Rising Stars continues in 2021! Hooray! The goal of this series is to highlight my fellow kidlit creators who are working their tails off to birth their beautiful book babies into the world. These interviews will cast a light on the wonderful work of these pre-published authors and author-illustrators who are destined to be stars!
Meet Rising Star
Author Sathya Achia!
Sathya Achia is a South Asian American-Canadian writer and lover of words. Sathya creates diverse stories of adventure and discovery for picture book, middle grade, and young adult readers. Sathya’s writing celebrates diversity and representation, with the hope that every child can see themselves in the pages of her stories. Sathya’s creative work is influenced by her South Indian Kodava culture. She grew up spending summers in the remote hills and enchanting jungles of the Western Ghats, where she learned the art of storytelling from her grandparents. As a young reader, she missed seeing heroes like herself—of two worlds and cultures—so she enjoys writing for a multicultural audience and connecting with readers of diverse backgrounds. Sathya is an active member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), the 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, and Storyteller Academy. She has participated in several SCBWI workshops and conferences, and critique groups.
By day, Sathya is an award-winning communications professional who currently serves as an editor with a leading medical publisher, pairing her curiosity for understanding what makes the world tick with a love for communicating across print and online formats. When not spinning stories, Sathya can be found trying a new yoga pose, exploring the great outdoors, feasting on gourmet popcorn, or wrapped up in her greatest adventure of all: Motherhood.
You can find Sathya at sathyaachia.com or on Instagram at @SathyaAchiaWrites
Let’s start with a speed round…
AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
SA: I’m a writer and lover of stories. By day, I’m a writer/editor for a leading medical publisher, by night and every other moment in between, I dive into fiction, writing stories of adventure and discovery for young readers. I’m also a yogini, music junkie, traveler, gardener, and the Mother of Dragons …. I mean, two fearless boys! Storytelling has been a part of who I am from the beginning. Between the South Asian folklore my grandparents shared with me and my highly active imagination, I knew early that I wanted to create my own stories. I was always doodling and writing as a kid—my parents were integral to nurturing my love for the arts, sciences, and the natural world. They’ve always encouraged my brother and I to create and express ourselves.
I was born and raised in a small Canadian town to Indian immigrant parents. My childhood was a blend of East meets West—my parents taught my brother and I to embrace both. Although we were an ocean away from my grandparents and extended family, we celebrated festivals and traditions of our South Indian Kodava culture. As a kid, I DEVOURED books. I picked up everything I could get my hands on at the town library. And, while I met memorable characters and explored new worlds in the pages of those books, there weren’t many stories where the heroes looked like or lived like me—a Canadian girl with South Asian roots. I enjoyed reading classics like Tom Sawyer, and fairytales like Snow White, but I also grew up on a heavy dose of Indian mythology and superstitions. I longed to see heroes who I could identify with in the books I read.
Now, all grown up (sort of!), I see an opportunity to share my unique South Asian American-Canadian perspective and experiences through the art of storytelling. I hope to inspire young readers to embrace and celebrate differences and spark a greater awareness of diversity. I believe it's critical to share our diverse voices and learn from each other. Each one of us has a unique story to share.
AD: Yes! There is so much we can learn from one another's diverse backgrounds and stories. We must continue to make space for all voices within the industry. You summed this idea up perfectly.
Circa 1978 (India). Sathya’s grandfathers were captivating storytellers who were always ready to share stories about their ancestors, the jungle inhabitants, and South Indian folklore. © Photo courtesy of Sathya Achia
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
SA: While I’ve always loved the art of storytelling, I’ve also always had an affinity for the natural world and science. I studied biology and conservation in college, but I was constantly writing my own lyrics and stories when I wasn’t in class. After I graduated college, I went on to do a masters in print and broadcast journalism.
I merged my love for writing with my fascination with science and the health/medical writer was born. The storytelling continued. As a journalist, and later as an editor, I worked for popular consumer magazines in Canada, before transitioning into medical trade publications once I came to the US. I landed a dream role in public relations/communications at a large university in Virginia where I had the opportunity to tell stories about medical and scientific discovery taking place across its campuses. One day, I’d be out in the field with ecologists learning about a prehistoric fish that had returned to the James River; and the next day, I was interviewing researchers who were discovering new cancer therapies. Then, the day after that one, I’d be in the medical center celebrating miracles with a talented medical team that had successfully separated conjoined twins. It was such a wild ride to watch these real-life stories unfold and see first-hand how science and medicine were changing our world!
