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Author Interview: Ekta R. Garg

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Kathy Stickles is talking with Ekta R. Garg, author of In the Heart of the Linden Wood.

FQ: I honestly cannot tell you how much I adored this story. Are you a fan of fairy tales and is that how the idea came about, or was it something else that triggered the plot of this story?

GARG: Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m thrilled that you loved Linden. I do love fairy tales and all things magic, but this book was, believe it or not, inspired by The Night Circus by the incredible Erin Morgenstern. When I first read that book several years ago, in addition to wishing I could go to the circus myself and spend the entire night in its many amazing attractions, the first thought that came to my mind was, “Wow, that felt like a fairy tale. I wonder if I could write a fairy tale.” My brain started noodling on the idea, and King Christopher came to me pretty soon after that.

Even before The Night Circus, though, I’ve been a lifelong fan of The Chronicles of Narnia and other books with magic like Bridge to Terabithia and the Harry Potter books. I’m also a Bollywood junkie, and so many Hindi films all the way up to the 2010s have a fairy-tale quality to them. They’re super saturated, larger than life, and make you believe for a few hours that, no matter what the odds are, everything will turn out all right in the end. There’s something magical in all that to me, even if the films don’t include spells and potions and unexplained energy and fantastical creatures.

Growing up, I also loved Disney’s animated classics. I was a tween/teen during the start of Disney’s Renaissance in the 1990s—when the original, animated versions of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King were released—and seeing those movies in the theater (with the music, the storytelling, and the sheer magic of watching a film on a big screen) had an impact on me. So you could definitely say I’m a fan of fairy tales in all forms!

FQ: I know I keep calling the book a fairy tale, but it is definitely not something intended for small children given some of the adult topics in the story. What made you decide to go in this direction rather than turning it into a book for children?

GARG: It takes a particularly special skill set to write for younger readers, one that I don’t have. There are so many amazing authors who write for children, middle grade, and young adult audiences, and I always enjoy reading their work. However, I’ve always seen myself writing for adults. Any time I play around with a new idea, instinctively my audience is a grownup audience.

Having said that, I don’t think that, as grownups, we should have to let go of those things we loved as children in the books we cherish. Linden is, in some ways, my way of saying to readers that it’s okay for them to spend a few hours believing in fairy tales. Especially with all the challenges in the world today and in the last two or three years, now more than ever for our mental health I think we need a space where we escape, just for a little while, to a place that feels nostalgic and that we enjoy as we did as children and yet also holds something new for us as grownup readers. That’s what I’ve tried to portray with this book.

FQ: Without giving away any parts of the story, I have to say that I love the “Keeper” and truly believe the character is one of the best in the book. Is this character modeled after someone you know or a complete creation from your imagination?

GARG: Thank you again, so much! The Keeper of the Wood isn’t modeled after one particular person, but as I was writing (and rewriting and revising :D) the book I kept thinking of the older women in my life. In some ways, you could say the Keeper has bits and pieces of all of them. For the most part, though, she’s from my imagination.

FQ: King Christopher’s transformation from the beginning to the end of the book is just fabulous. It is obvious to see that he learned a lot about who he was and how to have confidence in himself. Is that a process you have had to go through in your writing, or are you just confident when you start to type (or put pen to paper as the case may be) that it will be perfect?

GARG: When I was less experienced as a writer, I definitely didn’t have as much confidence as I do now. If anyone critiqued my work and said negative things, even if the feedback was ultimately constructive, I would be heartbroken. Like so many other writers, I felt like everyone else was getting it right except me and that they were probably sitting down at their computers and letting the words flow right from their fingertips.

Now I know better. In addition to being an author, I’m also a freelance editor so I’ve learned through helping others—and also reviewing books professionally—that books at all stages can have their flaws. I know that no first draft will be absolutely amazing, and that’s okay. Those first few drafts are more about putting the words on the page to see what kind of shape a story could possibly take. Some of the best writing happens in rewriting and revisions. What matters most is the end product.

I still have my days where I’m really discouraged, of course. When I enter writing contests and my work isn’t accepted or doesn’t move on to the next stage, I feel disheartened. But I don’t spend days agonizing over the fact that my work isn’t “good enough.” I just go to the next thing.

