Interview with Kritika H. Rao (THE SURVIVING SKY)
Kritika H. Rao is a science-fiction and fantasy writer, who has lived in India, Australia, Canada and The Sultanate of Oman.
Kritika’s stories are influenced by her lived experiences, and often explore themes of consciousness, self vs. the world, and identity. When she is not writing, she is probably making lists.
She drops in and out of social media; you might catch her on Twitter or Instagram @KritikaHRao. Visit her online at www.kritikahrao.com.
Welcome back to our Women in SFF feature, Kritika! Thank you for joining us for an interview. Let’s start with the basics: tell us about your book by describing it in five words!
Thank you so much for having me back! I love the Women in SFF feature of Fantasy Hive, and I’m so excited to be here! Oooh, okay, five words, here we go:
Disaster couple rescues flying city.
Well that just sounds fantastic!
Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method? Do you find music helps? Give us a glimpse into your world!
I’m a planner—or, at least, I was for The Surviving Sky; I had my synopses and my scene maps and my beat charts. In general, I’m more of a plantser though—bit of a planner, bit of a panster. Most often, when I actually start writing, a lot of it changes and I end up doing a whole lot of discovery-writing. But I still always begin with a plan.
Oh, and I wrote the book almost entirely to The Skyrim Exploration suite. I just had that 3 hour track playing non stop on YouTube; somehow, it instantly put me in a mood to write. It was expansive yet contained, which is definitely the world of The Surviving Sky. I’m convinced that most of the views on that track are from me!
Speaking of worlds, your worldbuilding is inspired by Hindu philosophy and is very nature based. Can you tell us more about this? Which aspects from Hinduism and Indian culture have inspired you the most? And can you tell us a bit about the magic system?
I’m fascinated by discussions of consciousness, reincarnation, birth, rebirth, and desire. I grew up in a Hindu household, and I studied the Upanishads and the yogic philosophies of consciousness and oneness with the universe; I am a trained yoga teacher—and yoga is so much more than just standing in a hot room doing stretches, something that it’s unfortunately been reduced to. In any case, all of those philosophies form cornerstones to the world of The Surviving Sky.
In The Surviving Sky, architects manipulate the consciousness of plants to change the architecture of plant cities to make the cities fly. Everything is connected to each other, and that comes through (I hope!) in the intricate plotting. Desire plays a huge role—the sheer will power and the want to do things! In this world, desire is incredibly powerful, it is able to change lives and dictate survival.
The Surviving Sky is described as having a lover’s to enemies story arc, so can you tell us all about Iravan and Ahilya’s characters? Who was your favourite one to write and were there any aspects of their story you found tricky to develop?
Ooh, my disaster babies!! Iravan and Ahilya are both passionate, strong, alpha characters — except one of them (Iravan) has all the power in their world as a Senior Architect, and one of them (Ahilya) has no power at all as a non-architect. I loved exploring their story and their marriage —because it asks the question: What happens to a marriage when one person has ALL the privileges of their world and the other one has none? It’s such an intriguing question, especially given the world we ourselves live in today. Both the characters are very much in love with each other, but is love enough? To get around all the messiness of such a world, and of surviving in it?
Honestly, it’s hard to say who was my favorite. I really got behind their eyes when I was writing their POVs. So when I wrote Ahilya, I was like heck yes, she’s awesome, she has a really good point, I support her to the end. But when I was writing Iravan, I was like, oh no, he has a point too, I totally get him, he’s right, this sucks and is too much to handle.
Haha, so your loyalties were split?
Absolutely! They’re both so flawed and passionate, and they present opposing points of view, and it’s just AAAA I just want them to kiss, you know? But they embody real duality (another concept in Hinduism) and sometimes it’s hard to see how they’ll reconcile, even when you can see both their points of view. Or especially when you can see that.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
I love the work of N.K. Jemisin, Martha Wells, Shannon Chakraborty, Arkady Martine, Mary Robinette Kowal, Tasha Suri, and Sabaa Tahir. Honestly, if I ever got to collaborate with them on anything, it would be a dream come true.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I whine a lot to my husband, and mope around the house, and generally become very unbearable to live with, to be honest. I become very woe is me when writing is not going the way I want it to; and sometimes it’s the only topic of conversation I have (oh, my poor long suffering husband!). But I also do relentlessly show up and write, and push through it, and tackle some worldbuilding, or go backwards in order to go forward, and then usually something clicks, and I’m on my way again. I realize the question was—what do you do when you don’t want to write, but that’s not ever really my problem. I always want to write, but sometimes I can’t, because it isn’t working the way I want it to, and that’s when it’s a slog, you know?
