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I have a wonderful interview with Neesha today to provide a little backstory for the book. You know, you read a book and think you understand the plot and all its nuances but, knowing the author’s background and her intended implications really bring a richness to the story she’s created. Read this interview and see what I mean!
Q: Jazz had a difficult time bridging two cultures, but she was quite proud of who she was. I think this was because of the community that surrounded her, especially Aunt Kinder. Is there a real life Aunt Kinder?
A: Auntie Kinder is an amalgamation of a bunch of women. She’s a little bit of me, a little bit of the women I grew up with, and a lot of the women around me now who are raising daughters – whether as single moms, or in families where they have to fight to value their daughters in the face of strong pressure to value sons.
Q: I liked how Jazz’s mom called her ‘beta’ and corrected her for mispronouncing Indian names! How difficult is it to use authentic language in your stories without ruining their flow? Readers need to know what the words mean, but they don’t want to feel like they’re reading a dictionary!
A: I really agonized over this, actually. I didn’t want to italicize the Punjabi words initially because that would be a clear indication that the story was written for a non-Punjabi audience. My audience is comprised of people of all ages, ethnicities, languages, etc. So, I wanted to be as inclusive as possible. But as I read it through, the word “beta” specifically kept reading like the English word and I realized it could be confusing. That was what made me decide to italicize some Punjabi words. I kept others un-italicized because I found that it took me out of the flow of the language. I did a bit of explaining of terms in the dialogue, but I wanted readers to intuitively pick up on the meaning of most of the words through their context. That was how I learned to speak English – through seeing words in their context and intuiting the meaning, rather than running to a dictionary every time.
Q: Could you have let Jazz become engaged?
A: I don’t think Jazz’s parents, even though they were traditional, would have had her engaged at such a young age. They were far too focused on her education and studies to push her into getting engaged. They wanted her to stop looking at boys who weren’t “suitable” matches, so they found boys for her to pick from so that she wouldn’t have to “worry” about that and could get back to her school-work. The irony is that, of course, the parents’ plan only gave Jazz more to worry about.
Q: I want to ask how Bollywood influenced your story, but you let Jazz kiss Tyler!! She never would have kissed in Bollywood! Did the kissing just happen, or were there decisions to be made?
A: Well, Jazz is growing up in the US – where she sees images of people kissing all over the place. It’s no big deal to her. She’s well aware that in Bollywood films there is no kissing, but she questions it. Particularly since she has a real fondness for romance novels (smile). Jazz is a pretty headstrong gal whose biggest problem is that she follows her heart (a problem only in that it gets her into trouble a lot with her parents)–and kissing a boy she felt strong emotions for would seemed quite natural for her. Her friend Cindy kisses her boyfriend, as do the other couples at school.
Q: What’s in Jazz’s ipod?
A: I have a playlist of Jazz’s songs up on my blog! It’s in the sidebar, you can go and listen to the songs if you want, but I’ll list a few: “I am not my hair” by India Arie; “Firework” by Katy Perry; “Dhoom Machale” from the Bollywood film,Dhoom; “All I want is you” by Miguel; “Unwritten” by Natasha Beddingfield; and “Just the way you are” by Bruno Mars.
Q: What books did she find to enjoy after Love’s Wayward Journey?
A: Jazz found an adult vampire romance written by Elaine Bergstrom and was blown away by what vampire novels can really be.
Q: The relationship between Jazz and Jeeves remained so pure that I almost, almost expected him to be gay. Jazz would not have minded, but how would this play out in ‘the community’?
A: I’m so glad you asked this question. I kept wondering how a guy like Jeeves would respond to Jazz and her advances and it was quite complicated. Because Jeeves is also Indian, Punjabi and Sikh, he’s really connected to what the consequences of some actions would be for Jazz. So, part of him was always worried she would be caught doing something and he didn’t want to be the one to put her in that position. Remember, he really likes her–more than he even realizes. And he, too, has grown up on a steady diet of Bollywood movies in addition to US media. And in Bollywood, there is a strong emphasis on the concept of honor for men – honorable men don’t take advantage of women, they fight to preserve the “izzat” of a woman (strong emphasis in films on women preserving a family’s izzat, i.e. reputation), etc. So some of those messages definitely had to have seeped into Jeeves’s consciousness, making it really tough for him to act on whatever natural urges he might have had in response to Jazz’s kiss.
I think in the US context, where masculinity, particularly for men of color, is portrayed as more aggressive, this could certainly be misinterpreted as being less than “manly.” In fact, on a somewhat related note, there was an incident in California where a South Asian man was beaten to death when he stood up and began dancing to Punjabi bhangra music at a park. The perpetrators hurled homophobic and racist slurs before attacking him. He was not gay, but was perceived to be.
Q: We always think of traditional societies as repressing women, but we don’t realize that men, too are bound by societal roles. I wouldn’t have realized how complex Jeeve’s actions and reactions would be! Could you write a story from a male perspective? Are there Indian male YA authors?
A: Jeeves’s motivations and responses were something I really wanted to delve into more, but through comments from several readers, I decided to leave those bits out because the book was already jam-packed with ideas. But I absolutely *love* Jeeves as a character and, if there’s ever a follow-up novel (which I hope there will be), I’m definitely going to explore his character a bit more.
Q: Needless to say, a publisher is missing a golden opportunity! When it comes to Indian stories for YA, do publishers know what they want? There seems to be a large market for adult fiction in the Indian market, but it’s not trickling down to teens.
A: You know, there is a long history of people having to prove that there is a market for work before large industry professionals take notice. W.E.B. Dubois self-published, as did Tyler Perry and Terry McMillan (and now, L.A. Banks!). Early in publishing history, women had to self-publish because men controlled publishing and they believed women’s stories were far too emotional to be of any interest to the reading public. The comment I’ve heard most often on this journey is that there is no market for my work. I heard this when I was shopping SHINE, COCONUT MOON, and I heard it with JAZZ IN LOVE. I didn’t believe it both times. I know this market. I know these teens. I know they’ll read JAZZ and really connect with her. These are their issues – and the universal issues of so, so many teens. And I
truly believe teens of color want to read a variety of stories, with all kinds of depictions and representations. Teens of color deal with racism and discrimination, yes. But they also worry about their hair and zits. They have questions about dating and sex and god and culture and their bodies. They deserve to be depicted in their multi-faceted complexity. And I think once we get more representations out there, it becomes clear that these stories really are universal.
AMEN!! Thanks Neesha, and I wish you much success with Jazz in Love!