Job opportunities pulled my growing family away from Virginia, and I now work as an editor for a leading medical publisher, where I’ve continued to share stories of discovery and progress in a variety of medical specialties. I am fortunate to have found a 9 to 5 that excites me, but I’ve never stopped fueling my love for kidlit. I’m constantly brainstorming story projects and letting my imagination roam free.
AD: Wow! Your career in journalism sounds fascinating! I, too, have a background in English Communications and Journalism. I love interviewing sources for stories and uncovering new facts or little known subjects that I can share with readers. That's what led me to writing nonfiction for children. A perfect marriage of the two skill sets! I love that you've found two amazing passions that equally excite you!
AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing? Favorite genres you like to write in?
SA: I write PB/MG/YA fiction about family/friendship, self-love, self-acceptance, and unlikely heroes with hearts of gold. I’ve written fantasy-adventures about fierce girls and magical boys who aren’t afraid to slay the beasts in the shadows, overcome their fears, and learn to love themselves as they are.
AD: Woohoo! Powerful!!
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
SA: The search for the right home for my work is an ongoing journey, and I’m still working on breaking into the industry. I’ve submitted several manuscripts to agents and publishers through the years. Early on, I received many form letter responses and passes, but as I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve received positive and encouraging responses from agents and editors, although no offers for representation or publication yet.
Time is another challenge for me. Life moves at warp speed, and I feel that the older I get; the faster time passes! Making time to create has been a constant struggle because there are a lot of moving pieces—be it life-changing events/crisis, demanding schedules, family, and careers. I’m learning to carve out chunks of time to work on my stories. I try to write most days and stay in touch with multiple PB/MG/YA projects. I’ve learned that writing for me is like breathing—it’s something I need to do, and when I don’t get to it, I feel overwhelmed and stifled.
Despite the ups and downs, I feel as if I’ve learned something new every step of the way be it about myself, my writing, the submission process, or the business of books. Publishing is a long road. Persevering comes in different forms for different people. The process of creation and writing is something that truly makes my heart smile. I’ve taken Dory’s (Finding Nemo) words to heart. She constantly reminded herself and everyone to, “Just keep swimming!” For me, it’s that voice inside that tells me to keep going, that one day, I’ll get to where I want to be. After all, it just takes one YES! My critique partners also keep me in check. They remind me to re-examine my work critically and take time to celebrate the small and big victories.
AD: I love that idea of saying we need to make time to create instead of I haven't had time to create. It's there if we can find ways to carve it out as you mentioned. This is not always easy but often necessary. I also love that mantra of writing is like breathing--it's something necessary for survival. I completely relate. When I'm not creating, I feel off balance and often less happy. It's a part of who I am and what I need in order to get by in this life.
AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing journey?
SA: I’m proud of how far I’ve come on this creative journey. Not only have I written several PB manuscripts in the past few years, but I also completed my first fantasy-adventure YA novel (91,000 words). The concept for my novel began almost a decade ago, and I wrote and revised it little by little over the years. Having this labor of love finished is thrilling! I’ve loved sharing my experiences with my writing partners, but even more, it’s the moments I’m able to share with my husband and boys that have kept me pushing forward! They’ve watched me crush deadlines, fill plot holes, and rethink character arcs! They’ve seen me struggle and overcome creative and personal hardships. And they keep cheering me on. I hope my boys can see that it doesn’t matter how old you are, where you come from, or how challenging things get, you should follow your dreams and do what makes your heart sing!
AD: Congrats on completing your YA novel! What a huge accomplishment. I admire you for being able to adapt your style and write in an array of genres. It's heartwarming to hear that you have so much love and support from your family to keep you chugging along on this journey. I have no doubt you are inspiring your boys to chase their own dreams as well.
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author? What makes your writing unique to you?
SA: Among my strengths as an author is my ability to embrace the writing process—the good, the bad, and the ugly! As time has gone on, I finally understand why so many in the industry say, “Revise! Revise! Revise!” I’m starting to see my writing transform! My writing is an extension of who I am. Although I was always taught to embrace both my Canadian and South Asian roots—it wasn’t always easy. At times I struggled because I didn’t look like the other kids or I ate different foods or celebrated other holidays. Often, I felt as if I stuck out or didn’t belong. But now I can see that it’s the pieces of me that are different that make my writing authentic and give me my unique voice and perspective.
