Interview with Lopa Banerjee, The author of All That Jazz
Lopamudra Banerjee is an author, poet, translator, editor with six books and four anthologies in fiction and poetry. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her family where she also teaches Creative Writing at Richland College and Texas Christian University. She has been a recipient of the Journey Awards (First Place category winner) for her memoir ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’, and also a recipient of the Woman Achiever Award (IWSFF, 2018), the International Reuel Prize for Poetry (2017) and International Reuel Prize for her English translation of Nobel Laureate Tagore’s selected works of fiction (2016).
Her nonfiction essays, fiction and other writings have been published in various journals, e-zines and anthologies in India, UK and USA. She is also a consulting editor of the literary e-zine ‘Learning and Creativity’, India. Recently, she has been an honorary poetry fellow at Rice University, Houston and co-produced the poetry film 'Kolkata Cocktail' directed by Shuvayu Bhattacharjee, where she has also featured as one of the lead actors. Her book of stories ‘All That Jazz & Other Pathbreaking Tales has released in Amazon Kindle recently and will soon be available in paperback.
Her works are available on her website www.lopabanerjeewrites.com and also in Amazon.com and Amazon India.
Ravi: What’s your favorite short story?
Lopamudra: Not one, but many, as short stories as a genre of literature have appealed me since my formative years of reading and writing. I have been fascinated by the classic short stories of Guy De Maupassant, O Henry, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Anton Chekov, and many more. James Joyce’s ‘Araby’ is a staple favorite of mine. In Indian Writing in English, the short stories of Kamala Das in her book ‘The Kept Woman and Other Stories’ have touched me immensely as a woman and as a writer and I keep going back to them. Recently I have been reading some stories by Sadat Hasan Manto translated into English and among them, I found some real gems, like Ten Rupees, Khushiya, Cold Flesh among others.
In Bengali literature, Rabindranath Tagore and his magnum opus collection of stories ‘Galpaguchchho’ inspires me immensely in terms of storytelling, characterization and the messages that each story unfolds in the collection. Also, the stories of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Manik Bandyopadhyay, Banaful and contemporary writers like Suchitra Bhattacharya and Anita Agnihotri inspire me and give me literary insight.
Ravi: The best piece of writing advice?
Lopa: I have often said earlier too that the more you read, the more your horizons as a writer and artist expands, as cliché as it may sound. Honestly, I still don’t think I have reached a position where I can impart cartloads of advice to others. Also, honestly speaking, every mind works differently and individually. However, having said that, it’s important to identify your inner voice and to chisel it to perfection, as much as one is able to.
Ravi: Where do you write?
Lopa: Anywhere that I can type, or scribble, be it an empty train compartment or my workstation at home or my kitchen. But my best works have always emerged from my travels, especially amidst the serenity of nature.
Ravi: Where do you get your ideas?
Lopa: From all aspects of life, from my kitchen, my backyard, from Mother Nature. Life itself is the best teacher of all, and every day unfurls a new, unique story.
Ravi: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Lopa: Writing is a pure manifestation of creative energy, like any art form, hence writing energizes me like any other creative art.
Ravi: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Lopa: It depends. When I write poetry collections, it doesn’t take longer than a year to produce it, but when I write prose, especially fiction or memoir, it has taken much longer. My recent book ‘All That Jazz & Other pathbreaking Tales’, a romance novella and 10 short stories was written over a period of three years. I have grown and evolved as a writer in these three years, hence some narratives are better than the others in terms of their craft.
Ravi: If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
Lopa: The only regret I have is that growing up in a suburban town in West Bengal, as a child and a teenager, I didn’t have enough resources and exposure to the best libraries which could have expanded my literary visions since a very young age. I have made up for that loss by reading all that I could, in my later years though.
Ravi: What is your favorite childhood book?
Lopa: The stories of Arabian Nights.
Also, Any book by Enid Blyton. She fascinated me. She still does. An interesting trivia: I wrote a letter to Enid Blyton which is part of my book ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Journey’.
Ravi: What are your favorite literary journals?
Lopa: Among the contemporary ones, I look up to Muse India, Café Dissensus, Setu Mag, Spillwords, Life and Legends, The Piker Press and many other high-quality online literary journals; some of the authors they feature are spectacular in terms of their craft.
Ravi: What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Lopa: Everyone of us needs to get rid of our inflated ego while learning to write better, and as a writer, I would need to do the same.
Ravi: What was your hardest scene to write?
Lopa: I can remember quite a few scenes from my latest romance novella ‘All That Jazz’ which was quite challenging to write because of the sensitivity of the romance, sexuality and self-expression of the protagonists involved. I had to write it all in a way which made the scenes look real, palpable, as well as not to lose their fictional appeal. Also, in the short story ‘Trapped’, I had to write about a transgender and her life choices, and it was the hardest to write as I had to enter the soul of that character while essaying her life journey.
