In an attempt to help some of my fellow 2020 debut authors who have had book launches and events cancelled because of the coronavirus, I am featuring several of them and their books over the coming weeks and months. The hope and intent is to help build awareness for new authors and their titles releasing this year. Up today, Rashi Rohatgi and her novel, Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow.
Rashi lives in Norway with her partner and son. When she’s not writing, reading, or teaching, you can find her at one of the glorious Arctic beaches she insists are perfect in any weather.
From the publisher, Galaxy Galloper Press
It’s 1905, and the Japanese victory over the Russians has shocked the British and their imperial subjects. Sixteen-year-old Leela and her younger sister, Maya, are spurred on to wear homespun to show the British that the Indians won’t be oppressed for much longer, either, but when Leela’s betrothed, Nash, asks her to circulate a petition amongst her classmates to desegregate the girls’ school in Chadrapur, she’s wary. She needs to remind Maya that the old ways are not all bad, for soon Maya will have to join her own betrothed and his family in their quiet village. When she discovers that Maya has embarked on a forbidden romance, Leela’s response shocks her family, her town, and her country firmly into the new century.
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Q: What inspired you to write Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow?
A: Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow is the story of a girl’s estrangement from her community, and the extreme consequences that has. Growing up in Pennsylvania, we were often encouraged to leave town in two ways: firstly, by people telling us to ‘go home’ (because we didn’t look the part) but also by well-intentioned people suggesting that once we left our small town we’d find where we ‘truly belonged.’ Both were extremely frustrating, and when I returned to my hometown as an adult to teach at a local university and saw that this two-fold refrain was still going strong, I felt moved to write about it. I’d spent the past several years in London, where the news had recently been dominated by three young women who’d left school to join ISIS, and so overall I really wanted to write about what it means to be a teenage girl about to leave. Leela and Maya aren’t based on specific people per se, but Leela is a little bit based on Beyoncé’s ‘Becky with the good hair.’
Q: Did you have to do any special or particular research for this book?
A: The novel is set in a fictionalized version of my mother’s hometown and so I did a lot of the research before I conceived of the novel, just out of personal interest. When I sat down to write, I realize I’d never talked to my mom about turn-of-the-century Patna, and so I called and asked her and found she’d never learned about it in school. I’m not sure why I was surprised – at this very time in my life, my husband was writing a book about an author who’d gone to the same small school I attended and while we’d spent a lot of time on local history in grade school she hadn’t made it onto the syllabus at all – but it made me want to include the characters’ thoughts about how and what they’d teach their pasts and their present. I was also a bit surprised by how much research I felt compelled to do to write a novel that does not purport to be historically accurate. If Leela was alone somewhere she’d never have been left alone in 1905, I still wanted that anachronistic experience to sound right, smell right, feel right.
Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
A: I teach world literature in English in Arctic Norway. Like many other colleges and universities around the world, my workplace has gone fully online for the rest of the semester, so I’ve recently spent a lot of time getting my courses up and running. I don’t mind working online, but I already miss the rewards of campus life – particularly unplanned conversations. On the other hand, like many other parents, I’m getting to spend a lot more time having unplanned conversations with my kid and I’m not going to lie, I think he’s great. He’s not old enough to care about WHERE THE SUN WILL RISE TOMORROW, but he’s got great taste in picture books. Recently, he’s gotten really into The Story Orchestra’s Swan Lake. Jessica Courtney Tickle’s drawn the story with a diverse cast, which I appreciate. So now we spend about three hours a day listening to it and dancing along and discussing whether or not Odette should have forgiven Siegfried for dancing with the nefarious imposter.
Q: What does your writing routine look like?
A: Right now it’s fallen apart! WHERE THE SUN WILL RISE TOMORROW centers, in part, on Leela’s desire to have a conventional life at a time when global events are destabilising conventions in her corner of the world. She’s living in the aftermath of her mother’s death, but also the death of her boyfriend’s sisters, to what in real life is known as the Bombay plague epidemic of the 1890s; when the British started using really intrusive methods to block the spread of the plague, lots of Indians were furious and ten years later, when the novel takes place, that revolutionary spirit is still alive. Today most of us are not colonial subjects, and I hope we’re all helping to flatten the curve. Yet I hope that we are furious at the systems we have in place in the USA that make this pandemic particularly awful for Americans: lack of universal healthcare, lack of worker protections, and politicians who are more passionate about their investments than their constituents, and I hope that in ten years – when, with any luck, I will have a writing routine again – we have channeled our anger into positive change.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?
A: Living in Europe, I’d gotten very into reading novellas, which are more widely published there. As I revised my novel drafts, I found myself making the story shorter and shorter – if anyone’s interested, I can tell them what happens to Leela and her descendants for the next 100 years, but ultimately it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. But as an American, I wanted a US publisher. When I found out that Galaxy Galloper was trying to bring novella culture to the States, I jumped at the chance and applied for their contest.