Friday, October 14, 2011

Elated Over Eleven: Sheela Chari

Oh hello blog! I was beginning to forget what book blogging even meant. Anyway I'm bringing back my Elated Over Eleven feature! In case you've forgotten you can read my previous Elated Over Eleven features here

Today I've finally pulled my act together to present an interview with Sheela Chari, whose Middle Grade book Vanished debuted in August! I recently received a copy for review and I'm eager to dive into its mystery-laden pages :)

Thank you for stopping by Reading in Color Ms. Chari!

What is Vanished about?

Vanished is a mystery novel about eleven-year-old Neela’s quest to find her Indian musical instrument when it goes missing. But it’s also her quest to overcome her stage fright and find her true musical self.

Yes you read that right this is a middle grade mystery with an Indian girl as a main character. But it's not about her being Indian in America, rather it's about her musical talent and her search for her missing instrument. Ahhhh

What has your road to being published taught you?

The road to publication is winding, with lots of potholes along the way. I expected that, because that’s what I’d been told by the writers I know who traveled that road before me. So I was prepared to wait, to persevere, and to expect setbacks along the way. And even if I was prepared, it was still an education, and I think I’m more patient and more focused than I was when I first started writing seriously.

But the other thing that this long and difficult journey has taught me is that there are unexpected pleasures along the way – a sudden dip in the road where you don’t have to peddle so hard and you can cruise on a piece of extraordinary luck: a beautiful cover, a rave review, a chance to talk to before a sprawling audience of young readers (when you were told that maybe one or two would show up at the bookstore for your event). Every time something wonderful happens to Vanished or to me as an author, I have learned to enjoy it for what it is – an unexpected, fun gift in my life as a writer.

And that is what scares me about writing. Who wants to become more patient? In all seriousness though I love that people are able to find the positives on the scary journey to get published. But also like Ms. Chari said, I think if I ever decided to write a book I would be slightly mentally prepared thanks to my reading of interviews with other authors and learning about what the publishing process really entails and how long it takes. And there are some amazing moments on that journey such as being blessed with a gorgeous cover like Ms. Chari's! And knowing that at least one reader connected with your story, I imagine that could keep me on a happiness cloud for quite some time...

What do you think the hardest part about writing a MG mystery is/was?

Writing mysteries in general is hard – at least for me. Partly because I think seasoned mystery writers start with the end and go backwards. In other words, they know who’s done what and when in their story, and then go back to the beginning to “cover up their tracks.” I did the opposite. I started at the very beginning with the same question as Neela – why did the veena disappear? And honestly, I didn’t know! I had to follow Neela and discover the reason why. As I kept writing, the story finally emerged by the time I got to the end. But it did require me going back and retrofitting content after I knew what the ending was. This seems needlessly difficult, but I guess that’s just the way I work!

As for MG, I’m not sure that played nearly as much as a role. I’m comfortable writing middle grade. This is because I’m secretly twelve years old. Okay…well, I would be if I had a choice!

What book would your book date?

Vanished might date Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett or Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach. I loved both of these books for their atmosphere, for their kid detectives, and the way art and literature play a central role in the mystery (like Vanished, where music is integral).

But Vanished might also be secretly crushing on The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. What a fantastic, smart mystery novel! But it’s also young adult, and a little too old for young Vanished! ;)

Haha I love that, we must protect the innocence of Vanished! It's vital that one doesn't grow up too fast...I adored Chasing Vermeer, so clever and as a bonus it was set in my beloved Chicago. Which reminds me that I could review that book here. Hmm maybe Vanished review one day, Chasing Vermeer review the next?

You grew up in Iowa City in the 1970s. Did you read books about kids of color? If not, did that bother you? Did you ever feel alienated and did this play into your writing?

I can honestly say I never thought about color when I was reading books as a child. I read because I wanted to know what happened next. I devoured all the Beverly Cleary books, the Anne of Green Gables series, Little Women, Heidi, Island of the Blue Dolphin, A Wrinkle in Time, The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and I loved Nancy Drew. I loved these books for their sense of adventure, for bringing me to worlds I didn’t know about. I loved stories about tomboys and detectives, about girls who had traveled far away from their homes to find themselves, often under difficult conditions. Race never entered the picture. Likewise, I never saw myself being different, even though when I was a child, I was the only Indian-American girl I knew in my whole grade.

Certainly I think about these issues now, maybe because I have children of my own. I wrote Vanished because I really wanted to see more books about Indian-American girls solving mysteries and having adventures just like their other peers. I might not have read and wondered about these types of books when I was little, but if Vanished had been available back then, it would DEFINITELY have changed my life and the way I saw myself. There are many Indian-American girls who have read my book now and have really enjoyed and responded to it. I don’t know if all Indian-Americans want to read about characters like themselves (some still want to read about vampires!), but it’s really important to me that the option is there. I hope to see more and more mystery and fantasy books featuring PoCs being added to the middle grade shelf!

I read those same books as a kid! Children's classics never cease to amaze me because we all read so many of the same book and yet the power of books for kids is often ignored. Although I do remember starting and not liking, Island of the Blue Dolphin haha. We are the richer for reading those books (or so I like to think anyway) but I agree my mind would have been blown if I could have read a book about a character who looked me and was having a cool adventure. It's like you never know what you could have had until much later...(if that makes sense)

What are some of your current favorite YA/MG reads? What fellow '11 debuts are you looking forward to in the fall? Have you read any great 2011 debuts already?

This might be the hardest question to answer. I’m a member of the Elevensies, so I’ve been anticipating and reading a long list of books over the past year. Since I’m an MG author, my favorites have been the middle grades I read this year like Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis, With a Name like Love by Tess Hilmo, and May B. by Caroline Starr Rose. All outstanding, with spunky female characters that know how to make their own decisions.

I also read many YA’s, and one of my favorites this year was Dead Rules by Randy Russell, which takes ideas of the afterlife and turns them into something new and thought-provoking. But I think I need to answer this question again when I get through my whole TBR pile!

What two PoC characters would you love to hang out?

I’m reading Grace Lin’s Pacy Lin books right now: The Year of the Dog, The Year of the Rat, and her most recent Dumpling Days, which I’m reading in ARC form as it won’t be out until January. I love Pacy’s directness, the way she invites you into her daily life, to be part of her Taiwanese heritage without a lot of explanation and back-story. Also some of her struggles to fit in remind me a lot of when I was growing up in the 1980s.

I’d have to say my favorite character growing up was Sacajawea. I read a book with the same title (Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo) when I was twelve, and her life history left a huge impression on me. It might have been that I just moved to Washington State at the time, where she had lived. But I loved this book, and I loved reading about her fierce pride, her incredible intelligence and astuteness, her knowledge of the land, and how she maintained her heritage in spite of being the first Shoshone woman to lead Lewis and Clark across the Columbia River to the Pacific Coast (something unheard of at the time in her culture).

Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

Web site:
Twitter: @wordsbysheela

Thanks for having me on your blog, Ari!

Not a problem, thanks again for stopping by Sheela! Buy Vanished