We’re thrilled to be able to bring you an interview with Monika Schröder, the author of Saraswati’s Way. Even though she’s in the process of moving from one country to another (!!) she was kind enough to answer our questions.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?
No, I never imagined I would be a writer and only started to write fiction shortly before my 40th birthday.
If you weren’t a writer, what your job be?
I used to think that I’d like to be a veterinarian but I can’t stand the sight of blood. If I hadn’t become a librarian and author I might have made a good lawyer.
How long did it take from starting to write to having the book published? Did you get many rejections?
It took me about 14 months to write Saraswati’s Way. I was very fortunate that Frances Foster, who has her own imprint at the publisher Farrar Straus Giroux, accepted the manuscript right away.
Do you find it hard to stop editing/revising, or do you have a definite ending point?
I usually know when a draft is ready to be sent. My husband, a high-school English teacher and always my first reader, also edits my drafts and gives me advice when to stop.
For you, what is the hardest part of writing a book?
I don’t like the first draft. There is always this wonderful idea of a story in my mind and as soon as I start writing it changes into what is actually on the page. And that never seems to measure up to the perfect novel that I had in my mind. I also cannot stop my “inner editor” from talking to me about what is not good and what will never work. So the first draft is laborious. I like it much better once I have a draft that can be revised.
How do you get plot ideas? Are you inspired by incidents from your friends’ lives? From your own childhood?
Ideas are everywhere. In other books, in stories I read or hear, in movies I watch and also in my own experiences.
Your description of life in the railroad station is so vivid. How did you do your research?
I went several times to visit the train station and also took the guided tour offered by a non-governmental organization working with street kids, called Salaambaalak Trust. Their guides are former street kids themselves and I went on several tours with them, listening to their stories and experiencing the setting.
Akash is a wonderful character, open, engaging and self-directed. Is he based on a real person or did you imagine him?
He is not based on one real person. He shares his fate of running away and ending up at the train station with many kids, some of whom I met, others I read about. His interest in math is modeled after myself. I used to be a math geek and I still juggle numbers in my mind. And I am also very adamant and impatient, so these traits Akash also has from me.
What brought you to India? What keeps you there?
I have always been fascinated by India. My husband and I worked in international schools in other countries but I had always hoped that one day we would find jobs in India. In 2003 this wish came true when we were hired at the American Embassy School in New Delhi.
Parts of Akash’s story, his experience with Lal Singh, the tape recording operator on the train, having to wade through garbage looking for plastic, and his ordeal with the drug dealer are very “gritty.” Do you think that the average young American or European reader will be able to relate to or even understand those episodes?
Well, I know that this will be a very different setting and experience for American readers, but I hope that my descriptions are authentic enough for any reader to relate.
Would a country boy like Akash have ordinarily learned Vedic math in his village school? Is it taught as a part of a more traditional curriculum as opposed to the more modern, “tech savvy” subjects of a big city school?
The vedic math is probably not taught in an Indian village school. But Akash’s tutor might have shown it to him. I used to teach grade four in American schools overseas and complemented my lessons on multiplication with some of the vedic math rules.
In your book, you incorporate many Hindi words and phrases as well as information and stories about the many Hindu deities. India has a very complex culture, yet you seem to integrate it seamlessly into the story. Did you find it difficult writing it in a way that would be easily understood by “western” readers?
In an earlier draft I had many more Indian words. Then I realized that this was influenced by the Hindi-English spoken around me and I weeded out most of the words. It is always difficult to weave in information without sounding didactic or boring the reader with too much exposition. It took a while to get it right.
Do you have any subjects that you’ve always wanted to write about, but haven’t?
I would like to write a book set in pre-revolutionary Russia about a female student who becomes involved in the terrorist movement of the time. I also have an idea for a book set in German-South-West Africa about the German officer who discovered the mountain gorillas. I haven’t had time yet to write these other books that are in my head. But soon I will be a full-time writer with, hopefully, more time to complete these novels.
What advice would you give to young writers?
Read, read, read. I have learned most of what I know about writing from reading and looking at how other authors structure and tell their stories. Young writers should read as much of the genre they are writing themselves as possible.
Are you working on any books for the future? We’d love to hear about them (if it’s not impolite to ask).
My next novel is called MY BROTHER’S SHADOW and will come out in September of this year. The book is set in Berlin 1918. Moritz, the 16-year-old main character, experiences the end of Imperial Germany and a socialist revolution. His brother, who returns from the war maimed and bitter, is frustrated with the outcome of the war and soon turns to right-wing extremism. Moritz, who is falling in love with a Jewish girl, has to choose sides. You can watch a trailer for the book here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yl5IVFd2Wb0.
Currently, I am working on a book set in the 1830s. The story starts in Massachusetts but the main character ends up in Calcutta, India.
What authors or illustrators influenced you when you were starting out (or still do today)?
I love how Avi depicts historical settings and have read most of his work. I also admire Jennifer Holm for her talent to create historical fiction characters with distinct voices.
What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?
I love to read, obviously. But I also like to bake and take our dog for long walks. My husband and I adopted an Indian street dog, we call Frank. Frank is very amusing and takes up a lot of our attention.
What is your favorite word?
That is a difficult question for a writer. I like when I discover new words. For my current word-in-progress I bought a first edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which was published in 1828. I love looking up words and learning how they were used at that time. I know that I am not answering your question but I am afraid that I cannot name ONE favorite word.
What is your favorite food?
I am a vegetarian and love Indian food. It is easy to be a vegetarian in India.
What was the most exciting thing that happened to you as a child?
I thought it was always very exciting to visit my grandmother who lived in East Germany. We had to cross a border patrol when we entered socialist East Germany. My grandmother’s farm, about an hour north of Berlin, was very rustic. She even had an outhouse. Visiting East Germany was like going back in time, as many streets and houses still had bullet holes from WWII battles and there were no flashy advertisements because of the socialist economy. My grandmother also kept her money in a cookie jar and when we came she handed us lots of East-Marks, the currency used in East-Germany, but there was not much to buy. I bought a collection of nicely bound editions of Marxist philosophers and I also kept a journal to write down the slogans posted on billboards, such as “Advance with the Freedom-Loving Soviet Union.” My father grew up in East Germany, and I wrote my first novel, THE DOG IN THE WOOD, based on his memories of the Red Army entering his village in the spring of 1945.
Thanks again to Monika Schröder! We’re thrilled to hear about her new books and can’t wait to read them (and we wish her good luck on her move!). For more information about Ms. Schröder and her books, check out her website.