Meet Author Alka Joshi


– My name is Alka Joshi, and my debut novel is
called, “The Henna Artist.” (soft, sitar music) – Okay so, it is a morning in July, and I open up my email, and I see an email
there from Emma Sweeney, my literary agent. And I open it. And it says, we have a very nice offer, and I’m just looking at it,
and I call my husband over, and I said, “Brad, can you
come in here a minute?” So he did, and I said,
“Can you read this for me?” So he read it and he started
jumping up and down right away. He was like, “Oh my God, Alka, this is it, “this is it, oh my God, you did it!” And he saw me just still sitting there. And so he said, “Is everything okay?” And I said, “Well, it
just doesn’t feel real, “I don’t believe it, is this real?” and he said, “Believe
it, Alka, this is real.” And it took me about another week to really absorb the whole
news and to really feel like oh my God, this book is
finally getting published after 10 years of working on
it, it’s going to be published. (gentle sitar music) – So in “The Henna Artist,”
what’s real are the sights, and the sounds, and the colors, and the vibrancy of India,
that is all very real. The caste system, and
how it impacts people, that’s very real. The art of the henna, and
the art of aromatherapy, and the various Ayurvedic
medicines and herbal treatments, those are all very real. And the Maharani Lathika, is actually named after my mother, her middle-name was Lathika. And that fashioned after, the real Maharani Gayatri Devi, of Jaipur, she was the third wife of that Maharaja, and she wrote a book, called
“A Princess Remembers,” which I read and just loved. And so I fashioned that after her, so she’s loosely based on that Maharani. And then, of course there’s Lakshmi, and she’s very much based on my mother, she looks like my mother,
she has the light eyes, and the light complexion,
that my mother did. She is also very creative, and
she has skills in artistry, which my mother did. My mother could do
anything with any material, and make it come out beautiful. And also, Lakshmi, like my
mother, didn’t have a choice, about whether she wanted
an arranged marriage. When she wanted to marry,
whom she wanted to marry, how she wanted to marry, what she wanted to do with her life. And so, in that way they are both similar. But that’s where the story diverges. So then, what happens in Lakshmi’s life, about her fleeing a marriage, about her becoming a henna artist, figuring out some way to make a living, that part is all imagined, and it is the way that I imagined, my mother’s life could have gone, had she not had the cultural
responsibility she did. (gentle, sitar music music) – I think that three things
that a really good character, a compelling character, needs
are, number one, imperfection. Because human beings are not perfect. Lakshmi’s not perfect. She has a lot of strengths, but she does have some weaknesses. You know, this is very
true of Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s characters
all had tragic flaws, so while they were
fabulous in one respect, in another respect it lead to their death, or to the disillusion of the entire community they were in. And it’s important for readers to be able to empathize with a character, to be able to know that
there is perfection and imperfection in one character. A second trait that I think is important is the ability to have some kind of a goal, determination, and intention. So, in Lakshmi’s case, her intention is to find
an independent life, a way that she can fashion her own life, create her own destiny. And, every character
needs to have some tunnel that they’re going through
to get to the other side. And we as readers want
to root along for them, So this is what happens with
Lakshmi in “The Henna Artist.” A third characteristic is the characters ability to feel empathy. because we need to understand
as readers that that character knows about a life larger than themselves. That they sympathize and empathize with the world around them
because that’s what we do as human beings and we
want to be able to know characters who also feel that way. (gentle sitar music) – So I had three major events happen in my life that led me to writing. The first was a job. And I was freshly out of college, I knew I wanted to do
something in advertising, I put together a portfolio and I went to McCann Erickson Advertising
in San Francisco, one of the largest agencies, and I said “I want to be an Art Director. “Here’s my portfolio.” They looked at it and they said, “Did you do all the
concepts in this portfolio?” And I said, “Yeah.” And they said, “Well,
we’ll hire you as a writer. “Because that’s what writers do, you know? “They come up with concepts.” And I said, “Really?” (laughs) And they said, “Sure!” So that was the first inkling I had that I could be a writer. A second major event in
my life was the time that my brother bought a condo in Jaipur. And I had a chance to take my mother back and forth from California to India. And I got a chance to spend time with her, in a way that I hadn’t
spent time with her before. It was just she and I and we
talked about her childhood, we talked about her early years, we talked about what it was
like to be a young mother with three small children
at the age of 22. And we talked about
what it was like for her to then move the entire family to America, where my father had
gotten a Doctoral degree. And so, that was a major event in which I started writing about
her life in Rajasthan and she encouraged me. She said, “Honey, keep writing this. “This is really great.” And just being in Jaipur, at the time that I was writing this novel was really an important
writing thing for me. And a third event in my life, and I owe a lot of credit
to my husband for this, is that shortly after we were
married we took a road trip all the way from California to Idaho. And during that trip I
was entertaining him, because he was driving, with stories about my childhood in India. And he said, “Honey, these
are really good stories. “You should try writing
some of these down.” So I did, and then when I was
done I showed them to him. And he looked at them and he said, “Wow.” He said, “You know you might want to “consider taking a writing workshop.” And so while I was also working, I started taking writing
workshops at night. And I had wonderful mentors. And they took such good care of my work, and the criticism about the work, and encouragement about the work, that I just felt like “Yeah! “I wanna do this! I
wanna do more of this.” And so I eventually
enrolled in an MFA program and then 10 years later,
we have “The Henna Artist.” (gentle sitar music) – So I’m working on three
different kinds of things. One is a sequel to “The Henna Artist.” The same characters, ten years later but two of the characters gain more prominence in the sequel. Another thing I’m working on is a graphic novel about my mother’s life, which, I’ve been really encouraged by the social media community to do. Because I’ve been talking about my mom, I’ve been telling stories about my mom, and everybody says, “I can’t wait until “the next installment when you “talk more about your mom’s life.” And then the third thing I’m working on is a set of cartoons about
my geriatric dachshund for magazines because
he’s a funny little guy and I like to talk about him (laughs). (gentle sitar music)

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