Posts Tagged diverse creators

Middle-Grade Fantasy story featuring strong South Asian Characters: Interview and Giveaway with Payal Doshi

 

Today, we are delighted to have with us, Payal Doshi, author of Rea And The Blood Of The Nectar (Mango & Marigold Press, 2021) with us.

Welcome to Mixed-Up Files, Payal!     

Thank you so much for having me!

Tell us about Rea and the Blood of the Nectar. What was your inspiration for the story?                                                                                                                                                     

           Rea and the Blood of the Nectar is the story aboutRea Chettri, an introverted but curious girl from Darjeeling, India, whose life gets turned on its head on the night of her twelfth birthday. After a fight with her twin brother Rohan, Rea discovers that he has gone missing. Her Amma is distraught and blames Rea for his disappearance. So, Rea along with her neighbor Leela visit the village fortune-teller whose powers of divination set them off on a thrilling quest to find Rohan where they must solve riddles to portal into an enchanted realm and travel to Astranthia, a land full of magic and whimsy! There, Rea must battle evil creatures, confront a ruthless villain, and find out why Rohan has been captured. But the heart of this adventure story lies in Rea’s relationships with the people in her life. Her brother who she was once inseparable from is now the popular kid in school and spends most of his time with his friends. Rea, on the other hand, has always struggled socially, but in her mission to find Rohan she must learn to trust others, find the courage within her, and understand the meaning of friendship and family.

I was inspired to write this story because as a kid, I loved to read but I never saw myself in books. A girl like me never got to be the hero, have magic, or save a realm. I wanted to change that. So, I decided to write a fantasy story rooted in Indian culture that had kids from India who went off on thrilling adventures and became heroes! It’s a story I would have loved to read as a kid and one in which I saw myself. This book has all the elements I loved reading about as a kid—there’s a mystery that needs solving along with an exciting quest, a ticking clock, dark family secrets, unforgettable friendships, a fantastical world, and my favorite, magic!

Could you share your publishing journey with us?

My road to publication was long and winding! I began querying in November 2018. At first, it was great. Most of my queries turned into full manuscript requests. But by mid-December, the rejections started to come in. One of the criticisms I kept hearing was that my book was too long for middle grade. Typically, the word count for middle grade novels is between 50,000-70,000 words while mine was 91,000. I was heartbroken. I had a choice to make: continue querying or pull my book out, edit it down by 20,000 words, and then give it another shot. If I chose to edit the book, I would have to significantly rewrite parts of it since I had to remove one of three POVs. Adding to the daunting prospect of a massive revision, I was pregnant!

         As hard as it seemed, I knew it was the right thing to do. During the last two months of my pregnancy, I cut down 23,000 words and rewrote large sections of the book. Once my baby arrived, I sent the manuscript back to my beta readers to see if the new revisions maintained plot, pace, and character growth. After I emerged from that newborn haze of hormones, sleepless nights, and baby cuddles, I dove back into my beta readers’ feedback and by September 2019, I began querying again. Long story short, I signed with my publisher on January 2nd, 2020! My publishing journey ends with the ever-important lesson: No matter how hard it gets, don’t give up.

What was your research process when you set the story in the foothills of the Himalayas and when you created the fantastical world of Astranthia?

When I was thinking about where to set the ‘India’ part of the story, I knew right away that I wanted to portray a region of India that was beautiful and underrated with respect to its landscape and people. The city of Darjeeling is a stunning hill station in the northeast part of the country ensconced within hills, the view of the majestic Himalayas, and rolling tea plantations. There was just so much beauty to be inspired by in terms of its landscape and culture. Since I had never been Darjeeling, I relied on online research especially the official government website for Darjeeling to get details about which trees, birds and animals could be found as well as tourist accounts on blogs and reputed travel websites. I bought books on Darjeeling to get an idea of the local cuisine and day-to-day life, I peered over every aspect of Google Maps to understand the topography of the land and keep it authentic to the story. After double and triple checking the details from my research, I felt pretty confident that everything I had included about Darjeeling was factual. However, it turns out it wasn’t all accurate! I’m so glad I decided to visit Darjeeling before sending my manuscript to agents because I found several inaccuracies in my descriptions and details and it was only after seeing the city, talking to the locals, and driving around that I was able to correct the inaccuracies and record factual details. So, my top tip for any writer who is writing about a place they have not themselves visited is to visit that place before submitting their work for publication!
Simultaneously, as I was inventing the realm of Astranthia, I wanted to capture that same lushness that Darjeeling exuded. When researching Astranthia, I drew inspiration from nature, the changing seasons, online research from fantasy illustrations and Indian and Celtic mythology. I love reading books in which the world feels like a character in itself and I wanted both settings of Darjeeling as well as the fantastical land of Astranthia to feel immersive, verdant, and magical. I find that descriptions of plants, leaves, trees, flowers, and animal life add greatly to the atmosphere of a place and make the reader feel like they are right there with the characters.

