Chandra Prasad

Writer‘s Complex

“Monetizing” isn’t often a priority for adolescents who aspire to become novelists—or at least, it wasn’t common among those who came of age before the internet did, and before grim economic realities compelled the young and unestablished to become jacks of all trades.

Yet it weighed heavily in the mind of an early 1990s-era Chandra Prasad, then a teenaged aspirant wondering how, when the time came, she’d both write and get by. A parallel career in law, for one thing, hovered in the back of her brain.

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“I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer—probably from 12 or 13,” she says, and even though one of her relatives, children’s book illustrator Maggie Swanson, had demonstrated that “you could make a living” as a creative in the publishing industry, Prasad knew she’d have to be smart about it. “I learned what you have to do not only in terms of writing but also the other side, the business side,” which compelled her to seek out a literary agent at age “16 or 17.”

She wrote a collection of short stories and did indeed find an agent for it. But the book didn’t get the happy ending Prasad wanted—“although it came close,” she says. “I had a few interviews with major publishers.” By that time, she was a student at Yale, still hoping to become a wunderkind. “I thought if I could publish a book before I got out of college, that would be a nice way to get into the industry.”

For Prasad, who grew up in North Haven and resides locally today, the journey would be more complicated. After graduating in 1997, she took a media gig writing about various industries, which led to her first book: Outwitting the Job Market, a nonfiction guide to getting employed on your own terms. It must have contained some good advice, because by 2006, two years after its release, Prasad was doing what she really wanted to do: writing long-form fiction and getting publishers to buy it.

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That year, her first novel, Death of a Circus, which follows a traveling big top during the last real gasp of America’s circus era—before a century of cinema and other progressive diversions would capture the country’s eyeballs—was printed by Red Hen, a boutique literary press based in Los Angeles. Also that year, the storied New York City publisher W. W. Norton & Company released Mixed: An Anthology of Fiction on the Multiracial Experience—a book Prasad conceived and edited, and to which she contributed. Arriving two years after that—issued by another prestigious NYC publisher, Washington Square Press—was On Borrowed Wings, which follows a fictional 1930s Branfordian beguiling her way through an education at male-only Yale. The next year, Prasad exhaled Breathe the Sky, “a novel inspired by the life of Amelia Earhart,” which captures the historic heroine with great insight and panache. That one was put out by Wyatt-MacKenzie, an indie press in Oregon that prides itself on giving authors “unparalleled” support. Many in its stable are “mom writers”—a.k.a. female authors juggling the demands of career and family—and by that year, 2009, Prasad had joined those ranks with her first child.

Since then, a second young one has arrived, and other things have changed, too. For now, instead of “adult novels with young-adult appeal,” Prasad’s writing “young-adult books with adult appeal,” of which two are on the way. The first, which she says is like a much-updated riff on Lord of the Flies, is under contract with Scholastic, one of the biggest youth-oriented publishers in the world.

Other things haven’t changed. In her forthcoming novels, just like in her previous ones—and just like in real life—gender, race and class matter. “Those things naturally weave their way into my books,” she says with a shrug. “I’m female. I’m not white. You draw a lot of things from your own experiences and they percolate up into the writing.” Even so, she’s remarkably good at maintaining an even playing field, in which privilege, or lack thereof, doesn’t designate which of her characters deserve the reader’s consideration. Of her female characters in particular, she explains, “They don’t necessarily have to be stronger than men, but I want them to be as complex.”

Complexity: another feature of Prasad’s own life experiences that has percolated up into the work. “Nothing has come easily,” she says of her career, to which the popular wisdom replies—and Prasad’s readers will know it true—“But nothing good ever has.”

Chandra Prasad
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Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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