Thursday, February 27, 2014

Swati Avasthi Author Interview + Giveaway

                                           Swati Avasthi Author Interview + Giveaway

Swati is the February Author in the Spotlight here at BookSnob and is amazing Young Adult author.    She has written Split and Chasing Shadows.  She teaches at Hamline University in St. Paul and she stopped by my school this week to talk to students and it was entertaining, informative and fun.  I was happy to have the chance to ask her some questions about her writing life and her newest novel Chasing Shadows.

Hi Swati,

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a recovering workaholic.  Sometimes I fall off the wagon and work the weekends, but generally, I’ve been restraining myself to a 50-hour work week.  It’s all about “setting boundaries.”

2. What inspired you to write Chasing Shadows?

Well, it’s not a happy story. When I was 18, I heard on the news that a friend of mine from middle school had been murdered in a drive-by shooting. We were close before we went to different high schools, spending birthday parties and surviving silly fights. She had the most infectious laugh. Like most of my stories, this one began as a “what if?” What if we had continued in high school together? What would it be like to lose someone so early?

I really wanted to write a story about coming of age through friendships. More than anything else, knowing who I was as a friend, understanding that as a cornerstone of my identity, was quite
important to me in high school. Boyfriends came and went. Friends lasted. And there is much less written about friendships.

3. Can you tell us why or when you decided to become a writer?

I wanted to be a writer when I was 5 and read Little House in the Big Woods. I figured that since I was so much like Laura (never mind that she was a pilgrim in the Midwest) that I would be a writer, too.

When I was 16 my oldest sister graduated from college and suddenly the prospect of making money and supporting myself became real. So I left my writing obsession and tried some other career choices. When my son was born, I quit law school to take care of him and, since I wasn’t making any money anyway, it was time to see if I could actually become a writer.

4. Usually an author puts some of her own life experiences in the book.  Did you do    that?
Sure. In addition to what I have above there are details in Chasing Shadows that are true for me. For instance, I remember walking out the Point when I first moved to Chicago early in the morning and watching the sunrise. Little things like that filter into the work. For my work, you can almost always tell – it’s when the sensory details kick into overdrive.

5. Do you have anything in common with your characters?
Lots. In fact, I struggled with Savitri because she is so much like me. I kept trying to make her significantly different in some way – a love of math or economic theory -- but the story demanded someone who loved language. So I changed her backstory, removing her father from the picture. But, I pretty much gave her my mother – an Indian physician who is infinitely patient. Eventually, her grief was so particular to Corey and what they had that I was able to find my way to her and make her someone other than me.

6. Tell us a little bit about your other book Split.  It is a great first novel.

Thanks! SPLIT grew out of my experience coordinating a domestic violence legal clinic.  My job was to manage law students and listen to stories of people who needed emergency orders of protection, take the facts into an attorney, and then (if we took the case) write up the stories into affidavits so that the attorney could take her case to court that day. Once I had a woman with her two children. The boy was very cute. He was losing a tooth and he would wriggle it with his tongue, proud of his step toward adulthood. The abuse his mother was describing became rather brutal and I asked her if she wanted an intern to look after her kids. She told me, “No, they saw it anyway.”

I knew better, but I got mad at her because I wanted to protect this little boy. My anger was misplaced and I found it interesting that, even with my training and even with the understanding of how hard it is to leave someone and how if you can’t protect yourself then you can’t protect your kids, I was victim-blaming. Why wasn’t I holding him responsible? He was the child’s father after all.

When we refuse to look at the abuser because we are abhorred, we sort of let them off the hook.

7. Do you like to read?  What authors or books influence you?

I love to read. I usually read the equivalent of a novel per week between what I need to reread to teach, the books I should read as an author, my colleagues’ work (both published and unpublished) and my students’ work. Honestly, a lot of that reading feels like a job. But, I’ve been taking my editor’s advice and playing hooky from the reading I have to do and every once in while, reading just for the pure pleasure of it. I hang onto those experiences as I do my weekly work.

8. Is it hard to juggle writing, teaching and parenthood?  How do you carve out time during your busy day to write?

Yes, it is hard to manage. But I think, the way society is today in the US with our penchant for nuclear families and two working parents, that it isn’t unusual; we all struggle for balance. So some days I get as much as five hours to write and others I get none. I try to manage my schedule so I have 90 minutes of writing each day, but in reality, I’ve written one time this week and one time last week. Sadly, what seems to suffer is the writing. (Which is one of the reasons it took five years to get CHASING SHADOWS done.)

9. How did you decide on the duel format of novel and graphic novel within Chasing Shadows?

A confluence of thoughts really. In 2006 or 2007, I read Hugo Cabret and the idea that you can
achieve different affects on the reader if you are in visuals v. text was still rattling around in my head, looking for an outlet.  In late 2009, I had a story about a girl who loved graphic novels and comics. I followed her love of comics and realized that she was s visual thinker and that, when stressed or pushed, language would leave her and images would be retained. So, she would narrate in images at times. This fed into the idea that she wanted to be a superhero and would be a freerunner because freerunning (a sport that combines gymnastics and running through an urban environment) is the closest one can get to moving like a superhero.

10. Chasing Shadow is nominated for a MN book award.  What was your initial reaction when you heard your book earned a nomination?

I literally started jumping up and down and clapping. We have so many amazing Minnesota writers, and the field of Children’s Lit is packed with extraordinary books and authors. I know it is a cliché to say “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” but the longer I’m in this business, the more I realize that it is a cliché for a reason… because it is true.

11. Tell us in one sentence why we should read Chasing Shadows?

Its hybrid format makes it unique, page-turning story with in-depth characters who cling to each other despite tremendous and terrible odds.

Thanks Swati!!!
I’m love both of your books.

Thank you so much Laura. It was my pleasure.

If you would like to win a copy of Chasing Shadows please click here:  Chasing Shadows Giveaway   The Giveaway ends tomorrow 2/28 at midnight.