When we meet a talented person with a humble nature it gives us the feeling that we are interacting with one whom we have known for so long. These are the same feelings I had when I interacted with Author Uday Singh to learn about his journey and his latest book Inconspicuously Human. Simple, sober and down to earth person are the adjectives which perfectly suit this author. I am glad to present him to my readers and audience to know about his journey as an author and beyond that.
Welcome to this platform of Indiacafe24.com Mr Uday Singh. Before we begin the session will request you to give a brief about you and your family?
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to be a part of your platform on IndiaCafe24.com. There is not much to speak about myself. I am an engineer, economist, and an author. Those are my ways of contributing back to the society at large. From a personality perspective, I am a wanderer at heart that believes ‘that all those that wander are not lost’.
You play a responsible role as an economist and an engineer. How come the author developed in you?
The verdict is still not out as to whether the role I play as an economist and an engineer is a responsible one. But then that is a topic for another time. I have always been fascinated by macro patterns that surround us including the impact of words on our emotions and behaviors. It was probably in my early 20s that I came up on the realization that the greatest joy in life is in discussing, debating, and eventually influencing others. And writing is one of the tools at our disposal that allows us to accomplish that at scale and at great distances. Translating that realization into action was only a matter of time.
Your debut book Pokhran remained a best seller. So, If I ask you what as a reader you feel helped Pokhran to achieve such height and success in this competitive industry?
It is hard for me to comment. But if I were to hazard a guess, about my own book, then it would have to be a combination of pride in our nation, an international love story, and all of this built on the utopian ideal of Paracracy (an upgrade to the current day capitalistic democracies where everyone starts life from the same starting block at 21 years, without any inherited assets or wealth)
I came to know that you travelled across many nations and continents. Well, I am curious to know if such vast travel history helped you anyhow in shaping your story plots.
Certainly, it has. Working in different nations and regions, made me realize that at the very core we are all the same while still being very different on the surface based on the culture and the environment that we are exposed to. Those varied regional and cultural experiences do certainly flow through everything I write. In Pokhran, I get to reflect on the Yazidi culture, their hardships as refugees, and urging India as a nation to establish open policies and structures to take in refugees. In Inconspicuously Human, I build on the conflicts based on skin color, on differing ideas of good vs bad based on the culture of the region, among other things. All of these were possible only because of my travel and exposure to different peoples and cultures.
When did you first realize that there is a writer within you that can write well?
Writing to me is a way of interacting with others at scale. This realization dawned on me while I was working as a management consultant where my work required consulting and advising senior management at some of the top corporations in the world. Although the impact from that work was quite satisfying, it was still limited to the corporation that I was engaged with at that time. But the storytelling skills and related experience developed during those interactions made me realize that I truly derived joy from pursuing writing and (based on others’ reactions to my writeups) that I did not totally stink at it.
A question I always ask engineers when they turn authors…. Why is it in recent times that engineers are coming out as the best authors compared to people from literature backgrounds?
I am not sure I fully agree with such a blanket stereotype of engineers as successful authors vs those from literature background, although that maybe a very real and readily discernible trend.
With that said, I will attempt to answer that question. One way to categorize the population of authors is along the lines of right brained (creative, intuitive, visual, free-thinkers, and most likely to be interested in literature and arts), and left brained (logical, analytical, objective, and most likely to be interested in science and engineering). Although that is a binary categorization, most authors might fall somewhere between those two extreme ends.
Engineers that are coming out as authors, in more recent times, are most likely to be those individuals that have a highly active right brain as well. The combination of solid training as an engineer (which might make them good at developing a writing plan, sticking to that plan, and taking the book to the finish line) and the presence of a highly active right brain (which bestows on them both the desire to write and the ability to creatively think) might be increasing their odds of writing a good book. Maybe.
Writing is highly creative work, and needs an investment of time to shape the story interestingly. How do you manage to get time for writing from your busy schedules?
The creative part of developing the storyline and the plot elements happens, for me, while I am doing monotonous tasks like running, cleaning, etc. So that part doesn’t actually require any special dedication of time. And it is also the most fun part, as my brain is usually on fire and bursting with ideas at those time. Then comes the part of translating that into writing out the scenes, character interactions, and all the other details that add meat to the skeleton of the plot. That latter part takes dedicated time and consistent effort. So far, I have done most of my writing late in the night, while others around me have gone off to sleep. And the key to completing your book, is to write a small bit every single day without skipping, and that is the toughest part.
How important is a best seller tag for an author? Why do many authors despite writing so well, fail to achieve this tag?
Personal credit is not my primary focus, although it is certainly welcome. With Pokhran, my focus was to propose the concept of Paracracy and ensure that it is recorded in print as having had its origins in India, and with Inconspicuously Human, my focus is on opening up the dialog around skin color (among other things) and ensure that the younger generations do not sell themselves short just because some are a few shades darker than others. Although, I may not be directly in pursuit of the tag of best-selling author, I am certainly after ensuring that the books get picked up by as many readers as possible.
As to why some well written books may not receive the visibility or glory they rightly deserve – it is hard for me to hypothesize, as every author has their own unique book launch journey. But, if I have to pick one area that might be to blame, then it will have to be the amount of time and effort spent on marketing and promoting the book. Given the competition for attention of the same set of readers, the author will need to tap into all available promotional channels to get their books on the readers’ radars. After that, the strength and readability of the book will have to take over, in terms of grabbing the readers and hopefully word of mouth promotion will kick in after that point.
Plot and Character development are two critical aspects of story writing. How do you develop them? Is there any specific area in your home where you sit to write your books?
