STEM

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

STEM Tuesday–A Partridge in a Pear Tree and other Birds this Holiday Season– Writing Tips & Resources

A Fowl STEM Tuesday Holiday Post

Good day, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Johnny Cockerel, Gallus gallus domesticus, and I represent the legal interests of the Avian Enrichment Society (A.V.E.S.). 

Photo credit: William Warby from London, England via creativecommons.org

For centuries, birds have been exploited in the popular holiday song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Humankind has reaped bountiful comfort and joy from my fellow bird species without any compensation. Yet, for some unknown reason to logic or musical sensibility, only half the song includes birds. 

Let us first study the facts. The accepted, modern lyrics to the traditional version of The Twelve Days of Christmas are as follows: 

( Feel free to read, or sing, to the submitted lyrics.)

  • One the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…A partridge in a pear tree.
  • One the second day of Christmas, blah blah blah blah blah blah…Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

(Follow the time-space-holiday song-continuum/neurologically ingrained rhythmic pattern for the remaining verses.)

  • Three french hens,
  • Four calling birds,
  • Five gold rings,
  • Six geese a-laying
  • Seven swans a-swimming,
  • Eight maids a-milking,
  • Nine ladies dancing,
  • Ten lords a-leaping,
  • Eleven pipers piping,
  • Twelve drummers drumming.

Notice the deliberate shift in lyrical theme introduced after the fifth day of Christmas which completely overtakes the song on the seventh day of Christmas? Where did the birds go? The lyrics started down the right road and then some human intervention ruined a perfectly good thing. Sound familiar?

A.V.E.S. has engaged my avian legal services to propose a change to the lyrics of The Twelve Days of Christmas. A new set of lyrics that more accurately reflect the importance of the Aves class. Today, we submit a proposal to right past wrongs and to correct a great lyrical misstep. We present a more promising musical holiday future—one where the avian species can truly be appreciated for their role in the ecosystem, food chain, and general enjoyment level of all who live on our fine planet. 

We present our case to you, the jury of STEM. 

Exhibit A

Bird books.

Look at these fine titles from this month’s STEM Tuesday book list. Birds make great reading! 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Exhibit B

Birders.

Walton LaVonda, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain]

Look how happy birds make these fine humans. It makes my heart beat at upwards of 300 beats/min to see such joy generated by my fellow Aves.

Exhibit C 

Ornithology. 

Ornithology, my friends, is more than a fancy-schmancy word. It’s a whole field of science! The study of birds! How awesome is that? Is there a field dedicated to the study of Lords-A-Leaping? How about Maids-A-Milking? I hardly think so. #BirdsRule!

Exhibit D

You know that feeling when you walk outside in late winter and hear the birds singing? That sound warms your heart and signals spring has sprung with greater accuracy than all the computer-generated weather models combined. You know what I’m crowing about here, right?

 

As you can see, birds are a slice of awesome on our planet. Not only do we of the Aves class need humans to get their !@#$ together to ensure our well-being and the well-being of our habitat, perhaps you can find it in your hearts to give us the complete reign of a traditional holiday classic. No maids milking or drummers drumming or lords leaping or ladies dancing or even pipers piping. Heck, display the bling with those gold rings on your fingers instead of singing about them. 

Ladies and gentlemen, if the lyric don’t fit, you must change it.

So fly with us and amend what we can be amended. Accept, as submitted, the A.V.E.S. revised version of the classic holiday song:

  • One the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…A partridge in a pear tree.
  • Two turtle doves.
  • Three french hens,
  • Four calling birds,
  • Five goldfinches,
  • Six geese a-laying
  • Seven swans a-swimming,
  • Eight owls-a-hunting (or hooting, depending on your inclination for small woodland rodents.)
  • Nine parrots…parroting?
  • Ten ravens hopping,
  • Eleven woodpeckers pecking,
  • Twelve cardinals singing.

Thank you and from the entire STEM Tuesday team,

Happy Holidays to all!

And to all a good FLIGHT!

 

 

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

 


The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files takes wing and goes birding!  

    • Man, I love this book. I remember reading it for the first time. I started to read and thought that it was a good book. Everything changed, though, when Doug finds BIRDS OF AMERICA displayed at the library. This part of the book hit me at a visceral level and resonated through my reader’s soul. A kid from whom little is expected, a kid who is drowning in things beyond his control, finds a lifeline in science and art and is transformed to work at being a better human. Perfect.
  • Bird Taxonomy from Thayer Birding Software
    • In addition to great information about bird taxonomy, this page uses one of my favorite birds, Turdus migratorius, to demonstrate the principles. 
  • Ornithology, The Science of Birds
  • All About Birds from The Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology 
  • Disturbing news for grassland birds!

 


 

 

 

Interview with Editor Jonah Heller – Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

We are delighted to have with us, Jonah Heller, associate editor at Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

Welcome to Mixed-Up Files, Jonah!

Hey, thanks for having me!

 

Could you share your editorial journey at Peachtree with us?

My editorial journey with Peachtree started shortly after I graduated with my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. I was fortunate enough to have a network of peers connected to Peachtree who helped advocate my intern application, and I did my internship with Peachtree in the summer of 2016. Through hard work, careful attention to detail, and routinely showering everyone with baked goods, I left enough of a positive impression that I was hired on as a publisher’s assistant on January 1, 2017.

