Sam returns home from a business trip a day before his son’s thirteenth birthday and is looking forward to being with his family, when his world is cruelly shattered in one fell swoop. Initially he thinks he can cope with the loss, but finally seeks the help of Cynthia, an experienced therapist, to regain his equipoise. What he does not know is that Cynthia herself is trying to cope with a debilitating divorce and the sinister shadow of her ex-husband over her daughter…
What happens when doctor and patient find themselves in the same sinking boat? Moreover, when they are rowing in opposite directions–one clinging to the past, and the other unable to get rid of it! In the midst of it all is Lily, Cynthia’s daughter, who harbours a secret that has the power to explode the lives around her.
Interview with Neel Mullick
Dark Blossom. I love the title of this book. Was this your first fiction book? What’s the story behind it? (No pun intended)
Thanks! To be honest, the title appeared to me in a dream. And since I’m being honest, I must also admit that I fell into writing rather serendipitously as well. Dark Blossom is indeed my first work of fiction and both the story and the characters were more or less cleaved by an imagination that had run amok at a time when I was struggling with empathy in my life.
While the characters are all very different from me and the ordeals faced by them are exaggerations of what I was going through, my innate spirit wanted to describe their experiences and interactions in a way that was entertaining for readers. This duality of finding entertainment and perhaps even levity in daily strife exists in everyone including my characters and the title from my dream captured that essence. Here’s a snippet from my book launch on that topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iodpyiw4Z7Y&t=3s
What do you enjoy most about storytelling?
Given how and when I fell into storytelling, I soon found writing to be an unbridled expression of empathy. First, I needed it for my characters to allow them a full and vibrant range of expression and then, for my readers to help them partake of such expression in a riveting way. So writing afforded me a double dose of empathy if you will – and it helped fill that personal void in my life too.
In retrospect though, there is one other thing about writing and storytelling that I enjoyed as much. Call me a masochist, but I fell in love with playing around with language – its syntax, semantics, and subtleties, all of it! How a word here instead of there, a moved punctuation, or a replaced synonym can affect the way people understand intellectually and perceive viscerally is all very fascinating. As a life-long learner too, I think I have fallen in love with this process of reflection followed by articulation.
Which came first idea, theme, or character?
If I were to think about just the idea and the characters, I would have to say it’s a judicious mix. In order for a story to take place, not only must the idea be important to the characters but also they must have something important to say about it. Once this scaffolding is in place, then the idea might change less and the theme is driven by its interplay with the characters, but it’s the characters that really have to evolve the most. They have to – to fight increasing stakes, win small battles, and eventually come out on top at the end of the war!
What’s your method for character creation?
Good stories take place at the intersection of personal authenticity and people’s perceptions. Ergo, good characters must be borne from a place of sincerity. If that’s not the case, then it will be difficult to convince readers. Once I am able to make this genuine empathic connection with my characters, I follow a five-step process to give them substance – Read, Research, Reflect, Rest, and Repeat. First, I read and research a lot and this includes conversations with people who might provide inspiration. Then I let it percolate by backing off completely after a period of reflection, of course. Lastly, I find myself having to go back to the start of the loop at times when I get stuck.
What can you tell us about Sam?
Phew! Now that’s a toughie. Let me explain. Part of the inspiration behind the novel is my belief that the solution to a rapidly fracturing world lies in peeling enough layers to discover the similarities, rather than judging on mere superficialities. And Sam’s character is supposed to catalyze readers to reflect on how we judge the motives of those around us. In fact, I have even incentivized such reflection with a contest at www.WinTrip2NY.com.
So while Sam’s loss and his tribulations are real, his characterization has been somewhat abstract. Let it suffice to say that he is an immigrant who has assimilated well and is unsure about how to cope with a very deep loss.
Who is Cynthia and what role does she play in the story?
Cynthia is a psychologist and she finds herself alone with her patient and her daughter in a sinking boat. Moreover, they all seem to be rowing away from one another. While trying to heal from a debilitating divorce, Cynthia is helping her patient, Sam, who is struggling with the worst kind of loss there is. She is also trying to mend her relationship with her daughter, Lily, who is not only fighting her own demons but also holding on to a secret that has the power to explode the lives around her.
What was your experience writing the point of view?
From the very beginning, I wanted to narrate the story from Cynthia’s perspective. This was daunting since I am neither a woman psychologist nor do I share a cultural background with her. So I knew I was trying to fill shoes much larger than my own and I had to both step out of my comfort zone and dig deep. And I’d like to believe that I have grown much as a person because of it. So not only was the process personally gratifying but also her perspective turned out to be most relevant for the plot.
Was it easy writing about flawed characters?
Aren’t we all?! But yes, confronting these flaws, let alone embracing or articulating them, is never easy. Fortunately, I strongly believe that such duality exists in all of us and I’m quite comfortable with both my flaws and my struggles with them. Even though writing about these flaws in characters that are different from me wasn’t easy, the fact that I enjoyed this process helped me immensely. Now, as to whether or not I was able to do justice to such expression – I think I’ll let readers be the judge of that.
What’s next for you?
I have only recently started researching and outlining my next novel. It’s also going to be narrated from the perspective of a young woman, Abigail, who has just started her first job as a nanny at a prominent bureaucrat’s home. The story starts with her charge, six-year-old Stewart, fighting for his life in the pool. And Abigail soon discovers that June, the boy’s older sister, may have been the one who pushed him in.
Neel Mullick is the author of Dark Blossom. The Head of Product and Information Security at a Belgian family-office technology company, Mullick is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and INSEAD. He mentors female entrepreneurs through the Cherie Blaire Foundation for Women, is involved in raising a generation of digital and socially aware leaders with Nigeria’s Steering for Greatness Foundation, supports improvement in the quality of life of domestic workers through Peru’s Emprendedoras del Hogar, and works with IIMPACT in India to help break the cycle of illiteracy plaguing young girls from socially and economically impoverished communities. Dark Blossom is his first novel.