Author Interview: Rajani LaRocca


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Midsummer's Mayhem

by Rajani LaRocca


Eleven-year-old Mimi dreams of winning a baking competition judged by her celebrity chef idol. But she loses her best helper when her food writer father returns from a business trip mysteriously unable to distinguish between delicious and disgusting. Mimi follows strangely familiar music into the woods behind her house, meets a golden-eyed boy, and bakes with him using ingredients they've found in the forest. Then everyone around her suddenly starts acting loopy. Squabbling sisters, rhyming waitresses, and culinary saboteurs mix up a recipe for mayhem in this Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night's Dream and competitive baking.

June 11th, 2019

Introduce yourself and your debut novel!

I’m Rajani. I was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now live in the Boston area with my beautiful family and impossibly cute dog. I write middle grade novels and picture books (for kids), and when I’m not writing I practice medicine (for adults).


My middle grade debut, MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, is an Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and competitive baking. It’s about 11-year-old Mimi, who dreams of winning a baking contest to finally prove she’s not the least talented member of her family. But when her food writer father returns from a business trip mysteriously unable to distinguish between delicious and disgusting food and eating everything in sight, Mimi doesn’t know how she’ll ever bake something good enough to propel her to gastronomic fame.


Drawn into the woods behind her house by strangely familiar music, Mimi meets a golden-eyed boy named Vik who shows her parts of the forest she’s never seen before. Together, they find exotic ingredients and incorporate them into delectable baked goods. But as her dad acts stranger every day, and her siblings' romantic entanglements cause trouble in their town, Mimi begins to wonder whether the ingredients she and Vik found are somehow the cause of it all. She needs to use her skills, deductive and epicurean, to uncover what's happened. In the process, she learns that in life, as in baking, not everything is sweet.


What’s the most surprising part about your debut journey so far?

I’m always astonished by the generosity and support of fellow writers, whether they are just starting out, fellow debuts, or bestsellers and award winners. The kidlit writing community is pretty amazing.


Give a shout-out to a fellow debut!

MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM shares a June 11 release date with Chris Baron’s beautiful book, ALL OF ME. I love the beautiful verse in this novel, and the thoughtful, gentle way the main character Ari handles the things that are hurting him.


Who is your favorite character?

Other than the main character Mimi, my favorite character in MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM is Vik, the mysterious boy Mimi meets in the woods. He was so much fun to write!


How long did it take you to write this book?

I first drafted MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM 2014 and revised it intermittently until 2017, when I entered Pitch Wars and revised it again.


What's a cool thing about your book that isn't in the blurb?

There are a couple of medical references in the book! I think medicine has a way of sneaking its way into all my novels.


Describe your main character in 3 words.

Sweet Determined Creative


What advice would you give to a new writer?

Connect with other writers. They are the most wonderful resource for helping improve your craft, keeping you motivated to keep writing, and acting as sounding boards during the rollercoaster ride that is writing and publishing. The friendships I’ve made because of writing have made me a better writer and a better person.


How do you select character names?

In MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, the main character Mimi is named after my daughter, nickname and all. For some of the Indian names in the book, I used Sanskrit meanings to fit the characters. For example, Mimi’s oldest sister, who is a fantastic singer and dancer, is named Riya, which means “singer” in Sanskrit. Mimi’s mother, who also sings, is named Sangita, or “divine music.” I named the second sister Anjuli (nickname: Jules) because of a TV miniseries I saw as a kid that featured an Indian princess named Anjuli who was played by a red-haired blue-eyed American actress! This character name is “revenge” for that show. In my novel, Anjuli/Jules is a soccer-loving brown-haired, brown-eyed Indian-American girl.


What is your favorite word, and why?

Elated. I love the way it sounds, and how it conveys the feeling of its meaning, like you’re floating.


What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I have SO MANY author friends, but I’ll limit myself to my critique partners for MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM. My critique partners Alison Goldberg, Hayley Barrett, Sharon Abra Hanen, and Shannon Falkson have been with Mimi since the very beginning, and my friend Theresa Milstein did a crucial beta read. These wonderful writers help give me perspective on my writing and what’s working or not working. They’re also strong shoulders to lean on during the ups and downs of writing and publication! And I must mention my Pitch Wars mentor, Joy McCullough, whose wisdom about MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM sent me on exactly the path I needed. I grew so much as a writer in the two months I spent revising with her.


Share a novel aesthetic!


Share a picture of your impossibly cute dog!

Boomer, who is always a good boy and whose eyes inspired Vik’s eyes in MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM.

Share a favorite recipe!

Malted Milk Double-Chocolate Cookies

Makes 40-45 3-4 inch cookies


Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup cocoa

1 cup malted milk powder (I used King Arthur)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, cornstarch, and malted milk powder in a large bowl and stir with a whisk. Cream butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add vanilla extract and eggs, one at a time, until everything is well-mixed. Add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar-egg mixture and mix until just incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips. Scoop in rounded tablespoons and space at least 1 ½ inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating sheets hallway through, until the cookies have lost their raw look. Cool on pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling. Enjoy!

Thanks for interviewing, Rajani! I can't wait to make those cookies and buy your cute book on 6/11/19!

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