I lost a loved one to suicide and felt that there were so many misconceptions—or plain lack of knowledge—about what survivors experience, I wanted to shed light and give voice this loss like no other. The book also examines the cultural complexities that come with this kind of loss, as the characters of East Indian descent. Writing the book was also a way for me to process my grief and transmute the pain into something artful, hopeful.
How did you come up with the title?
SIDE BY SIDE refers first and foremost to the closeness of the relationship between the siblings in the novel, Kavita and Sunil. But it also refers to the themes examined in the novel, such as love and grief, loss and healing, self-destruction and self-discovery, universal experiences that often occur side by side.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
If the book is about anything, it’s empathy. The protagonist in the novel, Kavita, encounters ignorance and shame in many parts of her life after her brother’s death. But when she finally meets someone who treats her with empathy and she learns to give that empathy to herself, and later to others, her healing journey truly begins.
Where can readers find you on social media and do you have a blog?
Do you have plans or ideas for your next book? Is it a sequel or a stand alone?
My next book, CAUGHT IN A LIE, will be published by HarperCollins. It’s a mother-daughter story told in alternate timelines that delves into identity, belonging, and the cultural pressures placed upon women.
Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?
My favourite character in SIDE BY SIDE is Hawthorn, whom Kavita befriends at a bereavement group meeting in the third part of the book. To me, he is empathy. He is definitely the most aspirational character I’ve ever written. I wish I was more like him and I wish I knew more people like him too.
Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer?
A bit of both, actually. I like having a skeleton outline, so I have some idea of where I’m going with the story. How I get there, though, is always a great surprise!
Do you find social media a great tool or a hindrance?
Depends on the day! I often find it distracting. But it’s wonderful to be able to connect with people and share what you’re going through. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be more active and engaged online. When things get busy, though, I definitely slack off. So, I’m trying to be more consistent with it. I guess social media has the potential to be both a great tool and a hindrance. Boundaries are important!
Anita Kushwaha grew up in Aylmer, Quebec. She holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Human Geography from Carleton University and is a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at the Humber School for Writers. She is the author of a novella, The Escape Artist (Quattro Books, 2015). Her novel, CAUGHT IN A LIE, will be published by HarperCollins Canada in 2020. She lives in Ottawa.
SIDE BY SIDE Synopsis:
Kavita Gupta is a woman in transition. When her troubled older brother, Sunil, disappears, she does everything in her power to find him, convinced that she can save him. Ten days later, the police arrive at her door to inform her that Sunil’s body has been found. Her world is devastated. She finds herself in crisis mode, trying to keep the pieces of her life from falling apart even more. As she tries to cope with her loss, the support system around her begins to unravel. Her parents’ uneasy marriage seems more precarious. Her health is failing as her unprocessed trauma develops into more sinister conditions. Her marriage suffers as her husband is unable to relate to her loss. She bears her burden alone, but after hitting her lowest point, she knows she needs to find a better way of coping. Desperate for connection, she reaches out to a bereavement group, where she meets Hawthorn, a free-spirited young man with whom she discovers a deep connection through pain. After being blindsided by a devastating marital betrayal, she wonders if a fresh start is possible in the wake of tragedy. Will she escape her problems and start over? Or will she face the challenges of rebuilding the life she already has? Side by Side is a story about loss, growth and the search for meaning in the wake of tragedy, illuminated through one woman’s journey from harm to care.
Traditionally, it energizes me, but not because it’s easy. Transcribing from images and feelings to the right words takes blood and sweat, no matter how well I know my story.
I’ve worked under schedules that have exhausted me, though.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Kryptonite weakens Superman, brings him to his knees, makes him unable to go on. For me, that has always been my work hours, which have not only been odd, keeping me out of writing groups and events, but also long. Determined to find a way to improve my writing skills and become part of a writing community, I connected with writing instructors and industry experts through international online courses since 2006. It was a community I could interact with by leaving messages in the middle of the night when no sane local person was awake. It has taken superhuman effort to write my first novel during many upheavals in my life and three jobs at a time, but I was determined to do it.
