Friday, February 11, 2011
An Interview with Anjali Banerjee, Author of Haunting Jasmine
Q: When and why did you begin writing?
A: I began writing, or I should say scribbling, the moment I could pick up a crayon. As a kid, I loved to type stories on my little toy typewriter. I stapled the pages together and made little “books” with illustrations and copyright notices inside the front covers. I didn’t know any other kids who did that.
Q: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
A: I’ve always considered myself a writer to some degree, but I didn’t take my writing seriously until I was in my late twenties, when I signed up for the Writers’ Digest School correspondence course in short story writing. Only after I moved to Washington State and joined a critique group of working women authors, did I believe I could get published in book-length fiction.
Q: What inspired you to write your first book?
A: Before I wrote my first novel, I penned many short stories, many of which were published in literary journals such as the University of Baltimore’s Passager: A Journal of Remembrance and Discovery, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Lynx Eye, Writing for Our Lives, and an anthology called New to North America. After moving to Washington, I also wrote feature articles for local newspapers and company profiles for coffee table history books. In a sense, I was gearing up to write a book, building my publishing credits and experience. Then I found my writing group made up of working, published novelists who inspired me to try writing a romantic suspense novel. I thought it would be easy to write romance, but my critiquers humbled me. I had a lot to learn, and over 50 agents rejected that first novel. One agent wrote, “It’s not different enough.”
That agent doesn’t know it, but she inspired me to write my next novel, MAYA RUNNING, based on my experience as an Indian immigrant growing up in Canada. What could be more different? I got an agent almost immediately, and a couple of weeks later, we had a two-book deal with Wendy Lamb Books/Random House.
Q: What was the hardest part of writing Haunting Jasmine?
A: It took me a while to hone in on a story arc for Jasmine that would lead to a hopeful ending without being too predictable. I knew she would reinvent herself and find the promise of happiness, but I didn’t want the path to be too formulaic. I can’t tell you how I figured out what to do, or I would be giving away the plot!
Q: From reading Haunting Jasmine, I can tell that you have a love for literature. I noticed that you managed to weave in The Chronicles of Narnia and Curious George into the story. Did any more of your favorite works find a home in Haunting Jasmine?
A: I love THE FUR PERSON by May Sarton, and of course I love all the other authors as well. I ended up deleting a few of my favorites in the final draft – Rumer Godden, Paula Danziger, and Alexander Key, for example.
Q: I don’t know if you’re familiar with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Mistress of the Spices, in which the lead character intuitively knows which spices her customers seek because the spices “speak” to her. If you are familiar with that work, did it influence Haunting Jasmine? If not, how did you come up with the premise for the book?
A: I have not read MISTRESS OF SPICES, although I’ve heard it’s good! My idea came out of nowhere. One day I thought, What if dead authors could come to life in a bookstore and try to get people to read their books? The idea seemed “high concept” to me –easily pictured and easily explained in a sentence or two.
Q: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
A: I try not to force any message onto readers. I believe my job is to try to write an entertaining story. My values and interests will naturally emerge (can you tell that I love animals, booksellers, books, love stories, Pacific Northwest islands, and ghosts?), and an underlying theme also naturally emerges (for example, a theme might be that love can heal all emotional wounds if you only take a chance and believe – that kind of thing). But in the end, the readers will interpret the story in his or her own way.
Q: What books have most influenced your life most?
A: Too many books to name! If I mention a few authors, I will inevitably exclude many other important ones. I read widely. I enjoy children’s books, literary novels, mysteries, commercial fiction, memoir, historical fiction and nonfiction – a wide range of genres.
Q: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
A: I would choose many writers, but mainly other authors who are in or have been in my critique group and have taught me what they know: Sheila Roberts, Elsa Watson, Carol Cassella, Suzanne Selfors, Susan Wiggs, Lois Dyer, and others.
Q: What book are you reading now?
A: I’m reading a few different books, including Fannie Flagg’s latest hardcover, I STILL DREAM ABOUT YOU (I love her humor), Anita Shreve’s RESCUE, Janna Cawrse Esarey’s memoir, THE MOTION OF THE OCEAN (she and I will be presenters at the upcoming Whidbey Island Writers’ Conference), MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND by Helen Simonson, and more…
Q: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
A: I’m reading a wonderful literary manuscript, a historical novel due out from Hawthorne Books in October: THE LUMINIST by David Rocklin. I will certainly give the book a glowing endorsement.
Q: What are your current projects?
A: I’m working on another women’s fiction novel for Berkley/Penguin, tentatively titled ENCHANTING LILY and due for release in February 2012. I’m also developing my next children’s book.
Q: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
A: I always have to work out story details, but I enjoy the process. The big challenge is balancing writing with my other job (I write reports for an investment consulting firm) and the other demands of daily life! For example, right now I’m trying to type answers to these questions on my laptop computer while a rather large cat is also trying to sit on my keyboard.
Q: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
A: I don’t have a favorite author. I love too many of them!
Q: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
A: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Whenever I receive a nice note from a reader, I’m walking on air. Authors live to hear from readers. We write for our readers.
Be sure to visit her over at Anjali Banerjee.