Sunday, October 20, 2019

Foreshadow New Voices are Headed to Print

A dream come true - my story "Princess" from Foreshadow: A Serial YA Anthology is going to print in fall 2020! I am so over the moon that Algonquin Young Readers will be releasing an anthology containing 13 New Voice stories from the digital project, along with craft essays and discussions by the amazing Emily X.R. Pan and Nova Ren Suma. I am so in awe of the imagination and talent that was in each issue, and so honored to have my story placed alongside the fantastic other New Voices!

What a ride this year has been for me, and a lot of it stems from the attention that Foreshadow brought! I am enormously grateful for the all the tireless work and love that Nova and Emily and the rest of the Foreshadow team put into this project, how it was designed very carefully to bring new marginalized authors into the spotlight.

Special shout out to my editor, Trisha Tobias, for her savvy insights, and to Cynthia Leitich Smith for selecting my story and her lovely introduction! And of course, we wouldn't be here if not for the kind donations to the original crowdfunding campaign! Thank you.

Everyone who worked on this project is a star. Thank you, thank you, thank you.




Thursday, September 26, 2019

New Story out for Banned Books Week!

It's Banned Books Week, where we celebrate freedom of information and books that have been banned by libraries, schools, etc. in an effort to suppress ideas and identities.

Since it's 2019 and we're living in divided times, I just feel that I need to point out that I feel strongly that schools, libraries, and society itself should not tolerate hate speech or books that perpetuate hate speech, nor should they give white supremacists a platform in any way. The celebration of Banned Books is meant to uplift everyone, especially the marginalized. It should not be twisted to mean that those who want to dominate society should be given more of a platform than they already have.

Historically, books have not been banned because of hate. They've been banned to suppress marginalized identities, ideas that critique governments, or speak to uncomfortable subjects such as sexual assault or even positive stories about sex. Those stories need to be told, because they are truth and because they represent real people, and they are meant to give everyone an equal footing. THOSE are the stories we are celebrating this week.

So with that in mind, I'm thrilled to share that my flash fic story "Weeds" is live on the Cast of Wonders podcast this week. It is included in a bundle of three flash stories of hope and resistance, in episode 375. I was thrilled to be featured in the company of amazing authors Joyce Chng and Innocent Chizaram Ilo.

"Weeds" is a prequel to my short story "Princess" which appeared in issue 03 of Foreshadow: A Serial YA Anthology. Together, they represent a mother/daughter duo with wildly divergent relationships to technology.

Get ready for subtle censorship, inherent biases, rogue algorithms, and making love in the garden between the cilantro and the sweet bay!

Many thanks to rockstar editor Julia Rios, the team at Cast of Wonders for a fantastic production, and the teen writer who narrated my story, Athena Haq.



Saturday, September 7, 2019

Choosing a Second Agent

The Gulf Islands, British Columbia
Ah, it's been a busy summer of writing! I'm working on a YA rom-com that I hope to share more about when the time comes. For now, let's just say there's a lot of PNW love and a lot of island love, since it's set in the San Juans.

I also signed with my second agent over the summer! It turned out that my short story "Princess" from Foreshadow: A Serial YA Anthology opened some doors for me, paving the way for new opportunities and catching my agent's eye to boot.

I was honored to receive multiple offers, and since this was my second time selecting an agent, I had a better handle on what I really wanted and needed from one. I did some things differently than last time, which I thought I would share here in case it's helpful for anyone. (Dahlia Adler also had a great post about how the process of selecting an agent had changed for her too, which I encourage you to check out.)

1. Connection

I really wanted an agent that I could connect with on a personal level. So how do you know?
Simply put, I wanted to see if we were able to talk, if I had the feeling I could be free and honest with them, if we connected on a gut level. If I felt like they understood how heartbreaking it was when my book with my first agent never found a publishing home, and if they could offer me the emotional support I craved. In essence, someone who was real but kind, decisive and knowledgeable, someone I felt confident could help guide me through this career.

To make sure we could easily carry on a conversation, I decided to forgo a scripted list of questions on my phone calls this time. (If you're nervous, having this list to fall back on is great. You should totally use the list!) But I'd done this once before, and I felt that it led to a stilted conversation. I also knew I'd end up asking for a second call to tie up loose ends with my top choice agent (and I did) so it didn't matter if I forgot something in the initial call. Sidenote: a lot of those internet lists of "Questions for the Call" are answered via the contract, so it might be best to hold off on those until you've had a chance to look through it.

