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The Metaworker Podcast | 008 Rangoli Man by Mina Rozario

Episode Description:

Matthew, Marina, Melissa, and Elena talk about Mina Rozario’s flash fiction fantasy story, Rangoli Man. We gush about saying a lot in very few words, the utopian fairy-tale tone, and the story’s fascinating dive into Indian culture.

Referenced in this Episode:

Rangoli Man Mina Rozario on The Metaworker website

A Future Leviathan’s Prodigious Sister by Mina Rozario on The Metaworker website

Division of the Marked by March McCarron, book recommended by Mina

A Deadly Education (book 1 of the Scholomance Trilogy) by Naomi Novik, book recommended by Mina

Author Bio:

Mina Rozario is an Indian-American writer and technical product manager. Her non-work hours consist of dreaming up storylines, learning new dance styles, and trying not to kill her plants.

Episode Transcript:

Matthew Maichen (00:01):
Hello. My name is Matthew Maichen. I am the editor-in-chief.

Elena L. Perez (00:05):
I’m Elena Perez, the managing editor.

Marina Shugrue (00:08):
I’m Marina Shugrue, communications coordinator.

Melissa Reynolds (00:11):
And I’m Melissa Reynolds, an editor that just joined not too long ago.

Matthew Maichen (00:16):
Oh, that just…

Marina Shugrue (00:19):
We should get you a title.

Matthew Maichen (00:19):
Yeah, actually we should, you should [have a title]. It’s been a while. You didn’t even just join. It’s been months and you’re super “here”. Anyway, we are here today with Mina Rozario, who is here to talk about her wonderful short story, “Rangoli Man”. Mina, I’m gonna hand this over to you if that’s okay, and you can talk about “Rangoli Man” and maybe read an excerpt from it if you want.

Mina Rozario (00:51):
Absolutely. Just one quick thing. I didn’t correct you on this earlier, so that’s my bad, but my first name is pronounced ‘Min-na’. So, just an FYI.

Elena L. Perez (01:00):
Good to know. Thank you.

Marina Shugrue (01:02):
Thank you. Yeah.

Mina Rozario (01:03):
Okay. I’ll get started with the reading: The townspeople had called the Rangoli-people a blessing. The childless couple next door, Vidya and Kishan, had awoken to find a squalling infant on their doorstep, skin dappled the same red-and-orange of their Rangoli pattern. Sushma, who had lost her beloved twin sister in their childhood, was greeted by a purple-skinned woman whose features uncannily resembled her own. And Maya, now, had Harit. She invited him to stay with her and taught him about bookkeeping and finances so that he could help her run her small sweet shop. They shared their meals, filled each silent corner of the house with laughter, and spent many a night whispering about their future. For a time, everything was quiet. Then, Harit began to venture from their home for hours on end. He would visit other Rangoli-people, frequent the bookshop, and explore the town’s outskirts. “I’m not sure I enjoy running the sweet shop,” he confessed to her one evening. She swallowed. “I see.” “I didn’t want to disappoint you—” “No, really. It’s alright.” Not long after, he brought home a reed flute, which he played for hours each day. The sounds it made were haunting, mournful. “I would like to write music,” he told her one night, fingers skimming down her arm. “Perform.” “That’s wonderful,” she managed hoarsely. Sushma’s purple-skinned sister too had uncovered a new interest—woodworking—and had already gone to apprentice with a carpenter. It was so unexpected, Sushma had confided. Her sister had had such a strong aversion to manual work in their childhood. “If it’s important to you, it’s important to me,” Maya assured Harit. When he practiced, she listened to his music pulse in time to the ticking clock on the wall. She gave him her honest thoughts and asked him to perform at promotional events for the sweet shop. Everyone commended him on his playing. When he decided that he wanted—needed—to leave, it was a surprise to neither of them. “There’s so much more I have to learn,” he told her fervently. She could neither leave her sweet shop nor resent him, so she helped him pack his belongings and sent him on his way with a kiss, tears escaping down her cheeks. For a time, she mourned, convinced she would never find another who fit her quite as perfectly as he had. When word reached their town, however, of a talented, green-skinned musician who had found recognition in a far-off city, she couldn’t help but feel the slightest bit proud. Of Harit, yes, but of herself too. That coming Diwali, when the townspeople scrambled to make their Rangoli art, hoping for another miracle, Maya stayed indoors. She lit the lamps on her windowsill, brewed herself a cup of strong tea, and sat down with her ledgers.

Elena L. Perez (03:57):

Mina Rozario (03:57):
Thank you.

Elena L. Perez (03:57):
[laughs] Thank you.

