Dear She Writers,
I’m excited to be writing a series of posts for She Writes, detailing the countdown to publication for my new novel, Oleander Girl. One reason I’m pleased is because I’ve been reading (and learning from) other people’s countdowns, and I hope some of the things I share here will be helpful to you. But mostly it’s because sharing my hopes and anxieties for the novel, at which I’ve worked so long, makes this waiting period a little less scary and a little less crazy. And yes, even though this is my tenth book of fiction, it’s still scary and crazy, particularly because the world of publishing is morphing with amazing speed into something quite different, with new challenges and confusing game-rules.
One of the questions I’ve been hearing lately, as I tell people about the upcoming birth of the novel (and yes, I shamelessly bring it up at every opportunity) is, “What’s it about?” So I’ll try an answer—or one of them, because there are many angles to every book. Oleander Girl is a novel about a young woman, Korobi, who grows up in Kolkata, brought up by her loving but strict grandfather, in an ancient mansion much like one I saw (and fell in love with) years ago when driving down one of the oldest streets of that city. She is about to marry her prince, the dashing young Rajat, son of a business magnate, when her grandfather dies, leaving behind huge financial problems and an astonishing family secret that will impel the sheltered Korobi to put off her marriage and travel to America on a search. What she discovers there will force her to make one of the most difficult decisions of her life. All this takes place in 2002, in an America forever altered by 9/11, and in an India torn apart by the Godhra riots between Hindus and Muslims. So it’s also a novel that explores violence caused by religious difference and asks how we can live in harmony despite that.
I recently received a stack of advance reading copies of Oleander Girl—I’ll be sending them—or handing them—to media people whom I know in Houston, where I live. I’m delighted by the heft of the book in my hand, and by the cover, which has a quote by Junot Diaz, whose work I love and admire. There was a lot of debate about this cover. The design team at Simon and Schuster came up with two very different covers.
They were having a hard time deciding because both covers were wonderful in very different ways. I liked the second one a little better, but we still couldn’t reach a decision. Finally, I put them on my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/chitradivakaruni. To my surprise, hundreds of readers enthusiastically voted on them, giving their reasons, and my favorite cover –the white one--won because people thought it was more intriguing and reflected the spirit of the book more accurately. And that’s what the publisher then decided to use. Which just goes to underline the power and usefulness that social media is capable of! I think the process also made my readers feel like they had a stake in this novel, which I’m very happy about.
So this week I’ve started doing interviews, mostly for monthly magazines, which require a long lead time. Additionally, I’ve been posting snippets about my novel on Facebook, which is my social media of choice. (I love the instant feedback, often from readers living in different countries.)
Mostly I’ve been putting up intriguing—I hope!—quotations from Oleander Girl, and photos from Kolkata that remind me of buildings or locales that are important in the book, including this one of a small temple in a home courtyard--some of the crucial action of the book takes place in a similar temple.
I do post a lot of other things on my page—inspirational quotes, writing related jokes: even shopping queries. (I’m going to India next week on a family related trip and want to pick up my book-reading outfits from there, and readers have been giving me a lot of enthusiastic suggestions!)
Recently, my publisher put up an excerpt from the novel on my FB page (I don’t have the tech-pertize to do that myself!) and organized a book giveaway, and I’ve received some very pleased comments from people who won. I also posted the epigraph. I think epigraphs are a crucial part of a book—they add much to the atmosphere as well as to the understanding of the book. I love puzzling over epigraphs in other people’s books, and I spend a long time picking them for each of mine. The epigraph for Oleander Girl (which is also a novel about the necessity for-and the cost of--love) is from a poem by Yeats that you might recognize:
O love is the crooked thing.
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.
From “Brown Penny,” William Butler Yeats
I’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorite form of social media and why you like it.
And on epigraphs—please share some from your own writing, or potential ones you’re considering, as well as ones you’ve read that stayed with you.
Next week, the publicist at Simon and Schuster will have most of my book tour planned, and I’ll start thinking about how to publicize it. I’m a little nervous already, being the kind of traveler who requires frequent bubble baths and large doses of chocolate to keep herself calm while on the road.