Thursday, June 25, 2020

Foreshadow Anthology has a Beautiful Cover

We now have a gorgeous cover for our anthology, Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading and Writing YA. Huge thanks to Sarah J. Coleman for her gorgeous design!

Behind every glossy cover reveal is a journey, and usually a twisting one. In the case of Foreshadow, there are so many journeys, with thirteen short stories as well as craft discussions from our fearless editors. I can say that from start to finish, working on this project has been an unequivocal joy.

Our stories are all YA but they span genres and styles. We represent a multitude of backgrounds. When I read the first pass pages recently, it all seriously took my breath away.

In the craft essays, Emily X.R. Pan and Nova Ren Suma have taken a deep dive into each story to draw attention to the pearls within. Our words have been treated like precious bits of treasure, and it means the world to me. There is a lot of passion and imagination here, and I hope readers will come away from this book with a burning need to tell their own stories, to add new treasures to the sea.


And I can also share the full jacket, complete with my name on the back among the "bold new YA voices"!!! What a thrill and an honor being a part of this project has been.


 The release date for this anthology is October 20, 2020. But you can preorder it now:

Indiebound
Bookshop
Barnes and Noble 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Quantum Quarantine: A Short Story


Quantum Quarantine by Maya Prasad
Hey folks, I'm excited to share here a YA spec fic short story I wrote about two high school seniors navigating our current pandemic. Naturally, it also includes parallel timelines, a black hole, and a sweet love story. 

If you enjoy it, please share and spread the word. Thank you!


CW: domestic abuse
QUANTUM QUARANTINE
by Maya Prasad
It’s Friday, March 13th at 3:45pm, just minutes after the eighth period bell.
I shuffle down to the basement in building C of Adams High, my bag heavy with textbooks, my anxiety its own formidable weight. As if a supermassive black hole is located in my chest, sucking the whole of the cosmos into one dense point in my heart.
There was supposed to be a biology test last period, but Ms. Rodriguez canceled it.
“All things considered, I don’t think we’re in the right mindset,” she said.
We aren’t. Not with all schools in the state closing for a minimum of six weeks, not with the hopes of a careless spring semester dissolving like sugar in a cappuccino, not with the fate of graduation and college as murky as the puddles that have muddied my boots.
Laughter and chatter swirl around me, my classmates adept at glossing over the unseen menace nipping at our heels, lying in wait on hard surfaces. I wish I could be like them, but I’m cursed with an earnestness that steals into my words like sticky seeds. I lean against my cold metal locker, digging through my purse for my favorite lipstick. A honey gold that glistens against my brown skin, that twinkles with my dark night eyes.
“Adhira.” Limei says my name softly.
“Hey.” I drop the lipstick into the bottomless well of my purse. There’s an odd rattling from the locker at my back, but perhaps that’s just my heart agitating the very air around me.
She came.
The high windows lining the hallway filter rainy day light over her delicate face, softening her hot pink eyeliner and jagged bob, imbuing her with an ethereal quality. As if she’s a wisp of a thought that’s about to slip your mind.
Not that she would ever slip from mine. 
“I’ll miss you,” she says in that way of hers, where truth and fiction intermingle and combust into irony. I never know what she means.
“So you’re not still…mad?” My words tremble and hiccup.
Her raspberry-glossed lips tighten, but she shakes her head. “What’s the point? You were right. My stepdad is an asshole.”
He really is, but I still shouldn’t have said anything. Limei obviously didn’t want to discuss the kaleidoscope of purple and black painted across her face, her neck, her arms. I’d only seen a glimpse of what lay beneath her makeup because I’d stopped in the bathroom as she touched it up.
“I…I shouldn’t have pushed.” I gulp, swallowing too much sorrowful air. The locker at my back lets out its own hushed breath.
“Yeah, well. Now you know my real life.”
I stare at her, afraid to ask the obvious question. We’re supposed to shelter at home, but what do you do when social distancing means sequestering with him?
“I’ll be fine.” Her tone is hard, maybe even a little dead. “I’ll stay out of the way.”
“Yeah, of course…” My words are not nearly as convincing as hers. That invasive earnestness again.
Her eyes flash, daring me to say more. She froze me out the last two weeks, and I can’t let that happen again. Even if I have to stay quiet. Even if it kills me inside.
“You can check up on me, okay?” she says. “FaceTime.”
I can’t believe she actually relented. I can’t believe she’ll let me care about her. “Of course! Every day.”
Why did I have to add that last part? It’ll scare her away.
“Okay.”
“Okay?” My heart is quivers and quakes.
“Yeah. Talk to you later.”
Then Limei is striding away, the stuffed kitty keychain swinging from her indigo backpack, wispy fragments of her words twisting like smoke until they disappear. I should race after her, tell her to run away with me, come up with some fabulous plan to keep her safe even as a pandemic rages.
I should.
When I open my locker, there’s a black hole inside plucking papers and books into a great unknowable void. Not metaphorically—an actual black hole, the kind at the center of galaxies, the kind that decimates fire-breathing stars and any other unlucky matter wandering too close. How it came to be there is unimportant, as unimportant as how the virus came to be. It is there—indelible, unavoidable. Inevitable.
I’m unwary matter caught in the grip of the black hole, driven past the event horizon, past the point from which light can escape. It tears me apart, shredding me into slithers of curved spacetime. The course of my life is no longer linear, but splintering into possibilities…

