More exciting book news here for THE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL. It was recently selected as a Sydney Taylor Notable Book. Do you remember Sydney Taylor and her All-of-a-Kind Family series about a Jewish family living in New York at the turn of the century? Do you remember Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie? I do. I was obsessed with these books growing up. I remember when Henny dyed Ella’s dress with tea to cover up the stain she got on it and how Ella went to a restaurant for the first time on a date and didn’t know what to do and how exotic and long their Passover seders seemed to me. In fact, Taylor’s books in some ways gave me more information about Jewish identity and culture than my family did.
I also find it interesting that this honor is only for books writing about the Jewish experience and since WHOLE STORY’s Jewish content is certainly not typical, I loved that my book and the diversity it represents was recognized. The honor came at the same time a newspaper called India Abroad, which is published in the U.S. for the Indian community, contacted me about doing a story on the book which I’ll post when it comes out. How perfect for a book about a character trying to come to terms with both her Jewish and Indian identity.
Also, the paperback of WHOLE STORY comes out February 12! I hope this will bring a new group of fans who are excited to pay the lovely paperback price ($6.99).
All this has me thinking, though. I worry about my little book‘s future. I do. I worry that it will disappear too soon and won’t reach its full potential, whatever that may be. Then I remind myself that no matter how many tweets I tweet or blog posts I write or schools I visit, my book will have the life it will have. And hey, I’m not a publicist, I’m a writer. So I take a deep breath and send that thought out into the air and start to think about my future, and the stories (there are so many) I want to share with the world.
I heard of this study once where children were led into two different rooms.
One room had lots and lots of toys. One room only had a few. The children were
told they could play with any of the toys in each room. The researchers found
that when the children played in the room with lots of toys, they jumped from
toy to toy and didn’t seem to have a pleasurable or satisfying experience. The
children who only had a few toys to choose from played for much longer and
seemed happy and engaged.
I’m not sure about the details of the study, how it was controlled and all that,
but it doesn’t matter. I think about the message a lot. So how does this relate
to writing? Everyday, when the blank screen hums back at me and I fight
the urge to check my email, go on Facebook, or Twitter, or Google and FINALLY
steer myself back to that blankness, it’s a triumph. I used to have a word
processor in college. All I could do was write on it. I love my computer and the
web, but honestly, back then it was easier to get to work.
I recently read that the writer Paul Auster doesn’t have a computer or a cell
phone. I think he might have hit on something, at least for anyone trying to get
anything done. After I pull my mind away from all the choices I have, which of
course seem so much more exciting than the blank page, the trick is writing. I’m
actually a pretty disciplined writer. I get my butt in that chair everyday and
make myself produce something. If I’m on a deadline, I stick religiously
to my daily word count. But even after I’ve evaded all the choices my
little laptop offers me and start writing, then I have a different obstacle.
Sometimes the choice of what I can actually write about slows me down or freezes
me up. This can happen even when I know what the general story is. The
characters could do anything, right?
That’s where outlining comes in, even just a sentence for each chapter or a
plot summary consisting of a few pages. It’s my road map. I don’t like to
outline too heavily. I like taking some unexpected turns on my journey. I like
the characters to surprise me. But if I don’t do any outlining at all, I find
myself overwhelmed with the thought of all the roads I could take. I think
narrowing down your choices is a good thing. Not every road works for every
character. In life, I think it’s a good thing too. Not every toy works for every
kid. Not every major works for every college student. Not every career works for
every person. We tell our children they can be anything they want to be, that
the world is their oyster. But I don’t know if that’s what I’m going to tell my
kids. In this world, that list is way too long. Maybe they’ll need me to help
them rule stuff out, rather than tell them they can choose from a million
different lives. Taking a single road less traveled is great. If you go down one
wrong road, you can always turn back, but if you have twenty to choose from, you
just might get lost.
I like to make fall resolutions. Since I have kids in school and I’ve worked on an academic schedule, fall always feels like a new beginning. I start to turn inward and get in touch with my senses. I cook more. I fix up my house. I notice scents like dry leaves and wood smoke. I enjoy the happy chaos of school starting and holidays brewing. It’s a good season.
