Interview with Writer, Uma Krishnaswami

Uma Krishnaswami

I am so excited to have Uma here with me today to talk about her new book, THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING. A humorous and heartwarming MG story filled with rose petal milkshakes, Dreamycakes, blue mountain flowers as blue as the sky, fillums and filmi people, silver anklets that go chan-chan-chan, drumbeats that go dhoom-taana-dhoom, and as many monkeys skulking about for a bite of Mr. Mani’s giant chocolate cake as there are pecking pigeons around the Washington Monument.

 “…Set in imagined Swapnagiri (which means Dream Mountain), this high-energy concoction is thoroughly believable and entertaining. The story is told in a third-person present-tense voice that rings true to its protagonist, who sees her life as a movie script. Though Dini and Maddie are halfway around the world from each other, they communicate through cell phones and computer chat, keeping up their friendship while making new ones. Full of references to Bollywood movie traditions and local customs, this is a delightful romp with a fresh setting and a distinctive and appealing main character.” -Kirkus Reviews     
Starred reviews: Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly

Uma, I love Dini's voice!! The dialogue between her and her BFF, Maddie,  
is so real. Did her voice and character come to you as fast as Veeran
drove the streets and hills of India, or was it gradual?

Julie Larios asked me that very same question! It made me think, because I
don’t usually know “how” I did something until after the fact. Here’s my
answer, over at The Drift Record:

 Oh, my characters always seem to run away from me as fast as they can. I know that sounds crazy but that's how it feels to me, like trying to chase them through a labyrinth hoping they'll let me eavesdrop and knowing they'll shut up if they realize I'm listening. In early drafts they often feel a bit wooden, as if they're trying out for the part and it's not quite a fit yet. Dini was no exception. Her way of thinking too, all that "life-as-movie" stuff, crept in gradually. 

If her BFF, Maddie, were to visit Dini in India, what do you think Dini would be most excited to show her?

She’d want to take her to Sunny Villa, of course, but I also think they’d want to visit Bombay, the center of the filmi universe, especially as Dolly Singh is back in movie-making mode, thanks to the success of Dini’s Grand Plan.

Can you give us a short scene using their voices?

I would love to! Not quite a scene yet, but here’s a fragment along those lines.

Note: this is a drafty draft, right out of my head and onto the screen. It may never be in any book, and it certainly won't be there in just this form.

“Ooh, it’s singing,” says Dini. She is referring to the doorbell.

“The song from the movie,” Maddie says, and it is hard to tell if her voice is wobbling from excitement or exhaustion.

They are standing outside Dolly’s door—Dolly Singh’s door! How unbelievable is that!—on the tenth floor of this ground-floor-plus-ten-floors building. It’s the kind of building that in India is known as a block of “flats,” quite logically as the apartments stack up neatly on top of each other. The adults in the cast are emerging from the elevator which is, also quite suitably, called a “lift” in these parts.

“This is beyond stunning,” Maddie says. “I can't believe we’re really in…”

She takes a breath, and Dini does too. “Bombay the center of the filmi universe,” they say together, solemnly.

Wowie, wowie, wowie, as Maddie would say.

There are quite a few minor characters in THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING that add much to the tone, humor, and overall plot. Was it difficult to juggle so many and make them all so recognizable? Did you have a system that helped to keep them all straight? Were there more characters that were cut in subsequent drafts?

There were lots of characters in very early drafts who fell right off the page once Dolly and Chickoo Uncle appeared. Dini even had a brother for a while but I realized quite early on that he didn't belong in the story.

I’d say that in the last eight or ten rounds, all the minor characters were in place. Because I was writing in short scenes it wasn't that hard to keep them all straight in my mind. I didn't need to use any organizing tools to track the minor characters. In fact whenever I got stuck with Dini and Maddie, I’d write a goatherd or Lal or Soli Dustup scene and it would get the whole story moving once more. They were my way of finding out what was happening in the larger world of which Dini was trying to make sense.

Uma's "running notes"
In contrast, for Dini and Maddie, I kept running notes on their friendship and the arc of their story.

I even once looked up Astrology for Dummies to see if I could harvest a nice cluster of traits for each of them. You know, things like “deeply believes in equality, makes many friends” or “solid, reliable, dedicated, can be stubborn and demanding at times.” Don't laugh—I’m not too proud to accept help where I can find it!

