WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
RAJANI LAROCCA AND ARCHANA SREENIVASAN
Last week, SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS was our Perfect Picture Book Friday feature. And today we are so very fortunate because both the author and the illustrator are stopping in and chatting with us.
Here’s a bit about author Rajani LaRocca:
I was born in Bangalore, India and immigrated to the U.S. as a baby. I spent most of my childhood in Louisville, Kentucky.
I attended Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, and trained in Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. I’ve been working as a primary care physician since 2001. I live in eastern Massachusetts with my wonderful husband, our two brilliant kids, and an impossibly cute dog. https://www.rajanilarocca.com/
And here’s a bit about illustrator Archana Screenivasan:
Archana Sreenivasan is an illustrator based in Bangalore, India. Her illustrations have been published in numerous magazines, children’s books, book covers, and comics. She studied animation film design at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and participated in a summer residency at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where she studied illustration. She finds the natural world and people-watching most inspiring and is endlessly fascinated by cats. https://archanasreenivasan.com/
ME: Welcome Rajani and Archana! I’m thrilled that you fascinating women stopped by today to chat about your creative life and journey…so, without further ado, here’s the first question.
Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
RAJANI: My favorite authors as a child included Ellen Raskin, who wrote The Westing Game, my favorite childhood book, and Madeleine L’Engle—I loved A Wrinkle in Time and all its sequels, and I loved how she combined contemporary stories with magic and sci-fi. I loved comic books, too: the American superhero variety as well as the Indian comics called Amar Chitra Katha that depicted stories from Indian mythology and history. Unfortunately, I never knew the names of the artists whose work I admired.
ARCHANA: My father encouraged both my older sister and me to read a lot. Growing up, we didn’t have a television at home, and we definitely didn’t have any fancy gadgets or even video games. Added to that, I was a serious introvert, so books and art were my favorite pastimes. We didn’t have access to a plethora of picture books like young children have today, but I remember reading a lot of Russian Folk Tales (some were picture books and some anthologies), and they had the most beautiful illustrations. Sadly, I never really noticed who the author/illustrators were for these books. I also read a lot of Amar Chitra Katha comics, Enid Blytons and Hans Christian Anderson fairytales, all of which I enjoyed as a child.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
RAJANI: I would tell my past self that all the disappointments and rejections in writing and publishing (and there are many!) pale in comparison to the joy of finding the write agent, editor, and publisher who not only love your stories but will push you to make them even better. And there is absolutely nothing more incredible than meeting a child who has read and loved your book. So keep going!
ARCHANA: That I don’t need to draw like anyone other than myself.
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
RAJANI: I’m a laptop person because I often can’t decipher my own handwriting (this is a side effect of being a doctor, I think). I tend to write inside, but I love to read outside. I write in my office—my room above our garage—but I also write in my bedroom, living room, kitchen…wherever. And as a working mother I have written in my car (while it was parked, of course), waiting at kids’ music lessons, in the parking lot of their schools, in airplanes, on trains, and once on a boat (on my phone). And when I’m really into a story and ideas flow while I’m driving, I dictate them into my phone before they fly away.
ARCHANA: I can get very easily distracted, so I need to be indoors while working. When I’m working on the very initial stages of a book (thumbnails, character sketches etc) I like to get comfortable on my sofa or bed with my sketchbook and pencils. A cat or two is often around giving me silent encouragement. At later stages I work at my computer with my Cintiq, so I’m at my desk.
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
RAJANI: Early mornings are best for drafting, which is the hardest part of writing for me. So I try to spend some time first thing in the morning putting down new words. I love revising and can do it any time of day, including late at night. I’m particularly inspired after exercising, walking my dog, and showering. I think my subconscious just loves those activities! In general, though, I just try to write when I can and not beat myself up about it. And because I love writing, I always find time for it. I’m a bit obsessed.
ARCHANA: The way I work has been through a lot of changes over the years. I’ve always been a morning person, and feel good when I’ve properly sunk my teeth into work before 11 am. However this pandemic shifted things again for me, and I found that I struggled all day to focus, and I’d only be able to get fully into the work in the evening, and that meant that I’d go on late into the night. But I don’t find this very healthy for me, and thankfully, I think its now shifting it back to morning/daytime working hours. I prefer to work on a schedule, but I’m learning that being flexible, and listening to my muse is also very important.
ME: Why do you write for children?
RAJANI: I write for children because the books that made the biggest difference in my life, that stay with me to this day, are the ones I read when I was a child. It’s an honor to write for children because young readers demand honesty, care deeply about fairness and justice, and still believe in magic.
ARCHANA: Now I don’t even question it anymore. But when I decided to move into illustration full time, it was because I found all other streams of design that I had dabbled in (Graphic Design, UI Design, Animation) didn’t offer me the right balance of design, self-expression and whimsy. Animation came pretty close, but I couldn’t find the kind of employment I’d enjoy. For me, illustration offered just the right balance, as well as a lot more autonomy over the work I create!
ME: Also, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.
RAJANI: My advice to aspiring writers:
- Read a lot. In your genre and outside it. Read a range of work from a range of creators.
- Write what you love.
- Constantly seek out ways to learn more and deepen your craft.
- Connect with other writers, who are an incredible source of support.
- Lean into what makes you weird and write the book only you could write.
- Put your work out there, because only by risking rejection can you succeed.
- We write fiction in order to tell emotional truths. You don’t need to write about yourself, but you do need to tap into real feelings to write a compelling story.
- I’m so honored be part of the writing and publishing world in partnership with publishers, educators, librarians, and parents to bring wonderful books to children.
ARCHANA: Maybe the only thing I’d like to say is – do what you love, and trust that things will work out eventually. The road might be bumpy, things may go in fits and starts, and it may take time, but if you find yourself repeatedly drawn to something, then allow yourself to be drawn!
WOW…thank you so much, ladies. We appreciate all of the insights you shared with us. And I know you’ve got one more sweet insight to share…a recipe for DOUBLE CHOCOLATE COOKIES WITH MALTED MILK!!!
Double Chocolate Cookies with Malted Milk
Makes 40-45 3-4 inch cookies
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup malted milk powder (I used King Arthur)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
2. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, cornstarch, and malted milk powder in a large bowl and stir with a whisk.
3. Cream butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add vanilla extract and eggs, one at a time, until everything is well-mixed.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar-egg mixture and mix until just incorporated.
5. Stir in chocolate chips.
6. Scoop in rounded tablespoons and space at least 1 ½ inches apart on cookie sheets.
7. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating sheets hallway through, until the cookies have lost their raw look. Cool on pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling. Enjoy!
Let’s see now…I’ve got butter, sugar, chocolate chips, and everything else…except for the malted milk powder. Guess I’ll be adding that to my shopping list so that I can try these delicious cookies! And I hope all of you will be adding SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS to your book-buying shopping list. But don’t forget that there is a GIVEAWAY…and if you leave a comment below AND on the Perfect Picture Book Friday post from last week, you’ll already have TWO chances to win a copy of this beautiful book.
Please share the post on social media – it’s a wonderful way to help spread the word about our favorite books, authors, and illustrators! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend.