It’s been a while since I did an author interview. And this series MAY be coming to a close because of some changes in my circumstances – one VERY good and one not so good at all. But more on that later. For now, I am so pleased to welcome debut YA novelist, Sangu Mandanna to my little corner of the Internet. Her novel The Lost Girl, has been called “absorbing” and “moving without being sentimental” by Booklist.
RLM: Tell me a little about your life and education.
SM: I spent the first eighteen years of my life in India and had what some might call a fairly eventful childhood (chased by elephants, eyed up as a snack by leopards, and let’s not forget the perilous jungle of high school!) I moved to the UK in 2007, first for university (English Lit and creative writing) and then to stay on and write. I have a husband, a toddler, and a baby. No pets, though my toddler wants bunnies. If we ever get them, we’re going to name them Phryne and Sherlock.
RLM: Describe your daily writing practice.
SM: Sporadic and undisciplined! Before I had children, writing time was easy to come by. Now I have to squeeze it out whenever I can and usually just end up writing for a few hours before bed. I used to have a routine too; I’d sit at my desk, hot drink in tow, put some music on, and get lost in the book. These days I never use my desk and usually forget both the hot drink and the music. I just wedge myself into my favourite corner of the sofa and write.
RLM: What drew you to write YA? Why do you think the YA genre has taken off so explosively in the past decade or so?
SM: It wasn’t a deliberate choice. I’ve always loved children’s books, but I’ve also always loved books for adults and I’ve always just written what I wanted. When I first started writing “seriously”, I was fifteen and it was natural to write for that age group. The instinct for that never went away, even as I grew older, and it was only after I finished the first draft of The Lost Girl that I looked at it and realised it was YA and decided to submit it to agents as such.
As for why YA has exploded in the past ten years or so, I honestly don’t know. There were books for teenagers before that, but no one cared until it became okay for adults to read those books too. I feel like a couple of authors came along (JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer) and their books become beloved by millions of adults as well as by the target audience and so suddenly the books gained a new respect. It’s aggravating, actually, that YA is still only really respected if adults give it their seal of approval.
RLM: Do you think you will stay in the YA realm or eventually venture into adult fiction?
SM: I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of YA, but I’m drawn to themes and subjects more than to markets. So yes, I would absolutely write adult fiction if the right story came along!
RLM: What, in your opinion, is the key to creating multi-dimensional characters?
SM: Flaws. Quirks. Characters don’t have to be likable, but they do need to feel real and they need to be understandable. They need to have strengths that make them shine and flaws that get them in trouble. Real people behave in realistic and often flawed ways, and characters need to do the same thing even if it’s not always the “best” thing.
RLM: Do you ever write yourself into a corner? If so, how do you work around that?
SM: I do it all the time! And getting out of it can be really difficult because it usually involves undoing an entire plot point so that you can make some sense again. Just recently I wrote an entire scene that revolved around communications not working, and then one of the key plot points of the scene was one of the characters telling another that he’d sent a message to someone else. And I didn’t even notice this until a third reread, when I stopped and was like “now how the hell did he do that when the whole point is no one can send messages right now?!” I had to rewrite the entire chapter. I think that’s the only solution when you back yourself into a corner, going back to the last point where things could be different and making them different from there on out.
RLM: Is there any particular message in The Lost Girl that you hope readers grasp?
SM: You know, there isn’t. I hope readers come out of the book feeling moved in some way, but that’s it. Anything else they take from the book is up to them.
RLM: What do you think is the most difficult thing about writing a novel? And what is the easiest?
SM: For me, the hardest thing is finishing it. And so the easiest is starting. I think it’s very easy to start a story, once an idea sparks to life, but it’s hard to finish. Stories are hard. They’re awkward and unwieldy and drain your soul in good and bad ways. Pretty much every author I know loses heart and gives up halfway through a first draft. The point is to push past that, stick with the book because you love it, and finish it. I’ve always found it so much easier to edit a book than it is to write it that first time.
RLM: From first word to finished, polished draft, how long did it take you to write The Lost Girl?
SM: It took me about five months to get from that first word to a draft I felt was ready to submit to agents. That said, the version readers will find in the final book took almost another two years of edits with my agent, editor, and copyeditors.
RLM: What can we look forward to next from you?
SM: I’m working on a space fantasy inspired by Indian mythology, and I’m very excited about it, so I very much hope that that’s the next thing readers get from me!