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Interview: Rati Mehrotra

Born and raised in India, Rati Mehrotra now lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. She is the author of the science fantasy novels Markswoman (2018) and Mahimata (2019) published by Harper Voyager. Her YA fantasy debut novel Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove will be published in October 2022 by Wednesday Books. Her short fiction has been shortlisted for The Sunburst Award, nominated for The Aurora Award, and has appeared in multiple venues including The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionLightspeed MagazineApex Magazine, PodcastleCast of Wonders, and AE—The Canadian Science Fiction Review. This is her second appearance in Uncanny, a powerful story of transformation, hope, and a hidden world of cats.

 

Uncanny Magazine: “Girl, Cat, Wolf, Moon” has a lovely balance of darkness and whimsy, a compelling protagonist, and a delightful secret world of cats. What was your inspiration or starting point for the story?

Rati Mehrotra: My starting point for this story was a real-life supernatural-seeming unsolved case from 1983 rural India. Several children—mostly girls—vanished within the space of a few months, snatched from right beside their families while they were asleep. All that was found later was bloody clothing, a bit of skull, or a limb. Villagers claimed to have seen wolf-like creatures before the disappearances. I couldn’t get this case out of my head, and eventually built an entire story around a fictional version of it.

As for cats, they are my weakness, both in real life and in fiction. Such elegant, mysterious creatures. I dreamed the cat market and knew it was right for this story. If there’s a world of monsters out there, then there must be a world of cats to balance it out.

Uncanny Magazine: You write both short stories and novels—what is your favorite thing about each length?

Rati Mehrotra: My favorite thing about short stories is that they’re short. They allow me to experiment with new structures, genres, and themes without becoming obsessed to the exclusion of all else. One can create an entire world and a whole cast of characters in just a few thousand words.

Novels, of course, require much more commitment. I am a relatively slow writer, and it takes me a year to come up with a first draft. And at the end of that, there’s always the risk that it will not sell. But I love that I can immerse myself fully in the world I’m building. Worldbuilding is my favorite part of writing—and reading—and a novel allows you to go in depth in a way that short fiction cannot.

Uncanny Magazine: Prince is a wonderful cat with a distinct personality. How did you come up with his character? Was there a point as you were writing the story when he did something you weren’t expecting?

Rati Mehrotra: Prince wrote himself. I had very little to do with it. The biggest surprise was when he stood on two feet—paws?—and started dancing with Lila in the cat market. I let him have his way, of course. He’s not someone you can argue with.

Uncanny Magazine: If you could purchase only one thing from the cat market, what would it be and why?

Rati Mehrotra: Only one? What a difficult question! But if I had to choose, like Lila, I would choose the wings. Flying is the one superhero power I’ve always fantasized about. Besides, it’s easier to escape monsters if you can fly.

Uncanny Magazine: I love that at the end Lila had to save herself, instead of waiting for someone else to save her, and also that she’d had the beautiful cat within her all along. Are these themes that you find yourself drawn to repeatedly? What other ideas or themes often reoccur in your writing?

Rati Mehrotra: I often return to themes of transformation and rebirth in my fiction. Sometimes, you can’t change the world you were given, even if you are courageous and steadfast. You can only change yourself. Lila has to transform to survive, and in doing so, she gains her heart’s desire.

Hope is an important element to me as well, both in reading and in writing. No matter how dark things seem, there has to be a candle to guide your way. The fireflies in the arch of trees symbolize that hope for me—and for Lila.

Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?

Rati Mehrotra: I am waiting on edits for my next novel, and I’m writing a new one, a paranormal fantasy set in my hometown in India. Mostly, though, I am procrastinating and feeling guilty about it. Which, somehow, is also part of my writing process, although it feels rather inefficient!

Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

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Caroline M. Yoachim

Caroline M. Yoachim is a two-time Hugo and five-time Nebula Award finalist. Her short stories have been translated into several languages and reprinted in multiple best-of anthologies, including three times in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Yoachim’s short story collection Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories and the print chapbook of her novelette The Archronology of Love are available from Fairwood Press. For more, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com.

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