Today we’re hosting an author interview with Reenita M. Hora, author of Operation Mom. Here’s a quick synopsis of the book before we dive in to the interview:
Ila Isham has a lot to worry about – the angst of being an Ali Zafar groupie and the extra layers of fat she has inherited from her Punjabi lineage. Add to this separated parents, an enthusiastic best friend, Deepali, whose idea of variety means dating three guys at the same time and Aunty Maleeka, mom’s BFF, whose savvy skills throw up more problems than solutions.
Ila’s life takes an exciting turn when she decides to hunt for the perfect partner for her mother. With a little help from Deepali, Aunty Maleeka and Dev of the inviting chocolate-pool eyes, she’ll have to brave it all – from Lagaan.com and Ok-cupid profiles to handlebar-moustache colonels and middle-aged psychos, if she wants to succeed in her quest!
How long have you been writing?
All my life. Literally since I was maybe 5 or 6. With all the different paths I have followed on my career journey, the one consistent thing has been the writing. I remember saying it over and over again as a child…and I remember a day when some kind of hokey soothsayer told my mother that indeed I would write books when I grew up. That might have been one of the best days of my childhood. Soothsaying gone right!
Your book is set in contemporary Mumbai. Have you ever been there?
I grew up in Bombay…in the days before it became Mumbai.
Tell us about some of your book’s characters
In my book I talk about relationships among flawed characters because isn’t this who we are and what makes us tick? I capture the sometimes-difficult relationship between mother and daughter, friend and friend, husband and wife, and boy and girl. My exploration is that of coming of age in a world filled with imperfect people. I aim to be both humorous and heartfelt, and from beginning to end, I resist any attempt to apply makeup to innocence, or hide the stubbornness or intelligence of my characters.
If you could put yourself as a character in your book, who would you be?
While in many ways I myself identify with the plight of Ila and her mom, Veena, it’s hard not to fall in love with the wild and wacky Aunty Maleeka or Deepali. They are the very antithesis of the classic Punjabi woman and in many ways they are who Veena and Ila live vicariously through. Truth is, I think we all need a bit of Aunty Maleeka or Deepali in our lives!
Do you have another profession besides writing?
Oh yes…a few too many in fact. I was a broadcast and print journalist for many years and also a marketing executive. I gave up my life in corporate America when I turned 50 to focus (almost) full time on my creative projects which include writing books, producing podcasts and narrative fiction audio series, writing shows, and developing my digital fiction product for writers (https://www.chapterbyepisode.com) and lovers of genre fiction. I am currently working with some colleagues on developing a global audio storytelling platform for the South Asian diaspora and then I have a few boards that I serve on.
Do you ever get writer’s block? What helps you overcome it?
In the early days, yes. Not so much now. But I like to go hiking….alone ….because it clears my head and gives me time and space to think without forcing me to chit-chat with people along the way.
Living between San Francisco and Malibu, I have plenty of opportunity to very easily escape to the Marin headlands or to Malibu Canyon. In Mumbai, I take to the streets for an urban walk…it’s not something that a lot of people in Mumbai want to do but pushing past traffic and crowds somehow does the trick for me.
What is your next project?
Oof, which one?! As far as books and stories go, I would say Shadow Realm – Part 1 & 2 of the Arya Chronicles series. This is a YA fantasy fiction story. Part 1 is already out as an audio series which you can check out here: www.thearyachronicles.com/podcast. We are currently in production for Season 2 which will launch in Spring 2023. The print book version of Shadow Realm will be next as far as books go, followed hopefully soon thereafter by a graphic novel.
I also have a historical fiction novel in the works – Playtime at the Bagh and Ace of Blades, the “Succession-like” memoirs of my later father, RK.Malhotra, the dynamic creator of India’s home-grown shaving products industry.
What genre do you write and why?
Traditionally YA. YA fantasy, YA contemporary. I have also written a historical fiction novel which when I started out, I thought was YA primarily because the characters were 19 years old. But then I was told by my editors that 19 year olds in 1919 were pretty much full blown adults, so the genre should be classified as historical, literary or women’s fiction. Go figure.
