Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

What’s Riddhi Been Up To? Well, It Depends On Which Way You Spin It…

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On October - 24 - 2012

 Whats Riddhi Been Up To? Well, It Depends On Which Way You Spin It...So, there’s two ways I could spin this:

I could rant endlessly about how busy and burdened I’ve been.

Malarkey but entirely factual stuff about moving house (which can be ridiculously time-consuming and delay many other things in your life, like turning in this blog post) and boatloads of book-reading for work that filled my entire summer. And how it was a great thing because I have a lovely new apartment and that this insatiable reading actually made me a better writer. I mean, if a phenomenally bestselling author like Stephen King says this, clearly, by finding a place where I enjoy reading and reading a lot, I’m just gathering my tools, right?

Or… I could admit that I may not have made as much to write as I should have?

But while I haven’t written anything fresh that I’m ready to workshop (yet), I can admit that a new project is spinning itself inside my head. And—more importantly—in a word document that is punctiliously updated and backed up, I have been carefully plotting and planning. Details. Research. A beginning. The main conflict. A possible end? Genre. Theme. Protagonists. Character sketches. I think I know the format I want it to be in. And I’m REALLY excited to dive into it… but only, I haven’t found the time to properly write it.

But I will. Soon. Like right about NOW.

Is this weird? Is this progress? Procrastination? A result of the creative writing MFA? Anything to do with reading for work? Probably yes to all. And still, I love that this process of knowing what could happen is completely new and EXCITING for me. In the past, I went into my stories blindfolded, tumbling down the rabbithole of a blank word document with no idea where I was going, knowing only that I’d have to turn something in at deadline—whatever I had spewed and spun into ten or fifteen pages.

For the first time ever, I feel like I’m in control of the castrophany that’s about to come. And I guess the only way to go is to set that deadline so I can twirl, whirl and yarn this darn thing together. And NO, it doesn’t have anything to do with these cool images I found from stock.xchng but they match my though processes and I tried to match my post around them and hope you enjoy!

Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward Is “That” Book For Dhonielle

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On September - 17 - 2012

Ninth Ward 000 Jewell Parker Rhodes Ninth Ward Is That Book For DhonielleSometimes you come across a book at the precise moment in time that it changes you for awhile — makes you disregard anything and everything else, makes you wish the world within the pages was the world around you, makes you think about the characters long after you’re finished, makes you — if you’re a writer — wish you could create something like it. When I was in elementary school that book was Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, when I was in middle school it was Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and in high school it was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

As an adult who reads exclusively children’s and young adult books (aside from the non-fiction books I must read for research), I hadn’t had that “AH” moment in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read books that I loved and could not put down (like Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian’s Burn for Burn), and especially ones written by my friends — Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story, Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker, The Broken Lands, and The Kairos Mechanism, Jess Verdi’s My Life After Now, Amy Ewing’s The Jewel, Christine Johnson’s The Gathering Dark, Caela Carter’s Me, Him, Them, and It, Heidi Ayarbe’s newest novel, Mary G. Thompson’s Wuftoom and Lisa Amowitz’s Breaking Glass, and awesome works-in-progress from Alyson Gerber, Riddhi Parekh, Cynthia Kennedy Henzel, Pippa Bayliss, Trish Eklund, and many more. These are stories that only they could write, from their individual creativity and awesome imaginations.

But to stumble across the book that ‘I wish I had written’ is a huge feat. But then one day Corey Ann Haydu texted me and said that I had to read Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward. She had read it and promised that it would not disappoint. I looked it up and instantly fell in love with the hardcover image — a little girl floating above the water in a boat (see above). I didn’t buy it immediately, but wandered into Books of Wonder a few days later and spotted it. I read the first page and then the second. I sat on the floor of the store, blocking children from perusing the shelves, and read the whole first chapter. I was swept into it. The book is not a page turner as people like to use in the book publishing world when a book is full of action and adventure and suspense — instead this book sweeps you away, tugging at your heart. You have to know what happens next because you care about the people in this world.

Ninth Ward speaks to my inner child and it is weaved with a southern mysticism that makes me feel like I’m at home and around my grandparents who have passed on. The rhythm of the language brings back childhood memories and little details lost to me from time. If you haven’t heard of this book, check it out — here’s how our friends at Amazon describe it:

“Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane–Katrina–fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.

Ninth Ward is a deeply emotional story about transformation and a celebration of resilience, friendship, and family–as only love can define it.”


