Kamala Nair – From Conception to Paperback, The Personal Story of a First Novel

The following is a repost of an article by Author Kamala Nair, author of “The Girl in the Garden.”  We are reprinting it on this blog with permission from the author.  To see the original post, you can follow this link.

Author Kamala Nair in Italy for the launch of her book, “The Girl in the Garden.”

From Conception to Paperback – The Personal Story of a First Novel
by Kamal Nair

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I was with book, as a woman is with child.” His words capture the experience of publishing my first novel. For many years before I even began writing The Girl in the Garden, it had been gestating within me. During childhood trips to India the seeds were planted, and nourished over the years as I fell in love with literature, reading and re-reading works like The Secret Garden, Wuthering Heights, and Rebecca.

My immigrant parents regularly took my sister and me to visit our extended family in India, and I recall those long, scorching summers with intense clarity. I used to feel at once both intimately tied to the people and surroundings, and like a fish out of water. The tiny village in Kerala where my father grew up became a place of myth in my imagination: the lush jungles and flowers, the strange birds and animals, and the customs and rituals I longed to understand. I imagined myself as a modern-day Mary Lennox, the heroine of The Secret Garden, but in reverse, an Indian girl leaving her home in the West for the exotic and bewildering land of her roots.

I moved to New York in my early twenties with a few dollars in my bank account, and a few chapters of a novel. Shortly after I arrived, I landed a job as an assistant to the editor-in-chief of a major magazine, a job that ultimately did not live up to my glamorous and naïve expectations. Some days I felt lucky to be in my position, other days I wondered how I ever could have deluded myself into thinking I could find a place here in this ruthless city. Every morning I rose just after dawn and sat at my desk, writing from that enchanted place just between sleep and consciousness, until my bedroom was filled with sunlight. I spent long hours at the office, then went out with my friends to enjoy the city I had made my home. It was a grueling process, sometimes trying, sometimes exhilarating.

The Girl in the Garden was not a business venture or a job, it was a project of pure passion, a quest upon whose outcome my core sense of identity depended. I sometimes felt, on monotonous days spent photocopying and fetching coffee for my boss, or as I stood crammed in a crowded subway car with my cheek crushed against the glass, that if I didn’t have my book, I wouldn’t know who I was. My sentiments may have been extreme, but they were also necessary. That flickering filament of hope in my art and in myself, that confidence in the face of the doubts and disappointments of the world around me, allowed me to continue.

That sense of urgency carried me through the challenges of the process, from breaking the news to my parents that I was turning down admission to law school in order to be a writer, to completing the book, to finding a literary agent, to selling it to a publisher, to stepping out of my comfort zone to promote it.

The Girl in the Garden has taken me on a wondrous adventure, spiriting me away not only from my magazine jobs, but from a life where my most creative and exciting moments happened in secret, stolen moments, in the mornings while the rest of the city slept. For a long time, only my closest friends and family knew that I was writing a book. When it was published, acquaintances and strangers suddenly got in touch to say they had read a review, or seen it on a bookstore shelf. Suddenly people knew me as a writer, an identity I had yearned to inhabit since childhood. Over the last year, I have spoken on panels, signed piles and piles of books, and learned how to suppress the knocking of my knees as I stand at a podium reading my work aloud to an audience. Most recently I sat in a garden in Milan, Italy, speaking to journalists about the Italian translation of my book, which is called Una Casa di Petali Rossi, and has, to my unexpected delight, enjoyed three weeks on the Italian bestseller list.

I am proud of this past year, but I am also afraid of what lies ahead. Afraid of my second book. Afraid of starting over from scratch, and of fully committing myself to this new story and its cast of characters, who will be replacing Rakhee, Amma, Krishna, and all the other figures from my first novel who I have lived with and loved for so long.

The paperback version of The Girl in the Garden is out on June 12th and with its release, I feel the bittersweet emotion that accompanies the closing of one door, and the opening of another. This is the final stage of the publishing process, the equivalent of sending your child off to college. As I say goodbye to my story’s eleven-year-old heroine, Rakhee, and immerse myself entirely in my second book, a historical novel that I have spent the last year researching, I realize I’m really an adult now. This is no longer a secret passion, but my job.

Last week a box was delivered to my apartment. The striking image of two white peacocks emerged from within the folds of bubble wrap, and as I picked up the pristine book and held it in my hands, my eyes filled with tears.

I clung to the book, letting my fingertips slide across the smooth cover, this tangible thing into which I poured all of myself, my childhood innocence, the confusion of adolescence, and all the tumultuous hopes, missteps, fears, and loves of my early adulthood. I held on tightly for a few minutes, and then, at last, I let go. I slid it into an empty space in my bookshelf, opened up the document called “Novel 2” on my laptop, and threw myself without any further hesitation into the frightening and thrilling unknown of my future.

