Last Saturday I posted the first half of an interview with Mitali Perkins. Mitali has written several books for children and teens, two of which I’ve read –Bamboo People and First Daughter – and several more are on my to-read list. Her writing spans many cultures. Not surprising, since Mitali has lived in several countries.
As a person who was born in an Asian country yet America is her home, have you experienced the prejudice that Sparrow experienced in First Daughter?
Mitali: To some extent, yes, especially when we first arrived and I was the foreigner/new kid in school. But everything gets intensified in the celebrity limelight, so Sparrow’s situation was unique.
I had introduced myself to you by sharing that I had also moved more than a dozen times while growing up with an Air Force dad, so I knew what it was like to always be the new kid. If it’s not too intrusive, may I ask what position(s) your parents held that caused you to move all over the world?
Mitali: My father is a civil engineer so he worked to help build ports and harbors.
Many readers of Scriblerians are also writers. They’re interested in some of the minutiae of publishing. For instance, book covers. I’ve displayed several of your covers here. I think the art on both Bamboo People and First Daughter is excellent. It gives a sense of the flavor of each story. Bamboo People is full of shadows, and First Daughter shows a hip, South Asian teenager sporting a sweet and cheerful smile. Do you design the covers yourself, or do you get to approve what other artists create?
Mitali: I have little say in the covers. In the beginning of my career, I had none. Now I get some input. But I am in awe of artists since I neither paint nor draw so it is hard for me to be critical. I do scrutinize them for cultural accuracy, though.
Do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser? I would guess that Bamboo People needed a detailed outline, but perhaps First Daughter skipped through some unplanned adventures.
Mitali: People come first in my stories, with place a close second, and then I wrestle with plot. A growing edge for me is increasing tension in my stories. I want the reader to keep turning pages. Pacing is also a challenge. The passage of time is tough – “days passed,” “three hours later,” etc. seem stiff and heavy-handed so how do you move your characters through time naturally and easily?
What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
Mitali: Unforgettable characters, I hope. Mirrors to see themselves reflected and windows thrown open into lives that are different than theirs.
You have certainly accomplished those goals! I was amazed that I could sympathize with both sides of the conflict in Burma. Kind, decent characters could be found in the city, in the jungle, in the military. And in Sparrow’s world, even the most obnoxious people possessed something golden within them.
A just-for-fun question: if you could meet one of your characters in real life, which one would it be, and what would you do together?
Mitali: I would like to have coffee with Sparrow and take Chiko to see a good doctor here in the States. But all of them are dear to me.
Maybe that’s the key as to why I enjoy Mitali’s stories so much. She loves her characters. And I end up loving them, too. Because love is contagious.
Two questions for our followers and any readers exploring Scriblerians: What characters have you fallen in love with? Why do you think you were so passionate about them?”