SANDHYA S. PILLALAMARRI has always had a unique last name. And she is quite proud of it. When she isn’t busy researching names, Sandhya can be found leading the research and evaluation strategy for a world premier educational technology and learning company. Sandhya has worked for multinational corporations in various leadership and consultative roles, driving product design & user experience for top digital and physical consumer products. She has studied computer science from Arizona State University, human computer interaction from Carnegie Mellon University and management, strategy and operations from Harvard University. Sandhya can be found cooking, reading and pronouncing her toddler’s Sanskrit name somewhere in the suburbs of Boston, MA. This is her first book.
Gi Hallmark: How did the idea for The Name Soup originate?
Sandhya Sameera Pillalamarri: The concept of the book was inspired by my long last name. I was always intrigued about its true meaning and where it came from. While researching that, I ended up thinking about the storyline for this book. I love exploring different cultures and tracing the roots of language and diction. It’s exciting to me that we can learn so much about a person and their family history just from their names!
GH: Why did you choose a Thai/Chinese heritage for Leela?
SSP: There is something about the Thai culture that is very akin to my Indian heritage. I have always enjoyed reading about Buddhism and the influence it has had on Thailand. And when I went to Thailand last year, I got to touch, smell, see and taste the true beauty and independent spirit of the Thai people. And the Chinese culture simply inspires me! Their resilience and rich history is truly vast. It was only natural then that Leela be of Thai and Chinese descent.
GH: What do you hope readers gain from Leela’s story?
SSP: Anyone, young or old, can face self-doubt at any point in time. Even when surrounded by family and good friends, you can sometimes get lost in the throes of life. I hope that readers will look within themselves and discover how special they are—that their name alone has so much more meaning than they had imagined; that their family heritage is that much richer because of their very existence!
GH: Were you interested in genealogy and etymology before you started writing The Name Soup?
SSP: Yes. My mother has a master’s degree in linguistics and my father has a deep passion for his native langue and his mother tongue, Telugu. Growing up, I have watched him researching old poems and prose and composing his own literature on the Telugu language. I guess I was influenced by their love for words and language! I am also fiercely interested in learning about the influence culture and history has on our societies today.
GH: What lessons did you learn when you were writing this book?
SSP: I’ve learned a few things on this long journey in writing and publishing the book. First, you should always expect the unexpected. Second, there is sometimes more than one path that enables you to achieve success. I will always be grateful to my editors, mentors, and every single person who reads The Name Soup—especially those who take the time to review it, mention it to a friend, or send me a note of encouragement. I only hope that the book returns to them some of the great happiness and enjoyment that it has given me in creating it.
GH: Have you shared any of the same experiences as Leela?
SSP: Oh absolutely! I was always that kid (or the adult for that matter) with the really long last name. While people find it easy to pronounce, it’s all those ‘Ls’ that trip them up! Also, I have been a fish out of the pond when I moved to America for the first time. I know what it feels like to be ‘different’. I also know what it feels like to discover oneself and own your identify with love and pride.
GH: Leela has a very happy, inquisitive, and endearing spirit, what can we expect from her in book two?
SSP: Book two will have Leela chasing down a mystery—an intriguing puzzle that’s been haunting her family for many generations. Its Leela’s inquisitive nature and the mystical Thai culture that’ll help her discover the secrets to her magical heritage!
GH: Your career background is mainly in business and technology, how did you get interested in writing children’s books?
SSP: Technology and business aim to solve one thing—solve end-users’ problems! As a researcher and strategist, I am in the business of discovering what makes people happy. What makes their interaction with a product delightful? Why does a product work for some and not others? What makes people love a product so much that they’re willing to part with their hard-earned money for that exceptional experience? These are the questions that bug me and keep me up at night. Writing a children’s book is very similar in that I am constantly wondering what experiences enhance a child’s life. What are some of the questions and struggles children face? What type of a story will excite them and get them thinking; get them researching; and ultimately, get them discovering!
GH: Describe your writing experience. Do you have a special place where you like to write or a particular time of day when you like to write?
SSP: It’s not where, but whom! People inspire me! Talking to other people in different walks of life and hearing them share their stories, concerns and feelings inspires me to write. That usually helps me push through writers’ block and think of something interesting to say. I have always been a story teller at heart. When I read to my toddler son, who loves reading books, I get passionate about some of the stories that have a purpose and message behind them. I have also been fiercely passionate about the benefits of reading in general. Working in a creative space, like writing, inspires me to be a better person.
GH: What are some of your favorite children’s books?
SSP: In recent times, most definitely the Harry Potter series gets me excited. Growing up, I always enjoyed reading The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. But my most favorite children’s book(s) of all time has to be The Panchatantra Short Stories, an ancient Sanskrit collection of stories, first composed around 300 CE (give or take a century or two), though some of the stories may be much older (source: Wikipedia). I grew up on those (along with a comic series called Twinkle) and can probably read all 101+ stories in one sitting!
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