Matthew Maichen (03:58):
You know what, that is actually a really natural segue into the first thing that I wanted to talk about in this discussion phase, because you just read that entire story and it didn’t take that long. This is a very short story. We have a word count limit of about 3000 words that we usually try to stay below and sometimes that can be constraining to people, but what’s amazing about this is that this doesn’t just tell a story that is way under that word count limit, right? It really tells that story and it doesn’t make it feel like an incredibly short story. It feels like it gets all the emotion and it gets all the meaning and everything that it’s trying to do in this very short page space. That was one of the things that originally, when I read this, it was like ‘Holy crap. Was that was that actually that short?’ I had to look it over a few times. It’s like, ‘no, I didn’t miss anything’, but I felt it so much. I was just super impressed by that. I don’t know. Was that just me or…

Marina Shugrue (05:32):
No, I think you’re spot on because I think we find often when we get flash fiction pieces or pieces that are exceptionally short—and I know flash fiction, everyone has a slightly different ballpark range of what that means—but for our purposes, I’ll call this flash. I think a lot of times in flash fiction, something kind of has to give. Either the plot has to be a little spare or it’s maybe not got as much of an emotional core, or characterization is a little off, something like that. Something in the development process usually kind of falls by the wayside. We don’t get that here at all. There’s a really strong plot, a really interesting plot, too. There’s a really strong emotional core. I love that moment towards the end when he decided that he wanted—needed—to leave. It was a surprise to neither of them. That’s such a beautiful emotional moment and it conveys so much. Just that little tiny little sentence. It’s, like—ugh. I think that’s why it works so well, too. There’s really nothing sacrificed. We get everything and that’s really rare in a piece this short.

Elena L. Perez (06:47):
It really reminds me of kind of a fairytale or a parable almost because it’s…this kind of a story, yeah, it packs a lot in, and the words are chosen so carefully that it’s able to get all that meaning in. Yeah, just really well done.

Melissa Reynolds (07:09):
I thought that the emotional impact was what got me the most because I just felt such a sense of loving for the Rangoli man. I’m sorry if I’m pronouncing it wrong, but for this creation, this magical creature, there was such a sense of acceptance and love. And I thought that it was just so beautiful and that’s something we should strive for the people that we care about in our own lives, as well. So, I thought not only did it have all of these elements that Marina and Elena were talking about, but there was also this deeper message that carried so much wisdom with it. I loved it.

Matthew Maichen (07:51):
Yeah. And once again, I find myself surprised. I guess that’s why it just led into that immediately for me, because that…You know, normally when we get people reading their excerpts from short stories, that’s all they can do, an excerpt, and then I realized, only when we got to her reading about him leaving, I realized, ‘oh, this is going to be the entire thing. Oh, we’re already at the end’. Oh my gosh, this [story] told itself so well and so concisely. I totally agree with the fairytale thing, too. That’s the thing about fairytales. They tell you what happened and there isn’t too much extra time spent on, you know, characters getting into dialogues or whatever, but the story is what’s important. And if the story is good—and in this case, the story is good, the story is meaningful—then it works.

Elena L. Perez (08:54):
Another thing I really liked was [that] it reminded me of a relationship between a parent and a child. You know, Maya created this Rangoli man, and all of these Rangoli-people came into being and eventually, after they learned about life from their creators—these townspeople—they decided that they maybe didn’t want to do what their townspeople had thought that they would like them to do. So, the townspeople had different expectations for these Rangoli-people and the Rangoli-people kind of deviated from that, so it reminds me a lot of that parent-child relationship. You know, the parent is expecting the child to go to school and get a good job and maybe the child wants to do art, you know…run a literary magazine or write. So, that’s not what the parent would have wanted, but they’re kind of grudgingly accepting,’Okay. If that makes you happy, you know, then go for it.’ Yeah, I really liked that comparison or it just reminded me of that. And I thought that was really powerful. Then at the end, when Maya accepts that her creation has gone out into the world and done his own thing and is finding success and happiness, then she’s like, ‘yeah, I did a good thing by letting him go and do his own thing.’ I liked that message. That really resonated with me.

Marina Shugrue (10:36):
Yeah. I think that’s sort of fascinating, too. Even speaking more to that, it’s so clear, the expectations that the townspeople had for their individual Rangoli-person. I think the twin sister one is an especially poignant example of that, where we see very clearly that there was this expectation that was like, ‘oh my God, you are my sister.’ But it was like, ‘no, these are individual people’. There’s a deep humanity that these people end up exploring. They are sort of creations, but they’re also ultimately people with their own autonomy at the end of the day and [they] sort of defy the expectations. Like Elena was saying…I guess still the expectations. [laughs] That perception that you were going to be this one thing, and you turned out to be your own thing with your own wants, your own desires, and your own needs.

Elena L. Perez (11:45):
And that’s interesting, too, that you brought up the twin because I think the twin is not alive anymore. Right? It might…

Matthew Maichen (11:54):

Elena L. Perez (11:55):
So, that’s a thing, too. When you have a loved one who has died, they kind of stay that age in your mind forever, you know? And so you kind of imagine what their future would have been, but it’s all you. That’s what I thought was interesting, when the twin came back to life as a Rangoli-person. Was the idea…I mean, I guess same thing as we’ve been saying, you know, the idea of this life that they could have had had they survived is so different than what actually happens and what this person actually can develop into. So, yeah, I thought that was another interesting thing. We kind of have this idealized picture of a person who is no longer in our life that could be completely different than the reality.

