Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Interview with novelist Natasha Deen

Novelist Natasha Deen is here today to chat with me about her contemporary YA, In the Key of Nira Ghani.

Award-winning author Natasha Deen writes for kids, teens, and adults. When she’s not writing, she enjoys visiting schools, libraries and other organizations to help people to find and tell the stories that live inside of them. She also spends an inordinate amount of time trying to convince her pets that she’s the boss of the house. Her latest novel, In the Key of Nira Ghani, is a Junior Library Guild selection, and a Barnes and Noble Top 25 Most Anticipated Own Voices novel, and an Indigo Teens Most Anticipated Teen Book.

Welcome, Natasha. Please tell us about your current release.
Nira Ghani has always dreamed of becoming a musician. Her Guyanese parents, however, have big plans for her to become a scientist or doctor. Nira’s grandmother and her best friend, Emily, are the only people who seem to truly understand her desire to establish an identity outside of the one imposed on Nira by her parents. When auditions for jazz band are announced, Nira realizes it’s now or never to convince her parents that she deserves a chance to pursue her passion.

As if fighting with her parents weren’t bad enough, Nira finds herself navigating a new friendship dynamic when her crush, Noah, and notorious mean-girl, McKenzie “Mac,” take a sudden interest in her and Emily, inserting themselves into the fold. So, too, does Nira’s much cooler (and very competitive) cousin Farah. Is she trying to wiggle her way into the new group to get closer to Noah? Is McKenzie trying to steal Emily’s attention away from her? As Farah and Noah grow closer and Emily begins to pull away, Nira’s trusted trumpet “George” remains her constant, offering her an escape from family and school drama.

But it isn’t until Nira takes a step back that she realizes she’s not the only one struggling to find her place in the world. As painful truths about her family are revealed, Nira learns to accept people for who they are and to open herself in ways she never thought possible.

A relatable and timely contemporary, coming-of age story, In the Key of Nira Ghani explores the social and cultural struggles of a teen in an immigrant household.

What inspired you to write this book?
Weirdly enough, Nira’s story began as someone else’s. Back in 2014-ish, I was working on a middle-grade novel that would **not** cooperate (translation, a year-and-a-half of me weeping, wailing, and stuffing cupcakes).

After a while, I realized the story I was trying to create didn’t match to the character. He had a different voice and a different tale to tell.

But I couldn’t get the first line out of my head, “The cow’s eyeball floats in the formaldehyde. It’s disembodied, a part cut off from the whole, just like me, but there’s a difference between me and the cloudy orb. It stares out at the kids as though it knows the secret the rest of us are dying to find out.”

So, one day, I took a breath and instead of trying to force the words, I listened for them. It was then I heard Nira’s voice, her longing, her humour, and it took off from there.

Excerpt from In the Key of Nira Ghani:
“Something happened at school?” Mom grasps the half-baked roti between her fingers and flips the dough to its uncooked side. “Is it your grades?”

“No.” Not true. Something seismic happened at school. I decided to try out for jazz band. It happened when I was clinging to the rope, wishing I’d been gifted with upper body strength. Maybe it was the oxygen deprivation, maybe it was the humiliation of knowing everyone was staring and judging. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is jazz band. I’m good with a trumpet. Great with it. The sound of a trumpet is the sound of my soul. Every time I play, it’s like I’m communing with the molecules and atoms that make me, me. Maybe, if I play long enough, loud enough, good enough, my DNA will rearrange itself, and I’ll figure out how to be smart, popular, and worthy.

Getting into band might be a way to get all that and more. The only downside is I need Mom and Dad’s permission. I have a better chance of scaling Mount Everest in a bikini and flip-flops.

What exciting story are you working on next?
Right now, I’m actually taking a break and catching up on the reading, with an eye to doing another young adult novel.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ll echo a quote from Agatha Christie, who said, “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you're writing, and aren't writing particularly well.”

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I consider myself immensely lucky to be able to write full time. My day starts around 5 AM with a mochaccino, reading, and snuggles with the fur babies. I ease into the day with emails/admin, take a break to walk our sweet pupper, then it’s home. I’ll work on edits, manuscripts, research through the day, (aided with cupcakes and tea), then shut down around 6 PM.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My firm belief that any story problem can be solved with a good cup of tea.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A superhero!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
To the readers, thank you. Thank you for sharing your day and your time with me. I appreciate it.


Lisa, thank you for sharing your blog and thank you for the chance to chat with your readers.

You’re quite welcome. Thanks for being here today!

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