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Author Highlight: Suraj Laxminarayanan Discusses his First Book ‘Elephants in the Room’ and Stories from his Life

We are back with another author interview. Today, with us, we have Suraj – the author of ‘Elephants in the Room’. In this interview, Suraj talks about his writing aspirations, and the route to getting his book published. Stay on...while we chat with him.

What motivates you to write?

The biggest motivation comes from the knowledge that a book has the magical power of transporting people to a different world and allowing them to forget themselves in it. The opportunity of attempting to do the same with my own book becomes exciting as well as a responsibility. Also, it is necessary to have a story that I myself enjoy and believe in.

I have been interested in self-help books and the psychology of crime. Crime movies and mysteries always appeal to me. The unexpected twists and turns in the books I read and the movies I watch fascinate me. Hence, writing crime related subjects is always interesting.

How do you handle the response of this book, especially from your friends and colleagues?

I take the positive feedback as a result of my hard work and the feedback of my dear friends and editors who helped make the book what it is today. I take the negative feedback as an area that I can work upon and hopefully remedy in my future works.

What kind of research did you do to pen down this novel?

The first area of research involved scouting the locations for the world that is presented in the book – the city of Chennai. For this, I traveled to all the places of Chennai mentioned in the book myself. I planned these visits, spending time at each of the sites, making observations about the people who frequent the place and the activities they engage in. This allowed me to present an authentic image of all the places. It also allowed me to modify the description of certain sites to suit the scene in the story as I have called out in the book.

The second area of research was around the tradition of gaana songs. Gaana songs stand out for their simple yet meaningful lyrics composed in Chennai Bashai (local dialect of Tamil) which is unique and different in its own way. For this, I interacted with the locals of Chennai and friends to collect the vocabulary of Chennai Bashai which in turn enabled me to compose the lyrics myself. The subsequent translation of the songs into English also helped me delve into poetry after a long time and I appreciate its beauty.

The third area of research involved collecting information around the functioning of the police department and government intelligence agencies. I interacted with police officials to collect authentic information on the protocols followed by the department, the hierarchy in which they work, vehicles and weapons used, negotiation tactics, criminal profiling, cooperation with other agencies and assault operations. Most importantly, the research provided insights into nuances of their lives which allowed me to make their portrayal in the story all the more authentic.

The fourth area of research involved the study of human nature, the evolution and development of crime and the character traits of intelligence and adaptability. Fear is the recurring emotion in the book and I studied its anatomy to understand its origin and trace its development to peak state. The research helped me in portraying the emotions the best way possible, and in turn provided an immersive and cinematic experience for the reader within the realms of a book.

The fifth area of research involved study of leadership, teamwork, relationship building and business strategy. This enabled me to develop these traits into the characters and portray their transformation in the most authentic and natural way possible. The undercurrent in the book reflects these themes in subtle ways for readers to make their inferences and form their own opinions.

The sixth area of research which was generic to writing and the most important, was around the development of the story and the book itself. My research involved going through various books on writing techniques and character development. I studied the tips and suggestions provided by various writers and filmmakers on the craft of storytelling, scene construction and character design. I have tried to implement them to the best of my ability.

What are some of your favourite novels and authors?

I like to read books in the genre of thriller, suspense, mystery, crime, action and humour. My favourite authors are Dan Brown, Ravi Subramanian, Jeffrey Deaver, J.K. Rowling and Patricia Cornwell.

Do you think writing a book from the comfort of bedroom is possible?

Yes, it is possible. All one needs to have is the self-discipline to stick to schedules and the willingness to put in the hard work that is necessary. Depending upon the premise of the book, one might have to venture to new places and talk to different people for associated research. Besides, new ideas might come from new experiences which can often be found only outside the comfort of one’s home. However, when all the necessary research is done, writing can be done from anywhere.

Where do you write from? Do you go to some specific place, like beachside or into the hills?

I use the study table in my room all the time. All I prefer is a silent place and my room is sufficient for that. However, when one is on the lookout for new ideas to write or ponder on some existing idea, going to a peaceful place like the hills might help. Also, any silent place where one can get bored is also a good environment for idea generation. Many ideas are born out of boredom as was mine during a lonely road journey to Chennai.

What inspired you to write this book? Any tales to tell…

It was in 2011 during a lonely trip from Bangalore to Chennai that the idea for the book suddenly popped up in my mind. I was travelling to my grandmother’s house for the festival of Pongal, a trip that we make every year without fail where all relatives come together to celebrate the three-day festival.

I took the bus to Chennai on a working day and the vehicle was only half full. The seats around me were vacant and the TV inside the bus wasn’t working. It was a largely silent ride where I also had no music to listen to on my phone. The idea suddenly popped into my head and I loved it. I spent the whole six hours of the trip thinking about it. From there on, I worked on that idea for the next six years.

What was your biggest learning experience throughout the publishing process?

My publishing journey has been a learning experience. As part of the process, I understood the limitations that publishers face as they work hard to keep the practice of reading books alive. I also understood the challenges faced by any author and more so by a debutant author.

My first experience of pitching the idea to a publisher came in 2014 when I participated in the Litmart event of the Bangalore Literature Festival. Litmart is a platform for debutant authors to submit the story idea for review and then present the same to a jury of members from reputed publishing houses for selection. This platform allows new writers like me to experience pitching the idea to publishers and know where they stand amongst all the new writers who also submit their work for selection. It is also beneficial to the publishing houses as it gives them the opportunity to scout for new voices from the writing community and nurture the aspiring writers.

My story idea was selected among the top 15 entries from hundreds of applications. I went on to pitch my idea to a jury of six members from different publishing houses. At the end, I received interest in the manuscript from three publishers.

This encouraged me to conduct more research as I already stated earlier. I was not satisfied with the effort. So, I focused more on refining the book, improving the reading experience, establishing great characters that readers would love and building a great story. I searched for writers who could help me develop my writing skills. In the process, I was fortunate to make friends with Aditya Magal, published author from Penguin Random House, who also was kind enough to be my mentor and guide me in the publishing process.

With time, the book acquired better shape and refinements like ageing wine.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in as a writer?

Looking back, I am pleasantly surprised at how I brought myself to complete the first draft and spend more time further on editing the book with several revisions.

As I went through editing, I became apprehensive about how readers would receive the book. But the apprehension fuelled me to conduct more research on techniques to make the book better and turn the reading experience into a memorable and immersive one for the reader. This was also aided by constructive and helpful criticism from my friends who provided honest feedback as readers.

In addition to that, I took respite from the positive feedback that I received for the idea of the story when I discussed it with my trusted set of friends who were my beta readers. It enabled me to have faith in the story that I wished to tell and pursue the idea to the end.

Above all, I believed that readers would accept a good story. In hindsight, I feel thankful for whatever happened.

Any best piece of writing advice from your side that we haven’t discussed?

There is plenty of advice and help available from other writers around us. I personally feel that one needs to have self-discipline to stick to writing. It is also important to have friends and people who would provide honest feedback for the writing which would help one to improve. Finally, it is necessary to not lose hope and instead gain motivation from the criticism and continue to improve.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I am an open person in general. People close to me usually know everything about me and I believe that’s what makes the relationships with them more personal.

Any future books that you would like to discuss now?

I want to take one thing at a time. At present, I am in the process of learning from the publishing experience. My future attempt at writing would revolve around the intricacies of human behavior and relationships.

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