Friday, September 20, 2013

Interview with Kashmira Sheth

Earlier this year, I was delighted by the chapter book, The No-Dogs-Allowed Rule by Kashmira Sheth,  illustrated by Carl Pearce. I raced through the book with its whimsical young Indian American narrator and its family-centered story, and oh so many of its scenes just made me smile.

I asked Kashmira to tell me what led her to write this book.

[Kashmira] A few years ago I had gone to one of the International Reading Association (IRA) conferences where some librarians told me that it would be wonderful to have a chapter book with an Indian protagonist. I kept thinking about a protagonist who would be appealing to young readers. Even though I have two daughters, I found myself thinking about someone like Ishan, a boy born and raised in this country, being comfortable with who he is.

My family is a big source of inspiration for me and I believe Ishan is molded from my brother, my cousins, and my nephews— he has a little bit of each of them. Of course, as soon as I started to write the story Ishan took over, surprising me with his mischief as well as his sensitivity.

[Uma] It's been a delight for me to read all your books over the years--novels, picture books, and now this most appealing chapter book. Do you feel your writing has grown and changed over time? Can you talk about that writing journey? Which of your books taught you the most, and what did you learn from them?

[Kashmira] I hope my writing has grown but I am too close to my own writing to be objective; every new story I write feels like I’m writing for the first time. In a way, that is marvelous because each book is a journey to explore, to stretch, and to discover. I like being surprised by my characters, I love when I discover something new and different through the writing process, but I must confess that I am not so amused when I hit a roadblock. Maybe that’s why I write in different genres and work on multiple stories at the same time. As a writer you know how we breathe and are consumed by our stories while we’re in the midst of them, so working on multiple projects gives me little breathers. When I get back to any given story I am excited and eager to dive in again.

Each of my books has taught me different things. Blue Jasmine was my first novel and it taught me the ABC’s of the writing, revising and publishing process. Keeping Corner taught me pacing and bringing a setting alive. Boys Without Names, the power of stories, My Dadima Wears A Sari, telling a story in a few words, The-No-Dogs-Allowed Rule and Tiger In My Soup taught me to look though the lenses of quirky young boys who are full of innocence and imagination.
Most of all, my writing has taught me to experiment, to dare, to dream in order to emotionally connect with young readers.

[Uma] You teach at Pine Manor. Is teaching good for your own writing? What makes that combination work for you?

[Kashmira] I love teaching at Pine Manor. As a writer, it’s exciting to read a story not as a finished product but with the full potential of what it could be. Every semester I get to go on that journey. It’s inspiring as well as humbling to guide other writers and have a chance to peak into their work, to provide guidance, encouragement and above all be a cheerleader for their hard work.

It also benefits my own work. When I am doing my own writing I’m so deeply absorbed in creating a story that some of the important craft points are forgotten or take a back seat. Since I started teaching, I have become more aware of craft and that has helped me a lot with my own writing and revising. Now I can take apart my own story and think about it from various angles: character development, pacing, voice, language, story arc, etc.

The combination of teaching and writing works well for me. Even though the Solstice MFA program is a low-residency program, I do have to travel to Pine Manor twice a year and guide students throughout the semester. This gives me some structure. I’m more productive when I have other commitments besides my own writing.

[Uma] That's so true. I've found that to be the case, teaching at VCFA. Thank you Kashmira, for sharing your thoughts with me on Writing With a Broken Tusk! 

[Kashmira] Thank you, Uma, for taking the time to talk to me! Over the years I have enjoyed your books and have been able to share them with my family. One of the best parts of the writing journey is being able to connect with young readers and fellow writers.

[Uma] I'm happy to be sharing time and space with you, Kashmira, in the children's writing universe! 

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