My exploration into children’s books has found a whole new set of authors for me to explore. One of those new authors is Mahak Jain. Her book Maya was certainly well-crafted and lyrical. (See my review The Well-Crafted World of Maya) but in researching and communicating with Jain, I was able to see she is a writer worth following. Jain was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about her work.
1) How long did it take you to write Maya? Was there something specific that inspired you to write the book?
It’s a tough thing to quantify. I wrote the first draft fairly quickly, in a few hours, but then I set it aside, for almost two years. But I probably learned things in those two years that I needed to learn to help reshape the draft. As for inspiration, I wanted to write about a world where animals as different as the peacock, monkey, elephant, tiger, and snake would find themselves gathered around a banyan tree. Maya’s story emerged from that dream.
2) How has the reaction been to Maya? Have there been any memorable reactions or comments to the book you care to share?
The reaction has been so positive, but (Illustrator Elly MacKay’s) response, which was among the very first, still stands out. She said that when she reached the end of the story, she teared up, and that’s why she decided to illustrate the book. I am very lucky to have worked with an artist as tremendous as Elly who connected with the story so deeply.
3) Your biography lists you having published short stories and poetry. Was writing Maya much of stretch for your writing ability? Would you write another picture book?
I actually wrote Maya first. Maya was the first time I wrote a complete story that worked, and I learned a lot from writing and revising it. It’s for sure informed the short stories I’ve written since. I am definitely interested in working on another picture book, when the right idea comes along.
4) Your short story “The Origin of Jaanvi” will be published in the forthcoming in The Journey Prize Stories 28. Could you give an outline of the story? How do you feel about having the story selected for that collection?
“The Origin of Jaanvi” is about a scientist whose relationship with his wife fractures while they wait to find out if their unborn child will inherit his blood disorder. But it’s also about internalized racism, arranged marriages, and the tension between science and religion. And it’s an amazing thing to have a story selected for the anthology, alongside such incredible writers and by such incredible writers. I am thrilled.
5) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
Toni Morrison, J. K. Rowling, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kazuo Ishiguro, Junot Diaz, Charlotte Bronte, Zadie Smith, Jane Austen, Robin McKinley, Maggie Stiefvater, Kyo Maclear, and so, so many more. Right now I’m reading the young adult novel Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor. I’ve just started it, but it’s absolutely wondrous.
6) You seem to have an active presence on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those apps in relation to your writings?
I don’t think of Facebook or Twitter as related to my writing. I find them handy for staying in touch with people and sharing articles and news. Because so much of my life revolves around writing, that’s what I end up sharing, but for me the platforms are social tools, ways of connecting, the way e-mail or texting are.
7) You are scheduled to speak at the 2016 Word on the Street Festival in Toronto. Do you participate in many public events for your writing? Is appearing in public for your writing something you enjoy?
I actually do enjoy it. I am a solitary person and most definitely an introvert, but I like participating in literary events and gatherings. I love meeting and talking to people, especially in a setting that’s centred around what I love most—stories and language.
8) Your biography lists you as having been born in Delhi and having lived in numerous locations around the world before settling now in Toronto. How do you like living in Toronto? Are there any cultural institutions in the city that you specifically enjoy and inspire your imagination?
I love Toronto. I feel very much at home here. But because I’ve moved so much, I enjoy the simple things. The owners of the corner store know and recognize me, for example. And so does the owner of my local coffee shop and the servers at the restaurant where I eat most often. I didn’t have that kind of familiarity before I moved to Toronto and decided to stay put, so I really appreciate it.
9) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
Yes—right now, I am working on a novel about a teenage girl who trains mythical warbirds.