Fiction

South Asian Storytelling: Author Interview with Sayantani DasGupta, and Giveaway

                                                                 

 

Today, I am delighted to welcome Sayantani DasGupta to Mixed-Up Files to talk about her experience writing her third book in the middle-grade adventure fantasy Kiranmala series, THE CHAOS CURSE. Sayantani’s novels feature a powerful girl character who carries a quest on her shoulders and must overcome the conflict between good and evil.

 

  1. Tell us about “The Chaos Curse,” and how your journey has been writing three novels in the Kiranmala series?

The Chaos Curse is the third in the Bengali folktale and string theory inspired Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series. Kiranmala, the 12-year-old protagonist of the series, thinks she’s just an ordinary immigrant daughter growing up in New Jersey, until she realizes all her parents’ seemingly outlandish stories are true, and she really is an Indian princess from another dimension. This third and final installment of the series finds Kiranmala having to once again battle the evil Serpent King, who wants to collapse all the stories of the universe together, destroying the multiplicity of the multiverse. It is varied and heterogeneous stories, after all, which make the universe keep expanding. The Chaos Curse finds Kiranmala once again teaming up with some old friends, as well as some new ones, to try and stop the Serpent King and his nefarious Anti-Chaos Committee. Will they save the stories in time to save the multiverse?

 

 

  1. Your work is about a powerful twelve-year old girl Kiranmala who is proud of her ancestral heritage, connected to her family, and has a strong desire to fight for good over evil. Can you discuss how you broke stereotypes with this series?

It took me many years to find an editor for The Serpent’s Secret, as ten years ago, there didn’t seem to be any room in the publishing industry for a funny, fast paced fantasy starring a strong brown immigrant daughter heroine. The answers were often similar: “We love your voice, but how about writing a realistic fiction story about your protagonist’s cultural conflict with her immigrant parents?” In other words, the story that was expected and wanted was one that reinforced stereotypes about South Asian immigrant parents (as oppressive, or regressive, or rigid) and allowed a certain type of expectation about South Asian parents and children to be fulfilled. Many marginalized communities face this narrative demand – to tell stories of conflict, stories of suffering, stories of pain – for others’ voyeuristic pleasure. But for that very reason, in our stories, joy is an important form of resistance. To portray a strong, funny Desi heroine with doting, loving parents is to break a stereotype that mainstream America has about our communities. Other ways this series breaks stereotypes is to challenge the notion of fixed good and evil altogether. For instance, the rakkhosh monsters who are pretty uniformly baddies in the first book get more nuanced in the second and third. Like any beings, there are good rakkhosh and bad rakkhosh, and Kiranmala must get over her prejudice against them, realizing that heroes and monsters are not based on family, or appearance or community, but rather, what someone chooses to do each and every day with their lives.

 

 

  1. In a previous interview, you shared with me that as a child, Bengali folktales were an important part of you finding your own identity. How did you personally approach storytelling in this series and make Bengali folklore accessible to young readers?

I grew up in the U.S. with very few positive ‘mirrors’ in the culture around me – not in the books I read, not in the TV shows and movies I watched. (Here, I refer of course to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishops’ important framing of books as ‘mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors.’) It was only when I would go on my long summer vacations to India that I could see heroes and heroines who looked like me – brown kids being strong and heroic, saving the day. When I thought about adapting these stories to an American audience, I was at first nervous – would I be doing these cultural stories an injustice? But then I remembered that folktales are oral stories, and as such often change in the telling. Even my grandmother would often sprinkle in her stories with little morals she wanted us grandchildren to hear on that particular day because of some naughty thing some cousin had done. So in changing and adapting the stories, I still felt like I was being true to their nature as oral folktales. Just like so many aunties and uncles and parents and grannies before me, I was simply adapting my storytelling to my audience.

 

  1. Although the story is predominantly in English, you sprinkle Bengali in the books too. Tell us about the power of weaving Bengali words into Kiranmala’s world.

I think many of us immigrant kids or Third Culture kids aren’t just multilingual, but we speak a mash-up of multiple languages at once. We speak Spanglish and Hindlish and in my case, Benglish. Sprinkling in Bengali words without apology and without italics was a way of not only honoring the language of my family and community, but reflecting the real way that so many of us communicate. I knew that non-Bengali speakers would pick up words and meaning from context, and that young Bengali readers might be seeing familiar words in an English book for the first time. That felt like a really important responsibility – and so I tried very hard to use Bengali pronunciation to guide the way I spelled these words (rakkhosh for instance instead of the more Hindi-fied “rakshas” or “rakshasa”). I also narrated the audio books myself, and tried very hard to keep to Bengali pronunciations of all these words – I wanted young listeners to hear their language pronounced correctly!

