Books·How I Wrote It

Vivek Shraya: How I wrote She of the Mountains

Vivek Shraya on the inspiration and process behind her novel She of the Mountains.
Vivek Shraya is the author of She of the Mountains (Alejandro Santiago/Arsenal Pulp Press)

Writer, musician and filmmaker Vivek Shraya took inspiration for her first novel from Amar Chitra Katha comics, a colourful and vivid series of tales that teaches Hindu mythology to children. 

In She of the Mountains, Shraya re-imagines the story of the Hindu gods Shiva, Parvati and Ganesh through a feminist lens, juxtaposing it with a contemporary love story between a gay man and a woman. She speaks with us about how she wrote her illustrated novel.

Closet office

"I wrote She of the Mountains largely in my tiny closet. My apartment is quite small and I need a separate space to work. For whatever reason my closet was large and we discovered that I could put a table in there. So the closet fits a table and my Mac. Above the computer is art that friends have made for me. There's also a statue that a friend has made. There are sweaters above me."

Sing to the mountains

"Music is a big part of how I work. With She of the Mountains I actually sang out sections during the editing process. Since I'm working in my closet, I end up staying in this very confined space and staring at the computer screen. Sometimes I would be staring at one word or one sentence all day, so I would say it out loud and if it wasn't working I would try to sing it out loud. It then would turn into a joke where I would keep singing the line and see where it wanted to go. That's kind of what songwriting is like. It's about following the melody. In this case it was more about finding what the next sentence might be." 

Love at first website

"I recreated some of these Hindu myths through a feminist lens and I was curious what that might look like. I decided that illustration was important and asked one of my friends to recommend an illustrator. She sent me three links and one of them was Raymond Biesinger's. As soon as I opened it, it was love at first website. He's got this incredible capacity to do so much, but minimally and I think that's a gift. We ended up connecting by email and bonding over the fact that we were both from Edmonton. To me that felt like a sign of sorts. One of the exciting things about working with Raymond was I wanted to see the kind of Hinduism that I hadn't seen before, and I was able to do that working with a white man who had, to my knowledge, no knowledge of Hinduism."

Fear of a dead end

"I got very paranoid during the writing process. This is a project I worked on longer and harder than any other artistic project in my life, and was something I felt very passionate about. I became very paranoid that I was going to die before I wrote it, which sounds very narcissistic — 'What if I die before I wrote my opus?' — but it felt very real. I felt afraid — literally afraid — I wasn't going to finish the book, and fear is never a great place to write from. And at the same time, I think it's that urgency that compelled me to finish the book."

Vivek Shraya's comments have been edited and condensed.

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