Sandhya Menon 'Of Curses and Kisses'

Sandhya Menon ‘Of Curses and Kisses’ and a Parent’s Role in Reading Diversity

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Sandhya Menon 'Of Curses and Kisses'
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Of Curses and Kisses By Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is best known for her YA romance novels like When Dimple Met Rishi and There’s Something About Sweetie. In her latest novel, Of Curses and Kisses, Sandhya takes on the “Beauty and Beast” myth set at a modern, elite boarding school.

Two Indian princesses begin their year at St. Rosetta’s Academy in Colorado, known for its socially high-end students. Princess Jaya Rao, the eldest, is the main character, a prim and proper all-for-the-royal-family kind of gal, who is hiding away her younger sister from the press after a smear campaign (based on fact). Jaya gets a tip that the whole campaign was done by the Emersons, an English noble family that is the sworn enemy of the Raos for centuries. Jaya finds out that one of the Emersons is also at the school, Sir Grey, and she vows to take revenge for her sister’s humiliation. Grey is a brooding young man, convinced he will die on his 18th birthday from a powerful curse. He has tried to stay away from any close relationships because of this. Of course, things don’t go as planned for either of them.

GeekMom Rebecca Angel:
Hi Sandhya! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions about Of Curses and Kisses. It was a sweet story and I had fun reading it. What was the inspiration behind Of Curses and Kisses?

Sandhya Menon:
I’ve always had a deep and abiding love for boarding school novels, as well as fairy tale retellings. I remember thinking, when I was in the middle of watching Gossip Girl, “I wish there was a series that was set at a boarding school, but was also a series of contemporary fairy tale retellings, that had Gossip Girl vibes.” And then I went, “Oh, wait a minute. I’m an author!”

Rebecca:
Was the writing process similar to your other books? Any new challenges or delights?

Sandhya:
The research process was so, so much fun because I got to go back and re-watch one of my favorite Disney films–Beauty and the Beast (the old and the new ones, naturally!). I also read the original fairytales and a few other retellings to see how other authors handled theirs. My writing process, too, was a fun challenge because all the other retellings I read were fantasy, and I knew I wanted mine to be contemporary with a hint of “Is it real magic or isn’t it?” This led to me having to go back to my plotting wall quite a bit to finagle, add, change, or remove scenes to fit with my narrative! I also had a lot of fun with this first book in the series, as it’s more glamorous, intrigue-y and slightly older (reading level-wise) than my summer rom-coms.

Rebecca:
The history between India and England is dark. Why did you choose your characters coming from these sides? How did you approach the subject for a YA?

Sandhya:
I thought having an Indian princess and a British aristocrat as the main characters, and having them connected with something tangible (no spoilers!) would be a really great way to approach the topic in YA. I knew I wanted to keep the book mostly light-hearted and romantic, and so I didn’t do a deep dive into the British Raj in India, but I did touch on it in a way that made sense with the plot and that I hope is accessible to most YA readers.

Rebecca:
In Of Curses and Kisses, Isha and Jaya are discouraged from pursuing STEM fields. Why is this? What careers would be appropriate?

Sandhya:
Royal families have very specific expectations of their children. And even today, so many girls in Indian families (and everywhere, really) face discrimination because of their gender. For female royals, appropriate pursuits would be in the helping fields, like the charity work that Jaya’s and Isha’s mom does.

Rebecca:
When you introduce new characters in Of Curses and Kisses, you mention their ethnicity. Why is this important for your readers?

Sandhya:
I think we’re slowly getting away from the idea that American and white is the default in YA. I feel this is especially important in a book like Of Curses and Kisses, which is set at an elite Aspen boarding school that houses children of powerful people from all around the world.

Rebecca:
“She scoffed at the inner voice. Disappointed? Princess Jaya Rao was never disappointed…” Is this personality trait from her upbringing or innate personality?

Sandhya:
This is a bit of a defensive reaction from Jaya, who’s in deep denial about her feelings for a certain brooding, blue-eyed British misanthrope. 🙂 It’s definitely a part of her upbringing; she doesn’t want to feel like he has that power over her, especially given what she thinks about the Emerson clan.

Rebecca:
Do you believe diversity in literature is becoming more common? What role do parents play in encouraging their children to diversify their books and other entertainment?

Sandhya:
Diversity in children’s literature, especially, is becoming the norm and I’m so on board with this! Parents should actively encourage their children to pick up books by authors from different walks of life. As a parent myself, I find librarians and indie bookstore workers to be great resources to help me find those hidden gems!

Encouraging our kids to read all different kinds of stories is especially important because typically the books that get the most marketing muscle and publishing resources tend to be books by authors who are white, cisgender, straight, and able-bodied. This tends to send the implicit message that those stories are the most important, quality, and worthwhile ones.

Rebecca:
In Of Curses and Kisses, Jaya has involved parents: “Learning lessons on your own gets you hurt,” her father said gruffly. “That’s our job as parents, to teach you those lessons so you don’t have to get hurt.” Does this come from your own parents’ philosophy? Do you believe it too?

Sandhya:
This comes from many parents’ philosophy, I think! As a parent, I’d like to shelter my kids from things that can hurt them, but I also think it’s healthy for kids to learn some of those lessons on their own.

Rebecca:
How can parents of a budding writer encourage the craft?

Sandhya:
I have two budding writers at home myself. What I’ve seen work for us is to ask them about their stories and take an active interest in what they’re writing (or thinking about writing; sometimes they need a little nudge to get working on it when so many things compete for their time). We also have conversations about their writing when I read their stories. I tend to keep my feedback mostly positive, with maybe one or two light comments on how to land something they were having trouble with (tension, for instance, or setting). My husband and I also read a lot ourselves and make sure our kids have access to all different kinds of books. An editor once told me that writers learn a lot through osmosis, and I think this is so true!

Rebecca:
I read you are a tea lover! I’m a huge tea person. Any new flavors you recommend?

Sandhya:
Oh my gosh, so many! I’m currently on a huge white peach kick and am also loving a new strawberry basil tea! I love Adagio Teas for online shopping.

Rebecca:
I record the gender of all speaking characters in the books I read to find out how many were female. You have 54% female speaking characters. Do you keep track?

Sandhya:
This is so cool! I tend to keep track on a higher level as I plot, but I don’t track percentages. This is really neat; thanks for doing that!

Rebecca:
Can you tell us about your adult book coming out next?

Sandhya:
My adult rom-com debut, Make Up Break Up, is slated for 2021! It follows Annika, an optimistic, big-hearted entrepreneur who runs a dating service to give people their second chances at true love. She’s forced to go head-to-head with her irritatingly handsome rival entrepreneur, Hudson, whose business has been dubbed the “Uber for breakups.” And, naturally, Hudson’s company is doing so much better than hers. Make Up Break Up deals with that time in your mid-twenties–after college but pre-marriage and children–when you’re still learning to adult without training wheels. I’m currently editing the second draft, and can’t wait to share more!

Rebecca:
Thanks again for your time in answering my questions! Good luck with Of Curses and Kisses!

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