One of our favorite stories from 2012 was Gargi Mehra’s “Social Not-Working.” Gargi’s writing made an immediate impact on us, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with her and discuss a new project. Here’s what she had to say.
GM: Writing and getting published, though not as regularly as I’d like! It’s taken me a few years to develop a constant pattern of getting down words every single day. My story getting published in Bartleby Snopes, which has always been one of my favorite literary venues, gave me the impetus I needed to keep going.
BS: Tell us a bit about your involvement with Distant Echoes. How did this collection come to be?
GM: Around the end of 2013, I was in the throes of writing a story when it occurred to me that if only I could commit to writing one short story each month I’d have a substantial body of work by the end of the year. Luckily my brilliant writer friend Radhika Meghanathan had the same idea but was ahead of me. She had formed a group, and all I had to do was join in. She laid down the ground rules, established deadlines, and we were off!
GM: Many years ago, I read a newspaper story about a woman abandoning her infant and husband, and eloping with a man she’d fallen in love with. I wondered under what circumstances a mother and a wife would do such a thing. This story is my version of that news item.
BS: I can’t help but notice the connections between the main character and your own life. You’re both programmers and both mothers. Obviously there’s a line that marks the difference between the writer and the narrator. How does personal experience impact your work?
GM: Most of my fiction is based on “write what you know.” I chose to set this story in the place I know best – the office, and to some extent, Singapore. What was difficult was imagining a mother leaving behind a reasonably stable life in pursuit of a man, but I hope I’ve captured her mental and physical journey appropriately.
BS: Other than your own story, of course, what’s your favorite piece in this collection?
GM: I really like Shruthi Rao’s story “Fuddy-Duddies.” The ambiguity of the protagonist’s gender gives the story a certain spin. It’s a great look at the attitudes of policemen in small-town India.
The other one I like is the first story of the collection, Vrinda Baliga’s “Paying the Piper.” I love stories set in the software world and this one puts forth a brilliant idea that is scarily enough not too far from the real world.
BS: What do you see as the value of lit mags in today’s publishing world?
GM: For writers lit mags are gold. They’re the best places to gain a foothold in the writing and publishing spheres. It gives confidence to a writer just starting out when their work is accepted by someone other than family and friends.
As a reader I love the daily dose of stories I get through lit mags. In fact I might say that more of my reading is on lit mags nowadays, maybe more than novels and nonfiction.
BS: What writers have influenced your own work?
GM: Among the writers of classics it would be Jane Austen and PG Wodehouse. From the modern writers I adore the works of Eoin Colfer and Jasper Fforde. I admire that Alexander McCall Smith writes a thousand words of publishable fiction per hour. The short stories of Lavanya Sankaran, Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro and George Saunders inspire me to try and match their standard.
BS: So what’s next for Gargi Mehra?
GM: More short stories, essays and I’m also outlining a novel. I have written two novels earlier but I have consigned them to the department of ‘practice novels’ now. I hope the third one does the trick!
BS: Thanks for taking the time to chat about your writing and your life. Good luck with Distant Voices and whatever is coming next.