Suzanne Sangi, the author of Facebook Phantom, in conversation with Nimmy Chako, writer and editor. Facebook Phantom, a YA novel, will be published in April 2013.
NC: How did you manage to write an entire book in the middle of classes, exams, all the drama that comes with being part of high school and the general figuring-out-your-life business?
SS: Well, writing ‘Facebook Phantom’ has never been something burdensome. As a matter of fact, it’s been something I did in my most relaxed state of mind. I wrote the book during my first year PU course and well, you’d hardly find a first PU student overly serious about studies. Heehee.
NC: Is there an interesting story associated with the birth of the Facebook phantom?
SS: Suddenly everyone was obsessed about Facebook – including myself, eventually. I had a friend in high school everyone in whose family had an account on Facebook, and I mean EVERYONE – right from her seven-year-old brother to her sixty-five-year-old grandmother; all eagerly logging in to Facebook everyday to reap crops on Farmville. I found this amusingly fascinating. And then Facebook was starting to become very personalized – almost as good as a face-to-face contact and sometimes even more. All this collectively inspired me to write Facebook Phantom.
NC: Did you at any point find yourself getting creeped out by what you were writing?
SS: Yes totally! I usually wrote in the night when everyone else at home was asleep. This was pretty inducing, I should say. There were times when I would imagine Omi Daan – the antagonist in the book – sitting right next to me as I wrote about the chills that my protagonist, Sonali, felt. And I also recall this annoying cat which had made a habit of yowling right next to my window every night– somewhere around midnight mostly. As silly as it would sound, this always felt somehow ominous and helped to set the mood of writing a thriller.
NC: Are you a fan of all things paranormal? Do you see yourself continuing to write in this genre?
SS: My fascination for the supernatural and paranormal began very early in my childhood. I owe this to the Greek mythology I read and loved as a kid. I could definitely call myself a lover of the paranormal! As my imagination vigorously runs in this direction, I most absolutely see myself continuing to write in this genre.
NC: Did you have the plot all neatly tied up in your head before you started writing? What was your writing process like?
SS: Oh I absolutely had no concrete plot in mind when I began writing Facebook Phantom. I only had a sketchy plan initially and then, as soon as my tenth board exams got over, I began to write. And as I wrote, the story wove itself. It was an amazing process – just sitting down with my laptop and having my thoughts flow. There were days I could go non-stop and finish chapters in a single day and then again, there were days I could go no further than a single paragraph. I often felt directionless in the beginning and I should admit there were the rarest times when I thought I should scrap everything and begin anew. However, my two siblings – who so fondly call themselves my biggest fans – absolutely gave me all the moral support I needed to finish the book. They would sometimes insist that I read out certain sections of the book to them and some other times, it would be the other way round. Mum and dad were also the most encouraging lot right from the time I introduced them to the idea of ‘Facebook Phantom’.
NC: Tell us more about how you developed the characters. I’m assuming Sonali is modelled after you?
SS: Yes Sonali is, to a certain extent, modelled after me. Her thoughts and emotions were the least challenging to bring out. Neel Sarathy is the image of a guy friend that I have always liked to have – I am indeed very fond of this character. I have tried my best to put myself in the shoes of a teenage boy as I wrote about him. It has been challenging and satisfying. Joanne Leslie, whose first name is like my sister’s, is sort of modelled after her; a happy, bubbly person who immensely cares about the happiness of those around her. It was the character of Omi Daan who took the most effort right from conception. I’ve written his thoughts in third person narration – which I feel is quite the task when compared to a first person narration, as most would agree – to make the reader sense the coldness and impersonal feel of this character.
NC: Is writing something you’ve always wanted to do? What was your first story was about?
SS: I started writing short stories, poetry and songs at the age of seven. My first attempt at a story was about three good witches who’d lost their mother at a very tender age and suffered at the hands of their non-magical step mother who mistreated them out of envy and bitterness. Writing has always been the best way I could express whatever I feel and believe and of course, the best way I could channel and give shape to my imagination. So yes, being a writer was always on the top of my to-be list.
NC: What are your future plans? Do you have an idea about what you want to write next?
SS: When it comes to writing, my future plan is to write as much as creative thinking allows me to. As to what I want to write next, I have been trying to plot a story somehow connected to Facebook Phantom – perhaps about an absolutely fake Facebook account coming to life!
NC: Name three books you absolutely love.
SS: That would be The Desert Spear by Peter Brett, Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows by J.K. Rowling and Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer.
NC: Are you a Facebook junkie?
SS: Hmm… Well, maybe 50% of a Facebook junkie. I do sign in everyday on my laptop to check on updates and catch up with some friends. However, I am sure that I do not obsess about Facebook at the same time I’m sure that life would not be the same without it!