About Rea’s family and sibling relationships …

It was important for me to show Rea coming from a small, nuclear, and broken family – it’s just her mother, her grandmother, her brother, and herself. Stereotypically, Indian families are known to be big, joint families and rarely do we hear about divorce or unconventional family units. I wanted to change because the reality is that there are all kinds of family units and structures in India and as we have begun to talk more openly about it, we are seeing that there are so many kids who come from family structures that are different from that ‘one big, happy family’ narrative. Similarly, I wanted to shake the stereotype of the Indian mother as one who is always selfless, always generous, always making you and your friends eat, and just being wonderful and gregarious. Rea’s Amma is not that at all! She is aloof, cold, and battling her own demons, which Rea does not know about or can fully understand yet. Her relationship with her mother is strained and Rea craves the love and attention from her which she does not get. With respect to Rea and Rohan’s relationship, I based a lot of it on mine and my sister’s dynamic! It amazes me how siblings can be so different from each other, and I loved exploring those opposite qualities in Rea and Rohan. Rea has her insecurities but is a fierce girl who is on the hunt for answers to questions that plague her while Rohan is extroverted and the popular kid in school. They get compared all the time (as so many of us have experienced with our siblings!), much to Rea’s disdain. And as they’re growing into their own people, Rea and Rohan who used to be close as children, are now going their separate ways. I wanted to capture that sibling dynamic of rivalry, jealousy, envy but also fierce love, loyalty, and pride for each other.

Why was it important for you to write Rea’s story?
It was important for me to write Rea’s story because I wanted South Asian kids see themselves as main characters in books and know that they are worthy of going on exciting and joyful adventures as well as being heroes.My first draft which I wrote nearly ten years ago, all 70,000 words of it, was written with white characters who lived in the English countryside. It was only when my writing teacher pointed out my lack of Indian characters did I realize how much the books I had read growing up had subconsciously trained my mind into thinking those were the only types of stories people wanted to read. I wouldn’t change the books I read as a kid, but I sure would have loved to read books with characters that looked like me. This is why representation is important. Underrepresented kids should see themselves in books, see themselves as complex characters, and should grow up knowing that their stories are equally important and wonderful. Similarly, I want kids from other cultures and countries to relate with my characters and see that despite their different backgrounds, they share the same hopes, dreams, and fears.

What are some things you hope children will takeaway from Rea’s story?
South Asian representation is incredibly important to me and it has been my mission and passion in writing this book. What I most hope for is that young readers from all backgrounds see my book as an exciting fantasy story (not one only meant for South Asian kids) filled with characters that can relate to and hopefully love reading about. I believe all kids should see themselves represented in books because each kid should know that they can be the heroes of their own stories. I want South Asian kids to feel seen when they read my book, feel joy and pride for their culture, and know that their stories deserve to be celebrated. At the same time, I wanted to write a story that all kids would enjoy regardless of color, race, nationality, and culture.

Payal Doshi has a Masters in Creative Writing (Fiction) from The New School, New York. Having lived in India, the UK, and US, Payal Doshi noticed a lack of Indian protagonists in global children’s fiction and one day wrote the opening paragraph to what would become her first children’s novel. When she isn’t writing or spending time with her family, you can find her nose deep in a book with a cup of coffee or daydreaming of fantasy realms to send her characters off into. She loves the smell of old, yellowed books. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar is the first book in The Chronicles of Astranthia series. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For more information, visit her website, www.payaldoshiauthor.com, or follow her on Instagram @payaldoshiauthor and on Twitter @payaldwrites.

Want to own your very own signed copy of Rea And The Blood Of Nectar? 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 July 16, 2021 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US only) to receive a signed, personalized book.

WNDMG Wednesday–Pride Month and Beyond: What Tik Tok Told Me

We Need Diverse MG

 

We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado

Pride Month

June is Pride Month and there is so much to talk about when it comes to middle-grade books and representation. I thought a great way to explore this topic would be by doing a deep dive into book talk on Tik Tok.  In case you’re not familiar, Tik Tok is the platform that so many people are using to talk about books.  I assumed it would be easy to find lots of MG recommendations and reviews for Pride Month, but it wasn’t.  Most of the #booktok I found did not pertain to books aimed at middle grade audiences, or books that feature LGBTQIA+ characters. Don’t get me wrong, there are some creators out there ‘book–toking’ about MG + LGBTQIA+, but I couldn’t find many whose platforms focus on those two areas. Still, there was a lot to discover, and some great accounts to follow.