Absolutely! Do you ever use yoga during these moments to relax your mind and get back into writing?
Uhhhh I should, but I don’t. I feel like if I just cleared my mind, and took a walk, or actually relaxed a bit, then the ideas that are percolating just under the surface will rise and make themselves apparent. But I’m too impatient for that, hahaha. I hope with time that happens, but usually my process is to whine a lot.
I will say that lately I’ve become really good at doing other stuff when I’m in a bit of a writing bind, and then things come up to the surface. Like chores around the house, playing with my baby, cooking, ahh there’s a lot to do, and the ideas keep simmering in the background until they click together. So I am adapting my process all the time.
Your cover hasn’t been revealed yet, but we can’t wait to see it. Have you been involved in the process so far? Is there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’ll portray?
I’ve seen the cover and it’s INCREDIBLE. Honestly, I can’t wait for it to be out, I’m so so freaking excited about it. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in the process—very closely, in fact, and I’m very grateful to my publishing team.
Without spoiling it for anyone, let me just say that it is exactly what I wanted, and it is so flipping detailed that I want everyone to grab a magnifying glass and look at each piece of it, because there are SO MANY HIDDEN gems in there. It looks stunning at a distance, but the details also just pop when you look closer, tying everything together—and AAAA it’s just the perfect cover for the kind of book The Surviving Sky is, because that detailed + expansive thing is absolutely the aesthetic of the book! I really also think the cover is the kind of thing you can absolutely get lost in once you’ve read the book too, because you’ll notice all kinds of hidden things and Easter eggs in there. Honestly, I’m just starry eyed about it!
Ok, now that just makes us even more impatient to see it, Kritika!!
Yay! I can’t wait for it to be out!
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
I think maybe Garuda? He was the king of birds, an anthropomorphic eagle in Hindu mythology, who had all kinds of badass powers including shape shifting, which would be hella useful in battle.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I always recommend Hall of Smoke by H.M. Long because it is criminally underappreciated. Viking priestess, axes, battle, fighting gods, and Skyrim landscapes! What’s not to love?
Can you tell us anything about any upcoming projects? Or can you tell us a few teasers for your sequel?
Hmm, the sequels to The Surviving Sky are much darker than the first book. We go deeper into the world and technology, with some very surprising results and a look at history that not many people in the world of TSS know. It’s going to be incredible.
Apart from that, I’ve been dabbling in Picture Books lately — ever since I had my baby boy who is still less than a year old (!!), I’ve been reading a lot of those books, and it’s been very cathartic and fun to write some too. There may be news related to that soon!
Are you planning anything fun to celebrate The Surviving Sky’s release? Do you have any upcoming virtual events our readers may be interested in?
I’m hoping to partner with a local indie store (details soon!) and do a reading and signing! I’m absolutely going to get some cake and stuff my face silly with it, and wear something extravagant and outrageous and wildly uncomfortable but pretty, so I’m really looking forward to that! I do tweet and Insta any virtual programs I’m in— please follow me on @KritikaHRao on both to keep in touch!
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
I hope that readers are able to get lost in the book. More than anything else, I wanted to spin a fun story in a strange world that’s still somehow super believable and relatable. I would consider it an absolute win if readers discussed certain plot points and the whys and hows of the world, and they found satisfying answers.
More than anything else, I hope that they take away a sense of being immersed in the wonder of ideas. The Surviving Sky is rife with discussions of philosophy, and I hope that’s fun and entertaining; I know that I can get lost in discussing that and I hope my readers do too.
Thank you so much for joining us today!
The Surviving Sky is due for release on 4th of April 2023 and is available for pre-order HERE