I loved Swati Avasthi’s debut novel Split so her second novel Chasing Shadows is one I have been going crazy waiting to read. Swati Avasthi has stopped by to answer a few questions we had about her new book.
• Some scenes in Chasing Shadows are illustrated – Why did you decided to use the graphic novel style illustrations and how did you decided which scenes you wanted visualized?
So great to be here and thanks for the questions!
I decided to use the graphic novel illustrations to express those moments in our lives that are entirely visceral – moments where words, speech, syllables, even sounds – fail us. This happens for Holly when she sees a gun pointed at her, and then wakes to a world without her brother. Her words evaporate, leaving only images.
Her world is never the same again. She can’t see, hear, or think of it like she did before. The moments when she connects to the world around her remain in the broader perspective of prose. Those moments where she sinks into her post-shooting disassociation are stripped of everything but images, leaving only graphics for both her and the reader.
• The streets of Chicago play a role in the story – why did you choose Chicago and what are some of your favorite areas in the Windy City?
There is much about Chicago to love, including the unforgiving character in the steel beamed train tracks overhead, gritty brownstones, independent neighborhoods, and a creative skyline answering the expanse of lake. I knew I wanted freerunners and I knew freerunners are about moving through an urban environment, so what better place than Chicago, with its variety and personality?
My favorite places?
First would be “The Point” in Hyde Park. The land curves out into the lake so that if you stand out far enough even your peripheral vision sees nothing but water if you look straight. But turn to the left and the downtown skyline dominates the horizon like a jagged peak. When I first moved to Chicago I had a view of the point and there is nothing like watching the lake. You can see the tides at night eddying the waters, the 10 footspray when the water slams into the concrete erosion barricades, and the sunrise over the water in the morning – the blinding moment when the sun reflects off the water.
Next is the Art Institute/Millennium Park. I know, I know. It’s touristy, but it is a place that comes alive with Chicagoans in the summer. And I’ve always felt a great love for those stone lions.
Last but not least comes sitting and eating stuffed pizza at the house of my old college roommate and close friend. She and her family always make me feel like Chicago is home.
• How did you go about blending the 3 characters into an inseparable team of free runners while keeping their culture backgrounds distinct?
Well, these three freerunners are best friends and have been close for years – sleepovers, backyard camping, secret ways into each other’s houses. When you are best friends with someone in high school, in my experience, it is an intensely close friendship. So the inseparability aspect came from that.
Maybe because I am PoC who grew up when I did and where I did, my best friends are white. So, I guess I don’t know any other way. “Best friends” doesn’t mean identical to me; it never has.
I am close with a group of families who are Indian, but we’d never describe each other as ‘friends.’ We use ‘cousins’, ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ though there is no blood relation, because these people are my family in the US. ‘Friends’ would be a step down in intimacy. If I didn’t have them, then my sense of racial identity would have been far different.
Friendships focus on shared experiences rather than differences, so the individual cultures remain intact for those in the relationships. Where those shared experiences are understood differently due to culture is where conflicts can occur, which is where we see some friction between Sav and Holly, and where we see Corey trying to build a bridge.
• We love how the cover blends the realistic part of the story with the graphic novel part of the story. Was that something that you wanted the cover to express?
Well, yes. It seemed important to promise to the readers both aspects of the book because that is what you get inside. In fact, originally, the cover was entirely illustrated (and it was beautiful!) but it made it look like it was a graphic novel. So the art department took another swing at it, trying to blend them both and came up with this. It was a hard book to jacket, I think. I’m glad you like it!
- Your debut novel Split and Chasing Shadows revolve around people rebuilding after tragedies in their life – Do you see this as a recurring theme in your writing or was it a coincidence that both of them deal with this sort of situation.
It isn’t a coincidence. All writers have a certain psychological territory that they return to, even if the form and genre and everything else change. I find myself interested in how people recover from violence and I’m really inspired by those who do.
But I don’t know why some people come out of the experience stronger and some don’t. I find that so curious. I write about what I don’t understand in the hopes that I can make sense of it or at least, in grappling with it, understand it a little better.
Swati Avasthi has been writing fiction since she read Little House in the Big Woods at age five. Emily Bronte, Harper Lee, and others furthered her addiction. She institutionalized her habit at the University of Chicago, where she received her B.A., and at the University of Minnesota, where received her M.F.A. Her writing has received numerous honors including a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, the Thomas H. Shevlin Fellowship, Loft’s Mentor Series Award, and a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. She is a creative writing professor at Hamline University and lives in the Twin Cities with her two large-ish dogs, two small-ish kids, and one husband (though he is worth two).