June 1, 2011

Author Interview: Uma Krishnaswami +GIVEAWAY

I'm very excited to welcome Uma Krishnaswami to The O.W.L. today.  I had the great fun of reading her book The Grand Plan to Fix Everything.  You can check out my review HERE.  I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did!

Welcome to The O.W.L. Uma Krishnaswami!

For your most current book - what part/character/event are you most excited/proud about?

I'm proud of the BFF's, Dini and Maddie, of course, but I'm also very fond of Lal, who works for India Post, delivers the mail, and copes with a grumpy postmaster for a boss. Until he showed up, the story was inching long. It wasn't enough. I needed it to fly, literally, with the letter that the young protagonist, Dini, writes to her favorite Bollywood movie star, Dolly Singh. When I got to that point in the draft I found myself up against a brick wall. There was only one thing I could do. I had to leave Dini in Maryland and follow that letter to India. I knew I'd catch up with her again, but I had to find out what happened to that letter. Lal the postal carrier made that possible. He was a complete surprise to me, as were most of the post office scenes, and the story voice I found myself using to write them. I had no idea the story was going to veer off in that direction but once I let it, I was able to pick up
 a pace that I couldn't manage before. I'd been struggling with it, but once I made that choice, it became great fun to write.

Tell about your writing process.  How long did it take you to write your current book from idea to finish?  Please tell about revision is you can!

The idea came from an editor who sent me an article about Indian-Americans returning to India and living in these really luxurious gated communities, creating little Americas for themselves. I took that idea of moving to India but changed it so that instead of going there to make money like the people in the article, this family was going back for different reasons. The mother, who's a doctor, wants to work in a little clinic on a dream project of hers. I tried writing the story in many different ways, but they were all just plain linear storytelling. Beginning, middle, end, all in a straight line. None of it worked. The story only began working when a quirky narrative voice crept in along with text in many genres including e-mails, text messages, letters, and magazine articles.

The whole process from the very beginning took about 4-5 years. I set aside the first four drafts completely, just deleted them and emptied the trash. When I read your question, I went back and looked at the number of different revisions saved on my hard drive. I counted a total of  19. So that was 19 separate revisions, and that's not including journal notes and some scenes that never made it into the story. Revision's great. It's where the real writing takes place. The draft is just a way for me to tell myself the story. In revision I get to figure out how I'm going to tell it to a reader.

Is the story and/or characters based on anything/anyone in your real life?

The fictional town of Swapnagiri in the book is based on a number of small towns in the Nilgiris or Blue Mountains of south India. It's a part of the subcontinent that I love, with a completely unique ecosystem--winding hill roads and acres of tea gardens, pepper vines, native pines, all kinds of flowers, and amazing, eccentric, wonderful people. The landscape is real, and the flowers that bloom every twelve years are real (although I shifted the year of the bloom a little). The house with the blinky-looking windows is real and it's really called "Sunny Villa." Everything else is made up. Real life (well, mine anyway) is pretty ordinary and boring. For example, I do not hang out with Bollywood stars!

How much say did you have in the cover of this book?  What is the process for creating a cover (my students are always curious about this!)

I love the cover. I was sent a pdf file with a sketch in the early stages of development of the cover art. I did suggest a few changes, mostly related to place names and locations on the map, as well as to the copy on the back. Later I got to see a fuller design including jacket copy. The tangle of arrows on the back was my idea, to show Dolly's scattered nature. I'm delighted to say that all my comments were given serious consideration and the artist, Abigail Halpin, used them all. The same was true for the interior black and white art. I got to see all those images along the way and to offer my comments.

What kind of student were you?  Was English your favorite subject in school and did you always write?

I was a great student in the subjects I loved, and a moderate student in subjects I wasn't so wild about. English was one of my favorite subjects, but also geography and history, or what's called Social Studies in the US (I grew up in India). I loved maps as a child, and was always drawing maps of imaginary places. And yes, I can't really remember a time when I didn't write. My mother tells me they sent me off to pre-school when I was around two years old because I got bored at home and started drawing on the wall. Any wall writers reading this? I do remember drawing on another wall in another house when I was about five or six, and I also hammered away for fun on my father's old Remington typewriter.

My parents moved a lot on account of my father's job, so every four years I'd have to change schools. We had no TV so I relied on books to keep me entertained. I went through shy and awkward phases and it wasn't always easy to make friends. Books helped me find a way of relating to the world. They gave me courage sometimes, and hope, and they took me to places very different from my own. 

And because it's the owl my standard question always is: WHOOO do you admire when it comes to writing? Whoooo are your favorite authors now and when you were growing up?

Here's WHOOO I admire among authors writing today: Marion Dane Bauer. She writes everything--picture books, novels, short stories, easy readers. Another writer I admire is Ruskin Bond, who is English by birth and has lived in India most of his life. He's truly made writing his life, and he is brilliant, kind, and generous. Finally, my special admiration is reserved for every one of my marvelous colleagues at the Vermont College of Fine Arts where I teach: http://www.vermontcollege.edu/writing-children-young-adults/faculty-staff

Now let's skip to the last century, when I grew up and see WHOOO I admired back then. As a child, I read and loved the work of many British authors: Beatrix Potter, A.A. Milne, Noel Streatfeild, E. Nesbit, and above all Enid Blyton, whose series titles I zoomed through. As a teenager I discovered a book called The River by Rumer Godden. It was the first novel I'd ever read that was set in India. It opened my eyes. It was as if she was giving me permission to write in English about things I knew. I must have read that book through a dozen or more times. Even now I sometimes find myself focusing on something very small and detailed in a scene I'm writing--a slant of light or the sound of water--and I realize that I learned to do that by reading Rumer Godden's book.

Thank you Uma! I was so excited about what you said about Lal!  He really was my favorite character and the one who really pulled me through the story. So glad you found him and made him play a role.

To learn more about Uma:

Watch the book trailer on Uma's homepage with lovely shots of India: http://www.umakrishnaswami.com/

Uma's blog:  http://umakrishnaswami.blogspot.com/

Now for the giveaway!!!!

A Grand Giveaway! Three lucky Grand Prize winners will each receive one copy of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING along with a starry assortment of bangles and trinkets that Dolly Singh, famous famous Bollywood movie star, would adore! An additional 3 runners-up will receive a copy of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING. To enter, send an e-mail to GrandPlanGiveaway@gmail.com. In the body of the e-mail, include your name, mailing address, and e-mail address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and e-mail address). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on 6/30/11. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on 7/1/11 and notified via email.

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