Matthew Maichen (12:49):
Mm hm. Yeah. What’s funny…I should just interject here as someone who’s more of a horror or darker fiction writer, I almost feel like, if I had written this story it’d be like, ‘oh, like they’re not letting them go’ and it’s a nightmare. All of a sudden like, ‘ah, there’s conflict and lives are being ruined’. But, now that I think about it, after reading this, that approach, making it a Frankenstein story like that, where there’s a conflict between the created and the creator, is actually way more cliche than this. This is utopian, almost, in a really interesting and original way. It’s not heavy on conflict. It doesn’t overemphasize the negative feelings at losing these people afterward. It presents to us a model of how we should be in response to something like this happening. And, you know, it works. You don’t see that a lot in fiction these days and it works.

Marina Shugrue (14:09):
Yeah. I think that kind of…I know you wanted to talk a little bit about the setting, too, and I think that’s sort of a perfect segue into that kind of conversation of how, like you’re saying Matthew, if I had been handed this idea, I would’ve written a completely different story because I’m bringing my own experiences to the table. I think that’s part of what made me love this so much, that it was talking about something that was completely new to me but not in a way that was completely inaccessible. I think those tend to be stories we, in general on this board, like a lot, too. It’s something that kind of prompts us to go to Google a little bit and be like, ‘what is this? I want to learn more about this’. Something that spikes our curiosity but not to the point where I have to Google every other word type of thing. It’s just enough where it’s, like, ‘where did this idea come from’? I’m curious about what ideas are brought from specific cultures and what ideas were totally new from this writer. I don’t know if anyone has any more thoughts on that idea.

Matthew Maichen (15:27):
Well, also Indian culture is just such a massive, massive culture. I believe India itself is the second most populated country in the world, but because of where we live, in our part of the world, this is interesting and different to us. So, it serves two purposes. This is the thing about multicultural fiction in general, right? It serves two purposes. One, it represents this culture that we don’t see represented as often in English-speaking literary circles, but two, it speaks to those people who, again, there’s over a billion of them. They live in the second most populated country in the world. And also people descended from them who live in the U S or other countries who just want to be represented. There are a lot of different things going on in a story like this that are just objectively really good. I’m happy that more stories like this are being published. I’m not going to be vain enough to say, ‘oh, we’re doing it’ because there’s a lot of it these days. It’s really good that it’s popping up more and more.

Elena L. Perez (16:54):
Speaking of the setting, another thing I liked was that this Rangoli ritual or tradition, I guess, is just so integral to the Indian culture. I loved that Mina took this and made it magical. That’s just so cool. It’s something that is done regularly and it’s suddenly this magical thing and a different way of exploring these themes. I love that. And I love the colors, too. Another thing, I know Indian culture is very colorful, and I just love all the colors and how that came through in the writing. You know, all these patterns on these people’s skins are created based on the patterns that these people lovingly traced in this powder. That was another aspect that I really liked, the personal part of it. You know, you put yourself into this world, this setting, and that’s what makes it so special. Yeah. I love that. Maybe that doesn’t have to do with the setting so much as the themes again but, I don’t know, if you can’t tell, I really love this one.

Marina Shugrue (18:14):
It was nothing like…I remember reading this and it reminded me—I don’t know if you guys have ever seen the movie “Practical Magic”—where as a little kid, she casts this spell of…she’s never gonna fall in love ’cause there’s a curse on the women in her family. So, she casts a spell—like a soulmate spell—that’s ‘this is what my soulmate will have’. He’ll have purple eyes, I think, is the one trait that I’m remembering that really stands out, which is not really an eye color in human eyes. Unless you’re like…oh, what’s her name? That actress Elizabeth-something. [Elizabeth Taylor] I forget. But it’s supposed to be this impossible person and then, years later, when she’s an adult, he’s actually a real human who should have all these impossible things, but it’s who she actually created. Kind of. So, that was a fun little twist on that same idea. I’m sure you didn’t get it from that, but that’s what it had reminded me of, that idea.

Elena L. Perez (19:24):
Another thing I wanted to bring up was the townspeople and the fact that they’re all going on their own journeys, as well as Maya. We’re not privy to their journeys, but we can imagine that it’s similar to one that Maya is going through. Or maybe not, because at the end, I thought it was interesting that Maya, it seems like, is the only one who decides not to participate in the Rangoli-making the next year and the other townspeople do. So, I have to wonder what is going on in the other people’s minds, you know, are they are they still longing for some perfect connection? Almost Pygmalion-like, you know?

Marina Shugrue (20:13):
Some interesting… It’s kind of funny, too, the Rangoli-person that each townsperson creates is also sort of unique to their own need that needs to be filled in a way. Maya’s is loneliness, let’s say. The twin sister’s is grief. Grief… almost kind of [the] same with the couple who’s having difficulty conceiving their own child. Or, you know, just some sort of…that’s a salve for some sort of life expectation that you couldn’t end up filling. So, I don’t know, I think maybe it’s not quite the same journey that Maya’s on because hers is maybe a journey into, ‘I can stand on my own and still be okay. And yes, this person was perfect for me, but because they’re sort of a soulmate in this way, I can’t keep them trapped here’. Sort of that idea. Whereas other people are trying to solve different emotions. So it’s like, ‘Hey, if you didn’t process your grief, then yeah, sure’. I’d run out and try again, you know? But I think that’s the difference with Maya, that she sort of processed it and she’s come to a different place than the other townspeople have.

