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Preview — The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
I wanted a love thick with time, as inscrutable as if a lathe had carved it from night and as familiar as the marrow in my bones. I wanted the impossible, which made it that much easier to push out of my mind.
So . . . once upon a time in the mythical land of 9th grade, I saw this hot dude that I instantly recognized because his family was building a house in our neighborhood (but this was the first time I'd seen him). And so, I yelled out: "I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!" Which. You know. Is not a great thing to do. I piiiiiiined after him for eons. I wrote angsty love poems during carpool (we had to carpool together . . . remember? neighbors. ugh. and he never spoke a word to me) and this passage actually came out of that. I thought about what I wanted. What I couldn't have. Why it was honestly just THE WORST. Eventually it worked out just fine. (We're getting married next year despite my intense Edward Cullen-ing of him).
“The worms do not take heed of caste and rank when they feast on our ashes,” the Raja said. “Your subjects will not remember you. They will not remember the shade of your eyes, the colors you favored or the beauty of your wives. They will only remember your impression upon their hearts and whether you filled them with glee or grief. That is your immortality.”
The Raja's advice here is more or less what my dad would always tell me if I came home from school sobbing over some mini-highschool-apocalypse or another. It's the kind of advice that's honestly shaped my career and also my writing. I want my readers to leave a book feeling moved in some way. And each book I write teaches me how to do that a little better each time. I also just think it's good life advice in general. Meet someone at a party and they're not going to ask for your resume on their way out the door. They're going to leave with an impression of how you made them feel.
“Kill, if you must. String a garland of severed heads around your waist if you want. I would take you in my arms if you were drenched in blood or dressed in rubies … but think. Impulsiveness is a dangerous thing.”
I loved writing Amar's character and romantic dynamic with Maya. I wanted him to feel intense, but also with sinister undertones. Part of that, I think, is because their romance is inspired by the Lucifer character from Milton's Paradise Lost. I love those famous lines "I would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven." I wanted to know what would make someone choose that. What had happened before in their lives. And what that love would look like. Fanged, maybe a little blood-spattered, but . . . true.
“Oh, look at that,” said the horse. “Feisty too. I bet you taste like spice and cinnamon. I bet you taste like heartbreak. Young things always do.”
I get asked a lot "Is Maya based on you?" LOL NO. But the flesh-eating demon horse? YES. The second half of TSTQ is an emotional gut punch for Maya. I couldn't leave her to go through that alone, so I put myself in there. What would I do in a fantasy book? Ooooh, I know! Derail the plot! Get hungry! Eat things! Go over there what's that it's shiny---
“I am not anyone’s mother,” said Mother Dhina softly.
To me, Mother Dhina deserved forgiveness. In Sanskrit epics like The Mahabharata or the Ramayana, women aren't always kind to one another. They're just as ruthless as men even if their arenas are covered in silk and jewels. For me, I wanted to show how their relationship could move beyond antagonism. I wanted it to be an example of both women's strength and pain, and how the ghosts of their actions haunt them.
“Don’t you remember? We can always find each other in our same constellation. The Solitary Star.”
SOBBING FOREVERRRRRRR. I cried the whole time I wrote Gauri's scene with Maya. Honestly, this was the moment where I realized Gauri needed her own story (in A Crown of Wishes). I wanted to know what she was hiding >:) I wanted to know how she was going to deal with her toad of a brother, Skanda.
I remembered my lost names. I unfurled them, smoothing their worn creases, inhaling their scent of star-swollen evenings and monsoon dusks.
Reincarnation is a beautiful theme throughout Hindu mythology. In terms of Hindu myth, Maya and Amar are inspired by the tale of Shiva and Parvati. Shiva was once married to a goddess named Sati. After an explosive fight with her family, Sati burnt herself on a pyre (which is where the act of women throwing themselves onto their husband's funeral pyre is known as "sati"). Shiva, the Lord of Destruction, turned inward in his sorrow. But the gods couldn't have this! Without Shiva's soulmate, the world was off balance. Besides, there was a demon that needed fighting and only Shiva's son could defeat him! But you can't have a son on your own . . . Sati was reborn as Parvati, the daughter of the mountain god. Slowly, she won over the heart of Shiva. And the world was restored <3
He loved her. And she loved him. And in such bliss does devastation grow.
Fine, I admit it, I really love tragedy. I love missed moments in poems, like Juliette waking up seconds after Romeo drinks the poison (ARGH!!!). I like that pinching, oh-no-this-is-all-going-to-be-a-trashfire-of-feelzzz moment. When I wrote Nritti's backstory, I had Panic! At The Disco and AFI's "Silver & Cold" song playing on repeat.
“My life belongs to me,” I said.
YES, MAMA, IT IS. Ah life. Particularly with Hindu mythology when you're basically told it's spelled out from the beginning, it's hard to find agency. But I think half the battle for agency lies in imagination. Some obstacles might have been thrown in from the start. But your reaction is what makes the journey your own and no one else's.
I was free. I was whole. I was Queen of Naraka.
Getting to the end of this book was such a cathartic experience for me. TSTQ went through many, many drafts. I rewrote it from top to bottom at least ten times. There were so many moments where I wanted to give up and tell myself that maybe becoming an author just wasn't in the cards for me. At the time, I was a first year law school student. I was mentally exhausted and constantly hungry. But there was an even greater hunger or urgency that kept me going. I'd spent years with Maya. I'd dreamt of her story in highschool and wrote bits of it all through college. When I was supposed to be working as a legal secretary, I was secretly writing the whole time and reading out passages to Dale, the fikus plant that lived behind my head . . . TSTQ demanded to be written. And I had to do my best to honor that story. Our stories will always have fraught beginnings, but I do believe that if you see them through and honor your best efforts, your story will try to lift you too.