This week we are happy to get to know Mahtab Narsimhan! Mahtab is an award-winning author with numerous critically acclaimed books, nominated for several awards, including The Third Eye which won the Silver Birch Fiction Award. She is inspired by the desire to make sense of the world through stories and is deeply committed to representing diversity in her books. Please visit www.mahtabnarsimhan.com for more information.
WFC2020: Thank you for joining us, Mahtab! We love to start out with "first" stories. Could you tell us how your first novel sale came about?
The road to publication of The Third Eye was long and tedious. It took me a year and a half to write it. I was lucky enough to land an agent. Unluckily, she wasn’t right for me or my manuscript and rejections poured in. She gave up on me after eight months of trying to place the book and we parted ways. I continued querying publishers on my own and the rejections piled up. I was devastated at the time and ready to give up. But I had invested so much time, effort, and sweat in this novel that I was compelled to see it through. Also, it was a tribute to my dad who had recently passed away. I convinced myself to persevere with the help of lots of chocolate and wine.
I joined an online critique group. The writers in the group (some published and some newbies like me) helped streamline the manuscript. At a library conference in Toronto, in 2007, my life changed forever. I was introduced to Barry Jowett, the editorial director at Dundurn. He requested to see my manuscript. I sent it to him without much hope. After two solid years of rejection I was well primed for another. To my utter amazement and delight, he said Dundurn wanted to publish my book. It was a week of walking on air, a few months of agony as the contract was finalized and signed and a year later, the joy of holding my first book in my hands. It was the only yes in over a hundred rejections.
The Third Eye won the Silver Birch Fiction Award (a reading program run by the Ontario Library Association where the winner is chosen by the readers) in 2009 and I’ve not looked back since.
WFC2020: We're glad you persevered! And you've written a number of other books since then. Which of your books would you recommend to new readers who may not be familiar with your work?
Since this is a Fantasy Conference, I would recommend The Tara Trilogy.
The Tara Trilogy is a middle-grade fantasy adventure based in India, featuring a flawed yet endearing protagonist, Tara. In each adventure Tara must face many quests before she can succeed. They test her courage, her morals, and above all belief in herself. India’s diverse culture and aspects of Hindu mythology are seamlessly woven into the plot to enrich the narrative and expose young readers to an exciting world.
The trilogy, which comprises: The Third Eye, The Silver Anklet and The Deadly Conch, aims to entertain and enthrall readers so that these books, which took years to write, will be devoured within days or hours. I hope that discerning readers will instinctively grasp the subtle character-building themes in these fast-paced novels and strive to emulate them.
A quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson beautifully and succinctly captures the essence of this trilogy; what lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
I also recommend reading The Tiffin (DCB 2011) and Mission Mumbai (Scholastic 2016). While these aren’t fantasy novels, they’re a fun read and you get to experience the light side as well as the dark underbelly of my birthplace, Mumbai.
A tiffin-box containing an important message goes astray, irrevocably changing the life of a young woman, her lover and their son, Kunal. Years later, abandoned and alone, Kunal leads a wretched existence, believing he is an orphan. An almost fatal incident leads him to discover he has a mother after all, and he is compelled to search for her in a city of millions. Kunal finally tracks her down only to realize that he had already found his real family; one based on respect and friendship, rather than blood. This Young Adult novel is set in the vibrant city of Mumbai with its ubiquitous dabbawallas; men who deliver home-cooked food to the millions of white-collar workers throughout the city. This 150 year-old service is unique to Mumbai and is an integral part of the plot. The illiterate tiffin-carriers use a primitive alpha-numeric code for deliveries, and yet achieve ninety-nine percent accuracy.
This story is about that one error in a hundred.
This is the story of two nerdy friends who form a deep alliance based on their love for all things fantasy, and the trip of a lifetime to Mumbai which threatens to shatter this friendship.
Only when they understand and accept their cultural differences and realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side, do Rohit Lal and Dylan Moore manage to salvage and strengthen their friendship.
WFC2020: What an excellent reading list for our readers. What about your latest book? What is it about? What was the inspiration for the story?
My latest publication is a picture book for young readers aged 3-7 yrs. You and Me Both was inspired by a true event and is a story of two boys with more in common than meets the eye. A joyful exploration about friendship, diversity, and how the things that we share are more than skin-deep.
WFC2020: I love how your work spans across so many age groups. What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a science fiction trilogy for middle-grade (ages 8-12) readers. The first draft of the first novel is complete and once I finish outlining books two and three, I’ll revise the first and start the submission process through my agent.
WFC2020: That's exciting! Is there anything else you would like WFC2020 attendees to know?
I am deeply committed to diversity and always ensure that my books serve as windows and mirrors for my readers.
WFC2020: Thank you so much for sharing with us today! We've loved the opportunity to get to know you more, and we're excited to see you at WFC. Where can readers find you on the internet?