Shuchi Singh Kalra is no stranger to writing stories that deviate from the norm. Her last book, I Am Big. So What!? explored the world of a healthy woman with ultimate panache. In her latest novel, A Cage of Desires, Shuchi delves into a genre that ancient Indians were proud of and that which ‘modern’ Indians frown upon.
In this candid interview with Writers Melon, Shuchi Singh Kalra talks about the long and arduous journey behind A Cage of Desires. She expands upon her new book, its travails through the genre of erotica, and everything writing.
A Cage of Desires:
A Cage of Desires, broadly classified, falls into erotica. But ask the author and she has an even more specific genre for it.
“Although A Cage of Desires straddles many genres but if I had to label it, I think it would come closest to contemporary romantic erotica. It initially started off as a short story published in New Asian Writings anthology. The story received a lot of praise which encouraged me to develop it into a full-length novel. Like all my other books, this one is also woman-centric but the central theme is far more dark and intense. It’s about a woman’s journey towards facing her inner truth and finding freedom, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. At the same time, it also explores the depths of female sexuality, toxic love and emotional abuse. I’m sure every reader will relate to it at some level.”
The Journey from Chick-lit to Erotica:
While her earlier books fell into the genre of romantic comedy and chick-lit, genres that come naturally to her, Shuchi Singh Kalra talks to us about how difficult making the shift to erotica was.
“Oh, it was extremely difficult! Romantic comedy is a genre that comes most naturally to me. I’d already written two rom-coms, and I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and experiment with something different this time. I’d never written erotica before, and it’s only after I started writing it did I realize how challenging it is to balance all the elements and get them right. On one hand, you could fail to evoke any sensuality, and on the other, your writing could end up sounding crass and distasteful. That said, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing it and this book is close to my heart for many reasons.”
Erotica in India:
India is a country that is very shy and puritanical when it comes to erotica, even though ancient Indians were quite open about sexual avenues. Shuchi Singh Kalra shares her thoughts on erotica and its market in India.
“I think the market for erotica in India is still evolving. Considering our rich history replete with themes of sexual exploration, the number of authors dabbling in erotica is extremely small. Apart from prominent authors like Ismat Chughtai who wrote about it, off hand I recollect Madhuri Banerjee, Balli Kaur Jaiswal, Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay who have written full length books and a few others who have written short stories around the theme. Ananth Padmanabhan is the only male author who I know of who has written erotica.
“A lot of it perhaps has to do with our public prudishness and authors being wary of being labelled in that genre. I am sure there are a lot many excellent authors who can write great erotica and we’ll perhaps see a surge in the genre soon. It’s just a matter of time before this genre gains a firm foothold in the Indian literary scene.”
Shuchi Singh Kalra and Maya:
Maya, the protagonist from Shuchi’s latest book, A Cage of Desires is a writer. When asked about the evolution of the character and what she had in common with her creator, Shuchi Singh Kalra had this to say:
“That’s (being a writer) perhaps the only thing I have in common with my character, Maya and it was anything but easy to create this character. In fact, I didn’t create her in a structured way at all. She just grew, evolved and came on her own as the story progressed.”
Shuchi Singh Kalra on Being a Writer:
A vast majority of writers live their dreams through the characters they create. Shuchi Singh Kalra is no different. Asked about what’s the best part of being a writer, she says, “For me, it’s the ability to live so many lives at once! Every character I sketch becomes a part of me as I get into their skin to understand what they would say or do. And then of course, there’s the element of surprise. I never plot my stories all the way when I start writing them. I wait for them to unravel as I move ahead chapter by chapter. Just like a first-time reader, I am also curious to know what happens next.”
Shuchi Singh Kalra’s Writing Process:
Shuchi admits that unlike many authors who write regularly with great discipline, she often wishes she could do the same.
“My writing schedule mostly involves long periods of writer’s block punctuated with phases of productivity. One fine day, after a long lull, the floodgates open and there’s a deluge of thoughts and words. I do not foreshadow much; I have a basic starting point in mind for a chapter or a scene, and then I let my conscious and subconscious thoughts take me wherever they want to. It is rare for me to ever know how my stories will end. Once I get under the skin of my characters, I often think, ‘Wait… She is not going to want to do that’, and then I have to change my plot. I believe that all stories come from the subconscious, and we as writers, should just let them take their course.”
The Next Venture:
Once you have decided that you like a particular author, the waiting period between books seems too long for you to bear. Shuchi Singh Kalra is one such author. She reveals to us her next project and the reason why she is reverting to chick-lit for the time being.
“Writing A Cage of Desires has been emotionally exhausting so I’m going to go back to writing rom coms for a while, but I’ll definitely experiment with some other genre soon enough. Right now, I am working on the sequel of my first book Done With Men. The characters got pretty popular with the readers and many of them asked me if there was going to be a sequel. The story takes off from where Done With Men ends but it will be a standalone book by itself.”
Advice for Writing Erotica:
There are a number of course for creative writing but hardly any have comprehensive advice on writing erotica. The challenges she faced and overcame while writing A Cage of Desires translate into this advice she has for those who want to write erotica.
“It is important to understand the genre you are going to play with. Erotica and porn are two very different things. Porn objectifies sex, while erotica is all about weaving a deeper, more layered story around sexual themes. Here, physical intimacy is not just meant for pleasure and titillation. It is an integral part of the character’s journey, her growth and the resolution of her conflict. In that sense, erotica serves a higher aesthetic purpose. A series of scenes depicting pointless sex would therefore not qualify as erotica. You have to have a strong story, and sex would need to be just a natural a part of the story, and not forced in just for the sake of it.
Secondly, learn to write honestly. This is one genre where pretentiousness does not work. The writing should be organic and written straight from the heart. It’s easier to fake an orgasm than to fake erotic writing.
Just like sex, intimate scenes are about individual preferences. Some like it overt and in-your-face, while others like it soft, sensual and poetic. Decide which route you want to take. Personally, I find the use of slangs crass and distasteful, so I wouldn’t use them in my writing. I believe that if you can evoke sensuality in your reader without using slang words commonly associated with sex, you’ve done erotica right!”
Author(s): Shuchi Singh Kalra
Publisher: Penguin India
Release: May 2018
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