One of my fall resolutions is to blog more. I miss the immediacy of taking my thoughts and news and sending it out into the world like a little boat made out of twigs. So here, I’m sharing now. I have lots of good news too, so much good news that in the neurotic corner of my mind, I sometimes wonder what bad luck is about to descend on me as I swim around in all this excitement. Crazy, I know, but true.
WHOLE STORY keeps selling, which is a wonderful thing. I’m delighted with the emails I get from readers all the over the country--even internationally since I just heard from a reader in Canada! It’s a miracle to me that my little book has traveled so far. So keep on reading and sharing your thoughts on my contact page!
The biggest news is that my brilliant agent, Sara Crowe, recently sold my chapter book series to the lovely people at Grosset & Dunlap (Penguin Group). I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. It’s the kind of thing that I think about all the time, except for when I forget about it. Then when I remember again, it’s like discovering a special gift left for me on the kitchen table. The working (and possibly final) title is PHOEBE THE FOODIE, about a spunky second grader who actually likes to eat interesting things and slowly discovers this about herself when she befriends a new girl from France. Phoebe’s kind of the anti picky-eater who’s not afraid to be herself. This gets her into some trouble sometimes and I hope young readers will enjoy her unique adventures in food and in life! The first books will be out in about a year and a half.
Recently, I’ve also been lucky enough to contribute to the middle-grade series DEAR KNOW IT ALL. All books are published under the pseudonym, Rachel Wise, and I’ve written books #5, #6, and #8, the first of mine appearing in January 2013. The first two books by another writer are out now. It was a lot of fun and I wish I had been more like the brave, smart, but slightly anxious narrator Samantha Martone when I was in middle school!
I’m also working on another middle-grade novel. More to come about that…
Because of all this good stuff, I have decided to pause my Montessori teaching career, but I know I’ll always carry what I’ve learned with me into my life and parenting and future writing classes.
I’ve had many career paths, writing being the only constant, and now to have that part of my life move to center stage is quite amazing. I never thought it would happen and yet I always believed it would. So thanks for reading, thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I’m certainly enjoying the ride.
It’s finally here, pub day, the day when you can walk in a bookstore and buy THE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL. When I sold the manuscript back in 2010, I wondered where I’d be when the book actually came out. Well, I started teaching at a Montessori school. I’m a little older. My family is a little older. My daughter, who was a baby when I started writing this book, can now read the book. That in my mind is the most stunning milestone so far. When I received my box of shiny new copies a few weeks ago, I just kept running my hand over the front of it. This is it, I thought, the moment I hoped for since I started writing short stories in college. And it feels…great!! It is as awesome as I wanted it to be. My family and friends continue to cheer me on. I got some great reviews, from magazines, from bloggers, and from community reviewers. But what I haven’t experienced yet is feedback from my youngest readers.
I’m so looking forward to hear from the middle-grade readers that I wrote this book for. So if you’re out there, and this book rings true for you in any way, or if you have questions about the writing process, or the characters, please let me know! I’d love to hear from you. I remember how important reading was to me at that age. I hope this book can provide some, even just a drop, of the same companionship and pleasure all those books I read back then provided me. So thank you Roald Dahl, E.B. White, Judy Blume, Madeleine L’Engle, Lois Lowry, Patricia Reilly Giff, CS Lewis, Beverly Cleary, Katherine Patterson, Sydney Taylor, and J.R.R. Tolkien, just to name a few. I’m not putting myself in the same company, just saying thanks for all they gave and still give me. And a future thank you to my new readers who will honor me with their time and attention. I hope I can live up to your expectations!
Some people associate creativity with art. They think if you make art, you’re creative. If you don’t, you’re not. I think that every person is creative or has creative potential. It has nothing to do with how well you draw. You can be a creative teacher, a creative doctor, a creative business owner, and in this fast-paced, fickle world, creative abilities are more crucial than ever. Creativity allows you to adapt to your environment. It allows you to create new ideas when the old ones aren’t working.
