Today we’re eavesdropping on a spirited discussion between the newest Rick Riordan Presents author, Graci Kim, and RRP veteran Roshani Chokshi. Keep reading for their coverage of hyper-critical cats, favorite female authors and heroes, and their new books, Aru Shah and the City of Gold and The Last Fallen Star.
GRACI: Hey hey, Rosh! So it’s Women’s History Month, and as the newest family member of Rick Riordan Presents, I thought it’d be fun to ask the reigning eldest RRP sibling (aka the OG!) a few questions about writing, being a woman, and life in general. What do ya reckon?
ROSH: Ooooh . . . now I feel quite fancy. I also adore any time my name appears next to the word “reigning,” so yes, yes, do proceed.
GRACI: Awesome sauce! So, first things first, a serious question. Why is your cat so ridiculously cute?!
ROSH: Theodore feeds off of my artistic anguish. It adds luster to his fur, sparkle to his whiskers. He deflates when my plots take a wrong turn, and will outright sit on my keyboard when I write sentences like “he reached for the cup with his hand.” WHAT ELSE WOULD HE REACH WITH? A TENTACLE?
GRACI: Keyboards can get toasty. Do you think Theodore likes having a warm tush and that’s why he—? Wait, he just texted me a string of squid and cup emojis (with a few octopi sprinkled in there as well). So yeah, I think he’s made his position on that issue quite clear. *Clears throat* Now that we’ve got the serious stuff out of the way, here’s an easy one to get things rolling. What’s your favorite book that celebrates women and girl heroes?
ROSH: Growing up, I loved books like The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley and Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. That said, I rarely saw women in mythology centered on the page. So often, they were portrayed as one-dimensional “types.” They were impetuses for heroes, tragic backgrounds for villains, encyclopedic mouthpieces imparting information the reader needed to know. I think it’s part of the reason why I was so excited to write Aru’s story, and tackle the shadowed, short-shrift treatment of females in mythology and folklore.
GRACI: I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s one of the things I love about Aru. She’s unapologetic about who she is, and we get to celebrate her in her fullness—flaws and all. In fact, we’ve got quite a few girl heroes to celebrate in the RRP family: Min, Gabi, Nizhoni, and Paola. And come May 4th, you’ll get to meet Riley Oh, too! I also recently read The Only Woman in the Room (about the inventor Hedy Lamarr), and The Other Einstein (about Albert Einstein’s first wife, a physicist herself, and the role she might have played in his theories), both by Marie Benedict. They made me think about how history sheds light on women, and the dominant voice of those who got to tell the stories—historically, men!
ROSH: I’d love to hear about who YOUR female heroes are, Graci!
GRACI: That’s easy! Up there at #1 is my mum. She is hands down the bravest, scrappiest, most loyal person I know. When we first moved to New Zealand from Korea, she couldn’t speak English, knew no one, had no money, and had a nursing qualification that wasn’t recognized. She worked three jobs while pregnant with my youngest sister, including after-death care at the morgue (EEEEK!), and somehow managed to become the founding CEO of a successful finance company, start her own newspaper, and then be appointed as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. The woman’s on fire, and I’m so proud that my cheeks are ripping just thinking about her right now!
ROSH: SHE SOUNDS AMAZING [INSERT ALL THE HEART EYE EMOJIS].
GRACI: What about you? Who are the biggest female heroes in your life?
ROSH: Like you, the female heroes in my life are all to be found in my family. My grandmother, Ba, is the cleverest person I know. She came to America with two small children in tow, worked tirelessly, picked up English by watching soap operas, and despite all that has been thrown at her, she is full of warmth and full of stories. My mother is also a nurse! She moved here from the Philippines when she was in her twenties. She’s the sort of person who can walk barefoot into a jungle teeming with supernatural entities, swat away venomous snakes, laugh at a crocodile, whistle on her walk back, tell you a haunting tale, and then demand a nap.
GRACI: Whoa, they sound incredible! Also, I want to listen to Ba’s and your mother’s stories!! Invite me over next time they’re around, please? I’ll bring cookies and boricha. 🙂
ROSH: With all these heroic inspirations around us, what was it like writing The Last Fallen Star and joining the imprint?
GRACI: Gosh, writing The Last Fallen Star was like taking a walk through memory lane but repaving the tiles with my wacky imagination along the way. I channeled all the cool stories and zany creatures my halmeoni (my grandma) told us about when we were little, but I plucked them out of their comfort zones and plopped them right into the bustling streets of LA. Then I steepled my fingers and cackled maniacally. What will it be, my friends? SINK OR SWIM?! Quite a sport, really.
ROSH: I LOOOOVE THIS DESCRIPTION OF THE WRITING PROCESS!!! Meanwhile, I can mostly be found suffering beneath my gray blankie and writing, literally, in my closet.
GRACI: As for joining the imprint, there are genuinely no words to describe what it means to me that I get to be part of the RRP family. None. Well, actually, just four. UNCLE RICK. QUEEN STEPH. I guess dreams really can come true?!!
ROSH: I’m so glad that it’s been such a positive experience for you!
GRACI: Speaking of upcoming books, the penultimate book in the Pandava series is coming out in April. How do you feel? What’s going through your mind?!
ROSH: Yeah . . . second to last book. What is existence . . . ? Frankly, I feel very emotional. It’s been almost five years of living in the world of this series and being part of the RRP family. So many extraordinary, outside-the-scope-of-my-wildest-daydreams have happened with this series, and it makes me feel so overwhelmed. But in the BEST way possible. I’m excited that I got to write so much of my own upbringing into a series that has found its home in the hearts of young readers, and I hope I can give ARU the sendoff she deserves.
Speaking of sendoff, I can only imagine that as we speak, supernatural creatures are tugging at your sleeves and begging to be immortalized in your pages . . . SO, I shall pose one final question. We get this all the time, but it never loses its significance. What’s your advice for young readers? And what’s your advice for young women, especially, who dream of being storytellers?
GRACI: For those of you who hold story seeds inside of you, I encourage you to please feed them, water them, sing to them, and give them lots of sunshine. Cultivate your craft, then share your harvests with the world—because we are hungry for your stories!! When I first started writing The Last Fallen Star, someone told me that there was no such thing as Korean witches and that a book like mine wouldn’t sell. I chose not to believe in their truth, and instead to believe in my own. Remember that you, too, have a voice. You, too, are seen. Your imagination holds value, as long as you breathe life into it! Let it LIVEEEE!! *Steps off the soapbox and puts down the ladle*
Well, on that note, I guess it’s time for us to hood back up (although I will admit that I am already wearing my blankie) and step back into our writing closets. It has been an absolute pleasure chatting with you, Rosh, aka RRP big sis, and I can’t wait to do it again! SUPER excited for Aru Shah and the City of Gold, and Happy Women’s History Month!!!!
ROSH: Love all this advice, and I’m happily echoing it! Never let anyone try to diminish the power of your voice. Can’t wait to read The Last Fallen Star and share Aru Shah and the City of Gold with you guys this April!! ALL THE SOCIALLY-DISTANCED HUGS!