Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Interview with Neesha Meminger (2011 SBBT, Day 2)

The first time I heard about Jazz in Love, was after author B.A Binns mentioned getting Meminger's newest release at a conference. I went into google overdrive trying to find out more about Jazz in Love. I loved Jazz and her friends. When I finished I wanted to know about this self published novel that should've found a home.

Hi, Neesha and welcome. Can you tell us a little about Jazz in Love?

Jazz In Love is a story about 17-year-old Jasbir, a.k.a. Jazz, who loves reading romance novels and loves the idea of love and romance. The only problem is that, in her strict household, love are romance are not allowed--at least for Jazz. When Jazz is caught hugging a male friend good-bye, her parents freak out and set a guided dating plan in motion with the intention of finding Jazz an appropriate, *suitable* boyfriend who, they hope, will become her future husband. Of course, Jazz has other plans..

I loved Jazz's voice and I liked the fact that she wasn't struggling with her identity. Was this a conscious decision?

Yes. I wanted to tell the story of a South Asian teen who wasn't angsting about being different. She doesn't feel like an outsider, she's not confused about who she is, and she doesn't feel bad about herself in terms of her racial or ethnic identity. She's struggling with things like dating, beauty, her parents not understanding her, figuring out her friendships, figuring out guys, understanding her own budding sexuality...things that *all* teenagers are dealing with. But I wanted this particular story to have Jazz's unique fingerprint on it - it's a story that only Jazz can tell and there's nothing like it out there. That's what makes it unique, but also universal.

It's not often that I can visualize some of the secondary characters holding down their own story lines and becoming the main character. With Jazz in Love there are at least three.

If you could write a novel featuring one of these characters: Mit, Auntie Kinder, or Cindy, which one would it be and why? ( It took everything in me not to include Jeeves).

Ha! I actually would love to write Jeeves's story. He's such a great guy and I really wanted Jazz to end up with him. But she's not an easy gal to pin down and had ideas of her own. In terms of another character's story, I'm actually in the process of revising my next novel - a story about one of the secondary characters from Jazz in Love - it's going to be Pammi's story, Auntie Kinder's daughter. She has superpowers ;).

More Pammi is a very nice surprise and superpowers would be awesome. Jazz's (don't tell her parents) relationship with Tyler R. leads to an unexpected dark encounter.

Why does Jazz, a smart and well aware girl, try to rationalize Tyler R.'s actions in this situation?

I think far too many girls (and women, for that matter) make excuses for boys and men who sometimes exhibit questionable behaviour. Maybe these girls and women want to hold on to their idealized image of their boyfriend or partner, maybe they convince themselves to see the situation through their partner's eyes (in which case the partner's actions always make sense), maybe they just want to keep being "in love"... I don't know. I'm sure there are many answers, but I know that smart girls fall for shady/disrespectful/not-good-for-them partners *all* the time, and find ways to stay with them in spite of advice/warnings from family and friends.

Except for the whole guided dating plan, Jazz gets along very well with her parents. They're strict with high expectations but both seem very nice and don't come across as cruel (or give off a Tiger Mother vibe).

Having daughters of your own, do you relate more to Jazz or her parents?

Oy. This is a tough question. I relate to both, really. I remember, very well, what it was like to be a girl like Jazz. I remember having my first painful crush and not being able to share my feelings or questions or doubts or pain with *anyone*. And at the same time, I know what I know now after having lived through all those feelings and questions and doubts and pain, and made it through to the other side. I've learned some things.

Realized a lot about human nature and making decisions and facing consequences. And I've seen others who didn't make it as intact as I did. So I understand Jazz's parents, too. I understand their desire to protect their daughter and their desire to hold on to a language, and culture and traditions, they see slipping through their fingers.

So, a little of both - or a lot of both. With my own daughters, it's a mix of understanding what they're going through and guiding them through it; listening and helping without being overbearing; being firm when it's called for, but being gentle, too. It's a tough balance and it's about trust and having faith in your gut instincts. On both the parents' end *and* Jazz's end!

