I’m thrilled to welcome Jyoti Gopal to Cynsations today!
You lived in many countries before settling down in the United States. How did that experience inform you as an author?
Living outside one’s culture, learning different languages, straddling different ways of being – these were gifts, opportunities to expand and broaden my horizons, be flexible and embrace change, see the world through multiple lenses. Of course, living in many countries also came with the challenge of never feeling like I quite fit anywhere and always feeling like I am straddling worlds.
Those dueling feelings have informed who I am as an author and what I write. I started writing for children to share stories that I felt weren’t being told, that neither I nor my daughters had growing up. I wanted children, like my girls, to see themselves in stories. And I also wanted to broaden and expand the kinds of stories available for all young readers so that they can see the world through more than one lens.
Tell us about your 2023 books. How did you find the inspiration for writing them?
My 2023 books were both inspired by real-life events.
The spark for Desert Queen, illustrated by Svabhu Kohli (Levine Querido, 2023) was lit in 2018. I was visiting the Thar Desert in Rajasthan and saw Queen Harish perform. The audience, including me and my whole family, were absolutely mesmerized, not just by the skill of the performance but by her charisma and the joy she exuded. I was so impressed with how Queen Harish held us all in the palm of her hands and how much fun we had.
I met her briefly afterwards, and she gave me her card so we could talk later, because I knew right then that I wanted to write her story. I was hoping to meet with her the next time I visited India, but tragically, she died in a car accident less than six months later.
I ended up reading a lot of newspaper articles, watching YouTube videos of her performances at weddings, TV shows, festivals, and watching interviews Harish gave to local TV networks.
The troupe was also featured in a documentary about folk artists and the gypsy tradition. My daughter was able to unearth it for me from the Northwestern University stacks!
One Sweet Song, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez (Penguin Random House, 2024) was written during the beginning of the pandemic when the world was on lockdown. It was inspired by the videos of Italians singing and playing music for each other from their balconies. It was so poignant – despite the pain of being isolated and the worry of a global pandemic, communities found ways to connect and create joy through music. I wanted to capture that feeling of connection through a shared experience, and that is how One Sweet Song was born.
You’re currently working on multiple projects. Could you walk us through your process for juggling different projects at the same time?
I try to make sure I divide up my day so that I get some writing done, some research done, and some marketing work done. I have several works-in-progress that I am juggling, but with two picture books out last year (American Desi and My Paati’s Saris), and two more this year, I have less time for writing than I thought I would.
In fact, I have days where I get no writing done at all! But I can’t blame that only on marketing work. Even before my first book came out and thoughts about marketing were only vague blips on the horizon, I had days when I did not want to or could not write. At first, I would worry about this, because writers are often told about the importance of writing something, anything, every day. But I grew to realize that we all have our own process and mine includes no-writing days!
How do you plan your research for every book?
It really depends on the book. A couple of my [nonfiction] NF picture books were sparked by research that I was doing for something else entirely! I ended up going down rabbit holes of fascinating information and sideroads and back alleys of nuggets and tidbits. When I am in this space, I just love it. I don’t have any sense of what I am going to write about exactly, no plan, I just know that I am fascinated and intrigued and curious, so I just read, read, read, watch a lot of videos, documentaries, talk to experts and gather information. In the process , I think about how cool my students would find this information and then I start thinking about how to condense and translate it into a picture book, into the story I want to tell.
For a couple of others, like Desert Queen and an unannounced NF that just sold, I knew what I wanted to write about so the research was more targeted and defined. Yet, I somehow still meandered and wandered through lots of information. That seems to be my research style!
Please share any writing or publishing traditions you keep.
On the day of my book releases, I donate a book purchase, which comes with a dedication, to the New York Public Library in honor of my agent and editors. I send them a copy of the dedication to keep.
The NYPL can’t tell me which books the dedications are in, but I love the idea that my editors’ and my agent’s names will forever circulate in my city’s library system…book creators who have added to the wondrous collection.
Jyoti Rajan Gopal is a writer, mom and kindergarten teacher. Growing up, she lived in Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, India and China. She now lives in New York, in a quirky old Victorian in Yonkers, with her husband, where they raised their two daughters. Her favorite place in the house is the wrap around porch where she loves to gather with family or friends, read, write and drink coffee.
Jyoti writes stories that speak to her heart, that reflect her multiple identities, that she wishes her daughters had growing up, that she wishes her students had now.
When not writing or teaching, she loves to read – a lot! – work in her garden, dance and explore the many New York State Park trails.
You can find her on Twitter or Instagram or connect with her through her website.
Suma Subramaniam‘s picture books include Namaste is a Greeting (Crystal Kite Award Winner), She Sang for India, The Runaway Dosa, and more. Suma is also the contributing author of The Hero Next Door (Finalist -Massachusetts Book Award). Her poems have been published in Poetry Magazine, What is Hope?, and other anthologies for children. She lives in Seattle with her family and a dog who will do anything for Indian sweets and snacks.