You can read an excerpt of Girl in the Garden here.

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Visting Author Series, Kamala Nair

One of our recent Author Visits was hugely successful: over 125 people attended the Library Event held in the auditorium on July 28th. Kamala Nair read from her debut novel The Girl in the Garden and answered many questions about her writing process, the story itself, and her future projects. It was a great pleasure to hear her read from her work as well. Everyone enjoyed the glimpse of the Indian culture, both in her book and at our event : fabulous foods were prepared by family and friends, Anu Nair, Celia Kamath and Athira Nair and others. The cardamom cake in the shape of Kamala’s book was outstanding, both in taste and appearance!We can’t thank you enough for adding to all our senses that evening.

We were very fortunate to have two beautiful flower displays based on the exotic flowers of India and the book donated by Modern Designs, a local artist who creates with flowers. She kindly provided these two items as a raffle item to some very lucky people! Katherine, the Library coordinator of these events is delivering one of the special bouquets.

The Friends help sponsor these author visits, with their time, flowers, treats, etc. – you may volunteer at specific upcoming events, which promise to be quite exciting (Mystery Tea in September!)

How Reading Changed My Life

by Kamala Nair
Kamala NairWhen I was a child, my parents made a rule that neither my sister nor I were allowed to watch television during the weekdays. At first we railed against their injustice. The thought of being the only kid at school who didn’t know what happened on yesterday’s episode of Saved by the Bell seemed unbearable. But when the realization that arguing was futile eventually sank in, I began to seek entertainment elsewhere.
I had always loved reading, but now that watching television after homework was no longer an option, books became an obsession, one my parents encouraged. Although I have remained a passionate reader into adulthood, nothing compares to the sense of magic and wonder of immersing myself in a story as a child. Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Secret Garden, Chronicles of Narnia. These are only a few of the works that captivated my imagination, books that made it easy to completely lose myself in another world to the point where I’d feel disoriented when I finally surfaced, eager to dive back in.
The television ban was lifted on weekends and during summer vacations, and I happily partook in Saturday morning cartoon time like most other kids. But watching stories unfold on a screen had lost some of its appeal, and I began to spend more time with my nose buried in a book. The pleasure of a cartoon or sitcom was fleeting, I discovered, whereas books stretched out over the course of days or weeks, and resonated in my heart long after the last word had been read. I often returned to my favorite stories, reading them over and over again until the pages were fragile and dog-eared.
We moved two times over the course of my childhood, first from upstate New York to Vermont, then from Vermont to Minnesota. We also spent three months living in Sweden when I was ten. During those years of shifting landscapes, people, and cultures, books became my one constant. We arrived in Rochester the summer before I started eighth grade, and I didn’t have a single friend. I remember checking out The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck from the library, and falling under its spell. I devoured it in a few short days, and returned for more. I ended up reading every book Buck had ever written over the course of those few months before school started, and even though it was a difficult period, having just said goodbye to the friends and life I had established back in Vermont, the joy of reading made that summer a surprisingly pleasant one.
My love of reading transitioned into a desire to write. From a very early age, I learned that writing was a wonderful source of entertainment. I could create my own world and make my characters do whatever I wanted. It was a heady feeling. As I grew older, I approached writing with a more serious attitude. In sixth grade I had a poem published in a small journal, and in eighth grade I won a statewide short story contest. These achievements encouraged me, and helped me realize that writing was something I might be able to pursue as a career. I wanted to make some kind of difference, and I decided the most valuable contribution I could make would be to add beauty to the world through literature. If I could bring as much joy to even a handful of people as the books I had read throughout my childhood had given to me, it would be enough.
My first novel, The Girl in the Garden, just hit shelves. I have no doubt that my love of reading is what inspired me to pursue the goal of writing a novel. I’m so grateful to my parents for encouraging us to read instead of spending hours in front of the television. If it hadn’t been for that rule, I might be living a very different life today.

Kamala Nair

The Friends will be hosting another Author Visit this summer! Save the Date::
Don’t miss this exciting Cultural Event!
Her book will be for sale in the Friends’ Bookstore, as well as available for purchase on the day. Be sure to get your copy signed! Check out the Library’s youtube account for readings and further information about the book. We look forward to seeing you there.

Kamala Nair – The Girl in the Garden

In less than a month, the book launch of the novel The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair will happen in Rochester at the Barnes and Noble, Apache Mall. This charming coming of age novel will be available for sale in the Friends’ Bookstore shortly after the launch! In addition, after you have had a chance to purchase the book, a few weeks later she will return to her native Rochester and speak at the Rochester Public Library! Save the DATE for July 28th THURSDAY, at 7pm in the Library Auditorium. Come early as we will have extra activities!
The Friends help host the Visiting Author Series.