Interviewed by Diane Hall

Read Gargi Mehra’s fiction piece, Her Metamorphosis

Diane: Her Metamorphosis is a very serious, compelling story, yet you typically write with a humorous flair. What was the inspiration for this story, and what emotions did you feel as you wrote it?

Gargi: I started out writing humorous nonfiction and then gravitated towards humorous fiction. But as I grew older and wiser, a lot of social issues started impacting me and my way of thinking. For this story, I was inspired by the core idea of a woman not being able to view her reflection in the mirror. This would be a good problem to have, and would single-handedly eliminate the cosmetic industry. At first, I wrote the story with a somewhat vanilla character, an everyday woman who juggled work and life and struggled while doing it. But this wasn’t as effective and didn’t bring out the emotions I wanted. I then went back to basics and brainstormed – which character would this ability affect the most? That’s when I thought of an acid attack victim, and the rest of the story came naturally. I felt a deep sense of empathy with the character and had a tough time writing the first draft.

How much of your personality is reflected in your writing?

At this stage of my writing, I try to choose characters and situations unlike my own. Every story and character features something of the author in it, but I don’t know if my fiction, when viewed as a whole, gives a concrete idea of the person writing it.

In one of your published articles, What to Write when You’re Not Writing in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, you suggest writers generate a list of memories and pick one item and write about it for practice. When reflecting on your memories, are there themes that tend to surface? How do these memories shape your writing?

Yes, most memories of mine trace back to childhood and even my twenties. I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from those moments that shaped my life and hence in some way shaped my writing as well. The themes that tend to surface relate to bullying, even if it was subtle and not so pronounced as teen movies might lead you to believe.

As someone who works in the field of IT, a job which requires mental attention all day, how do you find the motivation and energy to write at night? Aren’t you mentally exhausted by then?

To be honest, most days I am exhausted. But on the few days I’m not, I do manage to add a few words to my work in progress or at least research markets, draft a blog post, or do something writing-related, anything. With the help of my psychiatrist sister, I have developed a plan for my writing. On weekdays, I write around 100-500 words at the most, or do some writing-related administration. On weekends starting Friday evenings, I try to get 2000-3000 words written. This way I stay on top of my word count. When I have a busy week coming up at work, I write off that week and don’t plan any writing that time so I don’t get frustrated.

If you could take six months of your life and go away by yourself to a remote location where there are no other people or distractions, what would you write about?

I think most writers have that one magnum opus—the most ambitious novel encompassing multiple themes and overarching characters while also entertaining readers. I have one such idea in my mind and that’s the one I’d write, because it would need the most research and time by myself. On the other hand, I am not sure how much writing I would really get done if there were no people or distractions, because I’m a very talkative person who thrives on social interactions. I need people to feed off and then I come home and spend an hour or two to myself for writing.

How are you able to find quality time to focus on your work with your family home? What is your work/life balance like?

First of all, I must admit I have plenty of help and family support. Without it I would never get a day job done, let alone writing. But I also make good use of my time and don’t linger on the blank screen for long. The quality time to focus on writing may be short, but I make sure its productive. A series of to-do lists helps me on this front.

It seems you really enjoy writing and do it because you are passionate about it. What is it about the writing process that is so appealing?

Earlier I would write to impress and entertain, but with practice, writing has now become an itch that I have to scratch. I can’t not write. Most days it’s a relief having written and got the words, stories, characters, out of my head and on to the paper.

When you sit down and start writing a story, what is the ultimate goal or purpose?

I want every story to be unique and offer something that hasn’t been thought of before. For every story, I try to identify two things – what is the story about, and what is the story really about. It may sound lofty but I do want my stories to provoke thought and bring out the intended emotions in the reader.