My rad local independent bookstore introduced me to up-and-coming YA author Roshani Chokshi in December by featuring her Indian mythology-inspired fantasy debut, The Star-Touched Queen, as the pick-of-the-month for the YA Book Club. I got around to reading it just in time for her to come into town! She and Ryan Graudin, author of Wolf by Wolf, were touring together for the March 28th release of the companion to Chokshi’s debut, A Crown of Wishes.
When the day came around, I had finished The Star-Touched Queen and was four chapters into the companion. This was my first time going to an author event, and I was absurdly nervous! Like, I had literally been less nervous holding an alligator than stepping into the store for this event.
And no, this is not one of those times where I actually mean “figuratively.”
I had no need to be jittery and tongue-tied, though; the event was awesome! The discussion was well-moderated by the Children’s curator of the store, and Chokshi was almost like a charismatic yakshini out of one of her books: graceful, friendly, confident, and literally sparkling in a star-studded night sky blouse.
Chokshi and Graudin are both Southern authors, and it was fascinating to hear how their heritage here has influenced their writing. Growing up in a place with such a double-edged culture and a dark, problematic history impressed upon Chokshi the idea of “genteel monsters,” a theme threaded heavily into A Crown of Wishes. In a culture that placed extreme emphasis on manners, politeness, and upholding social mores, she recounted, it didn’t matter if your worst enemy showed up at your door; you still invited them in for lemonade and offered to fix them some food. To me, that’s the crux of her Otherworld: appearances and illusions can mean everything, and yet nothing at all. The Otherworld may bring the concept to the extreme, but her characters also realize that leaving the realm of fantasy and magic doesn’t make appearances any less deceitful.
This idea is also going to be central to her next series. The Gilded Wolves is going to be about power dynamics and cultural appropriation in the height of the Age of Imperialism.
“I use the world ‘gilded’ very intentionally,” she said, to describe an externally flourishing and beautiful city and culture built around a rotten core. This series sounds epic, and the first installment is expected to hit the shelves in 2018.
Graudin, meanwhile, said her childhood in Charleston and her many travels since have given her writing a strong sense of place. She loves teasing out the most unique aspects of a place and trying to breathe life into it in her books. When the topic of ideas for future books came up, she mentioned a long-held “story kernel” for a book honoring her hometown.
“The elevator pitch for this one,” she said, “is Southern Gothic meets a Miyazaki film.”
Sold. I don’t even need to know anything else about it; the second that book exists on a shelf, I’m buying it!
I’m bummed out that I hadn’t read any of her books before attending the event. Graudin was reflective, thoughtful, incredibly passionate in speaking about her writing, and full of elevator pitches that put her books way-high on my reading lists. I haven’t even read Wolf by Wolf yet, but I already told two friends that I was going to force them to read it after I do. That’s how awesome this book sounds.
My favorite part of the night was when Chokshi told us how difficult the writing process for her second book was. Whenever her characters acted up and frustrated her, she wrote horrible deaths for them, ended the chapter, and quit writing for the night. “Stay dead and think about what you’ve done!” she joked. Unfortunately, fellow writers, she advised that putting them in a death time-out and reviving them in the morning didn’t actually improve their behavior. I’m sure it was satisfying, though!
At the end of it all, I got my shiny new copy of A Crown of Wishes signed. If you get the chance, I would totally recommend supporting these two wonderful writers!