Ekta R. Garg
Hometown/Location: Central Illinois, USA
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
My grandfather was a journalist and wrote and reported in four different languages. My father loves to read, and my mother can turn even a simple grocery run into a lively anecdote. Stories and love of the written word have always functioned as a necessary part of my life, and I think I got my talent and drive to write from my grandfather.
Why do you write?
Because it’s how I make sense of the world, and because writing is where my heart beats the loudest.
What is your favorite genre or style to write in?
I love fiction. On my parenting blog I’m writing about real experiences, of course, and that has its own charm and advantages, but the magic of fiction lures me every time. What occurs in life often surprises us, and we turn around and say, “Wow, I never thought that could happen.” But in fiction writers have carte blanche to make those things happen. It’s wonderful!
I don’t know if I can yet classify my writing in one particular genre, however. I feel like it has a little bit of a literary bent, because I’m deeply interested in the characters, what happens to them, and what influences their decisions and lives. But I also like a really good story. I strive to maintain a good pace and keep the action moving. Is there a twenty-first-century hybrid term for literary fiction that also balances a good story?
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Do I really have to pick one? I love Jhumpa Lahiri’s lyrical writing, the fact that she can take novels composed mostly of narrative and make them sumptuous, like a good meal at a high-end restaurant. I can sink into the work of Robert Jordan in his series “The Wheel of Time” that some might dismiss as fantasy but really is about a group of kids trying to figure out who they are and whether their destinies are taking them where they really want to go. John Grisham can keep me up at nights with his twists and turns in the courtroom, and I usually finish his books shaking my head in disbelief and grinning.
Because I also review books I spend a lot of time reading new novels, and recently I’ve read some great ones. My main goal is to learn something from every book I read and try to incorporate a small piece of it in my own work.
What books have influenced your life most?
Hmm. Another tough one. I’ve mentioned Robert Jordan’s series. The entire thing took about twenty years to complete, but I love his dedication to his characters and storyline. At some point — around book 8 or 9 — fans started turning against him, saying he was just milking the series for money, that he had gone crazy, that he was torturing them just for kicks. What he’d originally stated would be six books just kept going. Many people may not have realized as the books came out that he got really sick at one point, and I feel like his writing and storylines reflect that real-life change.
But he didn’t quit. He didn’t bow to pressure. He didn’t wrap things up just to satisfy people (and if he had, they wouldn’t have been satisfied anyway.) He kept working, patiently, sometimes even ploddingly. Eventually he died, but he left detailed notes and even some recordings and partial scenes and chapters. His wife and main editor, Harriet, hired Brandon Sanderson to finish the series, and Sanderson did a great job. Sanderson stayed true to the vision Jordan had because Jordan cared that much about the story.
When I think about it, my goal is to give every story I wrote that much care and dedication.
Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice that you would like to share with us?
Find something you’re passionate about, and keep tremendously interested in it–Julia Child
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Keep your head down, and build a nest. If you’re serious about being a writer — as in, you spend your time running dialogue in your head when you’re doing the dishes and carry around a little notebook to jot down bits of scene inspiration no matter where you are — then be prepared. The publishing industry is in a state of flux, and it’s wonderful and frightening and only the greatest upheaval it has experienced in a long time. Maybe ever.
So get ready. It’s going to be a crazy ride. Strap yourself in tight, and don’t give up. Never, ever, ever give up.
Can you tell us a little background or anything special on the piece you composed?
There’s this great blog called The One-Minute Writer, which encourages writers to spend sixty seconds a day writing. The site offers daily prompts, and at one point the site administrators held a weekly flash fiction contest. I began entering it as often as I could and even won a few. This piece was my last win before they eventually folded the contest. I miss the contest — some people came up with some pretty good entries, and you even won prizes — but I’m glad the site still encourages writers to exercise the craft. Sometimes we need that jolt of inspiration.
During the contest, we would receive a writing prompt and have to create a story under 1000 words based on that prompt. When I saw the prompt for this one, I instantly thought of a painting. It’s a pretty common conversation starter, but I didn’t want the painting to be an ordinary one. So this is what I wrote. Enjoy!
Dr. Grant stared at the painting critically. His receptionist, Lois, waited for his verdict.
“I’m not sure, Lois. Do you think it’s tilting too far to the right?”
“I can adjust it for you, Doctor, if you’d like.”
She stepped forward, pushed up the lower right-hand corner of the painting more for show than anything else, and then stepped back.
Dr. Grant narrowed his eyes in thought, and after a few moments his face relaxed.
