working on a nonfiction book. I have quite a few submissions pending at various places. Later this year I will also be teaching flash fiction and haiku at a local college.
All my work is linked on my writing blog, http://wordskies.wordpress.com.
Resolution was my fifth story up on Every Day Fiction and I also have three writing articles up on FFC.
Of course, plenty more to come. I’m having so much fun that this party will go on for a very long time.
AZ: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.
RG: Thank you, it’s been delightful.
Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night. Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper. She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter @AtGreenblatt