Middle-Grade Mysteries, Spy, & Sci-fi stories featuring South Asian Characters: Interview and Giveaway with Sheela Chari

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! I’m pleased to welcome Sheela Chari, author of the new mystery series, The Unexplainable Disappearance Of Mars Patel, for an interview at Mixed-Up Files today.

                                   

Hi Sheela, thanks for joining us today at Mixed-Up Files.

Thank you for having me—it’s great to be back! Years ago, I was one of the original members, and I loved interviewing other writers! These days, writing, teaching, and being a parent has taken over much of my time. But it’s definitely fun to be in this familiar space again.

 

About THE UNEXPLAINABLE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARS PATEL

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel follows Mars Patel and his pals on their quest to find their missing friend, Aurora, who might be part of a chain of other disappearances around the world leading back to billionaire inventor, Oliver Pruitt. It’s a story filled with conspiracy theories, deceptive adults, and enterprising kids who know how to rely on technology and each other to solve problems.

Mars Patel was originally produced as a podcast mystery drama series for kids by Gen-Z Media.

Now, it’s also a middle-grade novel and series written by me!

When I was invited to write the novelization, I was asked to take an audio-drama and re-envision it in written form. I had to really think about who Mars, Caddie, JP, Toothpick and the rest of the characters were, and the stories of their lives not captured in the podcast. It was a lesson in character study and plotting, and even rethinking everything I knew about dialogue. In the book, you will find a traditional story littered with emails, texts, podcast transcripts, and other asides to capture the same chatty dynamic of the podcast. It was really my wish to reflect the very interesting, funny way that young people talk to each other today both online and IRL (that’s “in real life” for the uninitiated).

On Mars Patel identifying as an Indian-American spy kid

Representation have always been important for me. It’s the reason that I wrote my mystery novels, Vanished and Finding Mighty, which both feature Indian-American detectives, and are rooted in my experience of growing up Indian-American. I also make an effort for the other supporting characters in all my books to reflect the diversity and inclusiveness I see and cherish as a part of being an American immigrant. The Mars Patel series is a perfect representation of these ideals. Not only that, Mars gets to do those very things that ALL kids should be seen doing in novels: sleuthing, pranking, laughing, messing up, apologizing, doing better, taking risks, and growing up.

 

                                                         

 

On how reading mysteries was an integral part of your childhood

When I was young, I would pore over Nancy Drew books in my library and at home. Not just the stories themselves, but also those wonderful interior illustrations and cover art, observing how Nancy Drew, and her loyal friends, Beth and George, transformed from book to book. To me, they were heroes and old friends, and even the way I met my own best friend (we found each other in the Nancy Drew aisle of the Iowa City Public Library). From then on I would graduate to other mysteries and spooky stories (Lois Duncan comes to mind!). But I do believe this idea of mystery-solving and friendship finds it roots in those Nancy Drew mysteries and a shared love for them with a close friend.

On drawing inspiration from your own life when writing this book

The original podcast hints at a story set in the Northwest. I went a step further and set the book in Washington State, where I lived when I was in middle school and high school. Mars’s fictitious town of Port Elizabeth is based on all the trips I made to Seattle and the Puget Sound as a young person. So writing the book was truly a trip down memory lane for me. I also went on a recent vacation to visit an old friend in the Puget Sound, and it was very inspiring. I used all kinds of details — taking the ferry across the water to Seattle, that particular quality of rain, clouds, and occasional sun, the up-and-down hills, the inky waters of the Sound —to help me describe Port Elizabeth. It was so much fun!

On immersing yourself in a MG sci-fi with corporate conspiracies

Yes, in this story there are bad guys, surveillance, and a conspiracy to hoodwink kids. Even so, for me, Mars Patel is about looking to the future, where anything is possible, even a chance to start over as a society. It’s a book that celebrates technology, space travel, and innovation. Not to say there aren’t threats — Book 1 starts with a Code Red scene in school. Later books in the series take on the urgency of climate change. Even so, the story has always given me a surprising and upbeat way of looking ahead, of knowing that kids growing up now will have the mindset to invent and think differently. Thank goodness.

Sheela Chari is the author of FINDING MIGHTY and VANISHED, which was nominated for an Edgar Award. Her latest middle-grade novel, THE UNEXPLAINABLE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARS PATEL, based on the Peabody-award winning podcast, is out this October from Walker Books US, an imprint of Candlewick Press. Sheela teaches creative writing at Mercy College and lives in New York.

Want to own your very own signed copy of The Unexplainable Disappearance Of Mars Patel? 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 October 16, 2020 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US only) to receive a signed, personalized book.

 

Suma Subramaniam on LinkedinSuma Subramaniam on Twitter
Suma Subramaniam
Suma Subramaniam is the contributing author of The Hero Next Door (Penguin Random House, July 2019). She is also the author of She Sang For India: How MS Subbulakshmi Used Her Voice For Change (Macmillan FSG, Winter 2022) and Namaste Is A Greeting (Candlewick, Fall 2022). She is the Director of the Internships Grants Committee at We Need Diverse Books and Mentorship Program Coordinator of SCBWI Western Washington. She hires tech professionals for a leading software company during the day and is a writer by night. Suma has an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and degrees in computer science and management.
14 Comments
  1. Ms. Yingling, you are the winner of this giveaway. Please expect to hear from us soon.

  2. My students will love this book! We have a very large Indian/Indian American population and everyone likes to see themselves in the books they read. This sounds like a great adventure.

  3. This sounds like a great MG mystery read. I enjoyed the interview and send best wishes to the author. I also shared this interview on twitter at (https://twitter.com/BraniganDebra/status/1314341214066532352?s=20).Thanks for sharing.

  4. This looks exactly like what I should be reading right now, to distract myself from lockdown.

  5. So excited to read this!

  6. A new author for me to get to know her work–thank you for the interview and chance to win a copy. I enjoy middle grade mysteries. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/631423009920516096/middle-grade-mysteries-spy-sci-fi-stories

  7. I am anxious to read this mystery. This is a genre I am trying to grow in my classroom. It sounds like it will make a great addition to our class library. Knowing the characters are diverse makes me even more excited to get a copy.

  8. Fantastic interview. Can’t wait to read this.

  9. I love the conspiracy theory theme of this book. It’s quite relevant to what’s going on in the world today, which middle grade students are increasingly aware of.

  10. I retweeted – my handle @markselisa1 yay!!!

  11. This sounds exactly like something my middle grade readers would love to read during this time of quarantine! You had me at sleuthing and pranking!

  12. I SO loved VANISHED… Can’t wait to read this book. Great interview!

  13. We have Finding Mighty! I’m going to have to pull it and read it now, and add the other 2 to my must-buy list.

  14. For my students here in Ohio, the Pacific NW is a very exotic location, so I loved that you included details about towns there. Great interview!

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