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HomeEntertainmentArt & LiteratureIn Conversation With Fourth-Year Neurobiology Student and YA Author Ananya Devarajan

In Conversation With Fourth-Year Neurobiology Student and YA Author Ananya Devarajan

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When Ananya Devarajan was 6 years old, she knew she wanted to be a HarperCollins author, but she never realized her dream would become reality so soon. The fourth-year UCI neurobiology student released her debut novel “Kismat Connection” on June 13 by Inkyard Press and HarperCollins. 

From humble beginnings on Wattpad, Devarajan always knew she wanted to pursue writing in some capacity, whether or not it aligned with her career goals. 

“I kind of always knew that this was something I wanted to pursue in addition to the day job-slash-career that I academically ended up focusing on,” Devarajan said in an interview with the New University. “So I have been writing my whole life in some way, shape or form. I wrote my first novel, which is a YA thriller on Wattpad, and it is really bad — just awful, not a good book.” 

She didn’t set out to write a young adult romance novel so much as the idea fell into her lap. After pitching her thriller to agents, she was met with brutal honesty that it was not publishing quality, save one agent who found an interest in the romantic subplot. 

Everyone has to start somewhere, and Devarajan didn’t give up at the first sign of failure. She noted that this first attempt at writing a novel was valuable and taught her the basics of long-form writing. With the agent’s feedback, she wrote a romance novel during her freshman year at UCI in about three months. 

“I think that because I’m self-taught, I did most of my learning of craft and everything between the ages of 15 to 17 before I kind of got into the industry… But most of my foundation was very much self-taught through Wattpad, through learning other people’s writing and kind of implementing that into my own.” 

Without much confidence in the novel and nothing better to do during the pandemic’s peak, Devarajan sent her book to literary agents and was picked up just two months later in September of 2020. 

“This whole process is just kind of me being like, ‘oh, this isn’t going to happen,’ and then it happened,” she said.

She and her agent edited the book for a few months before they sent it out on submission where publishing houses are able to decide if they want to purchase it for distribution. Although Devarajan’s timeline was incredibly rapid, she noted that this is not always the case. 

“It can take anywhere from a week to three years. It’s a very long process, and it’s very unique to the author. I had one of those really lucky stories and really lucky journeys.” 

Devarajan was notified that “Kismat Connection” was bought by HarperCollins during finals week of her freshman year. 

“I remember I got the deal, and I got on the phone with my agent. She’s like, screaming, she’s super excited, she’s like, ‘Oh my God, you sold your book — you’re 19 years old, and you have a book deal, how do you feel?’ and I was like ‘I’m gonna fail my OChem exam tomorrow.’ I did fail my OChem exam the next day, but it was totally worth it.” 

She says this interview was very full circle for her. “I actually started on New University as a freshman… I worked for Arts & Entertainment.” 

The New University found one article published under Devarajan’s name titled “Irvine Barclay Theatre Showcases Author of ‘Crazy Rich Asians.’”

Simultaneously writing a book and taking on a full college courseload taught Devarajan a lot about time management. At the beginning, she was able to write when she pleased, like when a lecture got boring or on Chipotle napkins at UTC, but now, when she is in proximity to a deadline, she has to sacrifice social outings and lock herself away until everything is complete. 

“Now writing is very much a career and a job for me. I’m being paid to write these books and every book I continue to write comes with a paycheck and a deadline,” she said. “That’s the new set of pressures I’m dealing with since my sophomore year of college. I had this timetable where I write for a certain amount of hours a day, and I study for a certain amount of hours a day.” 

While Devarajan is still incredibly dedicated to her craft, she noted that her approach to writing is very different now from her freshman year. 

“I think there’s this naive sense of passion that comes with writing before it’s a product or before it’s any sort of thing that can be sold. You’re just writing for the art and for something that you love,” she said.

The two-year marketing and publicity cycle between Devarajan receiving her book deal and the actual publication of “Kismat Connection” left a lot of room for her own growth as a writer. She spoke candidly about her tendencies to cringe at her past self’s techniques and the thought that she could have made a better book. 

“I learned how to characterize, I learned how to create settings that are immersive, even in contemporary genres,” she said. “[I learned] things that you really learn from being in the industry and learning from people who know more than you. I didn’t have that information at 17, so I did the best I could.” 

She combats her ongoing fear and longing to have her book reflect her current ability by reassuring herself that she did the best she could with the knowledge and skill she had at the time. 

“Through these editing processes, you’re able to add a more nuanced perspective as you get older and as you learn more information. That doesn’t change the core of the book… I think that’s a good balance because at least for me, what I really like about “Kismat” and what readers are starting to pick up on is that because it was written by a 17-year-old, the dialogue makes sense for a YA. I wouldn’t have had that reaction from readers to “Kismat” if I had put in 21-year-old me’s perspective on dialogue into these characters,” she said.

Devarajan took her finals early this year because of her four-stop book tour spanning the month of June. 

“Tours are typically given to authors that look like they’re going to have some sort of an audience showing up, right?” she said. “For me, I actually never thought I was going to get a tour … [and] as a young woman of color, and I think I’m the youngest Indian-American in the field right now, I genuinely didn’t think they’d give me this privilege, but my publisher has been really good about uplifting my voice in the industry and making sure that my story’s heard.” 

The tour is designed to help indie bookstores and promote the author’s new books with each event being “in conversation with” another author or book blogger who will ask questions about the author’s process. Devarajan says there will be time for her to do a reading of the first chapter, an audience Q&A and a book signing. 

Even with Devarajan’s debut novel and the blooming of a successful career as an author, her initial college goal of becoming a doctor is not being put on the back burner. Doing both keeps her life fresh, and she doesn’t think her future will ever be one or the other. In 2024, Devarajan will not only be in medical school, but her second book will also be coming out. 

“I’m kind of a two-trick pony here. Basically, I started college with this intention of being a doctor, and I actually am going to be a doctor. I got into medical school in December of last year, and I will be attending this July,” she said, “I feel really lucky that I figured out two big passions for my life so early and have also had the opportunity to pursue them.” 

Lillian Dunn is an Arts & Entertainment Apprentice. She can be reached at lbdunn@uci.edu.