This Summer, Riddhi’s List Features Some Tasty Reads

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On August - 27 - 2012

TWB August Evertaster 393x600 This Summer, Riddhis List Features Some Tasty ReadsThis summer I read more than ever before, probably over 5,000 pages — at a rough estimation of about two novels a week, both middle-grade and YA. Amongst titles I thoroughly enjoyed were:

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Two aspiring filmmakers go through a riot of emotions as they make a film about a girl with leukemia. This was precious. Made me laugh and cry at the same time.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
I know it’s a little late in the day to be talking about this one, but has anyone tried reading the book while listening to the audiobook version narrated by Allan Corduner? Doubly worth it. Just lovely.

Never Sit Down in a Hoopskirt and Other Things I Learned in Southern Belle Hell by Crickett Rumley
An outspoken Jane is forced back to Alabama where she must learn manners in order to one of the Southern Magnolia Maids. I haven’t finished it, but find it pretty sharp and unique.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: With Artwork by Yayoi Kusama
Guilty as charged and off with my head, I’m a sucker for Alice reimaginings. If you collect art books, this one’s a mustmustmust have. Clothbound jacket. Kusama’s trademark style. It really pops. Here’s a great preview.

Evertaster by Adam Glendon Sidwell
In an attempt to save himself from starving, Guster, a picky eater, gets embroiled in a food quest in search of the One Recipe — the recipe to end all recipes. As Guster and his family travel around the world, running from the Gastronimatii (a deadly, perfectionist cult of processed food-hating superchefs) they must collect some rather ordinary ingredients from some extremely unusual places. I’d highly recommend this to anyone who likes to eat. I mean read. I mean eat. While they read. It contains the most amusing method of butter churning (joggling bovines) I’ve ever come across. This was delicious from start to finish.

Image courtesy: Future House Publishing

Hungry? Riddhi’s Books Might Just Hit the Spot!

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On July - 25 - 2012

TWB JULY 600x450 Hungry? Riddhis Books Might Just Hit the Spot!If my writing projects were served for brunch, here’s what you might see on the menu:


A traditional whimsical middle-grade holiday drink made by combining two parts The BFG with equal parts Haroun and The Sea of Stories and The Butter Battle Book, a dollop of The Phantom Tollbooth, infused with Star Wars and misted over The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Complimentary shot of Eats, Shoots & Leaves.


An environmental picture book summer salad generously tossed with The Giving Tree, sautéd bits of The Bear That Wasn’t and garnished with An Inconvenient Truth vinaigrette.

Plat Principal

A succulent slow-roasted humorous middle-grade with char-grilled Where The Wild Things Are, glazed Horton Hears A Who and marinated The Giggler Treatment, drizzled generously with Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Served on a bed of finger-lickin’ Captain Underpants.


A triple-layered decadent emotional YA trifle with delicate slices of The Interpreter of Maladies and bittersweet caramelized bits of Push and a fluffy icing whisked with a pinch of Bitter Chocolate, topped with delicately macerated Luna.

Bon appétit!

Photo source: stock.xchng

Riddhi Presents the Longest Ever Post on Teen Writers Bloc

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On May - 18 - 2012

Manuscript 600x450 Riddhi Presents the Longest Ever Post on Teen Writers Bloc

The Writing for Children MFA experience at The New School — gulp, I can’t believe it’s over — was one of the most enriching educational experiences of my life. Here’s my attempt at capturing it in an ABCDErium with pros, cons and random essentials.

Authors. Meet them, read them, learn from them, learn with them, learn how to be one.

Amazing classmates. I really lucked out with this batch. Cheers class of 2012, you rocked!

ABCDErium. (ABBA-SEE-DA-REE-YUM) An A to Z perspective on a topic that you write after you meditate on it for a while and then just let it free-flow as you unleash your thoughts. An assignment for class I taught was to write an ABCDErium on Miles Davis’ album Bitches Brew. See Juggling.

Books. The MFA was a great way to learn things I never knew and needed to know about the business of books. I saw many of my classmates land book deals during the program. I also read more books in the last two years than I ever had—sometimes more than three books a week. At any point of the program my desk was covered in more than 15 books. Bliss!

Craft. Gathered immense respect for the craft of writing and the gazillion things that make it what it is: Thoughts. Plots. Words. Story arc. Character sketches. Voice. First person. Second person. Third person. Sub plots. Themes. Motifs. Summaries. Outlines. Revisions. Chapters. Buttons. Grammar. Edits. Rewrites. Writing is a beautiful complex organic stimulating scientific thing. As Andrea Davis Pinkney says: Writers Write.

Community of writers. Perhaps the best part of the MFA (at least for me) was the opportunity to share and learn with many inspiring and talented writers and build life-long associations with them.

