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Kara’s Dreams

I have some good news to share in this week’s post. A fellow writer, Ritu Anand, who I had the good fortune to meet online while we were both participating in Renee M LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab course, is welcoming a new book into the world.

Kara’s Dreams is about a little tree, Kara, who dreams of standing as tall and as strong as Utsa, an elder tree, who’d been standing for more than 200 years. Kara fears that she won’t be able to make her dreams come true.

Kara is frightened of wind, of water, of earth, and of night

Kara seeks out Utsa for guidance. The elder tree gives Kara the strength to overcome her fears, and to believe that she will reach her dreams.

Kara’s Dreams is available at Barnes & Nobles.

It will also be available from Amazon on March 15th, at https://www.amazon.com/dp/195508808X

Ritu graciously agreed to share a little bit about herself, and her book journey with us.

About the author:

Ritu Anand started writing when she could hold a pencil, but life kept getting in the way. For the past four years, she has chosen writing as her career. She draws her inspiration from nature and her scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahibjee.

Ritu lives in Sarasota Florida with her loving husband. Her interests include reading, writing, singing Indian classical music, dancing to Bollywood music, traveling and playing golf.

Interview Questions:

Do you write every day?

Yes, I write every day, before the world starts chatting with me. I jot story ideas while watching kids dig the white sand, on Siesta beach.

When did you start writing? What drew you to writing?

I started writing when I could hold a pencil. As a young girl, I used to write on newspapers, inside old books, new ones, on walls and even furniture. My muse made me do it.

At a very young age, I was drawn to words on a page. Words moved me. They seeped through me, made me happy, sad or thoughtful. Secretly, I thanked authors for giving me the privilege to belong to their world.

What was the first piece you published?

The first piece I published was a literary translation of an excerpt of a speech in Punjabi. My grandfather delivered a riveting message about the concept of Universal Brotherhood of Man. A Sikh Journal published my article and it was distributed to all the Sikh temples.

Do you have a special place where you prefer to write?

My preferred spot at home is the big chair in the corner of my living room.

Do you have a critique group?

Yes, I belong to more than one critique group. When I attended the Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Academy, I befriended Heidi Yates, Lakshmi Thamizhmani, Connie Dow and Adrienne Pankey. They were my first critique group. Their critiquing of Kara’s Dreams was beyond helpful and I gained tremendous strength from their words of encouragement.

Meera Sriram, award winner author of Dumpling Day, A Gift for Amma, The Yellow Suitcase and other books, guided me as a developmental editor. I feel privileged to be able to reach out to her and view her as my mentor.

As I am working on writing a middle grade novel, I joined another group formed by Mindy Weiss of the Florida SCBWI.

Without the help of critique partners, I wouldn’t be able to improve my writing.

How has your writing changed over the years?

I feel passionate about writing and bring my heart to it. I just have to feel my own writing. When I first started writing, I had a hard time recognizing myself in my writing. I didn’t know how to connect with the world through my writing. Once I decided to focus on the immediate, the tangible, I found a way to communicate with the world. I have a broad view of the world we live in. I always see the forest first, then the trees. But once I started seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and tasting the immediate, I started to recognize ‘me’ in my little world and that led me to expand my view to the bigger outer world.

Do you have any writing advice that has helped you?

Read, read and read. In my imagination, I love living in the fictitious world of my characters, talking to them, and riding the waves of enchanting discoveries. Unleash your imaginative power. Observe sounds in nature. Watch an iguana project his tongue forward and retract it inside his body. Compare him to the way humans project their tongues forward to lick dripping ice cream, and slurp it in their mouths.

Thank you, Ritu, for sharing your writing journey and your good news about Kara’s Dreams.

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An Interview with Padma Venkatraman

This week I have the pleasure to share with you an interview I did with the author Padma Venkatraman, on her writing process and the release of her newest book, Born Behind Bars, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, which debuts, September 7, 2021.

BORN BEHIND BARS preorder link: https://t.co/I8X7hipkF4?amp=1 * Junior Library Guild Selection * Starred Review, Kirkus:  “…compelling novel… evocative details…full of action. A gritty story filled with hope and idealism.” 

