Author Spotlight: Rajani LaRocca
Feb. 12, 2021
We are thrilled to feature long-time Kidlit411 friend and author Rajani LaRocca and her recent MG verse novel, RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE (Quill Tree Books) out now! Enter to win a copy!
|illustration © Vrinda Zaveri; design by Erin Fitzsimmons
Congrats on your recent MG verse novel, Red, White, and Whole! Tell us about it and what inspired you.
Kidlit 411 is such a fabulous resource for writers, and I’m honored to be here!
Red, White, and Whole is set in 1983 and follows 13-year-old Reha, who feels torn between the worlds of her Indian immigrant parents and her American friends at school. But then her mother falls seriously ill with leukemia, and Reha is torn in a different way. The book involves the interplay between heritage and fitting in, science and poetry, 80s pop music and Hindu mythology, holding on and letting go. It’s about being caught between here and there, before and after, and finding a way to be whole.
The idea for Red, White, and Whole came to me as a metaphor. I thought of the idea of blood, and all that it means in terms of biology, heredity, and culture, and the story began to take shape from there. I wrote the line, “What happens when your own blood betrays you?” and wanted it to have two meanings in the story. I also wanted to explore the immigrant experience—especially the personally resonant feeling of wondering whether you truly belong anywhere.
You're a practicing doctor as well as an author. How do you balance your two careers, in addition to home life, especially during a pandemic?
I feel like having two demanding careers makes me better at both. First of all, they force me to be as efficient as possible. Second, they both require me to focus on the task at hand (especially when I’m seeing patients), so I’m less likely to flit from one thing to another. But most importantly, both medicine and writing are at their heart about people, and so I’m always thinking about people and the things they do from a position of wonder and humility.
You also recently released a picture book, Seven Golden Rings. How did you come up with the idea to do a story about binary numbers?
I’ve loved puzzles and riddles from a young age, and we’ve raised our two kids the same way. My son in particular loved both math and music from when he was very little, and based on his fascination, I knew that picture books involving sophisticated math concepts could still have great kid appeal. So I took a logic puzzle I remembered my uncle telling me when I was a kid, made it more complicated, and dreamed up a character who needed to solve that puzzle for a very important reason. I then revised that story nearly 70 times before I finally got it where it needed to be. And along the way, I realized that the solution to the logic puzzle has to do with binary numbers, so I wrote an author’s note to explain this.
What projects are you working on now?
I have a bunch of picture books in the works as well as a recently completed middle grade project. I’m currently working on finishing my next middle grade for Quill Tree/HarperCollins, a novel in verse and prose about musical twin sisters.
We've always admired your marketing savvy. What are some tips you'd give to other authors about marketing in a virtual environment?
First of all, I’d advise creators to do what they like in terms of marketing, and if it’s too stressful or they hate it, they don’t have to do it.
I strongly recommend joining or forming a book promotion group like the Soaring 20s — we started off as a group for 2020 picture book debuts, but we are continuing as a group to promote all of each other’s books in 2021 and beyond! It’s wonderful to have a bunch of creators who are all boosting each other, and it feels good to talk about others’ books.
It helps to be able to make simple graphics. Canva is easy to use, the free version is great, and the modestly priced paid version is even better.
Don’t be embarrassed to talk about your books! But also, read other people’s books and get excited about them, too! There are so many types of books for so many readers, and we are all in this together!
Where can people find you online?
Twitter and Instagram: @rajanilarocca
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning novels and picture books, including Midsummer’s Mayhem (2019), Seven Golden Rings (2020), Red, White, and Whole (2021), Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (2021), Much Ado About Baseball (2021), and more. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she is an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks.
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