Natasha Deen - Lovingly-Crafted, Poignant, and Funny

Natasha Deen - Lovingly-Crafted, Poignant, and Funny
natasha3

Guyanese-Canadian author Natasha Deen writes for kids, teens, and adults, and enjoys visiting libraries and schools to help people to find and tell the stories that live inside of them. Her published works include the Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection Thicker than Water, Guardian which was a Sunburst Award nominee, and the Alberta Readers’ Choice nominated Gatekeeper. Her YA novel, In the Key of Nira Ghani, won the 2020 Amy Mathers Teen Book Award. When she’s not writing, she teaches Introduction to Children’s Writing with the University of Toronto SCS and spends an inordinate amount of time trying to convince her pets that she’s the boss of the house. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, The Key of Nira Ghani.

Please give us a short introduction to The Key of Nira Ghani.

Nira Ghani has always dreamed of becoming a musician. Her Guyanese parents, however, have big plans for her to become a scientist or doctor. Nira's grandmother and her best friend, Emily, are the only people who seem to truly understand her desire to establish an identity outside of the one imposed on Nira by her parents. When auditions for jazz band are announced, Nira realizes it's now or never to convince her parents that she deserves a chance to pursue her passion.

What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything that made you want to tackle this?

My motivation with Nira was the same with my other books—I wanted to tell a story that readers would enjoy. What if there was a teen who wanted to pursue a non-traditional career (professional musician) and how would she navigate telling her very traditional parents? I tossed in a sassy grandma, a super awesome crush, an annoying cousin, and let the hijinks and funny run wild!

Tell us more about Nira Ghani. What makes her so special?

What makes Nira special is she has something that lights her up, that grounds her and gives her a place in the world. The trick for Nira is finding the confidence and bravery to go against her parents’ wishes and define her life for herself.

In which way is this a coming-of-age story?

To me, it’s in the moment that Nira is willing to risk her parents’ disapproval and go against their dreams for her in order to live out the dreams she has for herself.

Why did you decide to include jazz music in the story?

Ha! Because Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind” is one of my most favourite songs and I love how music—of all kinds—has the power to lift us up and make our day better.

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

Ohhhh, I’m an excellent tea drinker & have never met a cupcake I didn’t like.

How much of your own life have you written into this story?

Nira and I share sassy grandmothers, ride or die friends, and a passion for the arts. We’re also the kid of immigrant parents & both lived to tell the tale of the BBQ Incident. For the most part, though, she’s a work of fiction.

Cool cover. Tell us more about how it came about.

That’s all credit to my amazing team at Running Press! I gave them Nira’s story and they imagined the cover. Then I spent days squealing in delight—both the hardback and paperback cover are the stuff of dreams!

Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?

All the time! Those are great moments for me to plot & character check. Am I asking my character to do something outside of how I designed them? Or am I doing something squirrely with the plot and I need a rethink?

What did you have the most fun with when creating this story?

Drinking tea and eating pastries. When I’m drafting a story, nibbling on treats is the only thing that brings me joy! (Around Draft #10, though, I start seeing the light and enjoying all aspects of the story—from the character to the writing to the plot).

Does this book contain an underlying message? What do you hope readers will take away from it?

I hope readers will take away what they want. I can give the same book to thirty people and each of them will read a different story because every individual brings their experiences, hopes, dreams, and values to the book. To that end, I envision my novels as a playground. I’m going to build my readers swings, climbing equipment, slides, but it’s up to the reader where they want to play and for how long.

Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?

I wish I could say I had interesting writing habits, but when it comes to my workday, I’m all about sitting in the chair for my allotted time and trying my best. Not writing perfectly, mind you, but just trying my best. I don’t know that I have an average workday, per se. Each day will include emails, edits and/or writing, prepping for workshops or perhaps, for the online class I teach (Introduction to Children’s Writing) with the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies.

natasha5

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I’m doing research for a YA suspense story…or maybe a fantasy…or maybe—ah, writers. We always seem to have too many ideas to track!

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

Folks can find me online at www.natashadeen.com and on Twitter @natasha_deen.