Jack Straw Productions
[JSP Home] [Writers Forum Home] [2005 Forum] [Topical Index] [Discussion Board] [Contact Forum]

2005 Writers' Forum
Bharti Kirchner ~ with curator John Mifsud

Bharti Kirchner has published four critically acclaimed novels: Shiva Dancing, Darjeeling, Sharmila’s Book, and her latest, Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries. Her first novel, Shiva Dancing, was chosen by Seattle Weekly to be among the top 18 books by Seattle authors in the last 25 years. Kirchner’s novels have been translated into German, Dutch, Spanish, Thai and other foreign languages. She has won two Seattle Arts Commission literature grants and an Artist Trust GAP grant. An award-winning cook, Kirchner is also the author of four popular cookbooks, including The Bold Vegetarian. Her first, The Healthy Cuisine of India, was named by Food Arts magazine as one of the best cookbooks of 1992. Her second, Indian Inspired, was selected as one of the top ten cookbooks of 1993 by USA Today. Kirchner has also written numerous articles and essays for magazines and anthologies and book reviews for major newspapers. Prior to becoming a writer, Kirchner worked as a systems engineer for IBM and as a systems manager for Bank of America, San Francisco. She has also worked in Europe and other parts of the world as a computer systems consultant. She holds advanced degrees in Mathematics. Bharti Kirchner photo
photo credit:
dean wong
Click on the ears below to listen to excerpts from this conversation
(Real Audio)
Read and listen to writings by Bharti Kirchner
Jump to excerpts from this conversation:
Personal Background Conflict (2) Cross-culture Relationships Other Works
Current Writing (2) women Inspiration Why Write
JM

Can you tell our audience a little bit about yourself, your family background?
BK







I was born in India and raised there, then I came to the US to go to school, and actually my background is in software engineering. Believe it or not for many years I did that and actually loved it. But then I have always wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little girl and my grandfather used to read me stories. Always wanted to be a writer, always read a lot. So I decided one day I'd do something you're not supposed to do, which is quit your job and get into writing full-time.
JM

Tell me a little bit about your inspirational process. How does it come to you?
BK














My body of work is fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks, magazine articles, book reviews, all of that. Originally when I started out, my inspiration came from reading other people's works. And now I find, as time goes on, the writing itself is an inspiration. So I don't really need anything to inspire me to get up at four in the morning and write, I can't wait to do that. So it's the writing itself that gets me going. Also, sometimes the stories just come. I don't know where they come from, but they just come, or they nudge me. I just get the first sentence of something. Quite often I start out my novels that way, the first sentence, and just go from there. I have no idea where I'm going, and all I know probably is the main character and her circumstances and that's all I have to go with.
JM

So tell us about some of the books you've had published already.
BK










My latest novel is called Pastries. It sounds like a cookbook but it's not, it's a novel. And it's set in Seattle and Japan. It's about a young Indian woman that's born in this country and raised here, and unlike most Indian Americans, instead of being a doctor or an engineer or going into one of the professions, she starts her own bakery. And of course running a bakery is not so easy, in those days there was a lot of competition, so that comes to her, and then her boyfriend leaves her, her mother is engaged to a man she can't stand, and so all these traumas she has to handle through baking. So it's how you get yourself centered through baking, that's the process.
The novel before that is called Darjeeling, and it's set in the town of Darjeeling-and there's such a town actually, it's a beautiful town in the Himalayan Mountains. It's a family story, a family that owns a tea plantation. And they have two daughters: one daughter is very much into tea, the younger daughter, but the older one isn't. But Indian family tradition says that the older one will inherit the tea estate, even though she has no interest. Now, the situation kind of thickens when both sisters fall in love with the same man.
JM

So tell me about the novel that you're working on that has been a part of your process with the Jack Straw program this year.
BK

























