Emerging Author of the Month: Deepa Shankaran

Photo of deepa-shankaranTell us about yourself.

A few relevant and not so relevant facts:

  1. During my 20s, I moved 13 times in the space of ten years. It was mostly hit and miss.
  2. In various dance productions, I have been a rabbit, a swan, a cloud, and a lovesick deer.
  3. Writing and women’s rights occupy equal parts of my heart. They sometimes compete, but tend to get along quite well.
  4. In grade six, I was a cigarette for Halloween, a walking tube of white poster board. By the end of the day, the words “don’t smoke me” were scrawled across the front, and I’m not sure the teachers made me do it.
  5. I once fell on the subway stairs and got a huge purple bruise on my knee. I showed it to eight people that day with a bizarre sense of pride. I suspect my writing might be motivated by the same impulse.

Tell us about the piece you’ve decided to share.

It came about slowly, with a few images—a stuffed toy, a pair of cold hands, a winter coat lying on a bed, a child peering into a three paneled mirror. In the end, it became a story about what happens when a young girl is left alone for an evening, while a dinner party continues down the hall. The piece is part of a collection of linked stories, which follow an unnamed narrator as she struggles to remake herself in a new city. She recalls the episodes from her childhood that have made this necessary.

When and why did you realize you had a passion for writing?

As a child, I collected boxes: jewelry boxes, cereal boxes, the box from our first toaster oven. They took up a lot of space in my bedroom. My mother told me I had to do something with at least one, or else throw them all out. So I cut a slit in the top of a shoe box and taped down the lid, so my notes could go in but not out. Those scraps were filled with overheard conversations, secrets from friends, things I hadn’t had the courage to say. This is how I started collecting details, and eventually building stories as a way of clearing space in the box, and also in my mind. I’m still compelled to do this now, or else the details pile up and make it difficult to move around.

What pieces of writing/authors have had the greatest impact on you?

Initially, it was to sharpen my writing skills that I went back to the classics: Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Rilke; but now I feel at home in their company. Those works are timeless, and still have so much to say about my own daily experience. It’s surprising and comforting at the same time. They’ve left their mark on me, and I often have a jumpy 19th century voice in my head, narrating and interpreting the day.

What kind of writer do you aspire to be?

A mentor once told me that the mark of a good writer was the ability to recast ordinary moments to reveal something that hadn’t been noticed before, or put into words. I’d like to cultivate that depth of insight and originality.

How and when do you find time to write?

I try to find moments throughout the day to think about a new story or chapter. I end up writing everywhere; streetcars, park benches, coffee shops, a friend’s couch. When I need to focus, I go to the library. At the moment, I’m working part-time, so I aim to devote three full days a week to fiction. That time has become very precious to me. I also like to write every morning, for an hour or two at least, before the internet has made a mess of my intentions.