I read Becoming a Mountain and I became a fan of Stephen Alter. Thanks to his publishers, I got an opportunity to ask Stephen Alter some questions.
Author Stephen Alter Interview
Tell us about your growing up years. Where did you grow up, what did you study and what did you want to become?
Stephen Alter: Most of my childhood was spent in Mussoorie, the town where I was born. I didn’t study very hard in school but enjoyed natural history and literature. When I was very young I wanted to be an inventor. Later on, I decided to become a writer.
What was your first piece of writing and when did you know that you would be a full-time writer?
Stephen Alter: I wrote poetry in school but when I got to college I switched to prose. It was only after leaving college that I knew that I would make a career of writing.
What qualities do writers need to be able to write about a place in such a way that the reader almost feels the place?
Stephen Alter: A writer must be a good observer and take notice of the kinds of things that make a place unique. Arranging these observations in a clear and compelling manner, as part of a story, is the challenge for any writer of fiction or non-fiction.
A question that contradicts the last one – do you think writers can completely re-create the places and emotions for their readers? Or they can only entice them to make a visit themselves?
Stephen Alter: Good writers make us look at the world through a fresh set of eyes. They help us change our perspective on the world and make ordinary place extraordinary.
You mention in your book ‘Becoming a Mountain’ that while you were recovering in hospital, you were writing the scene in your mind for a future book. Does it you bother you that you are converting your life into scenes all the time? Or do you enjoy doing it and it happens effortlessly?
Stephen Alter: There are many parts of my life that I don’t write about but certain experiences or encounters lend themselves to the narrative. As a storyteller, you are always trying to discover things that will interest your listeners or readers. Sometimes these are personal encounters and other times they depend more on your imagination.
Do you have a writing routine or a writing ritual that you can share with our readers?
Stephen Alter: I try to write 1,000 words every day, always in the morning between 6 and 11 am.
What do you think about the new age/new media writing like blogs? Do you think they are taking readers away from books? Do you think they are bringing down the quality of writing?
Stephen Alter: Blogging is a new phenomenon. Let’s see how it develops into a new genre of writing. I don’t think it takes readers away from books or traditional journalism. The lack of editing does worry me because many bloggers don’t seem to revise their work consistently.
Your book mentions quite a few authors who had climbed the Himalayas before you. Do you read a lot of literature before you take a trip? Have you taken trips with no preparations at all? If yes, what is the difference between a prepared trip and an unprepared trip?
Stephen Alter: To be able to write in an informed voice you must read the literature that surrounds your experience. I always search for books and essays that relate to the places I visit. Sometimes I go into a journey without fully understanding what has been written about the places I travel through but afterward, I always refer to the works of other writers who have gone before me.
Who are your favorite authors?
Stephen Alter: I’ve always enjoyed reading things by anonymous authors but if you are asking for names I’d pick V.S. Naipaul, Bruce Chatwin, and Gretel Ehrlich out of a hat.
Tell us about the next book that you are working on?
Stephen Alter: At the moment, I’m not sure what I’ll write next. I have a new thriller that will come out next year and a short jungle story for younger readers. Maybe I’ll write a steamy Delhi romance set in Greater Kailash. Who knows?