, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Joining us as keynote speaker for Writers Day 2022 is Mitali Perkins! An explorer of boundaries both physical and literary, she has written books for all ages of young readers, including You Bring the Distant Near (nominated for a National Book Award) and Rickshaw Girl (adapted into a film by Sleeperwave Productions) and the upcoming picture book, The Story of Us (Beaming Books, 2022). She seeks to make readers laugh and cry, all while opening their hearts to understanding the mysteries of the wider world.

Jessica Chrysler: Welcome Mitali, and thank you for taking the time to interview with Kite Tales! As an author of picture books, YA and nonfiction for adults, your work crosses categories as fluidly as you explore the theme of crossing borders. What inspires you in your work? And what gives you that spark to take on the next project?

Mitali Perkins: It’s really only once in a blue moon where the author of a book that I’m reading shares the same identity as myself, so I’ve always crossed borders while reading. In my own books, I’m inviting the reader to leave the safety of some of their identities and join my protagonist on a hero’s journey that might end up feeling more familiar than expected.

As far as taking on a next project, when I write something, I want to learn and explore something with interest. A work has to be driven and sustained by my own curiosity. I also want to grow in my craft and take more risks in this season of my career.

JC:That sounds amazing, and definitely something most of us writers should aspire to! Do you feel like there are challenges in having such a disparate body of work?

MP: The challenge comes from the pressure to create a brand. I might sell more books if I stuck with writing about “Indian-American girls experiencing immigration and the hyphenated life,” but I feel stifled creatively by sticking with that motif. I want to write about different things and hope that my readers will travel along with me and spend time with my voice as a writer no matter where we go.

JC: Do you feel like there might be a thematic thread to your writing? Might there be a setting or a character that you keep finding yourself going back to, for example?

MP: I like to explore the space between unlikely friendships, whether it be a meeting of different generations, cultures, politics, ideologies, or creeds. In all of that writing, place is central to my fiction. I’m a “five senses” person and I like being in a place with my entire body—taking in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures.

I try to foster a deep connection to a place in this five sensory way in all the seasons before I write about it. I admire people who can world build and write fantasy but imagining a five-senses world in a place that doesn’t exist in real life … that’s something I haven’t been able to do yet.

JC: On your blog, you mentioned how stories belong to the world of the reader, that your words will take on a life of their own once they have been put on the page. How has this thought affected your approach to writing and how has it changed over the years?

MP: When I first started writing, I think I was much more controlling about what the reader would take from the story. But as Madeleine L’Engle mentions in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, you really have to leave that up to the reader. So I’m leaving more room for mystery and nuance in my writing in that space between the differences I described earlier. 

I’m also finding it delightful to collaborate in picture books with an illustrator, another creative who brings an entirely different voice and texture to the story.

JC: So what do you do to help yourself know that you have said what you wanted to say in your words, before you “let it go”?

MP: My first drafts have always sucked. They suck even more now that I’m letting go of controlling my subconscious and imagination with my conscious mind. And although I’m being more free during the drafting phase—giving the creative process mystery and space as the story begins to emerge—I’m bringing in more structure during the revision phase.

I’m doing scene work, using Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes a Novel and other screen writing techniques to build tension and hopefully get my reader to turn pages. I’ve just cut down the word count in a middle grade novel by 25%, for example. 

JC: Your work has also appeared on the stage and on screen with Rickshaw Girl, is the collaborative process any different here than it is working with publication teams on picture books?

MP: I had no involvement with the production and really let go of artistic control. While I had lived in Bangladesh for three years and my ancestors are from there, as an educated daughter of a Hindu landowner, I wrote a story about a Muslim rickshaw puller’s daughter. While my character Naima and I both are Bangla and speak the same language, there was a lot of enmity in the generation before me between our two demographics during the war and Partition.

When I sold the rights to Rickshaw Girl, I knew a Bangladeshi Muslim would be directing the film; a Bangladeshi Muslim writing the screenplay; and a whole bunch of Bangladeshi Muslims acting in it. It was also filmed there. They made it their own story and it ended up being a more authentic and a deeper story on screen. In some mysterious way, I feel that this collaboration brought peace between our ancestors. 

JC: It is so magical how creators can inspire each other to create! And you have mentioned a couple times that you have another project in the works. Would you like to share a little more about it with us?

MP: Yes! It’s called Hope In The Valley and it’s middle grade historical fiction set in 1980’s Silicon Valley. I studied public policy in grad school, so I love exploring social justice issues with some nuance. It’s my jam! I’m always asking why people make decisions and choices given the constraints of their circumstances.

In Silicon Valley, the root of a lot of today’s housing problems started during the 70s and 80s, when beautiful orchards were being sold and some of the land developed without much thought about the future. My character, 12-year-old Pandita, loves the orchard across the street and doesn’t want to grow up or let it go. But she must come to terms with engaging the present and letting go of the past. She learns that the best things from that past can help shape the future if we care deeply about the present. It’ll be out in 2023.

JC: Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us Mitali! We look forward to seeing you at Writers Day on October 22, 2022!

To learn more about Mitali and her wonderful work, check out her website at mitaliperkins.com. And to learn more about WD 2022 and register for the event, visit the Los Angeles SCBWI Writers Day page!

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.

Images provided by Mitali Perkins.