Clarity of Voice and Vision
Interview with David Iglehart.
Tell us about your writing as “discovery”.
I write from images, characters, or scenes that lure me on to discover more about them. In “The Girl on the Bench,” for example, I was haunted by the memory of a young woman I’d seen in India years before and had to write her story to discover what she meant. In the process of writing, a good story rises above its original historical details and has its own necessity and significance. I do my best to express them.
Picasso made a statement that has always intrigued me, “I do not seek. I find.”
How has Raja Rao, as both mentor and friend, influenced your writing?
Most importantly, he showed me the richness of India’s traditional, living culture. In his way, he’s been utterly fearless in life, and he’s always stressed the importance of finding truth through his writing. His understanding of writing as a sadhana, a spiritual discipline, is a goal to live up to.
He also introduced me to the rasa theory of aesthetics, which is the best explanation I know of for what happens in the best moments of fiction, when we lose ourselves through powerful, generalized emotions of unlimited significance. And since I knew better than to try to imitate him, I was forced to create a style of my own.
The tone of your short stories is wonderful, crisp and to the point, not at all excessive or overdone. How much crafting do your stories go through to achieve this effect? How do you know when a story is finished?
I usually write many drafts, focusing at first on the overall flow of the story and polishing after that. A few stories need very little revision. Some I’m afraid I’ll never finish. A story is finished when it feels right, when it produces its necessary, significant emotion in me as my own reader. When Mozart was a child, his mother is supposed to have gotten him out bed by playing a scale but leaving off the last note. He couldn’t stand the effect until he supplied the right sound.
Your interactive website, www.storiesofindia.com is, unlike other author websites, not just about yourself, in that you actually encourage the participation of your readers experiences of India by inviting them to submit stories, photos, reviews, etc. Why is this “sharing” aspect important to you as a writer?
Many people have been kind enough to read my work and offer helpful criticism. It seems natural to host other writers in return. And I love to hear the stories and voices of people from around the world who write about India. My life’s much richer because of them.
How would you respond to the criticism that a white American male could never begin to understand the Indian psyche? Conversely, it can be pointed out that when Vikram Seth wrote An Equal Music, nary a review thought his being an Indian male put him at a disadvantage in imagining the life of a white man, and a woman for that matter.
After one of my stories was posted on Indian website, I was vehemently attacked by a small number of readers for being a “white boy trying to write about India.” And a publisher in New York told my agent that they would never publish fiction about India that hadn’t been written by an Indian. These positions are ill conceived. The very nature of fiction is to see through others’ eyes.
How can the scope of the imagination be limited? The majority of the Indian readers who’ve responded to my work have said that it put them in touch with their own roots, which I find very satisfying because I’m interested in those roots. A few have said they couldn’t believe at first that I wasn’t an Indian, though I wasn’t writing in disguise.
Finally, tell us what you are currently working on, and if India figures in this new effort.
I’m writing a novel tentatively called A Torch in the Night. It’s about a young American who loses someone in the World Trade Center disaster, withdraws to India, and reawakens to life through a school, a woman, and a man in a banyan tree.