Friday, June 6, 2014

Radhika Meganathan


Radhika Meganathan has published 12 picture books, with 20 more under production.
Radhika on Baker's Street
She was the 2004 recipient of Highlights Foundations for Children’s Writers’ fellowship (USA) and one of the judges at Disney’s Pitchkiaow, a national talent search in Mumbai (2011). She owns the retreat planning company Smara Creative Escapes and co-owns MKS Author Solutions, which offers pre-publishing and manuscript guidance to authors.

Radhika is the host of the writing challenges Short Story 12×12 and Chapter Book 12×12; she has pledged to write one chapter book in 2014 and so far been successful! A global group of writers accompany her in her journey to write one short story a month, and an anthology is in the works. She writes kidlit under her real name, and YA fiction using the pseudonym Smara. Check out her blog at www.childrenswriter.in

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Dani: What do you feel is the most important part of your position as a writer?

Radhika: As a children’s writer in India, I feel I should be honest and not hide behind conventions or “children should be protected from knowing all evil” propaganda. This has not made me very popular, lol, since I live in a fairly conservative society… a few local bloggers/parents some raised objections for a story I wrote about a 14-year old’s budding sexuality. Their comments have only made me stronger to be true to my art.

After eight years of inactivity (I was too busy for writing, or so I told myself) and then a semester of binge writing, I have learnt that faith is most important, in yourself, in your talent. Every one is talented; either by divine intervention or plain serendipity, yours is the gift of words - if you do not respect it the way it should be respected (http://tinyurl.com/investinmuse), if you do not make use of it as early and as effective as possible, it turns on you.


I believe all creative people have this problem. Their gift is also their curse. If they ignore it or don’t give it the right kind of work it is capable of doing, first it goes feral, then it starts cutting the very flesh that’s hosting it. I have written a longer post on this, at http://tinyurl.com/curseorboon

So right now, my job is to just show up and let the magic happen. It may be very low inferior magic (writers are born insecure) but it is magic never the less – how else can you explain the birth of a story? Ironically, the cure is in the sickness - the more you write, the clearer it all becomes.

Dani: Tell us about the books you write.

Radhika: I started my career writing picture books and comic books. I don’t do PB anymore, largely because I personally find short stories and novels more challenging and satisfying. That said, I love writing scripts and I still do for a lot of (paying) clients.

For the past few years, I have been working on an 8-part graphic novel series on Indian history and a YA historical thriller based on the same… due to its subject matter, the research has taken me forever. I think it’s partly the reason why I chose to write a chapter book a month in 2014, because I desperately wanted to know if I could actually finish a book!

I am most interested in writing from a kid’s / teen’s perspective about life in India. I myself had a very uneventful (boring?) childhood so I guess I kind of compensate for that by drawing out some very unusual dilemmas for my characters!

In MAANJA MADNESS, my protagonist is plagued by his funny, competitive and devious neighbour friend; in THE DIARY OF DDLJ, an uptight dog becomes a temporary companion of a canine-hating, messy boy; in STIR, my heroine struggles to make sense of her obsession with a boy in her school, even after knowing that he is not a “good” boy. More details at my blog, www.childrenswriter.in


Dani: What is your favorite age/genre to write?

Radhika: Tween and young adult. I write both contemporary humour and fantasy.


Dani: What is it that made you want to host not one but two challenges?

Writer's Retreat in Auroville 1
Radhika: Well, the chapter book challenge came first because I was sick of having all these ideas but so undisciplined and disorganized. I was also physically ill around that time and at one point it looked like I was going to die without having writing a single novel. That was the best wakeup call a lazy bum like me could ever have, ha.

So I vowed to clean up my act and make be more serious about my craft, if only God saved my life (jaundice is known to cause paranoia and hallucinations!). I started getting better, and in that initial frenzy, I wrote my first chapter book (http://tinyurl.com/howiwroteit). The very next month, I signed up for Picture Book Idea Month, and realized that challenges are the secret... they are actually goals on deadlines, and I needed them desperately.

Writer's Retreat in Auroville 2
So I created the Chapter Book Challenge (CBC) 12x12, hoping I could have a small group of writers who could motivate each other. Nobody signed up for it. Obviously, I mean, it is a bloody tall order, as I have come to realise. Just because it took me only 2 weeks to write my first chapter book, I thought I could do it every month. Gah! It has been extremely challenging, and I am making it only by the skin off my teeth...

Short stories, on the other hand, were easier. I identify myself as a short story writer first, and created the Short Story Challenge at the same time as CBC 12X12. 12 writers immediately joined and we are now an e-community with regular participation. Since I do not work full time (a million thanks to my hubby for financially supporting me!), I am able to – barely - manage both challenges at the same time. But I am not sure I will do these twin challenges next year!


Dani: Could you tell us a little bit about your Chapter Book and Short Story Challenges?

