I’m thrilled to welcome Srividhya Venkat to Cynsations today!
What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?
I consider my creative life to be a privilege and I’m grateful that I get to do this every day. I like that I can decide what projects to work on and do them at my own pace (with the exception of contracted projects). It’s an honor to be in a space where I create stories and shape them into something young readers would care about, and hopefully gain inspiration from.
Writing is an immensely fulfilling experience, especially when you get from where you started (a memory, idea, observation, or experience) to completion (with a sign off from your critique group/agent), and later when you hold the published book in your hands.
I also cherish the support that comes from being a part of critique groups and the writing community in general. The camaraderie is overwhelming and we are all together in this journey, cheering for one another.
Finally, I believe that writing has helped me discover my inner child who motivates the adult in me to write about things we love and feel strongly about. My becoming an author is the result of our mutual conversations which inspire me to take pride in my culture and to create a legacy that matters.
When you look back on your writing journey, what are the changes that stand out?
Eleven years ago, I began writing picture books for children in order to share stories inspired by my childhood, observations, and experiences to heed to the child inside me. They were stories related to India, my home country, and spoken from my heart.
Today, after several years of writing, taking craft classes, reading books, and learning about the craft and industry from fellow writers, I continue to write those stories. Yet what has changed is that I find myself diving deeper into what I’m writing – the themes, the characters, the story arc. In addition to heeding to my inner child, I now write about bigger issues I feel strongly about to create awareness and promote conversations, and help young readers develop perspectives on wider issues.
Another change that stands out is that I’ve diversified my writing realm and entered the non-fiction arena. My picture book biography, Seeker of Truth: Kailash Satyarthi’s fight to end Child Labor, illustrated by Danica Da Silva Pereira (Little Bee Books) is scheduled to be published in summer 2024.
I’m excited about my journey so far and can’t wait to see what else is yet to come.
Drawing by Srividhya’s son
What appeals to you about writing PB? What are the craft challenges of writing for this age group?
First of all, I consider it an honor to be writing picture books which may be among the first books children read or are read to. Creating them comes with a huge responsibility because these books are helping shape their perspectives of the world.
When I started writing stories for children, I chose picture books because I had no formal writing experience and writing them seemed less daunting than novels and chapter books. I also felt that having my stories accompanied with illustrations would provide a more insightful and engaging experience to readers from varied backgrounds.
That being said, as I’ve come to discover, writing picture books is a challenge in itself – minimal text that leaves room for illustrations, a hook to grasp readers’ interests, use of literary devices, fun repetitive refrains, showing instead of telling, and so on. Other challenges (not confined to picture book writing) include willingness to accept your writing imperfections, taking critiques for your work, and tweaking your story or getting rid of characters dear to your heart. Most of all, achieving all of this while conveying the heart of the story.
It’s important to remember that every picture book has a unique journey and poses a different kind of challenge. For example, while working on my picture book biography, Seeker of Truth: Kailash Satyarthi’s fight to end Child Labor, I had to determine which life events to focus on to effectively tell the story of Kailash Satyarthi. Similarly, while writing Dancing in Thatha’s Footsteps, illustrated by Kavita Ramchandran (Yali Books, 2021), I had to carefully choose words in Tamil (a language from southern India) that would enhance the cultural experience the story offers, even if they were hard to pronounce.
Could you tell us about your latest book?
My upcoming picture book, Girls on Wheels, illustrated by Kate Wadsworth (Kokila Books) releases on August 8, 2023. Inspired by the skateboarding revolution happening in India, it is about three girls supporting one another through the ups and downs of learning to skateboard. One of the girls, Anila, is scared to skate when she returns to the skatepark after recovering from a fall. But with the help of her friends, she’s able to overcome her fears and skate again. This is a story about persistence, facing your fears, and accepting that failure is a necessary event on the path to success. Kate Wadsworth’s fabulous illustrations bring my story to life way better than I had imagined.
Through this book, I hope to inspire readers to follow their dreams, discover their potential, and learn from failure.
If you could tell your younger writer-self anything, what would it be?
Haha! I wish I could go back in time and help my younger writer-self change her future!!
Jokes apart, I would tell my younger writer-self the following:
- to not compare herself with others because everyone’s journey is different.
- to enjoy every moment of writing without thinking about whether or not it will get published.
- to try writing multiple genres and work on improving her craft.
- to occasionally take time off from writing and engage in other relaxing activities.
- to cherish moments with family and friends.
Srividhya Venkat has published several picture books, including Dancing In Thatha’s Footsteps, illustrated by Kavita Ramchandran (Yali Books, 2021), which was the 2022 South Asia Book Award winner and The Clever Tailor, illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath (Karadi Tales Picture Books, 2019) which was a 2020 South Asia Book Award Highly Commended Book. Her next picture book, Girls on Wheels (Penguin Random House, August 2023), illustrated by Kate Wadsworth, is inspired by the skateboarding revolution happening in India. Having grown up in India and lived across three countries, Srividhya loves stories that are unique, yet universal. When not reading or writing, she loves to listen to music, tinker with new recipes and explore the world outside her window. She now resides in the Chicago area with her family.
Suma Subramaniam’s interests in writing for children are centered around STEM/STEAM related topics as well as India and Indian heritage. When she’s not recruiting by day or writing by night, she’s volunteering for We Need Diverse Books and SCBWI or blogging about children’s books.
Her picture book, Namaste is a Greeting, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (Candlewick, 2022) is named one of Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of the Year 2023. It is also a finalist for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and has been selected as part of this year’s NYPL Storytime Collection to be read by all 88 branches of the New York Public Library System. It also made the best books of 2022 in The Guardian as well as Read Brightly. Her second book, She Sang for India: How M.S. Subbulakshmi Used her Voice for Change, illustrated by Shreya Gupta (FSG Books, 2022), is an Honor Book in Toka Box’s top South Asian Children’s Books of 2022 list. Suma is also the contributing author of The Hero Next Door anthology from Penguin Random House which is a finalist for the 2023 Massachusetts Book Award.
Her poems have been published in Poetry Foundation’s first Young People’s Poetry Edition of Poetry Magazine. She lives in Seattle with her family and a dog who watches baking shows. Learn more at https://sumasubramaniam.com.