Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Vivek Shraya

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The Lucky Seven Interview, with Vivek Shraya

Vivek Shraya's second book, She of the Mountains (Arsenal Pulp Press), is an illustrated novel (with illustrations courtesy of Raymond Biesinger, whose work has appeared in the likes of The New Yorker and the New York Times). The novel re-imagines aspects of Hindu mythology while telling the story of a man, his body and a love story that defies narrow-minded definitions of gender and sexuality.

Vivek speaks to Open Book as part of our Lucky Seven series, a seven-question Q&A that gives readers a chance to hear about the writing processes of talented Canadian authors and gives authors a space to speak in depth about the thematic concerns of their newest books.

Today Vivek tells us about how She of the Mountains addresses the issue of biphobia, how Hindu mythology became essential to the narrative and why he needs your unanswered texts and emails for his next project.

Don't miss the chance to catch Vivek in person at the Pages Unbound launch for She of the Mountains on Wednesday, September 17 at 7:30p.m.. The event will take place at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St West). Tickets will be on sale at the door for $10 or you can attend for free with the purchase of a book. For more information, please see the Facebook event page.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book.

Vivek Shraya:

My new book is entitled She of the Mountains and it’s a contemporary love story intertwined with re-imagined Hindu mythology. The book features illustrations by Raymond Biesenger.

I began writing the book in 2011, a year after the release of my first book, God Loves Hair. When I wrote God Loves Hair, it felt like a one-off. I had no preconceived ideas of subsequent books. But it was partly the overwhelming enthusiasm for God Loves Hair that gave me the confidence to explore other stories I might want to tell.


Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?


There isn’t a central question to the book but there was a deliberate intention when I began writing it: I wanted to write a bi/queer love story in an effort to challenge biphobia and bi assumptions.


Did the book change significantly from when you first starting working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?


Originally, the book featured just the love story. It was only when I began working on the second draft that the second narrative of Hindu mythology blossomed and this became a powerful and even necessary counterpoint to the love story.

From the first word on the page to the day I received an advance copy, the book took three years to bring to life.


What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?


In the past, I have been able to write in short spans of time — an hour before going to bed, fifteen minutes before heading to work, etc. This time around, what I needed most was large blocks of time, as I was confronted with a lot of anxiety and found it often took a couple hours just to exhaust my negative self-talk (i.e. Who is going to want to read this? This writing is terrible. This just sounds like your last book. Actually, your last book was sooo much better, etc.)

Also, after experiencing how vital the feedback was in developing my previous book, I solicited even more friends and peers for feedback on this manuscript.


What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?


Take a break. Take a nap. Go for swim. Take another nap.

I’m generally a private person when it comes to creating and prefer the big reveal when a project is complete but with this book, it was beneficial to discuss plot holes and bumps with friends. Aside from the solid suggestions that were offered to me when I did this, talking about writing helped minimize the general feeling of isolation that accompanies writing.


What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.


My favourite books are ones that read like dessert in my mouth, tell unpredictable stories, and linger with me after finishing them.

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is easily the best book I have read in the past year and is displayed prominently on my bookshelf dedicated to my favourite books. As a writer, I was often envious of the craft and foresight that clearly went into the development of the characters and plot, and as a reader I gasped, swore, laughed, and actually oh no she didn't-ed out loud. Several times. Gone Girl reminded me that while it's always important to be challenged, reading (outside of school) shouldn't feel like work — it should be pleasurable.


What are you working on now?


Currently, I am working on a new exhibit/performance entitled Your Cloud, which will be taking place at Videofag in February 2015 as part of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s Rhubarb Festival. It is an exploration of the weight and disposability of digital communication and for this I have put out an open call for texts/emails that haven’t been responded to. Open Book Toronto readers are invited to participate and can read more about this here!

I am also preparing for three book tours (!!!) in the fall which will be taking me all across North America. All the tour dates can be seen here.

Vivek Shraya is a multimedia artist, working in the mediums of music, performance, literature and film. His first book, God Loves Hair, was originally published in 2011; a new edition was published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2014. Winner of the We Are Listening International Singer/Songwriter Award, Vivek has released albums ranging from acoustic folk-rock to electro synth-pop. His most recent is Breathe Again, a tribute to the songs of R&B artist Babyface. His most recent film, What I LOVE about being QUEER, has expanded to include an online project and book with contributions from around the world. He lives in Toronto.

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