Melvin Durai is a writer and a humorist. His funny and thought-provoking columns have graced many newspapers and magazines in many countries. Through his first novel - 'Bala Takes the Plunge' (reviewed here), he has taken firm and sure steps towards expanding his horizons from being a writer of columns to authoring complete books. I congratulate him on the success of his debut novel which has been widely appreciated for the satire, humour and wit. I got an opportunity to conduct an e-interview with Melvin and I am glad to be sharing his views on this blog for all the readers.
When did you start writing? How has been the journey of being a writer so far? And when did you start feeling the need to write a little longer something than the columns?
I started writing in 1993 when I got a job as a newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania. I was a business reporter for three years, then a general assignment reporter. I began writing a regular humor column in 1995. I’ve wanted to write a book for a long time, but it took me a while to find my niche. I experimented with short stories for several years. I also experimented with my humor columns. Many of them are a form of fiction. The journey of being a writer hasn't always been smooth: I've had to stop and ask for directions several times. But I think I'm on the right road now.
Is it a natural progression from writing short columns to being an author of a novel? What do you feel should or would be the next stage for you?
No, I don’t think it’s a natural progression. Many journalists do end up writing books, but most of those books would be non-fiction, I believe. The next stage for me is to write another humorous novel. I also want to continue writing my columns.
Why did you choose to write a novel under humor genre, when it’s a fact that creating a humorous piece is not an easy task?
It's certainly not easy, but I liked the challenge and I also like to make people laugh. Besides, there are plenty of serious novels out there.
Has Bala been inspired by any real life character or it’s a completely fictional character?
Bala is a fictional character, though some of his experiences have been inspired by my and my friends’ experiences.
What is your favourite part in the book?
My favorite parts are the conversations Bala has with his parents. I had fun writing the dialogue.
What would be your dream book as an author - plot wise and the reach wise?
I think every author dreams of writing a book that’s close to perfect and sells millions of copies. My dream is to write a handful of books that I’m proud of. I don’t really dream of writing a particular plot, though I have certain ideas I’d like to explore. For example, I’d like to write about the experiences of a stay-at-home dad, perhaps in my next novel.
Which kind of book you find interesting to read? Which is your favorite author?
I enjoy literary fiction more than popular fiction. Two of my favorite authors are Rohinton Mistry and J.M. Coetzee.
How would you want to make a mark - as a columnist or as an author? Which of these two enthuse you most? Or is it something other than these two?
I’d like to be known mostly as a humorist -- whether I’m writing columns or books. I enjoy doing both. Columns can potentially have a wider reach, especially with the Internet, but books last longer. My 8-year-old daughter, Lekha, is eager to read my novel, but I’ve told her she’ll have to wait until she’s older. It’s nice to know that my novel will be around for a long time, if not in bookstores, then at least on our bookshelf at home.
What is the biggest challenge you face while writing ?
The biggest challenge is setting personal deadlines. If you write 500 words a day, you’ll have a 60,000-word book after four months. But how many of us can stick to the schedule of 500 words a day without a boss checking on us?
What suggestions would you like to give to aspiring writers?
If you want to be a writer, you just have to keep writing. The more you do it, the better you will get. Don’t talk about it, don’t plan to do it -- just sit down and do it. And don’t try to be Salman Rushdie or Jhumpa Lahiri. Try to develop your own style.