More Gulf Islands
2. Reaching out to clients

Last time, I skipped this step because I figured nobody was going to say anything bad about their agent, and I wasn't sure what the purpose was. But I'm really glad I decided to go for it this time! More information is always better. Janet Reid's blog post was super helpful for this because she clarified that you should not expect phone calls. So I reached out by email with 5 questions + a general spot for any other comments or tips.

Everyone I spoke to adored their agent, but a lot more comes through than just that. You can definitely get a better sense of the agent's style, and how the agent works in practice. How editorial are they? What strategies do they employ in guiding your career? How do they feel about working with small presses? What are their preferred methods of communication?

The best part of these references was both the connection and encouragement from experienced writers and the really fantastic tips that everyone offered. I learned a lot from them! When I asked if the clients had tips on building a good relationship with the agent, I received some really great advice (most of which would apply to any agent). Also, someone encouraged me to ask a lot of nitpicky questions about the contract, and pose different scenarios, e.g. "What would happen if X?" I ended up doing this, and was very glad I did. Thank you, lovelies who were so generous with your advice!


Is there such thing as too many sunsets over the water?
3. Breathe, and give yourself time to choose.

When you've been waiting so long to sign with an agent, it can feel like an offer can slip away at any moment. We're all terrified of taking too long to decide, or saying the wrong thing, and the offer being rescinded. Even if we know rationally that if an agent rescinds their offer arbitrarily, they're probably not that great of a human being.

The first time around, I allowed that pressure to push me into making a faster decision than I was ready for. But this time, I promised myself that it would be okay, that I could take my time. The agent I ended up signing with assured me that she'd still be there if I needed a few extra days. Even though I'd already decided this for myself, I was grateful to have her reassurance.

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With all that said and done, I am very excited to share that I'm now represented by Penny Moore at Aevitas Creative Management!

PS: If you like my pics, please follow my recently created Instagram account!


Saturday, March 2, 2019

My YA sci-fi short story is up with Foreshadow!

What a whirlwind year 2018 was, where I queried my YA sci-fi, participated in the twitter pitch event #DVPit for the first time, and tried my hand at writing picture books and a short story.

Well, that short story was selected for publication by Foreshadow: A Serial YA Anthology, founded by NYT bestselling and award-winning authors Nova Ren Suma and Emily X.R. Pan. Each month in 2019, the anthology features three original stories. What an honor it was to be selected as a New Voice and featured alongside celebrated authors Courtney Summers and Brandy Colbert!

"Princess" was ultimately selected by NYT bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith. Here is her very lovely introduction for the story:

Princess by Maya Prasad


Wow, thanks so much, Cynthia!

Working with the Foreshadow team was fabulous, and I'm grateful to everyone there who championed this story along the way. I had a blast fleshing it out with my smart & incisive editor Trisha Tobias, and got to say stuff like "I'm on deadline!" (Yeah, I relished it.)

The idea for "Princess" began with the image of a mom and her daughter traveling across the galaxy to reunite with the estranged grandparents--a la Gilmore Girls, if you're a fan. As I dug into the reasons for that estrangement, the story was born. You can read it for free here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Tale of Two Mentors


I’ve been writing South Asian characters for…ten years now? Wow.

The first MS was a romantic comedy that I’ve since decided needs to be drawered forever. The second was YA cyberpunk, and it landed me with my former agent. Unfortunately, after three long years on submission, some close calls, and an editor R&R, it ultimately never sold. I think it was a strong effort, but I still had a lot to learn.

As I drafted my latest manuscript, I realized what I wanted more than anything was a mentor: a published author who could look at my work and help take my craft to the next level.

Opportunities

Last October, two opportunities came up. First, We Need Diverse Books offered its annual mentorship program, increasing the number of mentors from the year before. The application involved shaping up my first ten pages, writing two essays, a synopsis, and a short pitch.

At the same time, author Gwenda Bond (Lois Lane: Fallout) announced on social media that she was pairing up WOC authors with mentors. Since the WNDB slots were limited, I went ahead and emailed her asking if she could fit me in.

I feel so incredibly lucky because I ended up getting connected to two brilliant and generous women: Padma Venkatraman (author of Climbing the Stairs and A Time to Dance) and Jennifer Latham (author of Scarlett Undercover and Dreamland Burning).

First Impressions

In November, Jennifer and I talked on Skype to get to know each other. Having been through a number of publishing hurdles herself, Jennifer was very empathetic to my struggles. It was so nice to hear from someone who had been through some of the same things I had, and I was thrilled when she offered to read my manuscript.

