Author Spotlight: Darshana Khiani
June 4, 2021
We are excited to feature author Darshana Khiani and her debut picture book, HOW TO WEAR A SARI, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Versify), coming out on June 22. Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
As a child, I loved creative writing, but it was more of the bright spot to English class which was my hardest subject. I didn’t write much outside of class. I was a math and science kid. I did love reading though. I remember my mom telling me to put away my Nancy Drew book and help with housework. Fast forward to becoming a mother in my 30s and my love of children’s books was rekindled. I would research all the best children’s books and read to my girls every night. Sometimes on Friday nights, we would have a book party with sleeping bags, a big bowl of popcorn, and our favorite picture books. It was during this time that I realized I wanted to do something that allowed me to connect with people. And like many others, I fell into the trap of “how hard can it be to write a picture book?” that was eleven years ago. I do love the kid lit community and feel so fortunate to be a part of it.
Congrats on your debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari! Tell us about it and what inspired you.
My debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari, comes out on June 22 from the Versify imprint at HMH Books. It’s illustrated by the talented Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.
In How to Wear a Sari, a spirited young Indian girl is tired of being seen as “little” by her family. She wants to show she can do things that older people can do. She decides the best way to do this is by teaching herself how to wear a sari. Naturally, there are some hiccups along the way, but what she discovers is that she’s not the only one in the family who has set out with something to prove, resulting in some funny moments.
When I started writing picture books, I wanted to write books for third-generation South Asians like my two daughters. Books that centered their lives in this country. Books that had universal themes about growing up with a South Asian backdrop and a touch of humor.
In the summer of 2016, I was studying 2nd POV picture books for a different writing project. Before I knew it the fall season had arrived, and it was time to start planning my outfits for Diwali parties. I love the elegance of saris, but I was bemoaning how I never got the hang of wearing one. Then I wondered what it would be like if a young Indian girl wanted to play dress-up with her mom’s sari. That was the seed for How to Wear a Sari. While many books depict playing dress-up with Western formal wear, there were none with a sari. And while there are a handful of sari books, I wanted this to be fun, light-hearted, and cheery like Fancy Nancy or the Birdie books. I wanted to show the universal themes of wanting to be older and dressing up but with South Asian flair.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I’d say it was on the longer side and a little windy, but still within the range of normalcy. I had the idea of writing picture books back in 2010 but didn’t really get going until a year later when I joined a critique group and went to my first SCBWI conference. Soon after I joined 12x12 and took Susanna Hill’s Making Picture Book Magic class and it was the combination of the two that really got me on my way. I started querying in May 2015 and 15 months later I signed with my wonderful agent. I met my future editor at the Winter SCBWI conference in 2018, pitched her my story. A little over a month later, she offered on How to Wear a Sari. Once we had the illustrator on board the publication date was set for Fall 2020. But in Fall 2019 the publisher’s internal deadlines were pulled in so the release date was pushed out to June 2021. So, from thoughts on becoming a writer to first book 11 years! From offer to publication about 3 ¼ years.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m currently finishing up edits on I'm an American, which is slated for Summer 2023 from Philomel. I have a few picture books that my agent would like to see me revise, so I need to get cracking on that. Learning how to write a novel is still on my bucket list. I’ve dabbled with it here and there over the past few years but haven’t made the time and space to really dig in. I’m envious when I hear of novelists mention how their characters talk to them. I WANT that feeling. 😊
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same you'd give to aspiring authors?
Write, write, write. I made the mistake of spending my first two years of pursuing writing working on two manuscripts, of which one had severe flaws. Do take classes and read writing craft books but it is so important to practice. I’ve noticed over the years that critiquing other writers’ manuscripts helps me sees the things that aren’t working in my own manuscript.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I LOVE to dance. I was only ten years old when I first performed on stage at the Luzerne County Folk Festival. I was performing in an Indian folk dance with some other girls. It was scary and exciting to have hundreds of people watching, but it was over in a flash. Later in college, I would perform in the Indian Student’s Association annual Diwali Show, which had over 1500+ attendees.
Where can people find you online?
Darshana Khiani is a second-generation Indian American who grew up in rural Pennsylvania and now resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pooch. She is an author, engineer, and a South Asian Kidlit Blogger. Her debut picture book HOW TO WEAR A SARI releases June 2021. When she isn’t working or writing she can be found hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, or traveling.a Rafflecopter giveaway