Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Q&A with Rajani LaRocca

Rajani LaRocca is the author of Midsummer's Mayhem, a new middle grade novel for kids that's based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. A physician, she lives in Massachusetts.

Q: How did you come up with the idea of basing a novel for kids on A Midsummer Night's Dream?

A: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a favorite of mine. The play revolves around themes of familial and romantic love, jealousy, and competition, and has a delightful interplay between the “real” world and the magical one. It’s also really fun, with some of the most memorable characters that Shakespeare ever wrote. I drew upon that mischievous, lighthearted spirit when I wrote Midsummer’s Mayhem.  

Q: What did you see as the right balance between Shakespeare's play and your own fictional creation?

A: Midsummer’s Mayhem is inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it’s not a straight retelling. The book is really about 11-year-old Mimi, who is feeling invisible in the midst of her large, super-gifted Indian-American family and dreams of winning a baking contest to finally demonstrate her own talent.

There are some odd folks visiting Mimi’s hometown of Comity, Massachusetts. The Shakespearean characters (or at least my versions of them) serve as foils that bring magic and mischief to the story and spur Mimi to make decisions that have consequences. There is plenty of wonder in the woods and well-meaning acts that somehow go wrong.

When I was writing my story, I knew that not everyone is familiar with the play. So I have Henry, Mimi’s older brother who is in a local theater production of Midsummer, explain the basics of the play and read a few crucial lines so the reader learns about it at the same time Mimi does.

There is a plot sequence that parallels what happens in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the rest of the book is completely different. There is no baking in Shakespeare’s play!

There are fantasy elements in my story, but the emotions—the yearning to be recognized as worthy and talented, and coming to terms with changing friendships and family dynamics—are very real.

Q: Why did you choose to focus on food in the novel?

A: I am an unabashed foodie, and just about everything I write involves food in some way.

I began baking from scratch in medical school because of my roommate, who’d been baking since she was a kid and encouraged me to start. Since then, I’ve had all kinds of fun experimenting with baking, and it was a natural step for me to take desserts from my own childhood and turn them into baked treats in the book.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?

A: First, I hope young readers have fun reading about Mimi’s baking and the funny adventure it takes her on.

I hope Midsummer’s Mayhem helps young readers discover that Shakespeare doesn’t have to be stuffy, boring, or confusing. I hope they enjoy the zaniness and sparkling language that have made A Midsummer Night’s Dream a favorite for centuries.

Young people (and older people, for that matter) often find themselves in that uncomfortable space of wondering whether they’ll ever be good enough to achieve their goals. I hope Mimi’s story helps them recognize that the world needs their unique contributions, and that, even in the face of setbacks, they should keep working toward their dreams.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a companion novel to Midsummer’s Mayhem set in the same town but with different characters. I’m also working on an unrelated novel in verse about immigration, family, and navigating two cultures.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I have several picture books coming out between 2020-2022! Some have nonfiction math or science components, and some are fictional stories inspired by events in my life. You can find out more about me and my writing on my website and on Twitter and Instagram @rajanilarocca.

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