Prior to preparing for my Indian teaching adventure, I had never read any books that pertained to Indian life. I simply had no interest. While living as an expat in India, I recognized my ignorance . Thereafter, I have chosen to read more about Indian culture and history. A few months ago, I learned about the award-winning author, Padma Venkatraman. I was delighted when she agreed to an interview. If you are unfamiliar with Padma, take a few moments to read more about her background and the books that she has authored.
In exchange for this interview and an honest review, Padma sent me an advanced copy of A Time to Dance.
In the past, you have talked about the tug-of-war between your passion for the world of numbers and your passion for the world of words. What caused the world of words to win out over your passion for numbers?
I like numbers, but I love writing.
What is the current status of your scientific career? Are you now devoting all of your time to writing?
90% of my work time I’m writing. I continue as instructor of one class at the graduate school of oceanography at URI, and I also am faculty of the university’s Ocean State Summer Writing Conference, where I teach a writing workshop.
Early on in your writing career, you used your scientific background to write science and math related books for children. Can you briefly talk about these books and the lessons that you learned after you started publishing children’s books?
Let me just say that, although my work was always published by traditional and respectable publishers/editors who paid me for my stories, I feel unfortunate that my early work was of publishable quality. Frankly, I didn’t take myself seriously as an author at that point – it felt like a hobby, although I loved the process of writing. Unfortunate, because the fact I’ve had books traditionally published in India puts me out of the running for some awards here. The biggest lesson I learned is that editors and traditional publishers in our nation (The United States), such editor Nancy Paulsen, whom I’m lucky to work with, completely respect the author’s creativity.
From time to time, this blog will feature multicultural picture books. I noticed that you have also written a few children’s books that highlight Indian history and folk culture. Is there a reason that you chose these topics? Can you please share some information about these books?
I have had two books – The Forbidden Temple and Mathematwist – published by Tulika, India. I like maths, so it was easy for me to write Mathematwist – a collection of mathematically-based folktales. The Forbidden Temple stems from my interest in Indian history. In India, unfortunately, by and large, the emphasis is on stories that have some kind of link to lessons. I dislike didactic work, and although I didn’t write didactic stories, my early work was accepted easily there because of this link they had with history or math and so on.
Several years ago, you made the leap from children’s literature to adult literature. What caused you to switch direction in your writing career? What challenges did you face when you changed your audience?
No challenge. IT’s freeing to write for an older audience, with no holds barred.
Your award-winning novels focus on different aspects of Indian culture. Have you used any of your childhood Indian experiences as focal points for your writing? As you created your characters, did you call upon any of your past relationships as a resource for the personality traits or behavior?
CLIMBING THE STAIRS is loosely based on the history of my extended family; the protagonist fought several fights that I fought.
ISLAND’S END was inspired by the time I spent as an oceanographer on the Andaman Islands (off the coast of Burma); the protagonist is a female tribal leader and while she’s different from me in many ways, I also spent time as a minority in several leadership positions when I was an oceanographer.
A TIME TO DANCE is connected to my experience of having been bitten by a venomous snake at age 19 and expecting to die, or at least have my leg amputated, if I did survive.
When I lived as an expat in India, I learned first-hand that the structure of Indian family life was very different from my American upbringing. A Time to Dance showcases some of these differences. How did you decide which aspects of Indian life you would include in your novels? Are there certain aspects of Indian culture that you want to emphasize?
When my writing flows, I feel like there’s a voice in my head speaking to me. I listen to the voice. Choices I make are probably somewhat dictated by my editorial brain, but it doesn’t feel that way. I feel like I write the movie that I see playing in my head.
I enjoyed reading the uncorrected galley proof for A Time to Dance. The chapters are concise with meaningful titles. Since the novel is written in verse, the writing is soft and flows smoothly. How does this lyrical writing style complement the underlying message(s) of your story?
The novel is about dance. A poetic and musical writing style complements the theme of the power and spirituality of art that is central to the novel. The choice, however, was made by Veda’s voice. Her voice doesn’t work in any other form.
Most novels are written in a traditional format. Can you provide 5 writing tips for people contemplating writing a novel in verse?
(1) Read thousands of poems (2) Take a class in literature (3) Do a writing workshop or two (3) Being spare doesn’t mean being sparse with detail, character development, emotion, setting (4) Write your work, put it away, re-read and edit later; don’t be in a hurry to publish (5) Buy verse novels or books of poetry by living authors – it’s good Karma and it’s good to have on your shelf for inspiration; reading inspires, it doesn’t limit your creativity.
Readers of A Time to Dance gain insight into the challenges faced by young people trying to overcome a physical disability caused by an unexpected accident. How much time did you spend researching the ramifications of a below-knee amputation and the effects it could have on dancing? Have you received any feedback from individuals who have experience a tragedy similar to the one you illustrate in your book?
I interviewed dozens of people who had had amputations. Some of them read drafts of my novel. I also spend several hours on crutches and doing bizarre experiments on myself and my friends to gain an understanding of the differently-abled experience, phantom pain, etc. I went “method” as actors put it.
Are you planning or in the midst of writing your next novel? If so, is the book set in India and when is the anticipated publication date?
I’m in the midst of several novels (I’m sort of schizophrenic) – and waiting for one to take me over. Some of them feature characters with Indian heritage, some don’t. As of now, none of them are set in India.
Padma, is there anything else that you would like to share with my audience?
Thanks for asking, but I think you’re questions were very thorough, so no more.
Praise for A Time to Dance
- Kirkus, Starred review
- Booklist, Starred review
- VOYA, Starred review
- SLJ, Starred review
Anyone who leaves a comment on this blog by Sunday, July 27 will be eligible for a book giveaway. Padma will send the randomly selected winner an autographed copy of A Time to Dance.