Vidit Uppal was born in Mumbai and currently lives in Gurgaon. An engineering consultant during the day, he writes short stories and poetry during his spare time, which can be read on his website: www.atruesentence.com. A Stick in the Dirt is his first novel published by Leadstart publishing.
TBE: Tell us about your book A Stick in the Dirt, can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
Vidit Uppal: At its core, A Stick in the Dirt is a story about relationships and how they fare under the pressure of facing obstacles that seem beyond comprehension.
How does one attempt to solve a problem that one can barely even define? What is the natural response in such a situation and is it possible to expect one that could be deemed reasonable and rational?
These are the questions that the novel attempts to answer through Vidya, Shashi and Vinod, who must all try and wade through the challenges that Saurabh presents them with.
TBE: A Stick in the Dirt is such a beautiful story about friendship, love and loss and I loved the pace of it too. How did the inspiration for the story spark?
Vidit Uppal: The idea for the novel is rooted in the geography of the town in which the story unfolds. While “Konkur” is not an actual place, it borrows heavily from “Concord”, a town in Boston, Massachusetts, which was beautifully and vividly described in Henry David Thoreau’s book – Walden.
The overarching themes of Solitude and Self-Sufficiency of that book blend so seamlessly into the landscapes of Concord, that the environment transcends its usual role as a descriptive element and becomes an intrinsic part of the overall narrative.
It was this quality that I wished to emulate in A Stick in the Dirt. The characters and the story then essentially became a means to that end.
TBE: Where did you get your inspiration for Saurabh’s character?
Vidit Uppal: Saurabh’s character was borne out of the need to have a disruptive element in the story through which the other characters could introspect and learn more about their own lives and relationships.
I had initially wanted to portray Saurabh as just an extremely reclusive and private individual, whose only meaningful relationship would be that with Vidya, leading to a certain conflict between Vidya and Saurabh’s mother, Shashi. But I later decided to expand on it, so that, while still maintaining focus on the central characters, I could bring the entire town into the conversation and include elements of social dynamics.
TBE: Are your characters normally based on anyone in your life? Or past experiences?
Vidit Uppal: While the characters are not based on specific individuals that I am acquainted with, there would definitely be some traits and behaviours that, if I think hard enough, I would be able to attribute to some of my friends, family members and even myself. Saurabh’s father Vinod is an easy example as I definitely see some of myself in him.
TBE: How did you go about picking the names for your characters?
Vidit Uppal: There was no real method when it came to choosing names for the characters. I tried quite a few and just ended up fixing on those that sounded right when I said them out loud.
TBE: What was your writing process for this book? How long did it take you to write this book?
Vidit Uppal: I wish I could say I had a proper writing process. Initially, I was mostly scrambling at multiple ideas, writing chapters after chapters that ended up being completely discarded.
I started writing some form of this book over 6-7 years ago, but the lack of a proper idea coupled with poor work ethic made it impossible for me to make any decent progress. It was only in around 2016 that I approached the project with the seriousness it warranted, and from then on it took me about 1.5 years to finish the first draft and then another 6 months to do a complete re-write.
TBE: During your journey from the idea of this book to the publication, what was the most difficult thing you faced? Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Vidit Uppal: Rewriting is a hard and humbling exercise, filled with cringeworthy moments as one reads through what one initially thought was a fairly decent attempt. But it is generally anything but that.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of it all was facing the endless stream of rejections from Publishers and/or Literary Agents once I felt the novel was in a good enough shape to be shared with the world. It took me almost 2 years to find a home for the book, a period filled with self-doubt and uncertainty.
TBE: What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
Vidit Uppal: First and foremost, I hope the reader enjoys the story and the setting in which it takes place.
Apart from that, I hope the readers can connect and empathize with Vidya, Shashi & Vinod, and how their varying viewpoints with respect to Saurabh make sense to each of them individually.
TBE: Do you read much and if so, who are your favorite authors?
Vidit Uppal: I do read quite a bit. It is by far a much more pleasurable activity than writing. It’s tough to give just a few names as there are so many authors I love and admire. Any list of mine would always include Ernest Hemingway, Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, David Foster Wallace, Gabriel Garcia Marquez etc.
TBE: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Vidit Uppal: Reading, of course. Also ,I am huge fan of tennis, so I do tune in to most of the major tournaments.
TBE: What was one of the most surprising things you learned during creation of your book?
Vidit Uppal: That the story can have a life of its own and surprise the writer. Generally, I am not someone who plans out the entire narrative before starting to write. I had the first part of the story structured and also had an idea about how I wished to end it. But the second part in which we look into Vinod’s and Shashi’s past and explore their viewpoints was something that just happened in the natural course of writing the book, and I am glad it turned out that way.
TBE: A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, and they are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
Vidit Uppal: As with all generic statements such as these, it holds true for some and not for others, that too in varying degrees. I am an introvert myself, but I know other writers who wouldn’t fall anywhere near that category.
TBE: If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?
Vidit Uppal: If there is only one thing that I have learnt about writing over the years, is that one cannot wait for inspiration or for that perfect moment / feeling to start writing. That just doesn’t work for me. After many wasted years, I have finally started thinking about writing with a workmanlike approach and not as a strictly creative pursuit. At least for that first draft. The subsequent drafts are where the creativity can come into full force.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Vidit Uppal: I am working on another novel but the ideas are still not concrete enough for me to talk about it. All I would say that it is set in Gurgaon and is going to be quite different from A Stick in the Dirt.