Interview with Manik Bal, The Author of Whiskey and Suicide
Manik Bal is an author who resides in the beautiful city of Bangalore, known for its contribution to the information technology revolution in India and also known for having the worst traffic among all cities in India. Once a pensioner’s paradise, Bangalore retains the phenomenal weather that attracted Manik to make it his home. Manik writes poetry, short stories and novels exploring the Indian middle class, its aspiration and its dilemmas. His characters explore life in situations that are not heroic or exceptional but are mundane and ordinary. They show their uniqueness by facing life as it is.
Manik lives with his wife and two kids in a buzzing neighborhood in the city allowing him to observe the young and the old chasing the Indian dream. Yes, it exists and is both similar and different from the American dream. It retains the career ambition, a desire for affluent life and the upward mobility that the American dream symbolizes but adds a unique flavor of family ties, emotional relationships with friends and love for melodrama just like the Bollywood movies.
Ravi: What’s your favorite short story?
Manik: The last leaf by O’Henry
Ravi: The Best piece of writing advice?
Manik: Keep a routine. Try to write a minimum number of words every day. It could be as little as 200 but do it diligently. Increase the number slowly. Consistency helps you build the writing muscle.
Ravi: Where do you write?
Manik: I write on my desk or on the dinner table based on the time of the day.
Ravi: Where do you get your ideas?
Manik: I get ideas from everywhere. From people I meet, from characters in movies, music, other books and from people in news. I combine various features of various ideas to form novel combinations. I find this the most interesting part of the writing process.
Ravi: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Manik: It energizes me more than any other activity. I write when I want to get out of confusion or a state of low energy.
Ravi: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Manik: I write on an average 1500 words a day, so two months for first draft, then a month of no working on the draft, a month or two of rewriting and beta readers so approximately 4-5 months.
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?
Manik: If I had started a writing schedule in my early years, it would have helped me become a better writer.
Ravi: What is your favorite childhood book?
Manik: The Three Musketeers.
Ravi: What are your favorite literary journals?
Manik: The New Yorker, Granta, Paris Review, McSweeney’S Quarterly
Ravi: What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Ravi: What was your hardest scene to write?
Manik: In my upcoming book, there is a scene of self-mutilation that was very essential for the plot but was very tough for me to write. I tried to postpone it for a long time but ultimately wrote it and was relieved once it was done.
Ravi: Do you Google yourself?
Ravi: Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Manik: Music and poetry buffs can look for lyrics, lines from poems, metaphors hidden in my books at various places.
Ravi: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Manik: Yes, I do. I take them as people’s opinions and interpret them as ideas for improvement.
Ravi: Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Manik: Wild Mind – Living a writer’s life got me in the writing routine that I have stuck with for a long time.
Ravi: What did you edit out of this book?
Manik: There was a lot of stuff that was not coherent with the core theme of the book on the second or third reading. It was equally true that some other stuff was needed to be added to make the core theme more concrete.
Ravi: How many hours a day do you write?
Manik: At least two hours a day and 1500 words a day.
Ravi: How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?
Manik: A decade at least.
Ravi: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Manik: Some books do not need much research. My current book needed a lot of research since it is based on the life of a famous personality. I had to study previous books about the person, the various stuff written by him and about him. I spend approximately a third of my time researching.
Ravi: What’s the best way to market your books?
Manik: Writing a good book is the best way to market it. Besides that, you need to talk to reviewers, be present on social media and connect with readers.
Ravi: How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Manik: At least ten.
Ravi: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Manik: Publishing the first book showed me the importance of editing and rewriting. It made me aware of the importance of getting the first draft on paper as early as possible.
Ravi: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Manik: There are too many of them to name personally. They read drafts, critique ideas and act as a sounding board to make my writing better.
Ravi: Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Manik: I try to balance the two extremes. I started as a poet and poetry does not sell. So I know the importance of being market focused.
Ravi: What advice do you have for writers?
Manik: Everyone should write, it is very important for everyone in the modern age. If you want to become a professional writer though, you should be ready for a frugal life. Writing is mistakenly perceived as a lucrative profession financially. It is not. It is often a struggle for most of the writers to make ends meet. So, get into writing full time only if you are passionate about it.
Ravi: What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
Manik: Many of the magazines I have mentioned above.
Ravi: Tell me about your recent book to our Ravi Reads Blog Readers?
Manik: Whiskey and Suicide deals with loving relationships, adventure and discovery, self-actualization, mid-life crisis, identity in modern urban India. The protagonists range from an engineering student turned writer paying tribute to his grandfather, people migrating from cities to small towns for peace of mind, a literary couple that loves a “third thing, friends who worry about the mental health of their missing friend and a girl who kills her father after not being able to live with the pain of his alcoholism. It empathizes with familiar characters stuck in a routine, wanting to make a substantial change to their life. The protagonists reminisce the memories of a cheery past, mourn the death of a friend and wonder about self-actualization. Modern India is a complex place with a variety of demographics ranging from the multi billionaires to people who are not able to get a day's meal. The financial liberalization and the IT revolution has created a middle class that is ambitious both in economic aims and spiritual aims. Whiskey and Suicide is empathetic without being condescending.
Thanks to Manik Bal 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.