I know what I’ll be doing once we’re done chatting. (Note to self…Google astrology).

One of my favorite minor characters was the goatherd. Since Dini has a grand plan to fix everything, were you tempted to have her 'fix' the goatherd’s dream of cows, chickens, and eggs?

No, never. His little storyline plays out on the edges of Dini’s story, and to bring him any closer would have turned the spotlight onto him. He does give her a kurinji flower at the very end, but that’s the only connection. The reader is left to assume that, this being Swapnagiri, the goatherd may well realize a dream or two, or he may actually be quite happy just dreaming. In some ways, we don’t need to know.

I think that’s part of the joy of writing a story from a larger perspective than a single viewpoint. You can choose to focus the spotlight where the story seems to need it.

Dini loves words and writes them down in her stripy green notebook. I know what her favorite word would be: surreal. Do you know her least favorite?

Dini tells me to let you know that her least favorite word is "impossible."

What do you hope your readers come away with after reading THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING, besides a big grin, of course?

A sense of hope, a sense that the world is as good as we can make it, that friendships matter, and laughter can help you get over the occasional monkey in your water tank!

Well, you succeeded in doing just that for me. I so enjoyed THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING!!!! What a great summer read!!!!

Thank you so much, Uma, for coming by today. When I emailed Uma about what I planned to post she told me not to make it about her, to make it about her book, which I did, right? So I totally WON'T tell you that four years ago, I signed up for a writing class, Uma's class, which changed my writing life. I refuse, absolutely REFUSE, to mention how thankful I am to have benefited from her encouragement, wisdom, her uncanny ability to pass just-the-right-next-tool from the craft tool box, and her gift for making criticisms sound like a compliments. Uma's not only a great writer, but a wonderful teacher who now teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts in the MFA/Writing for Children and YA program.

Please be sure to check out her AWESOME book trailer (with monkeys) along with her blog, and of course put THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING on your MUST read list. 

The next stop on The Grand Tour is The Pirate Tree.

Aren't they pretty!!!?
And they won't fall off like Dolly's : )
Three lucky Grand Prize winners will each receive one copy of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING along with a starry assortment of bangles and trinkets that Dolly Singh, famous famous Bollywood movie star, would adore! An additional 3 runners-up will receive a copy of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING.

(That's six winners!! SIX!!) 

To enter, send an e-mail to In the body of the e-mail, include your name, mailing address, and e-mail address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and e-mail address). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on 6/30/11. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on 7/1/11 and notified via email.

Good luck!


  1. I won’t say either, Paula, how Uma has played a huge part in my growth as a writer or how thankful I am to have found her at four years ago. ;) It’s so wonderful to finally read The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. I’m absolutely loving it! Congratulations, Uma, and thanks for all you’ve done for us (UA) and for the children’s literature community!

  2. Thanks for the interview--the book sounds great! I'm always on the hunt for wonderful voice.

  3. This was a great interview! Thanks so must for posting, Paula!

    xoxo -- Hilary

  4. I meant to comment earlier but I was too busy Reading the Book !! Or rather, reading-reading and laughing-laughing :). Uma's been a wonderful teacher, mentor, and friend to me over the years, and I can't thank her enough. I've read and enjoyed most of her books, but I have to say that Grand Plan is my favorite out of all her books. Not just because it has my namesake in it, though it is a riot to read about “Dini”, which is what I tried to get everyone to call me when I was eleven. It’s fabulous, and funny, and spot on, and I can’t wait to share it with my eleven year old daughter. Congratulations, Uma, on this lovely book. I hope it gets the success it deserves. And good luck GPTFE!! Hope you’re as much of a superhit as MJTJ!!

    And thanks for a great interview, Paula!!

  5. I loved this interview Paula and Uma! It brings back such wonderful memories of being in class together and reading this story in it's beginning stages. Even then it was so engaging and colorful....a Bollywood movie set in words.

    I miss having Uma as a teacher. So nice to have a chance to learn from her again in her beautiful new book!


  6. Great interview. Uma makes voice sound so easy. Sounds like a book I'd like since I've been to Bombay and loved it.


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