Payal Kindiger, imagination master
It’s 9 a.m. at the Irvine Spectrum. Shopkeepers are setting up for the day, and you can still get a decent spot in the huge parking lot. Payal Kindiger is inside Storymakery, her new shop located strategically close to a playground and the kid-magnet Ferris wheel. Right now it’s quiet, but later, the computers will be fired up and the printers in back will be chugging out books with titles like “Attic Lasers,” “The Great Pirate Voyage” and “Blah, Blah, Blah” from Orange County’s newest authors.
“The kids’ eyes light up when they see their stories printing,” said Kindiger, 39, who lives in San Clemente with her husband and kids Arya, 9, and Saheli, 2 1/2.
Storymakery is a place for kids to come in, create a story and leave with a real book they’ve written. The shop caters to ages 4-12 and accepts walk-in customers and organized groups. Younger ones get help with story prompts and typing, and older kids (and a few stray adults as well) create their own stories of mermaids and monsters and robots. Anyone suffering writer’s block can visit Imagination Forest, part of the store where the leaves on the trees have story prompts such as “Today I am small: One day your character shrinks to the size of a cricket. What are their silly and dangerous encounters?”
With or without the help of grown-ups, kids use the touch-screen computer to create and personalize characters, illustrations and story lines. If inspiration is lacking, there are even story outlines that can be customized, a la more purposeful Mad Libs.
Storymakery opened in November and was inspired by Arya. After selling a software company she and her husband partially owned, Kindiger took some time off, but got “a bit antsy.”
“My daughter loves writing and drawing. She was trying to figure out how to bind her book, and I saw that there really wasn’t much there. There are different digital storytelling sites but nothing in terms of a self-publishing platform for kids. And I was crazy enough to move forward with that.”
Q. What’s been your biggest struggle being a parent and doing this?
A. The biggest struggle is wanting to spend more time with the kids. I feel the most whole when I’m with my kids and my husband and having that quality time. But there are weeks when I’ve had a couple of days where I only spent a few good daylight hours with them.
Q. How do you share work at home with your husband?
A. Casey’s been a true partner in this effort. We’re both crazy – he has his own startup as well (in software). We share our responsibilities equally. I don’t think we would have done our businesses without that. He does the dishes. He’ll do the laundry. He watches the kids. He makes dinner. With the launch, he’s been cooking more dinners than I have lately.
Q. Do you ever have to steer a story away from something a kid wants to write about?
A. Sometimes kids want to incorporate something like poop into the story. It’s a delicate balance. We want to capture their way of thinking but at the same time also make it something their parents would want to see too.
Q. Last book read?
A. “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn
Q. Can’t live without?
A. Besides my family? That’s tough. Coffee. I have to have my coffee.
Q. Who inspired you to do this?
A. A combination of people. Definitely my parents. They came from India and worked really hard. My mom had a jewelry business and my dad is an engineer at Boeing. Growing up they were very selfless – there wasn’t any such thing as “me” time. They always taught me education was important, and I still live by that. My husband has always been a go-getter, and I worked with him to grow our company and I gained confidence to do my own thing as a result of that. And women supporting each other. I’m always very eager to support hardworking women. And I think we could do a better job of supporting other women.
Q. Does Arya help out in the store?
A. She loves it. We have aprons with our logo, and when she comes into the store, she goes right to the back and puts one on. When it’s been busy she’s helped kids create characters, and she takes a lot of pride in it. I ask her a lot of questions about what she’d like to see and we did a lot of testing with her, so she’s written easily 50 stories, if not more. I talk to her about what it takes to do the business, and as I was explaining all the costs, she said, “Wow, Mom, you’re going to have to sell a lot of books!”