Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Author Interview: Neesha Meminger Author of Jazz in Love and Shine Coconut Moon [Teen Book Scene Tours]


I am so pleased to have author Neesha Meminger here today to talk to us about her writing and about her newest book Jazz in Love.  Welcome Neesha!

Q: You have lived in a variety of places.  How would you say that has influenced your writing?

A: Seeing the different patterns and histories of migration in different places really helped me to understand the various lived experiences of South Asians in the diaspora. The history of South Asian immigration to the U.S. has been very different from the history of South Asian immigration to the U.K. or to Canada, and both are very different from the histories of the Caribbean and South America. So, besides teaching me about history and sociology and geography (smile), living in these different places gave me a sense of the forces that shape culture--what changes and what core things remain unmoved. Language and dialect, accents and phrases - all are affected in these migrations.

But I think perhaps one of the biggest things to influence my writing has to be language. Punjabi was my first language and I had to learn to master English enough to tell stories. And still, most of the time I'm writing, I find that I'm thinking in Punjabi and having to translate the words into English as they make their way to the page. It's like a puzzle that I'm forever solving as I communicate and express myself.

Q: Jazz in Love is your second novel to be published.  How was the road to publication with this novel compared to that of Shine, Coconut Moon?

A: I've loved both journeys for different reasons. Shine was exciting and exhilerating because it was my first novel to be acknowledged and validated--such a thrill for a writer who's been writing and querying and submitting for years and years!

Jazz, on the other hand, is my own--from beginning to final product. I'm very proud of what I've managed to accomplish with the help of loving and supportive friends and colleagues. But mostly, I'm so glad I took the plunge to put the book out. It was such an important step in my creative process, in the formation of my identity as a writer, and in connecting with my readers. There is a dearth of books written by South Asian authors about South Asian teens. That's pretty amazing, considering that India has the second largest population on the planet.

Q: Both of your novels feature protagonists that share an Indian heritage.  Is your own heritage and experiences reflected in these novels?

A: Yes - a lot of my own experiences are reflected in my books, and in all of my writing. My stories are not autobiographical, of course, so I might put one of my characters in a situation I've been in and see where they go - how they negotiate it. But the truths are what, I believe, connect with readers. What I know is where the energy is. I want to share that in story, yes, but I want whatever the scene is to play out organically with the characters and their needs and wants. So, if it doesn't work, or a character just isn't into that scene, that particular bit gets scrapped and I move on to another--usually something the character organically wanders into and/or creates on her own.

Q: Shine, Coconut Moon received a lot of recognition after its publication.  It made the Smithsonian List of Notable Books for Children, the New York Public Library's "Top 100 Books for Teens", it was nominated for the Best Books for Young Adults list from YALSA, as well as the CYBILS list, and others.  How did you feel when the book was so well received?  Did it create more pressure for you when you were writing Jazz in Love?

A: I was thrilled with the reviews and the positive reception for Shine, Coconut Moon! The writing journey is filled with so much uncertainty and doubt (at least for me) that to have people I didn't know (i.e. not my mom or my husband) connect with my book was unbelievably rewarding. I don't think it created more pressure when I was writing Jazz in Love, but the wait after I wrote it - to see if people would connect with it - was filled with far more anxiety this time around. Every positive review meant that much more this time.

Thank you Neesha for joining us today and for the wonderful interview.

Don't forget to go out and check out her new book Jazz in Love.

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