Deadlines. The four scariest words for a writer — “I have a deadline.” And the only ones that get the job done. I doubt I’d be able to churn out my writing without deadlines — a journalism that trait stuck on. But as the MFA progressed, I feel like I coped with managing deadlines better. (I confess, this post was turned in late, but hey, I’m working on getting better at TWB deadlines.)

David Levithan. Taught us a seminar on teen lit in the first semester. Knows the YA and teen lit genre like the back of his hand and teaches a mad inspiring class about it. He is also very funny.

Expensive. Unless you have benefits, be prepared to be over $60K in debt. A part scholarship doesn’t even begin to count.

Focus. A writing degree with a focus on Writing for Children. As of now, few universities around the world  (seven to be precise) offer such a niche master’s creative writing program.

Feed. A dystopian novel by MT Anderson, one of my favorites from the reading list in the first semester. I loved the fact that the books on our syllabus were contemporary and uber cool.

Go For It. If you can afford it and are even thinking about a creative writing MFA, Go For It. It’s a great way to get started on writing projects that you’ve imagined for years but never gotten around to completing. Who knows, you might finally write that winning manuscript—or at least get started on it.

Harry Potter was not on our syllabus. Nor The Hunger Games. A lot of books you’d expect to see on a syllabus for a Writing for Children program weren’t on ours. In fact, the reading list for the Writing for Children concentration, with David Levithan and Susan Van Metre’s class (the only two classes that focus on children’s literature and were both fantastic) put together didn’t go beyond 45 books in the genre. Sure, we studied a LOT of excellent books, and yes, I definitely read tons outside of the syllabus as my own self-study. But I do feel like the program could use a more comprehensive and extensive reading list, and certainly one with more cultural diversity. Besides Sherman Alexie, Coe Booth and Grace Lin, I found the reading list dominated by white American authors. I don’t recall reading anything by a single Indian author. Perhaps the only Indian character I encountered was Bibi, a Bengali nanny from Julie Sternberg’s Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.

Immersed. I feel like someone drowned me in a bottomless, delicious tub of kidlit.

Juggling. You could choose to focus solely on your writing, like some of my classmates. Or you could be adventurous and juggle real life (a time-consuming job) and write when no one’s looking, like others. Either way, writing requires some serious juggling skills that an MFA is sure to hone. In the first year I juggled with adjusting to life in a new country, as well as coping with a new system of education. I’d never left home before, so that was all pretty overwhelming, along with learning how to write academic papers, something I hadn’t formally learnt during my schooling in India. In the second year I was offered a Teaching Assistant position with New School’s Riggio Honors Program in Writing & Democracy, which was a fantastic opportunity for personal growth and learning. In Fall 2011 I assisted the amazing Tom Healy with his class The Writer’s Playlist, a close-listening and reading seminar that explores links between music and literature, both of which I’m passionate about. (That’s also where I discovered what an ABCDErium is). In Spring 2012 I joined the editorial team at 12th Street, New School’s award-winning literary journal, where I had the opportunity to work with a dedicated team of student editors and contributors as we assembled the fifth issue of the magazine, from editing to production, publicity and beyond. Both my TA experiences invaluably broadened my reading range and literary network. Word.

Knowledge. It’s the foundation of the MFA, isn’t it?

Kevin Joinville. My buddy and the only boy in our class. The Writing for Children concentration usually has just the token male. This is not a pro or a con, just a mere observation.

Lang Café. Spent a lot of time inside it with peer group. Or by myself in the courtyard next to it staring into trees for inspiration and, yes, eavesdropping on conversations.

Manuscript. What a beautiful word! Say it with me: MAA-NUU-SCRIPT. By the time you graduate with an MFA, you might have one. Or two. Or three! Or you might have the semblance of a manuscript. Whatever the case, it’s a great feeling (I want to say accomplishment) to see a word document grow page by page into a large body of work. I wrote a little over ten pages of a story in the third semester that eventually became the major chunk of my creative thesis. And towards the end of thesis semester, my MAA-NUU-SCRIPT grew wild and unkempt, complete and uncontrollable.

New York. Concrete jungle where dreams are made, yo.

New School. I’m proud to call it my writing Alma Mater. I had six other schools to pick from, and the New School was always numero uno on my list. I’m pretty convinced I made the right decision. Too many reasons. New School’s history of writers, which I was totally unaware of until recently, all the people I met during my time there, the fact that New York city is the helm of publishing and watering hole for aspiring writers, my amazing classmates. Let’s just say that the New School was an important and exciting chapter in the life of Riddhi Kamal Parekh.

Overwhelming. See New School.

Others. Writers of other genres. Like them Poets. Or writers of Fiction and NonFiction. Writers completely unlike those who Write for Children. There’s really minimal interaction amongst the WFC people and the other streams. My classmates may disagree, but I wish there was more mingling amongst the genres. Because, I mean, in real life, a writer is a writer is a writer, right? Also, how else would we have met the one and only Lenea Grace?

