A Conversation with Indra Ramayan, author of Mud Lilies
Why did you write Mud Lilies?
Mud Lilies is a tribute to the heroes and mentors who helped shape my life. The people who showed me who I am and what I’m capable of. Those who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. They were friends, teachers, agents, and other influences. They held onto me when I couldn’t hold onto myself. They spoke words of faith, hope, and potential. They were patient with my fears, anxieties, and distorted beliefs. And they celebrated my growth and transformation. This book is for the invisible heroes who change the world every single day.
Most novels are somewhat biographical. What percentage of your book is based on incidents in your life or inspired by events in your life?
I’d say a large percentage. While I never lived or worked on the streets, I did run away from home when I was sixteen and lived with a violent man. I escaped that situation and went on to drive taxi at nineteen for a couple of years where I met a lot of working girls. They loved having a female driver, so I spent a lot of time with them and got to know them well. And because they felt safe with me, they opened up and shared details of their lives. Many of them had suffered childhood trauma and had been assaulted by friends or family members in their own homes. And they carried shame, though they were the victims. I saw so much beauty in their vulnerability, and I cherished how much they trusted me. I laughed with them, and I cried with them too. There are some very tragic stories, and some very wounded women. There were a lot of young women who, sadly, never got a chance to make the changes they’d wished for because their lives were cut short by violence and/or addictions.
Your novel has a deep, penetrating sense of being based on lived experience. Are you comfortable talking about this?
I’m comfortable talking about anything that will help others experience their own lives with a greater sense of compassion and empathy, whether for themselves or others. I can personally speak to the toxicity of shame and how it makes you want to hide and makes you feel hopeless. I left the cab industry at twenty-one to work as an exotic dancer. The stripping industry was highly regulated, and our agents ran a professional business. But the stereotypes of bad girls and drugs tainted each and every one of us. Worst of all, my own mother chose to run wild with a dark narrative and labelled me an addicted prostitute. My voice didn’t matter, and neither did the reality of my very clean life. She decided I was bad, and my tarnished image and reputation completely annihilated my relationship with my family, friends, and myself. I hung my head low for many years. I carried shame that didn’t belong to me, like all those young women I’d known. And it was crippling.
I decided, after an eight-year absence, to go back into the stripping industry for one year. I embraced the experience fully, without shame, without apology. I loved that year. It was a year of reclamation. I recovered my self-worth and finally stopped apologizing for something I never should have apologized for in the first place. I’ve walked with my head held high ever since.
Unable to rely on her own dysfunctional family, Chanie’s friends eventually become her family, something many people with similar backgrounds can relate to. Why was it important for you to highlight Chanie’s need for family in the absence of her biological one?
Mud Lilies definitely highlights the human need to belong in a family unit. Chanie is a fragmented teenager when she runs away from a violent home, and we see the high cost of her broken youth in the way that she attaches to the first person who reaches out to her. She had never had a proper life model to shape her self-worth and judgment, so she tries to build her own misguided model with unstable people and a brutalized self-image. She is willing to sell her soul to stay close to her pack, no matter how manipulative and deceitful they are. She is economically, emotionally, and spiritually desperate. She has suffered abuse, trauma, and grief without any support. Even a wild animal, despite its instincts, will take food from the hand of a predator if they are hungry and desperate enough. Fortunately, Chanie is able to rebuild a better model by overcoming shame and trauma through her school friends, teachers, and mentors.
What is the overall message of Mud Lilies and why is this book important?
Stop apologizing for your perceived failures. A perfect life is a boring life. We are here to teach and learn from ourselves and others. No matter who or what you are, all sentient beings share core values and needs. We want the same things, we feel the same fears, and we need each other. There are no traumas so big that they are entitled to dominate your entire life. There is no shame that you can’t shake from your shoulders. It is your right to change course, your right to redefine yourself. You can heal, you can thrive, and you can be whole. There is magic to be found in the fires of life, but we can’t see it when we are fighting the flames. But we have to stay in the fight and put the fire out, so we can see past the smoke, flames, and destruction. So we can see the reclamation of our own personal forest.
What is your writing process?
My process is very scattered, but has three key things: my Boston Terrier, music, and movement. I find that my writing takes on a whole new energy if I combine the process with music, and sometimes, I’ll dance. There was a particular freedom and energy that I felt on stage that made me feel like I could fly. It awakened every sight, sound, and feeling. After a high energy show, I could feel every goosebump on my skin and loved the rush of my pounding heart. I felt fully alive. And I often feel that energy when I’m writing.
My dog is also a huge part of the process. He keeps me real and balanced. He often comes to my desk with his ball and wants to play. He loves to go for walks in nature, and I find that walking with him often clears my head and gets me past writing and creative blocks.
Who are your favourite writers?
Heather O’Neill is amazing! Her metaphors and characters are pure magic, and her writing is vibrant and alive. I picked up Lullabies for Little Criminals years ago and fell deeply in love with the characters, language, and energy of the prose.
My other love is Victor Hugo. He has a much different writing style than Heather O’Neill, but his work moves me in a deeply spiritual way. His words are exquisite, and his characters touch the very core of me.
I also love Persian mystic poets like Rumi and Hafiz. Their writing is wildly romantic and reminds me that great love is the essence of life.