Rheea Mukherjee received her MFA from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Her fiction and non-fiction has been published in several publications including Scroll.in, Southern Humanities Review, Out of Print, QLRS and Bengal Lights, among others. Her previous stories have been Pushcart nominees, Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Finalists, and semi-finalists for the Black Lawrence Press Award. Rheea spent her childhood in the US and her teens in India. She came back to the States for college and her MFA, and then returned to Bangalore, where she currently resides. She co-founded Bangalore Writers Workshop in 2012 and currently co-runs Write Leela Write, a Design and Content Laboratory in Bangalore. The Body Myth is her first novel. You can learn more about Rheea at www.rheeamukherjee.com.
Keep reading to find out how you can win a copy of Rheea’s debut novel The Body Myth (out now from Unnamed Press!).
The road to publication is twisty at best—tell us about some of your twists
It certainly was twisty. When it comes to my first novel, everything was very uncertain for the longest time and then I had a spiral of good news that kept getting better. There are two failed novels behind The Body Myth. These were WIP novels I had to toss because they were so terrible and not going anywhere. But if I hadn’t written those I would have never written this one, and it’s only in retrospect you see why past failures are so necessary. I had almost given up on this novel, I had written it and sent it to many agents and publishers and I collected a lot of rejections. To feel better I deluded myself that I could publish a vegan cookbook. I mean, I am a good vegan cook but a book on it? It was just an escape from dealing with rejection. As a last ditch attempt I sent my manuscript to Pitch Wars in 2017. That’s when my mentor Kristin Lepionka picked it and you could say everything changed from there. Shortly after I got my agent Stacy Testa, and everything else fell into place over the next one year. When I say everything “fell into place” it’s from a happily-ever-after perspective, because I got plenty of rejections and crickets while on the submission process too.
Which talent do you wish you had?
I wish I could spell. Really. You have no idea how hard it is to be a writer that can’t spell. I also have moderate dyslexia so yeah these issues aren’t fun for any editor that’s worked with me.
Publishing a book is a bucket list dream for many people—are there any other accomplishments on your bucket list right now?
Apart from writing more books, I really want to move to a smaller town in India (away from the city which is getting a bit much), and have a small patch of land where my partner and I can work with animals, mostly street dogs, who need care. And then, I’d love to see my novel be a film one day. I mean, you asked the question!
Were you an avid reader as a child? What kinds of things did you read?
I was a huge reader growing up. It was my escape from reality, especially grade school, a time I went through a lot of trauma. I was a huge fan of the Goosebumps series by R.L Stine, the Nancy Drew series and Agatha Christie mysteries. I also loved comics, there’s a classic Indian comic series called TINKLE magazine that I will still read from time to time, and then Archie comics! I’d literally read everything I could get my hands on growing up. I remember reading a lot of Readers Digest and then there were the books I wasn’t supposed to read like Jackie Collins and Shobha De.
Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.
I was brought up between the U.S and India for most of my life. So I am bidialectal. I code shift accents: from a more neutral American to a very urban Indian accent depending where I am. It’s weird for people who have observed both, but a lot of third culture kids have this ability. Because of it I’ve been able to see English as two very different languages or dialects, so I am all the richer for it, although I get made fun of it even today at age 35. Over the years, I’ve been able to regulate my accent into something more consistent but it still becomes more American in the U.S and way more Indian in India.
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Mira is a teacher living in the heart of Suryam, a modern bustling city in India, and the only place in the world the fickle Rasagura fruit grows. Mira lives alone, and with only the French existentialists as companions, until the day she witnesses a beautiful woman having a seizure in the park. Mira runs to help her but is cautious, for she could have sworn the woman looked around to see if anyone was watching right before the seizure began.
Mira is quickly drawn into the lives of this mysterious woman Sara, who suffers a myriad of unexplained illnesses, and her kind, intensely supportive husband Rahil, striking up intimate, volatile and fragile friendships with each of them that quickly become something more. A moving exploration of loss, Mukherjee delivers an intense and unexpected modern love story as Mira reconciles reality with desire.