Litfest interview: Rashmi Jolly Dalai

By Joe McGee, March 5, 2014

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This Shanghai-based writer leads this writing workshop focused on how to convey experience, memories and emotions into words. Students will also get useful tips on how to craft memoir and fiction.

// Mar 11, Writing Workshop (part three). 3pm, RMB75. Crystal Room.

What can one expect as a newcomer at one of your workshops?
Memorable fiction and memoirs contain characters who make great and interesting decisions - to love, to overcome, to reveal the truth about themselves. To make those great decisions, characters need courage that stems from their writers. So I always try to teach newcomers - through writing prompts and instruction - how to put aside fear and self-judgment, and start by creating characters who do, move, and decide. 
In your opinion, what are the key components that contribute to writing good fiction?
A well-rested mind, full stomach, writing habit of at least two hours a day/5-days a week, and a long-term dedication to the craft will definitely lead to good fiction. Many a great story has died to web-surfing, late-night television, endless snacking, and white flag surrender when writing gets hard.
I read that you dropped medicine at university to pursue writing, can you talk about that decision?

Dropping out of medicine was extremely difficult. My father was completely against it, and we went a few boxing rounds. I purposefully failed organic chemistry, twice. He found an accelerated medical program in India and bought me a plane ticket. But in the end, we compromised. He accepted my decision on the condition that I also study economics and politics so I would have an educated world view. It was the best advice I ever got. Creative writing takes a long time to pay off, and you have to eat in between. My ability to write across a wide range of genres has allowed me support myself well and have artistic freedom.

You've written children's cookbooks, work on business and science, and fiction. Do you define yourself as a particular type of writer?

In a world full of “branding” I often think I should define myself as a particular type of writer. But I really like my diversification right now. I can be in love with a client’s new business plan on Monday, write for my kids on Tuesday, work on my novel on Wednesday, crank out an article on Thursday, and teach all day Friday. Each day has new challenges, energy and output. The variety keeps me excited about everything.

Are there any subjects you're keen to explore in your future writing?

I am in love with genetics and want to explore the moral and social implications of having easy access to so much genetic data on ourselves. I love studying world religions and finding commonalities and differences; I’m currently learning about Buddhism. I’m also playing with a novel idea where a group of four women with too busy husbands form a commune in Shanghai to raise their children together. This last one is fun chic-lit for my brain, but it helps me channel some of the challenges of being married with small children!

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