Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Payal Doshi, the author of
REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR
It all begins on the night Rea turns twelve. After a big fight with her twin brother Rohan on their birthday, Rea’s life in the small village of Darjeeling, India, gets turned on its head. It’s four in the morning and Rohan is nowhere to be found.
It hasn’t even been a day and Amma acts like Rohan’s gone forever. Her grandmother, too, is behaving strangely. Unwilling to give up on her brother, Rea and her friend Leela meet Mishti Daadi, a wrinkly old fortune-teller whose powers of divination set them off on a thrilling and secret quest. In the shade of night, they portal into an otherworldly realm and travel to Astranthia, a land full of magic and whimsy. There with the help of Xeranther, an Astranthian barrow boy, and Flula, a pari, Rea battles serpent-lilies and blood-sucking banshees, encounters a butterfly-faced woman and blue lizard-men, and learns that Rohan has been captured. Rea also discovers that she is a princess with magic. Only she has no idea how to use it.
Struggling with the truth her Amma has kept hidden from her, Rea must solve clues that lead to Rohan, find a way to rescue him and save Astranthia from a potentially deadly fate. But the clock is ticking. Can she rescue Rohan, save Astranthia, and live to see it all?
Let’s talk to this tremendous author about her terrific book!
This is Payal. Everyone say, “Hi, Payal!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Payal! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!
Hi Casey! Thank you so much for having me! I’m Payal Doshi and I’m from India. I was born and raised in the city of Mumbai where I lived until I was 27 years old before moving to the U.S. to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing from The New School, NY. Prior to that I had studied business management, worked in advertising, then magazine publishing, and only after all that did I realize I was happiest when I was writing stories! I love writing middle grade fantasy books with South Asian protagonists and South Asian inspired settings.
What was the inspiration behind REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR?
When I sat to write this book, I wondered if Lyra Belacqua, Harry Potter, and Nancy Drew can have incredible adventures, why can’t a girl from India have them too? As a kid, I loved to read but I never saw myself in books. A girl like me never got to be the hero, have magic, or save a realm. I wanted to change that. So, I decided to write a fantasy story rooted in Indian culture that had kids from India who went off on thrilling adventures and became heroes! It’s a story I would have loved to read as a kid and one in which I saw myself.
Diverse representation, especially South Asian representation, is a mission close to my heart. I believe all kids should see themselves represented in books because each kid should know that they can be the heroes of their own stories. I want South Asian kids to feel seen when they read my book, feel joy and pride for their culture, and know that their stories deserve to be celebrated. At the same time, I wanted to write a story that all kids would enjoy regardless of color, race, nationality, and culture. So, there’s a mystery that needs solving along with an exciting quest, a ticking clock, dark family secrets, unforgettable friendships, a fantastical world, and my favorite, magic!
It sounds like an amazing story!
What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book? (We love these stories here at Kick-butt Kidlit!)
I was at the salon getting a manicure! I was new mom at the time. My daughter was a year old, and my manuscript had received rejection after rejection. I was heartbroken, tired, and sleepy, and I told my husband I needed a giant dose of self-care. So, off I went to get my nails done! As the nail technician was working on my hand, my phone buzzed. Having left my husband alone with my daughter, I imagined (insert mom-guilt here!) a catastrophe had taken place. So, I awkwardly reached over, apologized for hitting my manicure-in-process hand and clumsily unlocked my phone. And there it was—an email from the publisher at Mango and Marigold Press saying she loved my book and wanted to set up a call. I gently placed my phone back down and grinned so widely that I’m sure anyone who saw me must have wondered if I was okay! My heart had never beaten that fast before!
What a great moment!
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR?
1) My first draft which I wrote nearly ten years ago, all 70,000 words of it, was written with white characters who lived in the English countryside. I hadn’t realized how much the books I read (and loved) as a kid—books with white kids in western countries—had subconsciously trained my mind into thinking that those were the only types of stories people wanted to read, not stories about kids who looked like me.
2) I’m a 80% plotter and 20% panster and I love researching and outlining!
3) I’m not a writer who can successfully do writing sprints or churn out a large chunk of words. I’m a ‘take each day as it comes’ kind of writer and I don’t set word goals. I’m thrilled if I get 500 words or 1500 words in day – it’s not about how many words I can write in a session, it’s about trying my best to write everyday or as often as I can, which sometimes can be only once or twice a week.
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
My first thought is to have them transport into The Chronicles of Narnia or His Dark Materials, but I’m thinking my characters have already had a lot of adventures and near fatal quests so maybe I’d have them vacation in the world of Anne of Green Gables! They’d get to visit Canada, meet incredible kids like Anne, Diana, and Gilbert, and enjoy the peaceful and gorgeous countryside. Ultimately though, I would want them to end up in Darjeeling and Astranthia because I know that’s where they will be the happiest!
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
My desire to write for children came instinctively. I believe it’s because I was a young middle schooler when I fell in love with reading. As I writer of fantasy fiction, I love that a child’s mind is free of the constraints and boxes that we, as adults, put ourselves and others into. Kids are ready to suspend belief, be taken on adventures, and are eager for new stories, new worlds, and new perspectives. They have that glorious child-like wonder! And as I mentioned before, I wanted South Asian kids feel seen in books and at the same time I wanted to add to the message that any kid from any part of the world can love and enjoy these stories and relate to the characters. We are unified by the human experience and despite our different backgrounds, we share similar hopes, dreams, and fears.
Any hints about your next book project?
I’m currently writing the sequel to Rea and the Blood of the Nectar which is planned for a Fall 2022 release! I can tell you that there is a new character with many shades of grey, who I hope readers will enjoy reading about!
Oooooh, sounds intriguing!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
The most surprising part of my publishing journey came after 2 years of querying when I’d reached the point where I had accepted that my book was not going to find any takers. I was utterly heartbroken, but I found the courage to come up with a new story idea and write an outline. Three days after, I received an offer from my publisher. The lesson I learnt was that I was so focused on selling REA that it embodied whether I considered myself a success or a failure. And in the glaring light of failure, I realized my passion was writing stories, so if one book didn’t work out, I would try with another and keep going.
What are you reading right now?
A Wolf for a Spell by Karah Sutton.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
My favourite piece of kick-butt advice is to never give up on yourself. And to aspiring writers out there it’s to keep writing until they reach that final period. First drafts are notoriously hard to write and are meant to be terrible but it’s much easier to mold a fully written story than to keep revising and perfecting what has been written only to have an incomplete manuscript by the end of it.
Very wise words!
Thank you so much for joining us, Payal!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR!
It hits shelves on June 15th!
Add REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR on Goodreads!
Click here to enter to win a copy of REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR!
Contest ends Friday, May 21st at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!