Creative Writing Camp for Kids
Radhika: In CBC 12x12, I write one chapter book a day. That is, I just get the story on the paper (figuratively, I work on MS Word!)… the raw draft that comes straight from the heart of your craft. No edits whatsoever. I don't think I can do anything more, lol. So far, I have completed several short story compilations, two original chapter books and a couple of translations. These all are strictly raw drafts, I anticipate spending several weeks editing them in the future.

Short Story 12x12 is a community-based challenge (www.shortstory12x12.net). The goal is to write and submit at least the first draft every month. First draft, in my definition, is one-time-read-through, spell-checked and grammar-checked raw draft. The deadline for participants to submit their stories is the 10th of every month; and the critiques should be done by the end of that month.

The beauty is, I can clearly see every one (including me!) improving by leaps and bounds... the difference between a story submitted in Jan and one in May is phenomenal. Stories are becoming more nuanced, well-narrated and edited. And even though crits are not compulsory, almost everyone crits all incoming submissions because they have realised that by critting others' works, you improve your own.

It helped, of course, that we are only 12 writers. Next year, I plan to have more writers, since a lot of them were on waiting list year and I was unable to include them – I didn't want my current batch to be overwhelmed. This is, after all, a pilot venture and I had to be careful.

Highlights Workshop at Chautauqua 2004
We have had a few dropouts (they hated to leave and only did so because of insane schedules and/or illnesses). Though, there is this member who has a life-threatening condition and is strapped on 24/7 oxygen support, and she is the first to submit a story, every month. It all comes down to prioritization :-)

There is an option where you can just turn in a story every month and not critique other’s stories; the downside is that your story too will not be critiqued. This does work, at least for a couple of members, because all they were looking for was a deadline to get things done.

An e-anthology is in the works, featuring the stories of all those who win this challenge, and only those who have critted each others’ stories at east every other month are eligible to submit. Everyone’s excited about it and you can expect it to be published on Kindle by the end of this year!

Dani: What goes into preparing for a challenge?

Radhika in Bali
Radhika: Definitely a lot. First is time management. If you are working full time, an hour a day might be the most you can give to a Writing Challenge, and it is good enough if it is the right block of time. Figure out your best writing time of the day, in terms of clarity, accessibility and isolation.

For me, 1-2 hours on waking up worked, because that's the one block of time that cannot by derailed by personal or professional obligations (and strangely, writing on an empty stomach makes me feel more alert and clear – weird, I know!). A tip: Unplug the internet during this time, it just doesn’t help.

Secondly, discipline. No compromises. You set a goal to write 2 pages a day, or 1000 words a day, or whatever is required to win the challenge, and you meet it every day. Even if you let it slide a single day, it accumulates and will overwhelm you.

The very first month, it almost happened to me... Crippled with doubts and incessant "ideating", I didn't start writing until the fourth week of Jan, and I swear, I absolutely had no idea where all the ti
me went. Then I had to do a marathon writing session to finish MAANJA MADNESS AND OTHER STORIES, the very first book I wrote for CBC 12x12 (http://tinyurl.com/book1CBC).

Thailand Pic
Finally, a list of titles is ideal. In Dec last year, I drew up a project timetable, assigning one book for every month. I had so many ideas, it was not that difficult! So I spent a whole month prepping and jotting down plot lines an generally getting myself ready for the challenge.

I ultimately didn't follow the time table (discovered I was not that disciplined) but because I had already drawn plot diagrams and character charts for each book, I could just select one and start writing. This homework alleviated a little of the terror and made the challenge more palatable!


Here are some of my posts that will help you get prepared for a similar challenge:

Planning your CBC 12x12 - http://tinyurl.com/planningcbc12

How to write a chapter book in 30 days - http://tinyurl.com/cbin30days

Editing your raw draft - http://tinyurl.com/editingCB


Dani: What is your favorite method of travel?

Radhika in Venice
Radhika: Thank you for acknowledging my eternal wanderlust! For every trip, I research a lot and come up with an outline of “things to do”… without that blueprint, I always fear I will ‘waste’ my time. But then I end up doing only half on that list… So my personal style is a mix of manic planning and chilled out stuff. I also am not too picky.

I like the buzz of city life, its vibrancy and humanity. I'm essentially a city girl at heart, even though I retire by 10pm and have never done the bar/club/night scene (never had the right crowd to go out with!). If I could take a holiday tomorrow, it will be to London or NYC, two cities I lived during my late 20s.

Of course cost is a sore factor, as always, so it is more often Singapore than Tokyo. But I also need my regular fix of ‘green’ and ‘blue’, i.e., mountains and oceans, and luckily India has a lot of those… so I alternate my holidays between city breaks and nature breaks!

I have not met one writer who doesn't like travel. Clearly because the more you travel and explore and connect with people and realms, the more your mind stores up on fodder for future stories :). I planned the first women’s writing retreat in India (http://tinyurl.com/wwretreat2008) and loved the experience. That’s why I started Smara Creative Escapes (www.smara.in), offering affordable literary retreats for local and overseas clients. Do write to me if you’d like to know more!
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Get in touch with Radhika:

Blog: www.childrenswriter.in

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



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