AD: Yes, those pieces of you are beautiful :) I can't wait to see your unique voice shine in your stories! I'm sure there are many other children out there who are searching for self-acceptance and struggling with learning to love their whole selves. Your stories will speak to them in ways that are deep and true.
AD: What inspires your work?
SA: My creative work is inspired by my childhood and colorful South Indian culture (dance, music, festivals), and my grandparents’ stories that live on in me. When we visited my grandparents and extended family in India, my brother and I would spend the entire summer running around the family coffee plantation at the edge of a rainforest in a remote area called Kodagu (in South India). These trips have left a lasting impression on me. For a young girl who was born and raised in Canada, this was an adventure like no other! We celebrated harvest festivals, gave thanks to our river goddess, and feasted on food unique to our culture. When my grandfather would return from his day overseeing work in the fields, he would sit in his old teakwood chair and entertain us with stories of our ancestors, the jungle inhabitants, and Indian folklore.
I would return from those trips with tons of stories, and my friends at home in Canada would relish my retellings. The stories passed down from my grandparents became a way for me to express and share myself with others.
My own children inspire everything I do—it’s a pleasure watching my kids grow and take on the world. I love seeing life through their eyes.
AD: Your description of your childhood is so rich with imagery and filled with familial love and traditions. I mentioned to you before, but I do hope there is a story about a river goddess brewing somewhere in your story files :)
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
SA: I’m a sucker for notebooks, sticky notes, and colorful pens! I designate a notebook for my ideas and jot down a sentence or two and then pick it back up when I’m ready to explore it further. I often have multiple projects in the works at a given time. When I start a new MG or YA idea, I use a spiral bound 3-ring notebook to doodle and brainstorm ideas chapter by chapter. I also believe in the power of letting my writing flow. I will write pages, then step away from a project for a few days or weeks…maybe months. I’ll revisit it and revise repeatedly to mold it into a version that makes me happy.
When I’m feeling stuck creatively, I get up and move. I’ll take a walk, venture into the garden, or find my yoga mat and settle into practice. Often, I hang with my kids—they do wonders for making sure I stay young at heart. I relish unplugging and getting away from my phone and computer screen. The change in scenery stirs my creativity.I must admit, sometimes my biggest ideas happen in the shower—I love a good long shower!
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author?
SA: Connecting with others who love to create—authors, illustrators, author/illustrators—has been important to my growth. As an active member of SCBWI, I’ve learned to hone my writing skills and become disciplined with my craft. I also participate in the 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, StoryStorm, Storyteller Academy, and DVcon. Participating in these various groups, conferences, and workshops has given me a sense of community and helped me connect with other like-minded creators! The kidlit community is packed with amazing talent and folks who are willing to help nurture and watch you bloom! I’ve also had one-on-one critiques with agents and editors and have learned a lot, not only about my own writing, but the business of books. There’s so much that goes into creating, marketing, and selling books. Understanding the perspectives of the other side of the business provides valuable insight.
AD: Yes, it's important to remember that publishing is a business. I think sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that when we are creating but it's a helpful perspective to keep in mind as we navigate the industry.
AD: What advice do you have for fellow KidLit creatives?
SA: Put yourself out there. Find yourself like-minded creatives who you can create and share your stories with. Most of all, don’t give up! If you have a dream and you love making art, you should go for it. Roll up your sleeves and dig deep. I’ve always believed that the Dreamer will always rise to the top!
AD: "The dreamer will always rise to the top"...heck ya! I love that! :)
AD: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
SA: You can find me at www.sathyaachia.com or on Instagram at @SathyaAchiaWrites
I want to give a BIG THANKS to Amanda for this opportunity to be part of the Rising Stars series!
AD: Awww, Thank YOU for being here, Sathya. And, thank you so much for sharing a bit about yourself and contributing to the Rising Stars in Kidlit series! We can’t wait to read your unique and diverse stories and see your work in the hands of young readers! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Sathya and her work, and sure to subscribe so you don't miss out and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit!
If you are interested in being featured in the Rising Stars in KidLit series, please complete the following Getting to Know You form to be considered. Thank you!
Who Am I?
Hello! My name is Amanda Davis. I am a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator. I've been writing and creating art in all forms since I was young. Writing and art have always been powerful outlets of expression for me. This is one of the many reasons I was inspired to teach art and pursue my passion for writing and illustrating children's books. You can usually find me hanging out in nature, petting dogs, and immersed in all things creative. I'm inspired by my students, life experiences, and small acts of kindness. I live in the Boston area with my husband and rescue pup, Cora.