The Henna Artist Author, Alka Joshi on her Ten Year Journey to Publication

The Henna Artist Author, Alka Joshi on her Ten Year Journey to Publication

Tell us about your background and what led you to writing this book, including the inspiration for it.

Shortly after we married, my husband pointed out that I had a talent for creative writing. For years, I’d been writing tv and radio commercials and print ads, never imagining that I could write literary fiction. At Brad’s urging, I registered for evening workshops. My instructors were so encouraging that I kept going, enrolling in a two-year MFA program when the 2008 recession put a halt to my advertising/marketing business. During this time, I also took my mother on multiple trips to Jaipur—staying for a month at a time and experiencing India through her eyes. It was eye-opening! As an immigrant child in America, I’d wanted desperately not to be Indian, not to be different. As an adult, I saw a rich, vibrant, diverse culture that I was proud to reclaim.

After spending so much time alone with my mother on these trips, delving deeper into her Indian girlhood, her early desires, her arranged marriage to my father, I understood why she had—very consciously—raised me, her only daughter, to choose my own destiny. She had always encouraged me to decide whom to marry, whether to have children, which career to pursue. I began to wonder: What if she had fled her marriage? What would she have done to survive? Given the option, what choices would she have made? That reimagining of her life became The Henna Artist—a gift to my mother for all she gave me—and a journey that took ten years to complete.

How does it feel to hold your book in your hands?

On February 22, I held the hardcover in my hands for the first time, gliding my fingers over the embossed title, my name in print, marveling over the gorgeous cover design by Harlequin’s Art Department. Had I really written this book? Then, when MIRA officially released The Henna Artist, my heart sank deeper as, one by one, each book event was canceled because of the pandemic. Finally, a surprise: Reese Witherspoon had selected The Henna Artist for her May book club pick! My calendar was suddenly flush with radio interviews, cooking videos and virtual book club discussions. Now when I hold the book, it feels solid, real.

What was the most challenging part of writing it?

Revisions were the most challenging part of my 10-year journey. I’d finish a draft, confident that I’d nailed the characters, only to have an editor or reviewer tell me I hadn’t. After yet another draft: Surely I’d fixed the pacing, hadn’t I? After the seventh draft, I wanted to give up. No one had asked for this novel. No one was expecting it. Why was I torturing myself? But the characters wouldn’t leave me alone. Lakshmi, Malik, and Radha kept knocking at my consciousness: when will you finish our story? So I would begin anew, sometimes from the very first page.

At times, I found that the writing community wanted me to incorporate aspects of Indian culture that they perceived as important (i.e., the caste system or Partition or clash between Muslims and Hindus). But I knew this was my story to tell and I wanted to tell it organically, incorporating the cultural nuances into scenes subtly, sensitively. I held fast to that.

What’s some great advice you’ve received that has helped you as a writer?

  1. Writing is rewriting. Revisions make characters and scenes richer.
  2. Movement (walking, cycling, swimming) allows your imagination toflow, to work on scenes, dialogue, pacing.
  3. Magic happens when things don’t go your way. How I interact withreaders in the pandemic is different from anything I had envisioned—in many ways, it’s better, more direct, and with a wider reach than I’d thought possible.
  4. Stay. With. It.
  5. It takes as long as it takes. Don’t rush it.


See Why Everyone (Including Reese Witherspoon) Loves The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

Review | Extract

9 June 2020

See Why Everyone (Including Reese Witherspoon) Loves The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

    Vivid and Compelling, The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi is a Must-Read

    Review | Our Review

    9 June 2020

    Vivid and Compelling, The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi is a Must-Read

      Publisher details

      The Henna Artist
      Alka Joshi
      HQ Fiction
      18 May, 2020


      'This vivid story is so rich and complex...reading about Lakshmi's journey from escaping an abusive marriage to becoming one of the most sought-after henna artists in Jaipur captivated me from the first chapter to the final page.' Reese WitherspoonEscaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist-and confidante-to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own...Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow-a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman's struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern, The Henna Artist opens a door into a world that is at once lush and fascinating, stark and cruel.
      Alka Joshi
      About the author

      Alka Joshi

      Alka Joshi was born in India and raised in the U.S. since the age of nine. She has a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from California College of Arts and runs an advertising and marketing agency. She has lived in France and Italy and currently lives in Pacific Grove, California, with her husband. The Henna Artist is her first novel.

      Books by Alka Joshi


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      1. Anne Rackerby says:

        I live in Lake Tahoe and started a book club when we first moved here about 18 years ago. We call ourselves the Bodacious Babes Bookclub (BBB)
        We chose your novel, “The Henna Artist”, for our August book. I’m hearing that my friends (nor I) can seem to put it down. What wonderful images you have created for your readers.
        Do you ever take part in Zoom gatherings?
        Please consider a home to home visit with The Bodacious Babes on Wednesday, August 26.
        For the BBB

      2. Nell De Lair says:

        Just finished your book, absolutely loved it. Hated it to end. Loved the characters, can hardly wait for your next book. May have to read it again. Wonderful Story, thank you!!

      3. Nancy Perry says:

        Thank you for writing The Henna Artist. I loved it! The characters and plot were intricately and richly developed; the story fell into place like a beautifully constructed puzzle. I will definitely choose this book for my book club.

      4. Holly Hamilton says:

        I love this book. I found it a bit difficult to keep track of the Indian names at first. It’s hard to see some of the hardships the lower caste people live in. Once I really sat and kept reading I couldn’t put it down. I enjoyed reading about the culture which is something our current Western population doesn’t celebrate. This story unraveled seamlessly and the ending was beautiful and unexpected. I am glad my friend loaned it to me. I will recommend it.

      5. Najat El-Taji El-Khairy says:

        Just finished reading it….. a jewel of a book…. lived through each scene, each sentence, each character. Brilliantly written…. can’t wait for it’s sequel… The new adventures of the Lakshmi, Radha, Malik and Kumar in Shimla and it’s Himalayan winds.

      6. Najat El-Taji El-Khairy says:

        BTW The Henna Artist was recommended by my eldest daughter Rasha El Khairy for our 4th family book club group that we created few months ago due to the pandemic. Discussion at the end of February…and here we go… we could’t put it down… a very good choice indeed.

      7. Sharon Shelton says:

        I absolutely LOVED this book. Like many other people, I had been reading more (really devouring) books during the pandemic. I hadn’t experienced a truly compelling novel in several months…then I found the Henna Artist. It was worth the wait of several months to get it on-line. Alka does many things well in this novel, but was resonated with me was how well she captured the “fragility” of one’s livelihood. How fast life can change…couldn’t put it down.

      8. Karen Dannewitz says:

        Loved both Henna artist and the secretkeeper of Jaipur. I though it was a trilogy so imagine my surprise when there wasn’t a third book. I was so looking forward to it. I was so captivated by the other two and hoped there was another. Is one on the way? Karen Dannewitz