"I felt exposed when I wrote about loneliness, rejection, bullying…"

A conversation with Devi Yesodharan

My mom was a working mom, who was distracted and couldn’t be around a lot. I was always angling for her attention. By the time I was eight I found that I could amuse her with jokes and stories, and a good story or anecdote got her undivided attention. She rarely complimented me in any direct way, and she was a tough room: if it wasn’t funny, she didn’t laugh.

I think fiction is effective when the writer lets the characters drive the story and take decisions on plot. Sometimes though, I let them deliver long, self-serving monologues without interrupting. I had to do a lot of deleting when that happened.

I knew the writing was working when the process felt raw and confessional. This also happened when I was shaping a scene from personal experience, or from something I had witnessed and felt strongly about. I felt exposed when I wrote about loneliness, rejection, bullying, and I was almost reluctant to put down details, but those passages deliver. They are still hard to read, though.

Stop procrastinating. You can read fewer online posts and write five hundred more words everyday (I don’t think my younger writing self would listen to me, though).

If I could, I would definitely give up the significant amounts of time I spend reading up on research for a story. It’s a compulsive habit—I start with the useful, necessary stuff but eventually go down several rabbit holes, spending way too much time on it, while telling myself that it is ‘work’ when it is not.

I don’t feel obligated and I don’t think Indian writers should be. With the internet and cheaper travel, I think we have the chance to embrace the world in our writing, and give it the opportunity to hug us back. I grew up reading Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell. Mitchell’s narrator is a young Japanese man in Number9Dream, while Ishiguro’s main character in Remains of the Day is a rather severe British butler.

There was a large hunting scene that I wrote and finally deleted. I had spent a great deal of time researching the details, but took it out because it showed its seams too prominently when I tried to fit it into the story.

The scene of mourning in Empire, after the character Avvai loses his lover. The sentences I wrote didn’t seem up to the task of communicating his grief. I reworked that scene several times.

What a great question! Some Easter eggs in Empire include references to ancient Indian poems. There is a scene for example in which one character compares people who are constantly seeking more treasure and prosperity to a silkworm that is weaving silk and dying from it in the process. The line evokes a verse by Akka Mahadevi.