BWS 05.03.14: Veena Gokhale

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Before moving to Canada in 1992, where she’s currently working on her first novel, Veena Gokhale was a journalist in Bombay in the 1980s, an era she captures in her debut short fiction collection, Bombay Wali and Other Stories (Guernica Editions, 2013). Re-blogged from the independent arts and culture review Rover  and online South Asian arts, entertainment and lifestyle magazine mybindi, here is her reflection on her first launch.

She’s Havin’ a Book Baby

Publishing a book is like having a baby. We’ve all heard that one, right? Do you recall where? I don’t. It’s an omniscient statement like don’t get wet in the rain, you’ll catch a chill. Or, don’t get involved with a married man, he’ll never leave his wife (not sure what they say for married women, hmmm). Don’t become an artist, you’ll starve to death.

When I first came upon that book-equals-baby pearl, my immediate reaction was, “What a silly exaggeration.” Though not a mom, I have always felt that I know exactly what it is to have a baby. I was 10 when my busy, doctor mother brought forth my baby brother, and everyone’s life went for a toss. (This was small-town India.) I think I had the most fun because of his arrival, but I certainly learned that a baby makes incredible demands even as it brings leaping joy.

When I found a publisher, Guernica Editions, for my first fiction collection – Bombay Wali and Other Stories – after about eight months of marketing and as many rejections, I felt I had fared not too badly. My near and dear ones were thrilled and hearty with their congratulations. The book (baby) would squirm its way into a cruel, indifferent world in Spring 2013. This pregnancy was going to be almost as long as an elephant’s, so I decided to put the end result out of my mind.

The bleak and bleary November of 2012 arrived and brought with it the proofs for The Book. What! Already? By the end of the month a heavy cardboard box containing 50 shiny copies had arrived at my door. Having already contributed in innumerable ways, my long-suffering partner lugged it up the stairs.

This baby was a premie. Great – I could take copies to India for my mother, brother and my artist friend who had done the lovely cover. We were visiting that December. Wait! – I had put a website address on Bombay Wali’s jacket. My partner and I quickly added a section to my existing site before catching the plane.

“Hope your book becomes a bestseller,” e-mailed an innocent friend. “When will it come to India?” asked another one. Unfortunately, people, who will hopefully buy your book if they are so fortunate as to lay their hands on it, don’t know the difference between small and big publishers. For most, publishing is Penguin, Random House (ed. note: now, “Penguin Random House”) and HarperCollins; books travel far and wide, their authors taken on grand tours by their multinational masters with huge promo budgets. I had no such delusions for myself.

Instead, I went overnight from glowing new mom to a neurotic mess. The book was here, but so what? When would it get to the stores? Would it even get there? What about Amazon, which was already slashing the pre-order price and had the number of pages wrong? Given the zillion books – prize-winning fiction by new and established authors, non-fiction about Climate Change! Economic Meltdowns! War in Afghanistan! and all kinds of trendy stuff that appeals to the average North American reader – who the heck will care about Bombay what and Veena who? (Incidentally, “Bombay walli” means a woman from Bombay.)

Why wasn’t my style post-modern, I bemoaned. And with so many bookstores closing down, would I even get to read anywhere? Even if it got reviewed and somehow arrived in the stores and I got to read in public, no one was interested in short stories, right?

Worried sick about my baby’s survival, it seemed to me that infant mortality rates for books by first-time authors were as bad as those for sub-Saharan Africa. It’s only a book, Veena. Chill. I tried various tones of voice. Standing before a mirror. While doing Downward Dog. No good. I was as nervous as the proverbial Nellie.

PS: I have become a zealous promoter. Bombay Wali must live, thrive even! Friends and acquaintances are buying and commenting favourably. Reviews and interviews have been promised and readings scheduled. Communities I belong to are taking it on. (It’s not my sole responsibility, it seems. Phew!) The book is on Amazon.

I am not sleeping like a baby yet, but one of these days hope to.

Veena Gokhale visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC) – along with Angie Abdou, John Degen and Michael Fraser. Come early, too (6:30) for Veena’s talk, “Writers as Publicists: Saying Yes to Selling Your Book!”.

Watch this space for more with each of our readers in the month leading up to the event!

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