I love it when authors write a story that veers away from trends yet works in every way. Roshani Chokshi’s debut YA fantasy The Star-Touched Queen is exactly that. With gorgeously vivid writing and unbridled imagination, this Hindu-inspired tale brings readers to a world of mythical creatures, surreal settings, and love intertwined with destiny. (Check out my review of The Star-Touched Queen here if you haven’t yet.) The book has been an instant hit with readers, too, debuting in the New York Times’ YA Hardcover Bestsellers List in its first week of sales. That’s pretty good, if you ask me.
Today I’m thrilled to have Roshani stop by and chat about The Star-Touched Queen. If you’re curious about her world-building approach, writing influences, her journey to becoming a published author, and flesh-eating demon horses (yes, you read that correctly), then this interview is for you. Enjoy!
Q&A with Roshani Chokshi
Congratulations on The Star-Touched Queen! How do you feel now that the book has been out for a few months, and that it became an instant NYT Bestseller?
Thank you! I honestly feel…relief. Debut year is really stressful. There are so many things at play, 99% of which are out of my control. Now that TSTQ is out, I feel like I can focus on the joy of writing once more. I also feel a lot of gratitude towards my readers. The book wouldn’t have found success without them, and every email / tweet / shout-out I see just inspires me to create more stories.
Could you tell us a little about The Star-Touched Queen in your own words?
The Star-Touched Queen is a love letter to the fairytales that shaped my childhood, both Western and non-Western. To me, it is a message of hope, that when things seem dire or fixed, that we possess the agency to turn grief into gold. Fairytales are a bit like alchemy, in that way.
I loved the world-building in The Star-Touched Queen. The rooms inside Akaran’s palace, the memory tree, the glass garden, the Night Bazaar – the amount of detail and imagination floored me. What “rules” or other considerations did you use to develop each setting? Did you do any research as well?
I’m so glad! When working with magical settings, the biggest thing to me is that each place must have a purpose in the fabric of the world. I also didn’t want the characters to interact passively with the setting. Rather, I wanted each moment of interaction to “demand” something of the character, like trade-offs with using magic. I didn’t do any formal research, but I have had the opportunity to travel to India twice, and also visit the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Those experiences definitely influenced the settings within TSTQ. Cliché as it sounds, living life to the fullest is the best research for writing.
Another aspect of TSTQ that I enjoyed was your writing style. It’s so fluid, vibrant, and descriptive; and it reminded me of the prose in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn. How did you learn to develop this style? Also, which authors would you say have had the greatest influence on your writing?
You’ve just cited two of my favorite authors! I think I’ve always had a naturally flowery style. To me, imagery is so critical in bringing a world to life in one’s imagination. We get an almost dream texture from rich prose, which is something that I wanted for the atmosphere of TSTQ where I hoped that the writing would be its own character. My prose, while its default baseline is imagery-heavy, changes depending on what the writing project demands.
For example, with [my next book] A Crown of Wishes, I wanted the prose to be a little more restrained in service of the characters. In contrast, I have one WIP that’s absurdly dreamy and was such a treat to write. But even though I started off with that image-heavy prose, honing it into something meaningful took time and effort! Otherwise, it was just a bunch of purple, and not much else. I would force myself — and I still do this — to evaluate every sentence and explain to myself why I needed it on the page. If I couldn’t come up with a compelling enough reason for the story, I let it go. I think the authors who have been my biggest influence are Angela Carter, Laini Taylor, Vladimir Nabokov and Catherynne M. Valente.
TSTQ’s heroine Maya is such a wonderful character. I admired her intelligence, persistence, and inner strength. What do you love most about her?
I really love her ambition. I love that she’s not apologetic about what she wants, and I love how she is quick to own up to her deficiencies. When I was growing up, I felt like I got in my way a lot of the time. If I’d just been upfront with myself about what I’d done wrong instead of trying to find blame or make excuses, I would have found contentment a lot faster.
I have to ask you about Kamala, the flesh-eating demon horse. She was SO FUNNY and snarky. How did you come up with the idea for her? And, how do you think you’d get along with her if she were real?
Soooooo… I would totally get along well with Kamala because she’s based off of me and my best friend. (*lol*) Obviously, we don’t dine on bones and hang out on cremation grounds, but my best friend and I share a long and enduring love of snark and all things macabre.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer and started taking it more seriously?
I have always wanted to be a writer, but I think I found myself putting more effort into my manuscripts the year after I graduated from college. I had taken the year off to study for the LSAT and prepare for law school. I felt that if I didn’t put my heart into this last creative project, I would regret it for the rest of my life and never have the opportunity to write professionally. So I spent that whole year working on what would become The Star-Touched Queen in a very cold and very cramped tax law office.
I read that your agent Thao Le initially rejected your manuscript when you queried her. How did you bounce back and eventually get that “YES”? And, how did your first conversation with her go?
Thao was my dream agent from the beginning. When she rejected me, she included a lot of great notes on my first 50 pages. So I asked her if I could make the changes and if she liked them, maybe I could send them back. She said, “Yes.” A month later, I sent her the revised pages. She read the whole manuscript and two weeks later offered representation! Our first conversation was great because she understood what I wanted from this story and was 100% on board with the atmosphere and setting. I knew she was going to be my agent when she mentioned one of my favorite Bollywood movies “Jodhaa Akbar.”
I’m already looking forward to your next novel, A Crown of Wishes, which comes out next year. What can you tell us about this companion to The Star-Touched Queen (without giving anything away, of course)?
I am SOOOOO excited for A Crown of Wishes. It’s very different from TSTQ in the sense that it’s not a strict fairytale retelling, but inspired by quest stories that I loved when I was younger, especially Lloyd Alexander’s The Iron Ring. ACOW (*lol* at the acronym) is more about character transformations, and how people interact with the unknown and how hope is as poisonous as it is nourishing. The basic plot is that Gauri teams up with an enemy prince, Vikram, (readers might remember him from TSTQ!) to compete in a magical tournament where the winner wins a wish.
Do you have any of advice for writers who aren’t published yet?
Be patient. Be kind. There is no expiration date for success. Envy will get you nowhere, but only bring you unhappiness. Read as much as you write. Honor your work and your talent. Keep an open heart. ❤
Roshani Chokshi’s Final Fast Five
- Last Book She Read and Loved: FEVER series by Karen Marie Moning
- One Culture Whose Mythology She’d Love to Explore in a Future Book: Filipino
- A Fictional Character She Wouldn’t Want to Meet in a Dark Alley: Demagorgon from Stranger Things
- Random Object We’d Find at Her Writing Desk / Space: Wrist roller
- Three Things She Can’t Live Without: Coffee grinds (unused…), nail clippers (I cannot have long nails, they drive me up the wall), and SPF (ANTI-AGING IS PARAMOUNT)
About Roshani Chokshi
Roshani Chokshi comes from a small town in Georgia where she collected a Southern accent, but does not use it unless under duress. She grew up in a blue house with a perpetually napping bear-dog. At Emory University, she dabbled with journalism, attended some classes in pajamas, forgot to buy winter boots, and majored in 14th century British literature. She spent a year after graduation working and traveling and writing. After that, she started law school at the University of Georgia where she’s learning a new kind of storytelling.
Find Roshani Chokshi:
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THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN
Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?
Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…
But Akaran has its own secrets — thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . . including herself.
A lush and vivid story that is steeped in Indian folklore and mythology, The Star-Touched Queen is a novel that no reader will soon forget.