Peer group. In the fourth and final semester you suddenly find yourself rid of weekly classes and seminars. Instead, you meet with a peer group — a small group of classmates who read your work and give you feedback on it, and you do the same for theirs. My peer group felt balanced, committed and extremely inspiring, making the MFA worth every precious dollar. Amy Ewing, Caela Carter, Jess Verdi, Mary G. Thompson. You girls are my supportive upper lip.

Picture books. A largely ignored aspect of the Writing for Children program at The New School. Because of my interest in the genre, for some reason I had imagined there would be a larger focus on picture books. Perhaps the chance to collaborate with students from Parsons or something. But no such luck. My classmates even raised this issue with the faculty and tried to gain access to Children’s Book Illustration taught by Jacquie Hann, offered by The New School’s Continuing Education Program. This class might have been more beneficial than having to take a class outside of the Writing for children concentration (see Mary’s post for this month on this issue), but due to logistics or something, none of us were offered this class. We did, however, have a series of fantastic weekend workshops towards the end of each semester. One of them was in Picture Books, by the lovely Sarah Ketchersid, and I hope she continues conducting them at The New School. Andrea Davis Pinkney’s weekend workshop in Writing Cross-Culturally was also MUCH needed. Hats off to Dhonielle Clayton for arranging that. Like picture books, Cultural Diversity in Children’s and Teen Literature is another scarce aspect of the program. I’m sure everyone who attended these workshops will agree that they need to be further integrated into the overall curriculum of the Writing for Children program.

Questions. There are many swirling in my mind. Like was the MFA worth it? What happens next with my career? Will I find a job in publishing? Is it the MBA equivalent of Writing? What kind of jobs does one look for after an MFA im Creative Writing? Does it qualify you to teach? Will I ever sell my manuscript? Will I get an agent? Will I be the next JK Rowling? Who knows? Keep checking this blog for updates.

Quiet. There’s nothing as inspiring as a humorous ditty about writing a thesis or some ridiculous Hinglish Bollywood song  to get me recharged and get the words flowing again. But really, I do prefer silence when I’m writing—something I discovered through the course of this program. And yes, most people who are not writers, like roommates or friends who do ‘normal’ banking stuff or members of family may imagine that creative writing is a recreational and enjoyable activity where writers get high and turn on music and snap into the creative zone where writing page after page is just so easy. But really, no. Peace and quiet. Very essential to the process. (Oh bite me, you know Q is hard. But X is the hardest!).

Reading your work aloud. Yes, you have to do it in front of everyone at the end of your thesis semester. A few weeks ago, I read from my work at an MFA Student reading at Lang Center at The New School. It was the last student reading of our graduate program, where selected faculty and first and second year MFAers from all streams — Fiction, Poetry, NonFiction and Writing for Children — read from their work for about 3 to 4 minutes. Newly admitted students of Fall 2012 were invited to come and watch. Standing at the lectern, I zipped down nostalgia express to the first time I was in that very space at Lang Center. I was part of the audience — the sea of writers at the MFA orientation. I can still remember that feeling of being lost, as we called out our concentrations, and felt a little hope when I heard others call out the WFC concentration — although most said poetry or fiction. Back then, I never imagined I’d have anything to read to a room full of people, let alone be proud of it. If you chose to avail it, the monthly student readings at the New School great chance to the develop the confidence to read your work and to hear your peers and were a super supportive environment for me.

Submission. See Deadlines.

TWB. Teen Writers Bloc. This blog is a result of the MFA program class of 2012. And isn’t it the best thing ever? Three cheers to TWB! I’m proud to be a part of it.

Thesis semester. See Manuscript, Peer group.

Urban dictionary. A great resource for writing-related research. No, seriously.

Uneconomical. Can you learn the things you learn in an MFA program outside it? Sure you can. But will you take the time out to commit to your writing? And then will it be worth it? It’s a call every aspiring MFA candidate must to take. See Expensive, Overwhelming.

Voice. Very important when writing for children, teens, young adults and first-person narratives. David Levithan’s reading list introduced us to some fantastic voices. See David Levithan.

Vermont College of Fine Arts offers a low-residency MFA Program in Writing for Children & Young Adults. MT Anderson is part of the faculty. I’d love to hear more about it and compare the two programs. See Focus.

Writing for children. Gah. Pretty much the subject of this ABCDErium, no? See Go For It.

