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How to Grow Your Career as an Author: Interview with Rajani LaRocca and Sona and the Golden Beasts Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m beyond thrilled to have Rajani LaRocca here to share about her new MG fantasy Sona and the Golden Beasts giveaway. I’m super excited to read it because it’s a fantasy that deals with a lot of contemporary issues. And I’m a huge fan of Rajani’s, so I already know it’ll be good. You can learn more about Rajani by reading her guest post with her agent Brent Taylor when she was a debut author in 2019.

Here’s a blurb of Sona and the Golden Beasts from Goodreads:

Sona hears music everywhere, even though it has been outlawed in the land of Devia. Sona is a descendant of the Malechs—foreigners who took over the governing of Devia hundreds of years ago. Malechs put Devans to work mining gems and forbade music so Devans couldn’t cast their magic.

But Sona’s world shifts after discovering an orphaned wolf pup. She believes the pup, with its golden ears, might be related to one of the five sacred beasts of Devia which a Malechian Hunter has been killing, one by one. And when someone Sona loves falls ill, she is drawn into a quest with a Devan boy to retrieve the nectar of life.

On the perilous journey, Sona must try to avoid the deadly Hunter while keeping her companions safe. As she uncovers secrets about the Malechian empire and her own identity, Sona realizes that the fate of the sacred beasts and the future of Devia, just might come down to her.

Before I get to Rajani’s interview post, I have my IWSG post.

Posting: The first Wednesday is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The awesome co-hosts this month are: Kristina Kelly, Miffie Seideman, Jean Davis, and Liza @ Middle Passages!

Optional Question: Have you “played” with Al to write those nasty synopsis, or do you refuse to go that route? How do you feel about Al’s impact on creative writing?

I haven't used Al to write a synopsis because I haven’t had to write one since I started using Al. But I see Al as a tool to use to write synopsis, blurbs, outlines, and other things related to writing that don’t involve writing a manuscript. As I’ve discussed in other posts, I already use Al to write articles for attorney websites for my job, and then add to them and edit the articles heavily.

I don’t think Al has a place in writing stories. In my opinion, those should all be written by an author. As a reader, I’m not interested in reading Al-generated books.

Interview With Rajani LaRocca on How to Grow Your Career as an Author

Hi Rajani! Thanks so much for joining us.

Hi Natalie! I’m excited to be doing this interview with you.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I have loved books for my entire life and did a lot of creative writing in elementary through high school. I also loved math and science and decided at a young age that I wanted to go into medicine someday.

In my high school creative writing class, I told my teacher, “I love writing, but I know this isn’t going to be my career. One day, I hope I can become a doctor.”

He said, “Who says you have to choose?” And the next day, he brought in a bunch of books by authors who happened to be doctors.

That moment planted a seed in my head—one that didn’t sprout until decades later, when I’d finished college, medical school, and residency, was established in my medical practice, and my own children were in school.

I started taking writing classes to reignite my creativity. At first, I didn’t intend to try to be published. But I quickly realized I wanted to write for kids, because the books I read as a child had the biggest influence on me. And so if I wanted anyone other than my own children to read my stories, I needed to try to get published. I made wonderful writing friends and critique partners who were all on the same path. I rolled up my sleeves and worked hard to make my writing as good as it could possibly be.

After several years and many rejections, I signed with my wonderful agent. And six years later, I have published fifteen books for young readers, with three more coming this year, and even more on the way. It’s truly been an incredible journey, and I’m very grateful.

2. Where did you get the idea for Sona and the Golden Beasts?

I’ve always been a huge fan of fantasy. I grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia, The Book of Three, On a Pale Horse, and The Lord of the Rings. I absolutely loved those books and read them over and over.

But as I got older, I reflected on the fact that despite my love for these stories, they tended to portray characters from other (non-European, darker-skinned) cultures as “bad.”

I’m a big fan of British literature and have visited Britain many times and enjoyed myself every time. But thinking with the British colonization of India and its aftermath has been difficult for me. I recognize that my parents speaking English and immigrating to the U.S. is a result of that colonial history, and I wouldn’t be the person I am without it. But that doesn’t make the centuries-long British exploitation of India—and other places all over the world—okay.

So that’s how I came up with the idea for Sona and the Golden Beasts. I wanted to write a fantasy adventure like the ones I’ve always loved, but to center a society that’s more like my own, and to tackle the issues of colonialism and who gets to tell history.

Your Writing Process and Growing Your Career as an Author

3. I’ve loved those books since I was a kid too. And there weren’t any books with Chinese-American girls for my daughter, who was adopted from China when she was a kid either. Your story deals with a lot of contemporary issues in a fantasy setting. Share a bit about why you decided to include these themes in Sona and the Golden Beasts and how this affected your world-building.

