For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

Kuzhali Manickavel: The Short Form Interview

You tell people ‘Yes, I did translate this into English from my native Indian language’ because you don’t want to disappoint them.

Author of short story collection, Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings 

The Interview

What kind of advantages and disadvantages are you at being a short story writer in English from India?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Short Story Writer in English from India

  1. ‘Tell us what life is like in India’
  2. You tell people ‘hai, I am a short story writer in English from India’ and they will not give you any free money. However, if you tell people ‘hai I am from India’, your chances of getting free money rise perceptibly.
  3. You tell people ‘Yes, I did translate this into English from my native Indian language’ because you don’t want to disappoint them.
  4. People #outrage because you have not mentioned slums, mangos, quaint Indian words, arranged marriage or an elderly person with magical powers in your story.
  5. People #outrage because you have mentioned slums, mangos, quaint Indian words, arranged marriage or an elderly person with magical powers in your story.
  6. You feel sad for oppressed white dude writers because they are oppressed.
  7. You wish you were an oppressed white dude writer because they are oppressed.
  8. People make fun of your English.
  9. People commend your awesome English skills.

Once I read this rant by someone who hated e-books because they came from computers which apparently meant they were like video games. 

The easiest way to get your books worldwide is in digital formats. What is your relationship with e-books?

I love them. I realize that that by many people’s definition they don’t qualify as books because they don’t have that realbook smell, which apparently is an integral part of the reading experience but I love them anyway. I also love e-books because it gives people the opportunity to rant on the internet about how e-books should be killed with fire because they don’t smell like real books. Then these people find other people on the internet who feel the same way, thus providing an opportunity for everyone to make new friends. I feel these kinds of opportunities are really great. Also once I read this rant by someone who hated e-books because they came from computers which apparently meant they were like video games. That was really great too.

You wish you were an oppressed white dude writer because they are oppressed.

What does the culture of short stories look like around you?

I did not know what this question meant so I Googled ‘culture of short stories’ and found a lot of listings that had the words ‘culture’ and ‘short stories’ in them. Google then suggested I look for ‘short stories Indian culture’ and this seemed like the right thing to do so I did. The results included ‘indian folktales’, ‘moral stories’ something about wedding saris and the wiki entry for Jhumpa Lahiri.

So I guess my answer is no.

Are there any rules you find yourself following or breaking when writing short fiction?

I try to follow as many rules as I can but then I end up breaking them and I feel bad so then I try to make myself feel better by finding new rules to follow. The good news is that there is always someone out there ready and willing to give you rules on how you should write your short fiction. 

I like how short stories are not necessarily small stories.

What draws you to short stories?

I like reading them. I like how short stories can have a lot happening in a small space. I like how short stories are not necessarily small stories. 

What role have they played in your development as a writer?

I think short stories are responsible for most of what I know about writing so far. I feel like I will learn a lot more from them as I keep going. 

Recommended by Kuzhali Manickavel

Man at Wall, Attempting A Certain Chore
Excerpt

After three days my supervisor sent along Carlisle to check in on me. When he saw what I was working at, he offered to hold the nail while I tapped. “We'll have it in, then I'll bring you back to work.” He held, I tapped, but still it did not go.

We labored until finally I insisted that he return to the office.

The next day Carlisle showed up with the supervisor. He did not hold my absence against me. Rather, he inquired on my progress. I showed him the barrels. When they were filled*, the two men rolled them onto the freight elevator. I live on the 3rd floor of an old warehouse. Up they came with empty barrels. The following day my supervisor arrived with a small detail that installed desks and cabinets in the far end of my apartment where the morning sun slants in. By noon the whole staff was busy. I pounded the nail, and it would not go.

*refers to discarded nails mentioned earlier in the story

We read it in The Cafe Irreal: Issue 18.

The Breast Giver
Excerpt

One afternoon the boy, driven by lust, attacked the cook and the cook, since her body was heavy with rice, stolen fishheads and turnip greens, and her body languid with sloth, lay back, saying, “Yah, do what you like.” Thus did the incubus of Bagdad get off the boy’s shoulders and he wept repentant tears, mumbling, “Auntie, don’t tell.” The cook—saying, “What’s there to tell?”—went quickly to sleep.

A Christmas Memory
Excerpt

Once we won seventy-ninth prize, five dollars, in a national football contest. Not that we know a fool thing about football. It’s just that we enter any contest we hear about: at the moment our hopes are centered on the fifty-thousand-dollar Grand Prize being offered to name a new brand of coffee (we suggest “A.M.”; and, after some hesitation, for my friend thought it perhaps sacrilegious, the slogan “A.M.! Amen!”). To tell the truth, our only really profitable enterprise was the Fun and Freak Museum we conducted in a back-yard woodshed two summers ago. The Fun was a stereopticon with slide views of Washington and New York lent us by a relative who had been to those places (she was furious when she discovered why we’d borrowed it); the Freak was a three-legged biddy chicken hatched by one of our own hens. Everybody hereabouts wanted to see that biddy: we charged grownups a nickel, kids two cents. And took in a good twenty dollars before the museum shut down due to the decease of the main attraction.