Tik Tok

But first, for those who aren’t sure how TikTok works, a brief overview. This platform started with music and dance videos but has since morphed into just about everything videos. Remember the Vine app from back in the day? Tik Tok is kind of like that, but the videos are longer and the app more sophisticated with lots of fun effects.  If you’re interested in books, you can find plenty of people talking about them on this app. All you have to do is search for the right hashtags. These include; #booktok, #mg #ya #kidlit and other hashtags related to books and book lovers.

Once you start following the creators you like, you will find that they reference other creators to follow. That way you can start building up your list of bookish TikTok accounts. Be careful though, you can really go down a TikTok rabbit hole once you get started. Some of the content is intriguing, hilarious, and even addicting. The dark circles under my eyes are proof that once you get on TikTok, it can be hard to get off!

Acronyms

It’s good to know the commonly used acronyms that the bookish accounts often feature. Here are just a few of them that I’ve seen over and over.

  • TBR – to be read
  • DNF – did not finish
  • ARC – advanced reader copies
  • CR – current read
  • FRTC – full review to come

Accounts to Follow

There is a lot out there created by and for young people who love books. Most of what I’ve found is geared towards YA, often with an MG title or two mixed in. Some videos show lots of different book covers that the creator recommends without really talking about the books. I find those less helpful than the ones where the creator gives a run-down of what they like about the book and why. In addition to accounts run by book fans, there are also authors, agents, teachers, and editors to follow who give recommendations and information on diverse books, new releases, writing, book promoting, and breaking down stereotypes in kidlit. Below are just a few of the LGBTQIA+ and MG friendly accounts that I found and recommend following.

  • @jeremy.l.williams – middle school teacher features MG book recommendations, and has uploaded a number of videos centered on pride month with book recommendations
  • @averyqueerbookclub – loads of recommendations on books with queer representation, including marginalized groups within the queer community.
  • @mx.segal – middle school teacher with a great video that features lots of diverse MGs
  • @luna_with_love – lots of queer book recommendations, mostly YA, some MG
  • @endlessfairytales – features many recommendations for diverse books, mostly YA some MG
  • @samisbookshelf – many informative videos to help diversify you book selections, mostly YA, some MG
  • @caitsbooks – a wealth of videos on all kinds of books with heartfelt reviews and humor
  • @literaticat – agent giving great advice on writing, books, and lots of humor

MG Tik Tok Book Recommendations for Pride Month & Beyond

Hunting through the multitude of YA videos, I was able to find the MG books below that are a great addition to any bookshelf, and an especially appropriate group of reads for Pride Month. These books often feature not only LGBTQIA+ characters, but also characters who are diverse in different ways. Several of the creators in the list above included these books in their recommended readings.

George book cover

George by Alex Gin

A middle grade novel that features a queer younger MG protagonist. Melissa is a trans girl who isn’t sure about how to be her authentic self until the class play gives her an opportunity to be a girl on stage. But when she’s kept from auditioning because they think she’s a boy, Melissa has to decide what to do. This one is recommended in many Tik Tok videos by middle grade teachers.

 

moon within

The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

This novel-in-verse coming of age story includes a trans character who is the protagonist’s best friend. The main character experiences her first period, her first attraction to a boy, and her best friend coming out as genderfluid, then identifying as a boy. Black, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and LGBTQ characters offer diverse perspectives in this compelling middle grade novel.

 

stars feet

The stars beneath our feet by David Barclay Moore

This novel is a winner of the Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for new Talent and will soon be a major motion picture. The story focuses on a young boy whose brother has died as a result of gang violence. He has to navigate a new life along with his mother and her girlfriend using creativity and community to make his way.

 

hurricane child Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender

Caroline is a  twelve year old dealing with a lot of difficulties including bullying, a spirit only she can see, and the loss of her mother. When she finally befriends a new student and develops a crush on her, they end up working together to find Caroline’s mother.

 

 

drama book cover

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

 

Callie, a theater lover, is the set designer for the drama department, and she’s determined to create a Broadway worthy set despite her middle school budget. But she runs into trouble when ticket sales are down, the crew has trouble working together, the actors bring their drama off stage and a couple of cute brothers are in the picture.

 

((Enjoying this Pride Month book list? Check out this one too!))

Happy Pride Month!

Those are just a few of the many books you can find for middle grade that feature LGBTQIA+ characters. Tik Tok is only one place to look for these books, and it could use more accounts focused on middle grade kidlit. I just started my own TikTok account @aixasdoodlesandbooks.  I have posted just one video so far with Picture Book recommendations. By the time this blogpost comes out I’ll hopefully have my second video with MG recommendations for Pride Month. Meanwhile, I hope to find and follow more accounts posting on MG. Let me know if I should follow you!

pride reader

Artwork by Aixa Pérez-Prado

 

We Need Diverse Middle Grade: What it Means to Write Diverse Books

We Need Diverse MG
We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado

I’ve been looking forward to this day with great excitement: today marks the debut post for our new series, We Need Diverse Middle Grade.