I knew I wanted to write about two different sets of people—the Devans, the native residents of Devia, and the Malech—the colonizing people, some of whom have lived in Devia for several generations. I knew that the Devans were pacifists and would not kill, not even to rid themselves of the colonizing force, and the Malechs felt their own willingness to use force made them superior. I created myths and legends for both the Devans and the Malechs. The main distinguishing physical characteristic between the two peoples is that Devans have golden ears, and the Malechs do not. So the unfair laws that the Malechs have imposed upon the Devans include forcing them to keep their ears visible at all times, and outlawing music, which is how Devans cast magic.

It's clear that the situation in Devia is unjust. But in terms of the characters, I wanted to make it much less clear who is “good” and who is “bad.” Early on, someone Sona loves tells Sona that “people are not good or bad. It is our actions that are good or bad.” Sona is a Malech, but because she loves a Devan woman who helped raise her, she goes on a quest to find the Nectar of Life to help save that person’s life. And Sona hears music everywhere and has a special affinity for animals—both of which are Devan characteristics. When she finds an orphaned wolf pup with golden ears, Sona thinks the pup must be related to one of the five Golden Beasts of Devia, which legends say are vital to the country. Traveling across the country with the wolf pup, a broken-down pony, and a Devan boy named Raag, Sona discovers secrets about the Malechian Empire and her own background and ends up on a mission to save all of Devia . . . all while trying to evade a vicious Malechian hunter.

4. This is your sixth published novel, and Rohan Murthy Has a Plan will be released in in May 2024. You’ve also had nine picture books published with another being published in 2024—all since you debuted in 2019. Plus, you’re a doctor, wife, and mother. How do you squeeze in the time to write and stay so productive?

When you love something, you make time for it. Writing started off as something I did only for myself, and so I found time to do it. And like most working moms, I wasn’t precious about when or when I wrote. I would write early in the morning, or late at night. I would write while parked waiting for my kids to get out of school, or in the lobby while they were at their piano lessons. I wrote in planes and trains and cars (although not while driving!)

We can’t control many things in publishing or in life, but we can control our own actions. So I try to be smart about planning on my time and try to always meet my deadlines.

When I first came back to writing, I was afraid I’d run out of ideas. Now I know that I have too many ideas, and I have to choose carefully what I work on next!

5. That’s great advice to squeeze in the time to write when you can. How did you plot out Sona and the Golden Beasts? How has the process of plotting out your novels changed since you wrote Midsummer’s Mayhem, your debut novel?

Midsummer’s Mayhem was the book that taught me, through trial and error, how to write a book . . . and it took me 4+ years to write. Since then, I have streamlined my process a bit more and figure out the main plot points before I start writing. But I don’t figure everything out, and still leave a lot of the story to play out while I’m drafting.

6. It sounds like we have similar plotting systems. How long does it take for you to draft and revise a manuscript before submitting it to your publisher? Share some tips on how writers can write faster and be more productive like you.

Some books still take longer than others, but in general it takes me 9-12 months to draft and revise a novel so it’s in the right shape to send to my editor. I do a decent amount of prep work before drafting. Some things I’ve found helpful are:

1.     Character work: For my main characters, I figure out some characteristics and quirks and big personality traits (what they love, what they fear, what they want, etc).

2.     Plot: I figure out big plot points and brainstorm a list of possible scenes, then whittle those down.

3.     Using my time strategically. Drafting a novel is the hardest thing to do (for me), so I set aside time when I’m at my best—first thing in the morning, before anyone is asking me for anything.

 Your Journey to Publication and How It's Grown

 7. You’re giving me hope that I can learn to write faster like you. Brent Taylor is your agent. How did he become your agent, and what was your road to publication like?

In 2017, I was lucky enough to have Midsummer’s Mayhem selected for Pitch Wars. My mentor was amazing author Joy McCullough, and she gave me fantastic editing advice and held my hand (virtually) all the way through as I revised the novel I’d been working on for 4 years in just a few weeks! At the end of Pitch Wars, Brent was the first agent to request the manuscript, and when I sent it, he read it right away and responded the same night, asking to talk the next day. Although I received other offers of representation, I knew that Brent was the right agent for me. In 2018, we sold Midsummer’s Mayhem and four picture books, and the rest is history.

That said, I’ve had, and continue to have, plenty of rejection. It’s a part of publishing that never goes away.

8. Many authors only have a few books published. You’ve had an amazing number of picture books and middle grade books published since 2019. How have you been so successful in continuing to sell so many books? What advice do you have for the debut authors hoping to sell more books?

My biggest piece of advice is to write the best book(s) you can.

