How They Got Here: 2009 Debut Author Neesha Meminger

This post is part of a year-long series of blog interviews I’ll be hosting with my fellow 2009 Debut Authors, called "How They Got Here." 

It should be an especially helpful series for teens who write, teachers, and anyone who wants to write for kids.  2009 debut authors will be dropping by to talk about how their writing in school shaped the authors they are today, what teachers can do to make a difference, how they revise, and how they found their agents and editors.  (You’ll even be able to read some successful query letters!)  If you know a teacher or two who might be interested, please share the link!

Today… Neesha Meminger
, author of SHINE, COCONUT MOON!

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 discovers how dangerous ignorance is.

Welcome, Neesha! Tell us about the first thing you ever wrote that made you think maybe you were a writer.

It was a poem about teeth. I drew a huge mouth with all the teeth showing and the poem was sort of coming out of the mouth. This was in seventh grade. The teacher put it up and didn’t tell me she had. I noticed it on my way in one morning and thought, "Wow, that’s a really cool poem." It took me a while to realize it was my work.

What books did you love when you were a kid?

I love, love, loved Tuck, Everlasting. LOVED it. And Tiki, Tiki, Tumbo.

Is there a particular teacher or librarian who was a mentor for you in your reading and writing life?

There were several teachers and librarians who "saved" me throughout childhood. The seventh grade teacher was one. Then, in tenth grade my English teacher read several of my short stories out to the class. She was so incredibly sweet and supportive of my work when I had absolutely no confidence in myself, whatsoever. I was quiet and kind of nerdy and tried, for the most part, to blend in to the classroom furniture. I loved my English teachers. They paid attention to me and showed me a part of myself I couldn’t see.

Librarians were my best friends, especially in eighth grade. I *lived* at the library. I’m not kidding. During the summer and on weekends, I was there before they opened the doors in the mornings and left right before they physically removed me from the premises. I knew the librarians all by name and they kept books aside for me based on what I’d read and what I asked for. They were amazing. In fact, Tuck Everlasting was a book one librarian held for me.

Moving on to the here and now, most writers admit that making time to write can sometimes be a challenge.  When and where do you write?   Do you have any special rituals? 

The only ritual I have is sometimes when I get stuck, I have to close my eyes and type. I let whatever thoughts pop into my head flow onto the page (or keyboard) and try to get unstuck that way. Sometimes I have to do it before each writing session — when I’m in a particularly stuck phase.

Do you have a favorite strategy for revision?

I go through the manuscript with a notebook at my side. I jot down changes I’d like to make and places where more needs to be written. I slash as I go along. Then, I go through the manuscript and write new bits as they come. Finally, I change the manuscript for my eyes. In other words, I change its entire look by changing the font and size and line spacing. This way, I can pretend it’s not mine and be more brutal with cutting parts :).

What’s special about your debut novel?

My debut novel is special because it is unique and occupies a space much needed in teen lit. Of course, there are other novels by South Asian and Indian-American authors. What makes mine unique is that it is a Sikh teen’s perspective about discovering her culture and her self in a post-9/11 setting.

What were the best and worst parts of writing it?

The best part of writing was writing it :). The worst part was hearing all the unbridled criticism from agents and editors.

How did you find your agent and/or editor?

I found my agent on a listserv email I had signed up for. He had made a deal for one of his clients and I looked him up. He seemed to like the type of work I produced, so I queried him. He requested the manuscript and while he was reading it, I received an offer of representation from another agent I had queried. I spoke with both agents and went with the one who felt like a better fit at the time.

Thanks for sharing your journey, Neesha!

You can read more about Neesha at her website, and of course, you can ask for SHINE, COCONUT MOON at your local independent bookseller.  You can also order it through one of my favorite indies, Flying Pig Bookstore (they ship!), or find an indie near you by checking out IndieBound!

Up next in the "How They Got Here" Debut 2009 series… Heather Duffy-Stone, author of THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU, will be stopping by on Thursday.

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