"If there is no excitement, abandon the work."

A conversation with Jeet Thayil

My father confiscated several copies of Catch 22, because he believed it wasn’t suitable reading material for a boy of thirteen. Each time he confiscated a copy I found a new one. At around the same time, a friend of my father’s, the journalist Michael O’Neill, was horrified to find me reading Thus Spake Zarathustra. In college, a professor gave me an hour-long lecture on the perils of indiscriminate reading because she found me with a copy of Our Lady of the Flowers. Each of these experiences convinced me that the essential power of a book is subversive.

Mistakes of digression and conception are part of the process. Or so I tell myself in consolation. My first written work was a poem. I routinely discarded many drafts before I produced something worth keeping. Deletion is an essential part of the process. I think you know when it is working by the level of your own enthusiasm and excitement. If there is no excitement, abandon the work.

I would consider making a deal with the devil, as Robert Johnson once did. He offered the only thing of value that he owned, his soul. I would throw my body into the bargain.

I think Indian writers share this condition with American writers: the fiction they create cannot compete with the daily facts generated by their political leaders. Discovering a way to do this—to subjugate the unruly in the service of the sublime, and by this I mean fiction—is a challenge and a pleasure.

Forty-five thousand words.

Disguise is an essential part of the enterprise.