Please welcome Rahul Kanakia to the blog as part of the Book of Apex tour! Rahul is the author of “Tomorrow’s Dictator” and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the story, and more!
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I’ve always been a big reader, but I’ve not always wanted to be a writer. I started writing stories in my senior year of high school, after getting into college. And I’ve always been serious about submitting and trying to get published, but through college I assumed I’d have some other career and that writing would be something I did on the side. I majored in Economics and first attempted to be a journalist and then got into public policy work (I spent several years working at the World Bank after graduating). However, I eventually realized that this was the only thing that I really enjoyed doing.
Your new story, “Tomorrow’s Dictator”, just published in the Book of Apex: Volume 4. Will you tell us about it and what inspired it?
The story is about a near-future commune that operates by ‘adjusting’ its members to be more pliable and cooperative. The commune is run by an unadjusted woman who gained everyone’s respect because she turned around her own life by sheer willpower (i.e. she did not require adjustment). However, after she grows tired of this life, she tries to go out and find a professional manager to replace her….only to find herself being recruited by a corporation that wants to use her adjustment techniques on its workforce.
The genesis of this story is that during college, I lived in a vegetarian co-op: a huge house with about fifty students who all cooked and cleaned and lived communally. We were a pretty motley and disorganized lot, except for one girl who was incredibly efficient and well organized. She woke early, exercised frequently, ate right, slept on a mattress out on the porch, and lived in a room with almost no furniture or possessions. She was also extremely even-tempered and never raised her voice or appeared to be visibly annoyed. As such, she was the only person whose complaints and ‘suggestions’ I’d ever take seriously, because, quite frankly, her perfection was quite eerie.
Our co-op also ran by consensus, which means that every single person has to agree on a proposal in order for it to be enacted. In practice, this meant that nothing ever got enacted and that everyone did whatever they wanted. At one point, I suggested that we–as per ancient Roman tradition–unanimously acclaim this girl as our dictator (a joke that, of course, she did not particularly enjoy). And that’s where the story came from.
What is your writing process like?
I’m a very regimented writer. I have a set number of hours of writing that I intend to do on each day (these goals are usually assigned on Sunday of each week). And then I measure, for each day, whether I’ve met that goal. This semester, my goals have generally been 1 hour on Mondays, 2 hours on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, 4 hours on Wednesdays, and 8 hours on Thursdays. I keep myself at my desk and try to write something even if nothing is really coming out. Oftentimes, there’s a 2-3 week fallow period, where all I produce is nonsense and terrible ideas, and then something will start to cohere, and I’ll spend a week or two producing draft after draft of the beginning. Then the beginning will come together and the whole story will come out in less than a week. With Tomorrow’s Dictator for instance, I have four early drafts that were set at the commune itself. It’s only when I moved it to the convention that the story began to come together.
What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, SF?
I enjoy how high-concept it is. I’m a person who’s often inspired by ideas. I can have an idea for something like adjustment and then explore it through a story. Writing literary fiction is a bit harder for me, since that requires beginning with more concrete things: settings, characters, etc.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
I could be boring and say Anna Karenina, which was one of my most purely enjoyable and inspiring reading experiences. Or I could be slightly more risqué and say Atlas Shrugged, which is one of my favorite novels and probably the novel that I’ve read more often than any other. However, maybe that would be a bad idea. I love Atlas Shrugged because I read it at a formative period in my life (when I was in 9th grade.) I’ve observed that people who read it (for the first time) when they’re past their teen years tend to not like it as much. (Also, I would like to issue a disclaimer here and say that I do not believe in Ayn Rand’s philosophy. I just enjoy the mythic quality of the novel. In a way, it’s odd that I have to issue that disclaimer for Ayn Rand and not for Anna Karenina, because Tolstoy also had a very pronounced philosophy that he attempted to espouse in his books, and that philosophy was, for awhile, a real political and ideological force both in Russia and throughout the world. But nowadays no one even considers that someone who loves Anna Karenina might be a Tolstoyan).
What are you reading now?
Right now I am reading Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak. Even in translation, it’s a beautiful novel: whether you’re on in some provincial town in the Caucusus during the Russian Revolution or you’re in the dirty streets of Moscow during a year where food and firewood are scarce, you always feel like you’re really there. It’s long, but I highly recommend it. I’ve also been reading a lot of Japanese novels lately. They’re pretty interesting. The structure of Japanese novels is different from that of Western novels: their conflicts are less pronounced, and they don’t end in big climaxes.
What’s next for you in 2014?
Welp, I’ve written a contemporary young adult novel called Enter Title Here, which is about a young Indian-American girl—the valedictorian in her class and an extremely hard worker—who decides that her hook for getting into colleges will be that she’s a promising young novelist. So she decides to write a young adult novel about a hard-working Indian-American girl who learns to relax and be carefree and go on dates and stuff, and, in order to write the novel, the valedictorian decides to go out and do all those things. However, at the same time, her school discovers that she’s been plagiarizing some assignments and strips her of her valedictorian positions, so she decides to sue them. So on the one hand you have a girl who’s trying to act all carefree for her novel, and on the other hand she’s suing her school and threatening teachers and manipulating people.
The novel’s completed and is in the hands of my agent, who is thinking about submitting it to editors soon, so hopefully there’ll be some movement on that. I’ve also currently revising two other novels, a YA novel with fantastic elements (it’s about a pop star who hears a voice from God that tells her that her life and work are obscene) and a crime novel (about a sociopathic mom who manipulates those around her in order to get her daughter into an exclusive prep school).
And I’ve got short stories coming out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and Daily Science Fiction.