I had a friend once leaving for the first time for Asia, to start covering Thailand. I told him to take great notes on his impressions of everything, from how he does his laundry to his daily routine, as he would never see the place as fresh as when he first arrived.
So, the short answer: the book, the setting, it was all in my head already. All I had to do was go back into my memories , like dreaming, and walk the streets…
What is your process for developing characters for your novels?
This is an excellent question. I have read many debates on it. I like to base my characters on people I either know, have met, or composites of both—it could even be someone who just attracted my eye on a bus or on the street. But I do firmly believe, as some well-known writers have said, you should not only know your characters before you write about them, you should know who their parents were as well.
The “good” characters as well as the “bad” characters probably see themselves if they read my novels. But I try to write them in such a way none of the people on whom they might “loosely” be based could or would ever want to challenge their characterization, lest they embarrass themselves.
Best thing about writing fiction: I lie. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot. But only I—and maybe a few who are objective observers of themselves—will ever know for sure how much or in what instance.
In a workshop I attended with Agent & Author Donald Maass, he said that a book’s setting should be treated like another character in the story. What are your thoughts on that?
Absolutely. First, I’d never presume to argue with Donald Maass, about anything—and especially about writing—at least, not until I have my own agent again. But seriously, Tolstoi, Turgenev, Prevost, Balzac, Galdos, all of them, they recognized that people don’t merely exist. They exist somewhere. And where they exist as much as how they exist helps shape, and in some cases define, their character.
My favorite depiction of India is a large watercolor I acquired from my parents’ home. It’s kind of greenish on bright white, and it’s a half-naked farmer, a “kisan-log,” turbaned, walking somewhat hunched over behind an ox pulling I think it was a plow (don’t have it out yet). The whiteness of the background is that of a bright, hot sun. It’s another reason I like to quote Ecclesiastes so much. That’s India, to me, in a nutshell. People come, people go. But the land abides forever.
You were a finalist in several recent book festivals. How have those accolades affected you as a writer?
They’ve inflated my already arguably air-filled ego, and occasionally help me to cage drinks. Seriously, it’s always nice to hear someone, somewhere, considers what you wrote worthy of praise. Or recognition. Or admission to a drink fest. How has it affected you? (The praise is uplifting for sure, but also getting to meet other writers that share in the same passion for books and stories - that is wonderful too.)
How has your work as a reporter influenced what and how you write?