Guyanese-Canadian author NATASHA DEEN has published over thirty works for kids, teens, and adults, in a variety of genres and for a variety of readerships.
Her 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 with the University of Toronto SCS
Q: Your family moved from Guyana to Canada because of racial and political violence. How was that transition and what were some of the more notable points (positive or negative) and how did that affect you?
The transition was bumpy, but one of my favorite memories was my dad coming into the room my sister and I shared and waking us up. “Come downstairs,” he told us. “It’s snowing.”
It was our first winter and I’d never seen snow. I raced down the stairs, across the living room floor, climbed on the couch, and pulled open the curtains. And there it was.
It had been falling for a while, so everything was covered in this glittering, sparkling white blanket. It was the kind of snow that fell in thick, lazy flakes, and turned the sky a pink-magenta color. There was just enough wind that the snow swirled around the lampposts and caught the light. At the time, I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen… I still think it’s one of the most beautiful moments in my life.
Q: You focus mostly on writing for teens/young adults? What drew you to that age bracket and why?
Writing for kids/teens is FUN! As a writer, you can go into so many creative places and inhabit unique, imaginative worlds. Plus, you’re writing for folks who are learning the mechanisms of communication and story—the chance to be part of the team that helps light up someone’s love of stories is such a wonderful job to have.
Q: How did your writing first get noticed and then published, and was it a frustrating experience trying to get exposure?
Well, you’re talking to someone who has over four hundred rejections, so yes, breaking into the industry can be frustrating!
What it really came down to (and continues to be) is perseverance. As a writer, our job is to write, submit, keep writing, and hope/wait for the industry to take notice. I think of it as head down (keep working), chin up (don’t lose hope).
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Q: Music plays a large part in your character’s (Nira Ghani’s) life and your own, both from your childhood to the present. What are some of your favorites? Music with words or without when writing?
Oh, I’m a SUCKER for 80s music! And yes to playlists when I’m writing!—I create playlists for each of my books and I have a morning playlist to start my day.
Q: We live in a multi-cultural age where the richness of differing cultures often plays a large part in the flavor or setting of many stories that emerge. Do you find that the audience reached is wider as a result, and if so why do you believe that?
I don’t have enough information to speak to the audience reach of a book that’s diverse versus one that isn’t, but I will say there is an openness, curiosity, and hunger for stories that are rich with culture.
It’s my experience, from chats with readers/reviewers/teachers, etc., that people love learning about communities, cultures, and experiences that are different to theirs. (We also know from research that books teach empathy, connection, and inclusion. So books that showcase different ways of being, not only serve as great story-telling, but they do a lot of heavy lifting in helping to make the world a better place).
Q: Describe your typical writing time? Setting? Pros, cons, frustrations, solutions?
I don’t have a typical writing time. Each day is different. So, I wake up each morning, take a look at the obligations and tasks for the day, then schedule accordingly (and try to stay open that my schedule can shift and change in a moment).
Q: I understand that you drink a lot of tea—what are your favorite kinds?
Hahahaha, I do! I’m partial to black tea, made the Guyanese way (lots of sugar and milk!). You can find the brewing instructions here. https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/9780762465453_Activity_Sheet.pdf
Q: You said (in a different interview) that you get a lot of feedback from readers about how much they enjoy the humor in your books. What makes you laugh?
I guess I just love things that delight me! Turns of phrases, puns, social commentary that make me see the world in a new way. I’m not a fan of mean humor or jokes that punch down, but anything that helps me understand the world and share a connection with someone, yes, please!
Q: Tell us about your latest book?
Thank you for asking. I’m so excited about The Signs and Wonders of Tuna Rashad for many reasons—the chance to tell a funny story, to have a novel that deals with grief and love and crushes, and the chance to celebrate one of my culture’s tenets that I grew up with: our belief that our ancestors watch over us.
Here is the blurb:
Let’s be clear. No matter what her older brother, Robby, says, aspiring screenwriter Tuna Rashad is not “stupidstitious.” She is, however, cool with her Caribbean heritage, which means she is always on the lookout for messages from loved ones who have passed on. But ever since Robby became a widower, all he does is hang out at the house, mock Tuna for following in their ancestors’ traditions, and meddle in her life.
Tuna needs to break free from her brother’s loving but over-bearing ways and get him a life (or at least, get him out of hers!). Based on the signs, her ancestors are on board. They also seem to be on board with helping Tuna win over her crush, Tristan Dangerfield. The only hiccup? She has to do it before leaving for college in the fall. A ticking clock, a grief-stricken brother, and a crush who doesn’t believe in signs. What could possibly go wrong?
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