Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a best-selling author of 12 books, five-times Pushcart Prize nominee, writing coach as well as a certified yoga & Ayurveda counselor, among many other things. Her latest novel Louisiana Catch tackles complex issues of rape, abuse and trauma, in a sensitive and nuanced way, and is exceedingly relevant in these troubled times and you can read my review of it here.
In this interview with writer and blogger Archita Mittra, she discusses her creative process, multiculturalism, writing projects and all the little ways one can make a difference to the world.
AM: Louisiana Catch is a remarkable novel that tackles issues of rape and sexual violence. What inspired you to write this book? Were parts of it autobiographical? How did you go about the writing process?
SSV: Thank you for your kind words. Louisiana Catch represents the fragility of human relationships. Honestly, breaking stereotypes surrounding South Asian stories was central to writing of this book. I got tired of others defining what Indian women look like, behave, do, or feel. I could not find stories of my generation and women like myself, so I created Ahana. Mind you, Ahana is nothing like me, emotionally or physically. But she does represent the conflict a section of modern Indian women, including myself face: successful and confident yet unsure and dominated in their own unique ways.
Another reason I wrote Louisiana Catch: to raise awareness about survivors of sexual assault. I teach yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence. Every woman who shows up on the yoga mat in my class looks and behaves differently. How can we judge and criticize survivors or what they look like or what clothes they had on at the time of assault? How dare we assume that all survivors fit a certain socio-economic type!
The only part that was slightly autobiographical: the grief of losing a mother. But Ahana and I have very different personalities. While she is dependent on others for her healing and grieving; I turned a few decades older and a lot stronger the night I lost my mother. I had no other choice. It was interesting to notice how grief changes us all but in different ways.
AM: As a bestselling writer and a Pushcart-nominated poet, can you talk about your creative process? What does creativity mean to you? What are some ways you feel that creativity can be used as a tool to empower women?
For me creativity is how I express, breathe, heal, and understand the world and the moment and my emotions. It’s not every day that I sit and work on a novel—I have a company and family to look after as well. But there is some essence of creativity blended into my daily practice. It’s as intuitive and incumbent upon me as breathing or meditating. Sometimes, it’s in the form of a poem or a clever social media post or an essay or an aspect of the book. But there is some creative writing I do every day.
Interestingly, depending on the genre I am writing in, my needs change. For instance, to write poetry, I need to be close to mountains and lakes. But I can create nonfiction and fiction pieces in the middle of the concrete jungle aka New York City. Being around people inspires my stories.
Creativity, to me, is this magical shot (injection) that might hurt as the process starts but it heals in the end. Creativity enables women to express themselves. It gives them the power to take a stance, nurture an opinion, make room for their voices to be heard, and find a vent for their emotions.
AM: Ahana, the novel’s protagonist is deeply immersed in organizing “No Excuse”- the annual international conference on violence against women. In your opinion, what are some of the strategies in which the aims of such conferences can be successfully implemented? What are the little unexpected ways in which everyone can participate and make a difference?
SSV: Conferences like “No Excuse” create a feeling of solidarity and bring communities together of people/groups with a similar vision. It makes the world seem like a lot less lonelier space. A clear focus and goal in mind would be a pertinent starting point. Look at the #MeToo movement; it created a safe and supportive space for women to share their stories because people knew what it’s all about. There is never a dearth of opportunities to support a good event or purposeful cause. Right from monetary donation to services to spreading the word, if one wants to participate…the choices are limitless.
AM: The characters in your book inhabit multiple spaces and cultures. As a multicultural woman yourself, how do you approach the issue of multiculturalism and diasporic identities? What are some aspects of multiculturalism that you feel people don’t really talk enough about?
SSV: I get that we live in complex times where people feel the need to over-define and label everything. For me, I am a human being and a woman and a storyteller before anything else. My roots are Indian; an impressionable part of my childhood was spent in North Africa; and, my home for the past 20 years has been New York. I am a part of all three cultures, and my life is infused with multicultural flavors. Honestly, it’s not that complicated.
I have always been curious about other cultures. So, I operate from a space that most people ask questions about other races and ethnicities from a place of inquisitiveness, not malice. I am a big believer that for a person to grow and challenge every stereotype known to them, they need to live in other countries, share meals with other people, and experience the local culture before they allow prejudices to take up space in their heads and hearts. That’s an aspect of multiculturalism that we don’t talk about enough. To me, it seems, most conversations are focused on differences instead of similarities.
AM: The ending of Louisiana Catch leaves some questions unanswered. (Is Jay ever caught? What about the aftermath of Rohan and Ahana’s relationship?) Do you any plans for writing a sequel? Are there any stories or anecdotes that you wanted to include, but ultimately left out?
SSV: You have to wait to find the answer to this question 🙂
AM: What are the creative and other projects that you are currently working on? Plans for the future? What would be your dream project?
SSV: There are different kinds of writers: those who write a book every year and they write in the same genre and about similar themes. It’s awesome because it’s easy to define these writers and they almost always have a project they are working on. Love it! I fall in the other category of writers where my stories pick me and then they choose whether it’s going to be fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. For writers in the second category, Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Gilbert fall into it—I know this because I listened to their podcast, you don’t necessarily get done with a book just because it’s out in the market. I am still so immersed in “Louisiana Catch.” There are other sub-projects stemming from the novel. And I am continuing to enjoy Ahana and Rohan. And the new, unexplored directions the novel takes me in.
Then there are conversations around turning my 1st Indian novel, “Perfectly Untraditional,” into a movie. That’s been quite exciting.
Honestly, whatever project I work on, feels like a dream project in the moment because I get deeply immersed in the journey. But I am not one of those writers who wakes up and says, “This is the book I will write.” The ideas marinate and simmer and character voices develop. Let’s see what story picks me this time and in which genre.
AM: What is your advice to women writers?
SSV: Often times, as women, we make excuses for our creativity and indulgences. Sometimes, fear becomes the primary driving factor—even before we embark on a project. Other times, it’s the inability to prioritize. As a result, we surround ourselves with insecurity, jealousy, rejection, and self-criticism.
No one can have it all. We all have to let go off something to carve out time for our writing. Of course, your personal life and relationships matter a lot. For me, they are my driving forces. But ask yourself…what is that one thing you can let go from your day-to-day and dedicate that time diligently to writing. Truth: if you don’t respect your writing time and writing, nobody else will. Protect your writing time. The book won’t write itself. The edits won’t happen on their own. You owe it to yourself to give your writing dream a fair chance.
About the Author: Sweta Srivastava Vikram (www.swetavikram.com), featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is a best-selling author of 12 books, five-times Pushcart Prize nominee, writing coach, social issues advocate, and a certified yoga & Ayurveda counselor who helps people lead creative, productive, and healthier lives. Louisiana Catch (Modern History Press 2018) is her debut U.S. novel. It’s the #1 new release on Amazon under women’s divorce fiction and featured on U.K.’s list of “Books to Read in 2018.” Sweta won Voices of the Year Award, past recipients of which have been Chelsea Clinton, for her work with Louisiana Catch and her tireless support of women who have experienced sexual assault and abuse. Born in India, Sweta spent her formative years between the Indian Himalayas, North Africa, and the United States collecting and sharing stories. She writes hopeful stories about multiculturalism and women’s issues with a healthy dose of suspense, reflections, wellness, and food. Sweta, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, amongst other publications, across nine countries on three continents, is an award-winning writer and graduate of Columbia University. She lives in New York City with her husband and in her spare time, teaches yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence.
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