Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Giveaway and Author Interview: Sayantani Dasgupta (The Serpent's Secret) Middle Grades

I have THREE copies of The Serpent's Secrect (Thank you, Brent!) up for grabs! WIN a copy of The Serpent's Secret! Post a comment  about the interview to the blog. Include comment, your first name, city, state and email address. I will never share your email address with anyone. Deadline for posts is noon MST  April 24. Winners will be chosen randomly by Randomizer. Please check your email after noon MST on April 24 when I notify winners. Winners have 24 hours to respond to my email. Books will ship to winners from New York. Good luck and start posting!                  
                                                               Read my review here

The Serpent's Secret
Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond, Book 1
by Sayantani Dasgupta
Scholastic Press
368 pages
ISBN: 9781338185706

Meeting Sayantani in Dallas at Texas Library Conference in April 2018! So exciting to meet you in person! Thank you for your kind words, your exciting book (s) for children (and adults), and your unflagging generosity. The Serpent's Secret is my favorite MG of the season (as everyone knows!)

Thank you, Sayantani, for agreeing to answer my questions! It's wonderful to have the opportunity to share your answers with your young (and older) readers. They will get to know a little more about you as a person. The Serpent's Secret is a breakout book and I am honored to have met you in person and continue to be honored for your friendship and Tweets on Twitter! 

Interview With Sayantani

1.          The Serpent’s Secret is a planned series. Where are you right now as a writer? Are you finished with book 2 and in edits? Is book three started? Are all of them finished?

Hi Pamela! Thank you so much for having me! I’m honored!

Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond is planned as a series – I have some ideas of how many there will be, but I’m not sure I’m ready to tell! For the time being, I can tell you definitively that Book #2 (title and cover to be revealed soon!) will be out February 2019 and I think it’s safe to say that there may be some more adventures in Kiranmala’s future…

I’ve finished and handed in Book 2 – which means that Scholastic is in the midst of making ARCs/galleys! So that’s very exciting! And I might be working on Book 3 as we speak!

2.          How many edits or changes did your manuscript go through from querying and landing your agent to landing a publisher? Once the publisher got your draft, how much editing was done? How long did it all take from your first draft to published?

Well, this is an interesting story. I wrote The Serpent’s Secret for my now teenage children back when they were middle grade readers. I wrote it because I realized that although books were more diverse than when I was young (and could literally find no representations of myself in books or media) they weren’t still that diverse across genre. My son in particular was a big fantasy fan, and I wanted to give him and his younger sister a heroine who looked like them! I probably finished that very first draft of The Serpent’s Secret back in 2009 or 2010 without an eye initially to publishing it. It was a fun family project in which I wrote a modern day adventure story for my children based on the Bengali folktales I heard from my grandmother and loved so much as a kid.

By 2011, however, when I first took the completed out with a different agent than the one I currently have, we got a long list of very polite rejections. I think now that the story might not have been ready, but also that the market probably wasn’t ready for an immigrant daughter adventure fantasy with humor and space elements. I mean a book with folk tales and string theory side by side might have been a little hard for folks to fathom! Back then, editors kept asking that I keep Kiranmala’s voice but write her story as realistic fiction. I’m so happy to see the market has changed and there is so much more diverse science fiction and fantasy getting published now.

For the next five or so years, I wrote other manuscripts, edited The Serpent’s Secret on my own many times, attended innumerable workshops and conferences, and worked with a critique group. Eventually in 2016, I signed with my current agent, Brent Taylor. Once I signed on with him, the tempo of things changed a lot! I did a very quick round of edits with him, and within a month of signing with him, we had the book at a very exciting six publishing house auction! After so much time thinking it would never happen, I couldn’t believe it. I kind of still can’t believe it! Then I worked with my editors at Scholastic on another very quick round of edits and the rest is intergalactic demon slaying history!