Matthew Maichen (21:33):
All right. I think that it’s about time for us to move on. So, first things first, I actually want to apologize real quick. Your name is Min-na, correct?

Mina Rozario (21:49):
That’s correct.

Matthew Maichen (21:50):
Okay. I really apologize. It is a name that I have seen before pronounced ‘Mee-na’, so I apologize, Mina.

Mina Rozario (21:57):
It confuses everyone. No worries.

Matthew Maichen (22:00):
Okay. So, what are your impressions hearing us talk about this story and kind of hearing…getting an audio-visual window into how we talked about your story and what we feel about your story?

Mina Rozario (22:23):
Yeah. First of all, it is a little bit surreal, sitting here witnessing this discussion about a very private experience I had of putting this whole story together. I’m trying to sort my thoughts out around it. It’s just a very different experience interacting with the feedback I receive from other people, with their impressions on the story itself. I can say a lot of these observations are very spot-on and do capture my intentions when I set out to write this story. I really especially liked the comment on how this was supposed to be modeled after a fairytale or a parable, because that’s really what it is. Something really interesting about the festival of Diwali is that it’s often associated with one of the great epics in Hindu lore, the Ramayana, and those epics contain a lot of magic, first of all, lots of supernatural activity. More than that, the characters—well, the protagonists especially— tend to be very upstanding people. They tend to uphold a lot of good values. Everyone has a ton of moral fiber there. So, that was something I had in mind, the origin of this entire festival, when I was writing the story. And that is kind of why I chose to make the story as optimistic as it is. Maya’s path, as was mentioned, was very much one of acceptance. She wasn’t trying to keep Harit trapped with her. She really understood that he was an individual with his own desires, his own identity that was growing the more time he spent in the world with her. That was a big part of my intention there, to stay true to some of these origins of the festival of Diwali and the whole idea with creating Rangoli. So, oftentimes you associate Rangoli patterns with a goddess in Hindu mythology, as well. Her name’s Lakshmi, she’s the goddess of prosperity, good luck. These patterns are associated with things like spirituality and happiness. That was really part of the reason why the outcome of these people making these patterns kind of turned into a manifestation of their desire, like an exceptional stroke of fate or good luck that came their way and they got the person that they thought they wanted most in life. So, it was just interesting, the whole process of listening to this discussion and tying it back to some of the things that went through my head when trying to put this whole piece together. And it was a lot, and there was a lot that came out that seems to me, and it’s wonderful, the amount of thought you guys put into analyzing this and how many observations sort of came out of it that. I feel validated. A lot of my intent really came through.

Matthew Maichen (25:38):
Oh, yeah. I think you mostly answered what was going to be my first question, other than that, which was where did this idea come from? But in case there’s anything else you have to say, that you somehow missed, I was curious ’cause I don’t think that this is normally a conception of what happens during this holiday, or at least even spiritually, unless I’m wrong. Was that really, what you talked about—the epics—was really the core of how you came up with this?

Mina Rozario (26:20):
It was much more vague than that. I mean, growing up as an Indian-American, I’ve had lots of exposure to the various cultural celebrations that have occurred within my family, but I’m not as close to it as somebody who would actually be living in that kind of environment would be. So, I’ve always had something of a fascination with these things. I’ve wanted to be able to, as was mentioned earlier in your discussion, put it out there in the world, explore my own experiences with that part of my culture through writing about it, through thinking a little bit more about it. Of course, it’s nice knowing that this kind of thing reaches other people, prompts questions, maybe makes people wonder, ‘oh, what is Rangoli? I haven’t ever heard of this before’. So, that’s a big part of where a lot of my inspiration comes from. I do have more writings, more pieces, in the work that are inspired by Indian culture. But narrowing it down to this particular story, I actually was thinking earlier on about doing a story related to dreams or wish-fulfillment and somewhat naturally I started thinking about the various celebrations happening in various parts of Indian culture. I’ve mainly explored Diwali through the lens of Hinduism, but it is also celebrated in some other religions, as well. So, when you think about these things, there’s a lot of times…an association back to the Hindu lore of it all because there’s so much magic, so much richness steeped in those big, huge epics that are told that…it’s just a great source of inspiration, to be honest. That’s kind of what my very roundabout process of getting to that inspiration was.

Matthew Maichen (28:24):
Wow. Great. So, then did you, when you thought of writing this, think of this as a magical realist story? Was that something on your mind or was that kind of just the form that it ended up taking?

Mina Rozario (28:44):
Yeah, it ended up kind of, I think, being sort of a by-product of the premise. Naturally, yeah, having people spontaneously form out of powdery creations on the ground, that whole premise really relied on a lot of suspension of disbelief.

