A Winning Balancing Act

Iris CF Gomes

The Delicate Balance of Little Lives is author Jessica Faleiro’s second innings as a writer. A book of short stories, The Delicate Balance of Little Lives reveals the interwoven lives of five women with each woman’s tale of dealing with the sufferings she has undergone.

Jessica has another book of short stories called Afterlife: Ghost Stories from Goa, which was published in 2012, to her credit. The passionate writer, who transitioned from a career of working in research and policy to acquiring a master’s in Creative Writing from Kingston University, England, took a dive head first into the deep end of the volatile pool of literature, writing and publishing.

Having lived in Goa, Mumbai, Miami, Paris and London, and travelled extensively on work, Jessica makes optimal use of her travel adventures by writing about them. She has been conducting vision board and creative writing workshops in India and abroad. However, her primary goal is to channel her own creativity and present it to readers. Jessica’s fiction and non-fiction work has appeared in The Times of India, Muse India, India Currents, Mascara Literary Review, Tambdi Mati and other magazines and anthologies. She won the Joao Roque Literary Journal – Best in Fiction 2017 award for her short story ‘Unmatched’.

The globetrotting Jessica was born in Goa but spent her formative years in Kuwait. She refers to herself as an adult ‘third generation kid’ to emphasise the experience of not being moored to any country or land. Jessica says, ‘You have the Goan culture that I was born into but it was not around me. Kuwait was not really my culture, having been placed in it. Then there is the third culture that is categorised by a sense of alienation, a sense of lack of belonging to a place … A lot of third culture kids say they belong “everywhere and nowhere” or “nowhere and everywhere”. Third culture kids are multilingual. They have different values and see the world differently. They have a wider range of ability to process at a different level.’

The title of the book was an intuitive inspiration and, disregarding her own advice at creative writing workshops to participants to be ready to scrap the working title at the completion of writing, Jessica held on to The Delicate Balance of Little Lives. She says, ‘I realised that the stories were separately kind of linked to the title. There is something about “the delicate balance of little lives”, there’s something about the metre of six words that appeals to people. I’m very aware of that.’ The title aptly captures the essence of the stories of these five different women with their unique coping mechanisms. ‘The Delicate Balance of Little Lives is a play on how they are constantly having to negotiate, staying sane while working through trauma from this loss and they do it with coping mechanisms they come up with,’ says Jessica.

The choice of female protagonists in all the stories was a gradual one that grew out of understanding how the stories fit women more effectively. Having found that middle-class Goan women treat loss as an inevitable part of life and have no real terminology for or concept of trauma and coping mechanisms, Jessica found that the stories would be an appropriate vehicle to provide a language for these strong women to comprehend their own situations and express themselves. She says, ‘These women to me – when I realised it – they were being marginalised because of their coping mechanisms, marginalised by the middle class society that they are in because they are living on the periphery of the expectations of how that society expects them to behave, to speak …’

Jessica decided to self-publish The Delicate Balance of Little Lives despite having had her first book Afterlife: Ghost Stories from Goa published by Rupa. The choice of Rupa had its advantages because the publishing house publishes more novels per month than any other house and has a spectacular distribution network. However, there was no transparency on sales data and publishing rights were relinquished to the publishing house. These are problems that are connected with all publishing houses according to Jessica.

Although she did attempt to have The Delicate Balance of Little Lives published, the houses she approached wanted her to add to the content because of the formulaic method of publishing with a certain number of words, etc. Unwilling to add to the content or write additional stories to meet the demands of the publishing houses, Jessica decided the best route was self-publishing to maintain the integrity of the stories. With help from a friend, she used Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), one of Amazon’s publishing platforms‎. ‘Once I put my book on there, it could be instantly accessed in sixteen markets across the world. In paperback format it could be accessed in six markets across the world – Germany, UK, and US included. The downside was that the paperback could not be accessed in India. I had to take another route to do that,’ says Jessica. She ordered a bulk print of paperbacks and arranged for them to be sold in Goa bookshops. Jessica also paid an annual fee to Cinnamon Teal/Dogears to make the book available on their online storefront and through Amazon, Flipkart and Infibeam. The initial launch of the book took place in April of 2018, and the book is available now in India in paperback as well as in the Kindle format.

The Delicate Balance of Little Lives has five individual stand-alone stories with the names of the female protagonists as the titles. The stories are integrated through a place and people. The Royal grove luxury beach resort appears in all the stories and each story has one character from another story in the book. Jessica says, ‘You get to see a deeper dimension and a different aspect of that person’s personality. Plus, I do play with the timeline.’ For example, one of the stories, ‘Joy’, is about an investigative journalist interviewing a professional gigolo in a hotel room, wherein she comes to understand her own sexuality. The eponymous Joy is seen in an earlier story and the story dedicated to her is at the end of the book.

Jessica reveals that the story around Joy, her favourite character, was written on a dare, sending her on a journey of finding out more about the Indian gigolo industry. She says, ‘It’s not just all happiness. There is a reality check within that story about the prostitution industry being a challenging one always.’

‘I fell in love with all the five women: Suzanne, Cristina, Penny, Miranda and Joy,’ says Jessica. These women are of different ages and come from different backgrounds. Cristina, for one, is a complex character, a young prostitute who is a product of child sexual abuse with the perpetrator being her own father. Her life is depicted in light of her relationship with religion, her father, her clients, and the Church community.

‘There are layers to this book,’ says Jessica, advising her readers to revel in these stories more than once to

appreciate them completely.

*This article is based on the discussion between Savia Viegas and Jessica Faleiro at the launch of The Delicate Balance of Little Lives at the Goa Arts and Literature Festival (GALF) 2018.