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South Asian Teenager publishes book while in college

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Please tell us a bit about your background

Well, I was born in India and raised in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I grew up speaking English but surrounded by a cacophony of South Asian languages due to my close proximity to my grandparents and extended family. I think place plays–pardon the pun–such an integral role in one’s journey. In fact, my last name is derived from a tiny village in South India. I’ve been fortunate to live in several different cities, from the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore, to a short stint in New York City in 2019. And, now somewhat virtually, Claremont, my petite college town. I have a lot more life to live and a lot more knowledge to learn as a young woman in my twenties.

Why did you write this book?

Ants is segmented into five nonlinear parts and follows Natasha, a young South Asian woman. I wrote Ants to capture part of my college experience as a diasporic South Asian. I didn’t feel represented by the literature I encountered in the classroom. In some ways, Ants could be considered a #OwnVoices story. As an English major, I’ve read several American classics and American unknowns. Ants is inspired by books from both strains. I have a love-hate relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Obviously, I don’t have as many initials in my name. Still, I hope to continue some form of the Great American Novel and add to its heritage.

Please share a couple of highlights and your favorite chapters, paragraphs and sentences.

I loved writing all of the vignettes in Ants, but the ones I had the most fun with had to do with South Asian identity and pop culture. Hence, “Dakshina” is one of my favorite chapters. “Dakshina” also happens to be a section my dad really likes. However, one of the first-ever sections I wrote for the novel was “Whole Foods,” which appears in Part I.

Here are my top five quotes, in no particular order, found in part by my lovely editor, Sarah:

  1. Nat was meant for a wife. She had realized that now; someone to emotionally settle her, someone to cherish and adore her, someone to grow old with, someone to never let go… and all those other pulpy, airport store romance novel titles.
  2. I wouldn’t kill a butterfly, but I kill ants and spiders mercilessly, but not guiltlessly.
  3. I am not a person. I am a feeling. I am a muse for my own senses. I am a body floating thousand miles per second around a dying star. I am one with the universe.
  4. No, for an Indian woman, her modesty is her dignity.
  5. Like some arteries aren’t where they need to be, and eventually, a doctor, as they peer over my body on an operating table, will declare I need a triple-bypass due to a love failure.

Sarah, my editor, also said she would have quoted the entire book if she could. I might be compelled to agree had I read Ants recently. Alas, I haven’t had the time to revisit the book in its entirety just yet.

After you graduate from college which career choices interest you?

I’ve always loved film and media, so I hope to join the industry in some way post-graduation. Ants also reads as a very “filmic” book; it has many visual cues and textures. While I was writing, the scenes played out as a film in my mind, not necessarily as a conventional novel. I’ve worked several jobs in college, tangentially related to industries I would be interested in. However, my dream job is just to be involved in Hollywood or the Indian film industries.

What advice do you have for high school and college going students who wish to publish a book?

There is a lot of useful advice on the internet about self-publishing or soliciting agents, editors, or even a Big 5 publisher. If you were looking to publish a story, start small and work your way up. Send nonfiction essays or poems or short stories to college journals and other limited publications. However, my advice is really to start. Most people don’t want to take the plunge, and if you feel passionate about a subject, write about it. That said, if you don’t consider yourself a writer, take a few courses and familiarize yourself with the mechanics of the craft. Many writers benefit from writing circles and group sessions. And, please, please, please… read! The best way to write a compelling story is to read and learn from compelling stories. I’ll always stand by that.

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