In March we chatted with Anita Kushwaha, author of Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters a heart-wrenching novel about three interconnected women, the ties that bind these mothers and daughters and the secrets that can tear them apart. The following is a transcript of a twitter conversation, edited for maximum blog readability. You can interact with the twitter thread here.
WOTS: Welcome to the March chat, Anita! To get us started: what was your inspiration for this story?
Anita Kushwaha: Thank you so much for having me! My inspiration for the book came from wanting to write about arranged marriage, and from there it grew into an exploration of how all relationships come with their own set of constraints.
Question from @ayers_kendra: Which character do you most relate to and why? Which character was the most difficult to write?
AK: I relate most to Mala, but [w]ish I was more like Asha. Asha finds her voice in a way Mala struggles to achieve.
WOTS: Asha, the 18-year old, uses her journal as an outlet and a confidante, writing letters she can never send. Do you use a journal, either personally or as part of your writing process?
AK: Yes! I’ve journaled since I was small, even constructing my own out of old cereal boxes and envelopes. It’s a huge part of my life and creative process. To share that with Asha and have it be one of the ways she expresses herself came naturally #WOTSAuthorChat
WOTS: A young book binder! We seriously hope you have held on to that juvenalia.
WOTS: At least two different characters speak several times of a deep darkness that they can’t give in to, which can be read as feelings of depression. How did you develop the aspect of mental health in this story?
AK: I often write about metal health and the impacts of trauma. Writing about it involves going deep into the characters’ psyche and really trying to get in touch with their most intimate thoughts and feelings. It can be intense at times but part of what I hope to do is inspire empathy, so the costs are worthwhile if I’m able to touch hearts and minds in some way. Asha and Mala both safe mental health challenges with different outcomes based on their circumstances.
WOTS: Is there a particular message, or a question to ponder, that you hope readers have in mind as they close the book?
AK: I hope readers leave with a sense of hope. The book is quite an emotional roller coaster at times but I also see it as hopeful, particularly for Asha, who has the support she needs to live a life she chooses.
WOTS: What are some of your writerly habits that keep you on track to finish a project? Does your “past life” as an academic play into them at all?
AK: Haha, I feel like my previous life as a researcher was the ultimate prep school for my life as a writer. The collaborative process of writing a dissertation and getting committee members on board is quite similar to the editorial experiences I’ve had. Which is inspirational in a way and makes me feel like nothing is ever lost, even if our path to writing is far from linear. I love structure, so my writing days often involve a cup of tea and getting a few solid hours in before social media takes over!
WOTS: Advice we could all take, especially right now!
AK: Absolutely! These are trying times indeed.
WOTS: Which authors inspire you? What’s currently in your TBR pile?
AK: Jhumpa Lahiri has a special place in my heart because it was in her writing that I first felt myself reflected in literature… and I was 19 or 20 at the time! Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, Esi Edugyan – I always want to know what these writers have to say.
In terms of my TBR, I’m part of an author group called #2020debuts. Lately I’ve been trying to read as many of my fellow authors to help give them a boost during these trying times. I’m also currently re-reading Dual Citizens [by Alix Ohlin].
WOTS: That’s an awesome initiative! We love the support that the book community is giving each other right now (and always).
AK: It’s amazing how people have come together! Hopefully people will turn to books for community and connection
WOTS: And to wrap up, we have to know – what project are you excited to be working on next?
AK: Oh fun! I’m currently working on a sisterhood story that’s more bitter than sweet inspired by The Blind Assassin and Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. More secrets and family drama, I guess I can’t get enough, haha. My agent is reading the ms now. So far, so good.
WOTS: That sounds so exciting! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today – it’s been great chatting with you.
AK: Thank you again for having me! It was a pleasure chatting with you. I hope everyone keeps safe and healthy!