1. How would you describe 'OPERATION MOM’ to someone who has not read it yet?
Operation Mom explores the story of a Mumbai teen's quest to get her single mother dating again, that too through the online world of wild and wanton weirdoes!
Seventeen-year-old Ila Isham has serious problems. There's the angst of being an Ali Zafar groupie, for one. Then there are the extra layers of fat she owes to her Punjabi roots. Add to this, parents who have separated; an enthusiastic best friend, Deepali, whose idea of variety is dating three guys at the same time; and her mom's best friend, Aunty Maleeka, whose good intentions and savvy ways throw up more problems than solutions .
When her mother flips out over her plans to stalk Ali Zafar, Ila decides she has had enough and sets out to create a few distractions to keep her mom busy. Her life takes an exciting turn when she decides to hunt for the perfect partner for her mother. With a little help from BFF Deepali, Aunty Maleeka and Dev of the inviting chocolate-pool eyes, Ila has to brave everything from Lagan.com and OKCupid profiles to meeting handlebar-moustache colonels and middle-aged psychos, as she tries to set up the perfect parent trap for her unsuspecting mother.
It is a humorous book that appeals to mothers of daughters, daughters of mothers, anybody who loves humor and all who love Mumbai! Lots of familiar elements – uniquely Mumbai scenes and setting, outlandish characters and contemporary Indian young adult life.
2. What inspired you to write your first novel?
About eight years ago when I was still living in San Francisco, I became obsessed with the ancient literature of the Sundar Kand. I would drive across the bay to UC Berkeley to attend their Sanskrit classes ....my aim initially was to keep up my Sanskrit for Ayurvedic purposes...but that quickly changed to a quest for reading the ancient epic. It was right around the time when my son, quite young, was fascinated with super heroes, specifically Hanuman. And the more I read the Sundar Kand in its original form, the more I could vividly recreate the stories of Hanuman and the vanars for my son, who literally thought of himself as one of their tribe.
The act of recreating the stories and the conviction that my son had about Hanuman showing up at his window-sill one day (since he is immortal) and the daily reflection on interpreting the Sanskrit verses from the Ramayan to make sense of how a vanar can fly....all became the building blocks for my first novel, The Chronicles of Arya.
The Chronicles of Arya is a fantasy fiction story about an eleven-year old boy in San Francisco who falls though a crack to find himself in Ramayana land. He brings with him the very last copy of the ancient epic which Ravana, the king of demons, want to destroy so he can rewrite history from his own vantage point. A coming-of-age story, this is about how Arya must come to terms with death and demons (and not necessarily the kind you are expecting to see) in order to truly accomplish his hero’s journey.
3. What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the writing-publishing process?
I never imagined that writing the book and handing it over to the publisher is not enough. It never occurred to me that a writer needs to build out his or her own marketing plan and do whatever s/he can to push sales. I find this somewhat annoying because it distracts time and focus from the act of writing which is what we writers badly need to spend time doing.
But then we live in a high stimulus time where we compete with consumers of electronic media for their attention. It is hard to find people to commit to reading your book so to that extent I can understand the publishers' request from the author to bring it alive. I have often wanted to write under a pen name but honestly don't know how that would fly.
4. What’s next after OPERATION MOM?
Next is a pre-teen fiction novel The Chronicles of Arya published by Om Books International. This as I mentioned was actually my first novel.
Then, on the adult fiction front is Money-Smart – The Indian Woman's Guide to Building Wealth, a badly needed how-to on investing and growing your money published by Hachette India. It's wisdom that is spouted daily on my finance radio show, Money For Nothing on RTHK Radio 3 but catered specifically for the middle class Indian woman.
I am also working on The Ayurvedic Diet to be published by Harper Collins. This one is a diet/cookbook based upon the health principles of Ayurveda. Once I complete this manuscript, I go back to my next YA fiction novel which is yet to be named -- it is a coming-of-age story about at 17 year old boy from Mumbai – set one summer in Devlali.
5. When faced with adversity, some people come through fine, while others seem to just fall apart. What gives you the courage to keep going when times get tough?
