Last year, Brinda Charry distilled more than 100,000 words and over a year’s worth of work into a 123-word synopsis for a statewide pitch competition. Now, she has a two-book deal with a national publishing house.
After winning the competition, Charry felt encouraged to seek out a literary agent, she said in an interview Monday.
The pitch contest was part of a 603 Writers’ Conference organized by The NH Writers’ Project. The nonprofit — a Manchester-based organization that supports the development of writers in the Granite State — was an important resource in the publishing process, said Charry, an English professor at Keene State College.
“Living in New Hampshire, you kind of feel you’re far away from New York and other big publishing centers,” she said. “And I think the writers’ project does a great job in building a sense of community.”
Charry’s pitch was for her novel, “The East Indian.” The book is a fictional account of a real person — a 14-year-old boy and the first person from the Indian subcontinent to appear in American colonial records. The boy, who is referred to as Tony in records, arrived in Virginia in 1635 and worked on a tobacco plantation.
Charry first encountered mention of Tony several years ago in a publication from the U.S. consulate in India.
She tucked the idea away, initially planning to return to it to write an academic article, but ultimately decided she wanted to delve back into the world of fiction. With a story set in the 1600s, Charry felt “The East Indian” fell at the intersection of her passion for the Shakespearean era and a kind of immigrant story that isn’t seen often.
Charry, who emigrated from India to the United States 20 years ago, has previously published novels in India and the UK, but “The East Indian” was her first time experiencing the American publishing system.
The 603 Writers’ Conference pitch competition was held in October last year, and within a couple of months, Charry heard back from Eric Simonoff of William Morris Endeavor talent agency, who requested to read the full manuscript.
Simonoff loved the book’s premise and writing, Charry said, but there was a caveat — he suggested rewriting the second half of the novel.
Initially, Charry felt hopeless and unsure how she could improve upon what she already had. It took a few days of mulling over the suggestion, she said, but in the end she saw where Simonoff was coming from.
“I just got back to the drawing board,” Charry said, and she withdrew her pitch from the other agents she had submitted it to.
And while the suggestion came at a difficult time — Charry’s mother, who lives in India, was ill, and she returned there to help care for her — she said she never considered giving up on the work.
“It did cross my mind, that it might come to nothing, all this effort,” Charry said. “But I decided I would do it. If nothing else, I would do it for myself ... this was the novel that had been waiting in me for a long time.”
In the end, those efforts paid off.
With the revised version complete, Simonoff offered representation in the spring, according to Charry. A few publishers expressed interest in the novel, and Charry ultimately chose to go with Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster that has worked with a litany of renowned writers including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King, according to the company website. The book was also sold to Scribe, a UK publishing house, which will see the book printed in the UK and Australia, according to a news release from the NH Writers’ Project.
Between editing, publicizing and marketing, Charry said, it will likely be at least a year before the book will hit bookshelves. But in the meantime, she has another project to work on.
The second book included in the deal is still in its beginning phase, Charry said — “that early point where you also would despair as to what it’s going to be,” she said, laughing.
But she’s committed to the historical fiction genre and is considering another book focused on an East Indian character, this time set in the 1800s and the Northeastern United States. Over the winter break, she plans to visit the New York Public Library to dive into research.
Historical fiction can be challenging due to the amount of research required, and the need to find a balance between historical accuracy and engaging narrative. But as an academic, Charry said she enjoys the research and hopes to provide readers with another historical perspective.
“I hope people realize the kind of very long, complex history of the East Indian presence in America,” she said. “And I hope they also realize the kind of complexity of that particular racial identity.”