Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on Children’s Book Author Rajani LaRocca, who will be signing her new book at Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester on June 8th from 1-3 PM along with Children’s Book Author Erin Dionne. Rajani was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area with her wonderful family and impossibly cute dog. She is a writer of stories for children, doctor of adults, and baker of too many sweet treats. Her debut middle grade novel, MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, is inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the hours she’s spent watching competitive baking shows.
Thanks for being here with us, Rajani. Our first question for you is, Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester –though they should totally check here first!)
You can find my work anywhere books are sold, in bookstores and online. In addition to Midsummer’s Mayhem, I have several forthcoming picture books that will publish in 2020-2022.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
My website is: https://www.rajanilarocca.com/ You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @rajanilarocca, and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rajanilaroccawriter/. You can also follow me on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18056266.Rajani_LaRocca
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from Midsummer’s Mayhem?
Midsummer’s Mayhem is an Indian-American middle grade mashup of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and competitive baking. It’s about 11-year-old Mimi, who dreams of winning a baking contest in her town to finally prove she’s not the least talented member of her large family. But she loses her best helper when her food writer dad returns from a business trip eating everything in sight and mysteriously unable to distinguish between delicious and disgusting food. Mimi follows strangely familiar music in into the woods behind her house, where she meets a golden-eyed boy and bakes enchanting treats with him using exotic ingredients they find together. Then everyone around her starts acting loopy! Mimi must use her skills, culinary and deductive, to figure out what’s going on. In the process she learns that in life as in baking, not everything can be sweet. . .
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
Some of the research involved finding appropriate lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to weave into the book (in the story, Mimi’s older brother is acting in a local theater production). It was fun to sift through Shakespeare’s beautiful words looking for specific themes that related to my story.
I also had to do quite a bit of culinary research to come up with the recipes for the book. That was challenging at times, but I was willing to risk burned fingers and an expanding waistline for my art. I tried to come up with unusual and complementary combinations involving herbs and spices, and I also took some of my favorite childhood desserts and reinvented them as baked goods. I managed to come up with at least one frosting that my daughter says is quite addictive!
How important has the New England setting been to your writing?
Midsummer’s Mayhem is set in a fictional town called Comity, which is modelled after my own hometown of Concord, MA. Comity, like Concord, has a lot of famous people who have called it home. . .and in Midsummer’s Mayhem , we find out why! Another important aspect of the setting is the Comity Woods, which are inspired by the conservation areas in Concord. The woods are the backdrop for all kinds of magic and mischief!
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
My debut picture book, Seven Golden Rings, will publish in 2020 with Lee & Low Books. It’s a story set in ancient India about Bhagat, a boy who tries to save his family by earning a place in the Rajah’s court. Seven golden rings will determine whether he succeeds. This story teaches kids the basics of binary numbers!
I also have forthcoming picture books from Candlewick and Abrams in 2022, and some others I can’t talk about yet!
I’m working on two middle grade novels as well.
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
I love cooking, baking, reading, and traveling with my family. When I’m not writing or doing these things, I’m a primary care doctor. I make time for what I love by scheduling some of these activities ahead of time; my family also reminds me when it’s time to take a break.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
My dog Boomer is the sweetest, cutest companion I could ask for. He reminds me to live in the present, to walk in the sunshine (or the rain or snow, as the case may be), and to eat snacks whenever they are available. His beautiful amber eyes inspired a key aspect of one of my favorite characters in Midsummer’s Mayhem.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? And how do you overcome that?
To me, the most challenging part of writing and publishing is the waiting. . .and there is a lot of it! When I was submitting to agents, the waiting was tough. But nothing compares to the excruciating waiting of being on submission to editors. My way of dealing with this challenge is to try to keep busy writing another book—and that’s why it’s so great to have multiple projects going at once.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, thus far, in your writing career?
It’s important to surround yourself with the right people—ones who help you. I’ve been fortunate to find wonderful critique partners who are so positive and supportive but also give me real and useful feedback on my work. And I wouldn’t be able to survive the rollercoaster of publishing without my endlessly supportive husband and incredible children, who believe in me even when I find it challenging to believe in myself.
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other writers that have helped you in your career?
These organizations have helped me learn the craft of writing and connect with fellow writers:
SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) www.scbwi.org
The Writers Loft https://www.thewritersloft.org/
Grub Street in Boston https://grubstreet.org/
The Highlights Foundation https://www.highlightsfoundation.org/
The Writing Barn http://www.thewritingbarn.com/
Thanks very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions, Rajani, and we look forward to seeing you here on June 8th!