Author Spotlight: Rajani LaRocca
We are excited to feature PB/MG author Rajani LaRocca and her debut novel, MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM (Yellow Jacket/Little Bee Books, June 11, 2019).Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.
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Enter to win a copy of her book!
|Cover © Rachel Suggs|
I’ve always loved books and writing, but my first career ambition was medicine. I had a high school creative writing teacher who told me I didn’t have to choose and pointed out other doctor-writers like Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Carlos Williams, and Richard Selzer who combined both careers. But the demands of medical school, residency, and young motherhood made writing take a back seat for a long time.
Once I’d established my medical practice and my kids were older and in school, I felt compelled to nourish my creativity again. I took writing classes, met some wonderful writers who became my critique partners, and started working on novels and picture books. After a couple years, I decided to pursue publication seriously. And that’s how I ended up here!
Congrats on your debut novel, MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM. Tell us about it and how it came about.
MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM is the combination of several different ideas that came together over time. I started with: what if a girl’s father returned from a business trip acting strange, and she was the only one who noticed? I was also inspired by the beautiful conservation areas in my town—the woods where I often walk my dog—and I thought about who I might encounter there. Since I’ve been a huge Shakespeare fan since childhood, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a natural next step after the inspiration of my sylvan setting, and when I recalled some very specific lines in the play, I knew just how it connected to the Indian-American family in my story. I love cooking and baking shows like the Great British Baking Show, so I wanted to make that a major component. All these threads wove together to form my novel about family, friends, fairies, and fantastic food.
You write both PBs and MG. Tell us about your upcoming picture books and any other projects in the works.
My debut picture book, SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan, will publish in 2020 with Lee & Low. It’s a story set in ancient India about Bhagat, a boy who tries to save his impoverished family by earning a place in the Rajah’s court. Seven golden rings are the key to whether he will succeed. The story incorporates a math puzzle that teaches the basics of binary numbers!
In 2022, Candlewick will publish I’LL GO AND COME BACK, illustrated by Sara Palacios, my picture book about a girl and her grandmother, their relationship in India and the U.S., and how they help each other overcome homesickness through play, food, and love.
WHERE THREE OCEANS MEET, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan, will publish with Abrams in 2022. It’s a story about a girl who travels to the very tip of India with her mother and grandmother, and during that journey learns about the love and strength that women pass down to their daughters across distance and time.
There are also other not-yet-announced picture books in the works!
In terms of middle grade projects, I’m working on a companion novel to MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, and an unrelated novel in verse about a girl growing up as an immigrant in the U.S.
Was your road to publication long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?
I guess it depends on your perspective.
In 2013, I thought I might have a chance of being published someday. At the time, I had 2-3 picture books in various stages of readiness. In 2014, I finished my first draft of MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM. I revised and queried it briefly in 2015 only to realize it needed more work. I spent 2015-2017 pouring myself into writing and revising, generating new material and perfecting my projects as much as possible.
I started seriously querying my novel and picture books in 2017 and got great responses from agents. I entered Pitch Wars and revised my novel again over two months.
That’s when things started to go fast. After the Pitch Wars agent showcase, I received multiple agent offers and signed with my fantastic agent, Brent Taylor, in November 2017. In 2018, we sold MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM and several picture books!
The road to publication was long and windy…until suddenly it wasn’t. For me, the hard work and waiting were definitely worth it, and things turned out better than I could have imagined.
What are the 1-2 best things you did for your writing career? What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
When I was stressed out and feeling dejected about ever being published, I focused intensely on craft and making my work the best it could be. I took classes, attended conferences, and sought out other writers who helped me improve. Pitch Wars in particular was a complete game changer—the mentorship helped me push my manuscript to the next level, and the incredible community has been such a source of friendship and support.
My advice: work hard and work smart. Find the strategies that help bring the best out in you and your writing. For me, that was a combination of classes/workshops/community and butt-in-chair plugging along. Give yourself time and space to dream, and know that sometimes taking a break from a project is exactly what you need to push through a barrier. Most importantly, surround yourself with people who believe in you, because they will help you when you’re not sure you believe in yourself.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I write about siblings a lot, but I’m an only child!
Where can people find you online?
You can find out more about my books and events on my website: https://www.RajaniLaRocca.com I’m running a preorder campaign and giving away free swag!
You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @rajanilarocca
My author Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/rajanilaroccawriter/
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area with her wonderful family and impossibly cute dog. After graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, she spends her time writing novels and picture books, practicing medicine, and baking too many sweet treats. Her debut middle grade novel, MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM, is an Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night's Dream and competitive baking. She is also the author of several forthcoming picture books.
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