Ravi: Do you Google yourself?
Lopa: Not much. When I do very occasionally, I check the old published works of mine, if they still exist in the world wide web, and many of them actually do.
Ravi: Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Lopa: I usually write in a literary style, so even if I write about a chronological truth that has affected me at some point, I have tried to write it as a piece of literature and as a universal truth, not only as my own truth.
Ravi: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Lopa: Yes, I have read all my book reviews till date and they have been very precious to me. I never had any bad review yet, fortunately, but if I ever have it, I will try to take it in my stride and learn where I have faltered. It might be a learning process to me, enabling me to enhance my writing.
Ravi: Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Lopa: The Diary of Anne Frank, which is so much more than a fiction. It is an amalgamation of storytelling, historical narrative, narrative nonfiction, epistolary novel, reportage and so much more! I am fascinated by the myriad layers that the diary entire teenage of a teenager girl during the historical Holocaust period unfold for generations to come, every time I happen to turn the pages of the book.
Ravi: What did you edit out of this book?
Lopa: I keeping editing all the time, and I have edited quite a lot in all my prose works, including my book of stories. Usually, I don’t edit much in terms of the story but in terms of the language, syntax and other things.
Ravi: How many hours a day do you write?
Lopa: No fixed hours. I take every day as it comes, as I do many other chores apart from writing, like most of the other writers.
Ravi: How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?
Lopa: I was never a full-time writer, though I very much wish I were. I have only written part-time till now and pursued other activities simultaneously, like studying full-time, doing freelance journalism, content writing, editing, and now, teaching.
Ravi: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Lopa: Till now, I have written poetry, literary fiction and memoir, and also translation, which I have been able to do without any significant research. If I ever plan to write a research-based book in the future, I will try to do it meticulously and not rush into producing it. I admire historical fiction authors for their research and the execution of that research in their books. Recently I read ‘My Name is Gauhar Jaan’ by Vikram Sampat and was awed by the meticulous research in the narrative.
Ravi: What’s the best way to market your books?
Lopa: Social media is the only way for authors like us, as we cannot afford to spend on mainstream media marketing. It’s all word-of-mouth and the goodwill of our writing circle friends, many of whom have emerged from Facebook, Instagram, etc.
Ravi: How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Lopa: One of my translations of a novel by Ashapoorna Debi is still unpublished, languishing in the publisher’s office for a year now. Apart from that, I have a couple of unfinished drafts of poetry books and am procrastinating. I want to give myself some more time and see if I really want to publish any of them.
Ravi: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Lopa: My first book ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’ was published by Authorspress in 2016. It fetched me two recognitions in the literary arena. The book manuscript was a First Place Category Winner at the Journey Awards, hosted by Chanticleer Reviews and Media, USA and later after publication, it received Honorary Mention at The Los Angeles Book Festival 2017. Since it was literary nonfiction, a genre which I studied as part of my Masters’ Degree at a University in the USA, I had thought about the book as more of an academic project, but later I discovered that the storytelling aspect of it had made it more resonating to its readers, many of whom bought it because they knew me as a published poet and blogger. Thereafter, I have realized that no matter what genre you write it, you will find readers if your storytelling is strong and impactful.
Ravi: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Lopa: To trust people less, and to learn to deal with betrayal in a more dignified way.
Ravi: What other Authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Lopa: Many of my writing circle friends have been kind, supportive and instrumental in my creative journey, and had they not been there, it would not be easy for me to gain momentum in this journey forward. Most of my author friends are from social media and I have respected quite a number of them for their humanitarian values, apart from their writing.
Ravi: Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Lopa: To me, originality is more important than going by the market standards. By blindly following what the readers want and not infusing the unique concoction of my mind to it, I would only constrict myself to a cliché, and that would not let me grow as an author.
Ravi: What advice do you have for writers?
Lopa: I have already replied to this question when I mentioned the best piece of writing advice is to read and read a lot, to expand your horizons.
Ravi: What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
Lopa: Can’t remember many names, but Poets and Writers mag has been an important resource for people of literature like us.
Ravi: Tell me about your recent book to our Ravi Reads Blog Readers?
Lopa: My recent book which is there on Amazon India and Amazon worldwide is titled ‘All That Jazz & Other Pathbreaking Tales’. The book consists of a romance novella ‘All That Jazz’ with three central protagonists, three friends, Amrita, Joydeep and Annie, narrating their story of love, betrayal and self-discovery. Also, the book consists of 10 other short stories that narrate the tales of contemporary women from diverse backgrounds and their emotional journeys, their life choices and their travails. Romance, gender, sexuality, and the spirited journeys of love and loss form the crux of these pathbreaking narratives. Hope the readers will like the novella and the stories in the collection.
Thanks to Lopa for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to email me at the address on my contact page.