LaRocca was born in India and raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area with her family. She has a BA and an MD from Harvard and practices medicine in addition to writing.
Liz Rice of The Book Cellar in Chicago, Illinois, who was on the Indies Introduce panel that selected Midsummer's Mayhem, calls LaRocca’s debut novel “honeysuckle sweet with a pinch of mayhem and a fairy twist! You’ll only want to put this book down in order to eat an entire plate of cookies. Shakespeare and baking — it’s the book combo dreams are made of.”
Here, Rice and LaRocca discuss the author’s debut novel.
Liz Rice: Midsummer’s Mayhem is a great launching point for a love of Shakespeare. Can you recall your first encounter with “The Bard”?
Rajani LaRocca: Yes! My very first encounter with Shakespeare was as an actor, and I think that made a huge difference in how I felt about the plays. I portrayed Cassius, the head conspirator in our fifth grade production of Julius Ceasar. Although our version was heavily abridged, we did recite the actual Shakespearean text, and I remember being surprised by how natural it felt to say those lines. Then, in sixth grade, we read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I fell in love with that marvelous, magical, hilarious story and The Bard’s beautiful words.
I read at least one Shakespeare play each year from middle school through high school. In college, I took a class on Shakespeare’s tragedies and romances, and read 14 plays that semester alone!
My husband is also a Shakespeare lover, so when we went on our honeymoon, we saw four plays: two in London, and two in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. We’ve taken our kids to plays since they were very young, and my daughter played Oberon in her sixth grade class production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In our home, Shakespeare is truly a family affair!
LR: Which aspects of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream did you feel would best resonate with a middle grade audience?
RL: At the heart of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is conflict and competition between people who love each other — a daughter and father; two friends who used to be as close as sisters; the royalty of Athens; and the king and queen of fairies. The play makes us think about who we love, and why; what loyalty means, and what it costs. But it’s all wrapped up in a confection of an adventure told in gorgeous language with magic, mischief, and mayhem in the woods, where people emerge transformed.
Midsummer’s Mayhem is a riff on that tale of mortals caught up in a fairy feud. Although there are fantastical characters in my story, it’s really about 11-year-old Mimi struggling to understand her place in her super-talented family and in the world. I tried to channel the humor and whimsy of Shakespeare’s play while centering it on a real-world kid with familiar real-world problems…that then get even more complicated when magic gets mixed in!
There is a specific line that links A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the Indian-American family in my book. Once I remembered that line from the play, the whole story of Midsummer’s Mayhem fell into place for me. I hope to leave readers feeling that anything is possible, and that magic can be found all around us, especially in those we love.
LR: The Mackson family features a wide cast of hobbies and personalities. Are any of the characters inspired by your own family?
RL: My two real-life kids joke that the four siblings in Midsummer’s Mayhem are a mix of their own personalities. The main character Mimi is named after my daughter Mira — our own Mimi, the youngest in our family. Like her literary namesake, our Mimi is an avid cook and baker. But she’s also a pretty amazing actor and singer like some of the other siblings in the book. My son Joe is super supportive and kind, and incredibly musical — like Mimi’s brother Henry. My husband is a software developer and entrepreneur, like the mom in the book. Alas, there are no food critics like Mr. Mackson in our home…but I love food enough to feel like one at times!
LR: Mimi’s relationship with her parents seems to have sparked her love of flavors. Is baking a tradition in your home?
RL: I started baking in medical school — my roommate was a terrific baker and demystified the process for me, so we made all sorts of things from scratch. Now everyone in my house is a foodie, and we do a lot of baking. We’ve traveled to many countries, and we try to take at least one cooking or baking class in each place we visit. It’s a lovely way to spend time together, and when we make those recipes again at home, it reminds us of those fun vacations. We are also obsessed with baking competition shows, and our favorites include The Great British Baking Show, Ace of Cakes, and Kids’ Baking Championship. In fact, some of the celebrity chefs we’ve watched on TV became the inspiration for Puffy Fay, Mimi’s celebrity chef idol in Midsummer’s Mayhem.
I had a ball experimenting and coming up with the recipes for the book. I tried to think up unusual but complementary flavor combinations using herbs and spices, and I took desserts I love and translated them into baked goods. For me, food memories are family memories — and that’s a major theme in Midsummer’s Mayhem.
LR: All of Mimi’s baked goods sound delicious. Do you have a favorite recipe in the book?
RL: The rose-cardamom cupcakes, which are inspired by the Indian dessert gulab jamun, are unusual and scrumptious. The recipe is included in the back of the book!
Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca (Yellow Jacket, an imprint of Bonnier Publishing USA, 9781499808889, Hardcover MG, $16.99) On Sale Date: 6/11/2019.
Find out more about the author at rajanilarocca.com.
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