This week, we have the notable Neesha Meminger who was born in India, grew up in Canada, and currently divides her time between New York City and Toronto. Her first book SHINE, COCONUT MOON is due for release in March, 2009 from Margaret K. McElderry Books.
First a little bit about SHINE, COCONUT MOON.
Samar–a.k.a. Sam–is an Indian-American teenager whose mom has kept her away from her old-fashioned family. It’s never bothered Sam, who is busy with school, friends, and a demanding boyfriend. But things change after 9/11. A guy in a turban shows up at Sam’s house–and turns out to be her uncle. He wants to reconcile the family and teach Sam about her Sikh heritage. Sam is eager, but when boys attack her uncle, chanting “Go back home, Osama!,” Sam realizes she could be in danger–and also discovers how dangerous ignorance is.
When you received your offer, you…
… collapsed. My knees gave way, my hand flew to my mouth, and my eyes got all stingy.
So now that you have a contract, what’s it like to be on the other side–on the verge of publication? What does it feel like to be official? It feels awesome. Most of the time. Other times, it’s completely nerve-wracking! I had no idea it took THIS long to get a book to print. I had some clue, but when you’re as impatient as I am, all this waiting is worse than any kind of torture. But it is definitely validating. Knowing that my editor believed in the vision of my book as much as I did always makes me teary.
What are some of the new things you worry about now that you have a contract?
That something will happen to take it all away; like I’m going to wake up at some point, or the midnight bell will gong and this will all have been a lovely dream.
Also, I now worry about reviews. Will they be kind? Or worse [gasp!], will they be lukewarm? *SIGH* It’s never ending.
(Note to readers: The reviews are awesome!)
How many rejections did you receive IN GENERAL (not just for this book) before you landed your first major publishing contract?
I didn’t keep track because I am not THAT organized.
I have blocked this all out. But, suffice it to say that I certainly had my fair share.
Tell us about some of your most heart-breaking rejections and some of your best!
I’ll start with my best. It was from an agent in the U.K. Please note that this was before I even knew my current agent existed. But this agent in the U.K. was very cool (not cooler than my current agent :D). Our online personalities really clicked and we shared the same sense of humor. She repped books by an author I really liked, which is why I decided to sub to her. She rejected me pretty promptly, but I just wouldn’t take NO for an answer. (Note to reader: please do not try this at home.) I subbed another ms to her. Lucky for me, the email I sent with the sub was her brand of humor and she sent me an enthusiastic request for a full. I was on cloud nine, I was floating, I was . . . rejected. But it was a very sweet, kind rejection.
Most heart-breaking? Hmm . . . there was one where the person in question decided there was absolutely nothing of value in my writing. That was pretty tough, but I scraped my dignity off the floor, pulled my lip back in, and moved on. Good thing, too, because the next week I got two offers from amazing, reputable folks.
(Snoop knows how that one goes! See, guys?! Keep those whiskers up! You never know what’s around the corner.)
How long did it take to sell your book, from putting the first words on the page to receiving an offer?
1 year – 2 years.
Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.
Like most writers, I’ve been writing for a long time. My first time being published was when I was in my early twenties in journals, newspapers, and anthologies. I completed my first manuscript during an MFA program, then began the process of shopping it around. In the meantime, I got a little distracted by the process of having two children. Eventually, I went back to subbing. I always had encouraging responses. There were some discouraging ones, too, but I had more of the enthusiastic ones and that kept me going. Eventually, I found a couple of agents who loved my work and picked the one I felt was the best fit for me, based on communication style. A year later, we had our first sale. That’s it in a nutshell — the detailed version is packed with a lot more angst and tears and clumps of hair pulled out.
Prior to selling your book(s), you were…
working a full-time job unrelated to writing.
It was several jobs that, together, made up the hours of a full time job. Then, I was at home being spit up on, bitten, or screamed at by the under-two set.
(Snoop says, Yowzers. If Baby Liu bit me, I’d eat all of her veggies. But I think she might enjoy that.)
After you sold your book(s), you plan to…
Now that I have a contract and my book is “on the verge,” I plan to do a lot more writing!
If you’ve already begun or have finished the editorial process with your publishing house, let you us know what that’s been like.
It has been such a wonderful privilege to work with a talented editor who shares my vision for my book and knows how best to bring out the depth of my characters, strengthen the plot, and package the work so that it gets into the most hands possible. This, to me, is truly one of the goals of writing as a craft. I got to work with a team, refine my craft with a “mentor” of sorts, and watch my creativity take on a new, larger life of its own.
Tell us about a typical day in your writing life. Drag myself out of bed, take the kids to school while trying to fully wake up, make coffee, sit at computer, check email, visit usual internet haunts, check Facebook, stare at most recent WIP on screen, try to write, chase various distractions, visit Facebook, wrangle myself back to WIP, check email, visit internet haunts again, write a sentence or two in the latest WIP, check email, see who’s on Facebook, get kids from school. Somewhere in there, I eat, clean up, shower, do laundry, shop for groceries and other necessities, do work for my kids’ schools, and cook, as well.
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Everything I say is going to seem trite here, because it has all been said before. The best advice I got and that I keep passing along is: write because you love it. It’s really that simple. And, while you’re at it, sub to agents and editors when you have the time/energy. If you’re writing for any other reason, it won’t sustain you. You’ll be more prone to losing steam, or becoming side-tracked. If you love it, you might go through periods of disillusionment, but you’ll keep coming back to it.
Any inspiring quotes you live by?
I have two:
“We write because we believe the human spirit cannot be tamed and should not be trained.”
~ Nikki Giovanni
“It takes an uncommon amount of guts to put your dreams on the line, to hold them up and say, ‘How good or bad am I?’ That’s where the courage comes in.”
~ Erma Bombeck
What is one of the biggest myths in children’s book publishing you wish aspiring authors would just forget about?
That luck has anything to do with getting published. There are so many factors in getting published (or not) and many of them have nothing to do with talent or hard work or putting in your “dues.” Publishing is a *business* and there is always that ever-present bottom line. If you are not yet published and you have been at this for years, honing your craft and learning and paying your dues, DON’T GIVE UP. The industry changes constantly and soon your book will fall into the right editor’s hands.
Describe an Ah-ha moment you might have had that influenced your writing in a positive way.
All my personal issues show up in my writing. For instance, if I have a tendency to look at things through a black and white lens in my day-to-day life, chances are I’ll do that with my characters, as well; for example: I won’t make them as deep or as multi-dimensional as they need to be. Or, if I’m afraid to really delve into the deep, scary parts of myself, I’ll be afraid to go beneath the surface, more superficial elements of plot in my writing, as well. So, to me, writing has really revealed a lot of myself to me — providing plenty of serious ah-ha moments.
Aside from WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS<—shameless plug, are there any other books on craft you recommend?
My favorites are: Bird by Bird, by Ann Lemotte; and On Writing, by Stephen King.
Finally Snoop wants to know: why do you write? He does it for the fame and glory. You?
I write because words are magic. When I was a girl, I loved spelling bees, word-searches, reading, talking, listening. Words were full of such possibility! English is not my first language, so I was fascinated by how different it was from my mother tongue. I was amazed at the thought that certain words held the power to protect, to soothe, to enrage; that my mother could not protect us if she didn’t choose the right words from the vast sea of English, that certain words not found in the English dictionary could humiliate so immediately, and that other words, in soft tones, could resurrect.
To see what Neesha is up to these days, please visit her blog at http://neeshameminger.blogspot.com or her web site at http://www.NeeshaMeminger.com.