So excited to share the cover for The Isolation Door’s second printing, coming November 25 from Lake Union (Amazon Publishing). Really captures the mood of the story in a really engaging way.
So excited to share the cover for The Isolation Door’s second printing, coming November 25 from Lake Union (Amazon Publishing). Really captures the mood of the story in a really engaging way.
Here’s an excerpt from a recent Q&A I did over at The Debutante Ball (thedebutanteball.com), a wonderful site that focuses on the journeys and experiences of first-time authors. I really enjoyed doing this- be sure to check out the books written by the lovely ladies over there! Full post HERE.
In describing your pre-writing life, when you were an actor, you’ve written that you eventually realized that your “entire life had been predicated on a fiction.” It seems fictions has played two roles in your life: one to hide, another to express. What brought about this drastic change?
When real life becomes a place fraught with pain and disappointment, fiction can be the truest thing in it. I was 9 when my mother first took ill and succumbed to the voices in her head, and the great comfort of being a child is that you don’t question the state of affairs. But by the time I reached my teens, the differences between my family and those of my peers had become all too obvious. Normal mothers didn’t fly into rages and attack strangers over imaginary slights. Normal mothers didn’t take on the persona of an entirely different person and look at her family like malevolent strangers.
The unspoken rule in our family was to pretend like everything was fine, so invention wasn’t a foreign skill to me. In high school I began acting in Shakespeare plays, using this skill in a different way, and it was truly transformative. Suddenly, all of the emotions I couldn’t express at home could be unleashed within the guise of a different character. Through fiction, I could express emotional truth, and not only did people not back away with horrified looks on their faces, but they actually praised me! Looking back on it now, I honestly think that discovering acting kept me sane through the worst years of my mother’s illness.
The road to publication is an unpredictable one. What were some of your twists and turns along the way?
When I finished an early draft of the book in 2006, the only thing I knew was that New York City was the heart of publishing. So, with nothing more than a duffel bag and my laptop, I moved to the city from my hometown of Montreal and worked a succession of jobs found on Craigslist while sending out query letters to literary agents. After months of this, an agent at William Morris Endeavor expressed interest, and I believed, in my total naïveté, that fame and fortune was now just a heartbeat away. Unfortunately, after a year of submitting the book to editors, my agent failed to lock down a book deal and we were back at square one. Worse, he had a list of changes to the story that I needed to make in order to try our hand again.
I spent a year trying to force out a new version of the book. With my wife sleeping next to me I plugged away on my laptop, not caring about inspiration, or confronting the fact that I believed the book to be finished and any changes to be unnecessary. The result was a Frankenstein monster of a manuscript that lacked the magic of a truly gripping story. I didn’t know what to do. Many times, I considered walking away from it all.
Almost by accident, a moment of clarity came upon me in 2010 that opened the door to getting the book published. I looked at the story in front of me, and realized that trying to recapture the feelings behind the initial draft was pointless because my life had moved on. The Anish Majumdar who wrote the first draft of the book desperately wanted to believe that a better life was possible, but didn’t really know if it could be grasped. The Anish of 2010 had found the love of his life, discovered inner reserves of strength, and wasn’t afraid to fight tooth-and-nail for what he believed in.
When I stopped looking backwards for inspiration and started drawing it from the life which surrounded me, the magic was there again. In 2011, I finished the version of the book which was published by Ravana Press in February of this year. On November 25, Lake Union Publishing, an Amazon imprint, will be releasing a second printing of the book. While the process towards publication was a painful and emotionally draining one, the finished work truly gets to the core of what I wanted to express, and really seems to be striking a chord with readers. I am grateful for it all.
In addition to writing, you also speak regularly to high school and college students about “the importance of owning your own story and spreading awareness” about the millions of families dealing with mental illness. How do you define owning your own story to those struggling with doing so?
We’re taught from a very young age to project an image of success. Everything’s great, everything’s going well, and if it’s not, keep it to yourself because showing weakness will only make things worse. By the time I reached high school my home life was a mess, but I didn’t have the confidence to visit the guidance counselor and seek out help. I didn’t have the courage to tell a friend about what I was going through. By internalizing all of these things, I shifted the blame onto myself. The end result was a level of self-destruction that frightens me to this day. I showed up at school dances high on acid and reeking of booze. I got suspended for smoking cigarettes and joints in the bathroom. I shoplifted, skipped school 3 out of 5 days by my senior year, and rebuffed any attempts by loved ones to help me.