The second Kryptonite would be my fiction writing speed, which is much slower than my non-fiction speed. Taking part in NaNoWriMo means committing several hours a day to make the 1,667-word daily quota, plus writing about 12 hours on Sunday. I ultimately “won” NaNoWriMo in 2014 with over 50,000 words in 30 days while working six days a week.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I’ve looked into why some authors do it. Sometimes it’s because what they write conflicts with their job or image. Others simply want a name that sounds good and is more likely to sell than their real name. Still others want to cover their gender to prevent publisher or reader bias.
Using my real name just makes sense to me, even if it doesn’t have the eloquence and appeal of a best-selling author name. Or I could be Klára Dvořák.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
My first author connections were international, mostly from the US and UK. As a single mom, I was working through all the local author meetings and event times. I couldn’t be anywhere in person unless it was in the wee hours of the night. Thanks to the Internet, I had an extensive online community before I ever became involved locally. Even now, I miss all weeknight meetings, and I’m lucky if I can make a Saturday event. Fortunately, I know a small number of local authors (Edmonton, Sherwood Park, St. Albert, Morinville) with whom I meet in person several times a year. I wish I could meet with the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County (WFSC) a lot more often.
More recently, my daughter, Leslie Hodgins, has published her first book, Rebel Destiny. It has been wonderful talking “shop” with her.
Author friends and instructors have helped with feedback on my writing, with knowledge of publishing, graphics, promotion, and events. But mostly, it just feels good to be in the company of other writers and be able to talk about writing or read their work. Special mentions go to Mandy Eve-Barnett and Linda J. Pedley.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Right now, I have a published novel that could stand alone, although I have started writing a companion novel/sequel to expand on some of the situations mentioned in the first book.
The two other books in progress are stand-alones.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
The absolute best money I ever spent was on writing courses in 2006 to 2012, which gave me access to professional critiques, editing, and communication with instructors who had worked as acquisition editors in publishing houses, instructed Fine Arts programs at universities, wrote for well-known magazines or publishers, and/or traditionally published their own books. These courses and individuals helped me hone my craft. After that, the best money I spent was to Dream Write Publishing.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was very young and said something stupid that couldn’t be taken back with an apology.
Later, in school, I couldn’t impress anyone with my writing or verbal presentations—neither teachers nor students. A few teachers gave me credit for my mechanics, though, especially in writing dialogue.
Only once ever, in the final year of high school when I answered a child development/perspective question during a discussion period, did the class, much to my amazement, clap. (I was a nobody in school, so that was kind of a big deal.) I guess that’s the one time I can actually say I had insight beyond my years and an ability to get into the developing brains of children and youth, and actually advocate for them. That ability later became the foundation to my job, my parenting, and my writing, but the credit for it goes to my mother.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I can’t even begin to say.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Interesting question. I never thought about it and can’t answer this question even after months of pondering it.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Three fiction books and a parenting/educator handbook.
What does literary success look like to you?
VJ Gage (January 2018) described it like this: “It would be that many thousands of people have read and enjoyed my books. I would want them to say they could not put my books down and that my plots are unique and clever, and that I have a great imagination. Then I would like to make lots of money.”
Writing a book is a heck of a lot of work, and prepping it for publication is a heck of a lot of work on top of that. With that in mind, it would be nice if my book had some traction, both in terms of readership, literary credibility, and sales. That’s just the reality of life. Anyone can write for the joy of it, but to make a book and keep making them needs some form of return.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
It depends on what kind of book it is. For my first book, the events, relationships, interviews, and readings from my whole life, distilled, were my research. When I needed more, there was the Internet. I researched the psychology of grief in real life as well as through literature.
For my fantasy and supernatural books, the process was different, since the decision to write each was sudden. But I did research locations, clothing, tools, mineshafts, etc.