 

  1. You discussed in my previous interview that you hoped to inspire children to have radical imaginations through your stories. How has that manifested in your school visits and public readings/signings?

When I talk about radical imagination, I am usually talking about kids from marginalized communities being able to see themselves as protagonists in stories, see their own strength and heroism reflected back to them in them in books. It’s hard to be what you can’t see, right? And every kid deserves to see someone like them as a hero. But what I have found in my school visits is something else very interesting. I do meet many immigrant kids or Desi students who come up to me, hugging my books, so excited that Kiranmala is a brown kid, like them! But I also meet many non-Desi kids who are equally excited about Kiranmala’s adventures, and this feels very radical. When a gaggle of young blonde boys runs up to me telling me how much they love the series, I see something radical here too – their unquestioned ability to not just accept but cherish a strong girl as a hero, a protagonist of color. When radically representational of our todays, I truly believe that stories can help make better futures for us all by making space in all our imagings for liberatory possibilities of leadership, family and community. In other words, if you grew up reading strong brown female protagonists as a kid, it’s not such a stretch of the imagination to rally behind a strong woman of color president, right?

 

 

 

  1. What has writing this series taught you about yourself? And what advice do you have for children, young adults, and adults who want to pursue writing?

When I was in practice as a pediatrician, I used to write prescriptions for reading. This is because stories are good medicine, in all the senses of that word. This same notion brought me to Narrative Medicine, the field in which I teach. And it’s this same impulse that has pushed me to write for young people. I guess what I’ve realized is that storytelling is a critical act of healing – particularly the sort of storytelling that is filling in the narrative erasures of the past – the gaps in positive representation that so many of us suffered through. I’ve also come to realize that fantasy is an amazing way to talk about oppression, prejudice, racism, justice. But at the same time, particularly when you’re writing for young people it’s also got to be a cracking good story. Young readers are unfailingly honest. They’re not going to let you get away with lecturing them or talking down to them. They know when they’re being respected and a story is speaking with and for them.

 

My advice to people of any age who are writing is this – follow the joy, follow the passion. Tell the story YOU want to hear first and foremost. Don’t follow trends, or worry about publication at first. Tell the best story that only you can tell. As Toni Morrison says (and I always tell students), “If there’s a book you want to read and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” And I truly believe each of us has the privilege and responsibility of telling our stories.

 

Enter the giveaway for a copy of THE CHAOS CURSE by leaving a comment below. You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be determined on Monday, March 9th, 2020, and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

If you’d like to know more about Sayantani and her novel, visit her website: http://www.sayantanidasgupta.com/writer/ Or follow her on twitter : https://twitter.com/Sayantani16

March New Releases

The month of March not only brings us spring, but also brings us a plethora of new books about spies, stars, wizards, and giants. For a taste of what the month has to offer, read on!

 


City Spies 

By James Ponti

Sara Martinez is a hacker. She recently broke into the New York City foster care system to expose her foster parents as cheats and lawbreakers. However, instead of being hailed as a hero, Sara finds herself facing years in a juvenile detention facility and banned from using computers for the same stretch of time. Enter Mother, a British spy who not only gets Sara released from jail but also offers her a chance to make a home for herself within a secret MI5 agency.

Operating out of a base in Scotland, the City Spies are five kids from various parts of the world. When they’re not attending the local boarding school, they’re honing their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. All of these allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.

Before she knows what she’s doing, Sarah is heading to Paris for an international youth summit, hacking into a rival school’s computer to prevent them from winning a million euros, dangling thirty feet off the side of a building, and trying to stop a villain…all while navigating the complex dynamics of her new team. No one said saving the world was easy…

 

 

What Stars are Made Of

By Sarah Allen

Twelve-year-old Libby Monroe is great at science, being optimistic, and talking to her famous, accomplished friends (okay, maybe that last one is only in her head). She’s not great at playing piano, sitting still, or figuring out how to say the right thing at the right time in real life. Libby was born with Turner Syndrome, and that makes some things hard. But she has lots of people who love her, and that makes her pretty lucky.

