For this edition of Ask the Author I'm bringing you the amazing author behind the upcoming Disney-Hyperion title, Enter Title Here: Rahul Kanakia. Enter Title Here is one of my most anticipated titles of 2016 so of course I had to write him an e-mail kindly asking if he'd be interested in doing an interview. Luckily, he agreed and answered all my Q's with some awesome A's.
Here is his book and his answers:
Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia
Expected Publication: August 2nd 2016 by Disney-Hyperion
Number of Pages: 352 Pages (Hardcover)
I’m your protagonist—Reshma Kapoor—and if you have the free time to read this book, then you’re probably nothing like me.
Reshma is a college counselor’s dream. She’s the top-ranked senior at her ultra-competitive Silicon Valley high school, with a spotless academic record and a long roster of extracurriculars. But there are plenty of perfect students in the country, and if Reshma wants to get into Stanford, and into med school after that, she needs the hook to beat them all.
What's a habitual over-achiever to do? Land herself a literary agent, of course. Which is exactly what Reshma does after agent Linda Montrose spots an article she wrote for Huffington Post. Linda wants to represent Reshma, and, with her new agent's help scoring a book deal, Reshma knows she’ll finally have the key to Stanford.
But she’s convinced no one would want to read a novel about a study machine like her. To make herself a more relatable protagonist, she must start doing all the regular American girl stuff she normally ignores. For starters, she has to make a friend, then get a boyfriend. And she's already planned the perfect ending: after struggling for three hundred pages with her own perfectionism, Reshma will learn that meaningful relationships can be more important than success—a character arc librarians and critics alike will enjoy.
Of course, even with a mastermind like Reshma in charge, things can’t always go as planned. And when the valedictorian spot begins to slip from her grasp, she’ll have to decide just how far she’ll go for that satisfying ending. (Note: It’s pretty far.)
In this wholly unique, wickedly funny debut novel, Rahul Kanakia consciously uses the rules of storytelling—and then breaks them to pieces. (goodreads.com)
Interview with Rahul Kanakia
1 - Describe Enter Title Here with a haiku.
A girl schemes and schemes
But evil never prospers
Or does it? We'll see
2 - What was the first initial thought or thing that sparked the idea for Enter Title Here? Was it a name or the most basic idea of a story about a girl dealing with the challenges of high school and trying to excel?
I was reading an essay about South Korea and it mentioned, in an off-handed way, that students in South Korea are so overworked that after a spate of suicides, teens created a national protest movement--they had marches where they chanted "We are not study machines!" It was something about that phrase that set me off. "We are not study machines!" It made me think of all the kids in the world who are driven to work so desperately hard, even though the potential rewards seem so distant and far out of sight.
3 – What do you like the most about your protagonist, Reshma, and what do you think makes her stand out?
I admire her work ethic. I wasn't a hard worker in high school, and I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, schoolwork is BS and kind of a waste of time. On the other hand, it meant I never learned how to work hard. And because of that, when I found something that was worth working on (my writing), I didn't quite know how to do it. I think Reshma is a tremendously effective person--she knows how to get what she wants--and there's always something awe-inspiring about that.
4 - Did you have a personal motivation behind writing a story dealing with the high school overachieving culture and stereotypes, or was it simple the interest in the topic? Or the need to talk about it since, in today day and age, teens face an unbelievable amount of pressure and stress from both their parents and the world around them?
I went to college with a lot of overachievers, and I think they're underappreciated (at least in literature). It's easy to denigrate them and call them soulless, but I wanted to write a book that took them seriously and tried to explore what it meant to work really really hard.
5 - How long did it take you from first thought until publishing deal? Out of curiosity, how many queries did you have to send until you found 'the one'?
I first thought of this book in July of 2012. I wrote the first draft in January of 2013. My agent sent it out in April of 2014, and it sold within 5 weeks. So maybe two years? This was the second book my agent sent out for me. The first didn't sell, but it was the one that landed me as an agent: I sent out 93 queries, but in the end the agent I got was one that I never queried. The story of how I got in touch with him is a bit funny, actually. I came in second place in the Tu New Visions Contest, and the winner, Valynne Maetani, got in touch with me and offered to send my manuscript to an agent that she knew!
6 - How do you feel about the fact that in only a few more months thousands of readers will be able to hold and read your debut novel?
I don't know. It still feels very unreal. When you write, you get rejected a lot, and those rejections make you get used to the idea that no one else is ever going to read your work. At this point, a hundred or so people, including strangers, have commented about my book online, and their praise does make me happy in some abstract way, but it's still hard to connect it with the actual book that I wrote. Part of this is that I finished the first draft of ETH something like three years ago, so at this point it feels very much like something my younger self did (rather than myself).
7 - Why do you thing the readers out there should pick up Enter Title Here? What makes the story stand out and, in a way, important?
They should pick it up because Reshma is a blast. She's so much fun. She's evil and manipulative and self-absorbed...and that's why you love her.
8 - While writing the story did you ever imagine how a cover might look like and what do you think about the very unique final version?
I always thought the cover would be kind of abstract: all bright colors and sharp angles. I actually imagined that they might use a typewriter motif, since that seems to be a common cover. I wasn't expecting the old-fashioned word processor look, but I instantly loved it! The cover designer, Maria Elias, did a fantastic job both with that and with laying out the inside of the book. She really loved Enter Title Here, and I think you can see that love on every page of the book.
9 – Seeing as you’re a YA author I’m sure you also read YA, so I wondered, what were the last three books you’ve read and what did you think of them?
The most recent book I read was actually a middle-grade novel: Andrew Chilton's The Goblin's Puzzle. It's a classic humorous MG adventure, in the style of Harry Potter, but it's also emotional and thought-provoking. The book is about a nameless and powerless slave who, with the help of an extremely logical goblin, needs to use his wits to save two girls named Alice (one of whom is a Princess). Riddles and puzzles are a running theme throughout the book, which makes it a feast for the mind, but what I admired most was the wit. Even throwaway lines are extremely wry and funny. I blew through the book, and I'm sorry that it's Chilton's debut: I wish there were a hundred more books of his for me to read.
I also recently read Hannah Moskowitz's Not Otherwise Specified. I'm bisexual myself, but I've never seen another bisexual character in YA. Her protagonist, Etta, is a fantastic and complicated girl, and everything about the book is so well-realized. I also recently read Catherine Lo's not-yet-released How It Ends: about two girls becoming friends and then having that friendship fall apart. What I loved about the book was that at first everything seems so stereotypical: the shallow mean girls; the obnoxious older sister; the evil stepmom. But as the book goes on, you see that there are so many more facets to everything, and, in the end, there are no easy answers.
10 – What advice could you give aspiring authors?
Enjoy being unpublished. I know it sucks, but trust me, it has its upsides. I feel so nostalgic for the days when I didn't have a publisher and an agent and I could just write whatever I wanted to. Of course I feel grateful, but there's also a sense of loss. It's like growing up. We all get older, but we still miss what we left behind. Similarly, if you work hard enough, you will get published eventually, so instead of dwelling on that event, aspiring writers should try to enjoy their freedom...while they still have it.
11 – If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
To read thoughts! I can't imagine anything more wonderful or intimate than to directly experience the vitality and fertility buried deep within the minds of all the people around me.
Rahul Kanakia’s first book, a contemporary young adult novel called Enter Title Here, is coming out from Disney-Hyperion on August 2nd, 2016. Additionally, his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Apex, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, The Indiana Review, and Nature. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and a B.A. in Economics from Stanford, and he used to work in the field of international development.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Rahul now lives in Berkeley. If you want to know more you can visit his blog at blotter-paper.com or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/rahkan