Episode 132: Capturing Diverse Experiences on the Page — Interview with Shanthi Sekaran

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Podcast

Hey there word nerds!

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Shanthi Sekaran, author of the new novel Lucky Boy (affiliate link), a book that has been getting a lot of pre-publication buzz and is an Indie Next Great Read pick for January 2017.

Lucky Boy is a moving story about two unforgettable women in California: an undocumented Mexican woman and an Indian-American wife, who both love the same child but can’t have him. The novel beautifully weaves together the themes of motherhood, immigration, infertility, adoption and minority life in America. More personally, as the first-generation American child of Brazilian immigrants, this story hit home and had me riveted from page one.

In this episode Shanthi and I discuss:

  • The importance of fiction in humanizing different groups of people by bringing them and their experiences to life on the page.
  • Using both research and imagination to create a vivid experience for your readers, and in particular how she crafted the dramatic immigration scenes in her book.
  • Connection to the point of view of the characters and how to capture their experiences and emotions with authenticity.
  • Crafting her book around the theme of motherhood, and how “mother” can mean very different things to different people.
  • The universality of the “immigrant experience” in America, and how there are many common threads between immigrants from wildly different experiences.
  • How there are also stark differences between immigrants with different levels of privilege, and how it’s important for us to understand these varied experiences.
  • Why it’s important that writers live their lives and be present in the world.

Plus, her #1 tip for writers.

About the Author

Shanthi Sekaran teaches creative writing at California College of the Arts, and is a member of the Portuguese Artists’ Colony and the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Her work has appeared in Best New American Voices and Canteen, and online at Zyzzyva and Mutha Magazine. A California native, she lives in Berkeley with her husband and two children.

Her latest book, Lucky Boy, has been generating a great deal of pre-publication buzz and is an Indie Next Great Read pick for January 2017. More recently, Sekaran wrote an excellent, thought-provoking opinion piece for the NY Times, “The Privileged Immigrant,” about privileged vs. unprivileged immigrants:

Lucky Boy

LUCKY BOY coverIs love alone enough to raise a child or does someone need the means to give that child a better life? Lucky Boy is a moving story about two unforgettable women in Northern California: an undocumented Mexican woman and an Indian-American wife. Both are bound together by their love for the same boy.

Solimar Castro Valdez has always been a dreamer, wishing for a better life away from her small town of Popocalco. Drunk on optimism and full of faith, Soli embarks on a perilous journey across the Mexican border. Weeks later she arrives on her cousin’s doorstep in Berkeley, California, dazed by first love found then lost – pregnant, undocumented, and unmoored. When her beloved son Ignacio finally arrives, Soli discovers that motherhood can be her identity in a world where she is otherwise invisible.

Despite enormous pressure from her parents to conform to their idea of the proper Indian-American lifestyle, Kavya Reddy has created a life she adores. Her marriage to her husband, Rishi, is mostly happy and she loves her job as a chef, but at thirty-five her life starts to seem empty, a gaping hole at its center that can only be filled by a child. When she can’t get pregnant, this desperate desire strains her marriage and tests her sanity, setting her on a path leading to Soli’s infant son Ignacio, sent into foster care when Soli is placed in immigrant detention. As Kayva learns to be a mother to this boy she builds her love on a fault line, her heart wrapped around someone else’s child.

The novel beautifully weaves together the themes of motherhood, immigration, infertility, adoption and minority life in America.  It’s also a story about California and a larger portrait of what the state looks like now – who does the work and who has the power. A native of California, Shanthi Sekaran was inspired by her own upbringing as a child of immigrants, by the news stories she was hearing about undocumented mothers losing their children when they were put into detention centers, and by living in Berkeley, a place that for all of its progressiveness is also incredibly privileged. She applied these real life inspirations to fiction and the result is revelatory. At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Lucky Boy will leave readers thinking and feeling and debating long after turning the last page.

As with many books recommended on this site, these are Amazon affiliate links, which means if you choose to purchase this book via this link, DIY MFA will get a small commission at no cost to you. Thank you for supporting DIY MFA!

Link to Episode 132

(Right-click to download.)

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Until next week, keep writing and keep being awesome!

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  • Jun Woong Jang

    Thanks for sharing, Gabriela and Shanti. I am happy to hear that you guys are trying to stay in the edge of life by attempting something that you are not good at. I have recently done one, open mic of standup comedy. There were only 6-7 crowds and I could hear a few of them sighing.. lol
    Thanks.

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