Author Interview: Roshani Chokshi on The Star-Touched Queen

Roshani Chokshi author photoI was incredibly lucky to get to read The Star-Touched Queen early to review it for School Library Journal. That turned out to be a fortuitous privilege as the book quickly proved to be one of my favorite reads. Filled with lush imagery and myths re-imagined, not to mention a refreshing romance, this novel completely blew me away. I am delighted to have Roshani Chokshi here today to talk about her marvelous debut novel.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Roshani Chokshi (RC): I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve been writing “books” (I use this term loosely because looking back on those Word files makes me cringe) since I was in middle school and queried my first project in high school. I got to this point thanks to Neil Gaiman, to be honest. I really took his advice to write things and finish them to heart. I didn’t let myself be too precious with my projects, so I could always move on to the next story.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Star-Touched Queen? What drew you to Indian mythology as source material?

RC: The Star-Touched Queen was really inspired by the stories I heard as a child. Growing up in a mixed-race home (I am Filipina and Indian), my parents didn’t teach us their native languages. So we connected to our heritages through stories. I loved world mythology and the more that I read, the more I saw how similar these tales were. TSTQ grew out of that idea of showing how tales from across the globe were actually quite similar. It was exciting to re-imagine the stories I loved (Hades & Persephone, Beauty & The Beast, Savitri & Satyavan, etc…) through a different lens. I chose Indian mythology as a source material because my father is Indian, and I always loved the stories my Indian grandmother and aunt would tell me. Indian mythology is full of glorious, blood-thirsty myths. I wanted to give them some attention, and hopefully inspire readers to learn more about those tales.

MP: In working with Indian mythology, you are in the unique position of writing about myths that inform a widely practiced modern religion. Did that fact influence your writing or what you chose to explore in this novel?

RC: It definitely affected what I chose to explore. With TSTQ, I was careful to stay away from the main pantheon of deities. I chose stories from the fringes. Stories that didn’t have definite endings, some of which I lifted from the Puranic vedas and the stories mentioned within the Mahabharata. Hinduism has a strong storytelling tradition, and its interaction with mythos is complex and often varies region by region. I tried my best to be sensitive to that while still telling a story that was important to me.

MP: One of my favorite things about The Star-Touched Queen is that Maya is so ambitious and self-aware. She acknowledges the limits set upon her life while also seeing her own potential and wanting to use it. How did you go about balancing these two aspects of Maya’s personality? How did you set about creating her unique voice?

RC: Thank you! With Maya, I wanted to show someone who was power-hungry, but who also wasn’t prepared for the emotional impact of her choices. It’s strange, but one of the things that helped me get a handle on her character was coming up with personality quizzes for her, almost like something you’d see on Buzzfeed! It helped me access that strategic part of her mind and also balance her other wants.

MP: This book is set in two distinct kingdoms: Bharata and Akaran. Did any real locations help you envision these places? Did any specific myths help inform your vision of Maya’s world?

RC: Yes! I am an obsessive pinner, so I drew a lot of inspiration from my personal travels in India, and photos I found. This was my board for TSTQ:

In particular, I love the Mohabbat Maqabara in Junagadh and the Red Fort of New Delhi. The myth of Savitri & Satyavan had a huge influence on Maya’s world because it dealt with how fate and death shaped two lives and how a very clever female protagonist navigated her way around them. Also, one of my favorite fairytales is Bluebeard, and Amar’s palace is definitely inspired by that. Creepy rooms galore!

MP: The Star-Touched Queen is filled with memorable characters. Is there anyone you are especially excited for readers to meet?

RC: I am SO excited for readers to meet Kamala. I hope they search Craigslist for snarky flesh-eating demon horses.

MP: Did you have a favorite character to write? Which character would you say you most resemble?

RC: Kamala…and Kamala…which is not to say that I resemble a demon horse, but I gave her me and my best friend’s sense of humor and threw in some insanity for good measure.

MP: Did you have a favorite scene to write in The Star-Touched Queen or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?

RC: Maya and Amar in the glass garden is one of my favorite moments in the book. I think it gives readers a good sense of their personalities and vulnerabilities. I hope it makes them fall a little in love :) I’m also excited for readers to encounter the myth of Narasimha! My grandmother told me that myth when I was little. It used to terrify me! But I also loved how everything came down to interpretation.

MP: Can you share anything about your next project?

RC: Right now, I’m working on the companion tale to The Star-Touched Queen. Not going to say who it’s about, but I’m pretty sure most readers would have guessed by the end of TSTQ. The companion book takes place in Alaka, an Otherworld city where poisonous courtesans roam the courtyards, and menageries full of untold stories show off their plumage. The characters have been selected to participate in a Tournament that’s as beautiful as it is savage. I am so excited for it!

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

RC: My advice is always the same, so I’m lifting this answer from my Goodreads page :)

Empty your heart of bitterness. There’s no expiration date for success. There’s no time-frame for when something sells. There’s no point scrying mirrors, auguring entrails or setting alarms for 11:11 a.m./p.m. just to maximize on wishes because that does nothing. Read all that you can. Write sentences in weird places — under your bed, on a tree stump, in a crowded bar. Write sentences on weird things — on a leaf, under a candle, beside a pebble. Be supportive of other’s careers and don’t just lust after what they have. Set goals. Tiny goals: like 100 words a day, a new book a week. Meet them. Break them. Above all: write something only you can write. Don’t try to be anyone but yourself.

Thanks again to Roshani for this awesome interview.

You can see more about Roshani and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of The Star-Touched Queen.