There was so much pain and confusion in those years, and I think the heart of the problem comes from judging those feelings instead of finding a way to deal with it in a positive way. My work with students is all about showing them that real strength lies with the one who is honest about himself, the one who casts off society’s mask and shows his or her true face. Maybe they won’t get there today or tomorrow. But my hope is that by sharing my story, those in similar circumstances will be inspired to seek out a new way to deal with life’s hardships without resorting to self-harm.
Here’s an excerpt from the Foreword review of my first novel, The Isolation Door (I was completely blown away by this one):
Neil’s college theatre group and family members strike a cord with their vivid realism.
The Isolation Door is the first novel of journalist Anish Majumdar, a man of complex heritage. Bengali-born, raised in Montreal, and currently living in the United States, Majumdar entwines elements of experience and perception into fiction both finely textured and eloquently fragmented.
Niladri “Neil” Kapoor is a twenty-three-year-old college student, but his story goes beyond the usual angst and ardor of twentysomethings. Priya, Neil’s beautiful and charismatic mother, is losing her prolonged battle with schizophrenia, a condition which has a seismic effect on Neil and his own hopes for the future. Although Priya has suffered another serious breakdown, Neil enrolls in a theatre program at a local university. The claustrophobic world of his home life begins to open up through his studies, and he meets new friends and lovers. Majumdar deftly uses his protagonist’s drama coursework to parallel the more disturbing drama of his personal reality. Emotions are exposed and manipulated to learn the craft of acting, and Neil is no longer able to be so guarded and self-contained.
As Gary, Neil’s sage and sometimes ruthless professor, notes, “Actors have worked on this stage for over forty years. Fighting demons, opening their hearts, discovering, magically, that they’re not alone … [w]hat we show others creates the most amazing energy. One with the power to heal.”
Beyond the classroom, however, Neil feels overwhelmed by his mother’s hospitalization and her ineffective and even sadistic treatments. Majumdar enters dark territory here, guiding us through the labyrinth of mental-health care and the strain it can place on families. And while Neil’s college comrades, Emily, Tim, and Quincy, are convincingly defined and intriguingly flawed, the characters of his family network truly resonate. His haplessly determined father, fiery yet vulnerable mother, wealthy Auntie, and jovial, pragmatic Ganguly Uncle are all vivid and memorable.
The Isolation Door is recommended for its especially appealing narrative voice and cultural contrasts. Fans of Jhumpa Lahiri may enjoy this novel, as may anyone who has experienced the unnerving challenge of coping with the mental illness of a loved one.
Grab a copy of my first novel, The Isolation Door on Amazon (Paperback and Kindle).
Here’s a guest piece I wrote for Caffeinated Life about early English lessons from my Mom:
My Mother’s Lesson
When I was 6 years old, my mother and I traveled from Montreal to her hometown of Srivila, a tiny village bordering Kolkata, India. While the reason for the trip was ostensibly so I could connect with her side of the family, the fact that we left immediately after a huge fight with my father smacked of one of her trademark emotional power plays. After a few weeks of shopping for saris and jewelry in the plush, air-conditioned havens along Park Street, she returned to her previous work as an elementary school teacher. I was largely left to my own devices in this new country, and often accompanied her to class. Sitting in the back of high-ceilinged rooms with slowly whirring fans overhead, I witnessed an entirely new side of her: quick-witted, withering when a student failed to live up to expectations, and possessed of a deep love for English literature. When my father arrived months later to win back his family (hint: copious gifts to my mother were involved), she once more laid her profession aside to raise me and follow the hundred unwritten rules of a wife in a conservative Bengali family. Only one element of that fiery teacher remained: every afternoon, once my schoolwork was done, I was to carry out a writing assignment for her eyes only.
Some days it was a short story. Others it was writing a set of poems. The subject matter could be of my choosing, but the deadline was always evening’s end. Over a cup of tea and some butter biscuits, my mother would ruthlessly mark up the day’s efforts with a red pen. Yet aside from grammar and composition errors, she never passed judgment on the work itself. At school, there was constant pressure to excel. At home, the requirements of being a well-behaved Indian boy, seen but rarely heard, choked off open communication. But within those pages, I discovered an avenue for self-expression whose limits expanded in lockstep with my explorations.
