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.