3.          Besides folklore and middle grades, is there another genre you’d like to write? What would it be and why?

When I was young and dreamed of being a writer, I always thought that I would write grown up, literary fiction. Part of the reason is because I started thinking of myself as a writer only after being introduced to wonderful novelists of color like Toni Morrison, Julia Alvarez, Gabriel García Marquez, Paule Marshall, and Salman Rushdie. But I think I’d also internalized this idea that to write my immigrant daughter story, I’d have to make it very serious, with lots of mangoes, and monsoons, and lots of crying involved. I’d internalized this message that literature from writers of color had to somehow put our pain on display. I’m so lucky I eventually realized that my story wasn’t that, and my fictional voice wasn’t that, and it didn’t have to be. I wanted to tell an immigrant daughter story not about pain, or cultural conflict (whatever that means) but about quirkiness, joy and power! Finding my humorous middle grade writing voice was amazing, like finding a hidden part of myself. (As my own kids will attest, I’m kind of a twelve year old at heart!)

So I do imagine more middle grade fantasy in my future, maybe some middle grade realistic fiction as well. I have a few ideas for YA novels too, one historical and one realistic fiction. There’s a family story of some great aunts who were involved in the Indian revolution from the British I’ve been longing to tell. But no matter what I write, it will probably have a bit of humor. I do love a good laugh! Joy and laughter can be a form of resistance!

4.          Besides writing, what are your other hobbies?

Reading (of course), watching movies and going to the theater with my kids, travelling with family, gardening, cooking!

5.          If you could do anything for a living besides writing and the medical field, what would it be and why?

Children’s literature is already a third career (after being a pediatrician, and then slowly transitioning away from seeing patients and into teaching at the college level)! But I think, if I was to do something besides being a doctor, teacher, or writer, honestly, I’d be a librarian! All of my career twists and turns have ultimately been about storytelling and story receiving. And I still get that fluttery “what should I read first?” feeling when I enter a library. I love talking about books, recommending books, handling books! (Although, confession time: as a teen, I was a library volunteer, but I spent a lot of time hiding in the stacks, reading, when I should have been re-shelving! Maybe that’s why I didn’t go to library school, I knew I’d have a hard time staying away from all that reading temptation!)

6.          What is the last middle grade or YA book you read?

I’m in the middle of reading several right now, but my last YA read was actually a listen. I recently finished the audio book of The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (it’s a prequel of sorts to her amazing Code Name Verity). It’s a lovely, evocative family mystery set in Scotland, and the accents were scrumptious to listen to! Middle grade, I just finished reading Celia C. Pérez’ First Rule of Punk which I thought was just awesome! Amazing voice, spunky heroine, warm family context, and beautiful, fun zines throughout the text!

7.          This is the first time you’ve been on a book tour. What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you? What is the BEST thing that has happened on tour?

While I obviously love interacting with teachers, librarians, booksellers and fellow authors on tour, for me, the most memorable thing about being on book tour is undoubtedly interacting with kids in schools. They’re the ones who ask the hardest/funniest questions too. One young woman recently got up, after I’d talked all about how I wrote The Serpent’s Secret for my kids and how they helped me edit it, and asked, “If your kids helped you so much with the book, why didn’t you dedicate it to them?” I almost fell over. She wasn’t trying to give me a hard time, she was just being honestly curious! (In case folks are wondering, I dedicated Book 1 to immigrant parents, and my own parents – but Book 2 is dedicated to diasporic kids and my own kids!) I asked another young woman, a sixth grader, the other day what kind of books she likes reading. She looked at me seriously and said, “Anything with an empowered girl protagonist. There’s not enough of that out there, and I feel strongly about that.” I couldn’t do anything but give her a first bump of agreement!

8.          What books would you recommend that EVERY child/teen read before they become an adult?

I’m not sure if there’s any one set of books – I’d say it’s important for children and teens to read, read widely, and read both what they’re naturally drawn to and outside of their comfort zones. I think most importantly all kids should be able to read books that are mirrors – in other words, books that somehow reflect their experiences – and books that are windows – in other words, books that allow them to gain an understanding and empathy for experiences and people unlike them. (For more on mirrors and windows, see Dr. Rudine Sims Bishops’ groundbreaking writing on this!)

