The truth is, I think that title could easily describe any novelist anywhere. Certainly it describes what I am doing in my own novels, which is investigating both myself and the world.
Before I began writing fiction, I'd had a good deal of experience in exploring and taking notes. Travel writing had taken me to India, Israel, Grenada, Austria, Brazil, and many other countries. I'd written for publications as diverse as Cosmopolitan and Family Circle; I'd covered the N.C. legislature and, keeping up the freelancer's characteristically hectic pace, turned out brochures, reports, and ad copy.
What I discovered when I first began using the novel form for my explorations is that entering the world of the imagination does not mean leaving the real world behind. Instead, it adds flights of fancy to the jet-powered kind of travel; it adds soul-searching to note-taking. Nothing I have done demonstrates this more clearly than the route I took to writing my most recent novel, Sister India.
It was as a travel writer that I'd initially visited India. Thirteen years later, I went back as a novelist because I felt drawn to return. In the years immediately after that first trip, I would simply turn to look twice whenever I heard an Indian accent here in the Triangle; I'd follow with my eyes anyone in a turban or a sari. I began to feel hungry for a particular mix of overheated street smells. As more years passed, the urge to return grew to a steady pull, a yearning that seemed at times like physical desire-for the tropical heat and the traffic of motorscooters, the crowd-packed streets and the noise. At the same time, the tug seemed almost as if it came from outside me, a subtle, insistent undertow. I wanted to know more particularly what it was in India that fascinated me so, and I wanted to revel in it, whatever it was.