Today I’m happy to welcome Rashmi Raj to this space and ask her about her writing journey and her debut short story collection, Uncommon – Stories of Love and Acceptance
Rashmi Raj – Her Writing Journey
Hi Rashmi and welcome to The Frangipani Creative. I always believe that writers are readers first. Is that true of you?
Oh, you’re right! I love reading stories with a passion!
Reading as a child
Ever since I was little, I have always enjoyed losing myself in long, sprawling novels. The longer, the better. At school, I was the only student who really looked forward to the Library Period we used to have once a week. The only girl that picked the thickest book off the shelf. And who preferred to read the books anywhere and everywhere around the house – in my room, on my bed, of course, cuddled up in a chair in the drawing room, waiting for the tea kettle to boil in the kitchen, and even sprawled on top of the water tank on the terrace (out of sight), while the other children from the building played tag or hide-and-seek.
It fascinated me to experience how an entirely wonderful and perfectly captivating world could be created using just words and imagination! And I could never get enough of it. What was more, I even tried building my own worlds, experimenting with unformed thoughts and amateur poems in a special diary of my own!
Reading as a part of life growing up and the introduction to the short story format
But all the time, while I was lost in the long, thick novels that ranged from school stories to murder mysteries, my parents – from whom I have inherited the love of reading – were busy enjoying short stories that they read from the books my father borrowed from the local club and from his office library. Especially my Mum, who enjoys reading Marathi literature.
In her twenties, Mum had read large tomes of the great works like Ranjit Desai’s Swami, Shivaji Sawant’s Mrityunjay, and Chava, and the likes. (Guess I know where my love for long form literature come from.) But by the time she was a full-time mother raising me and my brother, she had somehow turned to short stories and rather enjoyed them. Most days, that would be P. L. Deshpande’s humorous treats. Her ‘light and no-tension reading’ she called it. Although, I also saw how V. P. Kale’s dark and evocative writing resonated with her some days.
My father, had been into the serious works of S. L. Byrappa in his youth, and the philosophical compositions of Kanaka Dasa (which he enjoys even today). But he was also a Wodehouse fan at heart, and an admirer of the well-known Kannada humorist BeeChi.
And I like to believe that somewhere between my father’s Wodehouse and my Mum’s P. L. Deshpande obsession, there was enough sense of humour between the two to sustain a strong and multi-faceted marriage that made serious readers of me and my brother.
But here’s the thing. While I took to reading like a duck to water in my parents’ company, I didn’t really warm to the short story format of writing they seemed to enjoy so much. Short stories, to me, felt like little snippets that fizzled out all too fast for my liking, leaving me with wanting more. Like romantic or happy songs from movies. Or those deep fried, soul-satisfying evening snacks Mum made, that while filling and tasty, didn’t last long enough on the palate to satisfy my heart. If I wrote a book – note, I thought ‘if’ not ‘when’ – I decided I would write a long, sprawling novel myself.
Do tell us about your writing journey and how your book, Uncommon: Stories of Love and Acceptance came about.
Writing as a profession, and learning to appreciate the short story format
But when I grew up, and began writing seriously as a profession in my thirties, I realized that from a writer’s perspective, a short story is much harder to write than long form fiction. In the larger format, you have a lot of leeway, a lot of space to set your story up in, and then ease the reader into the events unfolding in the book. It is much easier to get a reader engaged in your story once you’ve given them enough background and reason to root for the protagonist. But a short story is much different.
In a short story, you have limited time to build the world of your protagonist. In fact, the short format demands a precise economy of words that conveys neither too much, nor too little, of what you wish to convey to the reader. It reveals just as little as is necessary to entice the reader, and just as much as they need to be an active spectator to the drama unfolding in the story.
It is a challenge.
And if my parents had passed something else on to me besides the love of reading, it was the willingness to challenge myself as much as I could!
So I went ahead and decided I was going to read, and then write all forms of short fiction – flash fiction, poems, and yes, short stories too.
