Interview with Swati Avasthi

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I am so excited to be hosting Swati Avasthi today. I read Chasing Shadows about a month or so ago, and I loved it. It was beautiful and heartbreaking…and a book that I never thought would appeal to me…but it did. It’s a book that focuses on mental illness but also focuses on the strength of relationships. The graphic art….I could go on and on. So let me just say that I loved this book, and I am so excited to host it as our Book of the Month this December. So please give a warm welcome to Swati Avasthi!

 

swati_400Swati Avasthi has a BA from the University of Chicago and an MFA from the University of Minnesota. She has received numerous awards and grant, most recently from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Her first novel, Split, has received a silver parents’ choice award and a CYBILS award and was named a best books for young adults, 2011 from YALSA. Split was also nominated for a GoodReads Choice Award and a Minnesota Book Award. She is keeping her fingers crossed.

 

Can you tell us about your book, CHASING SHADOWS, in 15 words or less?

Told in prose and pictures, two friends struggle to reclaim their lives after a shooting.

Not only was the story itself beautiful, but the pictures were amazing. What was it like working with Craig Phillips to turn CHASING SHADOWS into a sort of graphic novel?

Thanks! I am grateful that Knopf brought him on because I was so pleased to see how he turned the script into such compelling pictures. Working with him was like a game of operator. I’ve never spoken with or emailed him. Rather, I wrote the script and he drew thumbnails and drafts. Just before he inked them, his editor sent them to my editor who sent them to me. I gave notes that went from my editor to his editor to him.  It sounds cumbersome but I think it was for the best.  We each had one person talking to us and that seemed to work out. The notes I gave required a huge amount of my editor’s time. But she was as dedicated to this novel as I was and I had the advantage of getting long talks with her. Even though some of the creation process was a bit unorthodox, the result is what matters.

This book….oh my goodness. It had so many feels. Mental illness and depression play huge factors in this book. Was it ever difficult to get through some of the scenes?

It was, but maybe not in the way you’d think. I had no trouble whatsoever in putting the girls in physical danger – free running, guns, foot chases, revenge.  That part was pretty easy.  But their final confrontation was so hard for me to write.  Putting them in that level of emotional danger when they were both so vulnerable…. Well, I love both the girls and I wanted them both to get what they needed. I didn’t think that could happen if they confronted each other. It’s pretty amazing what happens when you write the scenes you are afraid of – things you hadn’t planned seem to occur. Which is both the scariest and the best part of writing.

What I loved about this book is that all of my questions were answered by the end, but it was still left open at the end. Can readers expect a sequel or maybe a companion novel? Or is this simply a standalone?

It is probably a stand alone. I can see how a follow up novel with Savitri as the sole narrator might work or a follow up novel with Holly as the sole narrator.  But I can’t see how I could write a sequel with both the girls as narrators. Their situations are so different by the end that I’m not sure another novel could be their novel, the way CHASING SHADOWS is.

Can we expect another book with graphic illustrations from you in the future?

I can see how that could work a second time now. At first I really thought I’d only do one because of how the graphics are tied to Holly’s 15756269psychology.  But I can also now understand a lot of the power of graphics.

All that said, my next novel won’t have graphics; it’s not the kind of novel that should have illustrations. But, I’m not done playing with form.

What was your favorite scene to write?

Every scene that Josh was in.  He was so much fun to write.  He was unpredictable and both the girls’ showed sides of themselves to him that they never really showed to anyone else.

I also really loved writing scenes with Kortha in them.  Anytime I get to write with Death in the room, I know the scene will have tension and power.

I guess I really like writing scenes with perceived antagonists in them!

It seems to me that collaborating with Craig Phillips on Chasing Shadows must have taken quite some time. How long did it actually take you to finish it?

Um…yes. Such a long process it is shameful! It took more than 15 drafts and 4-5 years to write. I started it in earnest in January 2009 and finished it completely in April 2013.  Writing in two points of view can make the process complex. Adding in graphics also increases the complexity of the process. So I sort of double-whammied myself on this one. My editor has made me promise: next time—easier.

Because it took so long, I’m extra-thrilled to see it out in the world.

Though I’m always a little startled when it is sitting inert on a shelf. It’s like I expect it to be doing a back flip or a speed vault or something freerunner-ish.

Are you currently working on anything else?

Yes, I’ve started book three! I’m very excited by the blank page this time -every possibility open. I’ll make a huge mess of it on the first draft, I’m sure; I always do.  Then I will get on the revision roller coaster and love the terror and the thrill.

What is currently in your TBR pile?

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (releasing in May, 2014)

Boxers & Saints by Gene Yang (embarrassed it is still on the top of my TBR)

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Venom and the River by Marsha Qualey

The Art of Time in Memoir by Sven Birkets

Re-read The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silber

Re-read Swallow the Ocean by Laura Flynn

And a couple of MFA theses from Hamline University students Erik Wolrabe and Nina Bricko.

Random Questions:

Cake or pie?

Pie.  Writerly pie.

Batman or Spiderman?

Batman

Buffy the movie or Buffy the TV show?

TV show. I love Faith.

Celebrity Crush?

Peter Krause. His smile gets me every time.

Favorite TV show?

The Good Wife

Current favorite song?

“Overrated” by Mika. Are there any notes he can’t hit?

Catching Fire OR The Ender’s Game?

Catching Fire

Author Idol?

Laurie Halse Anderson – authentic, brave, original

Biggest writing quirk?

I completely ignore people while I write. This creates issues since my kids know of and exploit this weakness.