I’m interested in lots of different things, and so I write about lots of different things. And I believe that “diversifying”—writing novels and picture books, fiction and nonfiction, serious and funny, in poetry and prose—has helped me publish a lot of books.

Promoting Your Books

9. Share about how you developed your social media platform and marketed Midsummer’s Mayhem. How have you changed your marketing of your books and growing your social media platforms since you were a debut author?

For me, social media and marketing need to be rooted in fun and joy, so that’s what I focus on. When it gets too stressful, I take a step back. I’m part of a book promotion group, the Soaring 20s, and it’s always more fun to market with other people.

10. That would be really helpful to work with a group of authors on marketing each other’s books. What advice do you have for aspiring writers and debut authors about building their social media platforms and marketing their first book?

Do what you enjoy, and don’t feel obligated to do anything you don’t like. Team up with friends. Be genuine and stay positive.

11. What are you working on now?

I have my first YA novel (!) coming next year. I’m also working on some picture books and a graphic novel idea as well as my next MG novel!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Rajani. You can find Rajani at  

Thanks so much for having me!

Website: https://www.rajanilarocca.com/

Instagram: @rajanilarocca

X: @rajanilarocca

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rajanilaroccawriter

 Giveaway Details

 Rajani’s publisher is generously offering a hardback of Sona and the Golden Beasts for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by March 16th. If your email is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter or Rajani on her social media sites, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This book giveaway is U.S.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Upcoming Interviews, Guest Posts, and Blog Hops

Monday, March 11th I have an agent spotlight interview with Rebecca Lawrence and a query critique giveaway

Saturday, March 16th I’m participating in the Chasing Rainbows Giveaway Hop

Monday, March 18th I have an interview with debut author Anne Rellihan and a giveaway of her MG contemporary/mystery Not the Worst Friend in the World

Wednesday, March 20th I have an agent spotlight interview with Stuti Telidevara and a query critique giveaway

Monday, March 27th I have an agent/author guest post by agent Rachel Orr and debut author Cathy Carr and a giveaway of Cathy’s MG contemporary Lost Kites and Other Treasures

Friday, April 1st I’m participating in the Honey Bunny Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, April 3rd I have an interview with debut author Trish Lundy and a giveaway of her YA thriller The One That Got Away With Murder

I hope to see you on Monday!

 

 

49 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Having a supportive teacher is the best! Glad you were able to realize both of your dreams. :)

Janet Alcorn said...

Great interview! And I love the line about if you love something, you make time for it. That could be useful in reverse, too: If you aren't making time for something, maybe you don't actually love it and should let it go. I'll have to think about that.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm not interested in reading an AI produced story either.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

So much to think about with all of this AI information! For now, I'm just keeping my head down and writing my stories. :)

Melissa said...

I don't want to read AI-generated books, at least not ones that haven't been expertly guided and heavily edited. Thanks for visiting my blog.

emaginette said...

I'd love to look over your shoulder as you work with AI. Can't imagine it for nf. ;-)

Anna from elements of emaginette

Pat Garcia said...

Hi,
I am also not interested in reading AI-generated fiction or non-fiction.
Have a lovely month of March.

Shalom shalom,
Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

Miffie Seideman said...

I loved reading this interview. I entered Pitch Wars about that same year. It's interesting to see what she was able to do with her manuscript since then and to hear about her writing process. Thank you for this insight.

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

Great stuff there! Thanks for sharing.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's impressive - all of those books and she's doctor and a mother.

Natalie, you've found a good use for AI writing.

Sherry Ellis said...

Great interview! I'm amazed that she still finds time to write even as busy as she is!

Victoria Marie Lees said...

Wonderful interview. Bravo to Rajani on all her success. And thank you for the tips about picture books and MG novels.

Natalie, you have found a genuine use for AI. I agree that creating fiction should stay with humans performing the writing tasks. Thanks for a great post!

diedre Knight said...

Hi, Natalie!

Rajani is certainly an amazing woman, considering all of her accomplishments. I don't know how she does it, but what an inspiration!

I agree with you regarding the choice (thankfully, we still have one) between genuine creativity and AI-generated literature. While I realize the possible benefits, such as how you use it, I worry that the line is far too thin to trust.

Terrific interview, as usual, Natalie. Have a wonderful month!

C.D. Gallant-King said...

Thank you for your feedback on AI writing - it absolutely has use in your line of work, and you're far more open to it than many people I've run across today.

Brenda said...

I as well am not interested in reading AI generated literature. Loved the interview and congratulations to Rajani on the release of her new book.

Olga Godim said...

Well said, Natalie. As a reader, I'm also not interested in reading anything written by an AI. On the other hand, the idea of an AI as a tool is very attractive.
Rajani, the cover of your Sona book is gorgeous! I would pick it up on the strength of the cover alone.

