Keeping the Creative Fires Stoked with Tejas Desai
Tejas Desai’s novel The Brotherhood recently climbed to the top of the Amazon Bestseller list, and rightfully so, since it is a legit page turner. This spellbinding thriller takes place in modern day New York City, where you meet Niral Solanke, the books protagonist. Once upon a time he wanted to be a writer, but having failed at that he takes up shop as a rather shady private investigator, but fate and Desai have other plans for him taking him down a dark rabbit hole full of greed, hypocrisy, treachery and more. The Brotherhood is the first book in a series, and we were thrilled when we got a chance to learn more about this epic writer, and find out more about his series.
What was the inspiration for your first book The Brotherhood? How did you keep the creative fires burning so that you could write The Run and Hide, your second book?
Since I read Native Speaker by Chang Rae-Lee in the mid-90s, which I picked out of the stacks at Flushing Library when I was a teenager, I always wanted to write an Indian-American literary thriller. That book showed me the possibilities that my hometown of Flushing, Queens, NYC could be captured in a book, and that Asian-Americans could be non-stereotypical protagonists and represented in their many genuine diverse forms. My own experience growing up in NYC among contradictory elements, high and low, sacred and profane, ideal and real, holy and criminal, learned and ignorant, gave me the basis of the inspiration for the book, and my observations, contacts and research while living and working in the new NYC after college pre-and post Great Recession provided the groundwork for my imagination that created the rest.
But since I was initially trying to get traditionally published, I had difficulty convincing agents that an Indian-American could be anything other than a doctor in fiction, and the originally literary nature of the book was also a drawback to them. So eventually, after more than 20 rewrites over a few years, I created a more commercial version of a mystery-thriller that still retained the thematic elements of culture and identity underneath, and that’s the compelling and acclaimed version that you will read today.
As for The Run and Hide, I had thought of writing a trilogy where the second and possibly third books were set abroad in Thailand and India (more or less, of the American protagonist forced to confront the mother culture, both original and derivative, in this case) as early as the story excerpts and rewrites of the trilogy I was submitting while completing my MFA in Creative Writing in Queens College around 2007-2009, but I couldn’t start seriously writing The Run and Hide until 2014-2015, since I was doing lots of promotion for The Brotherhood (2012), Good Americans (2013) and of course myself. I believe I finished a draft in spring 2015 before I did a five week trip to Europe and a tighter draft by spring 2016, before I went on my Road Trip Across America. But in my meticulous fashion, I worked on the manuscript again over the next year, fixing language and terminology mostly, and by that point a beta reader had convinced me I had actually written two books, The Run and Hide and The Dance Towards Death, and had completed The Brotherhood Chronicle Trilogy! Working with my copy editor is how I’ve chiseled the two books even further into their ideal forms, allowing me to release The Run and Hide in September 2019 and The Dance Towards Death, Book Three, in September 2020.
As for your question about the fire, I have so much material now through observation, experience, research and imagination that I don’t think I’ll ever exhaust it. I’ve had the fire since I was 8 years old, and I don’t think anything but my death will put it out.
How do you find balance with family, exercise and traveling to fit in so much writing?
It’s taken a lot of discipline and perseverance, I’ll tell you that much. The fire, will and content has never been an issue for me, it’s pumping the material out into its ideal form that’s the constant struggle. When I finished college, I wanted to be a writer full-time, but after working at a literary agency, I realized it was unrealistic to rely on writing fiction to make a consistent living. So I decided that my ideal day job would be a librarian and I got an MLS. I ended up working at Queens Public Library, which has been ideal because I like working with all aspects of the public, I can work with books and film but it’s not just sitting at a boring desk job, I get to interact with people, it’s consistent with decent pay, excellent benefits, and generous vacation time, which is how I have time to travel at least once a year. It is a consistent 35 hours a week, so it’s allowed me to write 2 hours a day, either before or after work, for 5-7 days a week for many years. There are definitely many times when I get mentally overwhelmed and I need to rest my mind and take breaks to continue, and it’s also caused physical illness too, and has definitely limited my ability to read books and watch films as much as I would like, but it has allowed me to produce captivating and thought-provoking fiction at a remarkably consistent pace, and at the end of the day, that’s what I promised myself I would do with my life.
I’ve been blessed with supportive parents, great friends and acquaintances, and I’ve built an amazingly talented team to help me. So I have a great support network. I have no wife, no kids, no child support, and I’ve been single for a decade now, so I have no familial responsibilities per se, which is probably for the best because I don’t see how I could have time.
As for exercise, I currently manage one of the larger community libraries in Queens, so I actually get plenty of exercise at work, running up and down stairs, dealing with this situation or that. And I have a very disciplined diet, so while I have no defined exercise routine except pushups and sit-ups and the occasional pickup basketball game, I still keep in shape.
Authors are wordsmiths by trade, so I have to ask what is your favorite word and why?
I’m going to choose independent, because I’m very proud of the independent status I’ve maintained as an author for almost a decade now, over 4-5 published books. I actually do think I’m pretty good at listening to and incorporating criticism for my work from teachers, beta readers and contemporaries, and as I’ve said I have a great support network, a talented team, friends, contacts, acquaintances and plenty of people helping me, but at the end of the day I write and put out the work that I want. With all due respect, my traditionally “published” counterparts have to please agents, editors, publishers, tenured professors, marketing gurus and others, compromising their work, which is why it’s rare to find contemporary fiction books that contain new ideas, are urgently alive, controversial and provocative in the mainstream, and that’s why I’m leading The New Wei literary movement and promoting other independent authors. I’m not necessary against the traditional route, but I have yet to find the right agent or publisher who is the correct fit for me, if there is one. I guess we’ll see.
What is the most unusual or surprising element of your writing routine?
Honestly my writing routine is pretty boring. In the past I’ve written on trains, cars, hostels, hotels, libraries, my uncle’s basement (during a period after my house had a fire), on computers, laptops, notebooks, iPads, and even napkins for my first completed novel when I was 17 years old, but mostly I write consistently 5-7 days a week at the same desk and in the same room I’ve written at for 30 years, and usually around the same time. These days I don’t have to be as strict to get the same amount done, but I still do it routinely.
In terms of something unusual, I do have a miniature laughing Buddha statue that is on my desk that an ex-girlfriend gave me over a decade ago. When I’m struggling sometimes I’ll look at it and gain inspiration. It’s ironic because, even though I write extensively about Hinduism and Buddhism in my fiction, I’m actually agnostic and don’t believe in any deity.
I also once bought a miniature desk from IKEA and built it in my basement as a potential writing space, but I abandoned it for my traditional space after a while. I guess old habits die hard!
Is there a third book coming in their series?
Absolutely! The Dance Towards Death, the third book of The Brotherhood Chronicle, will be released in September 2020, and should be available for pre-order even earlier than that. I also might put the galley on NetGalley for reviewers, so they can watch out for that. It’s the most galvanic work in the series yet, resolving many of the mysteries and tensions of the overall storyline. Niral Solanke faces his toughest challenges yet, and many of the other characters also face seemingly impossible situations and hurdles. Definitely check it out.
Following its release, I plan to work on the second book of The Human Tragedy series, which is the anthology sequel to the acclaimed Good Americans (2013). I’m hoping it will be my greatest work yet, a dynamic portrait of American society today, told in stories!
You can find Tejas Desai’s books on Amazon.