Sunday, January 20, 2019

An Interview with Children's Author, Rachna Chhabria

   
My last post was about a terrific book sharing Indian Festivals in different parts of India — Festival Stories: Through the Year.  Now let's meet the author, Rachna Chhabria.



But first,  a bit of back-ground:

I first met Rachna online when I had just begun blogging and was looking for online writing friends. I especially was pleased to meet her, because my husband is from India, and Rachna lives in Bangalore, where one of our nephews lives with his family and another niece and her husband live. I was new to technology, and from the beginning, Rachna was helpful and guided me through the ins and outs not only of blogging, but of using Facebook and Twitter. After about a year of interacting online, on a trip with my husband to visit his relatives in Chennai, Rachna and I mailed each other our books of the time. A couple of years later, while visiting the nephew in Bangalore, she and I met in person, and she was as gracious as ever.    

And now, the interview:

Q: You’ve been a journalist for a newspaper, a writing teacher at university level. And you’ve written stories for children. Which of these aspects of writing do you enjoy the most?
A: Though I love all three aspects of my writing, I enjoy writing for children the most. Children’s writing gives me a lot of satisfaction, it gives free rein to my imagination, encourages the child in me to explore the world again. Infact, I would say it keeps the eternal child in me alive.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your writing journey? Have you always been interested in writing? What are other books you’ve written? How did you find your agent and publisher? How did you come to write this book? 
A: I have always been interested in writing and reading. My English teacher in school praised my essays and urged me to write more. My interest in writing led me to pursue Literature and Journalism in college. During my college days I wrote for the college magazine. My Journalism teacher encouraged me to write for newspapers which I did. I wrote lots of articles and stories in newspapers at the start of my writing career. I still write for newspapers. My short stories have appeared in many anthologies. My other books are Lazy Worm Goes on a Journey (Scholastic), this is an early science for young readers, it’s a picture book with snippets of science about the human body. The Lion Who Wanted to Sing and Bunny in Search of a Name (Unisun Publishers) are illustrated collections of jungle stories. The editor of HarperCollins Children’s Books emailed me in the second week of July 2018 as they were looking to commission an author to write festival stories. I worked on two sample chapters which were approved immediately and the entire deal fell in place.
Q: Fiction and Non-fiction combination is a wonderful idea, how did this come about?
A: When my editor at Harper pitched the festival idea to me, in the course of our conversation I told her a non-fiction book on festivals may become boring, I thought that children will enjoy festivals through the eyes of protagonists. My editor liked the idea and asked me to create a bunch of characters. Nikhil and Natasha my two eleven-year-old protagonists were born from that idea. The book is about Nikhil and Natasha and how they celebrate a year of festivals in their unique way. I have explained the festival bits, that is the non-fiction part, through Natasha’s journal and Nikhil’s blog.
Q: How did you research for this book? And what were some of the difficulties?
A: Most of my research happened online. I saw videos on YouTube, waded through scores of pictures on Pinterest, read newspaper articles about festivals and their celebrations. I also spoke to many people. Though it was fun researching for this book, it was also difficult, as there were so many dissimilarities in what came up in my research. To corroborate this, my editor at Harper Collins – Tina Narang, got 2 copy-editors on board who verified all the non-fiction bits. And this was a huge relief for me. I was assured that whatever I had written was verified by the two editors and whatever I had missed was pointed out to me. Tina was a God send. She ensured that everything went smoothly and per schedule.
Q: Will there be a sequel? If so, will the twins be learning about other festivals through the year, or will they learn of other Indian traditions?
A: As of now no plans for a sequel. But one never knows. I’m sure I would like to feature the twins in other books, perhaps they can learn more about other Indian traditions.
Q: Have you thought of writing a version of the Bhagavad Gita for children or some of the other Hindu stories from scriptures?
A: Yes, this has been on my mind from quite some time. A couple of Indian editors have asked me for retelling of some epics and stories from the scriptures. As of now we haven’t zeroed in on any theme.
Q: What are you working on now?
A:Right now I’m focusing on a chapter book. I’m developing one of my short stories for children into a chapter book.
Q: What is your writing process like?
A: I like to have a basic plot structure in mind and on paper. After I roughly plot the story, I start writing. I do a lot of pantsing between two plot points. My first drafts are super fast, but I like to take my time with the revisions, its during multiple rounds of revisions that the actual story starts taking shape. I have an amazing critique partner who gives me wonderful feedback. After his thorough feedback I do another round of revisions.