Book Description: (taken from https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/647196/born-behind-bars-by-padma-venkatraman/)

Kabir has been in jail since the day he was born, because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. He’s never met his dad, so the only family he’s got are their cellmates, and the only place he feels the least bit free is in the classroom, where his kind teacher regales him with stories of the wonders of the outside world. Then one day a new warden arrives and announces Kabir is too old to stay. He gets handed over to a long-lost “uncle” who unfortunately turns out to be a fraud, and intends to sell Kabir. So Kabir does the only thing he can–run away as fast as his legs will take him. How does a boy with nowhere to go and no connections make his way? Fortunately, he befriends Rani, another street kid, and she takes him under her wing. But plotting their next move is hard–and fraught with danger–in a world that cares little for homeless, low caste children. This is not the world Kabir dreamed of–but he’s discovered he’s not the type to give up. Kabir is ready to show the world that he–and his mother–deserve a place in it.

Interview:

Padma, I read that you wrote poetry at a young age and in the Q&A on your website that a poem you wrote was published when you were only 12. Do you remember what drew you to writing initially? 


No. But I can’t remember not writing – I feel like I always was writing in my head, at least, and listening to poems in my head.


And later on, after you had worked as an oceanographer, and a director of a school, what made you choose a career as a writer?


I felt that just presenting facts to people wasn’t necessarily enough – to make our world a better place we need to cultivate compassion – and I felt I could do that via my creative writing – help people understand and respect one another and value our world together. 


Do you have a special place that you prefer to write?


I write in a lot of places! Sometimes on my deck. Sometimes on the dock.

Do you have a critique group?


Never have. Guess I never will. That said, I informally always get feedback and critical reads. For BORN BEHIND BARS, I really wanted  wonderful new and up and coming writer Saadia Faruqui to read, because I wanted her honest thoughts on Kabir, the lead character, who is half Muslim. I also asked 7 other friends and family who aren’t writers for feedback because they are Muslim. And I had people who are incarcerated or work with incarcerated people look it over, including author Dede Fox.  And my dear friend author friends Elly Swartz and Victoria J Coe – although they weren’t beta readers, for this novel, they were early readers. I guess you might say I get critiques from different groups of people based on what I’m working on – mostly in the early draft stage. Then, I work closely with my brilliant editor Nancy Paulsen (who edits the legendary Jacqueline Woodson, and Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Ann Braden, Aisha Saeed, Torrey Maldonado and so many other wonderful writers) and she’s my one person critique group as the novels progress!

You’ve said that your characters, in a way, possess you so that you see and feel what they might. Do you take notes on who they are, how they see the world? Have you ever interviewed a character you’ve written about?


No. I just try to listen to them when they speak to me. It’s a very organic process and a lot of it happens while I’m dreaming or day dreaming or meditating. 

Do you handwrite your first drafts or go straight to the computer?


These days because of health issues I have been hand writing parts of my work, but I do often write straight on the computer.

How many drafts on average does it take for you to feel comfortable that you have a finished piece?


Gosh. It depends. I’m not the fastest, I’ll say that. I need my own time to take care of my mental health and maybe because of that, I am slow. I don’t know. 

I’ve read that the idea for Born Behind Bars came from a newspaper article you had read as well as hearing a young boy singing a snatch of song and that your other titles were similarly created from a kernel of fact. How did you sense that each of those kernels needed to become a story?


I never plant the seeds of any story in a conscious way. It’s more like these seeds start to grow without my knowledge. Suddenly, there it is – a little plant, trying to establish itself and then it’s my job to help strengthen it and make it the tree it can be. I guess it’s always a character, really – a voice that I hear and that gets louder than the rest of the static in my mind.

In Born Behind Bars, Kabir gives names to the women and the girl in the prison by how he perceives them, which is an easily identifiable childlike behavior and gives the reader immediate insight into how those characters present themselves. Similarly, in The Bridge Home, Viji names the adults she and Rukku meet from where they’ve met them, like Teashop Aunty. How do you choose your main character’s names? How do you know that Viji can only be Viji or Kabir only Kabir? Have you ever started a story where the character had one name and you changed it?


Wow. I’m not sure. It’s like the characters, as they grow, they tell me who they are, maybe? The name isn’t that important to me in the beginning, it’s the voice I hear – words – snatches of sentences – paragraphs – passing photographs in my brain that then become scenes in a movie…somewhere along the line my characters acquire names…

In The Bridge Home, each of the main characters’ perspectives are as varied as their personalities. Though their circumstances are difficult, each carry a sense of hope within them and each in their own way display compassion. How might the characters in Born Behind Bars be similar to the ones in The Bridge Home?


