Monday, October 21, 2013

Q&A With Swati Avasthi, Author of Chasing Shadows

Today I am extremely proud to welcome the lovely Swati Avasthi to my blog. In 2010, Swati surprised us all with the insightfulness and unflinching honesty she showed in her debut novel, SPLIT. Now she's back with yet another gorgeously written and wholly original story, CHASING SHADOWS. 

When a chance to ask her a few questions about her new novel presented itself, I was excited beyond words. Here's what Swati shared:

1. How is Chasing Shadows different from your first novel, Split? What else can you tell us about it?

First, thanks for having me!

SPLIT is about what happens after you get out of an abusive household and how Jace fears he will bring that cycle of abuse along with him into every relationship he has. Having suffered chronic violence, he has learned the pattern, knows it by heart, and has to unlearn it if he’s ever going to move on.

CHASING SHADOWS is about what happens after violence erupts unexpectedly and fractures the lives of Holly and Savitri, two best friends.  In CHASING SHADOWS, Holly, Savitri, and Corey are fearless freerunners who leap from one roof to another, who do handstands on top of a roof, who flip over parapets and who feel invincible.  Until Corey is shot and killed.  And everything changes.  Maybe even their friendship.  This is a story of how a friends struggle to survive after violence.

2. One of your two points of view slides in and out of the graphic format. I don't think anything similar has ever been done in YA. How was this idea born?

Part personal experience and part intellectual.

PERSONAL:  When I was 18, I found out on the news that a friend I had had in middle school had been shot and killed.  Though we had been close in middle school – sleepovers, birthday parties, and I had a crush on her older brother -- we hadn’t spoken in four years since she and I went to different high schools.  It was a visceral moment – one in which my words left me.

I wanted to capture that feeling – when words fail us.  And of course, if I was using prose as my only medium, it was going to be a struggle.

INTELLECTUAL: When I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret,  I was fascinated by how time worked differently in pictures, particularly the part where the train is approaching Hugo and he is stuck on the tracks.  I had such a visceral response to the images. In words, to demonstrate the terror of a train bearing down, a writer might slow time down deliberately, like Stephen King does in “The Body.” It’s a great moment – well written, managing time beautifully -- but it has a very different affect on the reader.

And I wanted the visceral affect, to evoke in the reader Holly’s experience. So I went to pictures.

3. Could you share a bit about your collaboration with the illustrator, Craig Phillips?

I’ve never sent or received any direct communication to or from Craig; we communicated entirely through our editors and through the original script.  A lot like any other comic book writer, I wrote the script from panel layout to panel content to the text/dialogue. Unlike a typical comic book writer, I didn’t write in the angles or the shots, leaving that to Craig, figuring he would have a better sense of how to do that than me; he’d have a better-trained eye. 

Craig figured out the angles, made a few changes, and worked out a knotty problem for me here and there. He has an excellent sense of how to realize a vision.  At one point, I remember saying to my editor that one of pages I had described in just short sentences turned out exactly the way I’d pictured it.

This is what I mean. I wrote something like this: panel one: ½ page panel, cage of souls where the bars are made from live snakes. Panel two: ¼ page panel: close up on the snakes. Panel three:  Corey is trapped inside.  Corey: Holly?)

As for communication: he sent sketches to his art editor, Sarah Hokanson, who passed them on to my editor, Nancy Siscoe, who passed them to me. I made notes, gave them to Nancy who gave them to Sarah who gave them to Craig.  Nancy was very generous with her time. We spent countless hours on the phone talking through notes, rearranging panels, and answering questions.
While it sounds cumbersome, I think it was the best way to go so that Craig had only one person giving him notes, instead of three people.  And so in the end, what I had envisioned for the story was what we had on the page. 

4. What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing Chasing Shadows?

So many.  It’s hard to pick one.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was born from my own fears: could I write a second book? Why was it taking so long? Couldn’t I have tried something that wouldn’t result in every critique starting out with “This piece is really ambitious” which felt like the rest of the sentence was “and you don’t have the chops to pull it off”)? Would I ever find Savitri’s voice? Who was in control of this ship anyway?

My inner editor (who is a die-hard, whip-cracking perfectionist, the kind who makes edits after the book is published (yes, I confess, I do)) was on overdrive. The biggest challenge was getting the inner editor to step aside and just create.

