When I started writing my collection of short stories, I had no idea what an agent did, no clue what the short-story market was like and scant knowledge of the world of rights, publishing and imprints. I wrote because I had to legitimize my existence – I had just quit a well-paying job in New York, traveled a bit finding in it neither the enjoyment nor the answers I was seeking, and dreaded returning home to well-meaningly annoying people curious about what I was going to do next.
So I packed my bags for a resort town in North India called Manali and got myself a hotel room with no hot water. It was a strange place – this town – full of Israeli tourists looking to let loose after mandatory military service. Everywhere you looked, there was temptation. Everywhere you looked, people fled reality. The couple in the room to my right fornicated to thumping music the entire time they were there while the yarmulke-topped gentleman holed up to my left read the Torah all day long. There was drugged-out banter outside the window. People fought. People made love. I typed, deleted and re-typed.
I chose to write a collection of short stories because a novel was out of reach, unattainable. It would be a project too big, one that I had no experience for, no talent for. Besides, a short story could be short, really short – I could wrap it up, make it ambiguous if need be, make the ending ambiguous if need be. I had read short stories that had less ‘story’ in them than poems did. People liked these stories. Maybe I could do that if nothing worked. But I hoped it wouldn’t come to that because a number of these stories were already in my head; it was only a matter of getting them down. It’d be easy.
I thought short stories would be short and not take very much time. Mine were long and took a lot of time. The dialogue in my first story felt contrived, the descriptions convoluted. The characters felt either too convenient or too forced – where they deviated from the stereotypical , they felt inauthentic. Let it be a book that thrives on stereotypes, I thought. Or let it be a book full of inauthentic characters, I consoled myself. Let me just get the damn thing done.
I left Manali for my hometown using the excuse that Gangtok, where I am from, made Manali look like its poorer cousin. Home meant not paying rent. It meant a return to personal hygiene (the absence of hot water often means the absence of showers). It meant questions from well-wishers. I realized at home that bringing a short story to a satisfying resolution was the most difficult thing about writing.
I signed with Quercus because Jon Riley, the editor in chief, believed in the form. He liked the book a lot, but so did others. The others were more interested in the novel, though – wanted the collection to follow the novel. Jon was okay with the idea of publishing the collection of short stories first. Even after I produced a novel and polished it, we decided on bringing out the short stories first. Many in publishing said we were stupid. Sure.
No, I am not the harbinger of the resurgence of the short story. Jhumpa Lahiri and Jennifer Egan may be. Daniyal Muennudin may be. I don’t know who is, but it’s definitely not I. I am just someone who started writing stories because a novel was too scary. So many people out there who should be writing aren’t writing because the novel frightens them and the short story has no market. It’d be a year before I’d discover writing short stories was far more difficult than writing a novel. Now, I don’t think I could write another short story.