This month, we talk to author Rajani LaRocca about her novel, Midsummer’s Mayhem. She encourages us that it’s never too early or too late to start writing.
This month, Rajani LaRocca has challenged us with a Midsummer’s Mayhem writing exercise.
On page 2, the main character Mimi describes her sister Riya as “like an Aleppo pepper—striking and fragrant, but with a substantial kick.” On page 41, Mimi describes her brother Henry as “a seven-layer bar—the perfect combination of sweet and salty, exotic coconut and homey caramel, and supported by a good, strong, buttery shortbread crust.” Can you describe yourself, a friend, or a character using a food or baked good metaphor?
A second writing exercise:
When I begin formulating a character, I make a list of verbs associated with that character. I find this really helps me bring this person to life on the page. Make a list of 10-20 verbs associated with a character you are creating. How does this change how you think about this character?
Aim for between 350 and 1000 words. Submit your response by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You might be published on our website!
An Interview with Rajani LaRocca
When and how did you realize you wanted to be an author?
I have always loved books and read obsessively as a kid. I did a lot of creative writing through middle school, high school, and college. But my first ambition was always to be a doctor, and when I went to medical school and residency, the creative writing stopped. A few years ago once my medical practice was established and my kids were in school, I started to stretch my creative muscles again, taking classes online and in person, where I met fellow writers and formed critique groups. In 2013 or so, I decided to actively pursue publication. I first drafted Midsummer’s Mayhem in 2014, then revised it over the next few years as I also wrote several picture books. I signed with my literary agent in 2017, and in 2018 we sold Midsummer’s Mayhem and five picture books that will be published between 2020-2022.
This is all to say: there is no time limit on creativity, and it’s possible to combine the things you love in ways you may not be able to imagine right now.
Midsummer’s Mayhem is your debut novel. What didn’t you expect about writing and publishing a novel?
Most people imagine a writer sitting alone in a room allowing their genius to spill forth, but to me writing and publishing has been all about connection. I wouldn’t have been able to finish this book and get it published without my critique partners and other writing friends. I also never realized how many people are a part of getting a book published: my agent and editor, of course, but also book designers, artists, copy editors, and people in marketing, publicity, and sales, all of whom play crucial roles in getting a book into the hands of readers.
You’ve mixed baking and coming-of-age with elements of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What about this play, or Shakespeare’s works in general, resonate with you?
At the heart of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is conflict and competition between people who love each other – a daughter and father; two friends who used to be as close as sisters; the royalty of Athens; and the king and queen of fairies. The play makes us think about who we love, and why; what loyalty means, and what it costs. But it’s all wrapped up in a confection of an adventure told in gorgeous language with magic, mischief, and mayhem in the woods, where people emerge transformed.
Midsummer’s Mayhem is a riff on that tale of mortals caught up in a fairy feud. Although there are fantastical characters in my story, it’s really about 11-year-old Mimi struggling to understand her place in her super-talented family and in the world. I tried to channel the humor and whimsy of Shakespeare’s play while centering it on a real-world kid with familiar real-world problems…that then get even more complicated when magic gets mixed in!
There is a specific line that links A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the Indian-American family in my book. Once I remembered that line from the play, the whole story of Midsummer’s Mayhem fell into place for me. I hope to leave readers feeling that anything is possible, and that magic can be found all around us, especially in those we love.
Midsummer’s Mayhem features a large cast of personalities, particularly within the Mackson family. What is your favorite way to find inspiration for characters?
Before I start drafting, I think about some essential aspects of my main characters: what they want, what stands in the way of that, the fundamental “lie” they believe about the world, and what they actually need. Then I have fun thinking about what they look like, likes/dislikes, and some verbs that would be used to describe them (see my writing exercise above). Then I write the draft, and often some surprising personality quirks and choices emerge. In revision, I sometimes go back and complete more of a “character questionnaire” for all the characters, making sure that each one is distinct and necessary to the story.
If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be?
1. It’s never too early or too late to start writing.
2. Inspiration is everywhere, if only you are open to it.
3. All writing is rewriting, so keep at it even when you think your writing stinks. Silence that inner editor in order to get the words down.
4. Share your writing and learn how to give and receive constructive feedback—it helps you become a better writer. Learn how to listen to other’s opinions on your work, to take what resonates with you, and discard what doesn’t.
5. Remember to keep having fun.
A special thanks to Rajani LaRocca for sharing with us! You can find her book at her favorite book store, Indie Bound.
Rajani LaRocca was born in Bangalore, India and immigrated to the U.S. as a baby. Her family moved around, but she grew up mostly in Louisville, Kentucky.
Rajani LaRocca attended Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, and trained in Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. She has been working as a primary care physician since 2001. She lives in eastern Massachusetts with her wonderful husband, our two brilliant kids, and an impossibly cute dog.