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Blog: This Writing Life


  • Writer's pictureMelissa Stoller

3 Question Interview - JYOTI RAJAN GOPAL

I'm so happy to feature author Jyoti Rajan Gopal on the blog today! Jyoti has several new projects releasing soon, including DESERT QUEEN, illustrated by Svabhu Kohli, releasing from Levine Querido in October 2023. I look forward to reading all her upcoming books! Jyoti shares about her inspiration and writing process, and chats about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection. Welcome, Jyoti!

STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories and share the process about your latest projects.

Thank you so much for having me on your blog Melissa!

My stories come from so many different places. From my daughters’ experiences when they were little. My own childhood. My classroom. My hopes and dreams as an Indian American, and even more, as a Tamil American. My curiosity that takes me down rabbit holes of research! Even random events or meetings can spark a story idea. (DESERT QUEEN was born because I was at Queen Harish’s show in Rajasthan and met the artist after the performance).

Sometimes a title will come to me, usually when I’m out walking. I don’t always know what the story is going to be. Sometimes that title leads to a manuscript, but many times it does not.

My two latest projects, both unannounced, are so different from each other. Each had their own process of coming into being.

One is fiction, deeply personal to my own experience but also I think, a universal story. I drafted several versions, working with critique partners and my agent before we submitted it as an exclusive to an editor. She asked for an R&R, we had a phone conversation to discuss her thoughts, and after I got off the phone, my brain was buzzing with possibilities. I wrote the final version in the next few days, and she acquired it very soon after.

The other is a nonfiction picture book rooted in my interest in environmental stewardship. It required lots of research, and lots of playing around with structure. And it took much, much longer to write!

CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?

I’ve always been a creative person – teaching encourages creativity for sure! But I’ve also enjoyed painting and drawing, I’ve sculpted and built with clay, I love creating kolams (traditional floor designs from India) and dancing.

Before I started writing for children, I never thought of myself as a creative writer. It was quite the surprise to me to discover that my stories like to come out in rhyme and lyrical verse!

As a kindergarten teacher, I firmly believe in the power of play. I know that for my students, play lets their creativity flow and their resilience grow. So, I try to see my writing as play too – especially if I’m getting too bogged down with structure or information and it’s blocking my writing. I try to find ways to play with my writing so that my creative juices start flowing again, whether that’s trying a different voice, experimenting with a different structure, or physically manipulating words and sentences in a dummy format.

I also find it so fascinating the ways that my brain goes off on tangents when I’m walking, listening to music, or dancing - it’s during those moments that I’ll have a thought about how to fix a thing that’s been bugging me in my writing. Or I’ll get inspired with a new idea.

I find that engaging in different pursuits, creative or otherwise, can inspire more creativity in my writing!

CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?

When I’m writing, I think of my daughters when they were little, or my students. And the stories I wish they had. I’m also thinking of little Jyoti growing up in Bangkok and Indonesia who didn’t even know the stories that she was missing.

So, when I meet young readers at festivals or school and library visits, I enjoy hearing about the connections they make between my stories and their own lives, and how a story resonates for them.

I have met so many generous and wonderful people in the KidLit community- online and in-person. I try to attend book launches and other KidLit events in my area, take classes, and I love when we have in-person gatherings of my local SCBWI chapter. (#westchesterscbwi!)

Mostly though, unless I’m at a book festival or attending an in-person conference, much of my engagement with the KidLit community is online. It’s been so cool to see how we can form connections despite distance, and even though some of us have never met in person (does Zoom count?), we’ve become good friends!


Growing up, Jyoti lived in Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, China and India. She finally settled in New York where she raised two daughters with her husband (who also grew up all over the world). As a child, she adored and devoured books but did not enjoy writing. At all.

As a grown up, she is a forever kindergarten teacher and mom. She still adores and devours books. But now, she likes to write! She is the author of AMERICAN DESI (illustrated by Supriya Kelkar), MY PAATI’S SARIS (illustrated by art twink) and DESERT QUEEN (illustrated by Svabhu Kohli) with three more coming out in 2024 and three more after that.



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