Chokshi talks The Star-Touched Queen, her future, culture, and why she makes her popular makeup YouTube videos.
JMW: Hello, this is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today is debut novelist and author of The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi. Welcome, Roshani.
Roshani Chokshi: Thanks for having me.
JMW: It’s my pleasure. You wrote the The Star-Touched Queen shortly before and during your first year of law school. Then you took a break to write your second novel in the same world, A Crown of Wishes. Have you returned to law school or are you planning to stick with this writing gig?
Roshani Chokshi: I will stick with the writing gig as long as it will have me, but I have to sort of make the final decision about going back to school in April. So I think, you know, it really just lends a sense of urgency to create as much as you can and try to sell as much as you can before you have to really…
JMW: Commit one way or another.
Roshani Chokshi: …commit to something. Yeah.
JMW: Law school is a big commitment. I’ve known people…
Roshani Chokshi: Uff.
JMW: Yeah…I’ve known people who stopped reading much less writing as a result of going to law school.
Roshani Chokshi: That’s true. But you know it’s incredible how many lawyers I know became authors and how many authors that I deeply respect who went to law school. So…
JMW: It helps you order you mind a great deal.
Roshani Chokshi: It does. It does.
JMW: It certainly does. Good prep. What were the inspiration between…behind the The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes?
Roshani Chokshi: So with The Star-Touched Queen, I really wanted to celebrate some of the stories of my childhood. And I grew up in a mixed-race home. My mother is Filipino and my dad is Indian, but when me and my siblings were younger, they didn’t teach us their native languages. And I think that’s because they didn’t want us to become confused. So even though we only spoke English, our way of connecting to our heritage came from world mythology, fairy tales. And the more that you read them the more you realize they are telling the same story over and over. And the cultural framework just provides a different lens.
And so that was what inspired me, just wanting to take familiar stories and give them new life through my own heritage. And I also was really inspired by Paradise Lost and the Hades and Persephone myth. When I was in high school, I fancied myself as a teen demigoth, but you know being a full-time goth is very expensive. It’s just a lot of eye makeup and I could not..not afford it. But we read Paradise Lost and there is that famous quote that Lucifer says, “I’d rather reign in hell than serve in heaven.” And my high school teacher asked us to think about that quote in the framework of the Hades and Persephone myth and whether or not this choice of being queen of the underworld was something that was made consciously. And I really loved that question. It gave so much agency to the Persephone character and made her seem a little savage, a little badass. I like that.
JMW: But it’s not just the familiar Greek myths. You do mix in some myths and some allusions that I’ve never hear of, and you also bring in a layering of the physical culture that seems very exotic. Was this intentional and what was the reasoning behind it?
Roshani Chocksi: So with…with the other source materials for The Star-Touched Queen, it was not just Hades and Persephone. There are tales that I was inspired by from the Mahabharata and tales from the Kalidasa’s plays. And I think that the reason why I chose them is because I can link something that I think…audiences are familiar more with like Western European folktales could pick up on and recognize like memory as something tangible which is a trope that you see in the Shakuntala folk tale where the memory is sort of retained in this tiny ring. WithSavitri, it’s a very, very old Hindu folk tale. And it’s this idea of a young maiden tricking death. And you often have this young woman trickster character against a larger entity. So those were really deliberate choices, but I chose those because they seemed so similar to all kinds of fairy tales.
JMW: Yes. The young woman tricking or the young woman turning death on its ear was a theme of a short story I read of yours with the assassin and Alexander the Great.
Roshani Chokshi: Yeah. Yeah. It was based on this urban folklore that a Vishkanya, a poisonous courtesan, was the one who ended Alexander the Great‘s life.
JMW: Oh cool. I hadn’t heard that one. Learn something new every day. How does this mixing reflect your background?