In December, I learned that I had been selected as one of the recipients of the WNDB mentorship program, a huge honor. Because Padma and I had both been travelling, we didn’t get a chance to talk on the phone until February. She was very sweet, and told me that my pages stood out among the fierce competition. Her enthusiasm has helped bolster my confidence as I revise.

Feedback

Jennifer and Padma both offered many kind words about the characters and plot, which of course was very encouraging. In terms of critique, it was interesting because they focused on different aspects, the macro versus the micro. Both are valuable, and I feel so lucky to have had the chance to work with such smart women.

While Jennifer provided some line notes, she focused primarily on developmental edits. Her thoughts immediately resonated with me. Among other things, here is some of the advice she gave me:

1. Make the main character proactive from the start. She should be driving events, not being led along by them.
2. Bring in the romantic interest early.
3. Give the main character clear goals and show her incremental progress throughout.
4. Tighten the ending as much as possible.
5. Find ways to ground the story with more about the world.

The above might seem kind of obvious, but often when you’re in the midst of revisions you’re not seeing the forest for the trees. In fact, Jennifer has a real knack for finding the weak spots in a manuscript and suggesting ways to fix them. Right away, I had some great ideas on how to implement some of the changes. Other issues, however, needed more time to gestate.

Padma offered a few overarching pointers, but she mostly zeroed in on the prose itself, marking up my manuscript with extensive line edits. I really appreciate the time it took her to go through the text with such thoroughness. Some of the things she pointed out:

1. Even when you’re trying to convey a lot of information, you need to keep the appropriate emotion on the page.
2. Make certain the characters’ decisions logically follow from their thought processes.
3. Remove stiff language and anything extraneous from dialogue to make it snap.
4. Be cognizant of your own writing tics and work to improve them. (I have a definite problem of overusing sentence fragments.)
5. Even when your character is frustrated, your reader shouldn’t be.

Her insightful comments helped me clean up my prose and shape it into something a lot stronger. Now I know what to look for with an eagle eye.

Takeaways

First, it’s important to remember to be patient, both while you wait for feedback and also with yourself as you make changes. As tempting as it is to give yourself a deadline, rushing your edits is not in your best interest.

Second, sometimes you’ll disagree with some of the feedback. That’s okay. It was great to have two mentors because I had two opinions to seek. You can always get more beta readers too, if you’re unsure which way to go with something.

Finally, it’s up to you to make the most of the feedback you receive. You have to push yourself, to not be afraid of drastic changes when they’re called for. And of course you have to be a creative problem solver. A glaring issue may be apparent, but the best way to fix it may be hard to put your finger on. Don’t settle.

A mentorship is a great way to improve your craft. Just remember to take the lessons you’ve learned to future manuscripts as well.

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Many thanks to both Padma Venkatraman and Jennifer Latham, two wise and generous souls! Also, thank you We Need Diverse Books and Gwenda Bond for making this year possible for me. I hope that some day soon I’ll be able to pay it forward to another aspiring writer.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Writing for Change: Pamela Courtney Speaks

In the Writing for Change series, I've asked writers to share how the political climate has shaped their work. Today, I have Pamela Courtney, a teacher and a 2017 recipient of the We Need Diverse Books mentoring program. Take it away, Pamela!

Maya, thank you so much for allowing me to share my thoughts with you and your readers.

What do the following have in common? Freedom in Congo Square, Last Stop on Market Street, Tar Beach, The Sound that Jazz Makes, The Snowy Day.

Need a hint? In the 1990 publication of Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop writes, “Books are sometimes windows. When…conditions are just right, a window can also be a mirror.”

Each morning, I’m greeted by gleaming, eager faces in every hue of brown. Introducing them to well written literature, whose images mirror those of my early learners, is paramount. And so, these books adorn every flat surface in my classroom. My duty is great. I am a writer who teaches. I am a teacher who writes.

“Books can also be a mirror." More specifically, words mirror attitudes and feelings. Words, allowed and encouraged by the hostile political climate we’ve maintained, actively work to devalue, to lessen, to take away. I am acutely aware how the lack of words is used to alter, and in many cases eliminate actual events.

Slavery…the ugliest, most shameful, most influential institution of our country is not mentioned in some curricula. Therefore, how a people endeavored to forge indelible, remarkable paths impacting our world is devalued. The strength of a people to endure is altered. Eliminated. Children are listening. Children are learning. Children are responding to what and how information is offered. Mirrors and Windows.

In our deeds, through our words, from the environment that we create, children are taught to accept or dismiss people unlike Us. We must ensure that children are carefully taught to develop awareness for other peoples: their culture, their traditions, and their beliefs. I share in my writing little known historical events that have shaped traditions, familial roles, and world views. Events inextricably woven, unnoticed into the rich tapestry of our lives. Each strand a distinguished, necessary raised bit of thread. Every child deserves quality literature that illustrates cultural authenticity.

