[Interview] Bhaswati Ghosh, Author of ‘Making Out in America’
Bhaswati Ghosh has worked as a television news producer and as an editor in two publishing houses. She has also been on the editorial board of a children’s newspaper.
Her work has been published in major Indian daily newspapers, in the United States and on websites that include Chowk and the bimonthly online magazine, Seven Seas as well as on the food and writing blogs that she maintains.
Making Out in America is her first book-length work.
In a recent interview, Bhaswati Gosh spoke about her writing.
What would you say are your main concerns as a writer?
In fiction writing, my major concerns are gaining a grip on the craft of writing, such as more show and less tell, writing convincing dialogue, creating real and enduring characters.
The themes that concern me are those pertaining to the social fabric around me — a dynamic pattern that’s changing and throwing up new questions every day. Ordinary lives like my own interest me the most, and I write stories on how the existing and evolving social systems play themselves out in the day-to-day living of ordinary people.
In nonfiction, which also happens to be my source of income, my main concern is to widen the scope of my writing. I constantly educate myself to write about diverse subjects. I am still a greenhorn in the freelance writing trade and have a long way to go. Being an ardent learner, I am enjoying the journey.
How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?
All my writing stems from personal experiences, direct or perceived. The seeds of writing itself could have been planted in my subconscious both through genetic influence as well as from watching my grandma pouring herself out on foolscap sheets. A supportive school boosted my literary inclinations as did the extensive reading atmosphere at home (we have five or six huge iron trunks loaded with books and magazines).
Over the years, events happening in my life or in the lives of people around me have made their way into my writing. While I mostly write about what I know, occasionally issues that concern me at a deep level, yet are far removed in terms of geographic location (the Palestinian struggle, for instance), also form the raw material of some of my stories.
How many books have you written so far?
My debut book, Making Out in America has been purchased by Cavern Press and is awaiting publication. The book is an anecdotal, humorous account of my brush as an outsider with everyday American lingo. The tone is informal, and the chapters are themed.
The book is different from the other things I have written in a number of ways. For one, its length. Most of my writing is short — articles, features, short stories. The other major difference is the subject matter. Most of my writing tends to be serious in nature and tone; the book is lighthearted and makes for easy reading.
It is similar to the other things in that although interspersed with humor and candid recounting, the book carries a voice that my small band of readers (mostly friends and fellow writers) have come to associate with me. So in that regard, it carries a personal narrative stamp.
Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?
Weaving in different anecdotes that would let the prose flow smoothly and make it enjoyable for readers was the toughest.
Which did you enjoy most?
All of it. The intense and fun research, constant rewriting of chapters following reproaches from the book’s editor, perennially bothering friends to share relevant anecdotes, jumping with joy on finishing the manuscript, detailed editing — all of it.
How much time do you spend on your writing?
Since writing is my primary vocation, I have to do it everyday by default. Roughly speaking, I spend between four to six hours on writing.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t remember making a conscious decision to be a writer. While in middle school, I had zeroed in on two possible career choices — engineering or journalism (nothing in common, I know). I went on to study journalism after school and got steered into the writing side of it, as a news report and anchor scripts writer. The love affair with writing had started in school itself and continued through the newsrooms and a couple of other jobs I held (publishing house editor, web content writer).
Who would you say has influenced you the most?
Two or three people. My maternal grandmother to begin with. A talented Bengali writer, she was way ahead of her times and provided constant insights into the struggles of the writing life. She also showed by example what discipline as a writer meant. She would write every single day while juggling house work, her government job, and a million other concerns.
I can’t forget the role played by two of my writing gurus in shaping my progress with the pen. The first is my middle school English teacher. She was the first person to point out that I could write a bit and encouraged me to hone the skill. The second person is a former editor and columnist of a Tennessee newspaper, who became my writing mentor through a writer’s forum I used to frequent. He taught me some of the most valuable writing lessons, particularly with regard to nonfiction writing — lessons that have aided me invaluably in my career.
What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?
Procrastinating and facing the inner critic that makes me feel daunted at the specific set of challenges for particular writing projects. I baulk at the idea of tackling book-length works, having had to focus on writing concise and brief pieces through most of my bread-and-butter writing jobs.
How do you deal with these challenges?
By writing one word at a time. That’s what my editor mentor taught me. It’s always one more word I need to write. In time, it always adds up, amazingly! I am also getting more organized about my writing and devote particular time chunks to different projects. This has certainly made a big difference vis-à-vis my productivity.
What will your next book be about?
I am plodding my way through a memoir. It’s the story that spans across three generations — from my grandmother’s to mine. The book has layers of history, politics, family dynamics, and personal stories of trials and triumphs.
What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?
In tangible terms, not much. However, being a writer has probably made me more sensitive and less apathetic to social dilemmas. I don’t know if that would count as an achievement, but it certainly makes me care for this world more passionately.
You’ve also been having a few problems with your publisher. How are you dealing with these problems?
The publisher of Cavern Press, Tammy Perron, offered me a contract in December 2005 and verbally promised me to bring out my book by 2006. The contract, however, mentions no publication/release date. I was also promised a three-part advance, of which I only received the first installment.
The printing for the book kept getting postponed. The publisher mentioned financial constraints a few times. My last interaction with her was in October 2006, when she said she still didn’t have a firm release date for the book.
Since that time, the publisher has pulled a vanishing act. She hasn’t responded to any of my emails or snail mails. This coincided with her not paying the authors and editor of Shadow Regions, a horror anthology she brought out in the latter half of 2006. She has failed to respond to all their efforts to contact her, as well.
So far that’s the update. I have since sought legal view on the situation and decided to pull out of the contract and pitch my book to literary agents.