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Interview with Shyam Sundar Bulusu

Q.1 Tell us a little about yourself?
A. I was born and brought up in Madras (now Chennai) (DoB: 05/January/1950). Father, late B.R.Somayajulu, was the Chief Engineer, Madras State Electricity Board of the composite state of Madras (Madras + Andhra Pradesh) and later of Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board at Hyderabad. Mother, late B. Kamakshi, was a homemaker. I am the penultimate child of their ten children.

I studied up to PUC in various cities e.g. Madras, in Tamil Nadu, Vijayawada, and Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. Studied B.Sc. (Math) in Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College, Madras(1965-1968). Studied M.Sc. (Tech) (Meteorology and Oceanography) at Andhra University (1968-1971).

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you shortly? Any new project you’re working on?
A. Surely, once I am finished with the initial days of my Living Pages. I have two half-finished projects - one is a murder mystery, and the other, five episodes of a series on a child’s adventures. As is my habit, I have jotted down either a couple of pages or a broad storyline for a few other projects. I also have several poems in English and Hindi, which I would like to publish. Near future or distant future, I cannot say but I want to place in the market all my works, before I depart for my final destination.

Q.3 Where do you get your ideas?
A. From Life. Fortunately, I have the advantage of the long experience of 69 years on this beautiful planet. From childhood, the anecdotes I heard, the incidents I observed, and the situations I passed through have all left an indelible impression on my mind.

Q.4 What advice do you have for writers?
A. Write about what you feel. Feel what you write. 

Q.5 How do you come up with the name of this book?
A. There is an interesting history behind this. Post-retirement, I along with my late wife toyed with the idea of floating a company dealing in editorial services. We tentatively named it Living Pages. Sadly, the idea remained an idea and never fructified. During the post-Dance of Life years, I lost my own soul mate - my wife - and went into an abyss of depression and purposelessness. The Herculean efforts of my family and a couple of friends brought me back from the brink and I started writing once again. 

Having published all my finished novels, I turned my attention to my short stories. I was struggling to find a suitable title that would act as a sutra, a common thread, binding my 52 disparate stories into one unit, just as a thread would bind flowers of different hues and shapes into a garland. I wished to emphasize that the pages of the book are not mere pulp but are throbbing with life in various hues and facets of life that we see and experience around every day. Voila, the title literally fell into my lap! Living Pages. I added (Volume I) in the hope that I shall continue to write and, one day, bring out (Volume II)!

Q.6 If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?
A. Dare to dream. Dream to dare.

Q.7 What are the most important magazines or websites for writers to subscribe to?
A.  I recommend indiscriminate reading. Every scrap of writing is information, knowledge. It helps; and then there is a library called the Internet.

Q.8 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
A. All of one’s experience, command over language and vocabulary come to naught when one faces this important aspect you raised unless one puts oneself in the shoes of the character portraying the opposite sex; feel, think, and act like that character. In short, a tremendous amount of empathy must exist within oneself to portray realistically and effectively the character of the opposite sex.

A couple of examples from my Living Pages; Sarita, a gang rape survivor from SHE. While the first chapter described in detail her physical struggle to survive, the third, and final chapter was the crucial one and, in fact, the crux of the story. I had to convey the mental agony and anguish of Sarita. It took me several days even to formulate mentally that crucial chapter. I am not ashamed to admit that, while writing it down, I literally broke down and wept. Even today, whenever I read that chapter I choke into tears. Then, on somewhat similar lines, is Sita of Symphony of Violence. I had to bring out the physical and mental agony and ignominy she is subjected to in the form of domestic violence.

The character Asha Iyer of Love Eternal is close to my heart (just as Katyayani of my novel Intersections is). I etched with passion her ostensible flippancy with a strong undercurrent of love and affection in a backdrop of heart-rending tragedy. Another down-to-earth character is Naseem of Faith. Urmila of The Confluence is another powerful character with strong convictions. Rakhi Apte of Lame Duck and Dame Luck and Kokila of The Song I came to Sing are some more examples.

One might observe that many of my stories/novels have strong female characters. Maybe, it stems from my witnessing the struggle my widowed mother went through to raise my younger brother and me after our father departed.

Q.9 How do you select the names of your characters?
A. Again, from life. I choose common and real-life names that are easy to pronounce and remember.

Q.10 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
A. Of course, I do. I would be lying if I say that bad reviews do not affect me; they did, especially during the formative days of the writer in me. Over time, the writer in me matured, I think. Now brickbats are as welcome as bouquets are.

Q.11 Does your family support your career as a writer?
A. Actually, if it were not for my family, especially my late wife and my second daughter, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you interviewing me! When I was depressed in my retirement not knowing what to do, they guided me, coaxed me, and convinced me to enter the world of writing and enter I did, hesitatingly. Thus, my first novel, Dance of Life, was born.

Q.12 Do you believe in writer’s block?
A. I not only believe it, but I also experienced it on a couple of occasions while writing my novels; I did not experience it while writing short stories, though. Once, while writing Misogynist Interrupted, I got into a situation where I didn’t find a road ahead. I stopped writing for a couple of weeks! Every day, we get a lot of information and trivia, which register in our subconscious minds. This helped me. I resumed and completed the novel in due course.

