Roshani Chokshi Interview
New York Times bestselling author Roshani Chokshi’s new Middle Grade novel, Aru Shah and the End of Time, is the first installment in a four-part series following the adventures twelve-year-old Aru Shah. The novel follows Aru, whose tendency to stretch the truth gets her into deep trouble, beginning with her unwittingly setting free a demon bent on setting free the God of Destruction. In order to save her family and friends from great peril, she must go on a gripping, mythical adventure sure to thrill readers.
Ross McMeekin: You have a new novel coming out, Aru Shah and the End of Time. What inspired you to write it?
Roshani Chokshi: Aru was really inspired by the fact that I grew up obsessed with the Sailor Moon television series. On the one hand, the characters each had separate powers that were based off of their planets. They also transformed into these epic uniforms and had this special pen that they raised into the air. I was really obsessed with that idea…I kept raising sharpies into the air, wondering if the power of Jupiter would turn me into a sailor scout, but it never happened. But what I really loved about Sailor Moon was the female friendships. The female friendships were so critical in that show that they eclipsed love interests, they eclipsed the squabbles among friends…it was the most important thing about them. I was lucky enough that throughout my childhood, and even now, into growing adulthood, that I have strong female friendships. That’s why I wanted to write Aru. But the reason why I chose the mythology that I did was because I never had the opportunity to see brown girls in film and fiction taking the center stage and being magical. So it was very much a wish fulfillment project for me.
RM: Do you see yourself in the characters of the novel?
RC: Absolutely. I don’t know if you follow me on Instagram, but I have a terrific story of when my mom sent me a photograph of myself from seventh grade where I was trying to look like Spinelli from Recess, and I thought I looked really edgy but actually looked really unfortunate. That somehow subconsciously became a direct description that I lifted and applied to one of the characters. So there are clearly some middle school demons that I’m continuing to work out!
RM: Aru Shah and the End of Time is the first book in a series, and I’m curious about how you go about writing a series. Do you plan everything out beforehand? Do you have an outline?
RC: I do have an outline. What I’ve taken to doing now is something called a zero draft, because I’m writing two series right now, which is a new experience for me, and one where you have to be really precious about your brain power. So my zero draft is me thinking about what are the emotional beats that a story has to hit through every chapter. For Middle Grade, I think the chapters work better when they’re shorter, so you’re handling them in terms of scenes—one scene is one chapter. So I’m thinking what is the goal of that scene emotionally, and what is the goal of that scene in order to move the story forward. But I think nothing is more annoying—and it certainly annoys me in fairy tales—than when things continue to keep happening to characters versus characters having enough agency to do things on their own…for instance, when something springs out of that internal need to address a wrong that was done against them, or a race against time, or whatever it is. We have to care about it because of how it affects them immediately. So that’s how my process goes. I draft very quickly, but usually just a very full outline…sometimes it’s 50,000 words of just outline. And then I rest it, reread it, and come back and start filling in the details and building out the story.
RM: On that note, what about writing this book did you find the most difficult?
RC: I think the most difficult thing—and the thing that makes Middle Grade so magical as a genre—is the voice. Growing up and reading Rick Riordan’s books, that voice in Percy Jackson is so immediate. You know it’s Percy talking to you. When you’re reading the Harry Potter books, you know you’re in a Harry Potter world because of the space between the words, the mood and attitude that’s created in that. One thing I learned from writing Aru was that I could not make her do something that was out of character and tell myself I could come back to it and fix it later, which was something I could sometimes get away with in my YA novels, because those novels were such a process of many, many layers of revision. But for Aru, if the voice wasn’t right when I was done for the day, all of those words were going to be scrapped. I had to stick very, very true to her. That was very annoying, but she’s a demanding thirteen-year-old girl, so I don’t expect much different.
RM: Are you an audiobook listener? Do you have any book recommendations?
RC: I do love audiobooks. For me, I can really only appreciate an audiobook if I’ve already read the book in another format. I think that’s because if it’s me, and it’s my first time listening to it, I’m weird as a reader in that I like to have complete and total control over how things sound, and the cadence of it, so I have trouble letting go of control and appreciating what the artist is doing. I love listening to people narrate their own audiobooks—for instance, Neil Gaiman’s audiobooks. I really loved Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. Those really resonated with me.
Find Roshani Chokshi’s new novel, Aru Shah and the End of Time on Libro.fm.