Interview : Author, Vivek Shraya

I feel like everyday the book surprises me. Last year it was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and was picked up by several post-secondary institutions as a text book. Consequently, the first run sold out in just a little over a year and I am currently getting ready for the release of the second edition which features a new story and illustration.

Q. What have you been upto since we last interviewed you?

Since the last time we spoke I have released two short films: Seeking Single White Male explores racism in the gay community and the other is called Ache In My Name. I also released a new EP in the fall called 1:1.

Q. Tell us more about how ‘God Loves Hair’ has been doing?

I feel like everyday the book surprises me. Last year it was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and was picked up by several post-secondary institutions as a text book. Consequently, the first run sold out in just a little over a year and I am currently getting ready for the release of the second edition which features a new story and illustration.

Q. What has it been like to self-publish the book? Would you recommend it? Any advice for others considering this route?

I ended up going down the self-publishing route primarily because after years of rejection and waiting for interest from labels/agents/managers as a musician, God Loves Hair felt too personal and too important to subject the work and myself to a similar path. I also felt confident that I could apply the same model and experience I had gained from being an independent musician for 8 years, in regards to promotion/touring/etc to the book. It was a labour of love from inception to finish and self-publishing allowed me to have full control over every detail (which involved a lot of learning!) including the size and shape of the book, the weight and type of paper, the font and the cover. These are elements that published authors don’t always have a say in. That said there are some barriers to being self-published including having to work harder to get the immediate legitimacy that having an established publisher gives to a book and it’s author and not being able to access certain funding/grants.

My biggest piece of advice for other writers considering this route is to do a lot of research. I am lucky to have several published friends who I bombarded with questions and these conversations really helped give me an idea of what exactly to expect.

Q. Have the dynamics in your family changed after the success of the book?

While I have been out with my family for about ten years, it was still something that could be left unspoken. And not just due to their discomfort, but my own as well. Since the book was released, my queerness has inevitably been pushed to the forefront, and the words “gay” and “queer” and conversations about homophobia come up more frequently with my family. The greatest indication of change is that I am no longer the one initiating these conversations. My parents even offered to help out financially with the printing of the second edition, which was an incredible gesture of love and support that I couldn’t have imagined ten years ago.

Q. You visited India last year. Tell us more about the trip.

I had the opportunity to open for Tegan and Sara in India in the fall of 2010 (some of our trip was captured in a film they released last year called INDIA which can be viewed here). On the off days, I did book readings in the various cities. It felt like a big step in my career as an artist to be able to bring my work to India. One of the highlights was being able to participate in the Bengaluru Pride celebrations, as this was the city my mom grew up in and Kannada is the language my parents speak.

Also, after months of doing readings in North American settings where often the South Asian references in the book are lost, it was wonderful to be in spaces where these references resonated. Finding out, for instance, that Sridevi, a Bollywood actress that one of the stories in God Loves Hair is about, was (/is) actually an underground gay icon!

I was also very thankful to learn more about queer politics and culture in India directly from residents vs. Wikipedia.

Q. When does your next book come out? Don’t you realize how much we’re all waiting for it!

I finished a rough skeleton in December and hoping I have a manuscript finished in the next six months. Fingers crossed for 2013!

Q. Have you done a lot of book-readings/signings? What has that experience been like?

I have been really lucky to travel with the book across North America and India and not just in bookstore ad coffee shop settings but in classrooms where I have been able to use it as a tool to discuss issues such as homophobia, bullying, the intersections of race, religion and sexuality.

I really enjoy meeting audience members after readings because they often share their own experiences about how what they heard in the stories has resonated. I feel grateful to have these honest and vulnerable exchanges and each one of them feels special and unique. I have been often surprised by what exactly people connected with and it’s really shown me the importance of not underestimating your audience and work.
Q. Can you share with us any interesting or moving experiences that you’ve had with people who’ve read your book and got in touch with you?

The connections that touch me the most are the ones made with other South Asian queers, particularly queer youth because they are who the book is for. I met someone at a reading during Bengaluru Pride who later tweeted this and as a simple as a tweet can be, these are the moments when I feel that the book is a truly a success.

Q. Is there anything you’d do differently, having the benefit of hindsight.

Honestly, no. I feel like I took a giant leap with the book, personally and professionally, and every step I have taken, I feel like the book has given back to me tenfold.

*Special Mention : The second edition of God Loves Hair is now available at http://vivekshraya.com

About the author

Broom

Broom lived an ordinary, boring, unhappy and married life till she met the woman that she fell madly in love with at the age of twenty eight. By day, she is a techie. By night - a Walking Dead addict, London exploring, rainbow-loving, champagne socialist.