From there, I was entering orders for sales, organizing mailings, proofing our catalog, and doing just about anything that needed an extra pair of hands while also training into editorial assistant work. As my supervisor left for other horizons—I eventually did take on more editorial work and started dipping into acquisitions by examining imports from Frankfurt and Bologna. It was great exposure to literature abroad and an excellent opportunity to develop my own taste and direction. Of course, the reward for work done well is—more work! So lots of paperbacks and reprints and editorial outreach as an assistant editor. And now I’ve been upgraded to an associate editor, so I’ve been set loose into the wilderness to go find exciting things and build my list. Woo!

 

What are some books you’ve worked on?

Peachtree is very well established in the picture book arena, so plenty of those!

In terms of middle grade: Peachtree is a smaller house, so that means it’s an all-hands-on-deck environment and everyone’s got their hand in the cookie jar at some point. I’ve helped proof various stages of our Charlie Bumpers and Nina Soni series. I’ve also overseen the paperback adaptation process for quite a number of our middle grade titles, which can involve anything from a new cover and revised back matter to substantial text edits and updates with the author.

                                               

Working on imports as an assistant, I adapted The Bookshop Girl from Scholastic UK and oversaw the illustration process from sketches to final art and cover. It’s a fun mystery about a girl who can’t read and has to save her family’s recently acquired bookstore from a shady con man. A good choice if you love whimsy and the idea of a mechanical wonder bookstore with rooms dedicated to rocket ships or pirate treasure aquariums.

What are some subjects you’d like to see authors tackle in middle grade?

Ultimately, I’d like to see them tackle whatever interests them. That’s the best place to start. But as far as my wish list for this group…

Themes: adventure, animal points of view, comedy, coming of age, contemporary, magical realism, mystery, wilderness survival,

Craft: character driven; compelling voice; page-turning digestible plot; 3-dimensional protagonist & antagonist

It’s one of those things, where I’ll know it when I see it and get into the first ten pages. So I try to keep a wide net cast. I would, however, especially LOVE ownvoices LGBTQ+ stories.

Could you share with us your ideas and goals when it comes to the representation of diversity in the books you publish?

Everyone should be able to reach out to literature and see themselves. That’s critical not only to a sense of belonging but also to establishing empathy for other walks of life outside of our own experience. I strive to be mindful and thoughtful in my acquisitions, because I don’t want a one-note list. I’d be very bored and disappointed with that and, ultimately, so would my publisher and our readers.

Putting that into practice: I don’t ever actively look to check off a box and then move on to something else. I don’t think that’s a good approach, nor a sincere one. My goal is to ultimately acquire talent from all walks of life, who can deliver an excellently crafted story while also offering authentic mirrors and varied experiences. I don’t want to just acquire you and your one book and then be done with it:  I want to build a long-lasting relationship with you and work on lots of cool things for years to come.

What are some common reasons for a manuscript to make it to acquisitions at Peachtree Publishing?

For middle grade fiction, it’s usually character- or voice-driven. You can really latch onto someone’s journey and empathize with their trials and triumphs if the writing lets you step close enough. It’s not really theme or topic that drives fiction for us; it’s a fully satisfying story and arc of growth. You walk away from the book, having had some sort of raw emotional experience that sticks to you and you carry around for a while.

Nonfiction: it’s not my area of expertise, admittedly. But this can be topic or theme driven at first and then develop into something that will ultimately be more for the institutional market. So, we’ll ask: how can this be used in the classroom? What makes it different and specialized from everything else already out there? How can we grow it further from this one book? Etc.

What advice do you have for writers who want to query you?

So if you’re unagented, I’m on snail mail at the moment. It’s not everyone’s favorite method, but it’s mine and it keeps me organized! You can find Peachtree’s address and submissions guidelines on our website, and if you were dutiful enough to read this then you’ll now discover that if you don’t put my name on the envelope, it won’t ever come to my desk.

My general wish list is above, but it’s always a good idea to check out a publisher’s catalog and see what kind of stuff they’ve done. That’s always step one. Ask yourself: does it feel like they’re a good fit for my work, or am I going to be an odd duck out here? Or, if they’ve done something similar: how is my work going to stand out?

As I’ve said, nonfiction isn’t generally my cup of tea. But maybe I’ll surprise myself one day.

I’m also probably not the right editor for a divorce or abuse story, unless it culminates in healing and/or some type of cathartic and triumphant resolution. Additionally, fantasy and science fiction haven’t been as prominent at Peachtree, so the pacing, world building, and character work has to be top-of-the-line.

Other tips:

  • Spelling the editor’s name right is cool
  • Showing up at their office in-person is not cool
  • Neither are frequent phone calls
  • Explore resources on writing query letters

What’s going on in Middle Grade at Peachtree right now?

I’ve been Americanizing an illustrated adventure from the UK, called Mr. Penguin. It’s Indiana Jones meets Sherlock, but with a penguin and a kung fu spider. So basically loads of fun.

                                         

 

Our Nina Soni series continues, and upcoming for 2020: we’ve bought the US text rights to Lavie Tidhar’s Candy from Scholastic UK. It’s an awesome film noir-like mystery following young detective Nelle Faulkner as she uncovers the shady underworld of candy smuggling in a town that’s outlawed sugar. We will be re-illustrating, so expect a fun story and a fresh American package!

Domestically, I’m on the verge of some exciting things I can’t share just yet. So stay tuned and be on the lookout for Peachtree’s middle grade!

 

Jonah Heller is an Associate Editor at Peachtree Publishing Company Inc. in Atlanta, GA. He graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and earned his BFA in Dramatic Writing for Film and TV at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His editorial focus ranges from board book to young adult. Say hello on Twitter @jrheller87