Thursday, November 19, 2009
Interview with Neesha Meminger, author of SHINE, COCONUT MOON
Neesha Meminger, author of SHINE, COCONUT MOON joins us today to hang a bit. Neesha is a warm, funny and brilliant woman whose works are deeply moving and poetic, yet starkly realistic, dealing with themes of coming of age, race, and cultural identity.
1. Hi, Neesha. Your first book, the young adult novel SHINE, COCONUT MOON came out last March. Can you tell us about the book and what prompted you to write it?
SHINE actually started out as an epic story of the bonds and fissures created between mothers and daughters through migration, culture, tradition, and the Great Generational Divide. After many ground-up revisions, the 9/11 layer was added, Uncle Sandeep entered the scene, and the story became more focused, more clearly about how relationships, in general, weather all sorts of storms.
2. I know this is not an autobiographical book, but can you tell us about your background, and how, perhaps that has informed the events in the book.
It's not autobiographical, but there is much in SHINE that reflects my own experiences growing up, the experiences of my family, my friends, and people I knew. There are several scenes in the book that are based on events I either witnessed or lived through. And the characters are all amalgamations of people I know and love. Including Mike :).
3. How long have you been writing?
I've been journaling for as long as I can remember. But writing, and reading, were always about survival for me. They were about *communication*--and when you don't speak the official language in your new home, your very survival hinges on communication. My parents both did not speak English fluently when we first moved to Canada from India, so as the eldest child, I became the default interpreter. It was critical that I learned, FAST, how to speak, understand, read, and write the language (and, by extension, the *culture*) that we were all immersed in.
When my mother lost my younger brother in a crowd, it was really a matter of life and death for her to be able to communicate that to a police officer. And, if she couldn't do it adequately, it fell on me.
So, I developed the habit, early on, of reading EVERYTHING--instruction manuals, signs in windows, ingredients lists . . . and packing every single second of each day scribbling words I'd learned.
I would say that was the beginning of my journey.
4. What have you been working on lately?
I've been deeply absorbed in a paranormal YA that I am *very* excited about. I would say it's eighty-five percent of the way there.
5. Can you share with us a bit about your path to becoming a published author?
My path was not easy, nor was it quick. I first saw my work published in my early twenties--mostly poems, essays, and short stories. It was a thrill, but it was not enough. I never felt my true self shone through in so few lines or so few pages. I had so much more to say and I knew it would take many, many more pages for me to say it! *grin*
So, I started to write longer and longer pieces, focusing on fiction. I knew I wanted to write book-length works because those were what had affected me so deeply. The books that really shaped the way I saw the world, books that taught me something about people, life, the emotions, how to navigate through difficult terrain -- not by telling me how to do it, but through *story* . . . those were the types of books I wanted to read, and those were the ones I wanted to write.
I completed my first manuscript when I was in the MFA program at the New School in NYC. It was a crappy manuscript, to be sure, but through writing it, I learned how to write a book-length work. How to stick with something and see it through until it was finished. And how to shape and mold small segments so that when you were finished, it was one, long, cohesive story.
After that, I took many years to learn how to revise. How to find more stories, give them form, and refine them. Then, began the years of querying agents and editors. Finally, after more polishing and refining, I caught the interest of two agents. I signed with one and, together, we worked on what would become SHINE, COCONUT MOON.
6. What advice would you like to give to fellow writers?
Honestly, the best advice I have is to keep going. I know it has been said many times before, but it is always worth repeating. You have to be as stubborn as my ornery father to get anywhere in life, I think. And writing is no exception.
The other advice I'd give is to find a community of writers. A good network of supportive writers, who are open and generous, is worth its weight in gold.
7. Name a book that influenced you the most, as a writer and an individual.
Hmm. For fiction that would have to be Tuck, Everlasting. It's MG, but it had a *tremendous* impact on me when I read it all those years ago. I had no idea you could write things that (a) weren't *true*; and (b) didn't even seem *possible*. So, that book really opened up, for me, one of the most important things a writer can possess: a vivid imagination.
In non-fiction, I would have to say Bird by Bird, by Ann Lemotte. I loveloveLOVED that book. She infuses humor, spirituality, and so much truth in each page of that book. I find it inspiring every time I read it.
8. Tell us something unexpected about yourself.
This may not seem unexpected to your readers, but it is unexpected for *me*. [whispers] I am horribly addicted to The Tudors series by HBO. When hubby is still at work and kiddies are in bed, I am watching episode after episode, back to back. I am deeply mesmerized.
Thanks for stopping by, Neesha! That was wonderful. Since we are actual *real-time* friends, and neighbors (yes, we literally live across the street from each other and have our regular pow-wows at the local Starbucks. How we met is quite a story in itself, though. We live in a very busy citified community where could have easily remained strangers) I am privileged to *hear* this in your lovely voice, which is as wonderful as your writing voice.
Love you, lady. and I am beyond ecstatic that you are finally writing a paranormal. Now I am dying to know more. Guess I'll find out at our next Starbucks meetup!