Smita Das Jain ’s short fiction debut, The Lost Identity, was published in February 2021. She is a writer by passion and writes every day. Samples of her writing are visible in the surroundings around her- her home office, her sunny terrace garden, her husband’s car and the kitchen napkins. She loves writing contemporary stories with a twist. Her works have been published on StoryMirror, Penmancy and Women’s Web.
In another world, when she is not writing, Smita is a Personal Empowerment and Executive Coach enabling people to become better versions of themselves, and a Strategy professional with more than fourteen years of experience working in leadership roles at Fortune 500 companies. She is an IIM Indore and SRCC alumna. Smita lives with her rockstar husband and her adorable eleven-year-old daughter at their home in Gurugram, India.
Smita Das Jain: If I were to sum the premise of ‘A Slice Of Life: Every Person Has A Story’ in one sentence, it is ‘Don’t Judge A Book by its Cover.’ Every person is unique, and the common everyday people have extraordinary narratives going on in their lives. Human behaviour is most fascinating, and the short stories in my book capture various facets of human behaviour.
As for the stories itself, I take inspiration from real life. Truth is stranger than fiction, and the more you observe people and things around you, the more stories you will get to narrate. To give you an example, the inspiration for ‘Parched’- one of the stories in my book, came from the dried-up Tulsi plant on my terrace.
TBE: Where’d you get the idea to do a collection of short stories instead of a full-length novel? How did you settle on the short-story form—or did it settle on you?
Smita Das Jain: I actually finished writing the first draft of my novel first- last year. Currently I am editing the nth version of it. Then earlier this year, I paused my corporate career to follow my passion and started to write one short story every day. It was then I thought of targeting busy professionals with short attention spans through my stories.
A novel requires some investment of time on the part of a reader- and nowadays, everyone is selective about where and how they choose to spend their time. On the other hand, is bite-sized content; you can read it on the go, think about it, and move on with your life sooner.
Also, I wanted the readers to get a flavour of my writing first. That is why I decided to come up with the starter- My Short Stories collection-first, before serving them the main course (My Novel) 😊
TBE: Beyond the satisfaction of the happily-ever-after ending, in your opinion, what else does reading your short story collection offer its readers?
Smita Das Jain: I don’t look at my collection as having a happily ever after ending. It is not the usual run of the mill stuff. Neither it has poetic prose that regular people would find difficult to understand. I am an excellent English speaker, but I do not use bombastic words while speaking with friends and relatives! The book is written in relatable English
My stories cut through the fluff of narratives and vocabulary and goes straight to the heart of the matter- human emotions. I am sure that busy readers will enjoy and appreciate that.
TBE: Did you have any goals for this collection when you wrote it? Any particular theme you want to explore?
Smita Das Jain: I write something every day. I write to express and inform.
So, I just did what I know and the collection wrote itself; I was just the medium to express my characters. I did make it a point not to include mystery and suspense in the collection, since that would be a separate book. Also, I am a very organised person in real-life, and hence wanted to make the book a symmetrical reading experience for the readers. Hence the 3 sections*6 each format of the book. But yes, when the stories organised themselves into the book, I did want the readers to leave with a wow feeling after reading the book. I hope I succeed in that.
TBE: What’s more important: characters or plot? What triggers your story ideas: a character, a setting, plot or dialogue?
Smita Das Jain: It will differ from writer to writer. For me it is character. For most of my stories- the character is the trigger point, followed by the dialogues, plot and setting in that order.
I feel that you should know your key characters well. Most writers say that you should be inside the character’s head while writing; however, I feel that it is the other way round- your characters should be talking inside your head, and as a writer, your role is to reproduce those conversations on paper well, in your words. That’s the way I write.
For readers to relate to your story- your characters need to be real in a fictional setting. I have written a blog post, ‘6 Techniques For Building a Fictional Character That Your Readers Won’t Forget,’ on the subject, which readers can read on www.smitaswritepen.com .
TBE: When you were writing in the early days, were there other writers you consciously modelled your work on, writers you cherished?
Smita Das Jain: I am an unabashed Jeffrey Archer fan and eagerly waiting to read his next book in the William Warwick series. His style of writing has inspired me, which I have mentioned in the acknowledgement section of my book. Ditto for Agatha Christie. Among the Indian authors, I admire Chetan Bhagat. The fiction corner of my bookshelf is dominated by these writers.
But my writing style is my own, I haven’t set out consciously to model my style on anyone. I don’t think I need to.
TBE: Relationships plays a key role in many of your stories. What is it about the power of relationship and how it shapes our lives that most intrigues you?
Smita Das Jain: A man is known by the company he keeps. It is the various relationships that shape people- family ties, office relationships, friendships, the crushes, loves and heartbreaks, the relationship that you share with yourself.
I have always been a keen observer of people. I am a well-travelled person and have visited every state in India and have had the fortune to travel to 13 countries so far. And I can confidently say based on my travels and 14+ years of experience in the corporate world that there is a story behind every person. It is people who are the key focus of my stories; and people have relationships by default. Life is way more interesting than fiction if only we take out the time to observe.
TBE: Do you have a particular story or stories that are especially close to your heart?
Smita Das Jain: ‘A Twist In The Tale’ by Jeffrey Archer. It comprises twelve short stories, the expected never happens. I loved how each story had a twist, as implied in the title, leaving the reader either laughing out loud or thinking for long. The guessing game throughout the book keeps the reader engaged throughout.
TBE: What does your writing process look like? Do you map story out from start to finish or do you begin with an idea and see where it takes you?
Smita Das Jain: I am a very spontaneous writer. I get up very early in the morning when the entire world is asleep and switch on my laptop to open a blank word document. Then I write what first comes to my mind. Then type another word, and then another. I find the idea of having a plot and writing to that very boring; and I have written a couple of stories that way but didn’t like the end product.
I think and plan a lot in real life, so I guess it is the other way around when I am creating fictional worlds 😊 I have actually written a blog on the subject called “5 techniques of daily writing when you don’t know what to write,” which may be referred to here.
TBE: Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
Smita Das Jain: Lots of learning moments. First one being that editing takes more time than writing. Then marketing is way more exhausting than writing and editing combined. Coming from corporate world, I was a stranger to publishing 6 months back. Now here I am. So the biggest lesson is that hard work, patience and perseverance will lead you somewhere, even if it’s a career pivot.
TBE: Ultimately, what do you hope readers will get out of your book?
Smita Das Jain: The satisfaction of reading a good book. And the mindset of treating every human being, that they come across, with respect. For people are not what they seem to be- a lot goes beneath the surface.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Smita Das Jain: Lots of stories, one of which is the sequel to ‘Forever Love,’ which is the longest story in this book.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, I am editing the nth draft of my yet untitled novel which I plan to bring out next year. It has a very ambitious and unapologetic female protagonist and is set up in a cut-throat corporate world. This is my priority as far as writing goes.