Wouldn’t You Like to Know . . . Aditi Khorana

AditiKhorana-credit RebeccaFishmanGrowing up on three different continents—Asia, Europe, and North America–while her father worked for the United Nations would have to make for an amazing childhood full of unique experiences. Perhaps this is partly why our current author Aditi Khorana was able to create such an original story. Graduating from Brown University with a BA in International Relations and an MA in Global Media and Communications from the Annenberg School for Communication at USC are pretty impressive educational credentials. Working for ABC News, CNN, and PBS as a journalist, and for Hollywood studios as a marketing executive would catch your attention on a resume. But it is knowing Khorana is already under contract for her second book that has the greatest impact on her readers.

SH: When I was a teenager, people would describe me as a: (jock, band geek, popular, goth, other, none?)

AK: Definitely a book/movie/current events nerd. I still am. Information makes me feel safe in a chaotic world.

SH: The best/worst thing that happened to you in high school?

AK: Best and worst thing: spending my lunch hour in the library, reading. High school–for me–was like The Shawshank Redemption. Mostly, I was biding my time, imagining/crafting a successful exit into a world that I knew would be a million times better than the one I felt trapped inside for four years.

SH: Favorite childhood book? Favorite food? Favorite band or album? Favorite television show?

AK: Favorite book: The Little Prince

Favorite food: anything pickled

Favorite band: Cyndi Lauper

Favorite TV show: Family Ties (I am such a child of the 80s!)

SH: Was there any class in high school you regret paying too little, or too much, attention? If you could add one class to high schools across the country, what would be the topic?

AK: Considering Mirror in the Sky has science fiction themes, you’d think I’d have paid more attention in physics class. But like Tara, my protagonist, I was too busy reading novels under my desk to actually make the most of any of my classes.

SH: If you could be a character from any book, including your own, who would you want to be? Why?

AK: I’ve always admired Countess Ellen Olenska in The Age of Innocence. She’s a countess (How cool is that?!) living in the Gilded Age!  Aside from that bad marriage to a Polish count, her life seems pretty fabulous. She just arrived in New York from Venice. She’s beautiful and brave and unconventional and free-spirited, and breaks with the restrictive mores of her time. But she’s also incredibly ethical and compassionate. Also, can you even imagine her wardrobe? I love characters who break rules, who test (and occasionally flout) the conventions they’re expected to abide by, characters who question everything around them.

SH: Is there a book, besides your own, of course, that you think everyone should be reading?

AK: Too many to name! A shortlist: God of Small Things; House of Leaves; Everything, Everything; The English Patient; 10:04; Einstein’s Dreams; Station Eleven; The End of the Story; Men Explain Things to Me; Americanah; The Age of Miracles; Between the World and Me; Euphoria.

I still devour books the way I did in high school (even more so now, I think). All I ever wanted was a life of reading and writing.

SH: Is there a story from your childhood that is told most often, either by you *or* about you?

AK: That my early desire to communicate superseded my capacity for language, so while I could speak in full sentences by the time I was a little over a year and felt the need to narrativize everything, I’d get frustrated because I didn’t have the vocabulary to express what I was seeing or feeling (and sometimes I’d cry because of this).

SH: Do you have any favorite family traditions that might need some explanation to outsiders looking in? Do you remember how they started?

AK: My father always gives me a dollar when I’m flying on a plane, to give away to someone in need once I land at my destination. I think it’s actually a Jewish tradition, but not sure of the roots. The idea is that you have the protection of (insert whatever cosmic force you believe in here) while you are carrying on the will of aforementioned cosmic force. I come from a very superstitious family.

SH: When asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, what did you say? Were you telling the truth?

AK: I always wanted to be a writer. Except for a couple of years when I wanted to be an architect. I still have a great appreciation for architects/architecture and volunteer with a lot of historic/architectural preservation efforts in Los Angeles, where I live. But I was pretty enamored with the idea of writing all day long. I still am.

SH: When you’re done writing for the day, or taking a little “me” time, do you have a hobby or special treat you indulge in?

AK: I love to cook, hike, read, and watch movies. Writing requires a kind of stillness that blankets the vast majority of my day, so ending the day with something kinetic is fun. I also make my own preserves/pickles/nut butters and various other confections after taking a food preservation class a few years ago. Creating something in a (relatively short) period of time gives me a kind of instant gratification that’s sometimes hard to find with writing.

SH: What makes you feel happiest? What scares you?

AK: Happiest when I’m enjoying a meal or cocktails in my backyard with friends or family. The combination of home/loved ones/good food and the seriously amazing Southern California weather that has spoiled me is a blissful one.

I’m scared of failure, letting those I love down.

SH: If you had an important secret or story to share, who would be the first person you’d turn to?

AK: My mother and my boyfriend are my favorite confidantes.

SH: Is there a moment in your life you’d love to live again? To either change it or to enjoy?

AK: While I was writing MITS, I thought about how I could have done high school differently. Maybe if I had been more relaxed, less judgmental, or felt less Othered, it might have been an entirely different experience for me. But I think ultimately the experience shaped me into who I am. So perhaps I wouldn’t really change anything at all. I just wish the term “microaggression” had been coined earlier so I had a way to describe–not just the experience of being one of the only people of color in a predominantly white community, but to make sense of some of the more distressing experiences I had on a regular basis while I was a teenager.

