- Your memoir “of divorce and discovery” will be out soon. Could you tell us more about the book?
Rewriting My Happily Ever After is a true story of a three-year period of my life. At that time, I had walked out of my marriage of sixteen years. Despite being brought up in Mumbai, having an advanced degree and having returned after spending fourteen years in the US, I had always lived in either my parent’s or husband’s house. Moving out was a major decision which required me to learn, unlearn and relearn many things while I figured out my new life as a single parent. My book covers my journey to independence.
2. What prompted you to write this memoir?
I wrote this memoir for three reasons
- To stop hiding my pain
- To seek closure
- To help other women who may find themselves at the same crossroads as me.
Going ahead with the decision to divorce is not a trivial one for women who live in a culture that looks down upon a ‘broken family’. Even women who are financially self-sufficient or have family support prefer to live in a unhappy but familiar state instead of finding a happy life outside of the known boundaries of their life. I wanted to share my thinking process and the coping strategies I used to figure out my new life.
3. How long did it take for you to write this book? Could you tell us more about your journey?
I procrastinated for over ten years but began writing earnestly in Jan 2021. I wrote for 50 minutes every morning before my workday began. It required commitment, discipline, and some suffering to bring the book to life. Some days it was difficult to relive those painful memories of the past but the greater goal of connecting with readers made me keep going.
4. This is your fourth book. How has the experience of writing it been when compared to your first three books?
My earlier books were compilations of short stories (Negative Space) and essays (No Longer NRI and Train Friends). Those were easier to put together because they were written as standalone pieces around a theme.
This memoir is my first major book-length creation and took much more concentrated effort. I wrote the chapters as independent pieces and then moved them around to make the narrative cohesive. It required three drafts, a handful of beta readers and a professional edit to bring it to its final stage.
5. How did you gear up to write this memoir?
To be honest, I needed a lot of convincing to sit down and write this book. I intuitively knew that there was a need for such a story to be out there because divorce is a topic that Indians/South Asians tend to brush under the carpet. Still, I was reluctant to subject myself to the pain of reliving a difficult part of my past. But having a decade-long gap between the events described and the writing made it bearable. I am glad I wrote it because the writing was cathartic and also gave me closure.
6. What advice do you have for someone who would like to write their memoir?
I would recommend that you read a lot of memoirs to get a good understanding of the literary form. While there are formulas and standard approaches, you should be clear about the story you want to tell and how you want to do it because after all, memory is subjective and evolving. Just like a fiction writer chooses what to put in and what to leave out, a memoir writer also creates a narrative with very specific and intentional choices about the story and the storytelling, even though the events are unchangeable.
7. How has your background as a scientist helped you in your writing process?
This is an interesting question. As I mention on my website, I observe life carefully, look for signs and trends, verify it with my own understanding and then propose a solution, a suggestion, or an insight. Personal essays come easily to me because of my background because it involves a deep exploration of certain ideas and themes. And although I enjoy fiction, it does not come as naturally to me.
8. Whose memoirs would you recommend to writers?
I have read memoirs by Americans like Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love), Dani Shapiro, Melissa Gouty – I would recommend all of them. Recently I have become very interested in memoirs by Indian writers like Kalpana Mohan, Ashwini Devare and Rohini Rajagopal. I interviewed these three authors on my blog and the discussion was fascinating. I intend to continue the author interview series for Indian memoir writers.
9. Who are your favourite authors and what genres do you like?
My current favorite fiction writers are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Marjan Kamali. I also read a lot of non-fiction – current read is How to raise a feminist son by Sonora Jha and of course, I’m always on the lookout for memoirs J
10. Do you have lessons to share from your writing journey?
Writing is a means of creative expression. But like all art, it requires patience, practice, and discipline to hone the craft and to go deeper. The learning happens in the doing and gives tremendous personal satisfaction. Being able to share it with others is the other side of the coin which is wonderful but is not the motivation to continue with your work of writing. It helps to keep this in mind.
If you want to write, do it for the right reasons.
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Like the selection of questions. Good interview. Looking forward to Ranjani’s memoir.