Pia Padukone was born in New York City. A graduate of Stuyvesant High School and the London School of Economics, Pia has worked as a copywriter in healthcare advertising. In their spare time, Pia and her husband write Two Admirable Pleasures, a blog that combines their shared passions for books and the culinary dishes that are inspired by them. Where Earth Meets Water is Pia’s debit novel.
NAW- Tell us about your book, Where Earth Meets Water. How did you get the idea for it? How did you come up with the title?
Where Earth Meets Water is the story of Karom, a young man who is coming to grips with his own form of survivor guilt. In a strange twist of fate – or luck – he has managed to narrow avoid a number of tragedies during which he has lost friends and loved ones while seemingly emerging unscathed. But his grief doesn’t end with him; the novel is also about three people who are inextricably tangled in his life, from his girlfriend Gita, who is determined to help him overcome his grief, his best friend Lloyd, who realizes demons of his own through Karom’s suffering, and Gita’s grandmother Kamini, a wise woman who is searching for a catharsis of her own.
The story came about after I realized that I had narrowly escaped multiple tragedies myself – from having finished a summer job in Tower One of the World Trade Center just four days before 9/11, to standing on the eastern coastline of India as the 2004 tsunami crashed a few hundred miles south of me, to walking past the backpack bombs positioned at the finish line to meet my husband who had just finished running the 2013 Boston Marathon. These occurrences made me curious about someone who might find him or herself haunted by multiple catastrophes and how someone might deal with them.
My phenomenal editor, Erika Imranyi, spotted the phrase “where earth meets water” within the prose of the novel, and suggested it as a title. At first, I thought it was just a beautiful title, but realized how much symbolic weight it carried: water plays a large role in the story, and the moment upon which waves crash onto the shore – that split second – can be the difference between survival and disaster.
NAW- Tell us about the character of Karom? How did you develop the character?
While the inspiration for the circumstances that create the conflict swirling with Karom were very much autobiographical, he is an imagined, fictional character. Subconciously, I think I wrote Karom as a man to distance myself from his situation. I didn’t do a lot of research on grief or survival while I was conjuring him; in fact, I read a lot about survival guilt only after I finished the novel. I suppose the way he came to life was just imagining what multiple brushes with death might do to a person’s psyche over time – losing family, losing friends, feeling invincible, but also like the unluckiest person alive because these tragedies result in leaving someone feeling completely alone.
NAW- You have chosen an interesting narrative scheme for the book, using multiple narratives rather than a single point of view? How difficult is it to write a novel this way?
I adore stories with multiple narratives, because I feel they are the most realistic. No one lives in a vacuum; everyone’s lives, the simplest actions and slightest emotions impact those around them. Writing the book this way was very organic to me; I didn’t even think twice about my process, because it was the only way that made sense to the telling of this story. Because of that, it wasn’t difficult to write the story this way at all. Karom’s story isn’t only his story; it’s the way he is changed by Kamini’s metamorphosis, it’s the way Lloyd is changed and discovers something about himself through Karom’s grief.
NAW- How difficult (or easy) was it getting published? Tell us about your publishing journey.
I initially wrote the first chapter of Where Earth Meets Water as a standalone short story. But I soon realized there was more to the narrative than just those twelve pages. I wanted to see where the story might go, so I struck out, not even knowing the destination myself. I trained myself to wake up early before my job as a copywriter at an ad agency began, writing without an outline or direction, letting my fingers do the traveling, imagining conflicts and journeys for each of the characters. After about a year, I realized that I was in possession of a novel. So I began sending out query letters to various agents.
In order to be even remotely involved in the publishing world, one has to have a very thick skin. I can’t count the number of initial rejections that I received, the number of times I read some variation of the words, “I like your story, but not enough to represent it.” While getting published certainly requires skill, I also believe it requires luck and being in the right place at the right time.
I sent my novel to Indian publishing house that accepted unsolicited submissions and received a response from a fiction editor, who wanted to purchase the novel. I was thrilled! However, this is where an agent is key: you’re never sure whether the offer they are making you is fair…should you concede world rights? I needed an agent to help me translate all the jargon, and I found one who loved the story and wanted to represent me. So I had a rather unorthodox process, finding an agent after I received a publishing offer.
She suggested that since I am an American-based writer, that we try to sell it to a US publishing house. I was ecstatic about that plan, and eventually, Where Earth Meets Water found a very good home with Harlequin Mira.
NAW- What can a reader expect to take away from Where Earth Meets Water?
I hope that readers take away the sense of how powerful other peoples’ stories and lives can be on their own narratives. That it’s never too late to rewrite your life. That the person who inevitably ends up saving you might be the last person you ever expected to do so.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
Until recently, I was working fulltime as a copywriter at an advertising agency. I took some time off to finish writing my second novel before we welcome our first child.
I’m a voracious reader; I average a book a week. I realized that upon completing a book, I would crave certain foods, whether a specific dish was mentioned in the story or I read a sad story that made me want comfort foods. My husband, Rohit is an incredibly talented cook; he can whip up a beautiful multi-coursed meal from the recesses of his mind. So we started a blog called Two Admirable Pleasures, which is part book review, part food writing and part cookbook, as we provide Rohit’s original recipe that was inspired by the book.
I love taking advantage of New York City: walking the streets – sometimes aimlessly – browsing in bookstores, admiring the artwork of the buildings and within the halls of our many museums, discovering the hole-in-the-wall restaurants that boast some of the best food in the world. But I also love traveling and getting to know other parts of the world: some of my favorite trips in the last few years have been hiking the challenging Inca Trail in Peru, browsing the best bookstores in the world in the Emerald Isle and sampling its unparalleled Guiness, and swimming with wild dolphins off Big Island, Hawaii.
NAW- Please name your favourite writers. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?
I have so very many, and they change with my mood and season. But some of my all time favorites have been Chang-Rae Lee, Rohinton Mistry, Vendela Vida, John Updike, Ann Patchett, Lionel Shriver, Ha Jin, Dinaw Mengestu, Dave Eggers, Louise Erdrich, Manil Suri…I would have to say that each and every book I read inspires me in some way, shape or form. I can’t read without reflecting upon my own writing as a result, and it’s only by reading beautiful writing that my own can become stronger.
NAW-What are you currently reading?
I just finished reading Euphoria by Lily King, a gorgeous, intricately written novel bringing to life the fictionalized version of Margaret Mead’s time in Papua New Guinea. I just guested at a book club that was so charming that I left as their newest member, and they allowed me to choose the next book for discussion: Michelle Huneven’s Off Course. In anticipation of our first child, I just read Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, and now I’m intent upon raising our child the “French” way.
NAW- What will you be working on next?
I’m working furiously on finishing the manuscript of my second novel before I give birth! The story is about two families based in New York City and Tallinn, Estonia respectively, who meet through a high school student exchange program. The novel explores the relationship of the family members and how the one year they spend together has a lifelong impact on each of them.