Interview with Poonam Sharma
Q: You are an MBA and a real estate developer. You have written books on being an entrepreneur and starting you own business. What made you decide to write novels?
I’ve always had a dichotomy in my passions (as much as in my life choices), between the practical and the sentimental. On some level, I think that through my writing I was able to begin to strike a balance by giving myself permission to pursue both. I had always hoped for the day when I’d find myself ready to tackle a novel. But for a long time, I suspect that I was building up the nerve. Even as I was writing business books, the idea of a novel was always in the back of my mind. But there is an audacity required of a novelist which (for me) wasn’t required for business books. It’s the confidence to believe that how you percieve the world is both intircate and insightful enough to justify an entire novel. For me, it wasn’t the decision to write novels; it was the sense that I was finally ready. Or more accurately, the realization that I had done enough living to finally understand that I had something of value to say.
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from my life. I would be lying if I said my work was autobiographical, because there’s always a huge departure from my actual experience/self to the character and the story that will ultimately make its way to the bookshelf. But I cannot fathom writing a novel with a protagonist to whom I did not relate deeply. Essentially, I take a personal experience, or a core of some deep emotional experience I have had, and it becomes the kernel around which the character’s dilemma/trauma/odyssey is born. The good news is that writing from the heart keeps me engrossed and glued to my laptop. The bad news is that — even though the final character is not actually ever me — I take readers’ reactions very personally as a result. It’s an emotional roller coaster, for sure.
Q: How do handle all the different titles you have? Do you ever get any free time?
The truth is that I write in bursts, so in between there are months at a time where I don’t write much of anything, and feel quite intellectually frustrated as a result! But writing, when I’m passionate about a story, doesn’t feel like work; it feels like an intellectual and emotional self-indulgence. Kind of like a runner’s high. And the way I see it is that I’m very blessed to have not one but two careers which fulfill me: real estate development and writing.
Q: What is your favorite part of writing?
When I solidify my first sentence of the novel. It can take millions of iterations. But when it’s right, it’s like music to my heart.
Q: Do you have a third novel in the works?
Yes, I’m working on something very different from the previous two. It won’t fall into the chick lit genre. It is a more serious novel, full of philosophical questions, personal demons, centuries old legend, and of course a romantic back-story. It has been exhausting so far, but also very rewarding to try another genre. It is definitely my most ambitious project yet!
Q: Do you have a favorite book or author?
Not just one. There are novels where the prose is magnificent (Bel Canto), novels where the imagery is staggering (The Ground Beneath Her Feet), novels where the universality of message is astounding (The Alchemist), and books which remind a writer how lucky he/she is, to do what they love (On Writing). There are so many authors whose work I admire, that I could never choose just one. They feed my brain, fuel my neuroses, and remind me that I can always always do better.
Q: What do you think is the most difficult part of writing a novel?
The most difficult part for me is what Anne Lamot (in her book Bird By Bird) refers to as ’killing your babies’. Basically its the aspect of revision which requires you to remove all the flowery language which (besides being music to your ears) does nothing to actually move the book forward. When you sit with a story, a character, a chapter for so long…you can become so attached that this feel like actual pain. You just have to remind yourself that if the true beauty of the novel can really be excised with the slice of a sentence, then perhaps the complete product isn’t what you thought it was.
Q: Your first novel, Girl Most Likely To, touches on interracial romances and cultural conservatism. How important were those subjects for you to write about?
I have always felt that there were few representations out there of both the richness recieved and the work involved in having to translate for every relationship of your life (from family, to boyfriends, to friends of various ethnicities…). But I don’t write those relationships make a point. I write them because they are what I know.
Q: Is there one goal you have for yourself that you haven?t achieved yet?
One? How about one hundred? I’m not as laser-focused as I was perhaps in my twenties about crossing items off of a bucket list, but there are always goals on my mind. A bestseller and a movie deal wouldn’t hurt. Neither would taking my company public. Of course, finding an anti-wrinkle cream that actually halts the aging process wouldn’t hurt either.
Q: I read that you spent a year traveling the world to find inspiring entrepreneurs. What was your favorite place you visited?
That was one of the best years of my life, and the whole experience fundamentally changed the way I have seen things ever since. Since I was travelling alone, I had my fair share of adventure, but my fair share of danger as well. That was also the year when I learned to appreciate solitude, and to enjoy my own company. Off the top of my head I would say that one of my favorite places was Cape Tribulation in Australia. I rented a hut in a backpackers resort in the middle of a rainforest, won the title Limbo Queen Of The Jungle, snorkelled the reef alongside baby sharks, and rode a horse bareback into the ocean and swam around with him. And I’ve always felt that Australians represent the best of American independent spirit and European joie de vivre rolled up into one delightful package.