Author Bio 
Rachna Chhabria has a fascination for words. She is at her happiest when she is writing her stories and creating fantasy worlds for her books. Animal stories are her favourite. She is the author of Lazy Worm Goes on a Journey published by Scholastic, The Lion Who Wanted to Sing and Bunny in Search of a Name both published by Unisun PublicationsHer short story Ganesha’s Blanket of Stars won the Special Prize in the Unisun- Reliance Time Out Writing competition 2010- 2011. Her stories have been published in several anthologies and her articles have been featured in course books for schools. She is a regular contributor for many papers and a columnist with Deccan Chronicle and The Asian Age. Her children’s stories appear regularly in Young World. She taught creative writing in a college in Bangalore for many years. 
You can learn more about Rachna and connect with her at the following links:
Rachna’s Scriptorium - http://rachnachhabria.blogspot.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Author/Rachna-Chhabria-367609189996800/
Twitter - https://twitter.com/RachnaChhabria1
To purchase her book go to Festival Stories Through The Year on Amazon.in - https://www.amazon.in/Festival-Stories-Through-Rachna-Chhabria/dp/9353023521/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1538238353&sr=1-1       - or - 
Festival Stories Through The Year on Amazon.com - https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/9353023521/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

How about you? How would you describe your writing process? Have you met any of your online author friends in person? Does your own writing call for research? If so, how do you approach research? 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Book Review - Festival Stories: Through the Year

     
Festival Stories: Through the Year is a wonderful introduction to religious festivals of India for children of all ages – including adults. My husband is from India, and while I know of some of the festivals, (Pongol and Divali — or Diwali, as it is sometimes spelled), I learned so much more in this book. I’m a retired teacher, and I wish I had had this book in my 6th grade classroom as supplemental reading when we studied India. 

Though informative, the writing isn't pedantic, because the author has used an engaging story frame: Eleven-year-old twins, Natasha and her brother Nikhil, are staying with their paternal grandparents, Dadu and Dadi, in Bangaluru (the local name for Bangalore). Their parents are still in the U. S., winding down jobs and arranging for transfers in a year, while sending the twins ahead, feeling it’s time for them to learn more about their culture first hand. Homesick but intrigued, Natasha begins a journal. Nikhil starts a blog.

Their first festival is Lohri, a Punjabi folk festival and one of the few Indian festivals falling on the same date every year (January 13 on the Gregorian calendar). The book ends with Christmas and a big surprise for the twins. In between are 30 more festivals the author has lovingly researched and described through the eyes of Natasha and Nikhil. They learn about the customs, clothing, and food associated with each festival as they participate. (The sweets and snacks served had my mouth watering each time.)

Each chapter begins with a little anecdote, often humorous, followed by one of Natasha’s journal entries or Nikhil blog’s posts. Their new world unfolds for the reader as they make friends with other kids, study for exams, play Indian games, go shopping, or stuff themselves with delicious snacks at each festival. The majority of the population in India practices Hinduism, but Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism also have their devotees, and the twins get invited to their festivals and learn the traditional stories associated with each. 

Chhabria has researched her subject well. She includes the varied names for some of the festivals and the gods and goddesses who figure in them. She makes references to the Gregorian calendar months to keep a reader from the west grounded in the time frame when these festivals occur. Many holidays are shared alike (with different names) by Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus. Some are regional, and the twins attend them because they or their grandparents have made friends with characters from these regions who practice their faiths. 

The author paints unforgettable characters with deft brushstrokes that don’t belabor descriptions but capture personality. Natasha and Nikhil are endearing eleven-year-olds, and Dadu and Dadi are the grandfather and grandmother everyone would want. The scenes are set so vividly, a reader is plunged into the colors and tastes and excitement of India. This was a lovely book, and I was really sorry to reach the end. 


You can learn more about Festival Stories: Through the Year HERE. While you are there, click around to her author page and learn about her other books for children. Visit her fine blog, Rachna's Scriptorium, HERE or her Facebook page HERE.

In my next post I will be interviewing Rachna about her writing, so please come back to learn even more about her. 



How about you? Do you enjoy learning about other cultures and other faiths? Have you been to some religious festivals? What are some of your favorite holiday snacks?