Research can be done at different stages: before writing, at the beginning of writing when you come across something you need to know, and toward the end to verify or adjust information.
With non-fiction, though, the brunt of the research and organization comes up front.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
When I do get to write, it’s a marathon. I’ll write until it’s done (an article or short story), or until I drop. In the past, I had written for 17-20 hours a day for many days straight when writing novels. Unfortunately, this kind of time was rare and usually took long weekends and holidays.
I often can’t go near a novel (first draft or revision) unless I’m guaranteed an uninterrupted three to four hours at a stretch.
I do not get distracted by social media or anything else during these times. It’s very intense focus.
How do you select the names of your characters?
*Evil grin* I steal and collect names. I’ve had some sort of protagonist for as long as I can remember. He—yes, always he, though not the same one over my lifespan—often came with a family and a community of friends. These people needed names, so I was always writing down and saving names I liked. Nowadays, I search baby name lists as well.
It’s a little more difficult with last names. I have to be more careful.
What was your hardest scene to write?
One of the oldest yet hardest scenes to write was the first climax in my published novel. I grappled with it for over five years. It has been rewritten more times than any other scene in the book.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I’ve always written a form of reality fiction or literary fiction. My novel took on a psychological theme because I guess that’s what I know best.
As a child, I watched sci-fi, but I wrote adventures and was particularly interested in outdoor survival stories—for which I had no hands-on experience, and Internet research was still a good twenty years away. The nifty thing about living life is that you gain experience whether you want to or not. One day, I was finally in a position to write a book, but it was about a different kind of survival—more internal, more cerebral.
I wrote a fantasy adventure for NaNoWriMo 2014 because I could make that form of writing go much faster.
Each genre and book is so different that it’s hard to mix anything up because what belongs in one story doesn’t belong in another.
Random ideas for any story can be written down at any time. However, in order to complete a book properly and give it the best continuity of style, foreshadow, and character, it’s best for me to immerse myself in one book during the processes of revision and preparation for publication.
How long have you been writing?
Since before I could form letters. Then, during my childhood and right through university. I took a hiatus after marriage and while the kids were small. Writing was difficult to justify because I couldn’t produce anything worthwhile. I was alone with my passion until the age of the Internet, when I could seek help from people outside of my immediate geographical location. In 2006, online writing courses made it possible for me to connect with writing experts who taught me how to write novels (and articles) properly. Over the next decade, I began to find books and articles with valuable information for the professional writer. I educated myself as much as I could, conferred with my writing mentors, and practiced, practiced, practiced.
What inspires you?
Anything in life, real or fictional, can be an inspiration or become a part of a story. Authors see potential stories and character traits everywhere.
How do you find or make time to write?
There has only ever been one way, and it is not healthy: sleep less.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I began working on Beyond the Music (companion/sequel to Beyond the Precipice), Druyan (fantasy adventure), Ironclad (supernatural adventure), and a parenting/educator handbook. However, they are on hold indefinitely.
What do your plans for future projects include?
I would have to finish the above projects first, unless I got an incredibly hot new idea that pretty much wrote itself.
Self-help books are written with the intention of instructing its readers on solving personal problems. The books take their name from Self-Help, an 1859 best-seller by Samuel Smiles. However, they are also know and classified under self-improvement, the term being a modernized version of self-help. Self-help books moved from a niche position to being a postmodern cultural phenomenon in the late twentieth century.
The first self-help writings are most probably from the Ancient Egyptian “Codes” of conduct, the classical Roman, Cicero’s On Friendship and On Duties as well as the Florentine Giovanni della Casa’s book of manners published in 1558.
However, in the last half-century or so the humble self-help book has jumped to cultural prominence, in fact it could be said self-help books have become an addiction in and of themselves. These books cover such subjects as relationships, personal improvement, whether physical or emotional, spiritual enlightenment, and many more.
Have you used self-help book?
Have you written one?
A friend of mine, Kathie Sutherland has a blog that covers personal and spiritual growth and self-expression. Why not take a look?
