Friday, June 8, 2012

Interview Friday: Author Viji K. Chary of Porcupine's Seeds

Viji K. Chary recently was a guest on my show The Writing Mama at BTR’s World of Ink Network. For those of you who missed the show, you can listen to the conversation about her recently released book and her journey as a writer along with some writing insights down that journey.

Because I like to keep The Writing Mama show informal, I asked Viji to be my guest interview today here at The Writing Mama blog so to get things started, here is my first question.

What do you do to help balance your writing life with your family life?

Chary: At the beginning, balancing family with writing was difficult. I had stopped working to completely focus on my son. At that time, I’d write during his nap times and after he went to sleep for the night.

Over time, I realized that a lot could be done away from the computer. While he was in story time at the library, I’d read children’s magazines or picture books. Washing dishes is mindless work when I would outline a story in my mind. Same thing with folding laundry. In this way, my writing life blends into my family life without disrupting it.

Now, the family has grown to be more independent. I still come up with ideas, stories, outlines, characters and plots away from the computer. I jot them down so as not to forget. As a writer, I think that it is important to observe children and adults around us. These are the characters that will appear in our writing.

Spending time with the family creates conversations, questions and discussions. All of this interaction sparks story ideas.

Grenier: I couldn’t agree more with you Viji. I also did and still do, since I have a two year old at home the nap and late night writing times. I think it is so important we find ways to blend our family and writing lives. When did you start down the writing path?

Chary: When I was in sixth grade, I decided to be a writer after writing a story for a class assignment. I waited until after my first child was born before I enrolled in a writing class. It has been 18 years since that first writing class.

Grenier: Wow that is a long time. What inspired you to start writing?

Chary: As I said, I first became interested in writing in sixth grade. Ms. Kahn, our English teacher asked each student to write a story. At that time, I used to read the same books that I loved over and over again. I found it hard to find other interesting books. I felt a story should have excitement. In my English assignment, the MC and her friend had a swimming race across a lake. While the MC was swimming, ‘something’ pulled her leg. Scared, she hopped out of the lake and ran to the other side. The class voted my story the best! But, the story had holes in it. I didn’t know what pulled the MC’s leg. I just wanted excitement. And the resolution in the story was not strong enough. But, I enjoyed writing it so much that I decided be an author when I ‘grew up’.

Grenier: Sounds like an interesting story. I love that even at a young age you understood when a story lacked some element for good storytelling. Viji, what is a typical writing day like for you now that you have older kids and a more independent family?

Chary: Every day is different for me.  I write out a ‘to write’ list at the start of the month. On the weekends, I plan my work for the week. I begin with the most time-consuming work first. Some days, I am writing for an assigned story and other days I focus on applying for grants or work on marketing. There are also WIP stories to work on. Occasionally, there are days for reading and analyzing magazines.

Grenier: You sound very busy. Is your family supportive of your writing?

Chary: Very much so. In fact, if I send in a story or article without my daughter or husband reading, they are offended. But they will give an honest critique and let me know when something in the piece doesn’t work for them.

Grenier: That’s wonderful they like to be involved with your writing. What was the first thing you ever had published?

Chary: My first publication, “Papa’s Lost Acorn” was as a winning entry in the Half Priced Books contest. Half Priced Books held the contest and the top 25 stories were published. The proceeds went to for a literacy project.

Grenier: How wonderful you first publication won a contest and helped literacy. Congrats! Can you share with us a little about your current book, Porcupine’s Seeds?

Chary: My latest book Porcupine’s Seeds is about how Porcupine longs to grow beautiful sunflowers like Raccoon. When Raccoon gives Porcupine seeds, she says that all they need is soil, sun and waters. But growing sunflowers is not easy for Porcupine.

Porcupine's Seeds is also connects to the early elementary science curriculum.

Grenier: My girls really loved your book. I also felt it taught children about hard work and friendship, too. You are a very talented writer and I have enjoyed many of your magazine titles. I’m curious about what you enjoy most about writing.

Chary: I enjoy the actual writing of a story. It is the part that involves choosing the precise words to use, constructing sentences and creating the flow of the story. This comes after the story line, characters and conflict is clear in my mind.

Grenier: It shows in your writing that you do focus on more than the basics. What is the most difficult part of writing for you?

