Monday, July 16, 2012

10 Questions: Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, Author





Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was fortuitous in many ways since this is where she met her husband, had a baby, and made the transition from writing as a hobby to a full time passion. Her work has been published in AudioFile Magazine, Explore Qatar, Woman Today, The Woman, Writers and Artists Yearbook, QatarClick, and Qatar Explorer. She has been a guest on Expat Radio, and was the host for two seasons of the Cover to Cover book show on Qatar Foundation Radio. She was the Associate Editor of Vox, a fashion and lifestyle magazine. She has also published five e-books including a mom-ior for first time mothers, Mommy But Still Me, a guide for aspiring writers, So You Want to Sell a Million Copies, a short story collection, Coloured and Other Stories, and a novel about women’s friendships, Saving Peace . Most recently, From Dunes to Dior, is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf. Since she joined the e-book revolution, she dreams in plotlines.
Mohana has a PhD from the University of Florida with a focus on gender and postcolonial theory. Her dissertation project was published as Haram in the Harem (Peter Lang, 2009) a literary analysis of the works of three Muslim women authors in India, Algeria, and Pakistan. She is the creator and co-editor of five books in the Qatar Narratives series, as well as the Qatari Voices anthology which features essays by Qataris on modern life in Doha (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 2010). Her research has been published in numerous journals and anthologies. She was a winner of the She Writes We Love New Novelists competition.
Currently Mohana is working on a novel set in Qatar which explores how this generation if this generation of people believe that Love Comes Later. She writes because words can help us understand ourselves and others. Catch up on her latest via her blog or follow her on Twitter @moha_doha.

Let the interview begin ....

#1: You describe yourself as a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. How does the opportunity available to an aspiring writer differ in Qatar versus the United States?
There were two things in Qatar that were different to the fifteen years I spent while growing up in the US. First, and perhaps most importantly for writing, I had an abundance of time on my hands. I don’t mean from work, since all of the start-ups I’ve worked for demanding 80+ hours a week, but longer vacation periods (average of three weeks or even more a year if you include religious holidays) and nights and weekends when people don’t expect you to be accessible. This helped me clear my head from a lot of the media noise that buffers you in ordinary society. I could even say for some time I was bored. Boredom is good for writing because there are no distractions.
The second aspect, equally important some might say more so, is the number of interesting people, events, and currents at play in Qatar. The country’s leadership is very ambitious, the people are fairly traditional and yet commercial and someone from virtually every part of the world lives in the small peninsula. Have you ever met or known Mauritanians? I have. Diversity leads to stimulation and stimulation is crucial for good writing.
#2: What advice do you have for other multicultural authors?
Remember that at the core, a story has to appeal to readers on the human level. You may be telling a romance (as I am in my latest book) about people of different cultures than your reader. But your reader has to be able to relate to the emotions, the conflicts, the dilemmas of the characters. He or she may learn something along the way but that’s an added bonus.
#3: Why did you decide to go indie, and how does that support your work or goals?
I went indie because agents and publishers were telling me my books didn’t fit a niche. And if it didn’t fit a place on the bookshelf, they didn’t know how they would sell it. Several agents loved the concept of my latest novel but said a male protagonist in a foreign country would be a tough sell. So I decided to go straight to the reader and see if this was true. So far I haven’t seen that has been.
#4: What advice would you give an indie author who wants to expand readership into other cultures?
Like with all things, it helps to know people. And not just connections. I mean know what is interesting to people in the UK or what themes are important to Indian readers. This isn’t to generalize (considering what I was told about the American market) but more of market research. Read what bloggers are saying; study up on your target segment of the international population.
#5: People have suggested that you change your name for an American audience. Have you considered it? Why or why not?
I won’t do it. If people know who Arnold Schwarzenegger is (Spellcheck will even correct it for you as it just did for me) then sooner or later, the public sphere will open up and learn how the rest of us say it. I am still tired of the teller or clerk who says “Wow, that’s so long.” I have an essay about that in my memoir called “What’s in a Name?”
#6: How does a South Asian American end up in the Arabian Gulf?
Adventure seeker confession! I went as a twentysomething to help establish the American branch of a university in Doha. That was in 2005. I have a PhD in literature with a focus in postcolonial literature and interest in gender and Islam. All that to say, I had never lived in an Islamic society – I’d only researched and written about them; so when the opportunity came to live in GCC, I took it to be a more honest scholar.
#7: How would you respond if an agent told you your book won't sell? Has that ever happened to you?
Yes, it’s happened. And while I have written lots and have 6 ebooks out, I see that selling takes a long time. I’ve been releasing books since last August and have numbers in the hundreds of hundreds. Not yet thousands. The curve is huge. But for me, the risk is worth it because I have patience. That’s the advantage ebooks and indies have given to people like me. We can realign the priorities in the publishing industry. For me it’s as much about telling unique stories as it is climbing rankings. Though I hope that will come eventually.
#8: You've written for magazines, been a radio host, an associate editor for a lifestyle magazine, and been published in a variety of formats. Who do you write for now?
I write for the person who wants to learn about parts of the world and experiences that he/she may not ever have themselves. I know that sounds slightly crazy but it’s people who are interested in women’s stories, in the everyday stuff that doesn’t make the headlines about the Middle East, the parts of our journeys that are universal.
#9: Why do you write, and how important is it to your that your books sell?
I want to sell, of course, because that’s an indication of who or how many people are reading you. I am telling stories that I think no one else is telling. It’s my contribution to this fractured feeling I get about contemporary society. The irony of being more globally and technologically connected than ever before is that somehow we are also further apart. I want to bring us closer together. For the reader to connect with people she may never meet through my characters.
#10:  Let's do something different. There has to be a question you were hoping I would or wouldn't ask. Ask yourself that question (please let us see the question), then answer it.
Why don’t you stick to one genre? Is the one I dread from people because they seem to feel that I lack depth because I write so many different types of things.

Well, I started out as an academic because for my family that was a more likely career than being a writer. To be honest, when I was younger no one ever said that being a writer was viable. Not even my English teachers. I published a few scholarly books which were met with tepid interest by family and friends because they were too ivory tower for non-academics. I switched to fiction and non-fiction because I wanted people to read the projects I spent so many months and years working on. What I’ve learned from the indie experience is that people really respond to novels more than essays and short stories. Which a few agents had listed as reasons for rejecting those projects….
 
Thank you, Mohana, for answering my questions, and good luck with your writing career.
 To learn more about Mohana, visit her website at www.mohanalakshmi.com

4 comments:

  1. What a fascinating writer and person Mohana is! I love her tips for multicultural writers (and audiences). I was also told that the names of the characters in my WIP were 'too foreign' for English ears, but Scandinavian umlauts seem to be doing just fine...

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. Sometimes I think English ears are underated when it comes to comprehending things like foreign-sounding names. :)

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  2. What a great interview! Mohana seems like such an interesting person, and now I'm curious to read her work.

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