JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — It’s all about writing the stories that they wanted to hear as children, according to bestselling authors J.C. Cervantes and Roshani Chokshi.
Both authors visited Abbotts Hill Elementary School Aug. 30, just in time for the Decatur Book Festival, to speak to fourth and fifth graders about their most recent works and their creative process.
The authors are popular among children and young adults for their mythology-based books written for the Rick Riordan Presents publishing branch. Riordan, known for his Greek and Roman mythology-inspired Percy Jackson series, started Rick Riordan Presents to provide a platform for authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds to tell their own stories inspired by their heritage’s mythology and folklore.
“He realized he wasn’t the person, nor did he have the time, to write about every mythology that’s out there, yet he still wanted to share them with young kids,” Cervantes said. “He and his editor thought, ‘what if we find authors from that background that can tell the story from their perspective, and let’s publish those.’”
She added that Riordan reads and gives feedback on their works, but the books still belong to them.
Cervantes is writing The Storm Runner series, which follows Zane Obispo in New Mexico as he learns about his connection to the Maya gods as he goes on a dangerous quest.
Chokshi is writing the Pandava series, focused on 12-year-old Aru Shah as she accidentally releases a demon in Atlanta and pursues a quest steeped in Hindu mythology.
The first two books of both series have already been released.
The authors spoke about their writing process and inspiration and answered questions from students. Both mentioned how, as children, they rarely saw books with characters that reflected their lives and backgrounds.
“We never got to grow up with stories where we saw someone that looked like us on the cover, or with hard to pronounce names, or with incredible mythological backgrounds,” Chokshi said. “We’re so happy that we get to do that now.”
Chokshi, whose Filipino mother and Indian father immigrated to America, said she loves the rich histories and stories of her parents’ cultures and that she incorporates them into her works.
She added in response to a student’s question about meshing cultures that she doesn’t write her stories to fit in with an American or Indian audience but writes as herself, as an individual.
“I wrote the book that I wanted to read as a kid,” Chokshi said. “For me, it wasn’t about showing off all the knowledge I have of a place. I’ve never lived in India. I’ve visited a couple of times. But that doesn’t make me any less of an Indian, and it doesn’t make me any less Filipino.”
The authors also spoke about their creative process and encouraged students to cultivate a love of writing, reading and editing.
Cervantes, for example, said she writes every day now, tends to revise as she writes and is greatly inspired by real-world places like the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins.
“The first time I saw this area, I was blown away,” Cervantes said. “It’s fascinating how so much happened there… It invigorated my own imagination, thinking what those stories would look like for kids.”
Some students in the audience said they had written similar stories also based on Hindu, Mayan or other mythologies. The authors encouraged students to pursue such stories without fear.
“That’s the amazing thing about retelling myths and retelling fairy tales,” Chokshi said. “They have really, really wide arms, and you can have so, so many different versions of the same tale.”
Abbotts Hill Elementary School Learning Commons staff Linda Dickinson said after the talk that she invited the authors so the students could see themselves in the books they read and get inspired to write.
“It shows the importance of reading, to learn about other cultures and other people, and to get inspiration to write down your thoughts,” Dickinson said. “I think it’s good for students especially to see young authors with all this energy and creativity and see that they’re just regular people.”
She added that such stories help show the diversity possible in the writing world.
“For students to see themselves in the authors and stories is huge,” Dickinson said. “It’s really important for kids… It shows them the diversity of people, that everybody has a story.”
For more information about Cervantes, Chokshi and Rick Riordan Presents, visit readriordan.com.