Two of the main characters in BORN BEHIND BARS are kids who are, for a time, homeless and forced to live on the streets of a city. I guess that’s something they share with the kids in THE BRIDGE HOME. Another thing both books share that’s important to me is humor. Retaining a sense of humor was vital to my survival of childhood trauma and it’s vital to the kids in both books as well. 

I appreciated your portrayal of Rukku and her ability to do much more than what others might expect her to. It’s such an important message and you’ve done it so well.


Thank you. I have an invisible disabilty – and maybe because of that – and the fact that I have many in my family who are people with disabilities, too, it’s important to me to see people with disability portrayed as main characters in books. 

Do you purposely plan to write about spirituality in its many divergent forms?

Spirituality is important to me, as you say, in its many divergent forms. So when I wrote my first novel, CLIMBING THE STAIRS, it was sort of ground-breaking in a way because until then very few people were writing about spirituality in books for young people. I was told that A TIME TO DANCE was the first novel to center the theme of a young Hindu girl’s spiritual awakening. My family includes Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. Many of my dearest friends are Jewish. My child is raised not only multilingual but also multi-religious. I’ve always been drawn to the philosophy and the core spiritual beliefs that I feel can unite us despite religious differences. When I was invited to contribute an article to Kirkus Reviews a while ago, I wrote one called Accept, Don’t Tolerate, which is about this aspect of my books and books in general. I do think it’s an aspect of my work that I strengthen and give attention to as I revise. 

You’ve written fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Is there any genre, that you’d like to try that you haven’t as yet?

Memoir.


Are you presently working on another project? As an off shoot of that question, how do you balance your creative work and the promotion of your work?

So hard, but I try to just be involved with the kidlit community, help other authors, and not worry about promotion. In fact, when  book is released, the really shy and scared part of me emerges in full force and I actually do less online – I tend to bury my head in the sands of another novel as quickly as I can. I suppose you might say I become a sort of writer-ostrich right around now when BORN BEHIND BARS is scheduled for release, for example! I’m working on a couple of projects – another middle grade novel, and a nonfiction book for adults. 

Is there any age group that you’d like to write for that you haven’t written for as of yet?


I’d love to write a picture book. Jackie Woodson once told me she thinks of a picture book as a poem, and I love that way of thinking of them. I do think I have a few poems that could be picture books someday… but they’re harder to write than they appear and so far my attention has focused on the characters who have so much to share with me that I need a novel for their stories! 

In your website’s Q&A, you’ve advised those who aspire to write to read widely and read well. What would you say at this point in your life are your three favorite books?

Oh, it’s so hard for me to choose favorite books. Or even favorite authors. I love and respect so many. Some names at the forefront of my mind – Jacqueline Woodson, Nikki Grimes, Margarita Engle, Kathy Erskine, Laurie Halse Anderson, Phil Bildner, Tracey Baptiste – but already I want to make this list so much longer – many I love and hold dear. 


You’ve also said to acknowledge the two parts of what makes a writer (the creative, spilling out the story and the corrective editor) and to allow them to respectfully coexist. Is there anything else you would suggest to those who are beginning their careers in writing? Is there anything you would like to share with those who might be wondering if they should persevere?

Write for your characters. They deserve the best story you can create for them. As for the rest, you can’t control any of it. Many brilliant books don’t get the recognition they deserve. Success is a lot of luck. So don’t worry about it. Just try to concentrate and be contented with the creative process. 

Author website: www.padmavenkatraman.com ; @padmatv (twitter); venkatraman.padma (ig, fb)

THE BRIDGE HOME (2019) * WNDB Walter Award winner * SCBWI Golden Kite Award winner * South Asia Book Award winner  * Paterson Prize winner * Crystal Kite winner * Nerdy Book Award winner *Audiophile Earphone Award winner * 2019 Global Read Aloud * 8 Stars * ALA Notable book * ALSC notable audiobook * NEA Read Across America selection * Junior Library Guild & audiobook * Nominee for TX Bluebonnet, FL SSYRA, VA, RI, GA, MN, WI, KY, VT, ME, NB, SC, WA state awards * Finalist for Japan’s Sakura Medal, Le Prix des libraires du Québec, Cybil, Malka Penn and Litterado Award * National Book Festival award Library of Congress Great Reads from Great Places * Translated into Farsi, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese and French  ~ Padma Venkatraman (she/ her) frequently dictates emails & texts due to health issues. Please excuse errors, typos, brevity etc.  

