BlackHippieChick’s Interview with Anju Gattani, author of Duty and
Questions about the Author:
BHC: Tell us a little about yourself.
ANJU:I’ve been a professional writer for over 15
years. I have international
freelance journalism, former news reporting experience, and have written for
I’m also a busy mom of 2 golden boys, wife to an amazing man who’s work
and travel have taken us around the world. I grew up in Hong Kong, and I’ve
also lived in India, Singapore, Australia and the US (New Jersey, Connecticut
I love to cook – I hate all the prep work and clean-up after… but hey, who
doesn’t? But more than that I love multi-culture cuisine. We’re vegetarian
and cook a lot of Italian, Chinese, Mexican, American, Indian (duh…
obvious!) and more at home. But the fun is in combining the techniques and
blending the ingredients of 2 or more different cuisines… and then seeing
what you get! I pretty much blend cultures in my stories the same way…
only difference is you can’t eat them – or wait! Maybe you can? *picking up
a book with dog-eared pages*… “Did our Shih-Tzu puppy have something to
do with this?
BHC: Did you plan to be a writer or did it just happen?
ANJU:It happened at the age of 7. *Imagine STAR WARS music in the
background* – easy if you’re a writer – no?
I wrote a poem, submitted it to the Sunday special ‘Young Post Club’ of
Hong Kong’s leading English newspaper (South China Morning Post).
Several weeks later – WHAM! – it was published and I was in shock! I still
remember seeing my name in print for the first time and the disbelief…
checking over the spelling of my name to make sure it really was me J In
case you’re wondering… no, I didn’t fall in a coma or anything.
The same thing happened when I received the ARCs of my debut novel,
‘Duty and Desire’… I couldn’t believe it! After 9 long years the manuscript
was finally a REAL book! Kept checking my name and its spelling to make
sure it really was me! J I was close… very close to falling in a coma but was
too tired to do so. (You can’t blame me after a 9-year wait!)
BHC:When did you decide to take that step that made you a published
ANJU:2002. We had just moved to New Jersey, USA, from Singapore (Sep
2001). I had a day dream one afternoon (Oct/Nov 2001). OK… here’s the
truth. I was napping for 20 minutes just before my kindergartener was to
return from school. My 2-year old (at the time) was finally taking a nap. I
just had to catch up on sleep and I thought “why not?” The day-dream was
in fact ‘The End’ of a story. I woke up with sweat beading down my face and
a racing pulse – not from my kids this time… And I wanted to know the
beginning and middle (well, obviously!) of this do-or-die situation.
After 2 months of trying to initially – ignore it (failed), then comprehend it
(failed), I finally picked up the pen, sat before a stack of white paper (my
loving and couldn’t-understand-my-problem husband put together for me,
midst the hustle-bustle of 2 hyper-energetic kids) and began to write the
beginning (so I could get to ‘The End’).
Point to be noted – Sleeping is good for you after all… especially if you are a
BHC:What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been
able to overcome it?
ANJU:Taking the Western reader to modern India as it stands today. I’m not
talking about reading characters’ stories (Indian characters in an Indian
setting) from the periphery but actually living the main characters’ lives with
all it dos and don’ts. The challenge has been in giving Western readers a
real-time perspective and insight of many issues that affect Indians today
with the influx of Westernization on one hand and dealing with the weight of
India’s tradition and culture on the other.
Feedback from readers at author events and book-club discussions have
been amazing. When readers tell me that they now understand things they
never would have… or that their perspective (about Indians or Asians) have
changed after reading DUTY AND DESIRE… I know I’ve overcome that
BHC:If you had to sum it up (title of book) in 30 or less words, what would
ANJU:When Duty Defeats Desire, Forced Relationships Inevitably Crumble
BHC:Do you have a favorite character in DUTY AND DESIRE? Who and
ANJU:I’d have to say Sanjeet Dhanraj. He’s the swash-buckling modern
Indian man in the story. With a Caucasian-almost titanium complexion,
Sanjeet is a Harvard-grad return with a suave American accent and modern
attitude. However, he is conflicted with Indian culture and traditions which
demand he think and behave in a specific way. He abuses the Indian culture
BHC: What has been your greatest challenge in writing Duty and Desire?
ANJU:Flying the western reader to another (Asian) country with the power of
words only. Grounding the reader in the lifestyle and beliefs of another
culture and then adding the conflicts that come with a new way of thinking…
a new system of values and priorities in life.
The other challenge was the immense amount of research involved but the
professionals I worked with made it so much easier and they helped bring the
BHC:Will you share with us a short preview of Duty and Desire?
“She loved him. She reached out to touch him and soothe his anger. “
I risked everything just coming here to be with you.
“Not to be with me. To tell me. You came to tell me you’re marrying
someone else. And you expect me to do nothing?”
That’s exactly what she did expect, because society
woman to marry the man her parents chose for her.