Xenophile. A deadly word I discovered in a desperate attempt to complete this post. Like the remarkable Dhonielle Clayton and myself, a xenophile is an individual who is attracted to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures. (Give me a break, you know X is the hardest!) See Quiet.

YA. I wasn’t as aware how extensive this literary genre was before I embarked to this program. Maybe it’s bigger in America? I’m not sure. Either way, YA rocks. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_adult_literature) See David Levithan.

Zipped by. Whooooosh. It really did. I wish it didn’t pause for three months during the summer.

Photo Credit: Riddhi Parekh

Mary Asks, Should You Do The New School’s MFA?

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On May - 1 - 2012

IMG 0091 225x300 Mary Asks, Should You Do The New School’s MFA?If you asked me today whether I would do The New School’s Writing for Children program over again, my answer would be an unequivocal yes. Thanks to the program, I’m now part of an amazing community of writers that I know I’ll be part of for the rest of my life. I’ve completed four novels, and my writing has improved immensely. Though I had already sold my first book by the time I started the program, I think that my MFA experience has greatly enhanced my lifetime career prospects.

So if you asked me whether you should do the New School MFA, I’d say yes, right? Well, not so fast. You see, the reason that my experience here has been so fantastic is my peer group — the twelve fantastic writers I’ve had the honor of working with over the last two years. Over the last two years, we’ve pushed each other and supported each other so that each of us has reached greater heights than we ever would have without the group. Though we had three talented writers for workshop instructors, it was the comments of our peers that we most trusted, and it was our peers’ writing that we most learned from. The New School provided the structure for the thirteen of us to come together. But what else did The New School provide? What would the program have been like if it were just the program, and my classmates had been different? This question has left me wondering whether the program will be as amazing for others as it was for me.

For anyone considering whether to do the MFA, this is what The New School Writing for Children program consists of: Two literature seminars taught by fantastic New York editors, three peer-driven workshop classes led by talented authors, and a thesis advisor. That sounds good, but it doesn’t exactly add up to two full years of instruction, worth two full years of tuition. The school offers three semesters during which MFA students take classes. For one of those semesters, Writing for Children students (but not Fiction or Poetry students) must take a literature seminar outside their genre. When some of us complained about the lack of a third Writing for Children seminar, the administration presented it as both an issue of lack of funding for the missing class and as a good thing for us, because Writing for Children students need exposure to other genres to become well-rounded writers. If the out-of-genre requirement had applied to all genres, I would have been okay with this and possibly even supportive, but as it was, I found it insulting. The insult was compounded by the fact that not one of the fiction seminars we ended up taking included a single YA book on the reading list. I’m guessing that everyone reading this blog agrees that YA literature is, in fact, real literature and that YA writers are, in fact, real writers. Plus, I’ve already ranted on this blog about how unhelpful I found my literature seminar to be. Suffice to say that I didn’t feel that our tuition money was wisely spent on our out-of-genre requirement.

And now we come to the fourth semester. During the fourth semester, MFA students take no classes whatsoever. We meet with peer groups and work with a thesis advisor on a creative thesis. The New School requires a “literature project,” but Writing for Children students typically use a paper that we write in David Levithan’s first semester literature seminar to fulfill that requirement. So the school demands full tuition simply for advising on the creative thesis. Don’t get me wrong, I loved working with my fabulous thesis advisor, Susan Van Metre! But I know the school isn’t paying her my full tuition. So I think the fourth semester is a rip-off.

Finally, there’s the problem of low expectations. If you wanted to, you could graduate from the program without ever having completed a novel. The thesis requirement is only fifty pages. You could literally write only fifty pages in the entire program and still graduate.

What does this mean? Basically, I think the program is a crap shoot. If you get lucky and end up with a fantastic class, then the program will be well worth it. But if you get unlucky, and you end up in a class that’s less cohesive and motivated, then the program may not be worth the money. Personally, I chose to come to the program because I wanted to make being a children’s author my lifelong career. But if I hadn’t been able to attend the program for whatever reason, I would still be writing. I would even still be celebrating the release of my first book (Wuftoom, on shelves May 8!) I suspect that many of my classmates would also still be writing and still have achieved at least some of their successes. The program enhanced our careers, but it didn’t write our books for us. Success in the program requires a fire from within, something no amount of money can buy you.

Image credit: The Fabulous Riddhi Parekh!

Spring Killing: Riddhi Wants to Kill the Fear

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On April - 16 - 2012

thoughtbubbles Spring Killing: Riddhi Wants to Kill the FearA few weeks ago, I smacked my laptop shut and said, “That’s it. I don’t want to write anymore. It’s too hard.”

I was fed up with the insurmountable task of putting words to a blank page. I had some concepts in mind, but after chalking them out, I pitied the fool that might have to read them.

