Poet, Author, Editor, Creative Writing Consultant

Monday, March 25, 2013

Flash Fiction Chronicles: Rumjum Biswas interviews Abha Iyengar



Link: http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/april-abha-iyengar/
Rumjhum Biswas:  When did the writing bug bite you and what happened next?
Abha Iyengar: On September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers fell, I was in the middle of writing my first story to be sent online for a writing competition. So I remember the time well. This was the start of my online writing contributions. Before that, in the non-virtual space, I had published a few poems in Femina, won a Haiku writing competition, but these were flash-in-the-pan things. I was not very encouraged by the desultory response of the Indian magazines and journals till the internet bug bit me. International literary journals snapped up my writing and now I have this rash of writing that never leaves me ever since the bug bit. Thank you, Internet Writing Bug.
RB:  Did anyone mentor you or encourage your writing as a child?
AI: My father bought us books by the dozen. My mother never insisted we do household chores so I spent my time reading and day-dreaming. And of course, we borrowed and swapped with friends and did whatever was required to get our hands on books and comics. I grew up in Calcutta (now Kolkata), which has literature coming out of its pores like breath. We received beautiful books as prizes at my school there, and I won many. I read Lorna Doone and A Tale of Two Cities in class 5. In class 7, I had this very smart, short-haired teacher of English who wore hipster cotton saris and smoked cigarettes, and she  loved my essays (e.g. ‘Autobiography of an Old Shoe’). We kind of worshipped each other. I think I realized then that I could write.

I do not believe, however, that any one writer has influenced me or that I have wanted to style my writing after anyone. I think all my reading leads to my writing.

RB:   Tell us about the writers who inspired you when you were young?  Who are the writers you feel you have learned from/influenced your writing?
AI:  Younger days I loved Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle, Guy de Maupassant, Premchand. At age 13, I read Harper Lee. I could not get over Scott and Atticus Finch and Boo Radley. Then there was a spate of Leon Uris, James Hadley Chase, Harold Robbins, Arthur Hailey, John Grisham, a novel a night.
Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chugtai, I read later, and I think their kind of radical, truthful and hard-hitting writing is the kind of writing I always want to do. Neil Gaiman is a favourite and so is Paolo Bacigalupi. Angela Carter. Elif Shafak. Khaled Hosseini. Closer to home and recently, Jerry Pinto. The writers whose work I enjoy are too many. I do not believe, however, that any one writer has influenced me or that I have wanted to style my writing after anyone. I think all my reading leads to my writing.

Flash is all about jumping in. You need to jump into the story, into the action.

RB:  You love flash fiction and have published a book of flash stories apart from your many publications. Tell us about your journey into this form.
AI:  Flash was all the rage online at the time I began writing and still is. My first flash ‘Tunnel Vision’ got accepted at Insolent Rudder. My writing was called ‘visceral’ by the editor (a compliment I have not forgotten) and after that there was no looking back.
I find writing flash is the easiest and best thing for me. Also, if there is any labour in it, I don’t feel it, it is totally a labour of love.
RB:  What is a typical writing day for you like?
AI:  I grab the day by its shoulders and try to write as much as I can. The thing is that the best ideas come to me when I am going to bed, and then I have to pen the thoughts down, for they never come back. So I scribble something half-asleep and then try to decipher it next morning and am amazed at what I have written. I do not remember those visitations in the morning.

E- publishing is the best thing that has happened to writers. Writers don’t have to wait anymore to be discovered by traditional publishing houses.

RB:  In the workshops that you conduct for fiction and poetry, what is the most common drawback that you find among your students?  What advice do you generally give to aspiring writers, especially for flash fiction?
AI:  Some students are self-conscious and hesitant. The word ‘I can’t’ is often on their lips. That changes when they realize that they actually can write. The shattering of inhibitions occurs in my writing class.
Flash is all about jumping in. You need to jump into the story, into the action. You don’t have the time nor space to use too many words. Also, there is a plot, a story line. For me, the title is of grave importance, for where words are scarce, the title can hold a lot of meaning. The last sentence has to be a kicker. It should be the final punch that makes everything fall…into place.
RB:   Tell us about your experience with e-publishing. Do you think this is what is best for flash fiction books?
AI:  E- publishing is the best thing that has happened to writers. Writers don’t have to wait anymore to be discovered by traditional publishing houses. The huge time benefit is there, apart from everything else. It is a good thing not only for flash fiction books but for all books.

I send myself long messages as I travel in an auto etc. Sometimes I lose my way because I concentrate more on the writing than on where the auto-driver is taking me. Or he bills me too much. But a story on the move is worth it, isn’t it? You lose some to win some.

RB:  What flash fiction genres do you enjoy reading and of course writing most?
AI:  Weird. Funny. Black. Touching. Not really genres, but there you are. Slot as you will.
RB:  Is there a flash fiction genre that is more popular than others? Do you agree? What do you think?
AI:  Yes.  Flash takes very well to weird and surreal. I am so clued on to that.
RB:   What is the shortest flash piece that you ever wrote? How did it challenge you?
AI:  I wrote a 50 word story called “The Masterpiece” for Blink Ink’s Special Noir print issue of September 2011. No challenge. I love cutting out the excess, trimming the story to size. For me it is a very expressive mode.
RB:   Do you have a special place for writing? What do you do when inspiration strikes you? Are you one of those always-carry-a-notepad-and-pen writers?
AI:  My laptop looks for a fine, flat surface to sit on, I look for some quiet in the environment, and voila, we are in business. I do have a desk, and it usually works as the flat surface. I work from home, so when everyone leaves for the office, I get my quiet time. Of course, I have to choose to ignore the doorbell and other such sundry intrusions.
I am one of those carry-your-mobile-on-the-fly writers. The tech-savvy kind. I send myself long messages as I travel in an auto etc. Sometimes I lose my way because I concentrate more on the writing than on where the auto-driver is taking me. Or he bills me too much. But a story on the move is worth it, isn’t it? You lose some to win some.
RB:   What are you working on now? Any plans for a second volume of flash?
AI:  Most recently, I have a story featured at Flash Frontier.  There are, of course, all  kinds of collections that are to happen: flash, short stories, poems. A novel. Nothing is ever enough. The Bug is insistent.

Read more works by Abha Iyengar at:

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Rumjhum K Biswas has been published all over the world and has won prizes for her poery and fiction, including first prize in the 2012 Anam Cara Short Story Contest. Lifi Publications India is publishing her novel Culling Mynahs and Crows and also her book of short fiction The Vanishing Man and Other Imperfect Men this year.
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