Arvind grabbed Sheetal by the shoulders and gazed into her eyes. “Do
you understand how much I love you?”
She understood. “I have no choice, Arvind.” Sheetal took a long, deep
breath and clasped her fingers together. “Love isn’t enough for my
father. Money, reputation, class and status. That’s what matters to
him.” Until now she had ignored the imitation suede shoes on his feet
and the ripped, beige, front pocket of his shirt; things she would have
never have noticed if her mother hadn’t brought them to her attention
a while back. “My father wants me,”—she bit her lip, knowing her
words would hurt him—“well taken care of.”
BHC:What message do you hope readers take away from the book?
Anju:If you are in a difficult situation and feel ‘boxed in’… like there is no
alternative solution to a predicament, then step back and take a look at t
he situation from a different perspective.. a new angle. There is always a
way out. You just have to find the courage and confidence from within to
BHC:Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all
Anju:Duty and Desire is a work of pure imagination. I created the fictitious
city of Raigun, the Dhanraj mansion and the entire story world.
However, after completing both books in my ‘Winds of Fire’ series a lot of the fiction began to mirror real-life. For example… a family member had been
living (almost) Sheetal’s life in Duty and Desire (in India) minus the extreme
extravagance in the story. I didn’t know about this until much later (2006/7).
The 500 million rupee wedding between Sheetal and Sanjeet, the wedding of
the decade, became real when Vanisha Mittal, heiress to London born, steel
tycoon, Lakshmi Mittal, announced her wedding to Amit Bhatia in 2004. The
wedding between Vanisha and Amit, estimated to cost about $78m, was
honored by Forbes’ Magazine and the Guinness Book of World Records, as
the most expensive wedding ever, and took place at the Palace of Versailles,
once home to Louis XIV, France’s Sun King.
The Dhanraj mansion (70,000 sq. ft. of living space) with a private infinity
pool, lakes, mountains, servants’ quarters, and more, has an equivalent in
Florida, owned by David and Jackie Siegel… about 90,000 sq. ft. dream
house. The Siegels named their palace ‘The Versailles’ after a French
I’ve also had people in real-life situation speak/say things similar to what my
characters do in my works-in-progress.
Some would say ‘awesome!’ I say it freaks me out.
BHC: What kind of research was involved for Duty and Desire?
ANJU:The research in Duty and Desire has been phenomenal.
I worked with 2 of India’s leading fashion designers. Anita Dongre
(www.anitadongre.com) designed the leading female character (Sheetal’s)
Indian wedding trousseau and put together her ensembles for Sheetal
throughout the story. Arjun Khanna (www.arjunkhanna.com) designed the
leading male character (Sanjeet’s) Indian wedding attire and put together
Sanjeet’s international ensembles (mix of east and west) throughout the
I also worked with a Pilates and Yoga instructor, Ms. Abbey Brewer, Atlanta,
Georgia, and Dr. Shruti Daga, UK. for the medical research.
I had to research oil painting (for Sheetal), about emotionally abusive
relationships and so much more on the reasons behind Indian customs and
traditions… I could go on and on!
BHC:Do you have to be alone or have quiet to write?
ANJU:Pin-drop silence. I know many authors love to have music in the
background. But writing fiction is a form of meditation for me. I immerse
myself in the character’s mind and heart. I mean, how can I hear what
they’re saying if I’m listening to others talk? Sing? Or—you get the idea?
However, after raising 2 boys I’ve trained myself, over the years, to block out
the white noise and focus.
BHC:What has been your greatest pleasure in writing this book?
ANJU:Living with and discovering the characters in the book. Then meeting
real readers at author events and hearing what they have to say about the
BHC:I would read these books simply because of the covers – all in the
series are beautiful! Did you have a part in their design? (series only)
ANJU:My publisher, Greenbrier Book Co. have been amazing. They had
several covers made for Duty and Desire, narrowed it down to 4 and left the
final pick for me!
BHC:Do you have plans for a new book? Is this book part of a series?
ANJU:Duty and Desire is the debut in my ‘Winds of Fire’ series. The second
book is almost done and I’m currently working on a third book which will also
tie in to the ‘Winds of Fire’ series.
BHC:Who or what has most influenced your writing?
ANJU:I’ve been blessed to work with, critiqued by and be guided by
NYTimes Bestselling author Haywood Smith (my Guruji), Southern Women’s
USA Today Bestselling author Jade Lee (my soul sister), Multicultural +
Other bestselling authors who have critiqued my work are: Anna De Stefano, Dianna Love and I’ve also worked with the following authors: Berta Platas, Carla Fredd and Tarah Scott.
Having lived and worked in India, Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore and USA
has given me a deep understanding of what it means to write for different
audiences, how to cut through the cultural differences with words and finally
develop my brand: I write fiction to bridge cultures and break barriers.
BHC:What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?
