Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with short story author Ashok Kallarakkal. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Ashok. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Ashok: Hi Morgen… it is a pleasure talking to you. I am Ashok – Ashok Kallarakkal to be more precise. I live in Bangalore, a small city in the southern part of India which is often called as the ‘Silicon Valley of India’.
I was born and brought up in a different state in India often considered as the first place in the world where communism came to power through ballot. People of this part of the world – ‘Kerala’ – is highly literate and the love for literature is written into their genes. World-class authors like ‘Arundhati Roy’ and ‘Manoj Shyamalan’ have their roots in Kerala.
I have always prided myself to be creative for no valid reason. I used to write short stories in local magazines in Malayalam in my school days. Most of them were in Science fiction category though. When studies and a hectic career pre-occupied my mind, I left my writing passion. Then in 2011, I took a New Year resolution to start fiction writing again and thus ‘Curiosity Kills the KatHA’ came about.
Morgen: What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Ashok: I normally write short stories. That is primarily because my belief that people who do not have the attention span for a novel would still give time to short stories, thus making my potential audience bigger. I am seriously planning to write a novel soon. In fact, if I have my way, my third book would be a thriller in the longer form.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Ashok: My first published book is ‘Curiosity Kills the KatHA’, a collection of short stories in English. Before this, scores of years back, I had published a number of short stories (mainly science fiction) in vernacular magazines.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Ashok: My book is not yet available on eBooks. My publisher is working on an eBook edition now. I do read books on my Kindle. But I still prefer the touch of the paper on my finger while turning pages; May be I am an old-fashioned guy. 🙂
Morgen: Most people still do. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Ashok: I am not there yet. Probably like one’s special love for the first child, I might show some favouritism to my first book I guess.
I would like to have someone like Jack Nicholson or Owen Wilson to act if one of my stories were to be converted to a film. But that has to be for one of my future books, considering the Indian cultural context of my current book. In this case, I would like Indian actors like Abhishek Bachchan to act if any of them were to be made into a movie. Frankly I would not mind acting in some meaty role myself 🙂
Morgen: Which author(s) would you compare your writing to?
Ashok: It would be ridiculous to compare my writing to any of the known authors. I would like to be compared to O Henry, Jeffrey Archer and Saki. If I am considered half as good as any of them by even one reader, I would consider it equivalent to a Nobel Prize in literature.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Ashok: Leadstart Corp – my publisher – left the ‘coining’ of the book title to me. Cover design was a more collaborative effort, where I explained my ‘vision’ to the creative director – Mishta Roy – who gave life to my thoughts pretty fast. Being the first meeting point for readers with my book, I cannot overemphasize the importance of the title or the cover.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Ashok: I am working on a couple of stories for my next book, another collection of short stories expected to be published mid next year. After this book, I would start work on a thriller, I had in mind for a long time.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Ashok: I do not write on a regular basis. When I get an idea for a story, I refine it in my mind for days, before deciding to write it. Once I start writing, I would like to finish it in one day. I always find words flowing freely, once the idea is already ruminated in the mind for many days.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Ashok: When I normally see or hear about some event which has the scope to be converted to a story, I normally note it down in a book. Then I ruminate on the event for weeks to build the story around it in my mind. During this process, I give life to the actors in the story by assigning people whom I know, to them. Once the story is reasonably crystallized in my mind, as I have mentioned earlier, I sit down and write the story in one go.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Ashok: Yes. Once the type of characters are decided, I basically assign known individuals to each role. This helps me to paint them in realistic hue, with their own idiosyncrasies and whims. This is what makes them believable. You would not find a perfect ‘Hero’ or a perfect ‘Villain’ in my stories, because I do not know any in real life, who could be used as a template.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Ashok: The second pass often involves lot of editing. That is primarily to expand the story and make conversations more realistic. After the second pass, editing is minimal.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Ashok: For some stories, yes, I do a lot off research; especially for those which deal with real places or real history. With Google and Wikipedia, research is pretty easy.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Ashok: I like writing in first person, primarily because it allows me to pen down thoughts as well easily. For example something like “… I opened the door slowly. I could sense something terribly wrong. I had a tingling sensation behind my years. Something inside the room did not look quite right… but I could not put my fingers on it…’ would be much more effective in First person than Third Person. I have not tried second person so far.
Morgen: It’s great for short stories, especially dark ones, but although I love writing in it, I wouldn’t recommend it for novels. Do you write any poetry or non-fiction?
