Author Spotlight: Olivia Chadha
|© Natalie Pigliacampo
Dec. 18, 2020
We're thrilled to feature author Olivia Chadha and her debut cyberpunk YA novel, RISE OF THE RED HAND (Erewhon, Jan. 9, 2021). Enter to win a copy!
|Cover art by Rashed AlAkroka; design by Dana Li
Tell us about your background and how you came to write for teens.
I began my writing career writing comic book scripts for Michael Turner’s Fathom. I studied creative writing and literature in grad school and went on to teach at a university. My first adult literary novel, Balance of Fragile Things centers on teens but is written as adult novel. I spent so much time in university surrounded by literary works feeling that my aesthetic and voice never really fit in and that I didn’t belong. It took me a while to realize that writing for teens was my home. After I had that awakening, I immediately joined my local Rocky Mountain SCBWI, found my community, and lived happily ever after.
Congrats on your debut YA novel, RISE OF THE RED HAND! Tell us about the book & what inspired you.
Thank you so much! Rise of the Red Hand is set in a climate ravaged future South Asia. A streetrat turned revolutionary and the disillusioned hacker son of a politician try to take down a ruthlessly technocratic government that sacrifices its poorest citizens to build its utopia.
The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and deadly superbugs.
Ashiva works for the Red Hand, an underground network of revolutionaries fighting the government. When Ashiva crosses paths with the brilliant hacker Riz-Ali, a privileged Uplander who finds himself embroiled in the Red Hand’s dangerous activities, they uncover a horrifying conspiracy that the government will do anything to bury.
When I was a child I longed to see people who looked like me in books. Mixed-race, South Asian people were fairly absent from stories for children and teens. At its heart, Rise of the Red Hand is about empathy. It’s a story about two teens from opposite sides of the domed city: Ashiva is a hard-hearted smuggler who has spent her life fighting for scraps outside in the Narrows slums. Riz-Ali is a wealthy uplander who exists in a world filled with every luxury imaginable. When their lives unexpectedly crash together, they’re propelled on a thrill-ride of a journey to take down fascist regime. But their larger story is something much more difficult than a mech battle and survival: it’s about working together to facilitate change during an environmental crisis and envisioning a world in which we can all thrive.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I’m not really sure anything in publishing is fast, even when it appears to be on the surface. I drafted RISE, my critique partners and beta readers offered feedback, then I revised again. I queried a handful of agents but realized the Twitter pitch contest #DVpit was around the corner, so I entered. Agent Eric Smith liked my tweet, sent me a tear-jerker of an email, and we had a call over the weekend. I signed right away. He was the agent I had queried before the contest, so it was serendipity. We went on submission a month or so later. Within a couple months we had an offer and the book is coming out January 2021. So, all told, that’s probably considered a sprint in publishing!
What projects are you working on now?
I’m writing the untitled second book in the Mechanists duology, which will complete the series. And I’m also dreaming up another book that will be a sort of genre mash up of all things I love. I think that’s one of the most important things in picking your next writing project: writing what you want to read and being obsessed with it. I can’t say much about the new thing, but it’s sure to be fast paced and perhaps a little bit otherworldly.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
Because I mentor college writers, I actually have the opportunity to give versions of my younger self advice all the time. Though I went to grad school, I didn’t receive a lot of publishing advice. Which is why I tell my undergraduate students everything they want to know about my experience in publishing so that they don’t have to walk this path in the dark.
Here are some bits of advice for my younger self and for writers just starting this journey: This industry is tough. There’s no person with a bag of money waiting for you once you finish your first novel, or second, or sometimes tenth. You have to show up and do the work and love it regardless if you can sell it. If you don’t love it, don’t do it.
Read current work not just what they teach in school or what lands on lists. Study books that you enjoy and find out why they work for you as a reader. You don’t need to go to grad school to be an author. But you do need to find your people. Reach out to genre specific groups and associations: SCBWI, local conferences, etc. Make friends in the industry. That’s how you find critique partners. Finding people who understand your path as an author and will support you on good days and bad makes this hard work possible.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I’m a bleeding-heart optimist that feels it all.
Where can people find you online?
I’m can be found on Instagram @okchadha and Twitter @ockaur and people can contact me through my website at www.oliviachadha.com
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Olivia writes science fiction, fantasy, comic books, and literary novels for YA and adult audiences. She also holds a Ph.D. from Binghamton University’s creative writing program and a master's from the University of Colorado, Boulder's creative writing program. Much of her research centers on the history of exile, India’s Partition, precarious borders and boundaries, global folklore and fairy tales, and the relationship between humans and the environment. She is first-generation American of Punjabi Sikh and Latvian/German descent. She began her writing career with a stint writing comic scripts for Michael Turner’s Fathom. Balance of Fragile Things is her debut adult literary novel, and Rise of the Red Hand (The Mechanists Series) is her YA debut. She lives in Colorado with her family and two very odd dogs.
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