And sadly, that fool was me.

I gave up trying to “create” and decided, instead, to polish another story — one I’d been keeping a safe distance from. I had been “building” on it for a year now, but every time I tried to plough through, I seemed to get stuck.

Perhaps I should have outlined it better. What is really going on here? Why have I cooked up this messy stew that I’m too afraid to sip on? I can’t see the path ahead. It’s too hard. Help! Help!

Or perhaps I was too attached. I couldn’t seem to chop evidently extraneous characters and scenes. Who should I keep? Who should I cut? Help! Help!

Once again, I smacked the laptop shut and gave up.

I told myself this would all be over soon, and that after the MFA, I’d never ever write ever again. I backspaced and deleted 40 pages of that tale. I dug a deep trench and buried myself in that cold, dank and dark space where there was no pressure to write. No need to create. No words or pages. Just space to imagine it perfectly in my head.

I told my classmates about how I was DONE with writing.

Dhonielle told me to get out of that hole.

Lenea gave it to me straight up and said, “You’re being fickle.”

They were both right.

A lot goes on in the mind of a writer. As Jess pointed out at our last peer group meeting, sometimes you can imagine a conversation that your characters are having and it occupies at least a whole page — in your head. But when you sit down and actually write that dialogue, it’s difficult to stretch it beyond a paragraph or two.

This semester, I discovered that, often the parts of my writing that I almost cut out or was too embarrassed to share were the ones I got most compliments for.

But for me, there is always fear. The fear of being judged. And the fear is a bad habit. One that can easily stop you from going farther with your writing. What are people going to think of me? Is this lame?

A writer once told me that he’d rather be walking down Sixth Avenue naked with the whole world staring at him than have people read his poetry. I concur.

As writers, we place too much of a burden on ourselves, trying to sift through our billions of thoughts and stringing them into sentences and paragraphs to make the text perfect. And when we reread our work and share it with others, it is as if our writing is the metaphorical dead frog about to be dissected.

More so for everyone at Teen Writers Bloc, because we have a few weeks in hand to write that masterpiece of a thesis.

So for now, the one bad habit I’d like to “cleanse” myself of is the fickle-minded one. The one that plagues me with fear. The one that makes me overthink it.

I am my own worst enemy. I must bid adieu to that scary, imagined audience. I will no longer allow you to run up my laptop-repair costs. I will write and rewrite and write some more, unafraid. And the text shall remain on the screen.

Speech Bubbles image courtesy http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Riddhi’s Favorite Female Author is Paro Anand

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On March - 28 - 2012

paropic 600x450 Riddhis Favorite Female Author is Paro AnandIt’s always hard picking favorites. But not for me, especially when it comes to women authors. I’ve said it before on this blog and I’ll say it over and over again. I love Paro Anand. She is hands-down my favorite groundbreaking female author writing today.

This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been inspired by other wonderful and talented women authors like Judy Blume, Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Jhumpha Lahiri, Alice Walker, Coe Booth, Gertrude Stein, Laurie Halse Anderson and Cornelia Funke. But here’s a few reasons why Paro Anand makes it to the top of my list:

1. Her stories are set in India, but reflect the voices of children who could be from anywhere in the world. She captures the voice of a child beautifully, whether it’s a kid whose parents are going through a messy divorce or someone who is cheating at a test. She’s very versatile in her writing — as boys and girls and even animals and angels, of all ages and sizes. She even has a book called Elephants Don’t Diet, about Gol Matolu, an elephant that thinks she is too fat.

2. She’s funny. That’s a superpower in itself. Her book Wingless, about Chutki, an angel who is banished from heaven because she is born without wings, is my go-to book for whenever I’m feeling down. It always manages to get a laugh out of me. Especially, the line “That perhaps, this was the shape of wings to come.”

3. She’s serious where seriousness is called for. Her books Weed and No Guns At My Son’s Funeral are set in the region of war-torn Kashmir. The protagonists of both of these novels are young boys dealing with terrorism at a dangerously close range. She makes it all very real, the loss of innocence, the threat of militancy, the loss of life, themes such as these are handled sensitively and I would recommend this text to a classroom of students.

4. She literally can’t stop writing. She has authored more than 18 books for children and young adults, including plays, short stories, novellas and novels. She is published in several anthologies and has written extensively on children’s literature in India. She headed the National Centre for Children’s Literature, The National Book Trust, India, the apex body for children’s literature in India. She has been instrumental in setting up libraries and Readers’ Clubs in rural India and conducting training programs on the use of literature. She’s also a World Record Holder, for helping over 3000 children make the World’s Longest Newspaper (850 meters long) in 11 Indian states in 13 languages. The concept behind the project was to give a voice to those children who do not have a platform and to empower young people to create their own literature.

