If you love historical fiction and rebel girls, Supriya Kelkar‘s newly published middle-grade novel, Strong As Fire, Fierce As Flame (Lee & Low Books, 2021) will steal your heart as you vicariously experience the journey of a strong girl writing her destiny against all odds.
Today, Supriya shares her writing life and insights about her book.
When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?
I tend to write at night, after my children are asleep, at home. I generally need total silence to write, so the best time for that in a house with three young kids is definitely at night!
Could you tell us about your latest book?
I have two books coming out six days apart this year! The first is Strong As Fire, Fierce As Flame (Lee & Low Books, 2021). It is historical fiction like Ahimsa (Tu Books/Lee & Low Books, 2017). Unlike Ahimsa though, this book takes place almost a century earlier, in 1857.
This was the start of the Sepoy Mutiny in India, when Indian soldiers rebelled against the British East India Company and the fires of resistance spread throughout South Asia.
When I was growing up, I never saw myself reflected in a book. The one time I even remotely felt represented was when our teacher read us Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s The Secret Garden (Frederick A Stokes, 1911). I remember sitting up a little taller, feeling seen, as I recognized some of the characters were Desi. But then I immediately felt this sense of shame when the main character referred to those characters as less-than.
As an adult, I realized how shocking it is that these so-called classics that take place during periods of devastating colonization completely erase people’s stories. I wanted to write a book that challenged who is centered in these stories and whose stories are being overlooked to fit a certain narrative.
That’s how Strong As Fire, Fierce As Flame was born. It is the story of a child bride who escapes a life she has no say in to end up a servant for an officer in the British East India Company. When the sparks of rebellion start up in town, she must decide whether to continue in her life of relative safety or join the rebellion.
I hope this book makes readers of all ages realize the true brutality of colonization and how cruelly it has affected people around the world.
Six days after that book releases, my picture book, Bindu’s Bindis, art by Parvati Pillai (Sterling, 2021) releases. It is the story of a girl who loves to match the shape of her bindi to her nani’s. At the school talent show, Bindu and Nani work together to shine their brightest and embrace their sparkle.
Reflecting on your personal journey (creatively, career-wise, and your writer’s heart), what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?
I wrote the first draft of Ahimsa in 2003. I remember eagerly querying agents with it back in the days of snail-mail queries, and waiting months to get rejection letters in the mail. I felt really disappointed that the story didn’t click with anyone and put it aside as I wrote lots of other books and queried out with them and got lots more rejection letters.
There were several times I felt like quitting, but I was privileged enough that I could keep trying. I read about craft and took classes. I revised repeatedly, working on draft after draft of Ahimsa for over a decade until it finally won the New Visions Award in 2016 and was published in 2017, more than 14 years after I wrote the first draft of it.
I have never forgotten the disappointment I felt during those years and know just how lucky I am every time one of my books publishes.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on edits for That Thing About Bollywood (Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2021). I worked as a Bollywood screenwriter for over a decade and have always wanted to incorporate Bollywood into a book.
This is the story of a Bollywood-loving girl who isn’t good at showing her feelings. When her parents announce they’re separating, she gets a magical condition that causes her to show her emotions in the most obvious way possible, by bursting out into Bollywood song-and-dance numbers. This book makes my heart happy and I cannot wait for it to be out in the world.
Supriya Kelkar is an author, illustrator, and screenwriter who grew up in the Midwest, where she learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Winner of the New Visions Award for her middle grade novel Ahimsa, (Tu Books, 2017), Supriya has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films. Supriya’s books include Ahimsa, The Many Colors Of Harpreet Singh (Sterling, 2019), American As Paneer Pie, a School Library Journal Best Book of 2020 (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2020), Strong As Fire, Fierce As Flame (Lee & Low Books, 2020), Bindu’s Bindis (Sterling, 2021), and That Thing About Bollywood (Simon and Schuster BFYR, 2021).
Suma Subramaniam is the contributing author of The Hero Next Door (Penguin Random House, 2019). She is also the author of Centaurs (Capstone, 2021), Fairies (Capstone, 2021), She Sang For India: How MS Subbulakshmi Used Her Voice For Change (Macmillan FSG, 2022), and Namaste Is A Greeting (Candlewick, 2022). She is the Director of the Internship Grant Committee at We Need Diverse Books and Mentorship Program Coordinator for SCBWI Western Washington. She hires tech professionals for a leading software company during the day and is a writer by night. Suma has an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and degrees in computer science and management. Visit her website at https://sumasubramaniam.com