For Sona, Writing A Novel Was a Piece of CAKE

recipe boxFor the longest time, if anyone asked, I’d tell them I didn’t have a book in me.

I was a writer, sure — I’d been paid for my journalism work since I was 18. And at 22, I went to NYU to study screenwriting. I was all about structure, plot, pacing, 120 easy-breezy pages. Not a huge commitment. Not too much to tackle. I did the program over four years (the limit!) while I was working at People, where a 400-word story was a longer feature. That, I could hack. Hack being the operative word.

Amazingly, while I was at NYU, working on my thesis script, it did get some interest from Hollywood. It was a fun, high concept story about a young brown girl with a big deadline — one not unlike me, really. And Monsoon Wedding had just come out, and was a massive hit. So my sister (my writing partner then) and I worked with the development exec for more than a year, perfecting that script. And then a terrible film called Bride & Prejudice — also about a young brown girl, but one quite unlike me — came out, and flopped. And that, sadly, was the end of any interest in that script.

All the while, other writers I knew were working on novels, toiling away, rewriting, polishing — and eventually selling. I stalked this very blog, and celebrated with newly published pals. As I raised a glass to their succes, I heard it countless times: “With your media background, you could easily sell a book.” But still, I insisted. I just don’t have one in me.

That’s when my husband finally called bullshit. A writer himself, he pretty much forced me to apply to MFA programs. But I was pregnant. And then we had a newborn. He didn’t care. We’d make it work. And I’d get serious about writing. My daughter was eight-months-old when I started the program. And in it, I wrote. I discovered that I didn’t just have a single book in me — I had many. Most were a mess, and some will never see the light of day.
But I’ll be forever grateful for that two years at the New School, where I learned to take myself seriously not only as a writer, but as a — dare I say it? Novelist. And while I’m still working on that one story about a brown girl with a big deadline, while I was at school, I met Dhonielle — my partner in crime, and my co-writer on the book that will become my debut, Tiny Pretty Things. D and I bonded over Patsy’s pizza, Vampire Diaries, and most importantly, the fact that we never saw ourselves in books as kids or teens. And still don’t, really. I fret that my daughter and son would have the same experience growing up — lots of windows in books, but no mirrors. I wonder how much that has to do with me always claiming that I didn’t have a book in me?

In any case, when D told me stories about working at a cutthroat ballet academy, we knew it was a world we needed to explore. And we knew it was just the right way to bring some diversity to YA, but in a fun, high concept way. So that book became the cornerstone of a company we call CAKE — one that we hope will bring a lot of flavor to YA and kids books.
And one that proves to me, once and for all, that I definitely have a book in me. Maybe a whole library full!

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An entertainment and lifestyle journalist published by The New York Times, People, ABC News, MSN, Cosmopolitan and other major national media, SONA CHARAIPOTRA currently curates a kickass column on YA books and teen culture for Parade.com. A collector of presumably useless degrees, she double-majored in journalism and American Studies at Rutgers before getting her masters in screenwriting from New York University (where her thesis project was developed for the screen by MTV Films) and her MFA from the New School. When she's not hanging out with her writer husband and two chatter-boxy kids, she can be found poking plot holes in teen shows like Twisted and Vampire Diaries. But call it research: Sona is the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book development company with a decidedly diverse bent. Her debut, the YA dance drama Tiny Pretty Things (co-written with Dhonielle Clayton), is due May 26 from HarperTeen. Find her on the web at SonaCharaipotra.com or CAKELiterary.com.

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This article has 15 Comments

  1. I love everything about this. My kids are biracial, and I’m always scouring books for kids that look like them! Now, with your new company, I hopefully won’t have to look too far. What an amazing accomplishment. Can’t wait to read Tiny Pretty Things!

  2. Quoting a living legend Punjabi Poet Surjit Patar, I say this:
    . . . .ਮੈਂ ਰਾਹਾਂ ਤੇ ਨਹੀਂ ਚਲਦਾ, ਮੈਂ ਚਲਦਾ ਹਾਂ ਤਾਂ ਰਾਹ ਬਣਦੇ . . .”! ਸੁਰਜੀਤ ਪਾਤਰ
    . . . .Main Rahaan te Nahi Chlda, Main Chlda haan tan Rah Bnde. . .”! – Surjit Patar
    Translated in English which means something like this, “ I don’t walk on trodden paths ; I walk and paths follow !

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