By Patricia Caso/January, 2019
For this installment of TWE’s First Time Authors, we found America Deconstructed, a compelling anthology of sixteen immigrants who have come to America and their experiences adapting as new citizens. From a boy who escaped the Taliban to a love story of an African couple negotiating the American culture, these narratives illustrate immigrants’ struggles and resilience.
“We hope our book can create tolerance among people. As people I think we need to celebrate differences, and accept individuals for who they are.” Chaithanya Sohan
Chaithanya Sohan and her coauthor Shaima Adin know the heartbreak and sometimes humorous situations immigrants find themselves in because they are immigrants themselves. Chai gave us some insight into why they wrote on this timely subject and the drawn-out journey they went through to publish it…
EYE: Why did you decide to write a book about this these very personal immigration stories?
CHAI: “Welcome to the United States of America.” As the officer welcomed my family and me into the country with these words, I thought the hardest aspect of my journey was over. I naively believed that I would walk into the country and it would be a breeze.
As a new immigrant from India and a teenager, my challenges were assimilating myself into the American culture. I met Shaima, my coauthor, in college. She spent years as a refugee from Pakistan in Afghanistan. We often talked about the everyday challenges of being immigrants in America.
Those talks formed a friendship and eventually took form into this book. We decided to write it to chronicle the human side of immigration. We thought it would be illuminating to give immigration a human face, versus just a stamp on the passport.
EYE: That’s quite a challenge. How long did it take you both?
CHAI: We began this project in 2013, and it took us about 1½ years to interview and have an initial draft of the stories. While writing came naturally to me, the challenges were getting this book published which took us about three years.
EYE: Why was it so difficult to get it published once it was written?
CHAI: It was a long process. While we only received positive rejections, and we almost signed with an agent once, the process was long. As engineers we come with the connotation that ‘engineers can’t write’, so that played a huge part in our struggles. I had several instances when I felt dejected by the constant positive rejections.
We could have self-published, but I was very stubborn; I wanted to do it the traditional route. We crowdfunded our book through Publishizer, the online literary agency that hooks authors with publishers.
I don’t believe in accepting defeat. I might have felt differently if someone had told me you can’t write, but the positive rejections fueled me and kept me going. I tried and tried until I could succeed.
EYE: Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of writing and publishing a book?
CHAI: I am not qualified to advise anyone, but I definitely can share what worked for me. I had set a goal to traditionally publish my book, and I stayed the course. There are going to be tons of rejections and heartbreaks from it almost happening, but patience and perseverance always win. There are so many resources available like crowdfunding that one can avail.
EYE: How was crowdfunding your avenue to successfully finding a publisher?
CHAI: Publishizer helped us find our publisher, Motivational Press. It uses pre-orders for a book to get publishers’ attention.The website sets milestones for the pre-orders and when you reach that specific milestone, they query the book to the publisher.
We did not meet the milestone to get a traditional contract, but our publisher happened to find us on there. He contacted us, and we went from there.
EYE: It must have been a big day when you got that news!
CHAI: It was surreal to say the least. I don’t think it sunk in until I was actually holding the physical book with our names on it, in my hand.
That moment was probably one of the top five awesome moments of my life. It was a dream come true!
EYE: You are not an author by trade. You are an electrical engineer now but have you always wanted to write?
CHAI: I never wanted to be an author. I wanted to join the Indian Army and become an engineer or a doctor in the army. I lost my dad when I was twelve, which changed the trajectory of my life. Writing became the avenue through which I formulated what I was going through.
Writing for me is therapeutic. It could make my bad days better, and when I need to get out of a funk, I usually resort to writing or music.
EYE: Is there any author you idolize?
CHAI: I don’t idolize anyone as far as writers. I love reading books. I was the kid that sat in her room with a flashlight reading books. I think I inherited that love from my dad who loved books as well. I decided to become a writer after years of freelancing.
My childhood friends would often tell me I should consider writing professionally. At some point in 2013, I decided to take the leap.
EYE: What have you learned during this process?
CHAI: Personally this process has been very gratifying to me. I enjoy listening to stories more than I realized. As I listened to or wrote the stories, I realized I have had an easy life compared to a lot of people in my book, and I am filled with gratitude for everything I have.
Professionally, I realized I want to do this for the rest of my life. I would love if I could be a part time engineer and a part time author. Writing is my passion. I want to write good content that can showcase human experiences in a positive light.
While I want to explore other genres, I have, through this process, realized I want to continue telling human stories as well. My hope is I can do both.
EYE: Will there be another book after this one?
CHAI: I am currently working on the second part of this series. I am not sure if I am going to call it America Deconstructed Part 2 or not. The format is similar, but the people in the book are mostly accomplished people in the immigrant/refugee space or people who are working in that realm.
Through the second part of the book, I have discovered how much work is happening in that space that is often unheard of.
EYE: What impact are you looking to make with America Deconstructed?
CHAI: We began America Deconstructed as a project to give immigration a face, and a human experience. Today, we hope our book can create tolerance among people. As people, I think we need to celebrate differences and accept individuals for who they are.
We hope to give people a glimpse of what life is like outside of America. Every country including America has its positives and negatives. We live in the era of globalization where in the world is becoming smaller.
It is imperative that we become open minded to differences, and to look at other countries in a positive light as well. We hope America Deconstructed can start a conversation about cultures, acceptance and tolerance.
EYE: Thank you, Chai for your time. TWE wishes you much success with America Deconstructed and its release on February 12. We look forward to more of your insights in books to come. Congrats on the terrific early reviews.