Airship Ambassador: What kind of research went into creating the Komagata Maru world?
Rati Mehrotra: I read and researched a fair bit before writing the story. Luckily there are extensive articles and photos of the Komagata Maru incident available at http://komagatamarujourney.ca – a website that was funded by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada under the Community Historical Recognition Program. I also had to do some research on steam technology, since I’d never written steampunk before.
AA: What elements did you specifically include so readers could feel the Komagata Maru history?
RM: I tried to stick as closely as possible to what actually happened, and who the main players were. Of course, I took a lot of liberties, both with the characters as well as with the timing of various events. But, for instance, the racist headlines Gurdit Singh’s son reads out to him are actual headlines from a Canadian newspaper at that time. I wanted to be able to immerse the reader into what these men were going through, and the odds they faced.
AA: How long did it take to write, and rewrite, Komagata Maru? What were the deadlines and publishing schedule like for you?
RM: The actual writing took me only four days – a sort of record for me. I had very little time. The deadline was looming, and I had this story all ready in my mind. It was only a question of giving it voice.
AA: What kind of attention has Komagata Maru generated?
RM: A lot of people have told me that it’s an important story. I think so too. Not because I have written it – not at all! But because we should remember our history. The Komagata Maru incident was not some isolated event, but the result of a deliberate policy of the Canadian government to keep out certain ethnicities so that Canada could remain a “White Man’s Country”. Let us not forget the past, and let us not repeat it.
AA: You have a number of published stories, now. What have your publishing experiences been like?
RM: For the most part, very pleasant. I have been quite fortunate in my editors. It’s wonderful to be able to see the stories I’ve written make it all the way to publication – print or online. The pro short-fiction market is highly competitive, and a sale always delights and astonishes me.
AA: How are new readers finding you – conventions, website, word of mouth, etc?
RM: All of the above! I blog at http://ratiwrites.com and I also try to go to one or two conventions a year. But most new readers probably find me through my various published stories.
AA: For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an editor, their feedback, and your writing?
RM: Learn to listen, but also believe in yourself. Make those edits that you truly think will make the story stronger. For the rest, explain politely why they will not work. Remember that the editor has the same goal as you, to make your story the best possible read it can be!
AA: Have you been on book tours and to conventions? What has that been like, and the fan reaction?
RM: No book tours yet! Hopefully that will change in 2018 when my novel Markswoman is published by Harper Voyager. But I have been attending SFContario – the Toronto Science Fiction Convention – for a few years now. The first time, I felt like a complete outsider – an imposter, if you will. Now, I am more comfortable. I am part of the Toronto specfic writing community (whether I believe it or not). I also enjoy going to the readings and book launches sponsored by Exile Editions. It’s a great way to meet readers as well as other writers.
AA: What do you do to keep a balance between writing and the rest of your life?
RM: I have a very packed life! I have two kids, and I work full-time from home. There is no ‘balance’. There is only stealing the time whenever I can get it. I think many women writers with kids have to deal with guilt, and I am no exception. Writing is my time, and there are always so many other things to do.
AA: Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?
RM: I do! And this has been life-changing for me as a writer. I didn’t realize how isolated I was until I had a real live crit group of my own. I meet with my crit group every month, and we workshop our stories, exchange market information, and generally cheer each other on. For those who do not have crit partners, I highly recommend joining an online workshop like Critters. Feedback is very important, and friendship even more so.
We’ll stop here in our chat with Rati. Join us next time when she talks about writing and other interests.
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