The inspiration for my latest novel, which is also set in Seattle and India, actually came to me many, many years ago when I did an article for one of the papers on domestic violence in the immigrant communities. At the time I did not know very much about domestic violence, so I was not even sure I wanted to do it. But they talked me into doing it, and I'm really glad they did because once I started to interview people for that article I found out a whole bunch of things. And I was just fascinated, and of course very shocked, that there was so much domestic violence in this area, and the communities I know about. I interviewed a number of women, and while I was interviewing one of these women it struck me that one of these days I'll have to write a novel about this. Now, domestic violence is not going to be the main theme of the novel, but it'll play some role in the novel, and I just knew that. This was probably about seven years ago. In between I wrote a couple of other novels and published them, so I didn't do anything about it. Then, when I finished my last novel, Pastries, I started thinking about another book and the idea came back to me. So this novel starts out with a young woman, who is a gardener/landscape designer, wakes up one morning, gets a call from the police department, telling her that her best friend has disappeared. And this young woman had suspected that her friend has been abused by her husband, but she has no way of really proving it. So she goes in search of her friend, and in the process she actually stumbles on some family secrets, and that changes her life entirely. So that, in a nutshell, is the story.
JM

And where from the story are you going to read an excerpt for us this afternoon?
BK

I'm going to read from the very beginning of my story. And I'll read maybe a couple of pages.
<reading follows>
JM


I'm curious about your choosing a subject matter that integrated domestic violence. Can you tell us more about what you learned when you started to explore the subject?
BK






I found out there are all kinds of abuses going on in families. Normally we think that, when you get out in the street we have to kind of protect ourselves, but that's not necessarily the case. For a lot of women (and probably for some men too, I'm not sure) when they go home that's probably a dangerous place. And it goes on for years and years and years and these women never speak out.
Conflict
Listen to excerpt
A lot of the women, as I mentioned, are immigrant women. They are afraid they will be sent back home, they don't have the language skills, they don't have a support system. So, a lot of them just suffer for years. Now fortunately there are quite a few agencies in the Seattle area, and possibly nation wide, who help women out in this regard. And what they do, as I mention in my book, they will go to the ladies' restroom in maybe a restaurant and put out some cards. And so sometimes the women, when nobody's looking, will pick up a card and call them. Quite often that's how connections are made.
JM



How do you think that the issue of domestic violence plays into the larger framework of our culture here in the United States? It seems to be a hidden sort of phenomenon, we don't know a lot about it, and why do you think that is?
BK


























Domestic violence is kept hidden because a lot of communities consider it's a matter of shame. And they think it's the woman's fault. If a woman is complaining about something like 'abused by her husband,' she must have done something wrong. Oftentimes even the relatives will not come and help. So it's a matter of shame. I think it's a very mistaken idea, that it has anything to do with lack of honor, loss of honor for the community. And oftentimes the communities keep it very hush-hush. Very often the men who abuse women are quite outstanding members of the community. They are usually very successful at their work, and people just love them outside. So it's very hard to even suspect that these men are doing something like that. Actually a lot of the men seem to be able to live a double life. They have a very charming appearance outside of home, and when they come home-and there are some days at home they are fine too, they may be bringing the wife some flowers, taking them out to dinner some days-on other days they're not doing that. Sometimes alcohol is a problem and alcohol is causing that, although not always. So they are able to live a double life for a long time without anybody even suspecting. And quite often I find, especially in the Indian community, if there are children involved the mother will never leave the children. So this is why often they don't leave the husband. They stay on and on and on, thinking they're doing some good to the children. Also I think, there are job pressures, and a lot of times the man might be frustrated outside and can't take it out on anybody else except the wife. So unfortunately that also happens.
JM

Do you have a working title for your new novel?

BK






Right now I'm calling it Best of Friends. And that seemed to fit the theme of the book, because I'm really exploring friendships in this book-friendships between women, between men and women, between different generations, all of that I'm exploring in this book. So, Best of Friends is the tentative title, and I don't know what the final title will be. I've just finished the first draft and now I'm revising, so maybe something else will come.
JM
Any final comments, is there anything left unsaid?
BK










Well, one thing I find, my readers are really wonderful. I get so many emails, letters sometimes, or I run into somebody on the street, and I think it's the readers oftentimes-you asked me about inspiration earlier-it's often the readers that inspire me, because they often ask me, "So, when is your next book going to be done?" One particular reader was even trying to bribe my husband to get the plot of this novel I'm writing! So when the readers do things like that, that really gets you going, because I often think about, "Oh, I can't meet Martha next time on the street and not be able to tell her where I'm at." So I have to keep going.
JM So they're an encouragement for you.
BK They definitely are.
Read and listen to writings by Bharti Kirchner
[JSP Home] [Writers Forum Home] [2005 Forum] [Topical Index] [Discussion Board] [Contact Forum]

Jack Straw Productions: The Audio Arts Center for the Pacific Northwest