How did you become a writer?
The question is not how. The question is why. It is always why, because if you know the why, you will always figure out the how. So, why? Because I wanted to live. And I saw no other way than to write. To let it out. To fill the emptiness. To wake up in the mornings, or afternoons, or the long, long night of what is called childhood, and make myself brave enough to live. That is why.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I learned English at the age of seven, and I have never - not for a single day - been less than amazed by its power. Maybe all language has that power, but English happens to be the one I’ve known, embraced, fought, alienated, and tried to woo back with promises of love. And in these efforts, Laura Ingalls Wilder was my first weapon. Then I climbed the library shelves and found the rest.
When and where do you write?
In a perfect world (and by that I mean the one dictated by whims that have no basis in reality), I would write from nine p.m. to three or four a.m., just before the sun begins to consider wandering across the bar to our damp and desperate bodies, hunched on red barstools. As it is, I write from late morning to early evening, in my dining room.
What are you working on now?
A novel about one woman’s journey from innocence to evil, or maybe from evil to innocence. So basically, what everyone is working on.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I like that it’s called writer’s block. It conjures up images of colorful wooden playthings scattered across a room carpeted in beige. The blocks could be words, and we are the baby: staring at them, alone, trying to figure out how to stack them. I suppose the answer is yes, but then again, I like the staring, and I like the alone.
What’s your advice to new writers?
My advice to new writers? I am a new writer. Every time I see a blank page, I am a new writer. So I have very little advice, except, maybe, that our only job is to fight oblivion. We won’t win, but we have to fight. And how much heart we put into that fight, knowing we will lose, is the measure of our lives.
Shobha Rao is the author of the collection of short stories, An Unrestored Woman, published by Flatiron Books. She is the winner of the 2014 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction, awarded by Nimrod International Journal. She has been a resident at Hedgebrook and is the recipient of the Elizabeth George Foundation fellowship. Her story “Kavitha and Mustafa” was chosen by T.C. Boyle for inclusion in the Best American Short Stories 2015. She lives in San Francisco.