I suppose we all have dreams. Mine is that I can take one....any one of my children's books and have the opportunity to retell it in a variety of different formats – Film, animation, games, theme parks. I would willingly work with whichever partner can help me bring this dream to fruition – Disney, Pixar, Reliance, independent artists. Of course this is a huge dream but I guess you have to keep dreaming, right?
6. What are you reading currently? Are there any authors (living or dead) or books that you would name as influences?
This is tough one. Currently I am reading House of Cards. I found myself addicted to the US TV show and wanted to read the book to explore the germination of the story .
I love Dave Sedaris, I love American classics and of course our Vedic literature. I recently wrote an article about my Top 5 all-tine favorite books. You can see that here:
7. Give us three "Good to Know" facts about you. Tell us about your first job, the inspiration for your writing, any fun details that would enliven your page.
- First ever job was as an advertising Account Rep at Leo Burnett in Chicago, my first year out of college
- Inspiration for my writing. Omigosh, a myriad inspirations on a daily basis. Family, friends, colleagues and co-workers top the list because they build the comic situations that define my daily existence.
There is plenty of inspiration I get from the dysfunction of my daily family life. We are an opinionated breed of Punjabi women with feisty genetics and plenty of teen drama. The Mumbai setting was a no-brainer, this is the place I know, love and grew up in.
Here is a video link to an interview I did that talks about my inspirations behind Operation Mom:
Another good-toknow fact is that I am ALWAYS looking for story ideas and truly beelive in communicating with readers because so much materail comes from them. The best way to communicate with me si through my blog www.reenita.com. So please please do reach out.
8. How much of the mother from “OPERATION MOM” resembles you? And how much of the daughter from the same, resembles you? Or does it?
Yes – they both do. You nailed that!
I identify with the plight of both Ila and her mom, Veena because in so many ways thy are both my alter ego. So in fact many people ask if either of those two characters are based on either my mother or my daughter, the truth is is more likely they are based on me in my roles as a mother and as a daughter.
Like Veena, I am a journalist in my 40s but would much rather be writing movie screenplays. A free spirit at heart yet shackled by conservative Punjabi values so much so that I live vicariously through my wanton friends like Aunty Maleeka. But then that was the case when I was a teen as well. Like Ila, I explored the world through the 'Deepalis' (there were more than one) of my teenage years, I was crazy obsessed about George Michael...and stalked him through his cat. Like Ila, I liked the idea of being smart (and was) but was somewhat insecure about not 'sounding' smart, especially in my very late teens when I got to attend class at Williams College in the USA – the world capital for super smart people!
9. Have you ever faced writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Writer's block was something I faced in my early days of writing. I used to get really anxiety-ridden about how I could possibly fill a page. But once I got past that, I understood how there is no such thing – writer's block is merely anxiety for the unseasoned writer. Now if I am being unproductive it's probably because I am lazy or I have let me time management skills slip.
10. What was the happiest moment of your life that involved your daughter?
This is another hard one. I could say really cliched things like 'the day she was born' or 'the day that she made the swim team' etc. The truth is that with her every day is a new discovery. My daughter is so so unlike me! A completely different person from a completely different planet with a complete different soul journey. I have spent so much of my life trying to figure her out (this is in complete contrast to my son who is like my male incarnation) and whenever I discover something new it really tickles my happy factor. That girl exudes wisdom – a completely unconventional kind - but one that I learn from and reflect on each day.
I will share one thing though – and that is that our power of communication is exceedingly strong. Your reaction might be 'okay whatever' but believe me, it comes from a place of deep trust so that even though we don't always understand each other, we can 100% rely on each other. I believe that our communication stems back to a time/place before she was even around. On the 15th of August 1997, I came back to Mumbai to celebrate India's 50th Independence Day. I remember being really emotionally charged by all the TV images of Pundit Nehru's 'Tryst with Destiny' speech and AR Rahman's Vande Mataram album. I also clearly remember thinking 'wouldn't it be something really special to have a child who shared his or her birthday with India.' My daughter was born exactly one year later on August 15th 1998. She wasn't due for another week but that's the day she chose to enter into our lives.
These things – are the coincidence? A play on psychology? Or just superstition? Or could they be something called soul communication...or is there is such a thing?