Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chicks, Chapters and Chai....

Yes, my tagline pretty much sums up the Story of Dona pretty well.

Before college, I was your typical shy, Indian-American teenager. I'd spent my child and teenage-hood hiding in my room, buried in my book rather than socializing, playing sports, going to the mall or doing any other "teenage-y" things. I lived my life through books and always had a secret fantasy of maybe, just maybe, writing one one day.

This fantasy began to take shape in college when I was a lowly Computer Science student, sitting in the Engineering Library, staring miserably out the window at the 8 inches of falling snow. I was lonely, newly in love with a handsome guy who happend to be living on the West Coast. I was wracking my brains for what to get him for Christmas. The week before I had gone to the Ann Arbor Borders to see Nicholas Sparks speak on his latest book, A WALK TO REMEMBER. He talked about how it was the story of his sister Jamie and a tribute to how much he missed her.

Hmmm, my young mind got to thinking. He wrote a story as a tribute...I should write a story as a tribute. So that night, I pounded out 20 pages on the story of How Dona Met Manav. It was beautiful, realistic and ..... short.

50 pages total and I was done. My story had a beginning, middle, and an ending. Not happily ever, mind you, but a content ending. I ran to the nearest Kinkos, had it bound attractively and wrapped it up a gift.

My then-boyfriend, now-husband loved it and it still sits on the shelves of our house, bound in blue leather with gold lettering. Fast-forward a year to when I was a lowly Software Engineer in Seattle, Washington, living alone. I had just gotten married (see guy above) and he was in transition to a move to Seattle. I sat alone in my apartment, staring at the 8 inches of falling rain and thinking, "What, oh what will I do to pass the time till he gets here?"

My eyes fell to the Bellevue Community College pamphlet and tada, Intro to Creative Writing was found. I walked out of the first class awestruck. A room-full of writers. Real, honest-to-god writers who were telling me I should bring in a chapter of whatever I was working on.

The problem was I wasn't working on anything at the time, but I could be! I rushed home and pounded out 20 pages of whatever came to mind. OREOS WITH CHAI was born. (Great title--terrible story!) The story of a 21 year old Indian-American girl, fighting the eternal battle between her Eastern culture and Western upbringing, living alone in Seattle, looking for adventure....wonder where that inspiration came from ;)

I dragged those awful chapters to class and got tons of encouragement and requests to bring in more. And that's how the writing career began. Over the next year, I learned that a story needs to have a plot, a conflict and usually, a decently happy ending. I finished OREOS and shopped it around to agents, dreaming of publishing deals and book covers.

Nothing doing. The rejections I got back were kind, "The plot meanders, the characters are weak, but you have potential. Send me your next work." I wrote my next book, DESI DIVAS, the story of 4 friends who battle evil bosses, evil boyfriends...and each other. I sent that out in January 2005 and by February, Sha-Shana Crichton called in the middle of the night offering representation. Woo hoo!

Unfortunately, no editors wanted it. I then re-wrote OREOS WITH CHAI to have a plot and some half-way alive characters, but by then the entire "Chick-lit" genre was dying out. And again, no editors wanted it.

I cried and hollered at the ever-patient husband and he told me, "Why don't you write about something totally different?"

Huh, why not? Why not write something a bit Over the top almost. The kinds of books about ethnic teenagers that I had never had growing up. And HOW TO SALSA IN A SARI was born. The year was 2006 and that's when I re-met Heather Davis and we became critique-partners and fast friends. Since then, my world has turned completely around. I met the Buzz Girls, sold SALSA in December of that year (while sitting in my in-law's living room in Bombay, India---I should really leave the country more often!), and wrote my second YA novel, SHRINK TO FIT. Now I have the best set of friends a girl could wish for, a publishing deal and I wonder every day how I got so lucky.

HOW TO SALSA IN A SARI is the story of a beautiful Cuban-American diva and an average Indian-African realist and how they go from being worst enemies to step-sisters.

SHRINK TO FIT is the story of a powerful young athlete who falls so deeply into the "skin and bones" stereotype of beauty our society worships, she winds up losing everything she's ever cared about in the process.

I am currently working on a trilogy of YA novels, tenatively titled The LAHIRI SISTERS. These books represent the story of the three Jamaican sisters: Azur, Jade and Pearl who manuver the Manhattan prep school labryinth. I'm very excited about this next set of books :)
So that's me in a lot of lines! I live just outside Seattle with my darling husband (the inspiration behind my very *first* book) and our cat, Ashton who takes extremely good care of us. During the day, I work as a Test Lead in the Windows division at Microsoft. I'v kept my secret identity of a struggling novelist hidden for years now, but now it's starting to come out and my two worlds: technical and creative, traditional "good Asian girl" day job and "creative American girl" nightlife are starting to come together.

I can't wait to see what comes next!
Dona Sarkar-Mishra
HOW TO SALSA IN A SARI - January 2008
SHRINK TO FIT - August 2008


TinaFerraro said...

Dona, I can't wait to see what wonderful things come for you next, too! It was so great to get a deeper look into your life story and writer's journey. As much as I enjoyed hanging with you in Dallas (and here at our blog), I feel I know you even better now!

And hey, somehow I missed seeing your SHRINK TO FIT title. I love it!!!

stephhale said...

I'm with Tina, you just changed that title recently, didn't you? I love it.
And how dang cute are you and Manav? Writing him a book is the sweetest thing ever! I loved hearing about your journey and I am SO lucky that our paths crossed.

Me said...

Ditto on loving the new title! And what a lovely story about your path to becoming a writer. Manav is a lucky guy. =) It's amazing what winding steps and happy coincidences turn a passion into a career--for all of us.

Marley Gibson said...

Dona...have you EVER taken a bad picture LOL! You're just the most photogenic person ever!!! Can't wait to read your book. You and hubby look adorable. = )

Heather Davis said...

Man, this is a fun week BBG! I love hearing (aka reading) everyone's stories about how they got into this world of writing. Dona, how did I miss this story about your writing a book for Manav? How cute. I'm so proud to know you... the queen of finding cheap-ass food and the right accessories. You're a good friend and fashion advisor. So glad we met up and got together with the buzz girls. Group hug -- I know cheesy but so appropriate. Thanks for being there, BBG.