Samar–a.k.a. Sam–is an Indian-American teenager whose mom has kept her away from her old-fashioned family. It’s never bothered Sam, who is busy with school, friends, and a demanding boyfriend. But things change after 9/11. A guy in a turban shows up at Sam’s house–and turns out to be her uncle. He wants to reconcile the family and teach Sam about her Sikh heritage. Sam is eager, but when boys attack her uncle, chanting “Go back home, Osama!,” Sam realizes she could be in danger–and also dscovers how dangerous ignorance is.
Neesha Meminger was born in India, grew up in Canada, and currently lives in New York City with her family. Her second novel, JAZZ IN LOVE, is completed and she is hard at work on her third. I’m so glad to haver her here on Fumbling with Fiction and I think you’ll love the great insight she has to share.
Shine, Coconut Moon is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?
Thank you! I always find this question a toughie because I started out writing for Older Adults (as opposed to “Young” Adults ;]). I queried widely and met with a dismal number of rejections. I have no idea how many and I wouldn’t even venture to guess.
But, I went back to the drawing board and wrote a collection of short Middle Grade stories — for the eight to twelve-year-old set. I loved those stories and spent much time on them, revising, chiseling, polishing. I caught the interest of an agent with that manuscript. That agent then looked at my previous, Adult manuscript and asked if the protagonist of that work was a teen (which she was!), and would I be interested in doing YA. At that point, I didn’t even know this was an option. I thought you wrote what you wrote and it was whatever it ended up being. I didn’t realize there was a whole *category* for what I was writing.
I didn’t end up going with that agent in the end, but I would say she really set me on the YA path. Through her, I realized that those YA years are where my heart is and where so much of my truth lies. It’s where my creativity is still untethered and wild.
If I were to put a time frame on the whole thing, from when I first set out to write a novel to sale would be close to thirteen years. Yikes! But keep in mind that I also took time off to have two kids in there, and to grope through some tough segments of life ;).
I’m glad you did switch to YA and, of course, *I* think YA is the best!
Did you draw on your own experiences with Indian culture to write Shine?
Absolutely. Samar (Sam), the main character of SHINE, comes from a Sikh family, as do I. Her mother is tattooed, as am I *grin*, and she (the mother) has a brother she’s very close to, as do I.
But many of the similarities end there. The experiences Sam, her mother, and the other characters go through are uniquely theirs. Especially within a cultural context.
What a great perspective to share. Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? Can you describe to us what it felt like?
Oh, they both thrilled me in different ways! The agent call was like finally finding a floating piece of driftwood to cling to after treading water forever. It was kind of like, “Finally! Someone (other than my parents and brothers) thinks this is good!”
The editor call was another kind of relief — as well as a thrill. It was like, “Oh, phew! My agent won’t dump me!” followed by, “OMG, I’m going to be an author.” It was very validating and nerve-wracking at the same time.
Throughout your journey as a writer, what resources have you found most valuable to your success? Websites? Books? Conferences?
I would say books and online resources have been the biggest help. My favorite books are BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lemott; REMEMBERED RAPTURE: THE WRITER AT WORK by Bell Hooks; and ON WRITING by Stephen King. But other books on the craft and process have been helpful along the way as well.
Online resources like Verla Kay’s Blue Boards (www.verlakay.com) were an invaluable resource throughout the querying and researching process. Meeting and networking with other authors is one of the most important things an aspiring writer can do, IMO. And it’s just plain fun, too :).
I LOVE On Writing as well as The Blue Boards. I’ll have to check the other ones out. We all know that writers go through hard times on their way to success. How have you handled rejection in the past?
I got a lot of TLC from my writer friends and critique buddies. I lamented over my utter lack of talent and complete failure as a writer with my spouse — whose job (I told him at the onset) was to pat my back and there-there me back to emotional health and wellness. I chatted with my kids whose job is to love me unconditionally. And my mom, who has a different version of that same job. And my brothers, who are my biggest fans.
Then I got off my pity-horse and went back to work.
This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?
I once wrote an author I admired, raving about her latest book. Which wasn’t out yet. She was lovely about it and told me it wasn’t out yet, not even in ARC form and that I could buy it when it came out. I realized in a major Dolt Moment that I had written the wrong title when I was emailing her. I’d read one of her other books (and loved it), but written the title of the one that hadn’t been released yet.