Thank you Padma, for your thoughtful answers to my questions, and for your beautiful writing.

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End of Break Blues

Why is it so hard to go back to the regularity of day to day work/school routines after a break? It doesn’t matter if you had a good break either. Why?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I like my work as a teacher, most of the time, but still the last day of my break always feels the same. It’s like when the alarm goes off and you hit snooze . . . just five more minutes. Actually, how about five more days? The only thing that gives me comfort is that my students are thinking the same thing.

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Maybe sometime in the future I can work as a writer full-time then my days would be spent doing what I did on my break,writing, reading and thinking. How cool would that be?

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How to Pitch?

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This post has nothing to do with baseball. What it has to do with is writing. Writing pitches, specifically, which is something I do not enjoy doing. And, what’s worse than writing one is having to give a pitch to an agent or editor. Ugh!

This weekend I found out that one person in my three-person critique group does like pitches, both the writing of and the giving! So, I was wondering if there is anyone else out there who does too? And if you do, do you have any tips to those of us who don’t?

Today I worked on a pitch for a picture book manuscript that is in its final draft stage, and for inspiration I dug out from my source materials a print out of Nathan Bransford’s blog post, How to Write a One Sentence Pitch, you can check it out yourself at https://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05/how-to-write-one-sentence-pitch. I found it helpful and you might too.

The gist of what he wrote in his blog post was this. You need to begin with the opening conflict and how it affects your character(s) in regard to what they have to do to overcome those obstacles and complete their quest. He describes it as a one sentence description of the plot, not the theme.

He gives great examples of the difference between pitching plot versus theme when he describes a pitch of the Elizabeth Gilbert novel Eat Pray Love. The plot pitch is not, he writes, “A recently divorced woman searches for love and happiness.” That’s more thematic. A plot pitch is specific and he gave the following example, “A recently divorced woman travels to Italy for pleasure, India for spirituality and Bali for balance, but she finds love instead.

The last recommendation he suggests is to add details that give a sense of the character of your story in order so the listener gets a taste of the story’s uniqueness.

Thank you Nathan for helping me get my pitch written down, now I have to practice giving it. My critique group is expecting it next weekend.

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If you have other suggestions or recommendations on how to write or give pitches, please comment at the end of this post. I’d appreciate it.

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Making Time for Creativity

The IMAGINARIES Little Scraps of Larger Stories

Last weekend I found the IMAGINARIES Little Scraps of Larger Stories, by Emily Winfield Martin, and published by Random House Children’s Books on my weekly visit to the Children’s Room in my library.

Almost every Saturday, I head to the library to restock on the hot topics (construction trucks, tools, whales) my students are interested in reading, especially my remote students, and I usually leave with a stack of books that include new titles that have piqued my interest. The IMAGINARIES is one of those titles. The author/illustrator created this book from paintings she had done for stories that haven’t yet come to be, along with scraps of paper she found on which short phrases, and sentences were written. In The IMAGINARIES, I recognized the wonder and possibility that taking time for creativity allows, and so I wanted to share it.

Making time for creativity is sometimes very hard to do. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels this way. With all that begs for our attention, whether its our jobs, home, relationships, networking etc., its hard to carve out a time for creative brainstorming. And sometimes we may have the time to be creative, but emotionally, psychologically, or physically we are not feeling “it”.

I have found that just the act of sitting down and looking at an idea I wrote down days before (it might be a phrase or a question or a character’s name) is all I need in order to feel connected and replenished. It’s enough because what follows is that the next day or the day after, I know I will make a creative space and time (an hour, hopefully more) where I can untangle the threads of my thoughts and begin to weave them into something new.

To me, the benefit of a time to think outside the box, to write about what-ifs . . . is as necessary as breathing. I might have to hold my breath for a spell, but the exhale and the answering inhale are worth the wait.

And so today, I wish for you the same wish I’m hoping will come true for me this week; a time for creativity and a space both internally and externally where we can explore it.