In November, we welcomed author/illustrator, Nidhi Chanani, to our Ink Splat Author Interview series. She is the author of graphic novels, Pashmina, Jukebox, Super Boba Cafe, and the Shark Princess series.

We discussed what drew her to writing graphic novels and picture books, what inspires her work, and what it takes to be a good illustrator.

Learn more about Nidhi and her incredible catalog of work at everydayloveart.com.

Writing Challenge

“The Mysterious Sign”

Write a scene where your characters stumble upon a word they don’t know that is on an important sign.

It could be a real or made up word.

How do they decode the word? What humor or frustrations arise from not understanding? Does it lead to mistakes or caution?

What do you think makes a good story?

I thought about this a lot, and I wish I had the perfect answer. I think that there’s such a variety when it comes to stories. But I think the best component of it was to boil it down to one thing. It is curiosity. A story has a component that makes you curious. It has either a great first line, really interesting characters, or something that compels you to continue reading. Whether it’s that they’re cute, or it’s relatable, that you’re curious how that character is like you or unlike you. I think it’s something that is a component of anything that is a good story is something that makes the reader curious. That’s something that the writer has to work on. How do you cultivate that interesting character, that interesting plot, that hook in that first line? All those things are building off of that initial idea of how do I make you curious?

There are many characteristics that make each of us writers and creators unique. What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

This can be answered from two aspects, is this like a process question? Or is it a me question? If it’s a me question, I think that what makes me unique in the things that I write, there’s always a little element of fantasy in it. I think that the world is magic. I think that we’re surrounded by nature and trees, we live with animals, and I just think that there’s so much preciousness and magical living that we ignore. And because we got used to living in this world, I love bringing fantasy into my books, because it’s a reminder that we can dream it. That in and of itself is magic. I guess what makes my style of writing and my books kind of like a theme. They center around this idea that magic is all around us. And it’s what I like to put in my books. Friends love that.

Other than the length and audience, how are your approaches to writing picture books and graphic novels different?

They are so vastly different. With a picture book, it is 40 pages. A middle grade graphic novel is 215 pages. I have so much more than I can put into a middle grade graphic novel. Even an early reader, or even my shark princess series, which is 80 pages, there’s just more space to explore your character to give your character voice. My approach in writing it, it’s so vastly different, because I can knock out a picture book in a week. And a graphic novel will take months and months. That is because you’re experiencing this character over hundreds and hundreds of pages. I have to know a graphic novel character very differently than I know a picture book character. For instance, in I Will Be Fierce, this character is never even named. Which I think is a conscious decision on the writer’s part, then that it becomes universal, you can imprint yourself on the character. But, that ends up being more heavily about the art. They’re both about the art, but I think that when you have a shorter script, and a shorter number of pages, your job as an illustrator/writer is to really engage the reader through the art. You have less space to bring them in. I’m really doing a lot of pre-work for a graphic novel. What I mean by that is that with a picture book, I can take the concept and then I can write about it and be almost done. But with a graphic novel, I have to write a lot about the characters, understand their background, where they’re coming from, what their limitations are, what they like, what they don’t like. Some of it might never make it into the book. That pre-work might be just something that I need to do to understand my characters and put them in situations that challenge them, and push them. This is a situation where I have to do a lot more work. That is probably the biggest distinction is a picture book, I can finish in like six to nine months, depending on editorial feedback schedules, whereas a graphic novel can take three to four years.

A special thank you to Nidhi Chanani for sharing with us! 

Nidhi Chanani is a freelance illustrator, cartoonist, and writer. After completing her undergrad literature degree at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Nidhi pursued a career in non-profits. The desire to draw kept pulling her away and in 2008 she enrolled in art school (only to drop out a year later). In 2009 she began completing one illustration every day of the week. She called this Every Day Love and developed her narrative style and voice with three years of daily practice. This launched her art career and business.

Born in Calcutta and raised in suburban southern California, Nidhi creates because it makes her happy – with the hope that it can make others happy, too. In April 2012, she was honored by the Obama Administration as a Champion of Change.

Her debut graphic novel, Pashmina (First Second/Macmillan), was released in the fall of 2017. It received starred reviews in the School Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly, and was reviewed in the New York Times. Pashmina was a Junior Library Guild selection, Chicago Public Library Best Book, Texas Maverick Graphic Novel, Northern California Indie Bookseller Association Long-List Title, and a YALSA Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens.

Her second original graphic novel, Jukebox, was released in June 2021 with a starred review in Booklist and glowing reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Like Pashmina, Jukebox was also a Texas Maverick Graphic Novel, Northern California Indie Bookseller Association Long-List Title, and a YALSA Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens.

Her debut picture book, written by Bea Birdsong, I Will Be Fierce, was released in April 2019. She followed that with Binny’s Diwali, Kong and Me, and most recently, Strong, which won the ALA Stonewall Honor. Her author/illustrator debut What Will My Story Be? was released in 2021. She is working on her next original middle-grade graphic novel, Super Boba Café, and an early reader graphic novel series, Shark Princess.


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