Hailing from the City of Joy, Avantika Debnath is a corporate professional with a story teller’s heart. The pen wooed and won her when she was just 12 and she has since been loyal to it. After having released her debut novel centered on the ordeal of a tormented housewife, The Bridal Pyre – Nainam Dehati Pawakah, she is all set with this collection of romantically rich stories in Dear Russell, Yours Truly.
1. How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
Dear Russell, Yours Truly is a compilation of seven mid-sized stories. And quite strangely, I didn’t have to work very hard to get these story ideas. In fact, these stories presented themselves to me and compelled me to pen them down and compile them. All of them are inspired by true events. Now I won’t say they are real to the core; of course, I worked around them and gave the real life incidents twists and turns I preferred. You could say, this was my way of un-doing the ‘not dones’ of life and re-doing it the way I like more. The title story is loosely based on a phase of my life, the others too, have their roots in the lives of friends or family members or say… a colleague.
2. You are only two-books-old in this arena. Any specific challenge you have faced?
I won’t say the challenges thrown at me are unique, but they are specific when it comes to new authors. Spreading the word about our work is a gigantic challenge. Big newspapers won’t want to invest their time reviewing us, and readers won’t be confident buying the book either, they don’t know us. What’s worst? People who know us, say friends and family members expect their copies, as in free copies. And refusing them is an uncomfortable task. Its common sense, yet people have so less of it. If your friend opens a cloth store, would you ask him to give you shirt piece for free. If your cousin opens a rice store, will you ask him to hand you 10 kg basmati rice? Then why expect your writer friend/family member to give our free copies when this is what they are trying to build a profession out of. We don’t become published authors to buy our own copies and distribute it to you guys.
3. What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine or do you have any weird, funny, or unusual habits while writing and what are they?
I am more of a ranter – if that is even a word – than a writer, majorly so, when it comes to non-fiction writing. I just put things out to the world and let them perceive it the way they want. I am not here to explain or justify my thoughts to each and all. If you are my reader, I would want to rely on your comprehension skills as much as you would on my narration.
Even in case of fiction, I let my thoughts flow. Thoughts are fluid, I give them the liberty to choose their course. But, I do work on the structure when I am narrating a story. I like going back and forth in time in story-telling.
4. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
Unfortunately, we all suffer from it, and there is not much one can do about it. I have a novel that is about 70% complete. And though I know what the end of the story is going to be, I am just not able to take these characters to the climax. That novel is lying in some forsaken folder of my computer, untouched for several years now.
5. What are your current/future projects?
If I complete the third novel any time sooner, that will be my next. Else, I don’t see myself working on fiction for the next couple of years. I am planning to work on more conventional and social issues now. Will return to fiction again; not just immediately.
6. Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
My last work was a novel, a women-centric one. This is a compilation of romance. Both belong to different writing forms as well as genre. So, I guess there is a natural balance there. But I would also make a conscious effort at not opting for the same or similar genre. Would like to stay versatile as long as possible.
7. How do you think you have evolved as a person/author because of your writing and do you believe your writing has helped others, how/why?
Evolution is a continuous process. We evolve a little every day. I am not the exact same person today as I was the day before. Writing, again, is a constant progression. I think me evolving as a person would aid my craft, and its funny, but at time I take inspiration from the characters I have imagined and created in my head. There is a character, Raayee, in one of the stories, Parted land, departed lives. Just a teenager. Incomparable will power. I wish I were like her when I was in my teens. I was an idiot against her. But she does inspire me to be a wiser version of myself. Amidst confusions, I have gone beck to her wondering how would Raayee handle this situation.
Now if you ask me if my writing beyond The Bridal Pyre or Dear Russell…. has helped others, I’d say, help is a stronger word. But, with my writings, I know, I have influenced the course of thinking in many young minds.
8. Do you believe there is value in a review? Do you believe they are under rated, over rated, or don’t matter at all?
Of course. Book reviews create awareness. They are the only hope for young and new writers like, your’s truly, for we don’t have any identity that would pull avid readers towards our work.
9. What is the intended audience for you book?
I would start the age limit at early twenties. Teens may find my work a little plodding and will be a challenge for their short-lived patience. But again, I don’t want to generalize. If you score high on patience, go for it.
10. Give us a fun fact about Dear Russell, Yours Truly?
The stories end just the way you wouldn’t have imagined in the dreams of your dreams. Unpredictability is fun, isn’t it?
11. What makes a good story, why?
Unless the author doesn’t live through the characters he creates, cries with them in their pains and spills water laughing that silly situations they end up in, the story won’t convince the readers. I need to feel the story I am weaving, only then I gain the confidence of having produced a good narration.
12. Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I do read them. I am only human, and I have all human emotions that the next guy on the street has. Won’t say reviews leave me unaffected. Do totally touch me. A good one exhilarates me, a bad one breaks my heart. But I don’t go fight with those who leave me rude reviews. I learn from my mistakes and try to do better. I am not perfect, and I have learned to except my imperfections. Its okay if people don’t like my story, they didn’t promise me that they will like my work while paying for my book. I will forever be grateful for the time they invested.
13. What is the easiest/hardest scene for you to write, why?
There are two such scenes. One is the final scene of the title story, in which the character loosely predicated on myself, takes a decision against her heart. It is a strong one, but it was needed. I am proud that I would persuade myself to take such a strong decision while earlier and lucrative options were laying in front.
Giving an account of Bangladesh-India partition in Parted land, Departed Lives, how Bakultala’s undressed body was discovered after communal violence flared up was again a spine-chilling experience. I wonder if imaging a story around this situation is appalling to such degrees, how did people even live through those testing times and survive them.
14. What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
My favorite scene would be Rayee meeting her deceased grandmother’s estranged lover in Bangladesh, decades after the family moved to India. Why? Well, you’d have to read the book to know that.
He saved her from a deadly accident or was it an imagination. A vehement cycle of hallucinations led Avni on the path of the unknown. Rayee wanted to return to the US, but when time came for her to board the flight, she headed for Dhaka to give her deceased grandmother’s estranged lover, what belonged to him.
25-year-old Jason is a Canadian man visiting his Anglo-Indian family in Calcutta. The 10-year-old next-door neighbor makes an innocent promise that fulfills itself half a lifetime and many heartbreaks later.
Her flight is delayed for the sky is unclear, at the New York Airport she is united with her first love. The fog clears, his arms are wide open but so is the sky. Grace and Gauri are half a world apart, connected through conference calls.
One struggling a bad marriage, another apprehensive to say ‘yes’ to love. But destiny picks them for each other. Different loves, different losses, different lives, one book. Dear Russell, Yours Truly.
Thank you, Avantika for this amazing interview! I wish you success for all your future works. Keep writing!