New Voices: Swati Teerdhala & Kip Wilson on Funneling Inspiration Into a Book

By Stephani Martinell Eaton

Ideas for stories have to come from somewhere.

Today, Swati Teerdhala and Kip Wilson, two YA debut authors, share what inspired them to write their stories as well as advice they have for beginners.

Swati Teerdhala

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

Books were such a huge part of my childhood and truly shaped the way I viewed the world. As I started to write more seriously, I found myself wanting to write for that age when stories are the most important. They can be sources of hope or joy, places to lose yourself in when the world outside seems a little too overwhelming.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I first got the idea for The Tiger at Midnight (Katherine Tegen, 2019) when I was traveling and visiting an old fort.

It was the first spark of an idea of what would become The Tiger at Midnight and the first time I heard the voice of Kunal, one of the two main characters.

I looked out from one of the old window openings and wondered what would be the most odd or startling thing a soldier of old might have seen.

A girl.

And that’s the opening page of The Tiger At Midnight.

While I first got the inspiration at that fort, there was a deeper, underlying element to the story that really inspired me. I wanted to write a story that celebrated my Indian heritage and tackled the issue of finding your own path, despite familial pressure and duty.

I think it is a common challenge for second-generation immigrant kids in America. That’s a huge part of what both Kunal and Esha deal with during this book—their duty to themselves versus others. Esha and Kunal both struggle with this idea in very different ways. I hoped to craft a story that tackled that tension between duty and self.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

Make sure to celebrate every moment! Those 500 words you were able to write during a stressful, hectic day. The full request from an agent. The praise from a critique partner you admire. Every single one of those markers are milestones on your long, hopefully lifelong journey as a writer.

It can be so easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing, but celebrating every win and focusing on your own path is important as you start your writing journey.

I would also say to get comfortable with revisions. It’s cliché, but writing is rewriting!

Revisions will be a part of your writing process at every step and figuring out your process and what works for you will be very helpful for you down the line!

Kip Wilson

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

When I first learned about the White Rose resistance group in high school German class, I found their mission—standing up against the Nazis in spite of the danger—to be incredibly inspiring.

As the youngest member and only core female in the group, Sophie Scholl became a personal heroine for me, and I’m so thrilled to be able to share her story with American teens and tweens who might not otherwise know who she was.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?

White Rose (Versify, 2019) is historical fiction, which means I did a lot of research, including: trips to specific sites in Ulm and Munich, Germany; visits to the archives; and boatloads of reading and translation.

I personally adore research, so the only challenge there was patience in waiting for materials to arrive. But one of my biggest challenges with the writing was giving myself the freedom to go beyond the documents and fictionalize some of Sophie’s thoughts and emotions.

I’m so glad I allowed myself to do so, however. Adding a bit of (hopefully authentic) fiction to the history definitely took the manuscript to a new level and helped bring it to life.

Kip at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich after a long day of research in the Scholl archives.

What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?

So many best moments! Getting an agent, hearing that my book would be published, connecting with fellow authors and readers. These are all wonderful things that have made my heart soar.

The worst moments, probably unsurprisingly, come from rejection. When we creative people put our work out there, it’s really like we’re sharing a piece of ourselves, and it’s equally as painful to not receive any love as it is wonderful to receive that love on other occasions.

I remember one day when I got pretty terrible news—and it was my birthday! I was pretty much a mess over it, but the mailman arrived in the midst of my blubbering with a birthday present from my cousin, and it was a lovely notebook with the words, “I choose hope.”

Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to give up, but then we would never succeed.

Kip with her cousin’s gift.

What model books were most useful to you and how?

Most of my favorite books are novels-in-verse and/or historicals. I absolutely devoured the poetry in books like The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014); Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin, 2014); A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman (Nancy Paulsen, 2014);  and Audacity by Melanie Crowder (Philomel, 2015).

I couldn’t get enough of the characters and historical details in books like All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner 2014) and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel 2016).

My advice to other writers: read and re-read books in your favorite genres until you’re able to come up with your own voice in your own stories. The masters are the masters for a reason!

Cynsational Notes

Swati Teerdhala is a storyteller and writer. After graduating from the University of Virginia with a BS in Finance and History, she tumbled into the marketing side of the technology industry.

She’s passionate about many things, including how to make a proper cup of chai, the right ratio of curd-to-crust in a lemon tart, and diverse representation in the stories we tell.

She currently lives in New York City.

Kip Wilson is the author of White Rose, a YA novel-in-verse about anti-Nazi political activist Sophie Scholl. White Rose won the 2017 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award and is a 2019 Winter/Spring Indies Introduce and Indie Next title from HMH’s Versify imprint.

Kip holds a PhD in German Literature, is the poetry editor at YARN (Young Adult Review Network), and wrote her doctoral dissertation about the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

She’s lived in Germany, Austria, and Spain, and currently calls Boston home.

Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.