Roshani Chokshi: Oh, you know, growing up in a mixed-race home was, like I said, all of those stories they don’t really belong to one cultural tradition. And that’s an idea that really influenced me with A Crown of Wishes, the idea that stories are a historic treasure that we all take part in that we can all grab fistfuls of and make it our own. And that was just such a powerful idea to me that one culture, one person does not own a narrative. But I really do plan on writing something with Filipino folklore soon because my mother is on my case about it.
JMW: Oh how cool!
Roshani Chokshi: I wrote a short story based on Filipino mythology and it’s so beautiful. The Filipinos have the best monsters I think.
JMW: Yes, from what little I’ve read, they do. They really do.
Roshani Chokshi: They’re frightening.
JMW: Yes, things that detach from the neck and trail their intestines.
Roshani Chocksi: Yeah, [inaudible 00:05:49] just separate and…they’re frightening.
JMW: Given all this other stuff that going on in your life, do you ever plan to use that bachelor’s you have in 14th-century British lit?
Roshani Chokshi: Yeah, absolutely, but with…I think that my major has affected a little bit of everything that I do. Because with 14th century Breton lays, you have stuff like Sir Orfeo, which very closely follows the Orpheus myth. And you see these stories both in maybe their Greco-Roman origins, but also their Celtic counterparts. And I think that that was my first lesson. There’s not that many original stories, and I’m fine with that.
JMW: Ten plots or something.
Roshani Chokshi: That’s all we got.
JMW: In addition, you also do makeup tutorials on YouTube. How did that come about?
Roshani Chokshi: I love makeup. I absolutely adore it. No one should let me into a Sephora with only five minutes to spare because I’ll do damage. But, what I really love about makeup is it lets you become anyone you want to be, especially in high school the self-esteem issues or insecurities or whatever else, makeup kind of bolstered your self-confidence. And it’s not that you would need makeup so much as you enjoy the artistry and the expression of it. And when I’m writing, sometimes I like to do a completely different makeup look to get into the mindset of a character’s head because you hold yourself differently when you feel as if you are purposely drawing attention to yourself for a reason. And beyond that, there’s something really…I don’t know how to quite describe it, ancient or ceremonial feeling about applying makeup, having your brushes lined up, the colors, the mood the…just like the shimmer applied to the tops of your cheek bone or something else. And it feels just like you’re in on a secret. It’s kind of what it feels like for me.
JMW: But you also do makeup in honor of friend’s books, like there was a beautiful one for Roses and Rot. Are you planning any more of those soon?
Roshani Chokshi: I am. So with Roses and Rot, I had so much fun with this idea of decay and gloom, and I just wanted to showcase it because the prose in that book is so lush. And Kat Howard is like an unbelievably talented writer, and I love everything that she does. I do have another look planned for one of my friend’s book that’s coming out in February. It’s called Winter Song by FJ Jones. It’s a Labyrinth retelling. It is fantastic and has some of the coolest otherworldly creatures. But there are books that I love that I know just won’t lend themselves to makeup looks because there’s not enough otherworldly creatures. There’s something to do creative with the imagery that’s been given even though it very, very striking. So I’m planning on a Lorelai look, which is kind of a German siren.
JMW: Yes, yes! Oh wow! And other than that, what are you working on now?
Roshani Chokshi: At the moment, I just turned in the last draft of A Crown of Wishes to my editor. I could die happy in never seeing that book again. It was my feeling at the moment. But I think we all feel that way when we get to the end of a draft. Like we’re done. I don’t want to see this character anymore. I’m through with you. But I’m very, very excited about that book. But, what I’m working on right now is a heist fantasy that’s set during La Belle Époque so right before World War I. I just think it’s such a fascinating era that we call it the beautiful year in hindsight only because it’s right before all the horrors of that. So I’m excited about it. It’s a kind of reimagining of the Doctor Faustus play. Yeah…kinda like that.
JMW: Yeah. One could see the Mephistopheles certainly triumphed in 1914.
Roshani Chokshi: Oh definitely. But they’re cool questions. It’s not for necessarily power but for knowledge and how that can be very devastating.
JMW: Oh yes. We are just about at the end. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.