#
TIMELINE I

It’s Saturday, August 29th at 10:40am. Nearly six months have passed since I was last tramping over the dewy grass in front of Adams High. The world has twisted and reshaped itself, as volatile matter does. Quaking with infection statistics and field hospitals and a deadly familiar dry cough. Not enough testing and layoffs and stimulus checks and a second wave of infections. Furious protests and teargas and pain in the wake of murdered Black citizens.
It’s been quite a summer.
My fellow students stream eagerly around the school they’d once despised on principle. Now being allowed to return is a victory; those of us who haven’t left for faraway colleges will finally have our caps and gowns and diplomas. Outdoors, with masks and social distancing and hand sanitizer, of course.
As I survey the football field, the sun bakes into my skin. Usually, I’d be darker, toasted and glistening, by the end of August. That hasn’t quite happened. Still, there was one weekend in early July where my siblings and I hiked an empty trail and found an empty beach and got the chance to splash in the heat. It was when I’d felt the most like myself.
I shouldn’t complain, though. So many people lost so much more. And we are here, back at school, back at the place where Limei asked me to call her every day.
Back where she first decided to let me in.
She’s leaning against a tree, her black gown flapping around her, the cap’s tassel dangling with silver strands. Her sharp bob isn’t as sharp as it once had been, her face a little rounder, her signature hot pink eyeliner eschewed for a drizzle of dark lilac that brings planets orbiting within her irises.
“You called. Every day.” As always, her voice is lilting with notes of irony and nonchalance, the darkness of the edges of an expanding universe.
“Yeah.” I’m an overprivileged jerk because what we endured was nothing the same.
“Even when you were sick,” she adds.
Dad had symptoms first, then Mom. They say young people recover faster but my parents proved resilient against it, functioning even as my three siblings were lain to waste for nearly a month. We conjectured that their antibodies had been worked to efficiency in their India days, while ours have softened in this country. That’s obviously not scientific, but it’s true that I didn’t leave my bed from mid-July to mid-August. Eventually, though, I recovered.
And I called Limei. Every day.
“I’m just glad you’re okay,” I finally say, bleeding with sticky earnestness, hoping she’ll forgive it.
“Me too, Adhira.” The darkness of an ever expanding universe swells. Though she didn’t bother to hide her bruises these past months on FaceTime, there is no evidence of them now. The makeup is back. She gestures to the field where chairs have been spread out, six feet apart. “Ready?”
I fiddle with my gown. “Yeah, sure.”
She adjusts my cap, then pulls down her mask momentarily to press a (non-social-distanced) kiss against my cheek, her lips like spring blossoms cascading across a breeze. If sickness comes again tomorrow, I know I’ll be locked in a fever dream of raspberry gloss.