9.          What children’s or YA book should every ADULT read and why?

Again, I’m not sure if there’s any one or more books I’d recommend, but I think that adults should read books for young people. For pleasure, for sharing with the young people in their lives, and for a reminder of what it means to be young and in relation with stories. I think that reading books for young people can help adults  awaken their wonder, joy and curiosity again. I think some of the most revolutionary and socially transformative thinking is happening in children’s literature. Particularly now that we slowly (slowly!) see so many more authors from marginalized identities representing their own communities’ stories. As the great Madeline L’Engle said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children." And that applies to reading too.

10.       What traits do you share with Kiranmala? What traits of hers would you love to have as your own?

When I was young, I sometimes said things before thinking, and later regretted my words, like Kiranmala. I also definitely underestimated my parents’ general awesomeness – I knew they loved me, but like Kiranmala, sometimes wished they could be just like everyone else. It’s a common immigrant kid experience, and it was really important for me to recognize that it was our family’s uniqueness that was our strength, and that it was only by embracing all of who I was that I could find my true self. So even though it’s a story full of flying horses, drooly rakkshosh demons and evil snake kings, Kiranmala’s story really is my own immigrant daughter story, about returning to the land of my ancestors, the stories of my family, to find my own superpowers! Except I’m not sure if, confronted by a giant demon breaking through my kitchen, I could be as brave as Kiranmala is!

11.       What smells or scents bring back your childhood?

Lilac – my mom had a tree right outside our kitchen window when I was growing up in Ohio. Jasmine – the smell always reminds me of my childhood visits to India. And of course the smell of Indian cooking!

12.       What food speaks to your SOUL?

Bengali food – of course!

13.       What is your greatest vacation of all time?

When my kids were younger, I would have said by a beach or a pool so that they can have fun and I can sit by them reading and writing! I still enjoy vacations like that, but I equally enjoy travelling the world with my kids and husband. As a big book and theater nerd, the best vacations are ones that involve some kind of visit to a writer’s home, or to see a great play! (My kids are both in a children’s Shakespeare theater company near our home, so anytime I can see good Shakespeare, I’m happy!)

14.       If you had one wish for both of your children, what would it be?

Oh, just for them to make the world a better and more just place for all. Not too big of a task, no pressure! J

15.   If you have a favorite charity or would like to support one, what is it and why?

I support a lot of conservation, gender justice and social justice organizations. I regularly support Amnesty International, Doctors for Human Rights, and The Southern Poverty Law Center, who all do important work against injustice and hate. There’s too much of that in the world, and if being a children’s author has taught me anything, it’s that we all must keep doing the work of revolutionary love. 


  1. Your career arc sounds fascinating! From pediatrician to teacher to author -- fascinating!
    Maggie K.
    Fort Worth, TX

  2. Thanks! I have heard so much about this book.
    Barbara Mc.
    Kansas City, MO

  3. Thank you for the lovely interview - I enjoy sharing the author's backstory with my students!
    Vineland, NJ
    jtesta @

  4. Sounds great!
    Brian Johnson
    Springdale, AR

  5. I am so jealous that you met the author and got to ask about the rest of the series! I'm eagerly waiting for February now. Suzanne C. Maryville, TN

  6. I hope that YA book about the aunts involved in the Indian revolution against the British gets written. It sounds intriguing!
    Nacogdoches, TX

  7. I can't believe some publishers wanted her to change to realistic fiction! As a fantasy novel, this reaches so many students who would not read about KiranMala as a realistic fiction protagonist.
    Good for he!

  8. "I wanted to tell an immigrant daughter story not about pain, or cultural conflict (whatever that means) but about quirkiness, joy and power!" ~ Thank you! Not only am I looking forward to reading THe Serpent's Secret, but also thrilled to have a story with a strong desi heroine to share with my daughter.

  9. We had lilacs at my parents house growing up, I LOVE that smell!
    Onalaska WI

  10. Katie
    Columbia, MD

  11. I love that the author talks about diverse representation in literature. We need more! I want my students to find books that they can see themselves in too.
    Sandy B
    El Paso, TX