If this creative power isn’t nurtured in childhood, I believe it can result in an adult that is less flexible, less imaginative, and less able to solve problems and create their own destiny. That’s why art programs in schools are so important. As a new Montessori teacher, I’ve learned that the best way to nurture creativity is to let children color outside the lines and guide them through solving their own problems. If you always tell a child what to make and how to make it, they never enter the space that allows them to discover their own creative powers. My mother is an artist, and I’ve always been thankful that my parents gave me the chance to nurture this side of myself. Because of this ability, I’m never bored. I’m always thinking about the next thing I want to create for myself, whether it’s a small drawing I thumbtack to my cork board, a new chicken dish for dinner, a story, or a new career. Yes, I’m restless, impatient, a little lost when I’m not creating something, and make LOTS of mistakes, false starts, and unfinished projects—but I’m never bored.
Speaking of new creations, I’ve started writing a new book. Now that my novel, WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL, has been copyedited (the publishing version of hair and makeup) and is getting ready to go on stage (but not until Jan 2012), I’ve had the mental space to start something I’ve been turning around in my head for a while. It’s a young girl’s diary that takes place during the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. That’s all I’m ready to share now. I’ve never written a historical piece, so it’s a new experience for me and causes the writing to go a bit slower since I have to do heavy duty research. Starting a new piece of writing is kind of like falling in love. It’s exciting and scary. I get obsessed and filled with energy. Then the glow wears off and I start to wonder if the project is what I thought it was, if I’m who I thought I was. We either get through it to a better place, or we break up. But I think we’ll make it, this book and I.
So celebrate your own creativity in whatever form it takes. Maybe it’s a flower bed, a cake, a new way to organize your papers, a painting, rearranging furniture, a secret business idea you like to think about before you fall asleep. Go for it. Create something new!
What is that saying? Everything good is worth waiting for? Well, something like that. It's true, but it's hard to wait, isn't it? I constantly tell my kids to be more patient and yet I tend to be the one burning my fingers on the brownies straight from the oven. Besides brownies, I've also been waiting for my editor's revision. When I sold the manuscript for my middle-grade novel last August, I was thrilled of course, and swimming deep in that big-life moment--a feeling I never wanted to end.
But then I had to wait. The way it usually goes with publishing fiction is that after you sell your manuscript, your editor will do a pass and make her notes. Then it's back to you for a revision. After that, your editor might do a smaller edit, and then it goes to copyediting for the nitty-gritty proofing. After that, an uncorrected proof (meaning a paperback version that hasn't been proofed one last time) is made for everyone to review before the actual book gets printed. Reviewers usually get this version of the book. And then, in my case, about a year and a half after the sale, I will be holding my finished book. Not a speedy process, especially in this age of digital immediacy.
In August, my busy editor said she'd be sending out her revision soon. The months went by. Intellectually I knew this was normal. I worked six years in publishing. I know how it is, the piles on your desk, the manuscripts and mail that just keep coming, the deadlines that are always just on the edge of impossible. But I had too much time to think about what she might say and suggest. It started to feel like I had imagined the whole thing. Did I really sell this book?
It finally came. The Edit. And thankfully my smart and economical editor didn't have lots of abstract and scary suggestions for me, just a very doable amount of tightening and a few specific changes that made absolute sense to me. It was such a luxury to have someone else turn their experienced and objective eye on my work and make it better. That's what good editors are for. They can see what the writer can't anymore. So I did it and sent it back (after a really nerve-wracking glitch with the post office almost losing the manuscript—next time Fed Ex!) and now I know it's real. All that stress for nothing. For the next round, I just might need some burning hot brownies to get me through.
Wow, wow, and wow! My first reviews are in, from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly, and they both gave THE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL a star! I was bracing myself for this moment and never expected anything like this. The first is from Kirkus, the second is from PW, and now I'll let them speak for themselves. They like me. They really like me...