At age 9, we learnt via the dreaded midnight call from India that my grandfather had passed away. Although my mother’s father, a kindly former business executive with wisps of white hair protesting baldness and thick coke bottle glasses, had spent years dealing with diabetes and glaucoma, his death was unexpected and came as a terrible shock. My mother packed a bag and once more left for Srivila, this time without her son in tow. When she came back a stack of writing assignments were on the nightstand awaiting her approval. But her attention had shifted. In the following weeks, we looked on helplessly as the schizophrenia which had lain dormant capitalized on a daughter’s grief and consumed her whole. A woman who loved to gossip and throw parties spent 18 hours a day locked in her bedroom, having increasingly agitated conversations with voices in her head. The bright saris she favored were replaced by all-black clothing. She got into violent altercations with strangers on the street, and began to spout paranoid conspiracies to explain every turn of fortune. Worst of all was seeing the love in her eyes replaced by the hollow brightness of an actress playing a role. She wasn’t my mother, not really. Only the voices knew who she really was, and everyone else was just an imposter out to make her forget the glory of her true destiny. When the paramedics finally came to drag her, kicking and screaming, to the hospital, the only clear emotion I felt was numbness. In the ensuing 16 years, as she cycled in and out of various treatment facilities, making progress, coming back home, only to eventually relapse and suffer another breakdown, I kept writing and discovering the layers of disappointment and anger and bruised love that come with caring for someone with such a debilitating disease. Only I’d stopped believing she would ever read these entries, and did it now solely in the interests of self-preservation.
By age 25, a life spent on the run from the shadow cast by my mother’s illness had left me utterly alone. In a strange echo of my mother’s personality changes, I’d embarked on a career as an actor, escaping into roles like a doctor trying to save Rachel Weisz’s life in The Fountain (and getting pummeled by Hugh Jackman in the process), and spurned lover roles in Shakespeare-in-the-Park productions. But this talent for invention had also spilled over and altered other facets of my life. I invented pleasant family backgrounds in the face of a girlfriend’s questions. I mimicked the preoccupations and preferences of whomever I encountered in the hopes that they’d like me. Ultimately, no one stuck around. Maybe I didn’t really want them to. As I stared out at the snowy blue-grey Montreal skyline on New Years Day 2006, I saw that my entire life had been predicated on a fiction. By pretending to be other people, I’d really held up the shame of the past beyond all else. I’d let it rule my relationships with others, guide me in all things, and it had led to here. In that loft with only my cat for company, I felt the sharp sting of tears, the acknowledgement of the pain I’d tried so hard to lock away. And I began thinking: if a fiction had gotten me into this mess, perhaps a fiction could get me out.
Since the publication of my first novel, The Isolation Door, in February of this year, readers of all ages have reached out to me with stories of caring for loved ones through mental illness and other battles. In the book, a 23-year-old named Neil Kapoor takes his first steps towards manhood while grappling with the effects of a mother’s schizophrenic breakdown. While the Kapoor family differs in certain ways from the Majumdars, the emotional journeys of the mother, father and son was as close to the truth as I could get it. In the years that I spent fighting to get the book published, the doctors found a combination of drugs that effectively controlled my mother’s symptoms and finally put an end to the relapse-and-recovery wheel that she’d been on. Today her face has trouble expressing emotion. Sometimes you can see her struggling to make sense of what others are saying. Most painful for a book lover, she’s lost the concentration necessary to sink into a long work. Yet her son’s novel remains on the nightstand, and every time my wife, young son and I visit I can’t help but pick it up and quickly thumb through the pages in search of those telltale red correction marks.
Purchase my first novel, The Isolation Door, on Amazon.com (Paperback and Kindle) and shoot me a tweet @dashamerican letting me know what you think!
Here’s a clip from a recent book club meeting on The Isolation Door hosted by 2 wonderful friends of mine in Rochester, Ben & Leora. I talk about the family circumstances which inspired it as well as the journey from secrecy towards sharing my past with others.
If your book club has read The Isolation Door: A Novel and would be interested in scheduling a Phone/Skype chat with me, just send me a message through the Contact page of this site or shoot me a tweet at @dashamerican. Enjoy!
