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Welcome to Suprose.

Why Su-prose? "Su" in Sanskrit is a prefix for "good". This is a place where we will discuss and analyze prose (with a South Asian Connection) - that which is good, awesome, excellent, and maybe rant about prose that could be better.

Whether you love prose, are a prose expert, or want to learn more about prose, or to put it simply want to have anything to do with prose, this blog is for you.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tête-à-Tête With Shauna Singh Baldwin

A Canadian writer of Indian descent, Shauna Singh Baldwin was born in Montreal, grew up in India, and lives in the US. Her first novel What the Body Remembers, the story of two women in a polygamous marriage in occupied India, received the Commonwealth Prize for Best Book (Canada-Caribbean). 

Shauna's second novel, The Tiger Claw,the story of a Sufi Muslim secret agent searching for her beloved through occupied France, was a finalist for Canada's Giller Prize and has been optioned for film. 

English Lessons and Other Stories received the Friends of American Writers prize. Shauna is co-author of A Foreign Visitor's Survival Guide to America.We Are Not in Pakistan: stories was published in 2007. The Selector of Souls was published in Sept 2012.

Shauna has an MBA from Marquette University and an MFA from the University of British Columbia. She is passionate about womens issues and her books reflect this.

An article in The Globe And The Mail says, "Although her outspokenness has made her controversial in the traditional society that produced her – a trait Baldwin shares, albeit less dramatically, with her friend Salman Rushdie – this author remains fiercely political. The fact that few want to talk about the epidemic of anti-female sex selection that is distorting Indian society is precisely why she does.
"There's no question this is a terrible problem, and it's a very silent problem," she says. "But if you're going to do fiction, I think you focus on the unseen. You focus on the things that are silent in our lives."

Suprose is proud to feature Shauna Singh Baldwin, in the monthly Tête-à-Tête series.

What drives you to write? What is your writing Muse?

Usually outrage and anger at some event drive me to explore motives and world views that lead to a conflict. And curiosity -- what would it feel like to be/ to do/to experience...
Silence and a blank screen are excellent muses. 

When and how did you discover you wanted to be a writer?

Around the age of eleven. I began journaling, coming up with interesting phrases to describe the world, to remember the moment, to explore and understand people. I carried that journal everywhere and some stories and article s began to form -- it was quite painless :-). 

You have said that "Writers of colour take an enormous risk when they critique their own cultures, one that leaves them vulnerable to censure from all sides." How do you deal with this kind of criticism?

By the time my work is published it has been subjected to several years of rigorous verification and revision -- post-publication criticism therefore usually tells more about the critic than about the work. Pomposity can usually be punctured by humour.   

Can you tell us how you found the story and characters for The Selector Of Souls?  

The story began from Images and voices. Damini was a minor character in A Pair of Ears, a short story included inEnglish Lessons and Other Stories (Goose Lane, 1996). Mem-saab and Sardar-saab were characters in What the BodyRemembers, along with their sons Amanjit and Timcu. My challenge was to understand how all these are related. 

In general, how do ideas for your books come to you, and how do you go about creating your characters and the plot?

I begin from voices of the characters, and ask them where they are, who they are talking to, and what troubles them. During the first half, I may outline as I write, and end up with twenty-thirty outlines as I feel out the story, but when I look back on those outlines, none reflects the story that eventually comes forth to surprise me. That's because fiction may describe a problem we have in real life, but wouldn't entertain if characters didn't break usual patterns and come up with creative solutions. 

What is your favorite part of the writing/publishing cycle?

Beginning. That's when the idea is most seductive and looks very easy.  Talking about writing after publication is easy, too. It's the writing that's difficult. 

Some of your role models, who you like to read and why?

Positive role models: Richard Powers, Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Toni Morrisson, E.M. Forster, Janette Turner Hospital, Salman Rushdie, Nayantara Sahgal, Kamala Markandaya, Anosh Irani.
These writers write with compassion for their characters, without judging them.  Their choice of subjects and situations shows bravery as writers, along with deep concern for the human race. 

What is currently on your to-read pile, and what I just finished reading piles?

Just finished reading: 
Allah, Liberty and Love 
- Irshad Manji
Burnt Shadows
 -- by Kamila Shamsie
Mortality - Christopher Hitchens
The Western Light -- by Susan Swan
On my to-read/in the middle of reading pile: 
Requiem -- by Frances Itani
Joseph Anton
 - Salman Rushdie
Dark Diversions
 - John Ralston Saul
Why Men Lie -- Linden Macintyre

If you had a chance to ask your role models a question, what would that be?

Writing role models or personal? I'll take that question to mean
If you had a chance to ask your personal role models a question, what would that be?
The question I would ask is: How do you raise a son to be a compassionate and nurturing man? 

What are your writing goals and dreams?

To write a book about writing. To write more plays, poems and short stories.
To write another novel -- or two or three...

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