E.J. (ME) – The important stuff first. Tell us about your book/collection, A to Z Stories of Life and Death.
Damyanti (D) -- The book is a collection of twenty-six stories, based on the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. They seek to question our moral compass: How do you judge a teacher toying with the sexuality of her teenaged student? A boy who decides to murder his mother? What thoughts rage inside a pedophile serial killer before he shoots himself? The stories challenge the concepts of beauty, truth, and morality, by revealing the face of the other side.
I began writing some of the pieces in the collection in April during the A to Z challenge organized by Arlee Bird. (Note - If you don't know about the A-Z, you should check out Arlee's blog, HERE. Seriously one of the most challenging and rewarding blogfests going.) During this challenge, participants had to post on their blogs for 26 days in April, every day excluding the 4 Sundays. Some of the readers liked my pieces of fiction enough to ask me to put them together in a book, so the idea took root there.
ME – The stories seem to be highly philosophical and emotional in nature, asking readers to take a reflective look at their own humanity and how life plays out around them. That’s an extremely complex task for short stories to accomplish. How did you make it work?
D – I write about what interests me--people, and what makes them tick. I question the reasons why someone did what they did, and I analyze everything way more than is healthy. My head is full of ‘weird’ people, of what ifs, and whys and wherefores. This is what came out in the collection. Some people have found it too hard-hitting, or the topics too uncomfortable: matricide and pedophilia are not exactly soothing reads, despite a completely literary style and clean language.
I did not write on those themes in order to sensationalize, however, just went where the writing prompts took me. I don't have a ‘moral’ approach to fiction--won’t judge, just hold up things as they are and let the readers come to their own conclusions. Just because something is ugly or inhuman is no reason why it should not be examined. Rather the opposite.
In most of the stories I examine what we usually turn our faces from: death, murder, child abuse, loss of a child, ageing, poverty—but I’ve tried to ask the whys and also sought a glimmer of compassion, understanding, forgiveness, hope, even love.
ME – Taking a step back, can you tell us a little about your writing journey?
D – I started writing 3 years ago. I had some non-fiction experience at the time, but none whatsoever in fiction. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and the idea of writing appealed to me. But it also terrified me, and I let decades pass by before I gave myself the permission to write.
I’ve been traditionally published in quite a few anthologies in Malaysia and Singapore, and Peeping Toe was my first published short story, two years ago. I got accepted for yet another anthology this week, a collection of short stories from Asia and Africa. I’m yet to finish a novel, but that should change soon.
ME – Tell us about your writing process in general.
D – I write everyday. Whether it is a page or a few pages, I feel quite upset if I don’t write something, a story, a free-write, a bit in my journal, a letter (I correspond via snail-mail with other authors).
I usually go with images, and take down stories as they occur in my head. I’ve been a pantser so far, and it has worked for short stories.I use exercises from books like Fast Fiction: Creating Fiction in Five Minutes by Roberta Allen. I take a prompt, a word, a picture, a sentence, anything at all, and start writing, pretty much without thinking.
Another book that influenced me, and from where I borrowed the word dream-storming, is From Where you Dream by Robert Olen Butler. After reading through this book (several times), I got into the habit of entering a sort of trance, of letting the character take over, of entering a setting and becoming part of it. My stories (even the longer short stories) never start from an idea, but instead from an image which tugs at me and compels me to write.
ME - Many of my followers also participated in the A-Z daily blog challenge as well as many, many other blogfests. As such, we know how much time and effort can go into blogging. The idea of turning that work into a published story will, I’m sure, be intriguing to many of the readers. What led you to the idea, and how did you go about making it happen?
D – My short stories started at Daily (w)rite, where apart from some journalling and rambling about writing, I began to put up some of the 5-minute or ten minute exercises I'd written. I got a few good responses from my readers, and kept at it, mostly because I enjoyed it.
Then came A to Z Challenge. Being naive, I thought of writing one flash piece each day. On some days, the pieces came easy, on others I barely made the midnight deadline. Near the end of the challenge, some of the readers asked me to compile the 26 pieces of flash fiction into an e-book, and the idea of A to Z stories of Life and Death was born. I threw out and re-wrote a few of the original pieces, spit and polished them as best as I could. Not many stories in the collection are longer than 200 words, and the entire book adds up to barely 12000 words. My hope is that I’ve made each one of them count.
ME - I saw from your author profile that you’ve been traditionally published and that A to Z is your first work to be published independently. What was the motivation for that shift, and it is it something you plan to continue to explore in the future?
D – I would not call it a shift, because I’m still submitting stories for traditional publication, (E.J. - EXCELLENT point! It doesn't have to be all or the other, folks.) and hope to publish my current work (a WIP collection of longer short stories, and a novel) traditionally.
As I keep repeating to myself: the most important thing is to keep writing, improve my craft, and keep submitting for publication. A writer writes, and then hopes for publication: each rejection is a spur to write more and write better. After all, an established writer is no different from an unpublished one (at least in one aspect): both aspire to write better and reach a bigger audience every day. (E.J. - This might be the most important paragraph ever printed on this blog!)
That said, I think I’ll epub some work as well, mostly because it is fun, and a good way to interact with writer-friends and readers. This e-book was an experiment of sorts: I wanted to learn what this new business of e-books was all about, because as writers I think we should not ignore the flux in the industry. I continue to learn more about ebooks, marketing, and publishing each day, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.
ME – Random question time: What’s the last good book you read?
D – “The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore”…I think it is one of the most moving, philosophical and thought-provoking books ever to be written with an animal narrator.
ME - We’ll finish up with the most important stuff. Give us three reasons why A to Z Stories should be our next download, and tell us where we can get them.
D – As a writer, I can give a million reasons, of course. All writers are painfully, desperately in love with their babies. But as a reader I think there exist only two reasons to download a book: the sample, and the reviews. Check those out, and if you like them, buy the book at Kindle Smashwords Nook or Diesel.
Thank you, EJ, for taking the time to host me, and for the well-considered questions. I've done my best to answer them, and I hope I've done them justice. Thanks also to the readers who have heard me through with my long rambling! I'm around to chat with you all, and answer any questions.
ME - You've been a beautiful interview, D! I think I can safely speak for everyone who reads this and say it has been a true pleasure getting to know you and your writing. You're an inspiration for sure. Best of luck to you on your future endeavors.
Writer Bio: Damyanti lives more in her head than in this world, adores her husband, and loves her pet fish and plants. She is an established writer for magazines and journals. Her short fiction has been published in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Muse India and in print anthologies by Marshall Cavendish, Monsoon Books, and MPH publications. Her book, A to Z Stories of Life and Death, is available for downloadeverywhere ebooks are sold.