Six Questions with Jyoti Gopal
Growing up, Jyoti Rajan Gopal lived in Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, China and India. She finally settled in New York where she raised two daughters with her husband (who also grew up all over the world). As a child, she adored and devoured books but did not enjoy writing. At all. As a grown up, she is a forever kindergarten teacher and mom. She still adores and devours books. But now, she likes to write!
Jyoti's debut picture book is American Desi (Little Brown, 2022), followed closely by the release of My Paati's Saaris (Kokila, 2023).Visit Jyoti's website to learn more about her and her forthcoming books.
1. Do you ever struggle to come up with your next project? Or do you have lots of ideas and find it a challenge to narrow down your ideas?
Sometimes, I have lots of ideas that tumble out in the form of titles, seeds of a story, or a refrain that is calling to me. Sometimes, this can lead to a story that comes out pretty quickly, and that feels wonderful. Most times though, it’s more of a struggle to figure out which one to persevere with! I’ve also gone months without a new idea at all - that’s terrifying!
2. How do you know your idea will make a great book?
I never know! I do have stories that I think are really important and that I want to share, so I work hard to make them into a great book. I am grateful for writing partners and my agent, Wendi Gu, who are instrumental with their guidance and feedback.
3. Do you work on multiple projects at the same time?
It’s impossible for me to work on just one project! I think hopping between different manuscripts helps when I hit creative roadblocks. It creates some distance from a story I’m working on, and if the projects are very different, even better.
4. Where did you get the idea for My Paati's Saris? What was your inspiration?
I love saris! Their colors, their textures, their designs, the way they drape, and how they make me feel. Saris have a long, illustrious history in Indian fashion and connect me to my heritage, to my mom and grandmom. One day, I brought in several different kinds of saris to share with my Kindergarten class. And as it was an International Day celebration, I was wearing one too. As my students ooh-ed and aah-ed over the textures and the length of the different saris, I noticed one little boy pick up a part of a sari and drape it around himself, smiling and twirling. That was the spark for My Paati’s Saris.
5. If you could tell readers one secret about this book, what would it be?
So many layers of thought went into the illustrations! Could the broom rest against the back door of the kitchen? Would the family be drinking tea or coffee on their roof top? What should the cups they are drinking in look like? What kind of percussion instrument would be at a wedding in Chennai? What were some of the textile designs typical to saris in Tamil Nadu, the state in India where this story takes place? Art’s brilliant artistry, in partnership with Jasmin Rubero, art director at Kokila, and Namrata Tripathi, publisher of Kokila, has truly created a masterpiece.
6. What was the process or timeline for this book, from idea to publishing?
Idea for the story March 2019
Wrote four drafts between March 2019 – July 2019
Submitted at a First Pages session at an SCBWI conference in July 2019. An assistant editor on the panel expressed interest and passed along the first pages to her editor.
In August 2019, the editor asked for an R&R, which I submitted. We continued back and forth till about October. They really liked it, but I still did not have an offer.
In the meantime, I had found my agent! Wendi loved the manuscript, but had some suggestions to revise further. I worked with her on polishing the story some more and by Novembe 2019, she said it was ready. We had nudged the previous editor but hadn’t heard back. Wendi thought Namrata Tripathi at Kokila would like it and suggested an exclusive submission. Within two weeks, early December 2019, we had an offer!