Matthew Maichen (29:02):
Pretty magical.

Mina Rozario (29:02):
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I think I definitely wanted the point of the story, the theme or the message that the reader was left with, to be more on the commentary of human nature, but very much magical realism was a tool I used to get there.

Matthew Maichen (29:22):
Awesome. It’s just so cool. So, I guess then my question is, cause you mentioned this, have you ever personally been to India? Aside from your heritage, what is your connection, largely?

Mina Rozario (29:46):
So, I do have a good portion of my family there on both sides. I usually tend to visit once every three or four years. It’s just an incredible experience. I mean, it’s so different in so many ways from living in the US and, okay— disclaimer—I’m also talking about one specific part of India where my family is from. There’s so many cultures, so many languages, it’s such a diverse landscape that, I mean, any comment I try to make to generalize it really couldn’t be accurate in any way. But specifically in the state of Maharashtra, you have such a difference with how communities are structured. Expectations are completely different. And, I mean, definitely in my story as well, one thing I will say is that the way the townspeople are, the taboos that there are around relationships, are completely different from what I would expect to see in India itself. The setting is very much more inspired by what I’ve seen of India, rather than something that you could directly say, ‘this is applicable to Mina’s family in India and the community that they live in’. Not really like that, but yeah, it’s always a great experience visiting.

Matthew Maichen (31:13):
Oh, that’s great.

Elena L. Perez (31:16):
I was going to say that’s something that I really think is really interesting to explore because I’m like that, too. You know, I’m Mexican-American and I didn’t grow up in Mexico, but I still have some family there and I’ve been a couple of times and so I like what you’re saying about kind of exploring your heritage and bringing that into your stories and weaving that in while learning about the culture yourself. That’s really cool because you can bring both sides to it. You can bring in, in your case, your Indian culture, my Mexican culture, plus our American side and kind of mix and match and come up with new combinations. I just love that. I think it’s so creative and so… It’s amazing. Like Matthew was saying earlier, that multicultural perspective is so awesome to have.

Mina Rozario (32:07):
For sure.

Matthew Maichen (32:09):
Yeah. I love that you said that it’s not a monolith because that is such a false impression we have about other countries and other cultures, sometimes. Especially with India. Not because we have this false impression of India being a monolith more than any other culture, but because, you are right that—oh my gosh, India is diverse. Like, wow. I could never wrap my head around all the different groups when I actually started researching it, I just gave up. I’m like, ‘I’m not going to understand this. It’s just too much’.

Mina Rozario (32:52):
I completely feel you on that. To be honest, I think nobody really gets the depth of how many different traditions, cultures, languages, people, et cetera, there are there. It just really makes you think about…wow, it’s just incredible how this is one single nation, but at the same time…I mean, we definitely think about the US as a melting pot where we have a lot of immigrants, lots of cultures, people who’ve moved here who retain some of their original heritage, but yeah, in India, you take that and just scale it up immensely. Add lots of different people to the population. And there you go. It’s incredible.

Matthew Maichen (33:46):
One fact my religious studies teacher—Comparative Religion—used to throw around is that apparently Hinduism alone has 33 million gods.

Mina Rozario (33:58):
[laughs] That sounds about right. Oh, yeah.

Matthew Maichen (34:00):
Which, I wouldn’t be surprised if that number is actually more, it’s just that they didn’t find the others or record them academically. That’s so interesting to me. And that’s just Hinduism, right? Wow. So, moving on to a slightly different topic, I just find it so interesting…I want to actually ask you, if that’s okay, about craft just a little bit. You wrote this story that was simultaneously so short, but you managed to not only tell the story of one character, you managed to tell the story of this town, and reflect all these different subplots—literal subplots—in this flash fiction story, essentially, by length. What is your editing process like as far as refining the words that you use and managing to get all this out in such a short length?

Mina Rozario (35:19):
Actually, flash fiction has been a fairly recent exploration for me. I used to enjoy…I wrote as a hobby since I was nine years old, to be honest, but I always used to stick to things that were novel length. Like, ‘oh, I’m going to come up with this really convoluted plot. I’m going to have, you know, five different points of view’. I never really tried to put a word limit on anything I did. So, when I first started thinking about ways to really become a better writer, try to hone my craft a little bit, I started exploring flash fiction a little more. And with flash fiction, the typical word limit you tend to see is about a thousand words. That was really the goal I had in mind, create a story in less than a thousand words. To do that, you’re really, really forced to think about what’s essential and what’s not. What you can get across and what you cannot in so few words. As far as the process goes, create a very strong central concept, figure out what your core events are going to be. What I do…I mean, this is a multi-day—multi-week sometimes—process for me, where I will write something and then I need to take a step back from it. Before I get into the editing, I have to sleep on it, then re-read it, edit it, sleep on it, re-read it, edit it. At the very end of all that, and I think it’s because I have to distance myself so much, I can have a fresh perspective or as fresh as it can be, every time I look at the story again. I am in a better headspace to identify what I can cut out and what I can keep in.