I love to laugh it out with fun YA. Unfortunately, it's not easy finding such books starring characters of color. So, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Jazz in Love wasn't all serious and that there was a light and fun aspect to it as well.

A few months back I found the first two Bindi Babes books by Dhami at the library. I ran through that trilogy like candy.

What would it take to see a Jazz in Love sequel?

First of all, I LOVED the Bindi Babes books!! Those books by Narinder Dhami were part of the inspiration for Jazz in Love. I thought they were such fun and they contained cultural references that were specific to ME. Imagine that?! Actually seeing yourself in a mainstream representation?

I decided I wanted to do that, too. I wanted to write a story that would make teens of colour laugh and relate and delight in seeing themselves within the pages of a novel. So far, the response has been great :).

But to answer your question - when I first wrote Jazz in Love, I had two other books in mind: Jazz in India, and Jazz in College. I was all set to write them when Pammi's story just tore through me. I had to put everything aside to tell her story. I'm in the process of revising that tale now, but at some point I would love to get back to Jazz.

Jazz in love has been getting good blogger reviews. I am hoping that publishers are paying attention and will think twice before rejecting an author of colors works because it doesn't fit into their limited idea of what the market can handle.

How many houses did you submit Jazz in Love to before you said enough?

Thank you! I am thrilled with the reviews Jazz in Love has been getting. It was recently picked as a best YA selection by the Pennsylvania School Librarians' Association and was listed as a recommended summer read by Bookslut. I can't tell you how excited I was by those honours!

My agent and I sent Jazz out "widely" - which means it went to a lot of publishers. Sadly, that was in 2008, during the major crash in publishing and a lot of great novels fell through the cracks then. Jazz was one of them. And now, with publishers being so risk-averse and e-publishing taking off the way it has, things are really in flux in the publishing world.

Changes are happening so quickly and in such unpredictable directions, none of us can say for sure what's going to happen next. But I do hope that some of these changes allow more diverse voices to find their audiences and to "prove" that there is a vast and untapped readership out there for all kinds of stories.

I am bit jealous that you got to meet author Melina Marchetta. Have you had a chance to read her work ?

Melina is a warm and wonderful person with a crapload of talent. Looking For Alibrandi has to be one of my absolute favourites.

Will you have time to watch the new season So You Think You Can Dance ? I know your a fan.

I am so watching it right now

Where can people buy Jazz in Love? What if a teacher wants a classroom set?

People can buy Jazz in Love at any online retailer, or they can order it through their favourite local bookseller. It's also available as an ebook through Smashwords, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, the Apple iPad store and anywhere else ebooks are sold. And I am currently working on the audio book for both Jazz in Love and Shine, Coconut Moon.

If a teacher wants a classroom set, s/he may contact me directly, or order through Ingram or Baker & Taylor. They could also go through their bookseller of choice.

Neesha, thanks so much for your time and another great novel.

Be Sure to Check out the other Day 2 Interviews

Sean Beaudoin @Chasing Ray

Rachel Karns @ Bildungsroman


Helen's Book Blog said...

I just started reading Jazz in Love last night and am really liking it so was so excited to see your interview! Shine, Cocnut Moon is one of my favorites as well. Truth be told, I stole this book from my school library so I can read it before my students (bad librarian!)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Another great interview Doret! I love Neesha's answer about why Jazz rationalizes Tyler's actions - it is such an important question too, because such a common occurrence. And I must concur that I loved Jazz In Love! Wish it got more publicity!!!

tanita✿davis said...

I have so many good wishes for this book - it just satisfies me that it's doing so well, and makes me feel like, "SO, HAH!" to the editors who turned her down.

Little Willow said...

I really enjoyed Shine, Coconut Moon, and I look forward to reading Jazz in Love.

Thumbs-up for Melina as well. Looking For Alibrandi is my favorite work of hers to date. While I read the book, I pictured Anthony LaPaglia as the father. Then I learned that a film had been made...and Anthony LaPaglia played the father. I really need to see that film! :)

Can we all celebrate Cat Deeley's Emmy nomination? GO CAT! :)

Anonymous said...

So glad to hear from Neesha! I'm just waiting to hear that someone has *finally* picked up Jazz!