Jacqui said...

Darling book covers. I'm finding a niche for AI writing which doesn't include creativity, emotion, personal experiences. Not sure what that leaves.

Liz A. said...

I have no idea how she has time to do all of that and be a doctor. Yikes.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful interview, Natalie.

Leigh Caron said...

Great interview! It motivates reading how other authors squeeze in time to write. Also,I wouldn't be proud of my writing if AI did it for me. Editing? That's okay, but still real life editors are still necessary.

Loni Townsend said...

I could see AI being helpful with the non-fiction stuff, things that have sources with facts you can pull from. But yeah, I think I'd rather read an author's creative fiction, not a computer's.

Carol Kilgore said...

I agree that novels need to be written by humans. They're all about human nature, so nothing else makes sense. We understand each other more than we are aware.

Jean Davis said...

Using AI as a tool makes sense. Leave creativity to the humans. :)
Great interview!

Juneta key said...

Great post. AI as assistance can be helpful but I agree not interested in reading AI generated stories.

cleemckenzie said...

No place for AI in the creative part of book writing. Yes. I agree. Unfortunately, I think it already has made inroads. !@#!!

So many beautiful books here today! Congratulations to everyone.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Rajani's book sounds very interesting. Very cool where she got her inspiration from. It was good to hear how AI is helpful in something other than creating fiction.

Greg Pattridge said...

Fantastic interview. Rajani's writing process is thorough and timely. Thanks for the information about the new book, and I'm looking forward to hearing more about the YA plot she is writing.

Chris_Shestak_Author said...

I love Rajani's books. It was fascinating to learn about her process

Fundy Blue said...

What a great interview with Rajani, Natalie! I wish I could be as productive as you, my friend. Im too ADHD. Trying to manage all you do would have me overwhelmed and sobbing on the floor. Is a clone to help me AI ~ lol! Have a great March!

traveler said...

A brilliant and creative author and a talented and amazing woman. What a career and so much strength and ability. Wonderful interview. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com.

Annmarie Weeks said...

These books all look great, and I know my niece will be looking forward to the upcoming YA novel! I follow your blog via email at amweeksoc@comcast.net

Jennifer Lane said...

I haven't used AI either.

Kudos to Rajani's teacher for challenging the binary of being a doctor or a writer.

Hope you have a good March, Natalie!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

AI can be helpful, but it's not the be all and end all.

Sona and the Golden Beasts sounds like a great read.

Nancy P said...

Gadget, Twitter followers Positive.ideas.4youATgmail.com

Shannon Lawrence said...

I can see AI being a tool for things outside of fiction. I just wish they'd focus on solving problems that exist, not making new ones.

I love that the teacher brought in those books to inspire. Sounds like a wonderful book.

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.

Melissa Miles said...

Great interview! I can't wait to read this one. Rajani is an inspiration.

Valinora Troy said...

Great interview, and the book sounds just the kind of book I like. I'm sorry I am not eligible to enter the competition! BTW I agree with you about AI and books (and any creative endeavour), there's no place for it in the arts. Thanks for sharing!

Kate Larkindale said...

Great interview! Best of luck with the book release, Rajani!

Danielle H. said...

I am a huge fan of this author's writing and am excited to read about her venture into YA also. I follow Rajani on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I also follow Natalie on Twitter and shared this post on tumblr. Thank you so much for this informative interview--I'm inspired and amazed how prolific Rajani is with all her life responsibilities.

Aziza E said...

Looks like a good book

Denise Covey said...

Hi Natalie!
I'm glad you find AI helpful. You will when you come to the synopsis too! I suspect all authors will learn to appreciate its helpfulness as they stop being scared of it.

A long interview. I'll have to return!

Lidy said...

Great interview and congrats on the publication!

Wouldn't read an AI generated book either.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Maybe now a mistake in a book will be proof that it's done by a human and not a glaring editing fail. LOL

Donna K. Weaver said...

There's quite a skill in posing the right instructions to AI, so I can see a whole new job skill for people.

DMS said...

I met Rajani at a CT writing conference a few years ago. She is so nice and it is wonderful to see her spotlighted here. Such a great interview. Wishing her all the best. Congrats!

Thanks for the chance to win a copy. :)
~Jess

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I agree with you about AI.
The book sounds awesome -- added it to my TBR :-)

Ronel visiting for IWSG day If You Don’t Have Time to Read…

Kara Marsee said...

So wonderful to read more about Rajani and her books! I'm adding her latest to my TBR list. Rajani is an absolute inspiration and I feel very blessed to have met her at a retreat. If you haven't read her books yet, you're missing out. :)

Nancy P said...

Positive.ideas.4youATgmail bonne.vivante X