Ask the Author: Payal Doshi

Photo credit: Rachel Nadeau

What would you like readers to know about you?

Hi Maddie! Thank you so much for having me! I’m Payal Doshi and I’m from India. I was born and raised in the city of Mumbai where I lived until I was 27 years old before moving to the U.S. to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing from The New School, NY. Prior to that I had studied business management, worked in advertising, and then magazine publishing. Only after I dabbled in all those things did I realize I was happiest when I was writing stories! I love writing middle grade fantasy books with South Asian protagonists and South Asian inspired settings.

What is your book about for those who haven’t read it? 

REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR is the story about Rea Chettri, an introverted but curious girl from Darjeeling, India, whose life gets turned on its head on the night of her twelfth birthday. After a fight with her twin brother Rohan, Rea discovers that he has gone missing. Her Amma is distraught and blames Rea for his disappearance. So, she takes matters into her own hands. Ordinarily, Rea prefers her own company (often feeling misunderstood by others) but this time she asks her neighbor Leela for help. Together, they visit the village fortune-teller whose powers of divination set them off on a thrilling quest to find Rohan. In the shade of night, they portal into an otherworldly realm and travel to Astranthia, a land full of magic and whimsy. There, Rea and Leela meet Xeranther, an Astranthian barrow boy, and Flula, a pari, and with their help Rea must battle evil creatures, confront a ruthless villain, and find out why Rohan has been captured.  

The heart of this adventure story though lies in Rea’s relationships with the people in her life. Her Baba died when she was a baby and even though she can’t remember his face, she misses him dearly. But when she asks to know more about him her Amma and Bajai, her grandmother, evade the topic. Her brother who she was once inseparable from is now the popular kid in school and spends most of his time with his friends. Rea, on the other hand, has always struggled socially, but in her mission to find Rohan she must learn to trust others, find the courage within her, and understand the meaning of friendship and loyalty. Adding to all that, she discovers dark truths about her past that have been hidden from her. Grappling with betrayal and failing courage, Rea has to find a way to rescue Rohan and save the realm of Astranthia from a potentially deadly fate. But the clock is ticking!   

What has been your inspiration for writing it? 

When I sat to write this book, I wondered if Lyra Belacqua, Percy Jackson, and Katniss Everdeen can have incredible adventures, why can’t a girl from India have them too? As a kid, I loved to read but I never saw myself in books. A girl like me never got to be the hero, have magic, or save a realm. I wanted to change that. So, I decided to write a fantasy story rooted in Indian culture that had kids from India who went off on thrilling adventures and became heroes! It’s a story I would have loved to read as a kid and one in which I saw myself.  

I was also inspired to set the ‘India’ part of the story in Darjeeling which is a stunning hill station in the northeast part of the country ensconced within hills, the view of the majestic Himalayas and rolling tea plantations. I love reading books in which the setting feels like a character in itself and I wanted to break the stereotype some people have of the country by portraying a region of India that was beautiful and underrated with respect to its landscape and people.  

When it came to my main characters, I strived to do the opposite—I wanted to show the world that these kids were just like every other kid. I wanted to show young readers that being Indian was only one facet of their identities. As someone who grew up loving books with white characters, I knew that the color of a character’s skin and where they lived were just details like the color of their hair or the shoes they wore or their favorite sport. It didn’t differentiate them from me in a way that made them unrelatable. So, when I sat to write Rea, Leela, and Rohan—I gave them well-rounded personalities with each of them having their own strengths and insecurities. Rea is a flawed but curious girl who is on the hunt for answers to questions that plague her. Leela is a ray of sunshine, but she feels overlooked by her family. Rohan is the popular kid in school, but he comes to learn how that affects his sister. 

Diverse representation, especially South Asian representation, is a mission close to my heart. I want South Asian kids to feel seen when they read my book, feel joy and pride for their culture, and know that their stories deserve to be celebrated. At the same time, I wanted to write a story that all kids would enjoy regardless of color, race, nationality, and culture.  

What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write? 

My favorite part to write was Chapter 18: The Sea of Serpent Lilies. It was a scene I knew I wanted to include in the book very early on and it came to me almost fully formed. It’s also a pivotal part of the book – I don’t want to give too much away – but it’s where we see Rea and her friend Leela navigating these deadly magical waters in an attempt to find Rea’s missing twin brother Rohan. The scene gave me the opportunity to show Rea and Leela’s fear and courage in the face of battling the scary serpent lilies while their boat was danger of being eaten up and them potentially dying! I love writing action scenes and this one had action, drama, a cliffhanger and the first sprinklings of magic! Although this scene went through its fair share of revisions, it remains one of the few scenes that stayed pretty close to its original content. 

What books or authors inspired you to become a writer? 

The books that made me fall in love with storytelling were the books I read when I was a young middle-schooler. I devoured Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Nancy Drew Files, and all the books by Enid Blyton. They made me escape into incredible worlds and go off on adventures. When I decided to write my book, I wanted to capture the essence of those stories and the nostalgia and excitement they evoked. As an adult, I was greatly inspired by the prose and writing styles of His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman and the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante.  

What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book? 

My advice to aspiring writers is to never give up and to keep writing until they reach that final period. First drafts are notoriously hard to write and are meant to be terrible but it’s much easier to mold a fully written story than to keep revising and perfecting what has been written only to have an incomplete manuscript by the end of it. 

 
Learn more at www.payaldoshiauthor.com, @payaldoshiauthor on Instagram and @payaldwrites on Twitter. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, book one in The Chronicles of Astranthia series releases June 15, 2021 from Mango and Marigold Press. 

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