Monday, November 20, 2006

Make-Believe Mondays With Shobhan Bantwal

Technically today is Tuesday, but I'm hoping you'll all forgive me for running a day late. I was on deadline to get a manuscript to my agent and when that happens everything else goes on hold. (Yes, even sleep.) But this is what it takes to have a career in publishing. This is a hurry up and wait kind of business. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Today our guest is Shobhan Bantwal. I'm not going to try to categorize her books because they are unusual. So I'll let Shobhan tell you herself.

Shobhan, first, tell us a little bit about the manuscript you’re working on now.

Shobhan: My manuscript, The Dowry Bride, is set in India and the theme is woven around India’s notoriously offensive dowry system. Yes, sadly the custom still exists. This project is the first of a two-book deal, and is slated for release by Kensington Books in Sept. 2007.

It’s the tale of a young Indian bride whose parents can’t afford to pay a dowry, hence she’s about to be killed by her husband and mother-in-law. She accidentally discovers their evil plot just in time and escapes a potentially gruesome death. She seeks asylum from a man who not only protects her but helps heal her broken heart.

Debra: Already this young bride tugs at my heart.

Ray Bradbury said, “We are cups, constantly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” How do you keep your creative cup filled?

Shobhan: My creativity is constantly fueled by reading other authors, seeing news items that capture my interest, by talking to people from all walks of life, and even day-to-day experiences.

Recently, my husband and I were on a cruise of the Greek Isles and the airline lost our luggage before we boarded the ship. We managed to make do with two sets of clothes for several days. Despite the aggravation of it I saw a story in there somewhere. There’s always a story in every event, be it good or bad, dramatic or mundane.

Debra: How true! Whether in an exotic location or a small town, there are stories just brimming all around us.

Is there a point when your characters begin to come alive and you can see and hear them?

Shobhan: My characters seem to take shape and come alive in my mind even before I start writing a story. They’re the ones that usually form the framework of my books. I then build up the plot around their personalities. I use as many elements of my Indian culture as possible to make the characters unique and the story richer and more intriguing.

For some writers, dreams play a role in creating fiction. Has this been true for you? Have you ever dreamed a scene or an image that later wound up in one of your books?

Shobhan: My nightmares certainly play a role in my plots. I’m especially terrified of snakes and they feature in my stories often. In the Hindu religion, the cobra has religious significance and it is alluded to in this first book. An entire scene is devoted to the protagonist’s evil mother-in-law becoming obsessed with a cobra getting killed in her home and the possibility of a curse befalling her and her family.

Debra: Fascinating!

Shobhan: Naturally, like me, the character’s screaming bloody murder when she sees a reptile slithering into her kitchen.

Debra: I'd be screaming too. (I can't even watch them on TV. I have to close my eyes during the snake scenes.)

As a child did any particular book or author pull you into their imaginary world?

Shobhan: Growing up in India, I loved reading Enid Blyton and an illustrated British series called Schoolgirls’ Picture Library. Both of them had a tremendous influence on me. They made a fictional world come alive for someone who grew up in a small, rural town in India, and where reading was just about the only source of entertainment.

Debra: But what a rich source of entertainment it is.

If there were no categories for books, no reader expectations to meet, and you could create the wildest work of imagination that you could think of what kind of story would that be?

Shobhan: Funny you should ask that, because most of my stories fit into the no-genre, no-category area. I just write what interests me, i.e. a little romance, a bit of mystery, and a sprinkling of various other elements.

I wasn’t sure if there would be a market for my kind of writing, but thank goodness, a few agents liked what I wrote and then Kensington has an editor who feels very passionate about it. I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed that a wide audience will like it enough to buy it and spread the word as well.

I sure hope you’ll read my books too, Debra.

Debra: I will definately be reading them. And I'll suggest them for the bellydance book group I belong to. (They are just finishing the Dancing Girls of Lahore.)

Is there anything else you would like to add about the role of imagination, and dreams in creating fiction? Any other message for our readers?

Shobhan: A wild imagination is what a fiction writer thrives on. I used to suppress that creative portion of my brain, until I decided to become a writer. Now I let my mind roam as it pleases. I try to take notes when something interesting comes to mind.

My message for readers is this: Keep an open mind when you pick up a book, any book, especially one that deals with a different culture. You not only derive entertainment but learn so many interesting things about people around the world.

I hope everyone who reads your blog will visit my web site and read my short stories and articles. The site is:

I love feedback, so feel free to post it on the web site.

Thank you, Debra, for your kind invitation. I’ve enjoyed doing the interview and sharing my thoughts.

Debra: Shobhan, thank you for joining us here on Make-believe Mondays to share a bit of the magic of writing with our readers.

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