Great question. For me, the plot comes first and it starts forming in my head quite a bit before I even think about writing it down. Once I have those beginnings of a plot, over the next few months that plot gains enough structure such that I start laying that down on paper. As I begin to outline the plot, the characters start to come alive, and almost always they are modelled after folks that I have known well enough. That borrowing of personalities from real people gives the characters a consistent feel through out the storyline. As far as my preferred spot for writing, that will have to be my recliner couch in front of the living room television.
Inconspicuously Human is your latest release… Share few words about the book and the readers you are targeting with it?
My second book, Inconspicuously Human, is first of all non-fiction and it deals with the micro-behaviors or tendencies that lead to disproportionate impact on our lives. The thing that makes this book interesting is the seemingly innocuous things that seem to be inherent to all of us, such as – when the seats finally became available, after a tiring standing-room-only ride in the crowded subway train, why did the woman in high heels choose not to sit down while her 10-year-old did? When made to compete in the kids’ activity of arranging wood blocks one on top of another, why did one manager falter at just 5 blocks while another managed to stack up an impressive 20? Are we able to learn things, like swimming or riding a bicycle, without any memory of having undergone such learning?
Do we impose limits and restrictions on our own selves that we may not even be aware of? How is our inability to recognize such self-imposed limits related to fleas? For happiness, is it good to be the big fish in a small pond or go for bigger oceans? How does the culture of a society constrain its very members that it is intended to help? Why did the family, across generations, always clip the turkey’s wings while cooking a festival feast?
How many days did it take for you to write this book? Did the timeframe increase or decrease in the case of your second book?
On average both the books took about the same time, which was about 14 months. That was followed by revisions and self-edits for another 4 months bringing the total time to about 18 months. Although it took about the same time for my second book, I was lot more confident, of the second book seeing the light of day, than I was while writing my first one. Now that I have two published books under my belt, I do expect the writing time for my next book will most likely be lower than both my prior books. Even though writing time might come down, I have a strong sense that I might end up spending more time researching and compiling the material for the next book, as my own bar (for what good should be like) has gone up since I first started writing.
What are the challenges that you faced to make your place in the hearts of readers?
I am not such an optimist to assume that I have made a place in the hearts of readers. Too early in my writing journey to even contemplate answering that question, as that will make me come across as pompous and presumptuous. With that said, I tend to concern myself with things that I can directly control (such as writing my books that pass my own critical filters), and try not to think about things that I can’t directly control (such as, readers reactions to my writings or to myself).
Reviews of readers are something that acts as feedback for an author. But what if you get a critical rating from readers…. What will be the impact for you?
Having managed to live this long, I have had the opportunity to interact with a sizeable set of individuals to arrive at the realization that no matter what I do or how I behave, there will always be some people that will like me and some that won’t be able to stand me. Moreover, in some cases it is the same behavior on my part that will be liked and hated by different groups of people. Extending that realization to my writing, I expect the same bits to evoke different reactions from different readers. With that as my frame of reference, I genuinely except and accept critical ratings from the readers. I evaluate those on a case-by-case basis, and check whether they can help improve my style in any way. And if they do, I incorporate and build on that feedback in my subsequent writing.
Who is your inspiration in writing?
I have four authors that I admire, and draw inspiration from, for different genres of writing – Paulo Coelho when it comes to writing fiction with amazingly cogent flow (essentially, what he managed to accomplish in ‘The Alchemist’), Robert Heinlein for structuring a complex storyline where everything ticks and ties with engineering precision, Daniel Dennett for building logical arguments, about quite amorphous and at times nebulous topics, and guiding readers through to quite satisfying conclusions, and Malcolm Gladwell for translating academic research (that would otherwise have stayed in the academic circles) into stories and anecdotes that pique the interest of the non-academically inclined readers.
How supportive was your family when you decided to write books?
At the time I started writing, I had already established myself reasonably well in a corporate career, and hence did not need any financial support from the family to start writing. Nobody in my immediate family or extended family had a background in writing/ publishing books, so there was quite a bit of uncertainty in my mind when I initially started writing. Biggest challenge was overcoming the self-doubt as to whether I had content in me that was worthy of being written and shared with others. That self-doubt still persists, although it is lots less debilitating than it when I initially started my writing journey.
To be a good author, one needs to be a good reader. What type of books do you love reading the most?
I read both fiction and non-fiction. With that said, I have found myself swing more to one side and then to the other and then back again as I have gone through life. I started out reading fiction when I was in my teens, then my interest veered towards non-fiction (including psychology, history, biographies, science), and now as I enter the next phase of my life, I find myself reading fiction again. My latest interest is in stories, books, and/ or movies that can best be described as ‘much ado about nothing’.
What are your other passions in life?
There are three broad areas that I am interested in, and these most likely continue to be my areas of focus for the rest of my life – as an engineer I would like to contribute towards automating all monotonous work (e.g., laying bricks, plucking strawberries in a farm, addressing weeds in the lawn), as an author my focus is to both entertain as well as improve the lot of humanity, and serve as a sounding board/ guide/ mentor to anyone that is motivated and eager to make an impact on this world.
Traditional or self-publishing which one is better and why?
My personal preference is traditional publishing, as the publishers have well established relationships with printers, distributors, top retail stores, main stream media houses, and publishing talent (including editors, illustrators for book cover design and marketing posters) that is immensely helpful. Moreover, readers attribute certain level of credibility (at least at the beginning stages of an author’s journey) to books that are published through traditional, and if you can leverage that then my recommendation would be to go for it.
What is your advice for budding authors?
Follow your heart or instinct or whatever you call it, and write down the story that you are most passionate about. No need to pander, no need to look for a formula, rather write as you see it in your head. After all it is your book, and your imagination, and that is what your readers will be seeking. Eventually, when the dust settles, it is you that needs to be proud of the book regardless of its reception by the readers.
Define Uday Singh, the author in One line?
Someone intent on leaving the world a better place than the way he found it