Ashok: I have not attempted publishing poetry or non-fiction so far. I do have a blog on current affairs and I would like to write a column on events around the world, some day.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Ashok: I had once started writing a novel espousing ‘Quality Management’ in ‘Software Development Industry’ but ran out of steam soon. Some portion of it was good, but I do not expect them to ever get published.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Ashok: So far none… by God’s grace.
Morgen: Congratulations. You’re one of a handful. Let’s hope you don’t. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Ashok: None So far… I am here without an agent… may be they are not that critical. 🙂
Morgen: Many have said not, although I suspect, like me, they wouldn’t say ‘never’. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Ashok: I have so far been only utilizing the social media – specifically Facebook and LinkedIn – to market the book and myself as a ‘Writer’ brand. I am also looking forward to a few book-reading sessions in India. My publisher would circulate some marketing paraphernalia and would feature the book in a few exhibitions.
I am in the process of setting up a blog for the book and have already created an author page on Amazon.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Ashok: This is a difficult question. The favourite aspect is of course the thrill of completing each story, especially so because my stories all have a twisted end with a punch. Least favourite aspect is to review the story again to make corrections and to bring about improvements. On the second pass, one would always feel like re-writing everything 🙂
In one or two stories, on second pass, I had surprises in some of the ‘usages’ I had adopted, since those were quite unlike me. But often I ended up keeping them.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Ashok: I think writing a book is only 10% of the game. Editing, a great title and a catchy cover would take it to say about 40%. The success of the book could depend heavily on your prior market research- whether the book caters to the current interests of the readers or not – and of course the marketing / sales channels you or your publisher uses. A good book need not sell… a better ‘positioned’ book definitely has a better chance.
Morgen: If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Ashok: I would like to invite Socrates, Jesus Christ and Mahatma Gandhi to such a dinner. I will never be able to cook for them because I would be lost in listening to their wisdom.
Morgen: If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Ashok: Funny enough… that would be the day my final exam got over in the undergraduate course – The day we all stayed over in graduate school and enjoyed one last day of freedom, before rushing to join our first job. The day my daughter was born would be another one.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Ashok: There is a statement from a Richard Bach book, I think it was ‘Bridge across forever’, which has influenced me a lot. It goes something like this – ‘You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true; but you would have to work for it’
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Ashok: At this point of time no. I have a blog on current affairs, which I have discontinued for the last few years. I am planning to re-start it, sometime soon.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Ashok: Actually most of my time goes in work. I am a software professional and work 11-13 hrs during week days. My other hobbies include bathroom singing and a bit of farming.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Ashok: I have not used any specific site or book in this quest. But I have found many literature review sites like yours, quite useful in understanding the general market.
Morgen: :*) Thank you very much. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Ashok: I am pretty active on Facebook and LinkedIn. I have used both effectively to spread word about my book. I do believe that the power of social networking could be used quite successfully for creating an initial pull for a new book.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Ashok: I believe that despite the invasion of movies (DVVDs, DIVx), music (iPOD, MP3) and social networking, the ‘book’ would hold its own in future too. Print books might give way to eBooks and Audio books, but written word would continue to be supreme, thus creating opportunities for writers.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Thank you, Ashok.
I then invited Ashok to include a synopsis of his book…
Assessing performance of one’s student is what every teacher does many times in his/her career. But what if the teacher is a terrorist trainer and the student a suicide bomber? What if a visit to a historical place throws up an unexpected opportunity to listen to a first-hand report of the historical event from a person who was present at that time? This is the age when everyone talks about zero tolerance to corruption. How would one react to a typical malpractice at a railway booking counter? When does a deal become a steal? Or more importantly does stealing make a purchase a better deal? These and other similar questions are discussed in Curiosity Kills the Katha, a collection of humorous yet thought provoking stories with surprising endings.
Ashok Kallarakkal (Dr. T K Ashok Kumar) is a senior Management / IT professional working out of Bangalore. He is an engineering graduate from REC Calicut (at present NIT Calicut) and did his doctorate in International Business from Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bangalore. Ashok has written a number of science fiction stories in popular regional science magazines like Shastra Keralam in his school days, but had curtailed his urge to write more, to devote time for higher education and building a career like every other middle class youth. He rediscovered his flair for writing fiction while writing innumerable sales proposals as part of his job. His dream now is to spend more and more time on creative writing and other passions from 2012 (Though this does not mean moving back to a sales job). His wife Sandhya is a lawyer-turned-software professional-turned-housewife and their only child Anjali is studying in the second grade in Bangalore.
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