Today we get to chat with Radhika Meganathan part time QC manager and full time 12×12 challenge host @ http://www.radhikameganathan.in
When did you decide to become an author and what impact has this had on your life?
Hi! I am Radhika Meganathan, children’s/YA writer based in Chennai, India. I have been writing picture books and stories ever since I won a fellowship by Highlights magazine in 2004 but I was not an author then – just a writer who wrote stories for pay. So when did I decide to become an author?
It happened when I was working as the online editor of a national children’s magazine. I was feeling drained and unhappy because there I was, editing other people’s work and dodging office political bullets every day, while my own stories were untold and festering inside me. The moment I quit my job so that I could fly to London to take writing classes at Birkbeck, was when I decided to be an author 🙂
Impact – largely positive, but not without minuses. I lost my lucrative income, lost contacts with the steady freelance work from local magazines (in Chennai), and I had to work as an au pair to support myself in UK. So yeah, if you’re the kind who looks at the glass as half full, then it may have been the worst decision in my life!
Luckily, I was still in my mid-20s and this experience taught me many life lessons, from cleaning my own toilets (you’ll be surprised how many educated Indians refuse to do it, it’s the “maid’s” job, you see) to standing in freezing weather selling satay sauce, to couch surfing with kind strangers to working two jobs while trying to pass a kidney stone.
Best of all was the I got an education in writing, with caring mentors and teachers (not everyone is that lucky) – I attended three different writing courses, each one lasting a semester, and underwent the metamorphoses from editor to writer. I also had lots of time to write, but I have to confess I used the time to live more. Real life, the kind that is fodder for great literature, is out there, and certainly not inside a cubicle in an MNC!
It certainly is important to get out there and actually live!
Tell us about your latest work and what motivated you to write it:
I recently completed a short story compilation. The entire project was born thanks to the reliable idea churner, WHAT IF? scenario. I first saw When Harry Met Sally in 2004, and when I watched it again in 2008, I thought, what if their temperaments changed gender and age? Sally Junior will be the crass tomboy and Harry Junior will be the sensitive, cherubic middle grader.
That became the first Chintu-Sheelu story (“The Day of the Donkey”), though it would take me another five years to complete six more stories featuring the same frenemies. When I was in danger of losing CBC 12×12 in the first month itself, I decided to develop a compilation with several adventures of Chintu and Sheelu. Thanks to beta readers’ encouragement, I am now developing a chapter book series based on the same premise.
What are your future aspirations as an author?
Be known as the best children’s writer in India and win the Noble Prize (really).
On specific and scalable goals, I have several – I want to keep working on One Big Project every year, and publish at least one novel every year. I am 33 now so I hope I can go on writing for another 33 years ;).
I want to establish a children’s writers’ institute in my home town and create a community of writers with whom I can relate and connect – it’s bloody lonely to just sit at home and write. I already use meetup.com to promote my writing workshops, and I am planning a couple of writers’ retreats this year, which I hope to do in a larger scale in the near future, under the banner Smara Creative Escapes.
Now that I am hosting Short Story 12×12 (a dozen of us are workshopping a story a month and already some of them have sold their exercises to magazines!) and successfully progressing in Chapter Book Challenge 12×12, as an author, I am planning to push myself a little harder every year. Next year, I am going to do Short Story a Week!
What a challenge!
Where do your ideas come from? What experiences or aspects of your life influence your writing?
I always struggle to answer this question. Perhaps I can put it like this – whenever I see/hear/experience something even slightly interesting or out of the ordinary, I lodge it in a tiny space in my memory and it grows seed and gives me an idea on a later date.
A close friend once confided in me that she had read the messages in her teenaged brother’s phone; one of them from his girlfriend, lamenting how terrible it was not to touch him every single minute of the day (the conversation was in my mother tongue and I am sure something is lost in translation, but that’s the gist of it). I know, my friend had NO business going through her brother’s phone, but let’s not lose track of the question here – what I got out of my conversation, 10 years later, was the story idea for CHRYSALIS.
Most of the times, the editor decides the theme (for commissioned work). For Friends Forever, I remembered a fight I had with my best friend when were in secondary school and how we didn’t talk with each other for a week. That and only that became the dramatic scene of the story… the characters, the situations that made them fight, and the resolution in the completed story all were fictional and different from what really happened :).
