An interview with Parth Pandya.
From writing for your blog, to being a regular contributor to online magazines, to your own book today – how has the writing journey been?
Writing has always been a passion for me, but it never took a formal shape or form until my blog happened. It became a great way to practice the art, so to speak. I experimented with writing a lot – poetry, some short stories and many articles. With Spark and other avenues opening up, it rose to a new level. The main difference was that now suddenly someone would reject/critique your work, whereas I was the master and commander of my blog. That improved the quality of my writing. In a way, getting published on Spark spurred me on to try other avenues such as EveryDayPoets or OneFortyFiction. The book was a natural progression from that. Years of writing in different forums made me feel ready for taking the plunge and writing a book.
You’ve been with Spark for a long time! And we can always be sure of an interesting take on our themes from you. How do you go about thinking around the theme to finalise what to write?
The secret is trusting my instinct. When I see the topic for the month shared on the website, I give myself a week or more to think through a few ideas. From these amorphous ideas, I would narrow down to some that appeal to me. Eventually, there is a moment of confirmation, a spark (pun intended),that helps me pick the topic I want to go with. A lot of my writing happens away from the laptop. I think through the initial ideas when driving to work or patting my kids to sleep. Those thoughts take a more definitive form when I start typing.
The biggest strength of your writing is how relatable it is, and it is likely that some favourite author(s) inspired you to write this way. Who would these be?
For sheer inventiveness, drama and gorgeous use of the language, I like both Shakespeare and Salman Rushdie, however many centuries might separate them. I also like how Jhumpa Lahiri explores the lives of Indian immigrants in her stories. The poetry of Pablo Neruda appeals to me, as do the Rubaiyyat of Khayyam and works of Emily Dickinson. Mostly, I like any piece of writing as long as it draws me in with an insight into the human condition and thrills me with its use of language.
When do you feel what you have written is worthy of publishing online – on your blog or for another portal? What are the essential ‘ingredients’, if we may call it that, to a successful piece of writing?
First and foremost, you need to feel pride in your work. Know that what you write is going to be there for a long time and that your work should meet a certain bar for quality. As a writer, the only way to get there is through writing and re-writing. It is a discipline I had to build up over the years but now my first draft is rarely the one that makes it to a publication. Secondly, when you are being reviewed before publication, it is important to keep an open mind for other perspectives. When you write, you have an idea in mind that might feel very clear and very clever. But if it hasn’t translated to the reader, it counts for nothing. Lastly, you need to enjoy your own work as a reader. Once you get to that point, your work is good to go.
And we didn’t forget – congratulations on your book ‘R2i dreams: For here or to go?’ It was a great read and we see that it’s been getting a wonderful response as well. Tell us something the experience: how you decided to get on with it, the writing, the publishing and finally, the feedback you’ve been getting so far.
I was convinced that my first book was going to be either a collection of poems or short stories or a novel, but fate had other plans. A non-fiction collaborative book with two authors whom I had never met, was farther than what I had imagined. But that is exactly what happened. Ramya (one of my co-authors) and I have been friends through our blogs for years. We had joked around about writing a book on the r2i topic, but sometime in late 2013, we decided to act on it. Ramya enlisted Subha (a friend of hers) for the book too and off we were. Through wonderful use of a lot of technological tools possible (e-mail, document sharing, Skype, Facebook etc.), we put together a skeleton of an idea and started work on it. The book basically tells the stories of the three of us through our journey from India to America, our time spent living in this country and our struggle with the quintessential Indian immigrant question – to stay here or to go back to India?
We stuck with it through work deadlines and personal changes and within a year, the book was ready to go. The next step was to get it published. We went with CreateSpace, an online publishing company owned by Amazon and a site called pothi.com in India. Self-publication meant that we had to do most of the heavy lifting to make sure the quality was good and after doing just that for a month and a half, ‘r2idreams: for here or to go?’ hit the proverbial shelves. The book was released in September and has got a good response so far. Those who have read it have loved it and I am hoping many more will read the book now that we have a honorable mention in Spark ! The strangest thing about releasing the book has been signing copies of my book, especially for friends and family. It always amuses me that they need my signature, given that I am the least famous author I know!
Vani Viswanathan reviews the book, 'r2i dreams : For here or to go?'. Read it here.
So what is the next stop in your writing journey?
Now that my first book is out and it isn’t what I had thought it would be, I am wary of wagering what the next one would be. I still hope to put out a fiction book out there, but you can’t really plan on it. A book has its own destiny. In the meanwhile, I’ll continue to write my pieces for Spark and other outlets and hope that my writing is good enough to be accepted and that readers enjoy my work.
Finally, what about being a part of Spark do you enjoy the most?
Spark has been a great blessing for me. When I made my first submission to the magazine, I had no idea it would become such a habit for me. I love the fact that there is a theme for the month. Having the subject at hand makes my life as a writer easier. It also forces me to write about topics that I would normally not have considered writing. I look forward to the 5th of each month when an issues of the magazine comes out. It is a triple bonanza – my work gets published, I get to see other great contributions and I get to know what the theme for the next month would be. The contributions are of high quality, which forces me to raise my bar and submit something truly worthy. Spark has become a habit that I don’t want to lose. Over and above everything else, I love Spark for the people behind it. Between you two, Vani and Anupama, you have managed to grow this magazine from a small beginning to a large enterprise, without ever compromising on quality. That kind of passion and pride that you bring to the magazine spurs me on to keep contributing and hoping that what I write is worthy enough to make the cut.
Questions by Vani Viswanathan