Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Catching up with "Squishy" Author Arjun Basu in 140 Characters or More

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Catching up with "Squishy" Author Arjun Basu in 140 Characters or More

Arjun Basu is the author of “Squishy” (DC Books, 2008), which was shortlisted for the ReLit Award. He is also the author and inventor of Twisters, short stories (I'll call them) that are no longer than the 140 words allowed by Twitter. He won the Shorty Award in 2010 for these Twisters (He beat out Neil Gaiman). At last count, he has over 85,000 followers on Twitter (@arjunbasu). About a month ago when I started the interview, there were < 75,000. That is amazing.

One of his tweets, called "Life." was made into a short film, which one People's Choice Award in Filminute The International One-Minute Film Festival, 2009

The tweet: Frank climbed the mountain and the old man on top said, Life is an illusion. And Frank punched the old man in the face and watched him bleed!/arjunbasu/status/3693188105

AH: Had you any idea that your Twisters would become such a phenomenon? Has the constraint of the character count become easier/ challenging in a different way over time. Are they published on the same day they are composed, for the most part? Do you think a theme has emerged in your Twisters?

AB: I started this as an experiment and sometimes I think it's still an experiment that has kind of spiraled out of control. I had no illusions about this and to be honest, when I started I can't really say I understood Twitter at all. But now that I do understand Twitter, or at least I think I do, I can appreciate the response to what I'm doing and the impact of it as well. In other words, I'm still surprised by the reception to what I'm doing. I don't think I will ever take it for granted.

And having done this for so long, I’ve gotten quite used to the character count. The challenge of fitting a story into 140 characters remains a constant and sometimes I'm more successful than other times and that's normal, I suppose. But I have gotten used to the inherent constraint, to the point that I can think through the character count before I start writing. The Twister is an odd beast in its own way and sometimes things just aren't going to work and you have to abandon them. The advantage to Twitter's relative brevity is that you come to this realization quite quickly. I've worked on short stories that I realized weren't going to work after a few weeks. I once wrote a complete novel before I realized it wasn't going to get any better. Talk about a waste of time!

Themes: Yes. Surprisingly, they are the themes that tend to appear in my writing overall. In this sense, these Twisters are a part of my overall body of work and satisfy my thematic concerns: Love and relationships and the notion of balance and power; work and its potential to dehumanize us; family and the bonds that make or break them; materialism and youth; and what I call "squishiness" - those small moments in our lives we believe are insignificant but come back to haunt us big time.

AH: You have a debut novel in the final phases of editing, in what ways is it a departure from your work in "Squishy" and in what ways do you feel they share similar themes and/ or goals? Have your concerns and interests changed or do you feel they've remained constant in some ways?

AB: My novel is out with publishers right now. But as stated above, many of the themes in it are ones I keep coming back to. It is a departure from my work in Squishy in terms of scope, for sure. But in many ways, the concerns and interests are constant. One large theme that is unique to the novel that is not really apparent in my other work is the notion of "happiness" and the VERY American ideal of the "pursuit of happiness" and how that ideal can mean different things to different people.

AH: Who are some of your favourite writers and what are you reading of late? When you are writing, do you find you read less to avoid influence, or read differently, i.e. For research? What is the relationship between reading and writing for you?

AB: When I'm writing I don't read fiction. I can't - it's a distraction. My favorite writer is Raymond Carver (my son's middle name is Carver). Simple. Even with the recent revelations about the amount of editing Gordon Lish imposed on Carver, he remains so. In terms of contemporaries, I'm a fan of Tim Winton, the Australian writer. I'm just getting around to reading books from 2010 now. I'm eager to read Jennifer Egan's The Goon Squad. I'm currently reading Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply. Like most people I wish I could read more. But I’ve also decided I'm not going to let my backlog of books get too huge. Because that just leads to bookshelves of unread books. I have enough of that already.

AH: Do you like public readings? Do you mind them? I often feel they are completely separate from the writing life; would you agree?

AB: Public readings are odd things, aren't they? I mean, from a dramatic viewpoint, there's not much to them. I sometimes wish that public readings could be part of larger spectacles - I wish there were video or music. In a way, I wish there were more performance without public reading becoming performance art or something, like a poetry slam. Because in the end, a public reading is a person reading out of a book. One day, I'd like to do a public reading with Power Point.

I like readings because it's still rare, even now, for a writer to interact with their reading public. Unless you've created a Twitter account to write short stories. Oh wait.....

AH: Are there things that you hoped people would get out of "Squishy" that you didn't think anyone got? How did you feel about its reception?

I think the reception of the book is dependent on a lot of things: the actual work, the critical reception and, unfortunately, the marketing of it. I was quite pleased with how the book was received and just wished it had received more of a push. I'm like most authors in that respect. I certainly didn't have any illusions about the realities of publishing with a small press and I appreciated the PR Squishy did get in the end. But you always want more.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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