“Yes, that’s fine. I think this is going to make a distinct addition to the waiting room, don’t you?”
Lois nodded. “I agree. Your patients will certainly think so too, I’m sure.”
“Speaking of which, who is my first patient today?”
She went to her desk and ran her finger down the patient list for that day. Lois had managed her boss’ schedule since he launched his private solo practice 15 years earlier, and they had fallen into an easy working rhythm. That rhythm had given Dr. Grant the idea to employ Lois’ help with the painting when he’d decided to purchase it and place it in the waiting room. It hung facing the sofas where patients sat and pressed their knees together in mild anxiety before they saw him.
“It’s Mrs. Barnes, Doctor. She should be here in 30 minutes.”
“Fine. I’ll just go into my office and get my files in order.”
She sat down and logged on to the computer, opening her web browser and then minimizing it when Dr. Grant walked past her. She didn’t want him to see the home page she’d chosen. True, it was just a silly celebrity gossip page, but Lois felt like Dr. Grant would have thought less of her if he’d known just how closely she followed the pursuits of Brad, Angelina, Miley, and the rest of their ilk.
Following her daily routine, Lois spent about 10 minutes surfing the site and catching up on the previous night’s celebrity exploits. Then she checked her email, and after hopping up to start the first pot of coffee for the morning, Lois opened the electronic version of the patient schedule and waited.
Right on cue, Mrs. Barnes walked in at 9:00 a.m. Five minutes before she walked in the phone rang, so when Mrs. Barnes finally arrived Lois waved her to the sofa with a friendly smile and continued discussing with the party on the phone the process of paperwork involved when becoming Dr. Grant’s patient for the first time. As Lois talked she noticed Mrs. Barnes’ reaction to the painting.
She looked taken aback at first, and then she tried to act casual while she waited on the sofa across from it. After waiting for about seven or eight minutes, however, the painting had forced her into some serious introspection. By the time Lois greeted her and told her Dr. Grant was ready, Mrs. Barnes clearly had the painting on her mind.
As per her instructions, Lois made a note of the reaction in the electronic chart.
Mr. Harper came in next, and he did a double take too. While he sat and waited his turn, however, something about the painting seemed to bother him. By the time Dr. Grant asked Lois to lead him in, Mr. Harper almost seemed angry. Lois calmly walked to her computer, sat down, and typed in her observations of his reaction.
The most interesting reaction that morning came from Ms. Baxter. She saw the painting and stared at it for a few moments. She backed into the sofa, and it interrupted her train of thought as she sat down hard on it. The quick bounce on the sofa jolted Ms. Baxter for a moment, but then she blinked and stared at the painting again. Something akin to remorse seemed to cross her face when Lois led her back. Once again, Lois made sure to record the reaction.
The parade of patients continued throughout the day, and while a couple of them sharply drew in their breath at seeing the painting—one actually gasped—no one asked Lois about it. No one asked her why Dr. Grant had wanted it hung or where it came from. And certainly no one asked what it meant.
Two years later Arthur Grant, M.D., practicing psychiatrist, instructed his receptionist that the time had come to take the painting down.
“I believe I’ve gathered enough material for my paper,” he told Lois. “We won’t need it anymore.”
Lois nodded calmly. “Will you be replacing it with anything, Doctor?”
“I’m not sure,” Dr. Grant mused aloud. He stared at the spot, trying to picture it with another wall hanging. “Maybe this time we should record their reactions to a blank space. It’s possible that the power of suggestion in this piece will fill in the white wall in their minds.”
Doctor and receptionist shared a long last look at the large canvas. The 3’x5’ plain white board had a single word on it, and Dr. Grant felt incredibly pleased with his results. Who knew that a simple word could turn into a suggestion on its own in people’s minds and that they would enrich his research with so much material?
“By the way, Lois,” Dr. Grant said, suddenly turning to her, “I never asked you whether the painting had any effect on you whatsoever.”
She glanced back at her computer but then smiled and shook her head. “Not at all, Doctor, although I have to say I’ve found it interesting to watch people react to it.”
He nodded as if in agreement but doubted that she had told him the full truth. If he wanted to be honest with himself, he’d felt a slight twinge every time he’d walked by it. After all who could sit across from the word “Guilty” on the wall and not feel a little of the accusation in the word?
To read more from Ekta visit:
(I actually run four blogs, but The Write Edge is the main one and the other three offshoots of it.)
(freelance editor for new writing projects); Bookpleasures.com (reviewer)
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