It’s my pleasure to interview Author Anish Majumdar today. His debut novel, The Isolation Door is quite a soulful story! Lets get to know the author and his book better in this interview.
- Congratulations on your debut novel! Please tell us what inspired you to write this story?
Growing up, writing felt like a reflex, a way of processing things that were happening in a safe and unrestricted space.
My mother was a former English teacher, so she’d frequently give me writing assignments after I’d finished with homework. Nothing was off-limits- poetry, short stories- so long as I had something for her to read come day’s end.
At age 9, the death of my grandfather triggered the onset of her schizophrenia, and these writing assignments were one of many, many things that disappeared as my father, younger brother and I tried to cope with its effects. I kept a journal during these years. It was the only place where I could dream of a future that wasn’t poisoned by mental illness, the only place where I could express the grief and anger I felt without feeling like an ungrateful son. I worked as a TV and film actor in my twenties, trying on a variety of masks to cover up a very fragile emotional state. I used the same strategy in my personal life, inventing whatever backgrounds and personality traits were necessary to gain a friend or start a relationship. But that only works for so long. At age 25, with my mother suffering the latest in a series of breakdowns that ended with her being forcibly admitted to a mental hospital near my hometown of Montreal, Canada, I began writing a novel based on these “taboo” experiences.
My main goal was to express the truth of a situation I had never dared confess in public, if only to show that it did not have a hold over me.
During the course of writing The Isolation Door, the plot of the book diverged significantly from what my family experienced. But the emotions that underpin the book, the ache in your heart that says you will never stop loving this person even as you mourn for the life they might have had, are completely genuine.
- Which scene in your book is your favorite? Why?
There is a scene in the book where Neil and his girlfriend Emily are surprised by a visit from his Auntie, a woman who has served as a kind of de facto mother when his real mother was undergoing treatment for her schizophrenia. Emily, having never met Neil’s mother, mistakes Auntie for her, and in an unspoken moment, both Neil and Auntie continue this deception. They go shopping, the two women bonding easily. At one point, Emily goes to use the restroom and Neil and his Auntie are left alone. Neil tries to explain the deception, tries to communicate the forbidden desire in his heart that she be his true mother and he can be her son, that they could erase all of the pain and disappointment of the past in one fell swoop, but can’t. He turns away, she tells him to wipe his eyes, Emily will be out soon. This was the strongest desire I had during the worst days of my mother’s illness, that I could simply rewrite everything and become someone else.
- Yes, I remember that scene, it did affect me emotionally as well! Who is your favorite character in your book? Why?
Hard to select a favorite, but one of the characters I’m most fond of is Ganguly, a close friend of the Kapoors who helps Neil with legal proceedings related to his mother’s treatment.
Developing this character really reminded me of the priceless support my family received from Montreal’s close-knit Indian community during my mother’s decades-long battle with schizophrenia.
Men and women whom I’d previously known only as Uncle-this and Auntie-that took days off of work to cook us meals when my mother was in the hospital, or simply spend time with us chatting about everyday things when it felt like we were marooned and completely cut off from “normal” life. The love and loyalty they showed towards us is something that I will forever be grateful for.
- I always say – write with passion and purpose. What is your mantra for writing?
The story is there, it already exists somewhere out there in the ether: it’s your job to excavate it.
When writing really sings, you become the first reader, discovering what happens as quickly as you can get the words down. It’s important to approach the work with a full heart and a lack of judgment, and let the analysis happen between drafts (not during).
- What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Re-writing the book after it had gone through an initial round of submissions through my literary agent, and been turned down everywhere, was the most difficult part of the process. For a year, I forced myself to get a certain amount of pages out every day. I kept vampire hours, ignored the voice in my head that said the passion was missing, and kept chugging on. What I ended up with was a soulless book that went nowhere. The breakthrough came when I realized that the initial version of the book had been written when I was 25, and expressed my views on life before things turned around for my mother and, by extension, my family. The reason it wasn’t working was because I was trying to recapture a frame of mind that did not exist anymore.
By re-envisioning this story through the framework of who I am now, which is a happily married man with a family of his own and a mother in recovery, I found that spark again.
As emotionally draining as the re-writing process was, it resulted in a better novel.
- I feel that writing has a healing effect on authors. Do you agree?
Writing The Isolation Door helped me come to terms with the past and forge a new relationship with my parents.
I’d previously only seen things from one perspective, that of a son. But all of those hours spent crafting this story, forcing myself to look at the situation through the eyes of characters very similar to my mother and father erased much of the distance between us. I saw that this woman I’d been so intent on blaming for a difficult upbringing had tried her best to be a good mother despite the ravages of mental illness. I saw that my father was the type of person who’d give every ounce of strength he had to preserve his family, no matter how bleak the future seemed. Whereas once I’d believed that cutting ties was the only real way to live a happy life, today I recognize that some of the best qualities within me, both as a husband and father, derive from my parents. Seeing the joy on their faces playing with their grandson is something that I treasure. We are all enjoying a second act that seemed impossible just a few short years ago, and I am so excited to see what the future holds.
- That’s wonderful! What has been your most rewarding experience as an author?
Receiving emails and tweets from readers who’ve connected with the story and want to share a little of their background with me is one of the most satisfying parts of my life nowadays. After years of pretending to be other people, I am finally showing the world my true face, and discovering that many are responding to it positively.
I’m so glad that you are inspiring readers with your courage and story. Good luck with your book and future projects!
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