Hi, Supriya! Thank you so much for coming back to the MG Book Village to reveal the cover of your new novel, STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME!
Thank you so much for having me here! I’m so glad to be back.
Before we get to the cover, can you share what the book is about?
STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME is the story of Meera, a young girl in British East India Company-controlled India in 1857. Meera is a child bride who escapes the life she has no say in only to end up a servant to a British officer in the East India Company. When the Indian rebellion spreads, Meera must choose between a life where she still doesn’t have a say in what happens to her, and fighting against the colonists.
I got the idea for this book when I thought back to the only time I saw even the tiniest bit of representation in a book as a child. It was in THE SECRET GARDEN, and I remember feeling very uncomfortable knowing the Indians in the story were in the backdrop of the main character’s story in their own land. I wanted to challenge who we center in stories and so-called classics from this time period and make readers think about who is being left out.
I know that, originally, the novel had a different title. Can you tell us how and why it changed, and how you felt about the change?
Because the original title had the word “pyre” in it, there was some concern not everyone would recognize what that word meant at the middle grade level. When we finally came to the title STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, I loved how empowering it was and how it captured the theme and a simile in the book.
Your debut novel, AHIMSA, was also a work of historical fiction. Your most recent novel, AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE, was contemporary. Now, with STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, you are back to historical fiction — and a bit further back in time than AHIMSA. Can you discuss your process, and how it differs, if at all, when you’re writing about the past or the present?
I think the biggest challenge for me when writing historical fiction is all the research it takes to make sure it not only works from a plot standpoint but that it is also historically accurate. With AHIMSA, I was able to ask my relatives who lived through that time period in 1942 in India. But STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME takes place almost 100 years earlier, in 1857, when the sepoy mutiny against the British East India Company began in South Asia. Because I didn’t have the luxury of asking relatives to confirm details, I had to rely on a lot of historical texts. A family friend is a professor who gave me several old books written by East India Company officials from the 1600s through the 1800s. I found old writings by British Memsahibs, the wives of officers living there. All of those texts were at times really difficult to read because of the racism and because they were documenting all the looting that was done through colonization but they were valuable in describing how colonists felt and what they thought about the people whose land they were draining of its resources. There were smaller details, like what would someone from this part of India wear in the 1850s or whether it would be henna or alta on a bride’s hand in this part of India back then, that I just couldn’t confirm from books so I found a professor of fashion history in India who was really kind and helpful and filled in the details I needed. So I guess that was a long way of saying, historical fiction takes me a lot more time to write because it has to be historically accurate while also being an entertaining, moving story whose plot makes sense.
Why do you think it’s important for young people to read about the past? Is there anything that, when exploring history, fiction is particularly adept at doing?
I think it is so important for young people to read about the past to understand how we are where we are today. The industrial revolution didn’t happen the way we were taught in a short chapter in history class in school. The industrial revolution and many of the advances that happened in part because trillions of dollars were being stolen from colonized countries and sent over to the west. We can see the effects of colonization in so many countries, including our own. And we can also see how much has changed by reading about the past and how much hasn’t. For instance, child marriage, one of the topics covered in STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, still takes place around the world. Child marriage still takes place in America. The racism covered in the book, the centering of certain stories and the erasure of others still takes place today. I love how fiction can make readers really connect to someone’s experiences, even if they took place almost 200 years ago, and get a reader to care about the issues they dealt with, all of which are still around in today’s world, in the reader’s real world.
All right — let’s get to the cover! Who did the art? And how did you react when you first saw it?
The cover was designed by Sheila Smallwood, and the art is by Kate Forrester, who also did the cover art for AHIMSA. I was so thrilled to hear she was doing the cover for STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME and couldn’t stop staring at that stunning cover when I saw it. I still stop to stare at it. I love the palette and how powerful the cover is with the flames behind Meera and the strength in her face. It shows the devastation of colonization in the background and has some of the metaphors for freedom from the book on it, like the kite and the birds. And I adore the lotuses and the plants showing Meera’s growth. It is a piece of art and I can’t wait to hold the finished book with this gorgeous cover on it.
Okay, let’s take a look!
WOW! It is remarkable! When can readers get their hands on STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, and where can they go to learn more about you and your work?
STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME releases on February 24, 2021 and is available for pre-order today! Readers can learn more at my website, www.supriyakelkar.com.
Here are preorder links for STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME:
And check out the book trailer for STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME below!