Hometown: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Based In: Bronx, NY
Education: BA, Film/Video; MFA, Creative Writing
Briefly: Neesha Meminger is the author of Shine, Coconut Moon made the Smithsonian’s Notable Books for Children list; also named the Top 100 Books of 2009 by the New York Public Library’s Stuff for the Teen Age. Other nominations included a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association and the online CYBILS award. Jazz in Love was picked as a top YA selection by the Pennsylvania School Librarians’ Association, Bookslut’s Recommended Summer Reading List. Other books: In the Wise.
Favorite Read: I love a lot of non-fiction, especially books about spirituality and self-growth. But if I had to pick some all-time faves, I’d say Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed would be up there near the top, as would Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. I also love Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and the works of Jeanette Winterson, Sandra Cisneros, Alison Bechdel…just to name a few.
Pet Peeves: I don’t really have many of these…
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…A teacher, which I am, or a lawyer – which I am certainly not— lucky for anyone who needs a good lawyer.
Author Crush: it’s a close call between Marion Zimmer Bradley and Octavia Butler.
Fiction or General Publishing How-To Book You’d Recommend: I loved Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Stephen King’s On Writing is a great read, too, as well as Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.
Up Next: I’m working on my fourth romance novel (under a pseudonym) and I’ve got plans for a non-fiction, self-help, YA book.
What is your first book-related memory?
I loved “Tikki Tikki Tembo”, the Chinese folk tale. I was just learning to speak English when I first heard it read aloud in school, and the words in that book just delighted me. I had the same experience the first time I heard the Rumplestiltskin story. Something about names, maybe…
You started writing as a teenager. Do you ever look back at those writings?
I would love to, if they were still around. Those journals and writings are long gone, but I did find a small bit of poetry from that time. I cringe when I read it because it was so sad and lonely and desperate. It was also just bad poetry – way over the top and melodramatic – but it was a start.
Have any of those stories that you developed during that time been reworked in your later works?
No, but the experiences of being a teen have certainly found their way into my books.
Shine, Coconut Moon was autobiographical…somewhat?
No, it was definitely all fiction. Shine was more of a love letter to my eldest daughter, but, as do all authors to some degree or another, I used much of my life experiences as inspiration in the crafting of the tale.
How can authors write in an authentic teen voice?
Go back to those years. Remember them in all their complexity and immerse yourself in what life was all about then. And spend a lot of time with teens now – there are a lot of similarities between teen life then and teen life now, but there are a lot of important differences, too.
When you were writing Jazz in Love, did you have any anxiety about how it would be received compared to your first book?
Not really. I wanted to tell that particular story and I tried to focus on the characters and what they needed to be said in the world. It was important to me to write a book that was fun, light, and real, featuring characters of color. That was really all I was thinking about – putting another facet of the lived experience of teens of color, specifically, South Asian teens, in the spotlight, for however brief a moment.
How can authors who’ve written a first book overcome their sophomore jitters?
Focus on the story that needs to be told. The work is what is important – your process and growth as a writer. This is a long haul, it’s not just about your first book or your second or fifth…it’s about who you become through the writing of each work. It creates you as you create it.
Do you do outlines for your books?
No. sadly, outlines have never worked for me. I’ve tried and tried, but they just throw me off. I think they add structure to the process when I’m not ready for structure yet. I need the scaffolding a bit later, during the heavy editing period.
Do you think a book’s cover design is important?
Absolutely. It’s the first thing that a reader sees. It sets the tone for what’s inside and sometimes feeds the imagination as a reader works through the pages.
How can aspiring authors get better at writing?
Keep writing. And keep reading. Do both, a lot.
What is the writing community like in Canada?
I’ve found that there’s no one writing community anywhere. There are YA writers and poets and journalists and graphic novelists… And there are wonderful online communities, where people from across all kinds of boundaries and borders come together to talk about their triumphs and challenges. That’s where I found community on my writing/publishing journey – on the internet. There were people from Canada, the U.S., Ireland, India, the U.K., Germany, Australia and other spots around the globe in the forums I frequented. It was lovely.
What words of wisdom do you have to offer to writers who just can’t stop procrastinating?
I’ve never been a procrastinator. But I have been an avoider. If they are the same thing, then in my experience, the avoidance is usually related to some kind of fear. If I can pinpoint what the fear is related to, and address it somehow, that almost always clears things up.
Are there some things you wish you had known before you published your first book?
Absolutely, but too many to go into here! Mostly, I wish I’d known more about the business/marketing end of the industry.
As an author who also evaluates the work of new authors, what is the most common mistake you come across?
I try not to evaluate the work of other authors, honestly. But what I notice in the books I read for pleasure – and then I see it in my own books as well – is that, often, authors try to do too much in one book. It’s a mistake we all make as writers/authors. There is so much we want to say, so much our characters want to say and do – and not all of it works for the storyline. That’s when you need a great editor and a willingness to remove great chunks of what you might consider to be some of your best work!