At one point, I went on a retreat and wrote 135 pages in three days.  It was some of the best writing I did for the book.  I just outraced the inner editor.

I suppose I could try what Kate DiCamillo does.  She says she writes between 5-6 am because her inner editor likes to sleep in.  But no… the whole of me –writer, editor, professor, mother -- likes to sleep in way too much. 

Thank you so much, Swati! 
Chasing Shadows was released on September 24th 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. Make sure to get a copy, you'll be surprised by the originality of this novel.

Thanks for stopping by, everyone!


  1. Oh I really want to read Chasing Shadows, I've read some reviews and most of them have been really positive. I'm going to check out Split now--never saw that one before.

    Thanks for sharing! <33

  2. I really must read Chasing Shadows now. I had no idea it has illustrations and they seem to be done really great. I love the sound of this story and Split sounds also great. I haven't heard of it before.
    Great guest post. Thanks for sharing Maja :)

  3. I'm so excited to read this one and really LOVE this interview. I think the whole process behind working with a graphic artist for this novel is fascinating and I really love the reasons why she specifically chose this format. I'm hoping the images have the same kind of effect on me when I read the novel. Wonderful interview, as always Maja. Thanks for sharing! :)

  4. Very cool! Loved hearing about your collaboration with your illustrator! Um...135 pages? Dang. That's some serious writing, there!

  5. Oooo I love that we get illustrations as well as prose, they add such an interesting element to a story I think. Particularly one that seems to be as emotional as this one. I definitely want to give this a try Maja, thanks so much for the interview!

  6. I love that this is in prose and that it deals with some difficult issues. Sounds like my kind of read for sure!

  7. That is early, I could so not do it

  8. I haven't heard of this author before, so thank you for having her on your blog and sharing this interview with us, Maja. I like that there are graphics in her book and it must really bring out the story on a deeper level.
    Plus, the plot sounds like something I would enjoy.
    That's so sad though that one of her friends was shot. :( I would be devastated too even if I haven't seen them for a long time.

  9. Wow, what an original way to tell a story. I don't think I've ever seen that done before. The premise sounds very intriguing, and heart wrenching. Thanks for the wonderful post! :)

  10. Nice interview!

    This really was an amazing book, so I liked the insight into her process of writing. I was real curious about how she and Craig worked together, so I'm glad you touched on that as well.

  11. Chasing Shadows sounds amazing, and I'm really intrigued by the story and artwork behind it. Thanks for sharing a behind the book with author Swati Avasthi!

  12. I've been very curious about Chasing Shadows. I first heard about it a couple of weeks ago and the synopsis caught my attention. I love this interview! Great post :)

    Janina @ Synchronized Reading

  13. Loved the way she worked with the illustrator. Sounds like an amazing visual book! I also think all creative endeavors have an inner editor/critic we all have to silence to create. Great post!

  14. Both stories are so unique and that's very impressive! I think I would enjoy Chasing Shadows more because of the best friend dynamic, but Split sounds too good to resist too. Thanks for sharing this lovely interview, Maja! I'm going to look more into these books now :)

  15. I recently received a copy of Chasing Shadows and now I am equally curious about Split. What a fascinating look at pictures, time and emotions.Wonderful interview!

  16. Wow I totally overlooked that one. II haven't read a graphic type YA novel before adn this one sounds wonderful. I know the subject matter is tough but I wwnat to see the stunning art! I am going to see if I can grab a copy! sorry about he typos again. the blog is acting up on me.

  17. I'm really curious about this one because I don't read graphic novels and this sounds like it's more in between. I'll have to pick it up at the store and at least look through it. It looks/sounds incredible.
    I love that she mentions Kate DiCamillo's writing habits. I was shocked when I meet Kate and she said she only writes an hour a day and she just writes and doesn't focus on fixing things until later. I mean it just seems like it would take forever to write a book that way! But obviously it works for her anyway.

    I have Split but I still haven't read it.

  18. I was surprised to love this even more than Split, which I didn't think was a possibility. I love the interplay between the artwork and the prose, which is (not shockingly) gorgeous. I love the idea of waking up early enough to avoid your inner editor, but like Swati I like my sleep too much to do something like that. Love this interview! :-)


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