5. Paro still keeps in touch. I had the chance to meet her a few years ago and interviewed her. I bugged her with some questions last night, and guess what? She replied! Here’s what she said:

RP: Are you working on anything at the moment? Written anything new lately?

PA: Yes, I have just started a new novel – also about women, for groan ups and about hitting middle age. It’s in the very early stages write now. Also going to be working side by side on a non-fiction work called Literature in Action that basically covers the kind of work I’ve been doing with young people through stories all these years. My latest offering for YA is a collection of my stories from Penguin called Wild Child.

RP: Do you have a writer’s routine?

PA: I try and write at least two hours a day. It’s a goal I like to fulfill as I just love that time. It does not always work out, but I then try to make up that time on another day. I grab that time any time I can. Whether it’s sitting in the sun, amongst flowers, or sitting in a traffic jam and being driven to my destination.

RP: What are you reading these days?

PA: I’m just finishing Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif and will then start The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. As for YA, I’m looking forward to starting The Truth About Celia Frost by Paula Rawsthrone. Ranjit Lal’s book Faces in the Water was an awesome read, as was Sidhartha Sarma’s Grasshopper’s Run. I also recently read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

RP: Who are some of your favorite authors? Do you have any go-to books that you go to when you’re feeling less inspired?

PA: I love Chimamanda Adichie and Murakami because they are so contemporary but also have a voice that is so much their own and from their roots. I love reading young adult fiction.

RP: What do you do when you feel like you can’t write anything beyond what you have written?

PA: I shudder to think of that possibility, but as you know, you can’t shut me up. I always have a lot to say. I think I find stories in everyday things and not in some mammoth saga, so I think there’s always that. I don’t want to sound grand by saying ‘life is my inspiration,’ but it actually is. There was a time last year which was the longest I wasn’t writing anything at all, and I’d give in to panic. But somewhere, I knew that there was more junk in there to get out.

RP: How do you spend your time when you’re not writing?

PA: I garden. I have a large, loving involving family. I love watching TV (I’m a great couch potato), I travel, I talk on the phone. I mean I am NEVER bored, don’t know what that’s like. I always wish I had more time. And when I want to switch off, I play Spider Solitaire on my laptop.

Photo courtesy Riddhi Parekh


6306622 L Riddhi Hopes Her Take On Ethnicity Is Authentic, But Reminds Readers Shes Writing FictionLast week, I picked out two books from the middle-grade fiction shelf at Mulhenburg, my corner NYLP. I hadn’t specifically sought them out, but was amazed at one random but major coincidence: Grk Smells a Rat (by Joshua Doder) and Small Acts of Amazing Courage (by Gloria Whelan) both have connections to India. Neither book is by an Indian author and both are of completely different genres.

I’ve only briefly thumbed through Whelan’s book and the jacket tells me that it is about Rosalind, an English girl in India in 1918. The first Indian character to be mentioned in the book is Ranjit, and imagine my surprise — NOT — to discover that he is the head servant.

Grk…,with an illustration of the Taj Mahal on its cover (although it was the spine that caught my attention and that doesn’t even feature the Taj on it), tells the hilariously-funny adventure of the British tourists Tim, Max, Natascha and their dog Grk as they arrive in New Delhi for the Vijay Ghat International Lawn Tennis Association Under-Sixteen Championship. I read this book cover to cover. It was delicious, and I devoured every page.

My heart jumped with joy when I read about Mr. Vijay Ghat: “Vijay Ghat was one of the richest men in India. He had made millions and millions and millions gambling on the stock market. He’d made millions of dollars, yen and euros too.” Finally, an Indian that isn’t a beggar or a doctor, nor a slumdog millionaire, I exclaimed. But perhaps too soon. The kids also meet Krishnan, a boy who sells them a pirated copy of Harry Potter and belongs to the Blue Rat Gang, a group that enslaves children.

As I mentioned earlier, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire novel, but couldn’t help roll my eyes at some of the stuff captured in it — like the Blue Rat Gang. I questioned if it was cool for the author to spin a yarn about a woman who controlled thousands of children by listening to a talking rat. Did he set it in India simply because mine is a culture full of exotic things like elephant-headed gods? Is that supposed to make it believable? Perhaps not.

But then I had a long, hard think about my own writing and took back all the eye-rolls. I’ve never intentionally intended to or set out writing about Indianness as an agenda. One of my stories is about a girl caught in a punctuation war, while another is about a man and his runaway moustache. Both stories are set in India, and that is certainly NOT why they are (I hope) ridiculous. I wasn’t ever trying to milk my ‘exoticism’: in my defense, the stories unbelievability exists due to its fictionability.

