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Maya Prasad finds love all year long in debut novel

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Maya Prasad — Photo by Jamilah Newcomer
Maya Prasad — Photo by Jamilah Newcomer

The new year is officially here: a time to make resolutions, plans, and hopes for the next trip around the sun. New Year's is also a great time to reflect on all the accomplishments of the last 365 days.

For new author Maya Prasad, 2022 brought great successes, like the release of her first published novel, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things. Her debut follows the adventures of four sisters living in the Pacific Northwest as they encounter different seasons of love.

Seasons of love
"Seasons are a big part of the book," Prasad said. "It takes place over four seasons. One sister's point of view is in fall, one is in winter, one in spring, and so on. I had a lot of fun incorporating what time of year it is with the romance, so I think it is fun to read in any season, but especially winter."

Writing four stories in one presented a unique challenge, but the task demonstrated Prasad's talent for crafting diverse voices and writing from new perspectives.

"I enjoyed writing four different characters, four voices, four distinct romances, so I had a lot of fun with it," she said.

The most important element of all the characters Prasad created was their joy. She wanted to give her readers authentic depictions of happy BIPOC and LGBTQ+ characters.

"I got into writing because I wanted to create a representation, and in this case, I was going for joyful representation. I wanted to write something that would inspire kids, especially Brown kids and Queer kids, to see a hopeful future for themselves and see that they are worthy of love and that they are beautiful, so that was sort of the mindset I was going into."

Prasad ultimately decided to center her novel on four sisters because of her upbringing. "I am one of four siblings, so I had fun writing about sisters because of that, and I live in the Pacific Northwest, so I was inspired by the weather and all the little quirks of living in the Pacific Northwest. I didn't grow up here, so in a way, I claimed it as my home."

Image courtesy of Disney-Hyperion  

There's no place like the PNW
Setting Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things in the Pacific Northwest allowed Prasad not only to explore the region she calls home but to learn more about it as well. For readers who live here, she made sure to include plenty of Easter eggs.

"There are lots of little jokes that I try to include in there," she said with a laugh. "There's a little part where I talk about how it rained on Monday, and then it rained on Tuesday, and then it rained on Wednesday, and it rained on Thursday, and then finally on the weekend, they get a beautiful sunny day. I think [that's a] feeling we have here in the Pacific Northwest — where we get so much bad weather but then ...we get that one sunny day [and] we just have to race outside and make the most of it. So that was really fun to incorporate."

Prasad also had a good time poking fun at those who take outdoor time just a little too far.

"I also [joked about] how people [in the Pacific Northwest] are so outdoorsy and love hiking. I have a ...scene where they are camping on an island in the San Juans. The sister whose point of view it is is sort of complaining about it. She loves doing it, but she's talking about how camping sounds so romantic, stars and [the outdoors], but also [her] back hurts from sleeping on the ground all night."

While Prasad was able to lean on her own experiences living in the Northwest for most of the book, she also had to do some research to make sure she was accurately portraying Orcas Island, where she chose to set the novel.

"I had been to Orcas Island before, but I just wanted to make sure I got the details right. I try to avoid too many specifics, so I don't say 'It's that way,' where the business is located, because a lot of these things are still fictional, but I just wanted to make sure that I was describing it well," she said.

In the early stages of her writing, Prasad took a trip to the island to learn more about it but struggled to connect with locals due to the pandemic.

"Throughout the pandemic, everything was closed so I didn't have a chance to talk to people while I was there," she said, "but I met someone on Twitter who lives on Orcas Island and is a teacher there, and she agreed to do a Zoom interview with me. I asked her all these small details about Orcas, like does the high school have lockers — and the answer is no. Things like that."

Prasad, a lifelong learner, enjoyed discovering more about the region she lives in and even uncovered some surprising facts.

"For one thing, I thought Orcas Island was named after orcas, the killer whale, but it's not. It's named after a Spanish explorer, a shortened version of his name," she said. "I thought that was interesting."

Aside from exploring the history and geography behind the small town she chose to set the book in, Prasad also looked into the activities she chose as hobbies for her characters.

"I did a lot of research on photography. One of the sisters is a photographer, and I wanted to make sure I knew how to describe the specifics of that, so I read about it, and it gave me some insight into my amateur photography."

Exploring intergenerational Queer relationships
One of the reasons Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things stands out among the many young adult novels available at the moment is the attention to detail Prasad put into each of her characters. They come alive on the page. Accurately portraying Queer and BIPOC characters was especially important to her.