ANJU:Women’s fiction gives me the flexibility to deal with complex
characters, understand their layers and discover the layers of their conflict /
plight. I follow the protagonists’ leads at a time when a country (India) and
its people are changing with the influx of globalization, a booming economy
and western values seeping into and cutting through centuries of tradition
BHC: Do you have a favorite author? Who and why?
ANJU:KHALED HOSSEINI (In caps, bold and bigger font!!) I love both his
books, ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’… and was blown
away when I read them. I’m waiting for his next book!
BHC:What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
ANJU:The best advice I can give is what I’ve been given:
What NYTimes Bestselling author, Haywood Smith told me in 2004/5:
“Writing is a journey. Keep living your real life to its full while you create the
world of fiction.”
From USA Today Bestselling author Jade Lee… (a partial of the original) – I
still have this up on my board J… “You’re trying to sell a mango in a market
used to oranges and apples…Your job is to send it to make it the best
mango possible. This will take a long time. You have to have enough faith
that your mango is a great product all on its own. You have to believe that
the market is ready for that mango. You have to know it in your heart that
this is a good mango. And…you have to create more mangos. Your job is to
get better and better with each time you write. Keep marketing that mango.
Believe… You have a great mango.”
BHC:Which authors and books have most influenced your writing style?
ANJU:I just LOVE to read! I read almost every book by international
bestselling author Sidney Sheldon and V.C. Andrews (during my teenage
years). I love current authors’ works: Khaled Hosseini, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lisa
See, Amy Tan, Philippa Gregory, Jodi Picoult, Anita Shreve… I could go on
and on… J
I love Sidney Sheldon’s tight-wired, fast-paced plots, his ability to swing
readers from Germany to London to the Middle East within pages – travel
the world and give a powerful conflict an international punch… ‘Rage of
Angels’, ‘Sands of Time’…
Mental & Emotional Travel:
I love V.C.Andrews’ skill in taking readers through the hearts and minds of
characters with deep emotional conflicts and her build-up of a series…
‘Flowers in the Attic’, ‘My Sweet Audrina’…
I learned, having grown up reading both authors’ works, that a writer has the
ability to move people / transport /have them travel physically, emotionally
and mentally… through the power of words.
BHC:What challenges did you face in getting your first book published?
ANJU:Duty and Desire was a 9-year journey… a labor of love. It is the debut
in my ‘Winds of Fire’ series. The original, handwritten draft took 1.5 years to
pound out. After that the book has been re-written over 25 times (computer)
followed by another 4-5 rounds of edits. Numerous rejections from agents
and editors followed for years because (I believe) it didn’t quite ‘fit’ any
I just read an article in the Oct 2012 issue of ‘Writer’s Digest’ – interview with
NYTimes Bestselling author Patricia Cornwall… “’Postmortem’ did not
deserve to be rejected by practically every major publishing house before it
was accepted, but it was because it was so different [that] people didn’t know
what to do with it. I think something that’s unique is going to get passed over
a lot of times—and then it gets published by some little offbeat press and
takes the world by storm…”
*My ego feels so much better now, right?*
BHC:What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing
Duty and Desire?
ANJU:I had no idea how many themes were running in the story when I
pounded out the original draft (2002-3). I didn’t know it was up-market fiction
book-club level fiction either at the time. Each re-write helped me discover
more and more about the layers and themes in the book and the numerous
layers to the main characters – including the secondary ones!
BHC:Laptop, desktop or notebook and pen for writing?
ANJU:The original draft has to be in pen on clean, white paper. Lines
running across the page somehow make me feel restricted and hold my
characters back from expressing themselves. So you can imagine how my
original manuscript must ‘swing’ all over the paper – literally speaking!! J Re-
writes after are all on the computer (thank goodness or my hand would be in
a cast by now!) – once the characters have spoken and the story is out.
Point to be noted – just because my characters have expressed themselves
on the page doesn’t mean they stop talking. If I give up on them (the 9-year
wait remember?) they haunt me in my dreams and continue to talk. Yes, like
all writers I have *voices* in my head.
BHC:You’re spending one year living on a desert island – which three
authors do you want with you?
BHC:Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers today?
I learned, after connecting with my readers at author events, that a writer
becomes an author because of readers. As a writer of novels I live in my
own fictional world. I create my problems (actually my characters – voices in
my head – do!) and then I have to solve them. But readers make the written
word (print and digital) real. Readers make the journey and isolation of the
writing profession worthwhile.
I always love to hear back from readers and their opinions of my work.
Please feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where can your readers find you?
My website: http://www.anjugattani.com/
My Goodreads author page:
Is your book in Print, ebook or both?
Duty and Desire is available in hardcopy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and
most leading bookstores via online order.
It is also available in digital format (ebook) for: Kindle, Nook, Sony, Kobo and
all Apple products.
- Book Review: Duty and Desire by Anju Gattani (myseryniti.wordpress.com)