#kidlit Interview with the fabulous author, JYOTI RAJAN GOPAL

Carol Gordon Ekster: Having connected with Jyoti through the Courage to Create program through the Writing Barn, I wanted to share her wisdom, strength, and inspiration here at Writers’ Rumpus. Welcome, Jyoti!

Can you tell us about your journey into becoming a children’s author?

Jyoti Rajan Gopal: Thank you so much for having me Carol!

 My journey into writing was sparked by a story that my daughter shared with me as she researched a historical figure for her 4th grade project (she is now 23!)  I thought for sure there would be a picture book that shared this story, but I found nothing. My husband suggested I write it, and I laughed it off because I wasn’t that kind of a writer. I wrote for academics and for educators. Writing for kids was not in my wheelhouse at all, or so I thought.

But his suggestion sparked a seed. I did end up writing that story – after lots and lots of research – and it sat on my computer for years. The publishing industry seemed so overwhelming and intimidating. I didn’t know where to start.

Finally in 2018, I decided I was going to try to figure out how to make it happen, and that’s when I joined SCBWI, started taking classes and learning about what it takes to get your story out in the world.

CGE: How has being a kindergarten teacher influenced your writing?

JRG: My identities as an Indian American, a mom, and a teacher are all  integral to the lens through which I write so many of my stories.

As a kindergarten teacher, I live and breathe picture books, I love them so much! Without even knowing it, I’ve been reading mentor texts for years. It makes sense that when I started writing for children, it would be picture books.

Story time holds a special place in my heart.  I have had the pleasure of reading many wonderful books to my students and witnessing the power of a really great story, whether it created connection, invoked wonder and curiosity, brought on the giggles or shared a common experience. These stories created beautiful moments for us as a community.

I also saw and felt gaps – stories that I wish we had, that I couldn’t find for my students. 

The other area that has really influenced what I write is my love of non-fiction. My students loved narrative non-fiction stories, and I always craved more, so those were some of my first manuscripts written.  I’ve now sold two, one coming out with Levine Querido in March, and the other very recently. And I hope to write more!

Congratulations, Jyoti!

CGE: You’ve had your debut picture book, American Desi, illustrated by Supriya Kelkar, Little Brown, and a second book My Paati’s Saris, illustrated by Art Twink, Kokila, come out in 2022! That’s quite an accomplishment. Can you tell us the stories behind your stories?

JRG: Thank you – it is very exciting to have two books out! American Desi is a story about me and about my two daughters, how we straddle cultures, and how we embrace all the beautiful parts of us that entwine our cultures together. It’s about exploring what being American means and acknowledging there’s no one way to be an American. American Desi started off as a poem and ended up as a 40-page picture book – which was unexpected! It also went through a somewhat tortuous submission history being acquired by one house, then pulled, then acquired by another. I guess it needed to follow the path it followed, although it felt very painful while we were going through it.

My Paati’s Saris arose out of my love for saris, a love passed down to me by my mom and my paati. It was inspired by a small moment that I witnessed in my classroom, and memories of my brother and I playing dress-up.

Inside spread MY PAATI’S SARIS

I wanted to write an ode about saris, their beauty and their versatility but I also wanted to write about family and love through the eyes of a grandma and her grandson.

CGE: Can you tell us how becoming an author has changed your writing life? Are you finding a balance with promotion and writing?

JRG: It is terrifying and exhilarating to see my books out in the world. There is validation and a sense of accomplishment in knowing that your writing is appreciated and sought after. But then there are expectations, and judgements, and reviews, and marketing, and oh no, what if no one buys your book, or kids reject it or don’t connect to it? So, it’s a roller coaster ride for sure. I also definitely feel the sting of imposter syndrome.  Being a member of the Courage to Create community has been helpful in navigating these emotions.

Promotion is very challenging, both because it’s uncomfortable to have to promote your own work and because figuring out ways to promote, usually via social media, is exhausting. I try to make time for it separate from writing time, but it does tend to eat into it.

Book launch for AMERICAN DESI

CGE: What is your writing process like? And can you tell us what you’re working on now?

JRG: I write when the mood hits me. Sometimes, I go days without writing. I do get my butt-in-chair every day, but I don’t expect to always write.  So long as it’s writing adjacent, that works for me! I tend to hop between multiple projects too.

CGE: Can you tell us about some of the lows and highs of your career?

JRG: Finding representation, knowing that I would have a partner who believed in me, and would champion my work was amazing.  Meeting some of my favorite authors, whose books I used to read to my kindergartners – surreal, and a big high!  Meeting a young reader who loved my book – right at the top of my list of highs.

school visit

The hardest part of being a writer is worrying that I’ll never write another story. Especially when days go by without me writing anything new, or even the spark of an idea for anything new, I panic a little. Those are low days. Doing things that are writing related usually helps me get through those days, but it can be rough.

CGE: Jyoti, I think all writers go through these feelings. That’s one of the things I love about being in CTC. We come to understand that all the highs and lows are part of the journey of being an author.

CGE: What are your top tips for our #kidlit #amwriting audience?

JRG: Learn the rules, then find a way to break the rules.

Find the joy in what you are writing.

Follow your curiosity. Write what is in your heart.

When you need to take a break from writing, just do it!

All great advice, Jyoti. Thank you!

CGE: What does the future hold for Jyoti Rajan Gopal?

JRG: I hope plenty of joy and plenty of books!  And hopefully lots and lots of people reading my stories – both children and grown-ups, because I believe picture books are for everyone.

You can connect with Jyoti here:

Insta @jyotirgopal

Twitter @JyotiGopal

Website : jyotirajangopal.com

13 comments

  1. Enjoyed your interview. It is a nice space to be in, writing stories for children. May your writing be the font of more inspiring books for children. Mani Anna

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a fellow (former) kindergarten and preschool teacher, I hear you! I adored story time! And all of the books we read. I loved watching the students fall in love with books. Beautiful interview. Thank you!

    Like

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