Monday, July 26, 2010

Metafictional interview: Seaglass Summer by Anjali Banerjee

When Katia Novet Saint-Lot's picture book, Amadi's Snowman came out, the Tusk ran an interview, not with Katia in her author role, but with her fictional protagonist, Amadi.

In similar vein, here's an interview with Poppy, the eleven-year-old protagonist of Anjali Banerjee's warm, funny middle grade novel, Seaglass Summer. I had the pleasure of reading this book in manuscript form, so it's a delight to see it in print now. Indulge me while I indulge in a little metafictional conversation with its young protagonist.

[Uma] Hi, Poppy! Welcome. The last time I "saw" you, you were still emerging from Anjali's thoughts, but you seem pretty real to me now. Can you tell readers about the very first draft in which you appeared? How long ago was it and how did you change through the drafts?

[Poppy] Anjali took so long to find my true personality, I got bored. She took nearly two years. I had to get several haircuts along the way, and I outgrew my clothes.

In the beginning, I danced across the stage in the school play. I wanted to be a famous actress, and Anjali wanted to send me off to stay with Uncle Sanjay, a veterinarian on a Pacific Northwest island, to teach me a lesson in compassion. You know – I would take care of little creatures and learn to think about someone other than myself. But I wasn’t a likable girl, so Anjali thought, why not give Poppy an adopted baby sister?

So in a second and third and fourth draft – sigh – my parents are flying off to India to adopt a baby, and they send me to stay with, you guessed it, Uncle Sanjay, so I’ll learn how to care for small, vulnerable creatures. The idea was, by the end of summer, I would be ready for my new little sister. But the baby kept disappearing, falling off the page. Anjali worried that the reader wouldn’t care about the poor little thing. With help from you, Uma, Anjali decided to toss the baby. Not literally. The baby crawled off into the sunset, off the page and out of the story.

[Uma] I do remember that. My apologies for stirring things up. Maybe that baby will find a home in some other story. So then in the end...?

[Poppy] In the end, Anjali got down to the nitty gritty. The story opens with me, Poppy Ray, which, you know, makes sense. It is my story! Jeez, you writer types, what a lot of circling you have to do to get to the point. So anyway, I'm about to board the ferry to my uncle’s island. I’ve got my special Deluxe Veterinarian First Aid Kit. All I want in the whole world is to become a vet like my Uncle Sanjay.  For the rest, anyone who wants to know will have to read the book.

[Uma] Do you think Anjali changed through those drafts?

[Poppy] Ha! Serve her right if she did. I know she got frustrated, but you know, I think she learned a lot. About how she writes, how much memory her computer has, and how much patience her editors have too.

[Uma] Speaking of change, that summer meant a lot to you--by the time Mom and Dad got back from India, you had grown. Do you think part of it was the place? Mists and old-fashioned streets and that terrific name, "Witless Cove"? And the lavender festival--that really got me! Can you talk about the magic of Nisqually Island?

[Poppy] Oh, it got me too. I want to run on the beach with Uncle Sanjay’s sweet dog, Stu (I miss him) and find treasures in the sand. Nisqually gave me so many memories of things I couldn't have done in L.A. Memories of my new friend, Hawk, and the animals and people that came into my uncle’s clinic. The island gave me room and I guess freedom to think and explore in my own way, away from school and my parents.

Anjali's been to many of the magical, misty islands in the Pacific Northwest – Whidbey Island, Bainbridge Island, San Juan Island, Orcas Island. Nisqually is a make-believe island, but it's a combination of all those places, just like I'm a combination of thoughts and traits and stuff.

[Uma] What did the piece of seaglass mean to you? What does its memory mean now?

[Poppy] The seaglass was my window into the world, I suppose you could say my way of seeing things. In the beginning, I thought it would be easy to take care of animals. I could heal them all. But as I began to understand how complicated it all was, the clear piece of seaglass started to turn cloudy. I think of that cloudiness sometimes, and it's okay. You don't always have to have answers right away.

[Uma] If you could say one thing to your younger self what would it be?

[Poppy] That’s a hard question. Maybe, you’re going to be okay. You’re going to make a difference in the world. Just take it slow.

[Uma] If you could give one piece of advice to writers who are writing for the middle grades, what would it be?

[Poppy] Tell a good story. Well, show me a good story. Don’t try to teach me a lesson!

[Uma] Thanks Poppy. And thanks for leading me to Uncle Sanjay's "Furry Friends Animal Clinic: A Healing Place for Pets."


  1. Thanks for the wonderful interview! I'm glad Poppy learned something from her experience on the island. Happy writing!

  2. I loved this interview Uma! Poppy sounds like quite a character and now you've made me curious to read the book. Especially since it's set in my own backyard of the Pacific Northwest.

    I also loved hearing about the process - multiple drafts, killing our darlings, sending the baby off into the sunset. I miss our classes!!

  3. Miss you too, Kiki! When your book's out we can do a metafictional interview with your character if you like. Remind me when we get there.