Pratima Cranse is a name soon every reader will know. Pratima has had her first novel All the Major Constellations (for ages 14 and up) called a “heartfelt debut” by Kirkus Reviews, which also named Pratima in her starred review as a “stellar voice to watch.”
Despite her busy schedule, Pratima was kind enough to answer a few questions about her new book and her writing process and what it was like to become published.
CG: What inspired All the Major Constellations? Are any of its themes inspired by your own life?
Pratima: The story started with Andrew, the main character. I’ve been writing little stories about him since I was a teenager. He’s someone who seems pretty laid-back, and in many ways he is, but there’s a lot of turmoil and angst beneath the surface. He’s in love with a girl he can never get, and I wanted to capture that unrequited longing that many of us go through in high school. It’s like a wound that never quite heals, even if the obsession itself goes away. That’s definitely inspired by own adolescent foibles.
All the religious stuff was a surprise. I didn’t set out to write about faith, but slowly that theme became a major part of the story and it’s something that a lot of readers connected with and are curious about. It’s nice to hear from readers around the country who are deeply Christian and really like my book. It’s equally cool to hear from readers who aren’t religious or even interested in religion, and they still really like the book, because of course All The Major Constellations isn’t all about religion.
CG: Which part of All the Major Constellations was conceived of first?
Pratima: Character. Character, character, character. For a long time there was no story. There was only Andrew, Marcia, and Sara just being friends and hanging out. I’ve mentioned this in other interviews, but I’ve written reams of plotless pages of the three of them being together. Then Laura, the girl with whom Andrew is obsessed, entered the scene as a more complete person, and the story began to emerge. The characters make the plot – that’s very important to me. Some writers can successfully plot first and create characters to fit that plot, but I am not one of those writers.
CG: Was there anything in your original conception of the story that didn’t make it in?
Pratima: Oh, I love this question! When I first started writing the novel, like twenty years ago, Laura had thrown caution to the winds and accepted a part in a local production of A Midsummer Nights Dream. The play has this crazy effect on her, and she begins exploring aspects of herself that she had never considered before because of the limitations that her strict church puts on her and on women in general. It was a cool storyline, but it just didn’t quite work. Also, the novel used to have multiple narrators: Andrew, Marcia, and Sara. Ultimately, the novel was Andrews. It’s his story. I just had to commit to him and go for it.
CG: What was the hardest part of writing All the Major Constellations?
Pratima: When Viking bought my novel my editor recommended that I pull Marcia and Sara (Andrews two best friends) off stage and focus the story more completely on his adventures with the Christian youth group into which he is drawn. It was both the right thing to do and completely earth shattering. Just getting the mechanics and technical details consistent was hard to accomplish. But absolutely worth it!
CG: How has literature influenced your own writing and vice versa?
Pratima: I like literature that embraces ambiguity and murkiness and mess. I love getting lost in the deep, dark forest of a big, bold book. That’s why I love Iris Murdoch. I wish I could write one tenth of one percent as well as Iris Murdoch. Whatever, it’s good for the soul to have stupid impossible dreams. It keeps you hungry.
I can’t say that my own writing has influenced what I read. I once heard that when you’re in the throes of writing your own fiction you should stay away from other peoples fiction so you don’t unconsciously ape their style. So I’m reading more non-fiction, biographies, and the like.
My daughter is three so we read her a lot of little books. Really good children’s books are like perfect poems. The incomparable Where the Wild Things Are, Miss Rumphius, the eerie beauty of Goodnight Moon. She likes the little owl day and night set by Divya Srinivasan. A brilliant children’s book can remind you to be precise and caring about word choice.
CG: Who are some of your favorite authors? Do you have any recommendations for readers who enjoyed your work?
Pratima: Iris Murdoch, as I mentioned above. I also really admire authors who can do humor well. Karen Russell, Charles Portis, Mark Leyner. I like writers who break through logic, including the logic of their own novels, and emerge into a wild new dimension. The Convalescent by Jessica Anthony is a perfect example of that kind of wildness. Also Junot Diaz.
I cannot imagine recommending another author because their writing is similar to mine – I wouldn’t want to offend anyone!
CG: What motivates you to write? What do you hope to convey through your writing?
Pratima: I’m not sure what motivates me to write. I guess it’s a combination of my love of reading and my need to express the sentences and characters and stories that are bouncing around in my brain…
In terms of what I hope to convey with my writing, I think I would be lucky to just scratch the surface of the mess that lurks beneath each person. We’re all such weird little islands, such strange animals blessed and burdened by consciousness. I’d like to be able to explore all the muck and beauty that makes a person.
CG: Talk a little bit about your writing process. Is there anything unique about your personal writing process?
Pratima: I generally like to write in public places like cafes. I get some coffee and listen to music (with headphones, of course), and just try to zone out. I’m not quite as a successful when I’m alone at home or in a quiet library. If going to a café is impossible, I listen to a website that mimics the sounds of a café. My mom has this great machine that has the sounds of a crackling fire, a thunderstorm, the sea, the forest floor (?), all sorts of things. It’s just that bit of distraction that helps me focus…
Anyway, you can’t really fight your nature. Just go with it, make it work.
CG: What advice do you offer to other writers that you follow in your own writing?
Pratima: I’m going to quote, in full, something that Ira Glass said about the creative process:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.
“Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
And here’s a direct link if you want to hear him say it (which I recommend for the passion in his rather adorable voice): http://omeleto.com/188186/
So, my advice is this, if you haven’t gone through or are currently going through the stage that Glass describes above, you’re either an unprecedented genius, or you’re deluding yourself. Spoiler alert, you’re not a genius. So get your ass in the chair, or on a mountaintop, or wherever it is that you write, and start producing material!
I like adverbs. There, I said it. I LIKE ADVERBS. Some of my favorite writers use adverbs liberally and beautifully. Purging your manuscript of adverbs will not magically make you a better writer. I don’t know why the adverb has been getting such an absurd onslaught of derision for the past few decades, but I don’t get it and I don’t like it.
My name is Pratima, and I use adverbs. Suck on that!
Pratima Cranse is a writer and registered nurse. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and daughter. She enjoys cooking and hanging out with her family. She’s recently tried learning how to ride a bicycle, which involves lots of falling down, tears, and flailing around with rage and sadness, followed by glimmers of promise and beauty. Pratima is uniquely suited to this activity, as it greatly resembles writing a novel.
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), and a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU. He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can read more about the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 350,000+ followers