To have inspiration for our writing we must observe life, to avoid our family and friends abandoning us we need to engage with them, to pay the bills we must usually work a day job, to maintain our word count or deadline we must organize writing time. So the question is, how can we juggle all of these demands on our time with failing at each one?
Finding the ‘perfect’ balance between these is always a challenge. You may be in the depths of a scene when a small hand lands on your lap, a teenager ‘must’ be taken to a friends house, your husband needs help with a project or dare I say it your boss needs something from you? We inevitably crumble and leave the narrative in the hope you will remember the details later? We may scramble to jot down that idea, phrase or even paragraph before being torn away. I have looked to other writers, famous or not, and tried to delve beyond the obvious and gleam an insight into their methods of finding time. There are numerous hints and tips populating the internet but in the end you know your life and its limitations best. You may get up extra early, stay awake until the breaking dawn or cram a few paragraphs into your lunch hour – whatever works for you and your writing – is the right way to go. The trick is how to organize your time productively.
How do you schedule your writing?
What time of day works best for you?
I have to admit my writing is not scheduled. I take advantage of any time I’m left alone and once absorbed find it difficult to let go. Weekend mornings are good for me as I get up early and have several hours while my daughter is still sleeping and my husband is playing about in the garage! Other times I can use are the evenings when I arrive early for writing group meetings and write until the allotted time. Other ‘escape’ opportunities do arise and I always take advantage of them: a cancelled appointment, the house to myself or the glory of a writing retreat! Obviously, I dream of the day I can shut myself away with my laptop and not have to answer to anyone…it will happen I just need to be patient.
With my freelance work increasingly demanding more of my time, I have to split my writing with that of clients. Maybe I am wrong but I tend to complete a client’s work prior to my own. Having a deadline for a paying job and completing it is, to my mind, more important and vital: a) for repeated work b) for remuneration. That is not to say I believe my own writing is secondary, far from it. Within my writing group, Writers Foundation of Strathcona County, I am fortunate to have other writers who engage in an annual novel workshop. At the beginning of the year, when several of us have participated in NaNoWriMo and others are ready to share their first draft, we meet every month until June (sometimes longer). We section our novels and email them to each other, then edit and comment on the narrative. Then at month’s end email our editing and meet to discuss the stories. It is beta reading within a ‘safe’ environment if you will. This mutual assistance enables me to edit my current manuscript with the views of several other authors and a ‘faster’ editing process too.
Care to share your writing schedule or tips you found useful?
My writing area expands a little each year! Where do you write?
I was fortunate to spend time with both of my children (well young adults now!) this weekend. It was a real treat and I relish being involved with their interests and every day concerns even though they are not really dependent on me anymore.
The experience made me think of other relationships and how we nurture them. For example I have forged close relationships with a number of fellow members within my writing group, The Writers Foundation of Strathcona County. http://www.wfscsherwoodpark.com/ Without their encouragement and continued support, my writing life would not have started at all and certainly would not be so enjoyable. Becoming the Foundations’ secretary has not only increased my involvement and experience but has also given me the opportunity to meet some well known and established authors.
Do you enjoy a writing group’s fellowship?
What benefits has it given you and your writing?
Another relationship that writers need to nurture is with their publisher. It should not all be business (hopefully) and a friendship of sorts can be established. I’m not saying you should be best friends but at least have conversations about mutual interests or exchange plans for the weekend. As an author with Dream Write Publishing http://www.dreamwritepublishing.ca/ I am fortunate to know the owner well and she encourages each author to be fully involved with the publishing process from format to cover design to finished product. This is an unusual kind of relationship within the industry, however having such a conscientious, hardworking and understanding publisher makes the whole process much more enjoyable. The personal touch is worth its weight in gold. Dream Write enables any writer to achieve their dream of being published and not have the agony of waiting for an extended amount of time for a submission to be acknowledged.
How do you liaise with your publisher?
What kind of relationship do you have with your publisher?