When her big sister Nonny tells her she’s pregnant, Libby is thrilled―but worried. Nonny and her husband are in a financial black hole, and Libby knows that babies aren’t always born healthy. So she strikes a deal with the universe: She’ll enter a contest with a project about Cecelia Payne, the first person to discover what stars are made of. If she wins the grand prize and gives all that money to Nonny’s family, then the baby will be perfect. Does she have what it takes to care for the sister that has always cared for her? And what will it take for the universe to notice?

 

  

The Wizenard Series: Season One

By Wesley King (author), Kobe Bryant (creator)

Reggie has never felt destined for greatness. He dreams about basketball brilliance all day and night, but the hard truth is that he’s a benchwarmer for the West Bottom Badgers the worst team in the league. Even their mysterious new coach, Rolabi Wizenard, can’t seem to help them end their losing streak.

Reggie is willing to train tirelessly to improve his game, but the gym itself seems to be working against him in magical ways. Before Reggie can become the player he dreams of being, he must survive the extraordinary trials of practice.

This is the illuminating follow-up to the #1 New York Times best seller The Wizenard Series: Training Camp―a story of strain and sacrifice, supernatural breakthroughs, and supreme dedication to the game.

 

 

If We Were Giants

By Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith, illus. Antonio Javier Caparo

Kirra, a curious, agile, and outgoing girl, lives in an idyllic community hidden inside a dormant volcano. She and her father are the only two people allowed to venture beyond its walls. Kirra is in training to become a Storyteller like him, and together they travel from village to village spreading fearsome tales designed to keep outsiders away from their secret nest.

One day, after hearing rumors of strangers called the “Takers,” Kirra leaves the volcano by herself, hoping to discover her own story. But she unknowingly leads the Takers back to her doorstep, and they rob her of everything she has ever held dear.

A devastated Kirra is found by a boy named Luwan and adopted into his family, which lives among others high in the trees of a dense forest. Now quiet and withdrawn, Kirra hides her dark past from everyone and never wants to leave the safety of her tree dwelling. Luwan, on the other hand, loves to explore. One day it leads to trouble: He is captured while spying on a group of strangers. The Takers have returned. To save the Tree Folk, Kirra must face her inner demons and summon all her storytelling to weave the most important tale of her life.

 

 


Dragonslayer 
(Wings of Fire: Legends)

By Tui T. Sutherland

Ivy doesn’t trust the Dragonslayer. He may be her father and the beloved ruler of Valor, but she knows he’s hiding more than the treasure from the sand dragon he killed two decades ago.

Leaf doesn’t trust dragons. They’re the reason his favorite sister, Wren, is dead, and now he’ll do whatever it takes to slay even one.

Wren doesn’t trust anyone. She swore off humans after her village tried to sacrifice her to the dragons. She only has one friend, a small, wonderful mountain dragon named Sky, and they don’t need anyone else.

In a world of dragons, the humans who scramble around underfoot are easy to overlook. But Ivy, Leaf, and Wren will each cross paths with dragons in ways that could shape the destiny of both species. Is a new future possible for all of them . . . one in which humans can look to the skies with hope instead of fear?

 

 

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks

By Stuart Gibbs

Teddy was all set for a campout at his friend Sage’s family ranch—but then Sage gets terrible news: The skull of a rare dinosaur that was being excavated on his property has mysteriously vanished overnight in the middle of a rainstorm, even though it weighed 500 pounds. Not a single footprint has been left behind. Since the dinosaur was top secret, the police don’t believe anyone outside the dig could have stolen it.

A T-rex skull can sell for millions of dollars, and everyone is a suspect—including J.J. McCracken, the owner of FunJungle.

Meanwhile, Teddy’s old foes, the Barksdale twins, have gotten into trouble with an illegally purchased anaconda, and Teddy’s girlfriend Summer wants to find out who’s behind the local trade in black market reptiles. The two cases will drag Teddy into more danger and chaos than ever before, in this mystery that’s stranger than fiction.

 

 

Emily Windsnap and the Tides of Time

By Liz Kessler

When Emily makes a wish on a magic stone, she gets a glimpse of what the future holds — and it’s a disaster! She tries to make things right, but each trip through time takes Emily to a future where things turn out badly for either the humans of Brightport or the merpeople of Shiprock.

