Retinol, Death, and Wringing the Writer: An evening with Roshani Chokshi and Ryan Graudin

Let’s face it, it’s been a sucky week. My car broke down, Em had to fetch me, there was an abundance of schoolwork on top of everything. Fortunately, there was one beam of sunshine this week, and that was the Roshani Chokshi/Ryan Graudin event at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill.

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Retinol Death and Wringing the Writer:

an evening with Roshani Chokshi and Ryan Graudin at Flyleaf Books

It helped that Em showed up at my workplace with a magnificent Southern picnic, bless. The only downside was that she was a tad bit late to the event, whooshing into Flyleaf after Ryan and Roshani had started their discussion. The good news is, they were discussing Beauty and the Beast. Not Emma Watson, more how it was a timeless fairy tale and the inspiration for The Star-Touched Queen. They flitted around the different versions of Beauty and the Beast, such as Bluebeard, as she slipped in and found her seats (one chair for her and the other for the books, of course). Of course, Ryan’s hair being the color it is, blue came up naturally. This was made better when Roshani admitted that her college major had been 14th-century English Literature, because it was basically fairy tales.

Because the town of Chapel Hill naturally inspires these things, the topic soon turned to the South. As a denizen of this region, I’ve always thought that the open gentility and masked darkness makes this area a fascinating one. Roshani and Ryan both agreed. Ryan described the South, especially Charleston, as a place of great beauty. But she added it was a Miyazaki-esque beauty, quirky and almost creepy. It would be, she added, an inspiration for her internal gothic novel. Roshani, in contrast, said that the South taught her how to write genteel monsters, who would offer the enemy a glass of sweet tea before eviscerating him. There was also (naturally) some talk of Gone with the Wind. It was easy to see where both of them, especially Roshani, could draw a beautiful darkness from that work.

The conversation turned to writing, also. Roshani made a joke wishing that writing was more wringing the writer than anything else, squeezing out the kernels of a story in order to get the book and then put them together. Roshani said that rather than Athena, springing fully formed from her father’s head, a story was more like Dionysis or Sisyphus–a slow, painful growth that eventually turned into something recognizable.

The conversation also turned towards travel, with Ryan citing travel as inspiration for parts of her novels. Ryan said that parts of Wolf by Wolf, such as the fight on bamboo rafts, took place in a Chinese village she had visited once. The Walled City was inspired by her experience with volunteer tourism and poverty. Roshani said that her story was essentially ‘fan fiction mythology’. But she said that she wrote the story of Maya in order to cement her ownership over Hindu mythology. As a biracial person who had learned old legends secondhand, almost, she felt the need to claim them. And maybe waggle her finger in the air a little, her thumbs stuck to her temples.

When they started talking about their novels, Ryan said that her favorite character was Imogen from her upcoming novel Invictus, for her dreaminess and tendency towards flightiness. Of course, since Invictus hasn’t been published yet, she cited Luka as her favorite from a published work. (Invictus, by the way, was described as “Doctor Who meets Firefly, plus some heists thrown in’–so it sounds right up my alley). Roshani also spent some time talking about her new book series, Gilded Wolves. She described it as Tomb Raider meets Indiana Jones–only set in the Belle Epoque, specifically 1881. The book has colonialism and appropriation as a major theme, which led to a discussion of when there’s an exchange and when there’s simply a robbery of cultural identity. For instance, part of the Gilded Wolves plot is that the European characters take forged cultural objects from the conquered natives and use them to amass power.

The usual question of writing tips came up afterwards, although Roshani and Ryan gave some, er, interesting answers. Roshani’s tip was to invest in Retinol, because you’ll be scowling at your computer a lot. Ryan’s sage advice was ‘every book is a new death’–which sounds more depressing on page than it did coming out of her mouth.

Another question someone asked was for book recommendations. Monstress, Done Dirt Cheap, The Hate U Give, and Strange the Dreamer were rapidly thrown out (for our thoughts on Strange, come back next week!). Saga was also a recommended read, although Roshani advised not to read it around parents. This is advice that I could have used when starting it, honestly.

The highlight of the evening was when, in the book-signing line, Roshani recognized Bibliobibuli from our Twitter–specifically, our review of The Star-Touched Queen and the accompanying mini-movie-thing. It was a great boost to our respective egos, and the first thing I heard when answering Em’s phone call (imagine me holding the phone slightly away from my ear as she screamed ‘ROSHANI REMEMBERED US’).

Of course, the undoubted second highlight was when Em kidnapped me and dictated the evening at Flyleaf to me as I wrote, chained to my keyboard.

 

*update: I’m not really kidnapped. Plus I got pie.*

 

*Further update: Emily didn’t tell me to write that part either.*

 

*No. Really. I swear.*

 

*yet another update: the pie got taken away.*

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