From the very beginning, Prasad knew she wanted to include LGBTQ+ storylines in her novel. While these are becoming more and more common in novels for younger readers, Prasad also wanted to include intergenerational Queer identities, to show the differences between LGBTQ+ people today and those who grew up in different times.

"The dad is Bi. He owns this inn, and he ...works on it with someone else who he ended up falling in love with, a man. ...I knew that would end up affecting the story as well, because the girls would grow up with this nontraditional family, and they would embrace that. Of course, one of the sisters is Queer, and at the beginning of the story it's not a surprise or anything — the other sisters already know that she's interested in girls... She's also the youngest, she's 15, so she hasn't really had a real relationship before, and so the story is about her first real big crush and her first kiss, and it was a lot of fun to write."

Writing the father as an out Bisexual character in a same-sex relationship also gave her the chance to explore the ways sexuality and culture intersect for older adults, as well as the relationship between Queer children and their families.

"She is a little different from her sisters, in that they haven't kept in contact with their family in India and her sisters don't know why, but Sirisha, as the Queer one, kind of suspects that it might have to do with her dad's relationship," she explained.

Writing Queer characters presented another challenge for Prasad. "I think mostly for me it was a matter of responsibility, like I felt responsible to create a good representation," she said. "Other than that, I feel like it is pretty universal. The act of falling in love and a lot of the tropes are the same. I wanted to make sure that it felt swoony, just as swoony as the others, if not more so. It was mostly thinking about how to portray it in a way kids could relate to, especially Queer kids."

"I wanted to create a work of joyful representation both for Brown kids and Queer kids, and Brown Queer kids," she continued. "I hope that readers can take away that sense of hopefulness and that you're worthy of love no matter who you are. Especially the diaspora kids. I hope they take away that they are enough and [that] you don't have to be more Indian or more American — whatever they are is enough. You're beautiful and you can find love too."

The story continues
Prasad is continuing the love from Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things in an already highly anticipated second book.

"I'm working on a sequel... So, there will be another story about the four sisters. You'll see where these relationships go next. Sadly, some of them won't make it, but the sequel is still hopeful and there are new romances, too. It's a lot of fun," she gushed.

Despite the stories from her book embracing many cheesy rom-com tropes, Prasad is happy that her sequel will add some realism to the experiences of young love.

"I think it's important for kids to realize that this isn't necessarily the person you're going to be with forever, so don't get too attached. I think high school romances are very sweet, but be aware that it might not work out, and that's okay: you'll survive."

The lessons she includes in her books, about love and growing up, are important ones that teens of all identities can connect with. Sharing wisdom with readers who are still figuring life out is one of her favorite things about writing YA fiction. "I like writing for kids and teens. That age where you're trying to figure out who you are is just something that draws me."

Nurturing a love of science through literature
Most recently, Prasad has branched out from writing YA lit to explore children's chapter books.

"I have a science background. I graduated from CalTech, and I worked as a software engineer for over ten years. I wanted to bring that science background in. I'm also a parent, and I was reading a lot of chapter books with my kiddo, and I thought this would be a fun story," she said of her children's book series Sejal Sinha.

"My kid loves cardboard boxes and pretending to go on adventures in them, as so many kids do. I took the idea of a kid who wants to imagine a place they're going to in a cardboard box, and I tried to combine it with science. It's like Magic School Bus: they go on little science adventures and learn more about the topic at hand.

"The first one is about a family celebrating Diwali, but there's a hurricane warning on the news and they're worried that they might have to evacuate. Sejal, who is the main character and an Indian-American girl, and her cousin get into their cardboard box and fly into the hurricane and learn a lot about the science of hurricanes and some of the theories of how we might alter hurricanes."

Whether she's writing science books for kids or romance books for teens, Prasad says she will try to include at least some LGBTQ+ characters. "I think all of my stories will probably have some Queer representation, especially if it's a young adult. My chapter book doesn't, I guess, but the third one does because it has a Nonbinary character."

For readers looking to spice up their new year with some romance, Prasad's Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things is a great read to inspire folks to look for love in all seasons. For those in the PNW who are especially discouraged by the dreary winter, she has some advice as well.

"First of all, I think the book club idea is great, because you can escape to maybe a non-dreary winter, something cozy. But mostly I'd say, take your vitamin D, because that's very important. Number two, embrace the weather! Go out, get cold, get wet, have the right rain gear, and then you can enjoy it when you come back in and get warm and have hot cocoa. That's how the sisters deal with it in Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things."

Prasad's novel reminds readers that there is always something new to explore in the Pacific Northwest, and the best way to have a good new year is to start romanticizing the little things.