March 2, 2021
Note From Rochelle
Happy March! I’m delighted because I’ve been able to get back to walking this week. As much as I love my “power walking” videos, walking outside unlocks my creativity in a different way. If you want to learn more about that, check out my post on walking and writing.
I’m delighted to welcome my friend and colleague Anuradha D. Rajurkar to the blog to talk about her brand new book, American Betiya—which comes out next week. Preorder it now so that you can have it hot off the press!
If you’d like to learn more about Anuradha D. Rajurkar and her book, she will be appearing in conversation with Lauren Fox on Tuesday, March 9 at a virtual event hosted by Boswell Book Company. You can learn more and sign up at their website.
Writers@Work: Embrace Your Inner Badass
An Interview with Anuradha D. Rajurkar
by Rochelle Melander
Welcome to the blog! Can you tell us about your new book, American Betiya?
Thanks for having me, Rochelle! American Betiya is a cross-cultural love story about first love, family boundaries, and the complications of an interracial relationship. It follows 18-year-old Rani who gets swept up in butterflies when she first meets Oliver, but it’s the challenges they face as an interracial couple that allow her to recognize real love for what it is. It explores breaking from expectations, forbidden love, and embracing one’s identity in the search for belonging. It’s also a celebration of feminist allyship, especially as racism arises in places we least expect.
In the summary of your book, it says: “Braiding together themes of sexuality, artistic expression, and appropriation, she gives voice to a girl claiming ownership of her identity, one shattered stereotype at a time.” In your bio you say, “She hopes her stories will inspire teens to embrace their unique identities and inner badass despite outside pressures and cultural expectations.” (I love that so much!) Can you talk about how you address serious themes like this in fiction without having characters sound preachy or didactic?
For me, it comes down to knowing and channeling my characters while writing. When I stay within my characters’ minds and have a solid understanding of their motivations, desires, and fears, then the themes reveal themselves without the need to spell anything out. My ideal is to feel so closely connected to the characters that stepping out of character to explain something to the reader becomes out of the question.
You wrote this book while you were teaching full time and parenting—and you’ve said the first draft was long (165,000 words!). What was your secret to getting writing done in those days?
Those days were special in that any down time there was—even if it was just 20 minutes—I’d sneak some writing in. I’d write in the van while the kids were at music or soccer practice. I’d write weekends and evenings when my husband could be with the kids. I’d write in the middle of the night if I couldn’t sleep (which honestly, I wouldn’t recommend, because functioning is expected of you the following day). During those years, I coveted that precious writing time—it felt like such a relief when I could sit down at my computer, diving into my imagined worlds. And I was focused on just getting out the story that was in my head without concerning myself too much with conventions (hence the 165,000 words—eep!).
I am always curious about how people move from first draft to finished product. What are some tools that helped you to revise your novel and sell it?
I have an incredible writing group, and they were instrumental all those years I wrote this one story in small increments. But when I finally typed The End, I had the huge task of figuring out how to get this monstrosity of a story trimmed and ready to send to the SCBWI Emerging Voices Award, as well as agents. My writing group parameters involved sending a set number of pages to one another every month, but at that point, I needed someone to look at the overall manuscript. I decided to consult with my author friend Liza Wiemer (who has recently published a brilliant YA novel called The Assignment). She had me nail down what exactly it was I was trying to say with the story, and we created a plan on how to trim it based on those core ideas. There was a subplot that was unnecessary, plus she suggested I alter the first chapter from past tense to present to see if it helped make it more immediate, and wow did it. I made that major change throughout and got bolder with streamlining or cutting whole sections over a period of about four months. When I felt it was as ready, I sent it off to the SCBWI Emerging Voices Award just before the deadline.
Meanwhile, I researched agents through Publisher’s Marketplace, pored over their #MSWL on Twitter, became a member of Manuscript Academy, and began pitching my first ten pages. The rejections that came in were helpful in telling me how to further tweak my pages. And then: I got the call that American Betiya was the national YA winner of the Emerging Voices award (Lakita Wilson was the middle grade winner). Good things happened quickly after that. I owe everything to my astute critique partners. I’m also glad I took those months to sculpt the story and do my research; it made me confident that my best work was going to agents who were specifically seeking stories like mine.
What are you reading now?
I am reading The Water Dancer by Ta Nahesi Coates, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, and Dragonfly Girl by Marti Leimbach. All three of these books I would highly recommend—each are so special and inspiring. I like to read several titles at once so that I can enjoy the different voices and storylines without any one of them seeping into the voice I’m trying to maintain within my current work in progress.
Anuradha D. Rajurkar is the recipient of the nationwide SCBWI Emerging Voices Award for her YA contemporary debut, American Betiya (Knopf). Born and raised in the Chicago area to South Asian immigrant parents, Anuradha earned two degrees from Northwestern University, and for many years had the joy of being a public school teacher by day, writer by night. Nowadays, when she’s not writing or reading, Anuradha spends her time hiking through forests with her husband, obsessing over her garden, watching old horror flicks with her sons, eating too many baked yummies, or roguishly knitting sweaters without their patterns. She hopes her stories will inspire teens to embrace their unique identities and inner badass despite outside pressures and cultural expectations. American Betiya is her first novel.
Order a signed and personalized copy of American Betiya at 20% off from Boswell Books here
Receive your bookish gifts for pre-ordering here
Visit Anuradha’s website here
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