About the Author: “Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh, even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup” (Bio from author’s website).
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Sadelle Gibson: What motivates you to write books for children?
Darshana Khiani: It’s something I do on the side; I actually have a full time job as an engineer in high tech. I just like children’s books, especially picture books, because one, they’re just so colorful and delightful and whimsical. There’s such a breadth of what you can do or what can be done in that format, from anthropomorphic to fantasy to realistic. It’s just very broad. The way I fell into children’s book writing, I wanted to do something creative and I had liked creative writing as a kid even though I enjoyed my math and science subjects way more. My children were picture book age and I was reading a lot of picture books and fell into the trap of, “Oh, how hard could this be?” Only had to write 300 to 500 words and the idea of writing a novel just seemed so much more daunting. It was a bit naive how I fell into children’s picture books, but I loved it. I enjoyed writing it, and, most importantly, I love the community. It is a long road and a long process. I started in earnest in 2011 and I got my first book deal seven years later.
SG: I want to talk about your book How To Wear A Sari. Where did the idea come from to write that book?
DK: So, that’s really interesting, and one thing I learned about my process is whatever I’m delving into gets infused inside of me. It’s two things that came together. That summer in 2017, I was studying second-person point of view. It was for a different story I wanted to write about a bear and how he was always being misjudged or something. So, I was studying second point of view books to understand what are the limitations, what can you do, what can’t you do. That was sort of infused in my brain. I had them in categories: type A, type B, type C, you know? Fall came around and that’s always a big holiday season, so in salvation culture, I’m Indian—Indian-American and Diwali is big and stuff. I don’t have a lot of clothes and I’m thinking, “Okay, whose parties are coming up?” and “What should I wear at this party versus this dinner party?” I’m going through this and I’m thinking about, “Gosh, saris are so beautiful and elegant.” My younger cousins are really good at wearing it, somehow it missed my age range, we missed learning how to wear a sari, and it’s just so much work. It would take me half an hour to 40 minutes just to put it on because I keep re-doing parts of it. I’m like, “Gosh, you know, what would this be like for a kid?” I’m thinking about my kids when they were little loved to wear my shoes, they would take my shoes out of the shoe closet, wear my high heels and walk around. There’s plenty of dress up books. I think there’s Fancy Nancy, you know where it’s all about being older. I’m like, “Hm, I could see this in South Asian.” You know, an Indian character, a girl trying to wear a sari, a girl trying to be grown up, I can see it. That was sort of the inspiration, how that would go. I think because I had been studying second point of view books, the first draft came out that way and that was the start. It was the merging of the second point of view in my head.
SG: So you wrote this book from personal experience?
DK: Sort of, I mean, yeah I had to look up steps. Break it down, you know? Then just use my imagination of what could go wrong?
SG: Do you think this book teaches kids to not grow up too fast?
DK: I don’t know about that. The way I talk about it when I describe it is that it’s normal to want to prove yourself to people who are older than you and to show them, and that’s okay. Just know that it may take a couple of tries and you might make mistakes, and that’s okay.
SG: This was your debut book, correct? I know you already talked about the publishing process but how was the process for you the first time and are there any other tips for other authors you want to share?
DK: My first piece of advice is your agent is there to support you, and at least with my agent, if I have questions I know I can ask anything. If I don’t understand something, is it okay to work on a revision even though I haven’t seen the contract yet? I didn’t realize the pace things go. Always keep your agent in the loop. If you don’t understand something that an editor gives you advice for and it doesn’t resonate, you don’t have to do everything they say. If they’re pointing something out it probably means there’s something missing or something they’re misunderstanding. I find that whenever I’m not in agreement or I feel strongly, I’ll either email or say, “Can we have a quick chat on the phone and discuss it?” There’s obviously something that needs to be fixed and it may not be exactly what they say. You know, it’s your job as a writer to make the best of what you can.
SG: One last question, do you have any future projects coming up?
DK: No, I don’t. The last book came out in September but what I’m learning from other writers is that there’s fertile periods and hollow periods, and, right now, the industry is horribly slow. Everyone is saying that there is a lot of change happening so, you know, it’s a good time to learn and focus on craft. I still have picture books that I’m revising and ones that my agent is selling out, so hopefully one of those will land. In the meantime, I’ve always wanted to write a novel, and I tried once or twice but, you know, ended up dropping it. This past fall I was taking a middle grade class and working on a story that I’m going to call my learning story. If it’s viable enough to sell, great. If not, that’s okay. That’s where my head is focused right now.
Sadelle Gibson, Pine Reads Review Writer