So, my MO (and the most common one I’d guess) is to take a fact stick and pad it with fictional candy and sell it as a lollypop 😉
Tell us a little bit about your next WIP
I am working on several projects at the same time, but the nearest to my heart is what I call as the project of a decade – an 8-part graphic novel series based on the history of Indian independence. I have been working on it since 2011 and finished two books. Writing the script was a challenge, but not as difficult as the illustration process, which has stumped many interested collaborators (the research on clothing alone in 16th century India would take much time and resource!).
This project won a partial residency from Can Serrat (Spain), which I was unfortunately not able to attend due to family obligations. The first book took 2 years to complete, the second only a year… I plan to finish the pending 6 books’ scripts by 2015 and hire illustrators (instead of relying on the same one for each book) thereafter, so that I can get the series done by the time I’m 40!
Did you publish with a traditional publishing house or did you go the indie route?
I’m a hybrid author. E-publishing has given the tools and control that authors have lacked for centuries, which is GREAT news, but why should that mean a writer has to choose one or the other? I’d love to be published by the Big 6 (already have with one of them!) and I will keep querying them, but if it reaches a stage where I have to admit defeat, then I will always have a back up – Kindle!
To be honest with you, I am a really bothered by some authors who have declared open war again traditional publishers and claim them as the devil’s spawn (even if they change their opinion later, their online tracks won’t!). Don’t burn your bridges yet, is my advice for them.
I have published a few books with reputed local publishers who are receptive to my proposals and I find it a pleasure to work with them – they don’t stress on the exclusivity clause, so that gives me the freedom to try my hand at Kindle Publishing too and I intend to make full use of it 🙂
I think it’s great either way, just do what works for you!
What works best for you when writing? Meaning do you outline or write freely when you feel inspired to do so?
Writing every day is pretty much the best thing a writer can do to go from good to great. I am a recovering procrastinator (is that a real condition? If not, it should be.) so I make sure I start writing as soon as I wake up. It was horrible in the beginning, I just couldn’t find the motivation or inspiration to write every day but as soon as I set goals for myself and pledged to achieve them all, suddenly my muse started singing – she must have realized I was serious this time, so she didn’t play the diva any more.
I am a pantster while writing short stories and an outliner for longer works like chapter books and novels. I have outlined all the 12 books that I planned to write this year, which I think was the only way I can even hope to win the CBC 12×12 challenge. For short stories, I don’t plan anything, I just show up and the story comes to me.
Short stories teach you so much more (than other forms). They can be completed in a few hours, don’t need any outlines and I learn something new every time I write a short story. For March’s story in the Short Story 12×12 challenge, we had decided on a blind review process so I wanted to write something different, so I started writing a fantasy based on an Indian epic but by the time I finished the story, it was about an IT employee whose wife could predict death. I have no idea why or how that happened, but it sure is exciting. That’s why I will always prefer writing short stories – they pack a lot in such a small dose!
What do you do to improve yourself and a writer?
I have a big shelf full of books about writing and creativity, and I pick and read excerpts whenever I feel depressed or have no idea how to progress ahead in a WIP. I am not saying they are a must, but they certainly are inspirational and could offer valuable guidance (if you promise not to substitute reading about writing for writing).
What I do think is a must for every writer is to be online and be aware of what’s happening now in the writing and publishing field. I have only recently, a year ago, started actively participating in online forums and critique groups, and the amount of knowledge I have gleaned from my interactions with fellow creators is phenomenal.
Helping and mentoring new writers has played a big part in defining my purpose in life and also in imparting the sensitivity and compassion needed in children’s stories. That’s the reason I started my blog www.childrenswriter.in because I realized that there is no craft source at all, online or offline, for Indian children’s writers. I write about my life as a kid lit writer in India and also post original content on the art and craft of children’s writing – please drop in when you can!
I know I have been blessed – I have a husband who supports me and I also don’t have children (yet) which I am sure is a big reason I have the time to attempt multiple writing challenges and also host community events for writers. In all probability, I will never have the time I have now again so I want to put it to good use, not only for my own progress but also to help other writers, without worrying about What ifs or the “Am I doing the right thing?” kind of doubts.
I really have to thank SavvyAuthors for giving me the push I needed to start writing again, after a gap of eight years. The plotting e-class I took there in may 2013 set the stage for everything I wrote since then. Enrolling in a class online or off-line, once in a while, is also something I plan to do, as a way to learn new stuff and get mentor feedback. Everyone needs feedback!
Wow great advice and a wonderful interview. Thanks for joining us here at Stitch Says – Keep reading, keep writing!