Matthew Maichen (37:20):
I just want to say, I’m reading a bunch of fantasy novels lately ’cause I have this self-imposed challenge for myself to read NPRs best fantasy science fiction novels. And, oh my gosh, a lot of those authors could learn from you. Some of those word counts are just so inflated and, like—oh my gosh. I think that is the thing. I think a lot of us come to writing from wanting to write novels and then, you’re right, it becomes so hard to learn how to use the words as deliberately as we need to, to get the story across without wasting massive amounts of paper and ink. Thank you.

Elena L. Perez (38:08):
Have you ever written or tried writing poetry?

Mina Rozario (38:11):
Actually, no, I haven’t. Not recently. I did go through a phase in middle school where I experimented a lot with poetry, but I never really revisited it afterward. To be honest, it seems…it’s a thought I’ve had in the back of my mind, it seems to have its own intricacies and challenges and everything like would with normal writing. So, maybe it’s something I’ll eventually get around to.

Matthew Maichen (38:40):
I kind of get where you were going with that Elena, though, because writing poetry can be such a good exercise for learning how to really imply things, in a way.

Elena L. Perez (38:54):
Pare down the language, to be precise, which is what you were talking about, Mina, so that’s why I was curious.

Mina Rozario (39:02):
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, some of these books you read, you kind of come away thinking like, ‘oh my goodness, you know, there are so many implications, so many meanings you could get out of that’. Like, am I right? Am I wrong’? It is incredible.

Matthew Maichen (39:20):
With this story I get that sense, too. I feel like I legitimately end up feeling like I read a sentence that I didn’t read because of how strongly and effectively something is being implied. I feel like I read one of these characters, one of these subplots, journeys being described, and then I have to look back at the piece and be like, ‘no, actually that sentence isn’t there. I just imagined it. I just imagined that thing that happened was specified’. It was so vivid in my mind that it’s there for me.

Marina Shugrue (39:59):
Yeah. It’s incredibly—I keep thinking of the word efficient—in that way. Every word is the perfect word to have at the perfect moment, too. Yeah, it’s good stuff.

Elena L. Perez (40:17):
Yeah. I’m just in awe because you’re talking about these epic myth stories and I’m like, ‘wow, how did you manage to fit all of that’? All of those ideas into this small, concise little story. I love it.

Marina Shugrue (40:35):
And it still feels epic, too.

Matthew Maichen (40:41):
Well, because the definition of epic is that it’s not just about the main character, right? That’s what makes it epic. It’s about this society. I have trouble making something that’s about more than two characters in a 3000 word story. Wow. So, we talked about it a lot. I was going to ask you what your thoughts on the ending are. And knowing that the author’s point of view is just one person’s point of view, right? But this idea that, you know, here’s everyone going to the next, um, I believe—okay, here we go, I’m going to try—Diwali celebration and she’s in there drinking tea. What are your thoughts on that? How did you arrive at that ending for Maya?

Mina Rozario (41:51):
Yeah. I believe this was commented on before. Everybody’s definitely going to have their own reactions to these perfect people they dreamt into being developing personalities of their own, interests of their own, and potentially doing something else. So, Maya is already in that stage of acceptance. She long ago decided that this was the best thing to do for herself [and] Harit as well. So, at the next Diwali, she isn’t keen to really repeat that. She understands that she has to be the source of her own happiness, and she’s ready to do that. She loves running her sweet shop and she’s going to continue getting fulfillment out of that. She doesn’t necessarily need to create another companion and, you know, find an ideal person. Create this ideal person. At the same time, you’re not really recognizing that they’re human if you expect them to stay that way forever and ever. So, she’s learned. The other townspeople, however, it kind of really depends from person to person. Some of them might have already gone through that process, that learning. Others, maybe not. Maybe in some cases, their Rangoli-person is still with them and they’re still happy and they’re looking for ways to fulfill their other desires, or they’re hoping for some other type of miracle to come out of their Rangoli patterns. At the end, my intent was really just for it to be a message that each person has come to their own conclusions about their happiness and their acceptance of what their life is and where they can derive fulfillment from it.

Matthew Maichen (43:49):
Thank you.

Elena L. Perez (43:50):
I have a kind of silly question. Why did you choose for Maya to have a sweet shop? ‘Cause that sounds so fun. [laughs]

Mina Rozario (44:01):
[laughs] I kind of wanted to establish her as a very independent woman and I mean, oftentimes in Indian culture, in small towns, especially, you’ll find that the women are typically going to be expected to be married or fulfill some sort of domestic role as they eventually get older. Clearly Maya isn’t married to anybody right now. That expectation isn’t really on her. So, kind of breaking away from that and creating a way for her to be independent and have her own life. Maybe be slightly lonely in that life, but nonetheless, be self-reliant for the time being, was why she was a business owner. As far as sweet shops go, well, sweet shops are delicious. [laughs] No, um, yeah…

Elena L. Perez (45:03):
I agree.

