The Backstory: ORANGE FOR THE SUNSETS & MEENA'S MINDFUL MOMENT
Tina Athaide joins us to share the inspiration behind her middle grade novel, ORANGE FOR THE SUNSETS (Katherine Tegen Books, 2019) and her upcoming picture book, MEENA'S MINDFUL MOMENT (Page Street Kids, 2021) with illustrations by Åsa Gilland. Keep reading to discover a heaping helping of actionable advice and to enter to win one of Tina's books.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind not one, but two of your stories.
Thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to share a little bit of my world behind the scenes.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your middle grade novel, ORANGE FOR THE SUNSETS.
This story is close to my heart. Orange for the Sunsets is set in Uganda, where I was born, and tells the story of Asha and Yesofu. Two friends who have never cared about their differences. Indian. African. Short. Tall. It never mattered to them. But that all changes when President Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country. Suddenly those differences are the only things people see and Asha and Yesofu find that nothing seems sure—not even their friendship.
What a powerful premise! I love that your story educates kids about a specific time in history while also exploring the rollercoaster of emotions and feelings that come with friendship at this age.
What’s the story behind the story?
You will find it interesting to learn that this story began as a picture book before shifting into a middle grade novel. Like a chameleon it changed many, many, many (did I say MANY) times. One version was written only from Asha’s point of view and when I made the decision to write it from two points of view, I tossed 100 pages into the bin and then started the task of crafting Yesofu’s story.
The manuscript was rejected 30 times before finding a home. This meant a lot of revisions, re-imagining, and rewriting. There were many times I tossed it in a drawer and wanted to give up . . . but I didn’t!
Wow! I admire your commitment to your story and the perseverance to travel along with it through so many revisions and rejections until you got it just right. That is true dedication and a great lesson to all of us who may currently be stumbling over our own drafts.
What was your inspiration?
I have a close personal connection to this story. Though my family's departure from Uganda was not as traumatic as the experiences depicted in the novel, I remember relatives arriving at our London home with one suitcase and fifty shillings, which is all they were allowed to take when they left.
Later, I attended a Ugandan reunion in Vancouver and was moved by how the community's joy, hope, and resilience empowered them to rebuild their lives in new countries.
I worried that this story might get lost and I knew it needed to be told. Asha and Yesofu are not based on any one specific person, but rather many people and experiences.
Your connection and passion for the topic are clear and your capturing the story and providing it for generations to come is a gift. Not only will it serve as a reminder of what occurred, but it is a way for children who are experiencing similar situations to feel seen.
Thanks so much for sharing that backstory with us. And now I’d love to know more about MEENA’S MINDFUL MOMENT, your picture book coming out this October.
Where did the idea for MEENA’S MINDFUL MOMENT come from?
This idea for this story comes from my childhood. Meena’s grandfather is based on my own grandfather. When I was six, my family visited Goa, India. In the afternoons, my grandfather would take me for a walk through the village and we’d visit some of the same places that Meena goes with her grandfather. If I’m quite honest, I think I brought my own imaginary hurly-burly hullabaloo on those walks and Grandpa patiently welcomed it on our adventures. I loved writing this story and capturing those memories I shared with Grandpa.
What a beautiful way to honor your grandfather and to hold on to and share such precious memories.
Mining memories is one of my favorite ways of finding inspiration. I often feel a deeper connection to these pieces which allows me to better express the characters' emotions.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now MEENA’S MINDFUL MOMENT? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
This was a seed that I had to nurture and similar to Orange For The Sunsets, it changed many, many times. One version even had snow and another coconut snowflakes. But, through it all the one thing that remained the same was the grandfather and the three places he and Meena visit.
I love that you knew what the heart of the story was all along and that despite the many changes those aspects remained consistent.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
I like to think of my ideas as little fireflies. They appear with a bright sparkle that catches my attention and doesn’t let go. That doesn’t necessarily mean, I drop everything and write, but the seed is planted. Honestly, writers are also observers of people and life in general. I get ideas from my students, from events in day to day life. I love that moment when something I see or hear or remember stirs my imagination.
The imagery of ideas as fireflies is beautiful! And I agree with you about that moment when the spark of a new idea is ignited. It is thrilling and such a great feeling to have a shiny new idea with endless possibilities.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
Here are a few of my favorites…
The Snowy Day by Ezra Keats put children of color in the pages of a book and showed them sharing universal experiences.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis is a great example of world building, fantasy, and adventure.
The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch. This is the perfect example of a great twist at the end of the book.
Absolutely wonderful picks!
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
I have created lots of little writing spaces throughout my home and will pick a different area depending on my mood and what I need to accomplish. For example, I often sit in the garden when I am writing the first and second drafts of a story.
When I start a new project, I treat myself to a journal. It is where I draw, make lists, write letters to my characters and have them write back to me, plot, plan, and generally have fun creating and imagining the new story.
You packed a lot of useable advice into this answer. I love your use of multiple spaces based on your mood or task. And the back and forth of letters with your character is such a fantastic way to get into their mindset and develop a more well-rounded picture of who they are before diving into the narrative.
Here is a peek at some of my writing spaces.
Tina's revision chair Companion- Butler Creative writing space
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
Read! Read in the genre you want to write and outside that genre. Write down words and phrases that capture your heart and imagination. Study your favorite characters to learn more about how the writer shapes them in the story. READ and then WRITE. Don’t be afraid to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. That first draft is always a mucky mess for all writers.
The fun is in the revisions!
Once again, amazing advice. You are right, those messy first drafts can't be avoided. Dive in and let the words flow!
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I am juggling two projects right now. Another picture book that is also set in Goa, but this time explores the bond between a child and her grandmother. Then I am returning to 1973 London to explore what life was like for the Indians when they were forced out of Uganda. This book will have completely new characters. This idea was inspired when I found out that one of the resettlement camps was an active US Airforce military base. So there is a lot to explore there.
Well, it sounds like two more incredible books are on their way from you! Best of luck with both projects and I can't way to read the finished products!
Where can people connect more with you?
I love hearing from my readers.
Readers be sure to check out ORANGE FOR THE SUNSETS and mark your calendars for the release of MEENA'S MINDFUL MOMENT, with illustrations by Åsa Gilland, releasing 10/5.
Tina thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind both of your stories. It was a pleasure hearing the backstory behind each.
Tina is generously offering one winner a copy of either ORANGE FOR THE SUNSETS or MEENA'S MINDFUL MOMENT.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Like our FB page and comment on this week's post.
4. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT TINA ATHAIDE
Tina Athaide was born in Uganda and grew up in London and Canada. While her family left Entebbe just prior to the expulsion, she has memories of refugee family and friends staying with them in their London home. The stories and conversations she listened to through the years became the inspiration for her book Orange for the Sunsets. Tina now lives in California with her husband, Ron, and their daughter, Isabella.
Represented by Andrea Cascardi at TransAtlantic Agency
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.