Sangeeta Mahapatra is one of the new age authors for whom writing is more of a passion and hobby than a business. A journalist, a researcher and an academic, Sangeeta finally brings her creativity to book with her collection of horror short stories ‘Wreath and Other Short Stories’. We got in touch with her to know her experience writing horror fiction in India.
How did this book happen?
I grew up reading horror. My brother and I used to spend a lot of time in British bungalows, as my father was a public servant. We used to travel a lot – so it was many years spent in such bungalows. The best part of these amazing years was that these bungalows had well stocked libraries. The stories have been written over a period of years.
The decision to collate and publish these stories was both, the encouragement by my family and friends and I thought it was high time because horror fiction is finally becoming big in India. So, I thought it was a good idea to publish these stories and let people also see how these stories are. I am a story teller at heart. I like writing mysteries and horror and I also like writing about psychological horror, a neglected subgenre of horror. That’s how I got into writing this book. It was not a discussion by design. It was mostly an instinct that happened.
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Do you think there’s a market for horror fiction in India?
In English language, the market for horror is streamlined. The publishers didn’t feel that the audience will go for horror. In America and other countries, there is a huge market for horror. I think Indians love horror stories. If you see our folklore. Even in vernacular, people are excited about stories of horror, even children are excited. From the commercial point of view, I think there is an untapped market for horror. If the publishers will give that kind of a push. What’s missing is marketing. That’s my biggest grouse.
How was your experience publishing the book?
That was a problem. I seem to have hit the bottom of the bell. Some publishers don’t even want to see a collection of short stories. Then, there’s no option but to self-publish. But then that’s great. We are a juncture where the publishing industry can bypass the old rules. Then there’s Kindle Self Publishing. Some authors are publishing via that platform. I think that’s paying good dividends for them. As long as you get into Amazon Prime, you will be published. People also reach out to your stories. They try you before they buy you. So, book reading is reduced to a product and not an experience.
What are the stories about?
The first story, Red Moon is about the horror of not being able to take back something that you’ve done. I have tried to combine that with the horror of mob psychology. When the mob is incited into doing something, overlapping that with a supernatural idea, that’s the best kind of horror element. You play with your private fears and then add the external ambience to it. Malevolent is totally different. I wanted to experiment. I wrote it like a science fiction horror. You won’t have a lot of whizbang moments in my writing. What I want my reader to have is to have the moment of unease.
Most writers are now self-publishing. What do you think about that?
If you believe in your content, but you don’t have the backers, that’s a problem. We have good content but not everyone is flush with funds. The only thing we can do is keep writing and reaching out to a market. Even if it is unviable, you should gamble. Even in the US, the slasher films clicked because they came at the right time. The Ramsays may have funded their own films, but they came up with their own brand of horror. They reaped the benefits of that investment. They took a gamble and won.
What’d I actually like to see is a good, well made horror magazine that talks about the horror scenario in India. We have magazines that talk about something that’s happening somewhere else – but not the Indian horror market.
I am happy that Amazon publishing is here. I want the traditional publishing to wake up and understand how the times have changed. I don’t want India to be known for mediocre writing.
Even with all the issues, more and more writers are writing horror. Why?
You write something that you love reading and writing. When I wrote, it was not by design. It was not by choice. It’s something that you want to plunge into, get the thrill and experience the excitement. If you have good content and have a good marketer, your product will work. I would love to see a magazine that caters to horror.