SH: What three words would you use to describe yourself? What three words do you think other people would use to describe you?

AK: This is tough! I’d say I’m determined, introverted, curious.

Others would say that I’m a connector, funny and emotionally open.

SH: What’s your biggest pet peeve?

AK: You know when people don’t give up their seats on the subway for the elderly or pregnant women? Or see someone struggling to get their carryon onto an overhead cabin and don’t offer to help? Or when you have one item in line at the grocery store and the guy in front of you has a cart full of five thousand things but is too busy texting people (how does this guy have FRIENDS?) to see you and say, “Hey, why don’t you go ahead of me?” I guess lack of consideration and what I see as a slow erosion of civic kindness really bum me out.

SH: What is one (or more) of your favorite features about yourself? It can be anything from an impeccable sense of style to crazy long toes that can pick up a variety of objects.

AK: I love fashion and style, and I’m often complimented on my ability to clean it up (when I’m not in front of my laptop for ten hours in yoga pants). So yes, that.

SH: You are sitting down to dinner with five people, living or dead, who you find fascinating. Who is at the table and what are you eating?

AK: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Mary Oliver, Vaclav Havel.

We’re having Prosecco and takeout from my favorite southern Thai place in LA: Jitlada.

 SH: You get three wishes, what are they? (Yes, you can wish for more wishes but are you *that* person?)

AK: I’d wish for daily bursts of inspiration and magic, a round trip ticket around the world, and a life of good health for myself, my family and my friends.

SH: Do you have a phrase or motto that inspires you?

AK: Yes! Two. Both of which you’ve probably already seen or heard unless you live under a rock. The first is that famous Steve Jobs one:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

And the second is that loooong Ira Glass one that circulated the internet a million times a few years ago:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Both have really informed my work as a writer.

SH: A series of choices: Salty or sweet? Hardcover, paperback, ebook, or audiobook? Walk or run? Fancy cocktail party or pizza and a movie? Spend or save? Comedy, drama, romance, or action? Card game, videogame, or board game? Late night or early morning? City or country? Near or far?

AK: Salty, paperback, walk (God help me, running makes me want to DIE), cocktail party, save, drama, board game (though I would nix all these options for a good crossword), late night, city (seriously don’t even have to think twice on this one). Far.

 SH: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten, at any age?

AK: Once again, I have two. The first from a mentor while I was interning at Time magazine: “Always work with the smart people. Seek them out wherever you go. Don’t go after the money or the fame or the glamour or the perks. Surround yourself with the smartest people you know– the ones who are pushing boundaries and constantly thinking about ideas, and you’ll never go wrong.” I internalized that one, and I always have and it’s really paid off.

The second piece of advice is from my father, after my first novel didn’t sell. I felt like a totally failure, like I had basically sunk two years of my life into a pipe dream. He said, “So you put two years into it and you failed. So what? Throw another year at it, and then another. And then another five. The point is, you don’t give up on what you love.”

Mirror in the Sky

Mirror in the Sky

SH: Sudeep and Jennifer have a great story to tell Tara about when they became a couple. Was their story inspired by anyone you know?

AK: Sudeep and Jennifer aren’t based on anyone I know personally, but they emerged organically as the only two characters in the world who could have shaped Tara. Ultimately, they represent the duality in her life: her acute sense of Otherness, even as she is extraordinary at belonging, as well as her internal struggle with the rational/logical parts of herself alongside the more emotional and intuitive aspects of her nature.

SH: How did you select Virginia Woolf as the author to have an altered existence on Terra Nova? Are there other authors or notable artists that you’d like to imagine altered life experiences for?

AK: This is such a great question! I’m just enamored with Virginia Woolf. Don’t be surprised if I reference her in everything I ever write.

But there are so MANY artists who I like to imagine another existence for elsewhere! Basquiat, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Tupac, Bob Marley, Sam Cooke.

SH: If you were in Michiko Natori’s position, what would you have done?

AK: I would have probably gone into hiding. The idea of having my privacy violated in that way is just about the most terrifying thing to me.

SH: Who would you most want to have as a friend: Halle, Veronica, Alexa, Meg, or Tara? From the same group; who would you least want to have as an enemy?

AK: I have a soft spot for Alexa–I love that she’s wise when you least expect it. I see her as the most sensitive and compassionate member of the group. I would not want to get on Veronica’s bad side!

SH: What do you think Tara and Nick are doing five years after this story ends?

AK: I’ve thought about this a lot, and an earlier version of the book even had an epilogue: Tara and Nick running into each other ten years after high school on the street in New York. The electric buzz between them is still there, but I don’t know there’s a future for Nick and Tara together. Tara’s way too cool for him. I think Tara goes on to live a fabulous life. After Brierly, the world is her oyster. She learns to take risks, largely because those invaluable experiences she had in high school shaped her. Sadly, I see a far more conventional path for Nick. I think he probably does move to New York, and becomes, like an investment banker or corporate lawyer, and ends up a little sad like his dad.

Books by Aditi Khorana

Mirror in the Sky. Razorbill, 2016. 352p. $17.99. 978-1-595-14856-8.

Aditi Khorana on the Internet

Author website: http://www.aditikhorana.com/

Official blog: http://www.aditikhorana.com/new-blog/

Tumblr: http://aditikhorana.tumblr.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/aditi_khorana