I have also written a bunch of non-fiction – five self help books about Ayurveda and personal finance for Indian women. But my most recent non-fiction project is Ace of Blades, the “Succession-like” memoirs of my later father, RK.Malhotra, the dynamic creator of India’s home-grown shaving products industry. This is literary non-fiction
What is the last great book you’ve read?
David Sedaris – Theft by Finding
Also Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson.
What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing your book?
The biggest reward…there are so many. It gave me the opportunity to go back into my 1117 year old mindset and live-think from that point of view. (Mom’s note: Does the prior sentence include a typo? This is exactly how it was received.) There might be NOTHING I love more than that.
Then I love it when I hear from my readers that they just love the story, the characters, the comedy and they want more.
Challenges? There is always too little time in a day.
In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like?
A complete nightmare. HarperCollins India had published a version of this in the days before the dating apps. Years later, I decided to do an updated more fleshed out US/Western version. It was not easy to find a publisher at that point. I chose to go with an indie publisher called GenZ. I was really impressed with their editorial comments given my target audience.
Once the book was ready though, we had a complete nightmare with Amazon which really has to be one of the most user-unfriendly experiences of my author life. I felt completely shafted by the massive conglomerate and any amount of appealing for help changed anything. Completely contrary to what you would expect! It was a complete David and Goliath situation in which Amazon was the Goliath, GenZ was David and I was a helpless nobody trapped in between. I won’t go into the details but GenZ took the decision to find alternate publishing/distribution.
What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring author?
Keep a story journal or any place where you can log your ideas. Because if you are anything like me, you will have these light bulb moments and then the light bulb goes out leaving you wondering later on what that great idea was! And as I said earlier — just write. Don’t worry about refining and re-refining your first drafts. There’s plenty of time for prettying things up later.
Which authors inspired you to write?
Oh goodness! So many!
As a child – Enid Blyton. Not the choice of children’s author for anyone who has been a child since I became an adult!
As a child and an adult – Lewis Carrol, Gerald Durrell, Eric Segal
As an adult – David Sedaris, Nora Ephron, Andrew Ross Sorkin.Walter Isaacson, and of course the inimitable JK Rowling.
Where do you write?
Anywhere but my favorite place is my home office in San Francisco.
Do you write every day?
I try to but then all too often silly things like bills, banking and admin get in the way.
What is your writing schedule?
I have been trying to stick to mornings but then…..trying and often failing.
Is there a specific ritualistic thing you do during your writing time?
Switch off my phone.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
1980s. Bombay to relive my teens and London to see George Michael 😊
Favorite travel spot?
The California coast, Salamanca
Alphonso mangoes….the real thing not mango desserts or derivatives
If you were stuck on a deserted island, which 3 books would you want with you?
My Family & Other Animal – Gerald Durrell
Too Big to Fail – Andrew Ross Sorkin
The Ramayana – Valmiki
What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?
Raise my children. Nothing has scared me more in life than the realities of parenting.
Any hobbies? or Name a quirky thing you like to do.
Hiking, swimming. Quirky – I go to open mic nights at comedy clubs to test out my story material or sometimes just to unleash my woes …which other people for some bizarre reason find funny.
If there is one thing you want readers to remember about you, what would it be?
I cannot and will not be fenced in.
Reenita Malhotra Hora is a founder, executive-level content, operations & marketing leader, and prolific writer. With multiple years of experience in media, entertainment, communications, tech/innovation and wellness industries in the USA and Asia, she grows organizations, ranging from early stage startups through mid-size businesses, through storytelling, creative marketing and business strategy.
Reenita has written seven books – five non fiction and two fiction. She is the writer, anchor and executive producer of Shadow Realm and True Fiction Project podcasts and founder of the Chapter by episode fiction app. She has contributed to The Hindu, South China Morning Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CNN, Asian Investor, Times of India, National Geographic Kids, Cartoon Network Asia, Disney, and more.