We are thrilled to welcome Anita Kushwaha to The Debutant Ball this week! SECRET LIVES has been described as “a breathtaking novel about the ties that bind mothers and daughters together and the secrets that tear them apart.” Read below about her advice for her younger self, how she deals with writer’s block, upcoming projects, and more! Share or comment below for a chance to win a copy of her book.
Anita Kushwaha is an award-winning Canadian author. Her road to publication included a fulfilling career in academia, where she studied human geography at Carleton University and earned an M.A. and a Ph.D as a Tri-council funded scholar. A graduate of the Humber School for Writers creative writing program, her work has appeared in Ms. Magazine, The Globe and Mail, Quill and Quire, The Literary Review of Canada, The 49th Shelf, Open Book, Word on the Street, The Ottawa Review of Books, Girly Book Club, CBC All in a Day, and Canadian Living among others. Themes in her work include exploring the social and cultural pressures faced by South Asian girls and women, immigrant experiences, diaspora, intergenerational conflict, identity, belonging, place, and mental health. She is a member of the Canadian Authors Association, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and is the recipient of an Ontario Arts Council Literary Creations Grant. She proudly writes about communities in the National Capital Region where she is from. She lives in Ottawa.
If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
I’ve thought about that so much over the years, especially since my writing and publishing journey was so meandering to begin with. I think I would tell my younger self to be brave, to believe in myself and to listen to the little voice inside that knew since I was little that writing was the path for me. Growing up in an immigrant household, the idea of pursuing an artistic life simply wasn’t an option for me, although I did try on several occasions to advocate for myself and reason with my parents. I was that good daughter who wanted to make her parents proud, even if the cost was my own happiness. My mother told me just the other day that I’ve given writing a shot and now I should treat it like a hobby. Back in the day, a comment like that would have destroyed me. Now, while it’s disappointing to hear such comments, I’m confident enough to know it doesn’t really matter what people think about my literary aspirations. The people around me haven’t changed but my need for their approval has.
Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
I don’t tend to experience writer’s block so much as writer’s fatigue. I usually have a few book ideas bouncing around my head at any given time, fighting to make it to the head of the line. But after I finish a project, I go through a fallow period when I feel completely burnt out, like I don’t know how to write, I don’t know any new words, I don’t know much of anything. Basically, I’ve learned that it’s a sign that my creative well is bone dry and needs time to replenish. I turn to music, the outdoors, books and baking to help myself recharge. Oh, and naps. Lots of naps.
Tell us about the title of your book. What is the story behind it?
The story behind my title is that it isn’t the first, but the third! And it changed two months before publication, even after ARCs had been printed and distributed! I didn’t know things like that happened in publishing, and neither did my agent, to be honest. But it was down to the wire. My original title is still how I think of the book, Asha & Mala, which are the names of the two protagonists in the novel. But the publisher said no one would buy a book with names on the cover, so we had to change it. The second title was Caught in a Lie, which I thought spoke to the predicament that many of the main characters find themselves in. So, that ended up being the title for almost a year, I think. Then they got some last-minute feedback from booksellers that the title sounded more fitting for a thriller, a point that I kind of see in hindsight. My agent and I had twenty-four hours to come up with a new title or they were going to go with one I absolutely hated. The pressure was on! We came up with about a dozen each and sent a list of maybe ten to the publisher, indicating that we thought Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters was the strongest. It really speaks to the hidden lives the women in the novel are forced to lead due to the social and cultural pressures they face in their everyday lives. Fortunately, the publisher agreed! In the end, I think we ended up with a more descriptive title for readers.
Did anything change significantly in your book during the writing or editing process?
Oh goodness, yes! I haven’t gone through such extensive edits since drafting my doctoral dissertation. In fact, the process of working with and pleasing one’s editor reminded me a lot of collaborating with multiple committee members and trying to reach a happy medium for everyone involved. The biggest changes often involved axing whole characters from the plot. I can think of at least three that didn’t make the final cut. But the ideas and themes I wanted to talk about in the story remained the same, so even with the changes, it still felt like my story in the end, which is so important. Editors may have a vision for your work, but you’re the writer and ultimately, it’s your name on the cover, so you need to fight for the key elements that are important to you. That was one of the biggest lessons I learned throughout the process.
Tell us about your next big project.
It’s been a productive year! My agent is currently reading two manuscripts at the moment. Both are sisterhood stories, but with very distinct dynamics. I never talk much about my manuscripts but both deal with the themes I tend to explore in my work, such as, the social and cultural pressures faced by South Asian women, immigrant experiences, diaspora, intergenerational conflict, family life and mental health.
WHAT REVIEWERS ARE SAYING:
Anita Kushwaha’s debut novel Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters weaves together the stories of three women over three generations, their lives wrapped in cultural expectations and haunted by secrets. A beautiful but at times heartbreaking look at motherhood in its various forms, the story of Veena, Mala and Nandini drew me in. I didn’t put the book down until I had turned the last page.
(Jean E. Pendziwol, Bestselling author of The Lightkeeper’s Daughter)
Don't miss out on today's guest post by Anita Kushwaha. Retweet or share for your chance to win a copy of her breathtaking novel THE SECRET LIVES OF MOTHER'S AND DAUGHTERS. https://t.co/mlgVmCJoFU
— The Debutante Ball (@DebutanteBall) September 16, 2020
Kushwaha writes what she knows, but does so in such harmonious prose that her story-telling rises to a level of universalism. (Ottawa Review of Books)
“Gripping (you’ll read it in a day).” (The Globe and Mail)
An engaging and thought-provoking read, Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters paints a heart-wrenching portrait of the interconnected lives of women struggling with loss and coming to terms with the secrets they kept to meet society’s expectations. I couldn’t put it down! (Farah Heron, author of The Chai Factor)
Anita Kushwaha’s novel Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters is an evocative and lyrical work. The intersecting stories of Mala, Nandini and Asha will leave readers enthralled; you won’t be able to stop turning pages in this well written dramatic tale of family, secrets, and betrayal. (Uzma Jalaluddin, author of Ayesha At Last.)