Monday, April 7, 2014

Observing & Writing Dialog With Mohana Rajakumar

Please meet Mohana Rajakumar, this week’s featured author!

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was fortuitous in many ways since this is where she met her husband, had a baby, and made the transition from writing as a hobby to a full time passion.  She has since published seven e-books including a mom-ior for first time mothers, Mommy But Still Me, a guide for aspiring writers, So You Want to Sell a Million Copies, a short story collection, Coloured and Other Stories, and a novel about women’s friendships, Saving Peace.
Her recent books have focused on various aspects of life in Qatar. From Dunes to Dior, named as a Best Indie book in 2013, is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf. Love Comes Later was the winner of the Best Indie Book Award for Romance in 2013 and is a literary romance set in Qatar and London. The Dohmestics is an inside look into compound life, the day to day dynamics between housemaids and their employers.
After she joined the e-book revolution, Mohana dreams in plotlines. Learn more about her work on her website at or follow her latest on Twitter: @moha_doha.

First, please tell us a bit about what you write and why dialog is important in your work.

People exist in communities and a large part of this includes talking: whether arguing, agreeing, or loving. You can’t have good writing without dialogue because we need to know how these character feel about each other without being told.

Listening is an integral piece of "people watching". Do you "people listen" automatically, or do you make a deliberate effort?

I need to make more of an effort to listen; I’m a notorious interrupter, especially when I’m excited about what people are saying (or angered). Interrupting is really rude so I’m going to try my best to stop!

Humans exchange a lot of information paraverbally, that is, through intonation, pacing/rhythm, volume, and enunciation. What paraverbal cues are you most sensitive or tuned into as an author, an observer, and a participant?

Volume is big for me; if I hear an increase in volume, “I get my back up” as the saying goes or I go on offense. It’s a trigger and I can’t help it. Now with two young kids, I work at lowering my voice when I want to make a point.

Do you enjoy writing dialog? Is there anything about writing dialog that you find challenging?

There’s that one moment between two characters – particularly in a budding romance – that can have aha! feeling that is magical. Trying to find it though, can be very, very difficult.

What have you learned about yourself and your relationships by observing real life & fictional dialog?

We don’t speak in speeches; we interrupt, agree, make assuring or disapproving noises. Human communication is full of little notes that move it forward and back; a constant dynamic, flexible process.

Do you have any characters with catchphrases or verbal habits? What are they? How do these personal quirks add depth to your characters?

In Love Comes Later, one of the main characters, Sangita is known for her quick wit and how rapidly she replies. This is characteristic of her thirst for life and overall high energy level.

Do your characters ever interrupt, cross-talk or change the subject? Do you use communication interference in your dialog? Why/Why not?

All. The. Time. I find the “---“ dash difficult as a reader sometimes but I know it’s an essential part of writing to simulate real communication.

Please share with us a dialog gem that you've recently overheard or participated in. What do you think makes this dialog interesting?
I often find it difficult to give feedback in a neutral way and have been working on this skill (without being angry or raising my voice). So this victory last week was really exciting because I asserted a boundary without being mean.
Me: “I asked you not to do that.”
Him: Laugh
Me: “That was the second time.”
Him: “Oh, sorry.”

It’s amazing how challenging this skill can be to practice. Kudos to you!

Please share with us a dialog gem from your own writing. (If published, please share the title & link to purchase site.) What do you think makes this dialog interesting?

The following is from a scene where Sangita and Abdulla are arguing about his fiancĂ© being on a secret trip to India with Ravi, Sangita’s brother.

Sangita straightens herself and comes as close as she can to staring down someone still half a head taller than she is.
He is a man with principles,” she says.
Abdulla shakes his head.
Hind is engaged—”
“That didn’t stop him from running off with her!”
Sangita sags against the countertop. “They went as friends,” she mumbles. His eyes fly up in what is quickly becoming a standard reaction.
“This very contradiction has plagued me for so many nights since Hind and Ravi left ten days ago…” she trails off at his stunned look.
He takes another gulp of coffee, breathes, and waves a hand, indicating that she should continue.
Finals, graduation paperwork, and finding a job… I’ve had no time to think about this. I had to put my doubts away. So the two people I love the most in the world are together. What can be bad about that?

Is there anything else about observing and writing dialog that you’d like to add?

Someone is attributed with having said, “Listen twice as much as you speak.” Sound advice – impossible to implement! – but oh, so essential for a writer.

Well, folks, this marks the last week of the Observing & Writing Dialog series! It has been a tremendous pleasure learning from each author I’ve interviewed and I am grateful to all each of you who participated, read and/or commented on my blog and elsewhere.

I had a lot of fun organizing this series and it’s been a catalyst for me to examine my own use of dialog in writing and in daily life. In fact, this was such an enjoyable endeavor, I’m considering one or more follow-up interview series about other elements of writing.

Would you like to read more interviews with authors about their writing?
Are you an author interested in being interviewed about your writing? Do you have topic suggestions for a follow-up series?
Please let me know! Comment, tweet, e-mail or send me your thoughts via mental telepathy*!

*Receiving  telepathic messages only during the month of April because I’m an April Fool!