So, what do those books have in common? It’s not quite the answer you think. Each book holds a special place in the heart of my classroom. My students experience the obstinate courage of a people, the familiarity of intergenerational relationships, how social injustices impact family structures, the sorrows felt and gifts created by a marginalized people, the first commercially successful book featuring a child of color who is simply experiencing snow.

These are the books my students reach for again and again. These books and books like them guide my writing. They are more than mentor texts. They are mirrors. They are windows. The profound responsibility I own as a teacher, as a writer, has never been more deeply felt.

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Pamela Courtney lives in Atlanta, GA, but the Red River of Louisiana permanently flows through her veins. She is a former Curriculum Consultant, but is now proud to claim herself "Teacher of some of the most intellectually stimulating Kindergarteners and 1st Graders." Pamela is a 2017 recipient of the We Need Diverse Books mentoring program; mentored by Carole Boston Weatherford.

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Thanks so much, Pamela! For more in the Writing for Change series, check out posts from Kelly Loy Gilbert, Tanaz Bhathena, Rachel Lynn Solomon and Samira Ahmed.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Writing for Change: Samira Ahmed Speaks

With the intensity of the 2016 election, I've found myself drawn to those like myself for whom current events can not be extricated with their work. 

On that note, I have Samira Ahmed, author of Love, Hate, and Other Filters (Soho Press, 1/16/18), here to share the ways in which the political climate has shaped her writing. Take it away, Samira!

Lean In…To Hope

Say their names.

Nabra Hassanen
Maulana Akonjee
Thara Uddin
Azzedine Soufiane
Ibrahima Barry
Nazma Khanam
Khaled Belckacemi
Aboubaker Thabti
Mamadou Tanou
Abdelkrim Hassane
Srinivas Kuchibhotla
Ricky John Best
Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche

This list represents only some of the individuals who have lost their lives in Islamophobic attacks in the United States and Canada in the last year or so. Not all of these people are Muslim, but, nevertheless, were victims of Islamophobic bigotry.

And this is only a partial list and doesn’t include assaults, vandalism, Quran burnings, anti-Islamic protests, and the ongoing threats and hate speech directed at Muslims or those who “appear Muslim.”

Islamophobia isn’t new to the United States—indeed it comes anyone living during the Iran Hostage Crisis or in the aftermath of 9/11 knows that. But since the 2016 Presidential campaign, anti-Islamic sentiment is on the rise.

My debut novel, Love, Hate, and Other Filters, confronts Islamophobia on the page. Some of my inspiration, if you can call it that, for incidences in the novel, stems from my own experiences growing up as the only Muslim in my small Midwestern town and from what I witnessed after the 9/11 attacks while living in New York City. In 2010, when I first had the idea for this book, a New York City cab driver was stabbed after a passenger asked if he was Muslim.

When faced with this rising tide of ignorance and hate, when you are made to feel like you are the “other” in your own nation, in your only home, there are a few choices before you—and sometimes you have to make the same choice every day. What can I do with my anger and fear and sorrow and disbelief?

I chose to use all of these feelings and filter them into my writing, but I chose to filter these feelings through hope. For me, leaning into hope was how I could write my resistance; how I could stand and not cower; how I could declare, as Langston Hughes wrote, that, “I, too, am America.”

I hope that my book can be a mirror for so many kids, Muslim or not, who might feel like they’re on the periphery. I hope it can show them that they are loved and that they are enough.

I also hope my book can be a window for so many kids who may have never met a Muslim, but have only heard the fear mongering from politicians and talking heads and hate groups. I hope those kids can see what it means to be a Muslim in America, firstly that it simply means that they are American.

But I also wrote this book for me. Putting this book into the world is a way for me to send a little light into the darkness, to hold onto hope and to remember.

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Samira Ahmed was born in Bombay, India, and grew up in Batavia, Illinois, in a house that smelled like fried onions, spices, and potpourri. She currently resides in the Midwest. She’s lived in Vermont, New York City, and Kauai, where she spent a year searching for the perfect mango. You can find her on Twitter @sam_aye_ahm and on her wesbite at www.samiraahmed.com.

Her debut novel, Love, Hate, and Other Filters, is available for pre-order now.

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Thanks so much, Samira! For more in the Writing for Change series, check out posts from Kelly Loy Gilbert, Tanaz Bhathena, Rachel Lynn Solomon and Pamela Courtney.