Mina Rozario (45:04):
Yeah. They are actually not really like candy stores in the US, but people frequent them quite often. There’s lots occasions in India you have to celebrate in which it is very much traditional and established not to go to larger, I guess, chains or larger establishments. It’s just like, ‘oh, we’re going to go over to this local person who makes sweets or this local sweet shop and get the freshest thing’.

Elena L. Perez (45:38):
I love that. I like that you brought up being independent because that kind of makes the ending even more bittersweet—ha ha—to play on the sweet shop. Because she’s this independent woman, but at the end, she doesn’t end up with a love or, you know, a person to be with. So, it’s kind of…I don’t know—uh—that adds a whole other layer for me. I’m going to have to think about that.

Matthew Maichen (46:14):
I just think it’s really interesting because we are harkening back to those very old stories, right? But I also find it really interesting that this idea of letting go of relationships in a healthy way and priding yourself on that and letting someone live their own life and that being something that’s commendable is such a modern idea, you know? Traditionally, people would be so, I guess, dedicated to their families and their communities that you wouldn’t even imagine giving someone their own independence. But culture…I don’t know if it’s worldwide, I don’t know if it’s just in my experience, but things are shifting away from that. So, this idea of ‘I’m going to let you go, I’m going to let you live your own life and be your own person’, and that being such a noble act, it’s this really interesting combination of the old and the new. Uh, that’s not a question. That was just something that occurred to me as I was thinking about this.

Elena L. Perez (47:35):
Yeah, you’re right. It’s just so beautiful how that all comes together in thinking about it.

Matthew Maichen (47:42):
What other questions do we have for Mina, though, while we are here?

Melissa Reynolds (47:48):
Well, I just want to say, all of this talk has made me want to go travel to India to check it out, because it sounds amazing and beautiful. So, thank you for sharing this because you’ve broadened my horizons, at least in that sense. Thank you again.

Mina Rozario (48:05):
Glad to hear that. Thank you.

Matthew Maichen (48:07):
Yeah. That’s the other good thing about multicultural writing. It is much cheaper than a plane ticket and much less arduous than a how many hour flight? Oh gosh, I can only imagine.

Elena L. Perez (48:22):
19? No. I went to India. It was 19 hours, I think. Or something like that.

Matthew Maichen (48:31):
Oh man.

Elena L. Perez (48:33):
But worth it.

Mina Rozario (48:36):
I’ve never taken…I don’t recall the last time I took a direct flight there. That sounds insane. Usually we’ve had layovers in Europe and that kind of makes the flight better.

Elena L. Perez (48:47):
Oh, my gosh, that sounds so much better.

All (48:47):

Matthew Maichen (48:52):
Yeah. It’s interesting, ’cause we do get a lot of Indian submissions of poetry. Written by Indian people who I guess are getting English degrees or have English degrees or English professors. A lot of it was really good poetry and we published a good amount of it. It was interesting.

Mina Rozario (49:23):
Oh, that is very intriguing to hear. I mean, I feel like I came to the right place when I sent you this story.

Matthew Maichen (49:31):
That is a really good segue into a question I was going to ask you, actually. Why did you choose The Metaworker when you were looking for places to submit this?

Mina Rozario (49:45):
Yeah. Um, absolutely. It was quite a process. The way I sort of went into this was, ‘okay, I’m going to start writing flash fiction and I’m going to try to publish my work’. And sort of through the process, it was more like ‘I’m going to write about what I want to write about, and I’m going to see if I can find a literary magazine that aligns with what’s come out of my brain’. It does get kind of tough because when you’re writing purely for yourself or for something that you’ve thought of, it can get a little bit tricky to find something or a magazine or a home for your work that is inclined towards accepting such things. I kind of went through looking through the literary magazine landscape, read a few stories from each one, and when I got to The Metaworker, one thing that really set me at ease was reading your ‘about’ page and your submissions guidelines in which you express, I don’t know what exact words, but you’ve expressed that you were open to all kinds of different submissions, literary as well as speculative. That already was great because when I went searching for magazines, I was like, ‘oh my gosh, so many literary magazines, but a lot of what I write has a speculative bent to it, so I need to find something that’s open to that’. But, you know, my writing isn’t necessarily hardcore sci-fi or fantasy or anything. So, really just the emotion that I got from reading that page on your website was, ‘okay, I can pretty much submit almost anything to this place and we’ll just see what sticks’. It didn’t scare me or anything like that. I genuinely felt that, even these pieces of writing, which you sometimes can’t put in any distinct category, would still be given a fair chance. So, [I] went through, read some of the work on your website, and then I thought to myself, ‘okay, great. There is nothing that is really common to a lot of these different pieces I’m reading, which means that they really want a variety of different writing styles, themes, genres, et cetera’. There you go. That’s pretty much why I decided to submit to The Metaworker.

Elena L. Perez (52:14):
I’m so flattered. Thank you. That’s awesome.

Marina Shugrue (52:19):
It’s lovely to hear, ’cause that really is our goal, to be the home for the pieces that aren’t going to find a home somewhere else. There’s so much good stuff out there. To think that some other magazine, just because of a certain guideline, wouldn’t have accepted this story is crazy to me. Truly. This is so good. It’s so sharp. It’s beautiful. This should be everywhere.

