AUTHOR INTERVIEW : PANKAJ GIRI
I had attacked his first book , FLAKE, like a bull dog on this very blog and shredding it into pieces and just when i thought i am a dead meat and he would serve me as dinner to devil for what i did to his book, i got the sweetest and an admirable reply from him not only appreciating but thanking for my honesty. Needless to say i was shocked and in a comatose stage wondering how can he be so nice and sportive about it. That was just the beginning as eventually he had shared a whole lot of experiences about authors and the turmoils they suffer under publishing and marketing demands of the books. In fact it was he who opened my eyes to the fact that it is always not the authors to be blamed as sometimes publishers and editing boards also do their share to bring down a book.
SO ITS BEEN A GREAT HONOR to present to you one of the most respectable and admired authors i have met in the Indian Fiction Industry. Trust me there are only a few that i can think of and he is definitely one of them
CATCH THE AUTHOR OF FLAKE, Pankaj Giri in a candid chat with Read Watch and Think
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your childhood and about the years growing up that led to the person that you are today?
Well, since childhood I have been a quiet, sensitive, and reserved kind of person. I never engaged myself in naughty activities in school or home, but I did open up a bit in college. A person changes with time and learns from experience, and I have too. Just that laziness is a trait that has failed to evaporate, even after all these years.
What made you take up writing? Was it a hobby that you nurtured from younger years or something that happened to you quite unexpectedly?
I love cricket and, as a hobby, had started penning a few short satire articles for cricket website HoldingWilley.com. Actually my co-author Apoorv Wanikar, who also happens to be one of my closest friends, called me one day, probably impressed by my writing skills, and suggested that I write a book. I thwarted his offer as I had never, even in my dreams, thought of becoming an author. But later, when I tried my hand at writing, I found myself drowning into an ocean of intrigue. Every day, chapter by chapter, I found my confidence growing like a budding sapling. And within a couple of months, the first draft was ready!
Your first book Flake was about friendships, first love, coming out of age and college years in general. What made you choose this theme for your first book?
As I mentioned earlier, my friend Apoorv suggested this theme. We had lots of interesting content loosely based upon our experiences in college, and also strange, funny characters that we had encountered or lived with. So we thought if we blended everything together along with a semi-real love plot as a background, the concoction could suffice as a decent novel.
To me, A lot many characters of the book and the nature of these characters resembled a lot of real life people we could stumble upon in our daily life. How much of the book or characters in the book are drawn from the real life?
To be frank, some of the characters are references to real people. Obviously, we have not made them exactly similar, but more or less, they resemble people whom we have encountered in college.
Is there a character in the book that was either very tough for you to draft or was way too close and personal?
Yes, it was me myself. I wouldn’t reveal which character resembles me, but I think based on my traits that I revealed above, one can guess easily. Anyway, it was difficult in places, especially where I disclose private escapades, which, despite being fictional, was a challenging piece to write.
What do you think was the toughest phase about the book? Was it the character sketches or coming up with the basic plot or was it the actual writing of the book or was it the part after writing the book in sense of marketing and publishers?
The plot was more or less clear, as I mentioned earlier. Strangely, I didn’t even face much difficulty while writing it. It came to me naturally. Later, I realized that the seeds of writing had been sown in me since childhood itself. I had conveniently forgotten that I had penned a few articles for my school magazine.
The most difficult part, without any semblance of doubt, was the wait for publishers to respond to my submissions. Most of the publishers didn’t even care to respond, and others rejected it disdainfully, but only after a torturous wait of several months. It was easy to lose hope in that phase, but I kept searching for other publishers. Finally, I found PenPoint Publishers who agreed to publish it. The rest is history.
Your first book was written in collaboration with another author. Was it an easy process or difficult as it can’t be easy bringing two different thinking processes and putting it seamlessly as a single thought?
Yes, it was difficult sometimes. Although I was the one doing the actual writing, I used to discuss plot points, character progression with Apoorv. On occasions we used to have creative differences, and I would have to compromise on certain sections due to his insistence and vice versa. But the final product was a mutually decided story, and we were pretty satisfied with it. The title of the book and the ending were parts where we encountered the most creative differences.
As an author, you must have dealt with reviewers, especially the bad ones like me because I know I was very rude and blunt with my review and it must be hard to read those. How do you cope with negative feedbacks?
Yes, it was difficult and heartbreaking, to be brutally honest. It stung for a long time, especially the review by reputed literary author Madhulika Liddle who gave me a 1 star review and said that no-one should touch FLAKE even with a barge pole. But later, when I read and re-read it, I somehow happened to extract points of improvement from both hers and your review. And it really helped shed light on the glaring deficiencies in my writing. I now believe that criticism is essential for any author, now wonder how big he may be, to improve. I have seen reputed commercial authors who fail to appreciate negative reviews and refuse to enhance themselves. The poor quality of their subsequent works speaks for themselves. But, having said that, it’s still difficult to accept your mistakes sometimes, especially if you have worked hard on your writing and you still get poor reviews. If I get a 1 star for my next book I will be really disappointed for a while. But maybe due to my inherent mechanism of accepting my mistakes even in real life, I will re-read it and try to improve upon the points in which I still lack. That is one of the very few traits of mine that I am proud of – the ability to admit and realize my mistakes.
With a vested interest I am putting a question that would also benefit me in return. How much does the role of a reviewer and blogger benefits or hampers an author’s work in your opinion?
As I mentioned above, they play an extremely important role. However, even reviewers have to try to think from the author’s point of view sometimes and try their best to highlight at least a few good points, however bad the book is, just for the hard work that he/she put to complete the book, as it really involves a lot of time and mental effort. And not everyone is blessed with the ability to recognize their mistakes, so reviewers should try not to be 100% harsh and, even if it’s just for empathy, write 2% about something positive.