Plastic pollutes the ocean, garbage overflows the landfills, and the two towns are no longer getting along. Emily realizes she can’t save her hometown and the ocean alone, but with help from her best friends, Shona and Mandy, she’ll have to find a way to get humans and merpeople to work together.

Will Emily be able to create a better future for everyone, including herself? This new adventure gives readers a glimpse at what Emily and her friends could be like as grown-ups, with a fresh story that explores how uniting communities can make a future that’s bright for everyone.

 

 

Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom

By Louis Sachar, illus. Tim Heitz

Welcome back to Wayside School!

Your favorite students and teachers are all here. That includes Sharie, who loves her striped-and-spotted umbrella more than anything; Kathy, who has a bad case of oppositosis; Jason, who has to read the longest book in the world; and the rest of Mrs. Jewls’s class on the thirtieth floor, who are busily collecting toenail clippings.

Everyone is scrambling to prepare for the all-important Ultimate Test, but meanwhile, there is a mysterious Cloud of Doom looming above them …

 

 

Black Brother, Black Brother

By Jewell Parker Rhodes

Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey.

When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, “King” Alan, he’s suspended from school and arrested for something he didn’t do.

Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center and meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. With Arden’s help, he begins training as a competitive fencer, setting his sights on taking down the fencing team captain, no matter what. As Donte hones his fencing skills and grows closer to achieving his goal, he learns the fight for justice is far from over. Now Donte must confront his bullies, racism, and the corrupt systems of power that led to his arrest.

Powerful and emotionally gripping, Black Brother, Black Brother is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy’s fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.

 

 

The Great Upending

by Beth Kephart

Twelve-year-old Sara and her brother Hawk are told that they are not to bother the man—The Mister—who just moved into the silo apartment on their farm. It doesn’t matter that they know nothing about him and they think they ought to know something. It doesn’t matter that he’s always riding that unicycle around. Mama told them no way, no how are they to bother The Mister unless they want to be in a mess of trouble.

Trouble is the last thing Sara and her brother need. Sara’s got a condition, you see. Marfan syndrome. And that Marfan syndrome is causing her heart to have problems, the kind of problems that require surgery. But the family already has problems: The drought has dried up their crops and their funds, which means they can’t afford any more problems, let alone a surgery to fix those problems. Sara can feel the weight of her family’s worry, and the weight of her time running out, but what can a pair of kids do? Well, it all starts with…bothering The Mister.

 

 

Writing and Illustrating Funny Poetry For Kids – Author Interview with Vikram Madan, and Giveaway

At Mixed-Up Files today, we’re thrilled to have author-illustrator Vikram Madan. Vikram talks about his new book A Hatful Of Dragons that comes out on April 21, 2020. He also shares his exciting publishing journey along with other writing tips.

                                                           

 

  1. Tell us about A Hatful Of Dragons. What inspired you to write the book?

A Hatful of Dragons: And More Than 13.8 Billion Other Funny Poems’ is a quirky, eclectic collection of funny rhyming poems woven together with rich illustrations featuring recurring characters and sub-plots – a double dose of visual and literary fun for all ages 7 and up.

As a kid I loved both cartooning and writing poems but never thought of combining the two till I encountered, much later in life, Shel Silverstein’s work. I was instantly attracted to the concept of words and images working together to create a funnier experience. So much so that ‘A Hatful of Dragon’ is my third collection of self-illustrated funny poems featuring intertwined words and drawings.

 

  1. What would you want readers to take away from A Hatful Of Dragons?

I would love for readers of all ages to come away from this book with the idea that you can have a lot of fun playing with language and also with a desire to read more rhyming poetry.

 

  1. What were some of the most fun and challenging parts about writing A Hatful Of Dragons?

The poems in my original manuscript were largely disconnected from each other. While shortlisting the poems, Rebecca Davis, my editor, instinctively zeroed-in on the uniqueness of creating cross-connections between poems. As I developed the illustrations for the book, I had a lot of fun thinking of ways to interconnect the poems visually. For example, a main character in one visual might show up later in the book as a secondary character in another visual, helping create a cohesive, but weird, universe for the characters. I hope kids will have fun closely inspecting the illustrations for cross-connections.