Chary: The most difficult part of writing for me is having a clear story, characters and setting in my mind. There are so many options for a story but to find the most tight and effective combination of story ingredients is a daunting task.

Grenier: Yes, I can see and understand that. Sometimes you have a great idea but cannot seem to find the right words or way to share the idea in story form. What is the best writing advice you ever received?

Chary: I often read newsletters for children’s authors. Many years ago, I read an interview with Kelly Milner Halls. She advised writers to ‘hustle’ on a story. She meant follow up on a (non-fiction) idea before someone else follows it. I use this advice with all my writing. If I have an idea that I’m fired up about, I write on it sooner than later before the fire is extinguished.

Grenier: Wonderful words of advice indeed as I know many who jot the idea and never sit down to write it or wait years later. Do you find it hard to balance your personal writing time with your other jobs?

Chary: At times, it is a bit of a challenge. It works best if I schedule my time well in advance. Then I just go through my ‘to do’ list, completely the most pressing or time-consuming activities first.

Grenier: You sound so organized. Do you have any other works in progress? Can you share a little about them?

Chary: I just finished writing three ESL readers. Writing these high interest books for new English speakers and readers was an exhilarating challenge. There is a list of 500 or 1000 words I may use in my book. They allow me about eight off-list words. This is a challenge because when I write about airplanes, I am not allowed to use ‘pilot’, ‘cockpit’, ‘baggage’, and other basic words. Talk about simple writing made challenging! I hope to write more.

Right now, I am working on a rebus. A rebus is a super short story (100 words). Each sentence has illustrated words. The illustrated words are nouns and sometimes adjectives like colors or numbers. It is challenging to write a complete story within 100 words, but it is also rewarding.

Grenier: What tips can you give writing parents with children at home to help them see publication?

Chary: Read, read and read. I’ve heard that you should read a thousand books/articles in your targeted genre before writing. I would not say you should wait that long but possibly read in your targeted genre more. Also don’t just read the genre. Analyze how it is put together, the characters, dialogue and the plot.

Grenier: Great tip, Viji. So with that, what do you think are the basic ingredients of a good book?

Chary: For a children’s book, the reader has to identify with the main character. To keep the reader’s interest, the plot needs to remain strong.

A young adult or adult reader has more life experiences. So, the adult needs to just understand the motives of the main characters. Some adults, including myself, enjoy good literature not just the story line. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand comes to mind as a good example of beautiful writing.
Grenier: What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?

Chary: A character needs to have flaws to be believable. The character Porcupine in my book Porcupine’s Seeds was actually based on me! Especially the brown thumb part. It’s not that I don’t know how to grow plants. I forget to water them. I have to have on my calendar a reminder to water the houseplants every Tuesday and Friday. Today, I have a green garden only because it has automatic irrigation.

Another part of the character is that when he or she falls, he or she needs to recover. That excites the reader. In Porcupine’s Seeds, the readers can identify with the disappointment and frustration that Porcupine goes through because all children have experienced disappointment and frustration. It is important the main character recovers because I think there is a subtle mirroring of the readers’ ability to recover from disappointments.

Grenier: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about being a “Writing Mama or Dad”?

Chary: I think my book club helps my writing thought process. Because I write for children and I am always reading children’s literature, a book club forces me to read some adult material. The part that is helpful is the analysis from the members. I hear why they liked or did not like the book, what they thought of the plots and characters, and what did or did not work for them.

The World of Ink Network is touring author Viji K. Chary’s children’s picture book, Porcupine’s Seeds published by 4RV Publishing.

Next few tour stops:
June 8th
Home School Blogger - Book Review

June 9th
Stories a la Mode – Book Review & Giveaway

BTR’s World of Ink Network show: It’s Time to Read Gather ‘Round
Airs live at 10am EST

June 10th
Utah Children's Writer Blog – Guest Post

June 11th
Strands of Thought – Interview

4 the LOVE of BOOKS – Book Review & Giveaway

June 12th
Fran Lewis Book Reviewer

The Patient Dreamer - Interview

June 13th
American Chronicle - Spotlight

June 14th
Writing to the Hearts of Children – Guest Post

June 15th
Families Matter - Book Review

You can find out more about Viji K. Chary’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour at

To learn more about the World of Ink Tours visit  

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