Chirdeep Malhotra . Updated: 9/7/2021 10:28:39 AM Books and Authors

Author Interview: Richa Gupta

Richa Gupta has worked as a senior teacher of English in reputed schools, and as an editor and Instructional Designer for leading tech companies. She is a keen observer of life and loves to voice her experiences in writing. She has written a novel, “Skeins”, about a group of women on a trip to Spain and Portugal, and a collection of short stories, “Slices of Life”, which captures human emotions in myriad forms in a contemporary and futuristic reality. She has recently come out with the book “The Jamun Tree and Other Stories”. In a candid chat with Chirdeep Malhotra, she talks about her latest book, her writing journey, her favourite books and authors, and much more. Read on!

Could you describe your latest book “The Jamun Tree and Other Stories”? How did the idea for it take shape?

“The Jamun Tree and Other Stories” is an anthology of nineteen stories in different genres based on contemporary issues. The stories analyze a cross-section of society including the wealthy elite, the hoi polloi, and professionals of all ages from impressionable teens to mature septuagenarians. They delve into the characters’ psychological, emotional and existential issues.
I had published an anthology of stories the previous year titled “Slices of Life”. I loved writing in this genre as I could explore the multiple ideas and characters flitting across my mind. I found it refreshing to start afresh after each story on a new plot and characters, and it was convenient to fit the writing process in between other activities without disrupting the continuity of a story. So, I suspended the novel I had begun and wrote several more short stories inspired by contemporary events, personalities and issues. The next logical step was to publish them as a collection.

You mentioned you’re quite an avid reader. Which authors have influenced your writing?

I am influenced by the diverse styles and genres of numerous authors, such as the social satire of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”; the whodunits of Agatha Christie; the multi-generational saga of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind”, Colleen McCullough’s “The Thornbirds” and Min Jin Lee’s “Pachinko”; the sci-fi of H. G. Wells; the witty comedies of George Bernard Shaw; the biographies of Irving Stone, specially “The Agony and the Ecstasy”; and the dystopian novels of Margaret Atwood.
The inspiration of these and several other authors such as Emily Bronte, Daphne Du Maurier, James Joyce, Ayn Rand, Dan Brown, Khaled Hosseini, Markus Zusak, Amor Towles, Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, to name a few, enables me to write in multiple genres though I try to find my individual voice while writing. To best portray the plurality of life, I feel a writer should transit genres like a chameleon and use the genre best suited to the theme.

What are some of the themes that you have discussed in the short stories in this book?

The themes of the stories are inspired by and relate to contemporary issues, for example, deforestation, family inheritance, the social media’s hunt for sensational headlines, the impact of corruption on youngsters, the importance of the human touch in an automated world, psychological dilemmas, the complications of love, and the unravelling of a mysterious murder.
In addition, my stories delve into the psyche of women and their multiple hues, such as the domestic life of women from the marginalized section of society, a mother dealing with a personal tragedy, a shrewd and attractive lady on a mission, a middle-aged spinster seeking love again, and the psychological afflictions of an upper-class page 3 celebrity.

Can you tell us more about your writing process for this book? How did you go about creating three-dimensional characters and mapping out engaging plots for these stories?

The stimulus for a story was an event, personality or issue that I witnessed or experienced in my environment. Then, my imagination charted its own course and the plot grew organically in the fictional realm. Sometimes, I thought of the character first and plot development followed; and at other times, the plot development drove character exposition. To make the story engaging, I tried to include unexpected twists in it and gradually reveal an underlying truth. Most stories end with an insight, a change in perception or the realization of a precept.
To create a three-dimensional character, a writer should not describe only the external physical appearance but also the social milieu, the character’s interaction with other characters, and his or her psychological, mental, moral and emotional dilemmas. The protagonist of a story must grow and, impacted by the events, evolve into a different personality by the end of the story. I tried to explore how the characters interacted with their environment, their inner reality, and the predicament they were wrestling with.

What kind of research did you have to do for this book?

I did not do any research prior to writing the stories. However, during the course of writing the stories, I sometimes had to research facts that I was unaware or unsure about. For example, to depict a businessman, I did a brief research on Google about the details of his business, such as how many people would be employed, what would be the turnover and the nature of the setup. Except for a 10-minute Google search to confirm each obscure fact in some stories, I did no sustained research.

What were some of the challenges while writing this book?

I didn’t face challenges while writing the book, but after writing it. The chief of these was the concern of publishers that publishing short stories is not profitable. They did not even bother to read the manuscript or assess its merit. Also, there is a perception among a few that short stories are a lesser form of fiction. However, I was encouraged by the positive response to my previous anthology and I had confidence in my work.

If you could iterate, what would you like the readers to take away from this book?

Readers should be so impacted by the writing style that the stories and characters are vividly painted in their mind and their essence lingers on in them long after they have read the last page. I also hope the psychological truth, emotional reality or subjective morality at the core of each story reverberates in them.
In the words of Stephen King, ‘Fiction is the truth inside the lie.’ It is this truth that I would like them to take away from the book.

How has the pandemic altered your reading and writing schedules?

The pandemic, though an anathema, has given me ample time for reflection, reading and creative writing since it has reduced social outings and pleasure excursions. I can now write at any time of the day instead of writing only at night when the activity of the day has subsided. However, I try to be consistent with other physical activities such as morning yoga and an evening walk to combat the effects of this sedentary lifestyle.

What are you working on next? Any new literary projects that our readers should look out for?

I have started working on my next book, but it is too early to talk about it. It is still to take shape.

Can you share with our readers a motivational quote that keeps you going?

The following quote not only motivates me but also describes my journey: ‘Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.’ – Henry Miller

Comment on this Story