"Four decades separate Sonia Nadhamuni and Judy Blume’s Margaret Simon, but these feisty, funny offspring of Jewish interfaith marriages are sisters under the skin. Perched on the uncertain cusp of adulthood, each grapples with perplexing cultural identity issues, but in very different worlds. While Margaret’s grandparents pressure her to label herself as they wish, it’s Sonia’s peers who expect her to define herself racially and culturally. Having a nominally Hindu, Indian-immigrant dad and Jewish-American mom wasn’t a big deal until her father lost his job. Now Sonia must leave her comfortably small private school behind and—with Dad sinking into clinical depression and Mom taking on more work—chart her own course at Maplewood Middle School. Where does she fit? With the cheerleaders like pretty, blonde Kate or the bussed-in, city kids like Alisha, who’s writing a novel? Sonia’s the only cheerleader not invited to Peter Hanson’s birthday party. Is racism the cause? As in real life, her challenges don’t come neatly compartmentalized; Sonia will have to work out her mixed-heritage identity while contending with stressed-out parents, financial woes and vexing social uncertainties. Multifaceted characters, especially Sonia—astute, observant and original—provide depth. Like Blume, Hiranandani resists simplistic, tidy solutions. Each excels in charting the fluctuating discomfort zones of adolescent identity with affectionate humor."
From Publishers Weekly:
"Just before fifth grade ends, life is sweet for Sonia. She loves the alternative private school that she attends with her best friend Sam, where her half-Jewish, half-Indian background is simply accepted. But when her father loses his job and Sonia must attend public school in the fall, life gets complicated. Sonia’s new school is more racially divided than her old one, and when her racial identity is questioned, she realizes she has never considered what the answers might be. She’s taken in by a group of girls who try out for the cheerleading team, something Sonia comes to love but that doesn’t fit with her self-image. Hardest of all is the depression her father falls into, despite finding a new job. In Hiranandani’s debut novel, Sonia’s struggles are painfully realistic, as she wrestles with how to identify herself, how to cope with her family’s problems, and how to fit in without losing herself. True to life, her problems do not wrap up neatly, but Sonia’s growth is deeply rewarding in this thoughtful and beautifully wrought novel."
I'm looking at SNOW from out my window, but thankfully it's quickly melting. I have these jars I painted on the window sill and my daughter made the tissue paper flowers shown in the picture up there. It reminds me of spring whenever I look out, even if it's over snowy covered trees.
I haven't posted in a little while. I blame it all on jury duty that took over my life for almost three weeks. But I'm serving my country, right? I could actually go on and on about this experience. Not only was I a tad stressed out trying to arrange childcare and doing all my school work and writing in the evening, it was a very difficult and eye-opening (I was the foreperson and had to read the guilty verdict to the accused) experience in itself. It drained me to the point of just wanting to leave it behind, in the courtroom, and close the door.
The day afterwards, I was straightening up my daughter's room trying to restore order in my chaotic household when I found a book my mother-in-law gave her. She works in a school and is always bringing her used books from the library. The books are either well-worn classics or random little discoveries. This book fell into the latter category:
Today I will not live up to my potential.
Today I will not relate well to my peer group.
Today I will not contribute in class.
I will not volunteer one thing.
Today I will not strive to do better.
Today I will not achieve or adjust or grow enriched or get involved.
I will not put up my hand even if the teacher is wrong and I can prove it.
Today I might eat the eraser off my pencil.
I'll look at the clouds.
I'll be late.
I don't think I'll wash.
I need a rest.
(excerpted from Jean Little's Hey World, Here I Am!)
I love this poem because it's so truthful and it's exactly how I felt when I first read it. The entire collection of poems and stories strike a similar note as we follow fictional young teen character Kate Bloomfield while she tries to navigate her young complicated life. She's brave and honest and critical of the world she lives in with her two distracted, intellectual parents who don't bother giving her a bedtime, but will always listen if she has an opinion about something. Sometimes she longs for a more traditional household and sometimes she's happy with her life. But Little perfectly blends Kate's newly unearthed teenage angst with her keen intelligence topped with the bits of innocence still clinging to her. It's one of the most pure and refreshing pieces I've read for young adults in a long time (best for probably 8-12 year olds). It was first published in 1986 by Kids Can Press and I believe it's still in print. There are a few more books by Little based on Kate and her friend Emily as well.
