14 April 2014

Author Interview: Rajdeep Paulus

Today I'd like to welcome Rajdeep Paulus, author of Swimming Through Clouds (which I recently reviewed) and the sequel, Seeing Through Stones.

Welcome, Rajdeep! First, please you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?

Sure. I was born in North India, but celebrated my third birthday in NYC. Then my family moved to Canada, where I grew up until right before senior year in High School. Finished high school in Livonia, Michigan, studied English Lit at Northwestern near Chicago and met my husband there. Followed him to the Caribbean as he started Med School and that’s the reason we ended up in New York thirteen years ago. I spent close to a decade doing the full-time Mom thing, with a short break as a teaching assistant and now I’m finally doing what I always dreamed of: writing!

It has been said that authors should write the kind of book they like to read. What is your favourite genre? Who are your favourite authors?

Funny you mention this, because I am a huge Teen Fiction fan. I loved Hunger Games and Twilight and the Matched series. I also loved the books, The Book Thief and anything by John Green. But my all time favourite book is not Young Adult. A Thousand Splendid Suns is the book that changed my life as an aspiring writer. From the moment I turned the last page, I set out a goal to affect readers the way that book effected me. With an aftertaste of hope, if that makes sense.

Having read Swimming Through Clouds, that "aftertaste of hope" absolutely makes sense. 

What kind of books do you write? Where and when are they set?

I write contemporary Young Adult fiction, set in present day, and my first two books are set in and around Chicago. But ultimately, my goal as a writer is to write stories that stretch readers between two extreme emotional ends. And as they read my characters’ journeys, perhaps we can all learn a little about how to navigate the waters of the madness of this life. One minute amazingly sweet and the next a tragedy beyond our wildest imaginations. I’ve heard so many real life stories in the last decade that just break my heart, I know my stories barely scratch the surface of what’s going on out there, but I try to introduce some tough problems into my characters’ worlds and then advocate the power of kindness and hope of unconditional love.

Tell us about your latest book, Seeing Through Stones. Who will enjoy it? 

Sure. Seeing Through Stones continues the journeys of Talia and Jesse, this time telling the story from duel points of view, giving readers a chance to get to know the brother’s journey when the two go their separate ways. I think teens and women in general will fall in love with this story because of the unique cast that **SPOILER ALERT** shows up in the shelter where Talia checks into at the end of Swimming Through Clouds and in Jesse’s life as he searches for justice and purpose.

What was your motivation for writing Swimming Through Clouds and the sequel?

Simply put, I want to write great stories. Stories that give readers a whirlwind experience, break their hearts and fall in love. I also want readers to consider the madness of this life and how we are not in it alone. To perhaps find a Talia or Jesse in their own lives that is quietly suffering and extend a hand of kindness. And widen teen readers’ scope of understanding the world around them. Because a lot goes on in the lives of those around us. We just don’t see it, so we don’t bother worrying or wondering about it. In a country where it’s discouraged to get involved in others’ lives, I want to challenge readers to go against the norm and love someone that is easy to walk by and ignore. Everyone needs love. And everyone can use a little kindness. Everyone.

Where did the characters and story come from? What were your influences?

Truthfully, my imagination. And certainly there are seeds that start with various people I’ve come across in life. Certainly the physical description of Lagan is not too different from how my hubby looked when we first met some seventeen years ago, but I assure you, he never pursued me with Post-its. But he did send me a bunch of cassette tapes. Ha. What are those, you ask?? He was a deejay for his campus radio station and occasionally dedicated a song to me, would tape it, and send it me. And Talia, other than her taste in green clothes (which is my BFF’s favourite color,) her physical description, tastes and story are just a work of my crazy and overactive imagination.

Who is your favourite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her? 

Wow. Great question. I would have to say, and this might not make sense, but Rani, Lagan’s cousin. Only because she helped me to find Talia’s story. I wrote an entire book from Rani’s perspective before I ever penned one line of Swimming Through Clouds, so in some ways she was my first Fictional Love.

And there’s nothing like a first. Physical description and quirks of Rani (that barely come out in Swimming Through Clouds) were all me, although her story is not mine in any way, but in that first manuscript she was a freshman at Northwestern with long black hair, an addiction to chocolate and always misplaced things. That is me.

What are you working on at the moment? What other books do you plan to write?

Well, the truth I’m currently working on getting the word out about these first two books. Guest blogging, sharing interviews, and trying to enjoy the chatter about these first stories. I do have two books that are partially written or in first draft states, and I will get to those soon. I am also beginning a new blog this summer to document my hubby and his buddies who plan to bike form Seattle to NYC in the summer of 2015 to raise awareness and funds to combat childhood poverty and human trafficking. They’re calling themselves C4C Cycling 4 Change 2015. Best part about the new blog: I will be writing it with my thirteen year old daughter who is an aspiring author, so it will be a fun mommy-daughter venture. I hope.

Seattle to New York is a loooongg way! That's a huge undertaking, both in the planning and the execution. Kind of like writing a book, perhaps ...

You are a Christian but write books aimed at the general market. What made you choose this rather than the Christian market?

In a nutshell, I want to reach a wider audience. I did not grow up going to church and I guess I see myself more as a bridge builder, hoping to give readers questions to think about but not necessarily all the answers, if that makes sense.

Do your novels have an overt faith element? 

I think inevitably an author’s world view will slip into the story through the characters to some degree. So the faith element is part of Talia’s journey, but I don’t know that I have to take her “all the way,” if you know what I mean.

How does your faith influence your writing? How would that be different if you were writing for the Christian market?

I think my faith drives me to write generally clean fiction, in terms of sexual or profanity content, but more importantly, I feel drawn to write stories of hope, the source of hope not just human relationships. I haven’t read a whole lot of Christian fiction, so I suppose the overt use of church or the name of Jesus might not show up in my writing, but I don’t think that diminishes the power of the stories. If anything, I’m hoping that the story invites all types of readers, regardless of your faith background.

What do you see as the main differences between fiction written for the Christian market compared with the general market? 

Not sure to be honest. I love what Allen Arnold said at my first writing conference: He basically encouraged us to write the most compelling story we could. Make the story king. The message comes second. In fact, as a writer, any hopes to share any kind of idea will never happen if the idea isn’t packaged in a great story. I always sign my letters, Sincerely aware that great stories change lives. They’ve changed mine. As a writer, it’s my turn to change others. For the better. Of course.

For all the above questions, have a look at the recent blog post I wrote for CFOM (Christian Fiction Online Magazine.) I think it tackles the heart of these questions and will give readers a sense of how Playlist Fiction came about and what our hopes and vision have been for reaching teen and YA Fiction readers.

Here's the Book Trailer of the sequel, Seeing Through Stones:

Thanks for joining us today, Rajdeep. It's great to hear some more behind the story.

You can connect with Rajdeep on Facebook, Twitter, or her blog.

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