Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Q&A with Neel Patel

Neel Patel is the author of the story collection If You See Me, Don't Say Hi. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Southampton Review and Indiana Review. He lives in Los Angeles.

Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in your collection?

A: I wrote the stories in If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi over the course of about three years. 

Q: How did you choose the order in which the stories would appear, and do you see themes running through the collection?

A: The ordering of the collection was crucial—as with most story collections. We wanted the first story to be something engaging but not too long or drawn out.

“God of Destruction” is one of those stories that can easily be read in a single sitting, so we went with that, following it with a more poignant story, “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna.” I think in the end we wanted to balance out the shorter, lighter pieces with the heavier, more melancholic ones.

I do see themes running through the collection, primarily those of love and longing, race and identity, and the constraints of social class. 

Q: How was the book’s title—also the title of one of the stories—chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: The title of the book came to me randomly one afternoon. I was sitting on my bed and the phrase “If you see me, don’t say hi” popped into my mind.

I loved it because I felt that it so accurately described my personality. I knew that I wanted the book to have that title, and so then it became a question of writing a story to encompass it.

To me, the title is not just a sarcastic nod to being antisocial, but rather a deeper reflection of the experience of being an Other. Often, when we’re young and different, we get recognized for all the wrong things, for being a freak, an outcast. The title is basically saying “If you’re going to see me for being different, I’d rather not be seen at all.”

Q: In a New York Times review of the book, Shaj Mathew writes, “This collection has everything to do with its characters’ hyphenated identity and yet, somehow, nothing to do with it at all.” What do you think of that assessment? 

A: I love this assessment. I think it's exactly how so many Indian-Americans experience life. We’re Indian, yes, and that definitely means something. But we’re also American, and that means something, too. There are things that differentiate us from people but there are so many things that make us the same.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m currently working on a novel, which is a continuation of some of the themes I explored in If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi. I’m also working on a screen adaptation of If You See Me: a television series. I’ve written a screenplay that I’m shopping around, too. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: If You See Me was my way of challenging some of the stereotypes and misconceptions I’ve had to deal with all my life, and it’s only the beginning.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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