Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: The Rearranged Life by Annika Sharma

Happy Wednesday! This month's final Wednesday Debut Interview features Annika Sharma, author of THE REARRANGED LIFE, a NA contemporary romance novel that debuted May 15th.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
Thank you for having me! My name is Annika. I’m in my twenties. I’m an avid lover of Starbucks, online shopping, Once Upon a Time, pizza and thunderstorms. I’m still scared of the Wicked Witch of the West. I know all the words to A Little Princess, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. And every one of my celebrity crushes is British (including the girl crushes).

How would you describe THE REARRANGED LIFE in one sentence?
A mix of east meets west, where a first generation Indian girl in the United States has to make a big choice between her past and her future when she falls in love with a handsome American.

How long as this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication?

Two years, ten months and two weeks to the day. I wrote the book in six weeks—then sat on it for a year in graduate school! I spent three months revising. It took nine months to get an agent, three months to get a book deal, and another five months to my publication date. Phew!

How have your own experiences as an Indian-American influenced those of Nithya, your protagonist?
Indian culture is absolutely beautiful—the customs, rituals and magic is thousands of years old and I come from a traditional family so I’ve been lucky to embrace it. But being first-generation comes with its own struggle: sometimes the culture we are raised in, American, and Indian can tie together seamlessly. Other times, they clash so spectacularly; there are choices to be made about which direction to go in. Things like marriage and dating are an ideological clash, and it was interesting to watch friends (and myself) go through things that made us choose one over the other. Those definitely shaped the way I wrote the story.

What part of this book did you most enjoy writing?
I loooved writing the scenes where Nithya spends time with her love interests. It’s always fun to write banter between two people who are interested in each other because it’s relatively universal how they react to each other. But between Nishanth and James, I got to weave some cultural differences in the way they speak and it was so fun to simultaneously write a flirty, similar relationship and differentiate the two with the nuances.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
It can be so hard to drown out the voices! I don’t know if I’ve ever completely gotten over it—some comments definitely stick harder than others. An agent once said she wasn’t interested in knowing what happened to the characters, which hurts after you’ve spent months creating them. You have to learn to filter the criticism that helps, like, “Your pace isn’t steady,” versus “You suck,” and see what you can use to make your future work better.

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
My agent, Stacey Donaghy, had experience with CQ and said they really catered to authors. For a first timer, they were gentle (ha) and really showed me the ropes gradually. I felt so taken care of and they tried so hard to a) allow me in on every process and b) make me happy. The editing process between Lisa, my editor, and I felt so collaborative. I loved my experience with CQ.

Tell us about your cover. Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell your readers about your story?
Eugene Teplitsky of CQ designed this cover. We must have gone through forty drafts!

Marketing, Eugene, my editor, agent and I all had to agree—and I had a lot of say. This cover was so hard because we wanted to capture the “Indianness” of the story—but Nithya grew up in the United States so she blends into American culture. We also had to capture the American side—but we couldn’t go too far in that direction either. Add a relationship, college, and fun/flirtiness with a serious twist to it…there were a LOT of elements to sort through! Ultimately I think we got it.

I think so! It's lovely!

Tell us about your title. Was this the original title you'd had in mind?

It was the original title, believe it or not. I briefly toyed with Threads that Bind or something, but I wanted to play on arranged marriages, how Nithya’s life takes a different direction than expected and how it wasn’t broken—just set up differently.

What's next for you after this book debuts? Have you started working on another book?
I turned in my second manuscript to my agent and am currently with toying with ideas for a third! I’m so excited to hopefully have more books out there soon.

How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about?
I’m currently alternating between being so excited I can’t speak and breathing into a paper bag.

So far, reviews have been largely positive so I’m taking that to heart and reminding myself to look at those when the inevitable negative one comes through. On May 26th, I’ll be a part of a mult-author New Adult Debut Party on Facebook and I’ll be at RWA in July!

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?

I went to this leadership conference in college and their tenet was, “Have a healthy disregard for the impossible.” I loved that. The odds are always against you but it’s up to you how much credibility you give them. Work hard. Wanting to give up is natural. Keep going anyway, especially if you feel passionate about it. If I could have done something differently…I might have done more research into storytelling tactics, so I could pinpoint what I love about certain stories. But overall, I like to think things happen for a reason, so the story and the process happened the way it should.

And, just for fun, which book in your own library do you think would be your main character Nithya's favorite?
All of my college textbooks… And Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, Jhumpa Lahiri, Abraham Varghese...literary fiction and fiction with a medical edge.

Thanks for joining us and congrats on your debut!


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