#
TIMELINE II

It’s Saturday, August 29th at 10:40am. Nearly six months have passed since I was last tramping over the dewy grass in front of Adams High. The world has twisted and reshaped itself, as volatile matter does. The sun peeks out from the clouds, glimmering in the windows of the deserted school. No one even walks their dogs anymore, not with the new, super aggressive strain that has sent us scurrying back into isolation.
So much for college. It’s not happening, even virtually, at least not for me. We’re broke. Instead, I do what I can to help Dad. I’m now an “essential worker.” In other words, I bag groceries.
But I hadn’t packed the heavy paper bags currently in my arms, and they’re awkward and overfilled. With an ominous rip, several oranges drop according to Newton’s laws and roll along the cracked sidewalk to find a resting place under a parked car. A bejeweled fuchsia sneaker stops the next one, though three others are lost.
Limei blinks at me, a specter, a wisp, the brink of a premonition. Though she’s real enough to chase down the remaining oranges that ricochet off one another like frenzied electrons searching for stability.
I set down my bags and we toss the attempted escapees in with the eggs and cheese and bread, while managing to stay six feet apart from each other.
“You said you’d call every day.” Her voice is muffled by the ugly plaid patterned scarf she’s wearing. It hides her lilac lips and obscures the lilting irony in her voice.
“Sorry…it’s just…”
Mom is gone, Mom is gone, Mom is gone…
I haven’t told her, haven’t said it out loud. I didn’t speak at the immediate-family-only funeral rites, a surreal daze of modified Hindu traditions. Even now, I try to say the words, but they’re overpowered by a cacophony of deadly coughing and fever dreams and last breaths and unseeing eyes. Things best forgotten that come creeping back in the night.
My solemn earnestness not withstanding, I did fail Limei. I wanted to call, but something stopped me each time I picked up the phone.
“It’s okay,” she says, her masked voice in a quantum state of both detached and disappointed. “My mom finally kicked him out. I’m okay.”
Relief explodes in my veins, superseding the numbness. She did fine without me. My fingers tremble, my knees can’t hold me. Limei picks up the grocery bags, and her sparkling sneakers pick their way over mud and trash, commanding the center of the road as if it is hers alone. Which, for the moment it is.
“Adhira.” She says my name as if it’s everything at once: a ballad, a tender piece of fruit, a star hung in the sky. “You coming?”
My mind is an aching mess, my body a heavy weightless thing. But I follow.

#
TIMELINE III

It’s Saturday, August 29th at 10:40am. Nearly six months have passed since I was last tramping over the dewy grass in front of Adams High. The world has twisted and reshaped itself, as volatile matter does. I barely give the eerily deserted school a glance as I hurry past, my heartbeat frenzied and ferocious as I jog the last four blocks to the freeway. Tucked into the space beneath the onramp, I find a kid’s tent decorated with brightly colored butterflies.
“Limei?” I call uncertainly, though among all the questions hovering like storm clouds, her presence seems the most certain.
This is where she’d texted she’d be, whether or not I can accept her reality. She unzips the entrance, surfing along a sea of granola bar wrappers and graphic novels. Like me, she has a scarf tied tightly around her face.
“Home sweet ho—” A terrible, familiar cough interrupts her.
I hesitate under the grim freeway shadows. My grandparents are stranded at our house, both well over seventy. They were visiting just before things started heating up. Six months later, and it still isn’t safe for them to fly home. Not until there’s a vaccine.
My parents have been extra vigilant, thoroughly washing every banana that we bring home. Exposing myself is the same as exposing them. But I can’t abandon Limei here, either. She spent the night in a tent under the freeway.
“What did he do?” I ask, though the anxiety pressing at my chest already knows the answer.
Limei shrugs. “Mom started using too. Without her to run interference…”
A song of silence screams between us, a violent melody.
“I have some money,” I say. It was supposed to be for college, yet the idea of tomorrow and beyond is a nebulous prospect. Best left forgotten like an old birthday card.
“Keep it. I’m fine.” Her voice, as always, intermingles truth and fiction with frustrating chemistry, irony filming along the sides of an unseen tube.
“You can’t do this alone. Not with everything the way it is.” I don’t regret the earnestness bleeding onto the dirt now. It’s the only thing I have that might seep through her prickle-berry bush barriers.
When she doesn’t answer, I start running as if a life depends on it. (It does.) I dash to the nearest ATM but it rejects my first attempt to empty my bank account. There’s a daily limit, of course. I punch a new number, just $200. It spits out the cash, which I stuff into my pocket before rubbing hand sanitizer over my chapped hands.
When I return, her tent’s gone, vanished like a dying universe. Footprints in the gravel offer a clue, and I spot her sheltered at a bus stop across the street, frantically stuffing her tent into her backpack. The dark blue of public transit lumbers toward her. The whoosh of the doors is a whistle, a warning, a wake. My heart thrums as I race around it.
Her black bob and indigo backpack bounce up the mid-bus entrance. The few souls onboard stake their spaces with steely silver eyes and masked faces. I tiptoe past their invisible walls and invisible germs and meet Limei in the last row.
“I can’t go home now,” I tell her. “I’m probably infected just by standing here.”
“Okay.” Shaggy bangs fall across her starlit eye, her pupils darker than the expanding universe in which we’re suddenly, irreversibly together.
And we are very much suddenly, irreversibly together.

