Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Asha Means Hope

My fingernails are decimated. I just signed and sent off a contract to Random House for Asha Means Hope, the story of a Bengali teenager who comes to America during the 1970s. Asha is a recurring character in my life (read the short story called "The Fire Escape" on my website to meet a preliminary version of her). So why am I freaking out?

Okay. Here's the scoop. I've signed a contract for a novel that's NOT YET WRITTEN — a huge vote of confidence from my wonderful Delacorte editor Francoise Bui (please imagine the correct French spelling of her name). I do have about half of Asha's story written, so Ms. Bui is not completely insane.

It's also the first time I'm writing a novel without plotting out a rough but steady "narrative arc" before I plunge into story. This time, I'm writing fiction-cum-memoir purely from my right brain, letting the characters inform the plot as I travel along with them. Not my usual style at all.

Finally, I'm panicking that I'll reveal too many family faults and foibles, even though I'm writing fiction. I don't want my beloved parents or sisters to feel humiliated and exposed — I'm a good Bengali girl, after all. But I do want to write truth. How do writers like Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes) spill their ancestral shame across the printed page so freely? Any insights?

Okay. Deep breath. I'm heading off to Peet's to get some writing done.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Mitali,
    I think you'll do fine. I love all the works you've done so far. I am currently doing research to do a book about my own ancestral roots (of China), so I can definitely relate to your problem. But I think that in the end, as long as the intentions are true, your family will know what you are trying to say, and they will know that you are not trying to discredit or make fun of them. Besides, as I've realized, many families of Asian origin are very much similar-right down to the characteristics once thought original to the person are shared by thousands and millions around the world. Thus, you will not be revealing any "family secrets" by describing your family members (unless they REALLY have a weird or unusual aspect not common to humankind), but instead just showing the world a characteristic that many will be able to relate to.

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  2. Thank you so much for the encouragement! Can't wait to read your book. I remember when I made my first Chinese-American friend in college (I went to an all-white high school) — talking about our parents and our heritage made me feel like we were cousins.

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