Sunanda J. Chatterjee is an American writer from California whose books have constantly been in the top 100 Amazon list both in the USA and India. She writes literary fiction.
Her themes include romantic sagas, family dramas, immigrant experience, women’s issues, and medicine. She loves extraordinary love stories and heartwarming tales of duty and passion.
Q: Who is the real Sunanda Chatterjee?
A: Sunanda Chatterjee is an amalgam of science and arts, medicine and literature, Indian and American, spiritual and scientific. My day job changed over the years from being a doctor in the Indian Air Force, to doing cancer research, to making diagnoses on patients’ samples. But my passion has always been to integrate everything I see in life into heartwarming, insightful stories of duty, bravery, and love. Medicine satisfies my brain, and writing satisfies my heart. That’s me, in a nutshell.
Q: As a wife, mother and practising pathologist working in California, and with 4 novels and 2 anthologies under your belt; Fighting for Tara, the Blue House in Bishop, Shadowed Promise: From Riots in Bombay to the Riches in Beverly Hills, and The Vision. Where do you get the time to write?
A: I work four days a week and write on my days off. But even when I’m at work, or cooking, or walking, or driving, my fictional characters develop in my brain, the scenes unfold in front of my eyes, such that the moment I can reach a computer, I can start typing. When inspiration betrays me, I read books by famous authors, or research my setting or situation, or I read about writing craft. I consider it all as part of the process of writing. But the most important part is not to judge myself for putting out only one or two books a year, unlike many prolific authors. I do my best to be efficient, and my best is good enough for me.
Q: You worked for the Air Force for a while in India. What was your role and how difficult was it for you, as a woman, working in a man’s world.
A: I was a primary care doctor in the Indian Air Force for five years. Because I was the only female officer on campus in those days, my boss had warned me about the 4000 pairs of eyes (of troops and families) that would watch everything I did. In the far-east air field which boasted few avenues for entertainment, my actions would be noticed, gossiped about, and judged. So I learnt to walk the straight and narrow path. When I started jogging to lose weight after child birth, everyone ogled. Wives chided their chubby husbands. It was hard to be liked. I was friends with my male counterparts, who knew me better than their wives did. So in parties, I hobnobbed with the guys in the bar, in favour of sitting with the ladies I did not know well, and who did not want to know me. After all, I was their doctor, their paediatrician, their gynaecologist. There was a fair bit of jealousy as well, because between me and my husband, we made more income than the commanding officer. But, because I was the doctor for the logistics staff, I got the best rations, the least boggy cabbages, and the tautest onions, and potatoes with the fewest eyes. So there was that.
Q: With every country one moves to, there is culture shock. What surprised you the most moving to America? What is it like for you moving between the two cultures and when you revisit India?
A: Reverse-culture shock is what you might call I experienced as a first-time visitor in the United States. In India, I had led a privileged existence as a Brahmin, a doctor, and an officer in the Indian Air Force. Being the only Lady Doctor on the camp, I was allotted the best house in the newest development. I had a nanny, a maid, a cook, a gardener, and a driver. As the Director of the Family Welfare Centre, I got to choose between two offices, both of which I made mine as my ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ capital, depending on the quantum of sunlight and warmth my heart desired. But I came to America as a student, for a PhD in cancer research, and was allotted a small desk in the middle of the lab. I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and bought a used car. I had to subsist on a meagre stipend. But bit by bit, the situation improved. Today, when I visit India, I am stunned by the degree to which things have changed, and at the same time, they haven’t. While the little shops in strip malls exist, most city dwellers shop in air conditioned malls, and my friends have drivers to manoeuvre through the traffic. Everyone knows everyone in your neighbourhood, but in America, we smile at our neighbours, but don’t even know their names. America affords a strange and comforting level of privacy, but it lacks the warmth of the intrusive compassion India provides.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise your readers.
A: While I ultimately joined medical college, I had seriously entertained the prospect of joining an art school. I love drawing and painting, and still do. But I became a doctor. I can only do so many things, and I chose writing over art as my hobby.
Q: You have been in the 100 bestseller’s lists for all your titles. Who is your audience and what is your secret to success?
A: I sell books in America, India, UK, Australia and Canada. I have a biggest audience in India, but because of the pricing of books, I make most of my income from America. The key to success is promoting non-stop and advertising on many fronts. I also collaborate and co-promote with many authors in my genre.
Q: Have you ever marketed to the Indian reader market knowing how it has expanded over the years, and continues to grow, or do you rely mainly on the American market? Have you considered translating your titles for this market or any other?
A: My books feature characters from India and America, and are often based in both countries. But as I said, my biggest audience is in India. I market to them through blog tours and by cross promoting with other authors in my genre. I haven’t considered translating into other languages, because my books appeal to the subset of Indians who are well conversant with English. Besides, India has over twenty languages, and the work would be monumental, for minimal reward, in my opinion.
Q: What has been your biggest stumbling block in your writing career and how have you overcome that?
A: Finding time to write is the greatest challenge. I am not in a position to leave my day job and jump into writing full-time. So it is hard. But I’ve learnt to optimize my time writing, and decided that publishing just a book or two in one year will have to be enough.
Q: Tell us about what you write and the reason for these genres. Due to your medical background are you tempted to write a medical thriller?
A: I am fascinated by human relationships. I enjoy observing how people interact with each other when thrown in difficult circumstances, the secrets they keep, and what they divulge to those they love. I write women’s fiction, because it encompasses the entire gamut of relationships: between parent and child, between lovers and spouses, between siblings, and even with neighbours. I do have a lot of romantic elements in my stories, but there’s always a deeper theme, of independence, of self-discovery, and of female empowerment. Regardless of whether my heroine is a doctor, a lawyer, an illiterate child, or an ex-cop, she travels the world and fights against all odds for what she believes. My first book was a medical drama, but medicine was the backdrop against which all the other elements occurred. I often think about writing medical fiction, but haven’t thought of a premise that hasn’t been done yet. So, as of now, I write family dramas and romance.
Q: What is next for you as an author?
A: I am currently writing a series based in Southern California, called The Wellington Estates Series. Each book will be stand-alone, featuring a couple, with characters appearing in other books, within the same universe. All feature romantic elements and family drama. I am also going to publish a collection of short stories within the next month.