#
TIMELINE IV

It’s Saturday, August 29th at 10:40am. Nearly six months have passed since I was last tramping over the dewy grass in front of Adams High. The world has twisted and reshaped itself, as volatile matter does. A tent hospital has been set up on the football field, and I’m carrying a box full of donations for the healthcare workers: hand sanitizers, masks, clean towel strips, snacks, water bottles.
The faint notes of upbeat pop music, a time-traveling oldie, emanate from inside the tent. A nurse opens the doorflap, humming along.
“Thank you, my dear.”
She walks the box over to a nearby table, where volunteers in haphazardly constructed protective gear cheerfully disinfect the materials that will go within. Limei works among them. She waves to me with gloved hands, her hot pink eyeliner visible through goggles. I wave back, keeping my distance. It takes everything I have in me to walk away, to not plant a kiss on her masked lips.
During the day, I’m able to keep moving, keep busy. Poetry and puppy snuggles and pieces of pie. Dishes and homework and helping my little brother with his summer school assignments. But at night I lie in bed, my lungs flooded with existential dread, a pessimistic pneumonia. I was supposed to leave for college this coming week, but that was a dream from another lifetime. This is life, and sometimes it hurts so much to think of what we’ve lost that I can’t breathe. A gravity well sucks the weight of a burning world into my chest.
At 10pm, my phone buzzes. Limei’s uncanny intuition for when I need her has proved as important as antibody tests and cheek swabs.
“You okay?” she asks, her voice as always intermingling truth and fiction, combusting with irony. There are new compounds in the ether as well. Relief, purpose. Since her mom kicked out her stepdad, she’s become a different kind of strong.
“What do you have for me?” I ask.
She’s always got the latest in hilarious memes. Today’s is a disgruntled pug who is absolutely DONE with her unwashed, ungroomed hooman’s taste in reality TV. The look of unquestionable superiority is palpable on the pup’s adorable mug.
“You’re the best,” I tell Limei.
“I know.” She blows me a kiss with raspberry-glossed lips, soft as sunshine, lush like lilacs.
If I focus on her purring laugh, the gravity well in my chest feels slightly more like a tiny Earth than a supermassive black hole. And maybe, maybe, maybe I’ll make it through one more night and one more day.
#
TIMELINES [N, Infinity]

The endless expanse of the cosmos presses into my chest, a universe in a universe of many universes. I am everywhere and everytime at once, I am ubiquitous, I am torn and reborn.
There are timelines where we don’t exist, timelines where the virus doesn’t exist, timelines where the dominant species on our planet evolved from lobsters and crayfish.
Those are not the ones I can see.
For me, there is always a pandemic, swelling like a red star until it’s about to burst. There is always an entire swirling galaxy of fear and death and hardship. There is always dark matter and unbearable uncertainty and surprising heroism and plenty of farcical ineptitude as well. There is always truth and always fiction, always a thin film of irony along the unseen sides.
Sometimes I save Limei, sometimes she saves me. Sometimes we save each other.
Somewhere within the expanding darkness of the universe, whether we are human or star particles, there is always us.

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.

----

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.