Paritosh Uttam is a well-known name in the current Indian English literature scenario. Today we have him on ‘Between The Lines’ on a quite detailed interview session with one of our team members. Let his words speak more of him.
Biography: Pune-based software engineer and now a published writer. Author of ‘Dreams in Prussian Blue‘, published by Penguin India in Feb 2010. Editor/Compiler of short story anthologies ‘Urban Shots‘ out in Nov 2010 and ‘Urban Shots – Bright Lights’ out in Feb 2012.
Full time software professional based in Pune, and now a published writer too. Reading (modern literary fiction) and writing (not-so-literary modern fiction) are his passions.
Between The Lines: How would you describe your editorial ventures for the ‘Urban Shots’ series?
Paritosh Uttam: Certainly a different experience from being a writer. As an editor, you need to try to understand the writer’s viewpoint and style, which may be different from your own, and something that you may disagree with. That does not mean it is wrong. So you have to be more understanding and accommodating about others’ writing. Though I prefer being a writer, it was fun to read new work from different writers of different backgrounds and experience.
BTL: Tell us something about how ‘Dreams in Prussian Blue’ happened to you.
P: I was pitching a novel that I had written to Penguin. After a long time, the editor got back to me saying that though they would not be able to publish that novel, she did like my writing. I had put up some of my short stories on my website; she went through them and asked whether I could develop one of them into a novel for the Metro Reads series Penguin India was bringing out. Of course I agreed. So that’s how ‘Dreams in Prussian Blue’ happened.
BTL: You are a full-time Software Engineer. How do you manage work, writing and now editing (for Grey Oaks Publishers) altogether?
P: Add a two-month old baby to my life! Yes, it is hard but you have to take time out for it. The only feasible time for me is in the morning before I go to work, and the weekends. I am not into full-time editing. For writing, I try to keep short-term goals, like writing a minimum of 300 words a day. It sounds small, but it adds up if you keep at it regularly. It takes longer for me to complete a story or a novel, but at least you see the progress. Otherwise, you will simply be overwhelmed by the end goal and never attempt anything. Of course, it helps to have a supportive wife and family.
BTL: ‘Urban Shots – Bright Lights’ is the second compilation in the ‘Urban Shots’ series. How is it different from the first one?
P: You could say it was easier to edit the first one because it had ten of my short stories! Jokes apart, in Bright Lights, we have not tried to categorize the stories as we did in the first Urban Shots (friendship, angst, etc.). The stories in Bright Lights could be a mix of these different elements, and perhaps, more character-driven. The characters are from different walks of life, and at different stages. In terms of production quality too, Bright Lights is an improvement.
P: Thank you. I would advise newbie writers to attempt short stories before a novel. Not because short stories are easier to write, but the chances of giving it up are fewer. For a short story, focus on one or two or three characters at most. You don’t have time to develop all of them deep enough. Before jumping into the writing, think of what you want to convey, what kind of effect do you want your story to have on the reader. What would be the best style of writing to achieve that effect, what kind of point of view narration would do that best (first person, third person and so on). It helps to have a sketchy outline in your mind. Start off at an interesting point in the story, or with an interesting character to hook your reader. Don’t bore the reader with information that does not add to the story or plot.
All the points above apply to the novel as well, but you have a much bigger canvas to work with now. More characters, more intricate plots and sub-plots. Strongly advised to have an outline (chapter by chapter), or it is easy to get lost midway. You are in it for the long haul.
To give a cricketing analogy, think of it as an ODI or a 20-20 match as opposed to a test match!
BTL: At what point of your career did you felt the strong urge to be a serious writer? Is there any story behind the decision?
P: From childhood, say around my 9th grade, after an article of mine was published in The Hindu Young World, I discovered that I loved seeing my name in print, knowing that others read and discuss what I have written. But it was still a hobby. I grew serious about my writing after a couple of years into my career as a software engineer. Perhaps I realized that I could never be known for the software programs I write, but my fiction writing could lead me that way. Besides, you need to have some clear objective in life that you can strive for. Otherwise, life passes you by, and you wonder what you have done with it.
BTL: How has your journey been as a writer?
P: ‘Dreams in Prussian Blue’ was my first published novel. Before that a lot of my short stories have been published in various magazines and websites. The sense of satisfaction you get on seeing your novel in a bookshelf in a bookstore is hard to beat. I am working on my second novel which will be published by Grey Oak this year. Hope to carry on writing more novels. I want to believe that my journey as a writer has just started.
BTL: Who are your favourite authors? How have they influenced you to be a writer, if at all?
P: Quite a few. I have been a voracious reader since childhood. Some personal favourites are: V. S. Naipaul, Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, and many others. I have tried not to be influenced by any writer, as I want to have my own style, but there might be some subconscious influence that I may not be aware of.
BTL: Do you believe that the success of a book depends much on the publicity that goes behind it? How did you choose to publicize your book in these days of social media networking?
P: I think most writers would prefer to just write, and hope that their books go and sell themselves. But that is rarely true nowadays, but for those whose names are enough to sell their books. So whether you like promotional and marketing strategies, it is hard to avoid it these days, in fact, almost inevitable. Grey Oak has a good presence on the net, on Facebook and Twitter, and with online stores like Flipkart and Indiaplaza. Along with these, a few events in different cities at the time of the book launch helps you to reach out to more readers.
BTL: What is your advice to aspiring writers?
P: Approach the craft of writing with respect. It takes time and effort to develop good writing. Read a lot to understand what good writing is. There are no short cuts. There is no end to learning. Get into writing only for the love of writing. Focus on the efforts; the fruits will follow.
The author on Facebook: Paritosh Uttam
Details of the novel: http://www.paritoshuttam.com/dreamsinprussianblue/index.html
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