The most challenging part of the book was stuffing 13.8 billion poems into 64 pages. 🙂

Actually I found doing the illustrations to be a challenge as I underestimated the sheer physical work required to get through multiple rounds of revisions and changes. Somewhat like running a marathon, most enjoyable, not while you’re doing it, but well after it is done. 🙂

 

 

Another challenge was coming up with a distinctive title for the book. The title poem ‘A Hatful of Dragons’ did not exist in my original manuscript. We thought of titling the book ‘There’s a Dragon in My Wagon’ but an internet search showed half-a-dozen books already had that title. Many other title poems from the manuscript did not pass internal sales and marketing reviews. I finally proposed ‘A Hatful of Dragons’ and once that title was approved, I had to then write a title poem from scratch worthy of the book. Talk about pressure! 🙂

 

  1. You began your writing career by self-publishing your work. How did the experience influence you as a children’s writer? How did you make the transition from self-publishing to traditional publishing?

Prior to self-publishing, I spent a decade trying to have my rhyming picture books and themed poetry collections published. I found agents and publishers reluctant to consider poetry. With rejections piling up, I actually gave up writing and submitting for a few years. However the itch never went away. In 2012, I spent a summer writing a fresh collection of poems. I decided then that if no one would publish my poems, I would publish them myself, which led to my first collection ‘The Bubble Collector’.

 

Once ‘The Bubble Collector’ was out, I realized writing the book was the easy part. Marketing, distribution, getting anyone to notice a self-published book, was incredibly hard (more so for us introverts!). I learnt that if I didn’t do the hustle, no one else would. With perseverance and leg work, I was able to get the book into local bookstores, gain a few favorable reviews and endorsements, and conduct some school visits. The book went on to win a 2013 Moonbeam Book Award for Children’s Poetry and was invited to apply to the 2014 WA State Book Awards. All in all, for a self-published poetry book, it did quite ok. The ‘hustling’, however, left me with deep appreciation for traditional publishing.

Upon completing the manuscript for my second collection (in 2015), I decided to give the traditional channel another shot. It took a year of querying agents before one, Rosemary Stimola at Stimola Literary Studios, expressed interest in the manuscript. (The modest success with the self-published book really helped my pitch). It took Rosemary another year to find a publisher, Boyds Mills & Kane. The publisher scheduled the book for a 2020 release, five years from when I finished the manuscript. Despite the slow pace of traditional publishing, I’ve really enjoyed working with my editors, Rebecca Davis and Barbara Grzeslo – the book is so much better than I could have made just by myself – and I’m looking forward to it being available everywhere without having to knock on doors, one at a time. 🙂

And since the second book was going to take five years, I squeezed out another self-published poetry collection, ‘Lord of the Bubbles’, in 2018, which went on to win a 2019 Moonbeam Award for Children’s Poetry.

 

 

  1. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Although I was writing and drawing from a really early age, I didn’t take my art seriously because I couldn’t see how to traverse the gap between what I made and what I admired. With no insight into the creative journey, the learning process, the blood, sweat, and tears that every piece of art demands, I did not believe in my own abilities. My epiphany came when one day, as an adult, I accidently wandered into an exhibition of original Dr. Seuss manuscripts. Typewritten sheets covered with frustrated scribbles, crossed out over and over again in search of better options. I was stunned to realize that the ‘genius’ was in the incessant revision, the twenty attempts before something worked, the trying, trying, trying and not giving up. Looking at those manuscripts was the first time I thought to myself, “Wait, if this is how it’s done, then maybe I can do this too!” Thank you Dr. Seuss – I wish I could have sent my younger self to see that!

 

  1. Do you have any other advice/tips for writers?

In visual-art circles the running joke is that ‘Only the first fifty years are the hardest’. In other words, the ‘successful’ artists are the ones who find ways to persist. The same is true for writers. Patience, persistence, working on your craft, and never giving up! (And if you do feel like giving up, read a book, any book, by creative coach Eric Maisel).

 

Here’s a cool flip-through video that Vikram made for the book: https://youtu.be/XswGM2FLlBM

Seattle-area Author-Artist Vikram Madan grew up in India, where he really wanted to be a cartoonist but ended up an engineer. After many years of working in tech, he finally came to his senses and followed his heart into the visual and literary arts. When not making whimsical paintings and public art, he writes and illustrates funny poems. His books include ‘The Bubble Collector’, ‘Lord of the Bubbles’, and ‘A Hatful of Dragons’. Visit him at www.VikramMadan.com

 

Want to own your very own ARC of A Hatful Of Dragons? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on March 2, 2020 and will be contacted  via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.