Vivek Shraya is a Toronto-based visual artist, musician and author of several books, including the short-story collection God Loves Hair, the novel She of the Mountains and the poetry collection even this page is white. Her first picture book, The Boy & The Bindi, featuring illustrations by Rajni Perera, tells the story of a boy who is curious about the dot on his mother's forehead. It was published by Arsenal Pulp Press last month.
Why did you write your new book?
Two years ago, when I started wearing a bindi in public, I noted the uncomfortable glances it elicited. It was troubling to consider how even a dot on a forehead is gendered. Shortly thereafter, I was on a panel looking at children's picture books and the whiteness of the content (and authorship) was alarming and disheartening. Inspired by these experiences, I ended up writing The Boy & the Bindi during a lunch break from the panel on a napkin.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
In 2004, every song I was writing was lacking a punch or pop. It was a frustrating and demotivating experience, not unlike trying to push through writer's block.
I shared my frustrations with a friend and her response was, "You have to make the bad art to make the good art." Turned out, she was right. As I stuck with the songwriting, my songs started to get stronger.
I always keep this in mind as an artist – remembering the importance of commitment to creativity and patience, particularly when what I am producing isn't quite hitting the mark. This is all part of the process of uncovering my best sentence or lyric.
What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don't ask)?
I am often asked questions relating to my identities: diversity or family.
I don't mind these questions but I do wish I was asked questions like ones white male artists get asked – about artistic process.
What scares you as a writer, and why?
As someone whose writing is often tied to a politic, I am scared about coming across as didactic. This can be off-putting to a reader and therefore counterproductive to making an impact. As an artist drawn to particular themes, I am scared of repeating myself. I never want to be predictable or redundant.
What's more important: the beginning of a book or the end?
As a reader, the most important part of a book is the beginning. I am a slow reader and often mourn the books I will never have time to read – while simultaneously buying new books on a weekly basis. To balance this, I have a one-third rule – if I am not captivated by the first third of the book, I am on to the next one.
As a writer, I feel a lot more pressure to write a solid ending – one that doesn't feel too tidy and leaves room for possibility, but also provides the reader a satisfying sense of closure.
Not to contradict myself, but my favourite books are ones that, upon finishing, I let out a sigh and hold the book to my chest.
I want to write endings that evoke this kind of pleasure.