Vrinda Baliga finds the real world a fascinating place, but is equally content to remain immersed in the imaginary worlds of the stories she reads and writes. She is the author of the short story collection ‘Name, Place, Animal, Thing’. Her stories have won prizes and recognition, and appeared in literary magazines like the Asia Literary Review, Himal Southasian, New Asian Writing, Commonwealth Writers adda, Muse India, India Currents and Out of Print. She lives in Hyderabad with her husband and two children, and her online home is at http://www.vrindabaliga.com
Her story ‘Fatherhood’ has been chosen as the Editor’s Pick of the Week. Read it here.
Juggernaut had a conversation with Vrinda about her story.
Your story is Editor’s Pick of the Week. Please tell us more about it, and its inspiration.
Recent events—whether it is the use of social media to influence democratic elections or privacy being compromised in the quest for advertising dollars, or the potential danger posed by private drones, or the ability to print workable guns using 3D printers—have made it abundantly clear that the current pace of technology far outstrips the pace at which we are able to fully comprehend it in all its dimensions and meaningfully regulate it.
This is the inspiration behind the story ‘Fatherhood’ told from the perspective of a person who sees everything through the narrow prism of his own scientific research and is therefore able to build for himself an isolated worldview within which all his actions seem completely reasonable and justified.
Do you have any particular rules or rituals you follow as a writer?
I rarely start writing until I have the entire story worked out in my mind. I like to write the first draft the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. That way, when I type out the second draft, I have to rewrite the entire story and I find it comes out much better that way than if I had simply edited a soft copy. After that, I leave the story alone for some time. This lets me come back to it with fresh eyes and makes it easier to pinpoint the story changes and edits that I need to make in the subsequent drafts.
What got you interested in becoming a writer? Where do you go for inspiration?
I loved both reading and writing as a child and would fill notebooks with stories during the summer vacations. Then, life intervened and, though I continued to read widely through my teens and twenties, I returned to fiction writing only when I took a break from my career to care for my children. I have been writing steadily ever since.
Everyday life, my own observations and experiences and those of others, media, the internet, the wide range of fiction and non-fiction books that I read—all these inform and inspire the stories I write.
What’s that one piece written by you which is your all time favourite?
To be frank, I prefer not to revisit stories I have written in the past. If I do, I’m sure I’ll think of a dozen ways in which I could have written them better Writing is a process of learning and experimentation, so I like to think that my best work is still ahead of me. However, one of the stories that I look back upon with fondness is ‘Stranger Anxiety’, a story about an elderly widower who sees an answer to his loneliness in the marital discord between his daughter and her husband. That story won me one of my first writing prizes and encouraged me to keep writing.
What inspired you to write a sci fi story? How do you think the future is?
Science fiction, and the whole genre of speculative fiction, is something I have started experimenting with rather recently. I love the work of Ray Bradbury, and more recently that of Ted Chiang and Cixin Liu. What I enjoy about the genre is the flexibility and freedom it gives the writer to create fantastical worlds and scenarios of his/her own imagination.
Regarding the future, I am an optimist and I feel that with our immense progress in science and technology and the fact that the world is inter-connected in ways that were never possible before, we will be able to take on and overcome most of the major challenges that the planet faces today.
Your bestselling authors and books list. Why do they make it to your list?
I am biased towards short fiction, which I love to read and write, and my favourite writers are Alice Munro and Jhumpa Lahiri for the beauty and precision of their language and the ability to weave the stuff of everyday life into wonderfully relatable stories.
I also love the kind of satisfyingly bulky books that transport you to a different world and keep you immersed in it for days together. In that category, I admire George R.R. Martin for the extremely detailed worlds he creates in ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, and for the complexity of the multiple plotlines that run through it.
Any writing tips you’d like to share with fellow writers?
Read. Read widely and across genres. And write the kind of stories you yourself would like to read. If reading romance or thrillers is not your thing, don’t write in those genres just because they happen to be popular. It is unlikely that a good story will emerge from a topic or genre you are not genuinely interested in. At the end of the day, enjoy the process of writing and derive your satisfaction and pleasure from the process itself, without being too invested in the outcome.