Rick Riordan has his own publishing imprint--fittingly called Rick Riordan Presents--now, and as you can imagine, it's a big deal to be chosen for his list, especially for the inaugural book. Roshani Chokshi won that honor with her middle grade novel, Aru Shah and the End of Time. The first of a new series, what struck me most when I read it is how much it reminds me of Riordan's own work, and I mean that as the highest compliment. Aru Shah is a 12-year-old girl living in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture with her curator mother, and struggling to fit in at school. When Shah accidentally unleashes a terrible ancient demon trying to show off for a trio of schoolmates, it kicks off a fantastic quest based on Hindu folklore. Fans of Rick Riordan will love Aru Shah and the End of Time, and Chokshi brings an exciting new voice and Indian culture to middle grade fantasy.
We asked Chokshi what it feels like to be chosen as the launch book for Rick Riordan's imprint, having the "storyteller of the gods" edit her manuscript, and the story behind Aru Shah and the End of Time:
For me, the idea of working with Rick Riordan (let alone meeting the dude) matches his work: it was larger than life. It was so out the realm of possibility, it was — *drumroll* — fantasy. When I first heard about Rick Riordan Presents, I had just escaped impalement from an alien’s trident. To be fair, I was at Dragon*Con. Someone had mentioned it to me offhand. I swear to you right now that despite having-just-been-almost-impaled and dying because Atlanta in summertime is the circle of hell that not even Dante wanted to write about, I FELT ALIVE. I literally said, out loud, which was dumb because no one can hear me at Dragon*Con because there’s a bajillion humans: I HAVE BEEN DYING TO WRITE THIS STORY.
And I meant that.
I have always wanted to write a story like Aru’s. These days, young adult literature is ripe with magical girls whose dazzling destinies are held tight between the jaws of unimaginable stakes and love interests whose eyes look like two crystal pools of angst (which, I have to say, I adore beyond reason). But I never got to grow up with that. I never got to see girls that looked like me: Asian, first generation American, with a name that never gets spelled right on a Starbucks cup. I never got to see myself be magical. I think the one example I can think of that defies that is when Harry Potter and Ron Weasley took Parvati and Padma Patil to the Yule Ball and were crap dates. Bleh. That’s not how girls like me deserve to be seen.
With Aru, I got the chance to exorcise some middle school demons. In middle school, every emotion is cataclysmic. There’s no way to put it in context because you’ve never felt it before and that is magic. There’s magic in the panic of being called on in class and not having the right answer and having every person look at you and wanting to unzip the earth and disappear. There’s magic in someone catching your eye and smiling like you’ve just told them a secret. There’s magic in yearning. And that is Aru. She’s a girl of impulse and want and, yes, magic. She has heart and imagination, and dark skin, and a strange name that will never get spelled right on a Starbucks cup. Half the time I want to strangle her. The other half, I want to hug her. This series is every best and worst part of my childhood. It has my best friends, the insecurities of myself and my loved ones, the challenges that come with belonging to a spectrum of cultures.
Beyond getting to relive (and revise) middle school, I now find myself considerably more popular among my younger cousins. I get a lot of: “WAIT. THE RICK RIORDAN?” followed by baffled gazes as they inevitably say: “. . . and you?” Jeez, thanks. But I understand the shock. When I first got my manuscript edits and saw that Rick had left 100+ comments, I died a thousand deaths. I thought: the guy nicknamed “storyteller of the gods” hates my story. I quit life. Luckily, I was very wrong. In his comments, you could see how Rick, at his core, is a teacher. His editorial guidance was a flashlight (“here’s something to guide you down the path!”) without ever eclipsing my vision for ARU.
On the day I found out that ARU would be the launch title of Rick Riordan Presents, I was getting ready for Halloween (October 2016). Our group of friends had decided to go as the cast of Stranger Things and rather than turn myself into a lycra-orchid-nightmare, I went for a pun on Demagorgon and dressed up as a Demi-Gorgon. So, half Medusa. I was putting the finishing touches on my scales when my agent called. I burst into tears, and my scales kinda ran, but honestly that just made it look all the more monstrous. I distinctly remember looking in the mirror and having one of those strange moments where your insides and outsides match. I was/felt: ridiculous, magical, impossible. I had that gut-clenching moment of: either this is phenomenal or I will be defrauded as a pile of frogs in a raincoat. Luckily, the latter has not happened.
Instead, throughout this experience I have been constantly reminded of the power of story. Stories are lenses through which the world is filtered. They tell us how to see ourselves, how to see others, how to defeat every manner of demon . . . from the ones that slink out from fiery underworlds . . . to the ones that sit inside your chest and whisper that you are not enough. Stories are the magic that no one can take from you, and I hope that Aru’s adventures ignite that magic in the hands and hearts of readers.-- Roshani Chokshi