Also, a couple of years ago, I discovered a new definition (or old, depending on how you look at it) for the word “perfect.” If you go back to the etymology of the word, in Latin it actually meant “complete” or “finished.” It could also mean “lacking in no way,” meaning nothing else can be added. When I learned this, it changed the way I think of perfection. Because we’re human beings, and we’re always going to have flaws. We could put out the best performance or book or product of our lives, and someone out there will point out something they think is wrong with it. Better, I think, to use the definition that something is complete. That we’ve put in everything we can. That, after our very best efforts, the book is done.

FQ: The art on the cover is reminds me of the descriptions of Lily’s painting. Was that the point? Did you know exactly how you wanted to the cover to look before it was done?

GARG: My children and I played a game of Pictionary about 10 years ago in which I had to draw a cat and an office building, and they still tease me about how badly both turned out. 😀 I have absolutely no talent whatsoever when it comes to visual art or cover design, and I know that.

Atmosphere Press, my publisher, is a dream to work with. At the start of the publishing process, they put their authors in touch with their cover designers in order to start working on the cover. The incredible Kevin Stone did the cover for Linden as well as my first book, The Truth About Elves. In fact, when I saw what Kevin did for Elves, I requested that he design the cover of Linden as well.

As part of the design process, Kevin asked me to come up with 10 concrete words or phrases that described the book and also asked me to poke around online and find existing book covers that I thought came close to what Linden was about. After sending him all that information, I let him have complete control. He sent me about five or six different covers, and when I first saw this one it really struck a chord in me. We went back and forth a few times to tweak the end result, but Kevin gets all the credit for the cover. I had no idea what I wanted it to look like when I sent Atmosphere the manuscript, but I trusted that Kevin would do an outstanding job and he has.

Your comment about the cover looking like one of Lily’s paintings really intrigued me. I honestly had not thought of it that way, but I can see why that might be the case. So thank YOU for giving me a new way to look at the cover!

FQ: Again, without giving away too much of the story, is there any plan in your mind to write a full-length story revolving around Christopher’s father and the Keeper? I know we have bits and pieces of it in this book but I was wondering if it has ever been in your thoughts to delve deeper into their story and how this whole thing started (hint: would love to see this!).

GARG: When I sat down to map out Linden, I had to figure out why the evil King Vincent was so evil so I’d have a good handle on Christopher’s backstory. Vincent’s story is actually a really sad one, and how he treated the Keeper (and everyone else) is just awful. While I don’t have plans at the moment to write a prequel to Linden, I won’t rule it out. Anything is possible when it comes to writing! If I ever do write one, though, I would want to make it just as strong as this book so that readers feel like it was worth it to spend additional time in this story world.

I also love the character of Alistair and how he is able to, without really talking, calm everyone and make them see the best path to follow regardless of whether we are talking about the quest or just life in general. I’m curious if this character came about before the others and things kind of revolved around him, because he seems such a focal part of everyone’s story.

Alistair was always fixed in my mind as a strong supporting character. For me, Christopher is most definitely the protagonist followed by Geraldine. Because Geraldine is Alistair’s mother, it makes sense that we see quite a bit of Alistair as well, especially given the circumstances of the quest. I also think of Alistair as someone who can give us a slightly different perspective. His speech impediment has always created distance between him and other people, and sometimes distance offers a person clarity. Alistair’s clarity can be calming but it can also be frustrating for the grownups. That frustration, in part, also drives the story, because it relates back to the frustration about everything that’s gone wrong in Linden lately.

I also wanted to make sure that, even though he’s a teenager, Alistair is seen as someone who is actively working toward a solution to the problems at hand. The wood is important to Alistair, so it makes sense that he has a huge stake in protecting it and that he does everything he can toward that end.

FQ: What is next for you as an author? Anything new in the works that you would like to tell us about?

GARG: I’m brainstorming my next story idea, although it’s still a little early to be talking about its specifics, and I’m also trying to balance that with promoting Linden. My overall experience in writing this and my previous book and especially my experience in publishing with Atmosphere Press has been so uplifting and life-changing, though, that I’m excited about getting started on my next project. I’ve been dreaming since I was 14 about being a published author, about readers reading and loving my work; I’m so incredibly grateful that I get to experience this now. I just want to keep writing quality stories and sharing them with readers.

Thank you again!

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