Swanky author Emily Bain Murphy recently chatted with Aditi Khorana about her new contemporary speculative YA, MIRROR IN THE SKY (Razorbill, June 21, 2016).
For Tara Krishnan, navigating Brierly, the academically rigorous prep school she attends on scholarship, feels overwhelming and impossible. Her junior year begins in the wake of a startling discovery: A message from an alternate Earth, light years away, is intercepted by NASA. This means that on another planet, there is another version of Tara, a Tara who could be living better, burning brighter, because of tiny differences in her choices.
Aditi Khorana spent part of her childhood in India, Denmark and New England. She has a BA in International Relations from Brown University and an MA in Global Media and Communications from the Annenberg School for Communication. She has worked as a journalist at ABC News, CNN, and PBS, and most recently as a marketing executive consulting for various Hollywood studios including FOX, Paramount and SONY. MIRROR IN THE SKY is her first novel. She lives in Los Angeles and spends her free time reading, hiking, and exploring LA’s eclectic and wonderful architecture.
Emily: You’ve worn many professional hats—journalist, marketing executive, consultant. When and how did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
Aditi: I always knew I wanted to write and all the work I’ve ever done has relied heavily on writing and research, but for years, I toiled away on weekends and evenings and in hotel rooms and on planes while I was traveling for work. I was really terrified of taking the leap and transitioning to writing full-time, but in 2012, I quit my job and began freelancing as an entertainment research consultant which allowed me to write my first novel.
Emily: How did you come up with the idea for MIRROR IN THE SKY?
Aditi: It actually has to do with that first novel I wrote – one that never sold. I queried that novel for six months and despite many MS requests and R&R offers, it simply didn’t get representation. I was questioning all my life choices – I had given myself fully to my dream and I felt like a big, fat failure. I wondered if I had made a terrible decision by quitting my full-time job and starting my own consulting firm. I missed the camaraderie of the workplace and the security of a regular paycheck. I was single for the first time in a decade and had moved out of the home I had lived in for six years. It was 2014 and I was spending a lot of my evenings on my couch, wrapped in a blanket, crying and watching Cosmos. It was a really destabilizing period and I didn’t feel anchored to anything. A friend sent me a “Dear Sugar” column – The Ghost Ship that Didn’t Carry us, which is all about making peace with the lives we didn’t choose, and somewhere between reading that column and watching all those episodes of Cosmos, I ended up writing MITS in a three-month spurt.
Emily: How did you find your agent/editor?
Aditi: I queried Jenny Bent along with a handful of other agents, and within 24 hours I had my first offer of representation. By the end of the week, I had seven. I was really, really lucky. Jenny had me revise the MS, but we weren’t sure exactly how to position MITS. Was it YA or adult? Literary or commercial? Sci-fi or Contemporary or speculative? In the end, we sent to a number of editors, but Jessica Almon at Razorbill understood the book – and me – in a way that no one else did. She’s been the truest champion for MITS, and such a good friend! And her edits and ideas for the manuscript were spectacular. I think of her as publishing’s best-kept secret.
Emily: What was your revision process like for this book? Did you always know where you were going with the ending?
Aditi: Without giving too much away, I knew where I was going with the ending, but the initial draft didn’t quite execute it in a way that I was happy with. That conclusion was something I had struggled with for months. This is where Jessica came in. It’s like she knew what I was going for tonally, and her idea for tweaking the end really made the MS what it is. Her edit letter was fantastic; it streamlined and tightened the story and really emphasized the atmospheric tone of the book.
Favorite writing snack? (The food you described throughout MIRROR IN THE SKY made my mouth water)
Ha! That’s good to hear; I spend a lot of time thinking about food, especially when I’m writing. I make my own nut butters and when I’m working, I practically subsist on my homemade cashew-macadamia nut butter and dark chocolate.
Oddest job you ever had?
I rolled a teleprompter at CNN my first few months there, which was the oddest (and quite possibly the worst) job I’ve ever had. I also worked as a focus group moderator for many years (and still occasionally do on a freelance basis because it’s so much fun!). But it’s kind of an odd, niche job. Not a lot of focus group moderators out there.
What were you reading when you were 16?
Everything. I was an avid reader and devoured books and didn’t sleep and hated school so I read everything I could get my hands on. Some favorites from that period: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje and Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.
Favorite character to write in MIRROR IN THE SKY?
It’s probably a tie between Alexa and Veronica. They were just really fun to write and they have very distinct voices.
Fictional character you relate to the most?
Ifemelu in Americanah
You grew up in India, Denmark, and New England. What was your favorite thing to eat in each of those places?
In India, chaat. In Denmark, any kind of pastry. In New England, my father’s home-cooking – my parents still live in Connecticut.
Emily Bain Murphy grew up in Indiana, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. She now lives in Connecticut with her family and will soon be calling San Francisco home. When not writing, reading, or chasing after two young children, she is passionate about fighting child trafficking with the nonprofit Love146. Murphy is currently at work on her second novel—another young adult fantasy with a hint of magic—and is always on the lookout for Nutella crepes and French macarons. Her first novel, THE DISAPPEARANCES, debuts with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers in spring 2017.
In THE DISAPPEARANCES, sixteen-year-old Aila Quinn moves to her recently deceased mother’s hometown and discovers that every seven years it is cursed to lose the experiences that weave life together – the stars in the sky, the scent of flowers, the ability to dream – and that her mother may be to blame.