The Backstory: RAJA'S PET CAMEL
Updated: Apr 20
Today's Backstory brings us a seasoned author of over 100 short stories and 20 books, Anita Amin. Anita is joining us today to share the inspiration behind her latest book, RAJA'S PET CAMEL.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind RAJA’S PET CAMEL.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
In RAJA’S PET CAMEL (Cardinal Rule Press, October 2020), illustrated by Parwinder Singh, Raja wants to keep a mischievous stray camel as a pet, but his dad gets fed up and decides to sell the camel at the next fair. Raja must find a way to save his camel from being sold. This picture book is about hope, perseverance, and friendship. It’s set in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, India, where my family is originally from.
Thank you for giving us the scoop on your book. I love the relationship you developed between Raja and the camel. It feels authentic and I am sure many children who are reading or listening to this story are making connections to their own lives and maybe just a few are even asking for their own pet camel.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
The story was inspired by an old photo I had taken on one of my family trips to visit relatives in India. The photo is of a little boy sitting with his camel. They’re both smiling at each other, like they’re sharing a secret. This led me to write two lines in my notebook – a desert scene where a little boy tells his dad he doesn’t want to sell his pet camel. RAJA’S PET CAMEL grew out of this scene.
I love that you can trace the origin of this story back to the exact moment the spark of an idea crossed your mind!
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now RAJA’S PET CAMEL: THE MAGIC OF HOPE? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
Initially, I brainstormed RAJA’S PET CAMEL as a short story. This was 11 years ago, when I was mainly writing for the magazine market. I had outlined the desert scene and was thinking the story would be about a camel race, and then I filed away my notes for a while (years actually). When I started reading picture books to my own children, I started wondering if RAJA’S PET CAMEL would make a better picture book than short story because of the potential for so many illustrations. That’s when I wrote my first draft.
After many revisions (and a lot of cutting, including eliminating a character and changing another one to a minor role) and workshop critiques, I finally decided to submit my manuscript. A friend had told me about Cardinal Rule Press. They were the first publisher I submitted to, and I submitted to them on the last day of their submission window. Talk about good luck!
My book wasn’t done after my publisher accepted it though. I had to make a few more revisions, add discussion questions, and add ten facts about the Thar Desert as backmatter. While I was revising, Cardinal Rule Press selected Parwinder as the artist. He lives in India and brought our book to life with his beautiful, vibrant art. The whole process took about 18 months until I finally got to hold an actual hardcover book in my hands – best feeling in the world, seeing RAJA’S PET CAMEL in print!
First off, Cardinal Rule Press is amazing! I love their philosophy and all of the outreach they do to connect with families. Second, how incredible that RAJA'S PET CAMEL was picked up on your first submission! That's the stuff of dreams and must have been so gratifying after so many years of refining and working on this idea.
Thank you for sharing about what happened after your manuscript was accepted. It is beneficial to hear how the process can unfold and what working with an editor can look like.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
Like most writers, I find them everywhere – conversations, experiences, observations, photos, newspaper articles, memories – and I record them in a notebook. Many of my stories in Humpty Dumpty and Highlights magazines have been inspired by activities with my kids, memories of my grandparents, even favorite clothing. Sometimes, a story comes right away; sometimes, not for years - like RAJA’S PET CAMEL. My notebook comes in handy for my work-for-hire fiction books, too. Work-for-hire deadlines are tight so there isn’t a ton of time to brainstorm.
I also keep a problem-solving list that shows how I solved a problem and why. This not only helps with story themes but also if I get stuck in plot, this list gives me ideas on how my character might solve a problem.
Yes, ideas are everywhere! You seem like you are very in tune with your imagination and well-versed in capturing those bits of an idea in your notebooks before they escape.
I am intrigued by your problem-solving list. I had never heard of this strategy and will need to give it a try!
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. I wanted to be just like Anne Shirley and Jo March! I admired their spunk and intelligence and their strength during adversity. Both characters are writers, and I’ve loved writing since fourth grade (maybe earlier but this is the earliest that I can remember writing a story), so these books really resonated with me and supported my excitement about writing.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
Pretty notebooks and colorful gel pens are my must haves. I love opening a cute notebook and filling it with bright, colorful ideas. My stories always start on paper. I dread computers – maybe because I worked so much on them in my former career, but I find them to be creativity killers. I also like to write by candlelight, even during the day when there is plenty of sunlight – there’s something about the flame that helps me focus, so I often keep a lit scented candle in front of me as I write.
The dining room became my launch headquarters for RAJA’S PET CAMEL. Space for my computer, books, swag, notes, to-do’s… I needed a lot of space to stay organized. This room is one of the sunniest spots in my home too, so I still continue to do a lot of writing here.
It sounds like you know exactly how to transform your space into a positive atmosphere, perfect for creating.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
Don’t sabotage yourself with self-doubt. You’re the only one who can write what you need to say. We’ve all heard of famous books being rejected multiple times before finally being accepted for publication. Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables are just a couple of examples. So I’m reiterating the advice of many wise authors because it’s important and true: Don’t give up. If you quit, you’ll never see your work published – for obvious reasons. If you don’t quit, then you’ll have a much better chance of one day seeing your book published and best of all – seeing a reader’s life changed by your words.
You are completely right. Its all about perserverance! And that final piece about changing a reader's life gave me chills. In all of the waiting involved in publishing it can be easy to lose sight of the potential impact our stories could have. What a motivator to keep on going!
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I’m looking forward to doing more virtual school readings of RAJA’S PET CAMEL. I love interacting with the students and teachers. Any interested teachers, can contact me through social media or my website. My virtual readings are free for the remainder of this school year.
As for writing projects, I have ideas for an #ownvoices chapter book series and a middle grade novel that I’m eager to start outlining once I wrap up my work-for-hire nonfiction chapter book. I’m also working on a couple of fiction picture books set in India.
What lucky students and teachers! I hope you get the opportunity to share RAJA's PET CAMEL with many, many classrooms. And best of luck with your next projects. I can't wait to see them in print.
Where can people connect more with you?
I love connecting with writers and readers! They can learn more about me through my website: www.AnitaAminBooks.com, and they can reach me on Twitter and Instagram: @AnitaAminKidLit.
Anita thank you so much for joining us today and sharing the inspiration behind RAJA'S PET CAMEL (Cardinal Rule Press, October 2020), illustrated by Parwinder Singh. I loved learning about the journey this piece took from a seed of an idea to being in children's hands.
Readers be sure to check out this amazing tale of friendship and perserverance and if you know any teachers, be sure to pass along Anita's generous offer.
Anita is generously offering a signed copy of RAJA's PET CAMEL to one lucky winner. (US only)
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Like our FB page and comment on this week's post.
4. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT ANITA NAHTA AMIN
Anita Nahta Amin is the author of over 100 short stories and 20 books for children, published or forthcoming. Her work is often inspired by her South Asian heritage and STEM work experience. RAJA’S PET CAMEL: THE MAGIC OF HOPE (Cardinal Rule Press, Oct 2020) is her debut picture book.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Flannery Literary.