On this page I’ve included a bunch of questions I’m often asked. Yours might already be here! If not, you can always get in touch.
QUESTIONS ABOUT ME
How do you pronounce your name?
The Sang in Sangu is pronounced sung. And if you’re going to be super accurate, Mandanna is Mun-the-na, but I mostly pronounce it so that it rhymes with bandanna. So there you go.
How long have you been writing? When did you know this was what you wanted to do with your life?
I’ve been writing forever. I wrote my first story at the age of four, though I don’t think I intended to make a lifelong career out of it; truthfully, I think I was more interested in being a ballerina or actress back then. Fact: my spine is so weird I can’t even bend down and touch my toes so ballet was out. Another fact: I grew up with the theatre but can’t act so, alas, taking to the professional stage might not have been wise. So writing it was.
I do remember the first time I consciously thought of Being an Author. I was nine. I’d written a story about a brave and intrepid heroine named Sangu who saves a group of kidnapped girls while on a seaside holiday. I printed it off the computer, stapled the pages together and stuck a photograph of myself on the back to make it look like a book. I guess that’s when I knew This Was It.
How did you get published? How long did it take?
The short version: I did it the old-fashioned way. I sent out my first query when I was fifteen and signed with my first agent when I was twenty-two. There was a lot of hard work, a lot of rejection, and a lot of Stubbornly Refusing to Quit. I went to school, went to university, and worked different jobs, but right through it all, I wrote and tried submitting what I wrote. I tried querying with several different novels, most of which will never (thankfully) see the light of day. Eventually I wrote the right story at the right time, and the right agent loved it, and the right editor bought it.
I wish I could tell you there was no luck involved, but I’m afraid that a lot of publishing is about luck and timing, especially if you’re an author from an underrepresented background.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE LOST GIRL
How did you come up with the idea for THE LOST GIRL?
A mixture of Frankenstein and Tim Burton and a hot afternoon in Bangalore. The thought of making a person from scratch is both creepy and kind of appealing to me. And once the idea of stitching a human being together took hold, it wouldn’t go away. A girl started taking shape in my head. Smokily, foggily, at first. Then she stopped being smoke and became real. She was a copy of somebody else. She loved the wrong people. She was angry and sad and lovely and I wanted to write about her.
What’s with all the different titles?
If you’ve read my blog posts, I understand your confusion. When I first wrote and submitted my book to agents, it was called ECHOES. I signed with my first agent Melissa with that title. Melissa then told me there was a recent YA book with the same title and maybe it would be better to change it. After some brainstorming, she hit on WOVEN and we submitted to publishers with that title. That’s when Sara, my editor at Balzer + Bray, bought the book. A while later, though, it was felt that WOVEN wasn’t quite right and, with Frankenstein firmly in mind, I picked a phrase out of the book’s epigraph and so it became A TORRENT OF LIGHT. That stuck for months, until Sara started pitching the book to their Sales team, who pointed out that maybe the title didn’t say enough about the book. At which point, Sara and the rest of her editorial team put their heads together and thought of THE LOST GIRL. Sara asked me what I thought of it. I said I liked it. So THE LOST GIRL it became. Panic over. Exhale.
Is there going to be a sequel?
Nope. Sorry! I did have sequels planned, but they didn’t work out.
What’s with the ending? What happened at the end of the book?
Many of you have loved the ambiguity of the ending of the book. Many of you have hated it. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t intend it to be so ambiguous and final. My intention was to end the book in a way that felt right for the story, but the problem there was that the story wasn’t over. I wanted to have some closure and loose ends tied off, just in case the book never got its sequels, but also couldn’t tie everything off because that wasn’t how the story wanted to go. I was walking a very fine and awkward line. So that’s why the book ends the way it does. If I could go back and change it, I’m not sure what I’d do. And what happens after? Totally up to you.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CELESTIAL SERIES
HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO [SPOILER]??!
I’m sorry! (Okay, no, I’m not. It makes me really happy that readers have had such an emotional response to the books. If it makes you feel any better, I cried writing that scene.)
How many books will there be in this series?
At the moment Esmae’s story is a trilogy, and there’s also a free prequel short story available, but I won’t rule out writing more stories and books about this world and the characters!
Why do so many of the characters in the series have names that don’t sound very Indian?
The Mahabharata is a Hindu epic and very much a part of India’s folklore and mythological pantheon, so I totally understand why my characters’ names may be unexpected. That said, I made a personal choice to make my story multicultural, so I chose character names from all over our world. The characters themselves are also multicultural because there are a lot of kingdoms and territories in the story. This also means that if the characters lived in our world, they would correspond to ethnic groups we recognise; Max would be white, for example, while Rickard would be black, Rama would be South Indian, and Esmae would be multiracial (a quarter white and three quarters South Indian).
You’ve said the series was inspired by The Mahabharata, which sounds super cool but is also really long. Can you name some of your favourite versions of the epic that are easily accessible to readers of all ages?
I can! One of my favourite versions is The Mahabharata: A Child’s View by Samhita Arni, which is a fantastic illustrated adaptation for readers of all ages. Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is also a wonderful adaptation of the epic told from the point of view of Draupadi, but it’s probably best for readers of 14 years and up. If you’re looking for a fun take on the story rather than a strict adaptation, one of my favourites for younger readers is Aru Shah and the End of Time and its sequels by Roshani Chokshi.
I’m an author from a marginalised background and it feels like it’s really hard to get a foot in the publishing door. Do you have any advice?
Yes, it is hard and I’m sorry that it is what it is. This is of course just my opinion, but my best advice is to look for agents and editors who have actively sought out, represented, supported and published diverse work by diverse authors. Don’t look for the ones who talk about diversity; look for the ones who actually represent and buy it. They’re the ones you stand the best shot at success with because they’ll give you a fair chance!