Elena L. Perez (52:45):
Hundred percent.

Matthew Maichen (52:46):
Yeah. It’s actually interesting. Despite the very, very, prestigious literary history that magical realism has, it actually is hard to find a place for it. That’s despite the fact that books like, for example, “A Hundred Years of Solitude”, [which] a lot of people consider that to be the best book ever written, legitimately, and that’s a magical realist book, but if I was going to publish that somewhere, I would probably be stuck between serious literary magazines that don’t want any magic or, you know, these very fantasy-oriented literary magazines that want a lot of magic and the literary element may or may not be important. I think that also illuminates so much on what you submitted to us because the funniest thing about you saying that is that you submitted this, which absolutely was a fairy tale, and then you submitted another story that we also published called “A Future Leviathan’s Prodigious Sister”. And that is…I’m going to repeat it again…that is “A Future Leviathan’s Prodigious Sister” because if the person listening to this has not read it, I really recommend you do. That one was also great, but there was no speculative development in it at all, unless I’m really bad at reading things.

Mina Rozario (54:18):
You’re correct.

Matthew Maichen (54:21):
Okay. Yeah. And that one was also really great. So, it makes so much sense for what you chose to submit because it was, it’s just what needs to be there for the story to be good. You know, it could have fantasy, it could not have fantasy, but what’s most important is what makes the piece good. And I appreciate that.

Elena L. Perez (54:47):
We’re so happy to have this piece, both of your pieces, with us.

Mina Rozario (54:50):
Thank you.

Matthew Maichen (54:50):
Yeah. I do think that we are getting near the end of the hour, if not past it. So, the one last question we usually ask [is] do you have any literary shout-outs? Anything that you’ve read in the literary world—it could be a book, it could be just anything that you’ve absorbed that is written—that you want to like share and shout-out and support.

Mina Rozario (55:25):
Yeah, honestly, I kind of had a book in mind coming into this, but our conversation about, you know, certain pieces that really can’t be categorized as one thing, definitely has made me want to shout-out a different piece of writing as well. So, the book. I actually read it way back in high school. It’s called “Division of the Marked” by March McCarron. It’s very difficult to put a finger on this book, but it has everything you need to make a solid, compelling story. Characters you can root for, an interesting plot, an incredible setting. When I think about it, I’m like, ‘oh my goodness’. You know, this has some fantasy elements. It has a martial arts, as well. A very diverse cast, each character going through their own set of experiences that really gives them a unique, distinct voice. I mean, it could be classified as a mystery to some extent, too, but I thought it was really an amazing book. That would definitely be one piece that just sort of popped into my mind. I can also shout-out the one that I originally came into this thinking about and that is the Scholomance trilogy by Naomi Novik. I just recently read the second book which came out and it takes a very, very common trope, the entire trilogy, and sort of turns it on its head or just like adds a really, really unique twist to it. And I always love when that happens. So, those would be my two shout-outs.

Matthew Maichen (57:07):
I am not familiar with the first one, but Naomi Novik also wrote “Uprooted”, which is…that is a truly special fantasy novel. I cannot categorize that, not because it’s not fantasy. It’s definitively fantasy, but it exists so largely outside this world of six-book series that get to the point on the fifth book out of six. It tells its story so well. I can’t vouch for Scholomance because I’ve never read it, but I know that Naomi Novik is a good writer.

Elena L. Perez (57:52):
I love Naomi’s stuff. She’s great.

Matthew Maichen (58:02):
Yeah. And thank you for shouting-out something that not as many of us are familiar with.

Elena L. Perez (58:02):
I’ll look into that one. That one sounds amazing.

Melissa Reynolds (58:04):
Me too.

Matthew Maichen (58:06):
Yeah. All right. So, in that case, if there are no other questions, I think that we’ve had a great interview with you, Mina. Thank you so much for both submitting your stories to us, which were both excellent, and thank you for being here with us and talking to us today.

Mina Rozario (58:33):
Thank you. It was a pleasure to discuss all of this with you.

Elena L. Perez (58:37):
It was so lovely having you and chatting with you. Thank you.

Marina Shugrue (58:40):
Yeah, thank you.

Melissa Reynolds (58:41):
Yes, indeed. Thank you. I didn’t get to say so it, so I’m sorry to squeeze it in at the last second, but the magical realism of your pieces are ‘Mwah’ [chef’s kiss]. Beautiful.

Marina Shugrue (58:57):
Chef’s kiss to end it all.

Matthew Maichen (59:01):
‘Chef’s kiss to end it all’. Perfect, perfect ending point.

Mina Rozario (59:03):
Honestly, this has been such a huge ego boost, guys. I don’t know if this is your intent.

Matthew Maichen (59:15):
It’s one of them. Yeah. Keep writing, keep writing and then…

Marina Shugrue (59:18):
Send it to us.

All (59:19):

Matthew Maichen (59:24):
All right. Have an excellent day.

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