I’ve got another great interview for you all today! Mitali Perkins, fantastic author and Readergirlz Diva . You can check out her book trailer to find out more about her First Daughter series. And now, on to the interview! Thanks to Mitali for such great answers.

You write strong South Asian female main characters. What do you have in common with your characters–are you like one of them in particular?
I’m like all of them in some ways, but to me they are more like beloved daughters than versions of myself. Sunita, Naima, Sameera, Jazz, and Asha are the daughters I never had (I’ve got great sons, though :)). I suppose the most autobiographical book is my first one, The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen. Sunita’s a California teen whose grandparents come to visit from India, which is exactly what happened to me in 8th grade. Only two of the characters in my books are EXACTLY like real people – the grandfather in Sunita’s story, and Jingle, the labrador retriever in the First Daughter books. He is totally and completely Strider, our yellow lab.
How have your own experiences and your background affected your writing?
Many of my stories are about feeling displaced, rootless, and like an alien, emotions that have defined me most of my life. Also, I’ve seen a lot of poverty in my global travels, so I write about that, too.
Why do you choose to write for young people? Do you plan to write for other audiences in the future?
My soul is pretty much stuck at age fourteen, so I don’t think I could write for any other group of readers. Knowing how much I was shaped and formed by the stories I read when I was a child, I feel it’s a high calling and responsibility to write for kids. Adults read with their minds first and hearts second; kids do it the other way around. There’s an openness to the power of story that wanes as we grow older and become jaded. I do write non-fiction for adults, but I’m sticking to fiction for young readers till I can write no more.
You write realistic fiction. Would you like to write other genres–say, fantasy or historical fiction or anything else–in the future?
Fantasy, definitely. My biggest dream is to write the Calormene Chronicles – a fantasy series that doesn’t disrespect the Narnia books, which I love, but complements them from a brown-skinned point of view. I know it’s presumptuous to think about achieving Lewis-like caliber in my writing, but without lavish dreams, what’s the point of life?
And my next novel, coming from Random House in January 2009, is historical fiction set in India during the era when Indira Gandhi imposed martial law. It’s called “Secret Keeper,” and the main character’s name is Asha.
What are you writing now?

I’m working on a short story called “Can You Hear Me Now?” for a Scholastic anthology on poverty – it’s about the cellphone revolution in village Bangladesh. I’m also revising “Secret Keeper” for Francoise Bui, my editor at Random House. And I need to finish the last revision of “The Bamboo People,” a novel set along the Thai-Burma border featuring two boy protagonists – a first for me. Charlesbridge is publishing that in 2010.
Politics is a big part of your First Daughter series. Are you involved or active in politics?

I was a political science major in college and went on to get a master’s in public policy. I was all set to become a wonk of some kind in DC, but decided instead to try and change the world through story instead of legislative analysis. Also, maybe because I’m an immigrant, I’m mesmerized by the American political system – freedom of speech, a peaceful change of power, and a place for minority voices. These are riches unheard of in most parts of the planet, and throughout history.

As you know, I’m tracking the real campaign through Sparrowblog <http://www.sparrowblog.com>, a blog about the real First Kid wannabes authored by my fictional character, Sameera Righton, star of the First Daughter novels. <http://www.firstdaughterbooks.com/>.
Imagine that First Daughter is going to be made into a movie. Who do you have in mind to play your characters?

I love the kid on the CW television show Aliens in America who plays Raja. Maybe he could be Bobby? I wouldn’t mind Shefali Chowdhury, who played Parvati Patil in the Harry Potter flicks to star as Sameera, but she’d have to lose the British accent. I blogged about her on the Fire Escape once: <http://www.mitaliblog.com/2005/07/you-go-parvati-and-padma.html>.

I’d like Gary Sinise to play James Righton, Sameera’s Dad, but I wouldn’t say no to Kiefer Sutherland (24) or Viggo Mortenson (LOTR). If Viggo wanted to meet for coffee to talk about auditioning, I might be able to make it. And for Sameera’s mother, definitely either Laura Linney or Laura Dern.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

As Winston Churchill told his people during WW2, NEVER GIVE UP. Monsoon Summer, my second book, was rejected over 20 times and it took ELEVEN years for it to come out. You need big dreams, thick skin, and ruthless revising to succeed.
What are some of your favorite YA books or authors?

I like dead people. Sorry, I mean books by dead people. Can’t help it. I’m a huge LOTR fan, re-read all of Louisa May Alcott’s books every other year, and Jane Austen always satisfies my brit-lit hunger.
You recently became involved in the readergirlz project. Could you tell readers a little about the project, and how your experience as a readergirlz diva has been so far?

I was so honored to be asked to join Readergirlz <http://www.readergirlz.com> as one of five divas this January, along with Lorie Ann Grover, Justina Chen Headley, Dia Calhoun, and Janet Lee Carey. My responsibiliity is booking authors for our monthly issue and forum so that teens can interact with their favorite authors, as well as featuring new discoveries. I love this because it means promoting fresh voices and great books, two of my passions on the Fire Escape <http://www.mitaliblog.com/>, my blog where I frequently feature lists, links, and reviews of books between cultures.

Here’s the Readergirlz manifesta:

* Readergirlz is about having serious fun while talking about books with the author and your friends!

* Readergirlz is about getting the inside scoop about why the novel was written, the tears and joys and real-world angst that the author has lived and layered into her story.

* Readergirlz is about reading great books to get to know yourself, your friends, and yes, even your mother, better.

* Readergirlz is about celebrating strong girls in books who’ve got the guts to dream.

* Readergirlz is about reaching out to others based on what you’ve read.

* And most of all, readergirlz is about inspiring girls to make history of their own!
Is there a question you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to add?

Great interview, Jocelyn! I love hearing from readers, so please tell people I never get bugged by emails, Facebook messages, or Myspace comments. Send them my way!
Thanks so much for doing this, Mitali!