Venue: ROC Brewing, 56 South Union Street, Rochester, NY 14607
Date: May 22, 2014
Event Type: Author Presentation & Q&A, Social
Come out and enjoy a craft beer while hearing from a local published author!
On May 22, for Mental Health Awareness Month, Rochester author and young professional Anish Majumdar (AnishMajumdar.com) will be speaking on publishing his first novel, The Isolation Door, and the events that inspired it—namely, his mother’s struggle with schizophrenia and the profound impact it had on his upbringing and life’s journey. Anish will also be discussing the role the city has played in his development as an artist, particularly the rich base of resources and community support. A short presentation will be followed by a Q&A session and book signing.
The Isolation Door (Ravana Press) is available now at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. A portion of the proceeds from every book sold will be donated to schizophrenia research and treatment.
*****Please make sure to RSVP because space is limited: email@example.com
Here’s an excerpt from a Kirkus Reviews Back Story piece I wrote on my first novel, The Isolation Door, and its journey from memoir to fiction:
I began writing what would eventually become The Isolation Door, my first novel, on a frosty January morning in 2005. While it would be tempting to say that dreams of hitting the best-seller lists fueled those first few pages, desperation is a far more accurate answer.
I was 25 years old, working as a professional actor in Montreal, and utterly cut off from friends and family. This exile was self-imposed; after a lifetime spent in the shadow of my mother’s paranoid schizophrenia, I felt like it was the only way to break loose of my dysfunctional upbringing and create a new life. Acting, at its best, is spontaneous invention, and this skill came in very handy when navigating personal relationships. Rather than talk about the darkness and insecurity that comes with seeing a loved one consumed by the voices in her head, I invented backstories about my family and fondly recalled happy memories that never occurred. I preemptively cut ties with girlfriends and close friends who cared about me, believing that it would only be a matter of time before they’d peek behind the curtain and see the emotional wreckage. The end result was an inability to hold onto anyone for very long, and during that endless winter I realized that depression had sunken its claws deeply into me. After trying so hard to be someone else, I’d ended up in a prison of the mind not unlike my mother’s.
So I decided to write out the memories which were haunting me. Mainly to relieve some of the internal pressure, but also with the idea of possibly creating a memoir. The first few memories came easily. Visiting my mother in a high-security wing of Douglas Hospital in Montreal, the smell I’ll never forget of ammonia and bodies trapped for too long in a confined space. My father and I picking up the house after she’d been forcibly taken back to the hospital to begin yet another round of treatment, her screams and pleadings still ringing in our ears. Soon, though, keeping the timeline of life events in place became extremely difficult. Sitting impotently in front of my laptop, I realized that the way my brain dealt with unpleasant situations was to fuzz them out. Only it had butchered a situation requiring a surgeon’s delicacy, axing out entire years of my life with nothing left save for vague recollections.
The story might have ended there. But during the next few days, my subconscious kicked into overdrive. I had visions of a Bengali-American family, similar to my own yet different. A father who taught at a small college town, a kind man enabling his wife’s illness out of love. A mother whose charm and vitality had grown toxic through years of schizophrenia. And, trapped in their midst, a 23-year-old named Neil Kapoor, vacillating between being there for his family and striking out on his own. It was like looking into a fractured mirror, and every break, every difference offered a place for my imagination to roam free. The words began to come, first a trickle, then a torrent.
Read the full essay here.
Thanks to everyone for the support and feedback on the book- it is truly appreciated! -Anish
I had a wonderful time chatting with Cyrus Webb, host of “Conversations LIVE! Radio” about my experiences growing up with schizophrenia, finding a life beyond the darkness, and how real life bled into the fictional universe of The Isolation Door. I truly appreciated the insightful questions and support- this was such a pleasure to do.
CLICK HERE to listen to the full interview!
Anish Majumdar joins Dr. Peter Sacco and Todd Miller on Listen Up! Talk Radio to talk about life with a schizophrenic parent and writing his newly-released novel, The Isolation Door, on “Matters Of The Mind”.
CLICK HERE to listen to the interview (hint: click on the “Matters of the Mind on Demand” button, then click on the following episode: 140105 MOTM Vol 35 SCHIZOPHRENIA. The interview with Anish starts around the 20:00 minute mark. Thanks!