But the Indianness is inescapable. My background and my culture bleeds into my writing in a way in which I have no control. Heck, I even have a character in one of my stories who is a kid from the slums. But that said, in a large portion of my work, I’m certainly NOT painting an accurate and believable picture of India myself. Isn’t it great that fiction allows us to create worlds that are familiar to ours, and yet very different? And if I can let myself get away with it, I must allow other writers to do the same.

Writing about ethnicity is always a sensitive issue. When people from one ethnicity or culture write about people from other cultures, there’s always the chance of someone being offended (this may include even those who share the same ethnicity as the author). It makes it worse when people lose their sense of humor and imagination. Often, people get offended by things that may be completely unintentional. I’m pretty sure the authors weren’t suggesting that all of India is full of illiterate con artists, servants and beggars that are controlled by talking rats, but maybe for a split-second the thought couldn’t help but cross my mind. Still, taking offence would only make me the ignorant one.

Before I came to New York, I had been warned about ignorant “white” people who would ask me if people back home really lived in trees and travelled on the backs of elephants. But I’m very proud to be in a city and in a school where I pretty sure I will never meet that “white person.” I don’t feel the need to explain the way things are back home (or to remind people that they’re not that different), because frankly, us Indians are inescapable. We’re just too many of us, and we’re everywhere.

Some of my classmates are always asking me for more Indian details in my writing, they want to see everything, smell everything, taste everything and touch every little thing, just to get a sense of how real it is. I hope I can give them a blend of what they want, while balancing out the fictional world that I am trying to create. In the meanwhile, I’m hoping to see books by great contemporary Indian authors such as Paro Anand, Kalpish Ratna, Anshumani Ruddra and Sampurna Chattarji on bookshelves here in NYC.

Riddhi Saves Herself from Drowning by Floating in a Sea of Picture Books

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On November - 18 - 2011

TWB November 600x600 Riddhi Saves Herself from Drowning by Floating in a Sea of Picture Books

I often feel like I made a really bad decision with my literature class. At first I thought I’d be interested in the reading list, but after going through a lot of really dense and difficult texts like Tristram Shandy, Ryder, Pale Fire, Naked Lunch and Hopscotch, I wish I’d taken a class that involved some lighter reading.

Luckily, I was also working on a new story for our children’s writing seminar and drew inspiration from some really awesome picture books that I randomly picked them out at the New York Public Library. I was delighted that they were light and funny – just the thing to balance those pretentious fiction texts that were weighing me down.

Here’s a few of the ones that really rocked.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

This one is so simple and charming, a story about a boy and a tree that gives the boy whatever he wants. I had never actually read this as a picture book, only as an email, which sucks because I was missing out on seeing the real Tree. And what a wonderful tree it is!

The Gift by Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan

A very subtle story about a little girl who wanders off from a woodland picnic and finds herself in a lovely clearing and meets an old woman who grants her wish in exchange for a simple necklace of flowers. Remarkably intricate floral details in a folk-art style with hand cut illustrations.

The Bear That Wasn’t by Frank Tashlin

I may have written about this book before, but it’s become like home to me. It’s a bittersweet story about a hibernating bear that awakens to find himself in the middle of a factory where everyone he meets insists that he’s not a bear, but a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat. What’s great about it is the way it tells you to be proud of who you are in a humorous, non-preachy manner.

Someone Used My Toothbrush and Other Bathroom Poems by Carol Diggory Shields and Paul Meisel

Breaking away from the nature them, I moved to the bathroom, with a book featuring lots of different families in hilarious poems with clever word play and just the right amount of grossness about potty training, cleaning the bathroom, waiting in line, an over-crowded medicine cabinet and so on.

BrainJuice: English, Fresh Squeezed!  by Carol Diggory Shields and Tony Ross

More poems by the same author who gave us bathroom poems, this one was just the thing for the grammar nerd in me. This one simplifies the English language, giving you a hilariously honest lowdown on punctuation, spelling, diagramming sentences, drafting letters, writing poetry and much more.

The Terrible Plop by Ursula Dubosarsky and Andrew Joyner

This one reminded me of the Chicken Little and the Sky Is Falling story. Only, in this case, it starts with the rabbits, who hear a terrible plop and begin to run through the forest spreading mass panic about something terrible that’s going to happen. I bet kids will love repeating the “PLOP” as it recurs on every page — and maybe they’ll be able to deal with their own fears through this adorably illustrated book.

Digital Imaging: Riddhi Parekh

pixel Riddhi Saves Herself from Drowning by Floating in a Sea of Picture Books

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