Tuesday, February 14, 2012

three: swati avasthi

Swati Avasthi has a BA from The University of Chicago and an MFA from the University of Minnesota.  Her debut novel, Split, received the 2011 International Reading Association’s Young Adult Book Award, the Cybils young adult award, a Silver Parents’ Choice Award, and has been nominated for twelve state book awards.  Her second novel, Chasing Shadows, is due out from Knopf in Spring 2013.  She teaches at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and Hamline University.  She lives with her two kids, two dogs, and one husband (though he’s worth two). Visit her at www.swatiavasthi.com.

Tell us about your relationship to your art.
I wanted to be a writer from the time I was 5 -16, but then practicality set in and I didn't think I could make money as an artist so I started in on other fields.  When I left law school to raise my son, I knew that, since I wasn't making any money anyway, that was time to take my shot at writing.  I started writing a novel while my son slept, usually from 9 PM to 1 AM every night.  It was a poor schedule, but it was a quiet time where I could have a metaphorical room of my own with a closed door.

What's a project (yours or another's) that has been exciting you lately?
I'm excited to finish my second novel, at long last, Chasing Shadows.  It has been an interesting project for me because it is part prose and part graphic novel, so I've had to learn a whole new genre to write this one.  It has been a fascinating challenge to think of how the image interacts with the text, how the visual is often a more memorable medium while language is a more of a blend of auditory and imagination-provoking medium.  I hope it all comes together in a way that is really satisfying for the reader.

Tell us a little of your motherhood journey.
I'd say the entry to motherhood was all-consuming for me  and then gradually as my children needed my physical presence less and as I became more proficient in parenting, I was able to integrate other interests and career options into my life.  Now, I think of it like braiding together strands of my life:  one part writing, one part home life, one part teaching. 

What are some crucial elements of your process?  How has that changed since having children?
The process hasn't changed since having children (since it was only having my children that allowed my process to develop.)  However, I will say that no matter what I seem to need blocks of time -- at least 1.5 hours to get anything productive done.  Ideally, I like to have 3 hours at a time, so I often write at night or when my kids are in school.  I need to listen to music and I prefer to work outside of the house a coffee shop so I don't/can't get distracted by chores.

What are some of the ways your family and your art interact?
In a way they are very related: I'm not sure I would have started writing for young adults unless I had a child of my own.  In a literal sense that it is true because I started reading YA as an adult only because I was in a children's book store and dying to read a book, so I started Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and got hooked on the genre.  But, also in an artistic sense, I think I wasn't ready to write about children until I had my own. I had to be able to look at childhood from both perspectives to write about it. In the deepest sense, being a mother has fundamentally and irrevocably altered my perception of the world and that, of course, shapes my work.  

I think my children enjoy having a mother who is an author because they are avid readers and are creative people.  So they are always coming up with stories and writing them down.  They also have a plethora of published authors who are "Mom's friends" and who are very kind to my kids and their artistic efforts.

Do you find your attitude towards your art might be different because of your parenting / has it changed since you became a parent?
I believe that my understanding of the world expanded greatly when I became a parent.  That, of course, affects the depth of my storytelling. Being a parent forced me into the so many different roles -- loving caregiver, compassionate listener, enthusiastic cheerleader, demanding authority figure, faking being an expert on everything -- that I learned a lot about being in different positions of power and had to ritually see things from the child's point of view.  It really helped me develop characters.  

Are your children ever subjects in your art? 
My daughter often wishes I would write a book about her, but I tell her no.  My books tend to be about kids in serious trouble and I could never put my kids in trouble, not even in my imagination.  She keeps trying to tell me I should write a different *kind* of book then and says that not every book is about trouble.  I laugh since the first rule of writing is 'every story must have conflict.'

How does travel figure into your art?  Do/did your children come along?  How has that worked out?
I've traveled to promote Split, but I don't bring my children -- I'm not that brave.

What about promoting the arts with your own children--any fun projects to share?
The kids and I discuss stories all the time -- both their own and others -- but my favorite project is that we have a tradition of writing a Halloween poem before they eat their first candy.  Often, we do something like an "Ode to a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup."

How do you escape?
Writing.  Teaching is rewarding and enjoyable, but it is definitely a job.  Writing is a passion.

What advice do you have for expectant mothers in your field?
A friend once reminded me that "balance" is a verb.  Find your own balance and remember there is no "right way".  (Particularly useful for when you are being told that real writer write every day or real mothers can intuit their child's every wish).

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