Q.13 Does writing energize you or exhaust you?
A. Writing never exhausts me. Of course, some situations I depict in my stories overwhelm me, and I break down sometimes. The courtroom scene in She, where Sarita makes a statement before the Judge is one such. In the beginning, as a novel reached its end, I used to become very emotional and break down, to the annoyance of my late wife and daughter. I explained to them that the conclusion of every novel to me was like giving away my daughter in marriage. They understood.

Q.14 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
A. I don’t know! Maybe my daughter can answer that question better! I get an idea in my brain, which I think I can develop into a story. I think of a skeletal framework for a story, the main cast of characters, and the possible dynamics of narrative. I sit on my desktop straight away and pour out the thoughts and ideas, even if in a random manner. 

Computer software like MS Word is a boon for writers and so is the plethora of online dictionaries and thesauruses. If required I do some research online or in my personal collection of dictionaries, encyclopedias, and atlases. I shall let you into a secret of mine; I am quite erratic in my writing habits. At times, I sit long hours at a stretch, and at others, I take a break for a few days. I let the momentum pour out my ideas and thoughts build up. Is that quirky? I don’t know.

Q.15 What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
A. In the world of writing? It is writing itself; then comes publishing the works.
If you mean the best of my own works then there are a few for various reasons.

Dance of Life: It was my first novel and I am emotionally attached to it.

Embers of the Pyre: According to feedback from my own editor and readers and according to my own work-satisfaction. The plot, the characterization, the narrative style, the flow/dynamics of the story, all fell into place perfectly. As a writer, I consider it my best work to date.

Q.16 What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
A. No walk of life is untouched by unethicality. It is money, money, and more money now. The sad part of the whole matter is that traditional publishing is dead, unless one is an accomplished and reputed writer, even if a beginner! The brighter side of self-publishing is that even writers like me can put their works, however insignificant they may be, in the market. Economical packages for publishing, with a horde of add-on services are available for us to choose from. Sales figures are a different matter altogether.  Everyone has a story to tell; go, tell it to the world.

Q.17 Who edited your book and how did you select him/her?
A. My nephew has been my editor for all my books including Living Pages. He is an erudite person with good command of the language. His best quality is he doesn’t mince words or pull a punch just because I am his uncle. He has been of great help in bringing out my books and has done a thankless job - be it content analysis, be it proofreading, or be it a whole gamut of issues in editing - without expecting or taking a single paisa,. He is an amateur, but his approach is thoroughly professional.

Then, there is my second daughter, who coaxed me into embarking upon a journey into the world of writing. She read and critically analyzed every word of every novel, short story, and poem that I wrote, appreciating me when I did well, criticizing me when I erred. These two would like to remain in the background, enjoying only their efforts catching the reader’s eye.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
A. In the field of writing, I would like to meet Agatha Christie, Alistair Maclean, and Frederick Forsyth. I grew up on their writings imbibing every nuance of their narrative skills. They left an indelible impact on my language and writing skills. I am Ekalavya to their Dronacharya.

Q.19 What is your favorite book and why?
A. How can I single out ONE book from the hundreds that I have read? Still, I cannot deny my emotional attachment to The Mysterious Affair at Styles of Agatha Christie. It was a first for both of us, the first novel she wrote, and the first novel I read!

From Alistair MacLean’s works, I pick The Last Frontier as my favorite for its completeness - narrative, narration, characterization, historical base, adrenalin-pumping action sequences, and a touch of political pontificating.

Frederick Forsyth is one ultra-meticulous writer with a needlepoint eye for detail. Dogs of War is an example. However, my favorite is The Day of the Jackal.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
A. All my answers above illustrate where I stand in the world of writing. I shared details of my journey through several posts on my blog.

As I stated in the “Acknowledgements” of all my books, writing a book may be easy but fine-tuning it, making it readable to international readers, and avoiding pedagogism, and clichés are humongous tasks. However, the real-world struggle begins after the intellectual outpour ends and the book is published, which are the easier parts of the whole exercise; I refer to the nitty-gritty of book sales. I must say I haven’t been lucky in that aspect.

Before publishing my first book, I was only interested in placing my book, and my name in the market. Once I published it, the uncompromising harsh reality of sales engulfed me. Seeing me worry endlessly, my wife guided me out of that dark abyss saying, “Why do you worry about how many copies are sold? You wanted to publish your book, and place your name in the market; you did it. Just forget about the sales figures, and get on with your next project.” That advice worked like a miracle with me. I never looked back. Now, I do my duty of publishing and promoting my book and get on with life.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you and my readers through you about my journey into the world of writing.

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  1. Thanks, Ms Aakanksha Jain, for publishing the interview. Blessings & best wishes. I hope we can work together again on other projects of mine.

  2. Kudos for your Frank and bold interview wishing y all the best in all your future endeavours

    1. Thanks Ramu. You always stood by me even in my humble endeavours. Blessings.