What is the thought process or writing process you adopt while writing?
Well, generally, I try my best to think about a scene and the dialogues before writing. But sometimes, when I’m in a groove, without planning I tend to finish scenes which, surprisingly, turn out to be as good, too. I don’t write on paper. I use Microsoft Word. And one more thing, I have heard tips from authors not to write on a computer with an internet connection. While that is logical considering disturbances due to notifications from social sites, etc, but I, personally, require an internet connection. I’m not blessed with a great vocabulary and finding synonyms and phrases of certain words really helps me form good sentences. Looking at sentence examples from Google Books about the correctness of certain sentences also helps. So for me, internet is a must.
As a first time writer, were there any difficulties you had to face with the industry, whether be it drafting, publishing or the marketing and wish could be improved in the industry for the benefit of upcoming writers
I’ve already told you about the publishing part. Yes, I faced a lot of issues in marketing, too. I worked hard in social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads to promote my book. Before the book was out, I had more than 2k followers in Twitter and 700+ friends in Goodreads. I worked really hard by sending friend requests, posting snippets about my book, etc. But it didn’t work as I was trying to hard sell the book, which I realized much later. Only about 2% of my Goodreads friends and about 5% of Twitter followers showed interest. Moreover, I had depended on my Facebook friends, but even that expectation turned out to be a damp squib. Anyway, it is really difficult to promote your book, especially if your publisher does nothing, unless you spend loads of money buying back copies, doing Facebook advertising, paying money (500 – 3k) to reviewers to post about your book. And I don’t believe that, as authors, we should be working so hard to market our book. We are skilled at writing and plotting not purchasing and posting in social media. It’s not that we shouldn’t do our fair bit – posting occasional snippets or quotes, photos of book launches, link of user reviews, etc. but 90% of the marketing and distribution has to be the responsibility of the publisher. And that happens, I think, in the major publishing houses. But obviously, it is difficult to get published by them. I think there should be more publishers like Srishti in the market (who don’t take money to be published and give chances to first time authors) and more literary agents (who don’t take money in advance) as they provide a possibility of entry for even new authors.
I remember one of the drawbacks I had pointed out in the book was language quality and you had told me how much it was an aftereffect of bad guidance. Do you think that there is a huge gap between what an author creates to the version publishing team brings out and the final product that hits the market?
Actually, more than bad guidance it was because I had not read enough quality books at that time. I had just read Chetan Bhagat, Durjoy Datta, Amish, and Ravinder Singh – the popular commercial Indian authors. Not that their works were bad, but they lacked the literary quality which was necessary for me to emulate. And then I happened to read a particular book – I won’t mention the name – which was filled with big words. A reviewer had lauded it, saying this is what new writers should emulate. That thought stuck to my stupid head like a leech on human skin. Then I began, like a fool, replacing simple words with their complicated synonyms. The proof of that is now in print, and it remains as one of the costliest blunders I’ve ever committed. And, as far as guidance goes, lack of it was more of a problem than bad guidance. I didn’t take anyone’s help and didn’t have FLAKE proofread / edited by anyone. That was another part where I faltered.
Coming to your second question, I think it depends upon the publisher. Big publishers will, first and foremost, never accept scripts with glaring errors like mine, unless I’m one of those authors who got lucky with their first book at Srishti, and even if they accept, the manuscript will go through a comprehensive editing and proofreading process before going to print. But, small publishers won’t invest time and dedication in editing and will just make some light, cosmetic changes. So, the submitted manuscript and the final product will be almost identical.
First book is always the hardest and closest to any author so was there a team or a special person behind the book that you would like to give special mention that made the book possible?
FLAKE is my co-author Apoorv’s baby. I can never deny that fact as the idea of writing this book birthed in his mind first. Although I fell in love with writing and then worked substantially harder than him to promote and market my book (As he had lost interest by then), still, especially in the initial phases, he was very supportive and helped drive the story with the same intensity as me. I would also like to thank my family (my mom and sister) who gave me sufficient time to write FLAKE by handling most of the household responsibilities. They, along with my wife, a new member of my family, still do it now and grant me opportunity to write. And I also express gratitude to my wife, who read the final manuscript of FLAKE, liked it, and encouraged me that I’ll eventually find a publisher which I did.
Is there any special advice you would like to give to the people who want to take up writing?
One: Never give up. Hang on to the fragile thread of hope which life always provides you, be it while facing writer’s block, while loitering in the by-lanes of diffidence in the long wait for publisher’s response, or while waiting for readers to lap up your book and write reviews after the book is out.
Two: Immerse yourself into the world of reading. And don’t limit yourself to Indian commercial authors. Read classic works by authors all over the world. Only then will you understand the essence of the language, learn essential narration skills, and get an overall knowledge of how to go ahead with your piece of fiction.
And lastly, what is in the future of the author – “Pankaj Giri”? Can we expect more books in pipeline?
The future is drenched in a sea of uncertainty, to be honest. Yes, of course, I’m writing my second book, and I believe I am improving and nurturing my writing skills bit by bit every day. Let’s see how the final product comes out, and whether it is good enough for literary agents and publishers. Fingers crossed. If I get a decent break, I’m sure I will continue in my attempt to create good instances of literary or mainstream fiction which readers will hopefully like and appreciate. God bless all; happy reading and writing. 🙂
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pankaj Giri was born and brought up in Gangtok, the capital city of the scenic state of Sikkim. He did his B.E. in Computer Science from a reputed engineering college in Bangalore.He completed a correspondence course, M.S. in Software Systems from BITS Pilani. He initiated his writing career by creating a blog on Fictional Cricket a few years back and has written several articles for popular cricket website HoldingWilley.com. He is currently working in Energy & Power Department, Govt. of Sikkim.
You can catch catch him on his