Swati Avasthi is the author of two novels: Split and Chasing Shadows.
Swati has very kindly answered my questions, and I'm forever shocked and awed that she is gracing my little blog with her lovely presence.
1. I'm always curious about the writing process behind books. Your first novel, Split, was centred around two brothers, while Chasing Shadows focused on the friendship of two girls. Did you find the shift between these very different narrators difficult to make?
Well, yes. I find it easier to write characters who are more unlike me than those ones who are like me. And Savitri is a lot like me, in terms of race and personality. So I struggled quite a bit with her. Her voice was hard to grasp and, in a way, to make interesting.
Regarding Holly, I also think it's harder to write girls who are sarcastic. I kept hearing feedback that the girls sounded "snarky". When I told this to a colleague, Sheila O'Connor, she said, "Do you think it's because they are girls?" And I realized she was right. What would be considered funny from Jace is often deemed uglier from girls. It's a fascinating phenomena really that, I think, demonstrates some of the deep and subtle gender bias in our country today.
I use sarcasm as the base of my humor and so that's what I tend to turn to. It made Jace's voice easier.
That said, I think I'm using a female protagonist for the third novel and letting the sarcasm fly. It can be done; it should be done. We need to hear voices equally.
2. I can't wait to meet this protagonist in your next book. When writing Chasing Shadows, did you write Holly and Savitri's POVs simultaneously (well, chronologically, if that makes sense), or did you mostly write from one character’s point of view, then "filled in the blanks" with the other character?
I wrote the PoV's concurrently and wrote the book linearly. I struggle with organization; I don't need any additional challenges :-).
3. I loved your guest post on RandomBuzzers about Diversity in YA (click here to read it! Highly recommend.) and what you wrote about friendships. I felt that you really portrayed Savitri and Holly's friendship authentically by including Indian culture but not having it scream, "look at me, an interracial friendship!!!" Savitri's name comes from a particular story in The Mahabharata, and her character is known as a loyal, perfect wife. What was it about Savitri (from the story) that inspired Savitri from Chasing Shadows?
Thank you. They were so fun to write. Well, as I alluded to, my experience of interracial friendships is a pretty subtle one — something that doesn't really come to the forefront of all my relationships. So I wanted that to be true for Savitri, too. It isn't a book that is All About Race, for sure. It has that element though, for those for whom it is relatable. In other words, the story doesn't hinge on it, but adds what feels to me to be an authentic layer to it.
I was interested in using the graphic novel format, but all I'd ever read were Indian comics and so when I knew it was the form I wanted to work with, the story of Savitri felt comfortable for me, almost like a refuge.
And here I was with this girl whose loyalty to her closest friend in the world was being tested by grief. So Savitri’s no-holds-barred loyalty is her primary link to the original story, as well as her deep connections to those she loves. That said, the story of Savitri in the Mahabharata is one of the reasons I had Corey and Savitri date… to mirror the original story more closely.
4. Savitri's loyalty was my favourite aspect about her! I think everyone is going to ask you this question, but I have to know. Freerunning—I had (embarrassingly) never heard of it until I read your book… where did that idea come from? What first made you want to include it in Chasing Shadows, and did you always intend for it to be such a prominent feature of the book?
Oh, don't be embarrassed. A lot of people don't know about it. It isn't as big in the US as it is in the rest of the world (probably in part because of our architecture which is more spread out). Honestly, the idea came from my husband. He knew the story I was working with and he showed me a segment of Top Gear which had freerunners in it. (The footage is shot beautifully, http://youtu.be/uNBPQe4dFxk). He said he could see Holly doing this because it would make her feel like a superhero.
I was a little unsure at first because I didn't know how to do the research. Later that week, I was dropping my daughter off at her gymnastics class and there on the board, with sparkles and pictures, was an advertisement for freerunning classes. Sometimes, you get lucky.
As soon as I had that piece, a lot of things fell into place about who these girls were, the kinds of risk they would take, and how they were connected to their bodies the way that all athletes are.
that is too cool!
5. The graphic novel aspects were so entrancing and I personally loved the way it felt like a "book within a book," as opposed to art accompanying text. How early on in the writing process did you know that you wanted illustrations in Chasing Shadows? If you didn't have the graphic portions, do you think the novel would have unfolded differently? (For example, would you have written the Shadowlands scenes into the book?)
Thanks! A lot of the credit of that goes to Craig Phillips of course, whose art captures the viewer.
I knew pretty early that I wanted graphics, because I wanted to explore the idea of how words can evaporate in times of extreme crisis, how we can't utter a sound when our lives have been flipped upside down in a second.
But I wasn't quite sure how to incorporate the graphics. Originally I thought I'd structure it more like Gene Yang does in American Born Chinese, kind of the way he does the Monkey King story. In this case, I'd use the story of Savitri, the story of the Leopardess: origins, and then the story of Chasing Shadows in graphics as their own sections in the story. But my super-smart editor weighed in and she seemed hesitant with this structure. And I trust her; she really understands story so if she couldn't see it, then I'm not sure it would have worked.
Without the graphics I would have lost a lot of the slippage that I was able to show by intersplicing the graphic narrative within the text, and would have lost the intimacy the reader gets with Holly's perspective. If I didn’t have the graphics, I probably would have still told the same story, but still switched forms – perhaps to poetry or changed points of view. It would not have been nearly so fun.
I am really exited by wicked-cool characters in the TV series Avatar: The Last Air Bender. I am particularly fond of Suki, Katara and Azula. In the follow up series, The Legend of Korra, also I am loving Asami Sato and Lin Beifong. And one of my all time favorites is Kim Possible – smart, funny, flawed, and you know “no big.”
Everyone has been telling me to watch that TV series, I swear I will, one day! Thank you so much for the interview, Swati, and congratulations on the release of your book!
Chasing Shadows on Goodreads / amazon.com / amazon.ca / Indigo.ca / book depository / barnes & noble
Savitri, Corey, and Holly are fearless freerunners. They vault over walls, flip from parapets, and leap from building to building. Invincible. Until a killing fractures their world. Told in images and prose, Chasing Shadows is about what happens when language fails – when words can’t contain grief, can’t bridge to a splintering girl, and when they can’t bring back the dead.