Karan Mahajan will speak & sign his new and highly-acclaimed novel, The Association of Small Bombs, in our store Tuesday, March 22 at 7PM. He was kind enough to answer some questions for us in the mean time. I advise you to also check out the book’s excellent review in the New York Times.
When and how did the original idea for The Association of Small Bombs first pop into your head? How long was this story idea percolating in your mind before you started actually writing it?
It clicked into place soon after the attacks in Mumbai at the end of 2008. This was a massive attack, televised fiercely over four days; it shook the country. But my response to it, apart from anger, was to remember the outlines of a small bombing that had happened near where I’d grown up in Delhi, in 1996. What did that attack, which had killed thirteen and injured thirty, mean now, all these years later? How were its victims holding up? I felt it needed inspection—that it could speak to all the smaller, seemingly “meaningless” attacks happening all over the world.
How do you begin to write a book? Does it start with a scene, a character, a line of dialogue?
I have a few images, which broaden into a flood of prose. That’s how the opening came to me. I sat down one afternoon in my bare apartment in Fort Greene, and wrote out a rough version in one go. I must have only written for two hours, but I collapsed after that and couldn’t return to that section for weeks. I might be the type of writer who spends months brooding before discharging his findings.
It always fascinates me to know if a story ends up where the author thinks it will when her or she firsts start writing. Did this story end up going where you initially planned, or did it take on a life of its own?
Definitely the latter. The plot, the direction of people’s lives, the ending—all of these developed in the writing. The writing, with its internal logic and music, fed the characters. Without this improvisation, writing would be very boring for the writer.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Show your work, don’t hoard it. You won’t achieve perfection in darkness.
What are you currently reading?
Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali—a dry, funny, moving novel about Cairo in the 1950s.
I understand you moved to Austin from Brooklyn. What has been your favorite thing about Austin so far?
Um, the tacos, obviously!