Our mission: We celebrate and promote diversity in middle-grade books, and we examine the issues preventing better equity and inclusion on the middle-grade bookshelf. We intend to amplify and honor all diverse voices.

We Need Diverse Middle Grade will post once a month, drawing on work from our own team of contributors as well as from guest authors, editors, agents, teachers, librarians, and booksellers. You can count on our presence here on Mixed-Up Files to shine a light on the stories, work, and truth of all those who are still underrepresented in this field. You’ll be able to recognize our monthly posts by seeing our WNDMG  logo: the diverse world we envision. Our artwork is by contributor Aixa Perez-Prado.

Guest Posts for We Need Diverse Middle Grade

If you’re interested in being considered for a guest post slot on WNDMG, please feel free to email: mufcommunications@gmail.com.  Please Note: We do not pay for guest blog posts.

And without further ado, I want to introduce our first WNDMG author, the talented Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is a former MUF contributor, and she is also the author of the YASMIN series, A PLACE AT THE TABLE (with author Laura Shovan) and A THOUSAND QUESTIONS.

 

WHAT IT MEANS TO WRITE DIVERSE BOOKS

By Saadia Faruqi

 

Every time I write a post on Instagram, I chose from a number of hashtags. One of these is #DiverseAuthors and I always chose it with an internal cringe. Why do I need to be called a diverse author? What’s so diverse about me?

I’m just a person writing books about my and my children’s experiences, and for all that to have a label – no matter how well meaning – is often a source of discomfort for me. At the same time, I realize that the work I do is important, and needed. My life experiences as an immigrant, as a mom of first-generation brown kids, inform everything I do, and every single word I write. I share our family’s journey in so many different ways. So many diverse ways.

A Series of Diverse Firsts

The good news is that books about marginalized communities and identities – diverse books – are becoming more popular. When I wrote the Yasmin series, it was the first traditionally published early reader series written by a Muslim American author. It was also the first series with a Muslim girl on the cover, wearing her traditional Pakistani dress and using Islamic words like “salaam”. Nobody knew what the reception of such a unicorn among books would be.

Meet Yasmin

But the success of Yasmin and so many other “diverse” books has shown that there is definitely a huge market for them. “Diverse kids” are hungry for books that center them and their experiences. “Diverse parents” are eager to buy books like mine for their children. Teachers and librarians, even if they aren’t “diverse” themselves, are realizing the value of introducing a different culture and identity in their spaces.

Branching Out

Over the years, I’ve grown more daring. From Yasmin I progressed to writing middle-grade novels. With co-author Laura Shovan, I wrote A Place at the Table, a multi-diverse book about not one but several marginalized identities. Muslim. Jewish. Pakistani. British. Immigrant. Mentally ill. The response has been heartwarming. We’ve spoken with teachers and parents and students themselves. Everyone loves this story, because they can all see something of themselves in this book.

A Place At the TableSaadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan

((Read our interview with Saadia and Laura about A PLACE AT THE TABLE here.))

Universal Diversity

Does that mean we are all “diverse”? This is an interesting question. If “diverse” means different from the norm, then most of us are diverse in some way or the other. If diverse means unique, we are definitely all so.

My most recent book A Thousand Questions is perhaps the most unlike my other work, because it’s set in another country. This is the story of Mimi, a Pakistani American girl who spends her summer vacation in Pakistan with her grandparents. It is also the story of Sakina, the Pakistani servant girl who works at Mimi’s grandparents’ home. Both are foreign to the other. Both look at the other and see DIVERSE.

A THOUSAND QUESTIONS

I choose to set A Thousand Questions in Pakistan because I wanted to explore how we are all different, yet the same. How we tend to look for differences in others and forget the similarities. I wanted my readers to see how one can travel half-way across the world and still find people who are exactly like us in terms of their feelings and their dreams and their fears.

Diverse Books are Just Good Books

Although A Thousand Questions is a perfect example of a diverse book, it actually is the opposite in terms of what it hopes to achieve. It shows how we are similar, alike, comparable. It shows that maybe what we think of as “diverse books” are actually just good books. Amazing stories about amazingly diverse experiences that we can all learn from, whether we are adult or kid readers.

My stories are “diverse” only because they’re outwardly different. They may be set in a different country, or the characters may speak a different language, or eat foods you’ve never heard of. But under the skin, these stories are universal in nature. Similarly, I may have brown skin or wear a hijab or speak Urdu, but underneath all that I’m a human being just like you. I’m a writer just like any other.

I hope that my books – all diverse books – bring home this essential message to readers.

Author Saadia Faruqi

Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist and author. Visit her website at www.saadiafaruqi.com.