Many of us work so hard striving for balance, peace, and happiness in our lives, and we should. Sometimes, though, there is just today, and we're tired, and it is what it is. I think that's okay, at least for today.
I just read the novel Room by Emma Donoghue, and I think it might be my favorite read of the year. The book is in no need of good reviews or good marketing, it's on the NYT bestseller list , but I was so rocked to the core. I just can't stop thinking about it.
The narrator is a five-year old boy who lives in an 11 x 11 room with his mother against their will. As a mother, I've become really sensitive to stories where children suffer, but I was just too intrigued. Not only are we confined to a room, we are seeing the story through a very young child's eyes, and I needed to see how this was handled structurally. What's so dazzling about this book is how such a severely limited world is rendered in such a rich and pure manner that the reader experiences it in much of the same way the narrator does. You're in, and there's simply nothing else to pay attention to.
This book though, to me, is ultimately about motherhood. The character of the mother has such amazing depth, all at once deeply human and otherworldly heroic. Forget about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, THIS is extreme parenting. As a mother I could identify with the universal experience of being both wholly absorbed by mothering and at the same time "imprisoned" by what it takes to be there completely for your child. In some ways, we're all in that "room" with our babies for a little while.
I don't want to spoil anything for you, so I'll stop now. And for the men out there, this novel is in NO WAY a "baby" or "mothering" book. It's an incredibly poignant, suspenseful story that will blow anyone's mind.
Think of a friend, a family member, a favorite book character. What’s the first thing that pops into your head? Usually a name. We are our names. We embody them like skin. I always find it disorienting when I meet someone whose child is named the same as mine. At the first sound of my daughter or son’s name, everything they are to me--the way their hair smells, the sound of their voice, the feeling of their hand in mine--floods my brain. How could anyone else have that name?
We can’t underestimate how important names are. Yes, people sometimes change their names, but usually it’s because they are changing, or wish they could change, a huge part of themselves. It’s not something anyone does lightly. Think about classic children’s book characters, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, James and the Giant Peach. What if Charlotte’s name was Susan? Susan’s Web. No way.
Before I write, I make a list of all the characters I plan to have in my story, and before I even think too much about who they are, I name them carefully, tenderly, like newborns. I look in baby name books or on the internet. I find out what their names mean. Then I try them on for size. Once in a while I change them, if the character turns out quite differently than I thought. But usually, as they develop, they become their names.
I was thinking about all this because of the teddy bear my son lost 7 months ago. The teddy bear has a name of course. It’s…wait for it…Teddy. Quite a simple name, given by my five-year-old son when he first learned how to talk. For four years, my son went to sleep with Teddy every night. Every day he played with Teddy and told him all his little secrets. Teddy was like a member of our family. One day, last July, we couldn’t find Teddy. We looked EVERYWHERE. After a few days, I knew Teddy was really gone. I told my son, almost in a whisper, that maybe Teddy went on vacation? I was heartbroken for him. He cried the first few nights without him, and then helped me make up stories about all the places Teddy was visiting—the forest, the jungle, the beach. And every time we finished a Teddy story, my son said, “And then he’ll come back.” I nodded, what else could I do?
Seven months later my daughter’s bracelet rolled under my desk. She reached her small hand all the way in the back (you know, to the part where you can’t see if you look under it), pulled out her bracelet, and a very dusty teddy bear. “Teddy!” she yelled and went running over to my son and thrust it at him. When I heard the name, everything came back to me, how Teddy looked, felt, and the particular way my son pressed his face into the top of Teddy’s head. The reunion was sweet and not really that surprising to him. After all, he knew Teddy was coming back all along.
So in writing, spend time choosing your names, and in life, spend time knowing people’s names. Spend time using people’s names. Luckily, we can’t lose those.