And I did exactly that. I set up a blog and began contributing short fiction to several digital platforms to test the waters. From there, once I knew I was connecting with people and that people liked the stories I was writing, I went on to participate in some online short story competitions. And I won quite a bit of them! Encouraged, I began contributing short stories to a few anthologies too, and then it was only a matter of time before I was being asked about when I was planning on coming out with a book of my own.
Writing A Book
Over the years, I have been told by my readers that they enjoy how simply I choose to tell my stories – without using heavy words or an ornamental language. And that makes me so glad, because it is a conscious decision of mine to write simple and lucid English that both my offspring and my parents (whose first language is not English) can read.
I have also always been told that my readers enjoy my stories as much for the language as for the topics I chose to write on. They are never routine, or in some cases, they start out being routine, but end with a twist in the end. So it was a given that when I did come up with a book of my own, it wasn’t going to be anything run-of-the-mill.
Funnily enough, I had always thought that for my first book, I will write a long, sprawling novel, much like the ones I’ve always loved reading. And while that long, sprawling novel is in progress, as we speak, what I realized was that I couldn’t not pay a tribute to the ever intriguing short story that had always been present in my home and my life, taunting me from books lying on the coffee table and the side table with my Mum’s bookmarks and my father’s old receipts sticking out of them. And I felt it was only fitting that I brought out a short-story collection for my debut.
‘Uncommon: Stories of Love and Acceptance’ is, in a way, an ode to that short story format that my parents have always enjoyed, and which has, more recently had me in its thrall too!
Are you happy with how the book is doing? And what are your future plans?
The book came out in December 2020, and while it is still early days, I am glad to report, that I am receiving quite a lot of positive feedback on it.
This book is just the first in a long line of projects I have planned in the coming years. God-willing and with encouragement from my readers, I fully intend to keep them entertained with more stories from my repertoire.
Rashmi Raj’s Bio
A reader at heart, Rashmi Raj believes in the tremendous power of the written word. After seven years of practicing as a lawyer and a consultant, Rashmi moved to writing full time in 2011, choosing content creation, development and brand management as her field.
Alongside, she has also written extensively on positive parenting, humour, books, and women’s and children’s issues on various platforms. As an influencer blogger, Rashmi has contributed to Kelloggs’ famous Khuljaye Bachpan campaign which won the 2016 Abby Awards, India, and has interacted with some wonderful personalities like Mrs. Sudha Murty, the much-loved children’s author and philanthropist, and Mrs. Namita Waikar, novelist, entrepreneur, journalist, and the managing editor and co-founder of the People’s Archive of Rural India, among others.
More recently, as a fiction writer, Rashmi has contributed to three anthologies ‘When Women Speak Up (2017),’ ‘No Apologies (2018),’ and ‘Tea with a Drop of Honey (October 2020),’ which have all been well received by her readers. Her fourth anthology ‘#Love’ is about to be released on Valentine’s Day 2021.
Popular for her atmospheric stories, brilliant narration skills and witty dialogue, Rashmi hails from the vibrant Indian city of Mumbai, and lives in the cozy city of Bangalore, thriving on the ever ambitious and eternally optimistic spirit of these delightful cities. Raised on a steady diet of books, songs, movies, and family get-togethers, Rashmi believes that life is what we make of it and that we should take everything that comes our way with a smile on our face and gratitude in our heart.
Connect with Rashmi Raj:
Uncommon – Stories of Love & Acceptance
Here’s the blurb:
Short stories are little bite-sized treats for our imagination. They take us into a different world, and give us a wonderful experience.
Uncommon – Stories of Love and Acceptance is a collection of five such exquisitely crafted short stories that take you into the world of ordinary people who make extraordinary choices that change the course of their lives.
The young father here will melt your heart, and the mother at the sunset of her life will inspire you. The two friends in here will show you how easy it is to choose your own happiness on your own terms, while the family of four will show you one can redeem oneself with love and acceptance.
Come, be a part of their stories. Take a peek in their world, and revel in their little victories.