28 January 2008

Authors in Profile

Yesterday's Boston Globe featured an article about Mitali Perkins and Karen Day; I'm lucky enough to be in a critique group with both of them.

Mitali has a new series called First Daughter, about a teenager adopted from South Asia whose father, a respected military veteran, becomes a leading candidate for President of the U.S. And would that ever happen?

In the newspaper article, Mitali talks about the inspirations of her own childhood as an immigrant encountering various parts of America.

"My stories come out of the things that I experienced when I was in middle school," said Perkins. "About being between cultures."

Perkins was 7 when her family emigrated from Bengal, India, to the Flushing section of Queens, where she felt comfortable since "nearly every nation was represented," she said.

But when they moved to California, Perkins found herself surrounded by whites who had all been born and raised in the United States.

"Not one kid spoke to me for two months," said Perkins. "The principal introduced me as 'a new student from Asia.'"
Mitali also has a story about her school's Trekkers that's simultaneously hilarious and heart-breaking, which I hope she'll one day build a novel around.

As for Karen, I tease her about being a jock, but her athletic background and discipline are a big part of her writing. There's at least a little sports in almost all of her books, even if it's just the family bowling nights in Tall Tales. Karen's upcoming No Cream Puffs is about the first female pitcher in her town's Little League.

Until reading the Globe article, I didn't realize that Karen's athletic career led to her writing in another way:
Day was playing baseball with boys and traveling on an elite tennis circuit at a time when the world was taken with Billie Jean King.

Being a much better athlete than all of the boys left her isolated, said Day.

"I really didn't have anyone to talk to," she said. "I kept a journal - writing has always been a part of me that felt really safe and good."
The first draft of Tall Tales that Karen shared with the group was in diary form. Eventually she chose a different narrative voice, but I now understand how natural it was for her to start from that form of writing.

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