Of course, I couldn’t write back and say, *embarrassed giggle* “The book I meant I read was . . . ” without it sounding totally lame.
That was only one of my horrible experiences with email. It is an amazing medium and yet, potentially very dangerous.
Ugh. That is embarrassing. I think I’ve learned a lot about being careful when emailing from the 2009 Debs.
You’re now at the beginning of your writing career. Can you believe it? Where would you like that sure-to-be illustrious career to take you?
Ah, to dream! First and foremost, I’d like to be able to write full time. But that’s what all writers want, so something more specific might look like this: after the movie/tv series rights sell for my first book in a three-book deal (book two, three, and four after SHINE), I’m catapulted to super-author-dom and have no problem getting consecutive book deals. I live half the time in a modest Mexican villa by the sea and the other half the time in either New York or Toronto.
My kids are happy and healthy, and Spouse and I nurture our inner selves while contributing to social issues we’re passionate about. We spend our days volunteering, creating, and doing something we love that brings in steady income (writing for me, and maybe chef’ing for spouse :]). But the necessities are all covered.
My books all stay in print so that the grandchildren of my grandchildren can enjoy them and a foundation is set up to help women and girls in the arts in some way. How’s that? :D.
I like where your heads at. Now that you are a soon-to-be-published author, seeing the view from the other side, what has been your favorite moment in the publishing process so far? What part of the process has most surprised you?
What has most surprised me? Everything! But specifically, I was amazed that my editor was able to get inside my head and grasp my vision for my story. She totally and completely understood where I was going and I truly believe she loved it as much as I.
Favorite moment: Getting an email of support and encouragement from another author of Color telling me to stay strong and true to my vision in all steps of this process. That was incredibly affirming on so many levels, especially as there are so few authors of Color being published. The numbers speak for themselves — even in the Debs, who are awesome, I am one of two authors of Color. Used to be three, but one got bumped to the Tenners :). Out of forty-something authors, we have three guys, a healthy sprinkling of romance and fantasy and chick lit . . . and me and Cynthea. That’s obviously not the fault of the Debs :D. I struggled with the same issues while I was doing my MFA in Creative Writing. It’s just an industry thing and, obviously, not even specific to the publishing industry. Since that first email, I’ve been amazed at the support from other authors (of all colors ;]) who are aware of the disparities and either want to read diverse works by/for/about under-represented and marginalized voices, or want to support them. And even if the industry, itself, doesn’t change any time soon, that has been wonderfully uplifting.
Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?
Mine was not as bad as I feared, thank goodness. With all the prepping my agent was doing, I was expecting something in the nine to eleven page range, single spaced, with entire chapters slashed out and request for new characters :D.
It turned out to be about two pages and many of the queries made complete sense. I added things, got rid of some excess wordiness and worked with my editor to polish it to as much of a shine as SHINE would get *grin*. Okay, cheesy humor aside, my initial reaction was to put it away and not look at it for a couple of days. That was probably the best idea, given that I might, maybe, have the teensiest tendency to get a little bit defensive when someone criticizes my babies. All of them — human ones and literary ones.
But once I overcame the knee-jerk reaction of “What do they know, anyway?” I really enjoyed the process. It was amazing to see that I knew the answers to my editor’s questions, but hadn’t put them on the page where they needed to be. And that answering those questions took me to greater depths in the plot, pacing, and character building of my novel. It was exhilerating to be working on the novel with someone who was as enthusiastic as I was about it.
Thanks for letting us into that process. Many of us are incredibly curious about the dreaded editorial letter. Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
What an amazing question. Again, I have three: WILD SEED, but Octavia Butler; THE FREE RENUNCIATES OF DARKOVER(okay, that’s a trilogy, so technically three books, but who’s counting?) by Marion Zimmer Bradley; and TUCK EVERLASTING, by Natalie Babbitt.
Tuck Everlasting! Hadn’t thought about that one in forever. Thanks so much for joining us and HUGE congrats on the success you’ve had so far. We’ll be following your journey, so best of luck!