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The Heart of the Story: An Interview with Ekta Garg, author of In the Heart of the Linden Wood

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Working in niche publishing in 2005, Ekta has written and edited about everything from healthcare to home improvement to Hindi films. A writing contest judge for the Florida Writers Association and the Saturday Writers chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild, Ekta conducts writing workshops and also hosts Biblio Breakdown, where she examines books and offers writing exercises. She blogs original fiction, book reviews, and all things writing and editing at The Write Edge ( Her holiday novella, The Truth About Elves, and her fairy tale for grownups, In the Heart of the Linden Wood, are both available now from Atmosphere Press.

You can buy the book here.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I’m normally not that great at titles—they’re one of the hardest things for me in the writing process, and I’m not sure why. Some authors use lines from their work as the title or find a way to encapsulate the whole book into a phrase that works as a title. For some reason, I feel like my books/stories don’t always lend themselves that easily to titling.

For this book, though, the title I eventually chose made sense within the context of the story. The Linden Wood is crucial to the kingdom’s survival. The Keeper—whose literal, actual heart the king and others have to go find—lives in the metaphorical center of the wood, what we typically consider the heart things. The king and others have all experienced heartbreak in some way, shape, or form, so the title kind was very meta for me in that way. The different layers of what the heart means to us, as a concept and in actuality, made it a little easier to title this book than other works of mine.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

Cover designer Kevin Stone is a genius. If there is a hall of fame for cover designers, he should be the greatest honoree for the rest of time. He did the cover of my first book, The Truth About Elves, and I knew I had to ask for him to do the cover of Linden. I’m all about words—I have zero talent when it comes to the visual arts. But Kevin managed to capture my intention with this cover, even though we’ve never met face to face.

When I saw the cover on my screen after all the final tweaks and edits, it really took my breath away! It captured in all of the nuances and details exactly what I wanted, even before I knew I wanted it.

As for holding the book in my hands, it just reaffirmed for me that, yes, my writing dreams have come true and I can continue making them come true in the future.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t surrounded by books. I’ve had a deep, passionate love affair with them since before I knew what that meant or even before I had the vocabulary to articulate how I felt.

As for works that have influenced me, I didn’t really understand this fully until after I started doing the marketing for Linden and author interviews like this one, but if I look back on all the books I’ve loved and re-read time and time again throughout my life, the majority of them are books with some magical element to them, either because of the genre (like the Narnia books or The Wheel of Time series) or because of the way they were written and the protagonist (think Anne of Green Gables). More and more I’m finding that this is a space that I love and want to keep exploring as an author.

As part of the publishing process, I was asked about comp titles for Linden and I couldn’t articulate any modern-day comps, but I’ve started reading Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson, and as I’m going through it, I keep nodding and thinking, “Yes! This is the kind of book I want to write.”

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

Everything about my day in terms of my professional life is connected to reading and writing somehow, whether as a freelance editor for other writers/authors to help them with their stories and books or as the managing editor of a local magazine in my town. But something readers wouldn’t know about me…hmm. How many deep secrets should I reveal? Let’s see…

I love wrapping gifts. That sounds silly, I know, but I get a deep satisfaction in making sure something is wrapped all nice and neat and looks pretty. This also extends into organizing and finding “a place for everything and everything in its place.” I often do a happy dance when I’ve pulled out a mess and made it all orderly again.

I call myself a “recovering introvert.” In some ways, especially where my writing was concerned, I was a very private person in my childhood and adolescence. I was also not necessarily the most socially active person, but I have to add a caveat to that. I liked mingling with other people when I was younger, I just wasn’t all that energized by initiating those social interactions. I was more comfortable waiting for others to come to me, only because I didn’t have the confidence to walk into a room full of strangers and be the first one to say hello. I’m much better about that—I’ve gotten used to initiating conversations and, depending on the day and (sometimes) my mood, I really enjoy doing it. But some days—and I think this is more true post-pandemic—I’d rather just stay home holed up in my writing studio or curled up on the couch with a book and/or my computer.

One last thing readers may not know: I use technology, social media, all of it, but some days I genuinely wonder if we weren’t better off without all of these advances, only because of the complications they’ve caused and the downright horrendous situations that have come from them. If we could have all the good of tech and the digital revolution without all the nastiness, I’d fight to keep it all.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

Seeing the book in my hands and being able to call myself ‘author.’ Also, hearing others call me an author. But the most rewarding thing is hearing from readers or reading reviews from people who were touched by the book and loved it as much as I do.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Wow, this is a good one! Hmm, let’s see, my book is a fairy tale for grownups, so it would probably be mostly instrumental music that sounded like the classical greats—Bach, Beethoven, etc.—but with a little more of a modern feel to it.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I really hope that readers see that grief is a process and that they’re not alone in it. Also, everyone in the world—everyone—is grieving something. It might not be as dramatic as the loss of a loved one, but when we’re in the thick of it, that grief can feel just as big and unwieldy and almost crushing. I hope readers are comforted by the fact that eventually there is a way through—because, unfortunately, the only way to survive the worst of the grief is to go through it—and that they get a little measure of hope from the book at the end.

My perfect reader is someone who probably lives their every-day life but stays open to the fact that there can be magic in it. Someone who, even when life knocks them down, staggers back to their feet and keeps fighting. Someone who is open to change and to possibilities while also staying true to who they are and to their loved ones. (Wow, this got philosophical pretty fast, didn’t it?)

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I’ve started the prep work for a little chapbook of stories based on some of the most beloved fairy tales/nursery rhymes/urban legends that we know. Without even thinking about the connection between them, in these last couple of years I’ve written three stories in this space and had so much fun that I wanted to do a few more and eventually have them published so readers can use them as a “gateway” into the rest of my work. I’m also kind of using them to whet my creative appetite for the next big work I’ve got rolling around in my head, which, if it goes as I want it to, is going to be ambitious and a little sad. But also hopeful. I’m finding more and more that I enjoy writing about the intersections of grief and magic and hope and how characters come to those intersections and move on in their journeys from there.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

Atmosphere is fantastic! I could probably write a whole article on my experience with them and why I chose to go hybrid versus self-publishing or traditional publishing, but suffice it to say that I appreciate the openness, guidance, and enthusiasm of the entire team. Most of all, I appreciate the honesty and loyalty the Atmosphere team has with and to its writers. In this day and age, when there are so many writing scams out there or just shady actors, it’s refreshing and reassuring to know there’s a company that stands by what it claims. I’m sure there are many others out there like Atmosphere, but I’ll always consider it my publishing home!

You can buy the book here.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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