Finding Creativity

Multicultural Inspiration with Meera Sriram

The Wonder of Words Finding creativityWelcome Word Wonderers, as we explore a colorful Indian market today with children’s author, Meera Sriram. Meera and I connected at last year’s Fall Writing Frenzy kidlit contest, so when I saw she would be releasing a gorgeous picture book set in a bustling Indian marketplace, I reached out to her. What better way to escape my own backyard and travel somewhere new to me?

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“Saffron orange and marigold”–my daughter and I fell in love with the luscious color words as our narrator searches the markets for the perfect gift for her mother.

Candice: Welcome, Meera! When and where did you get the inspiration for A GIFT FOR AMMA?

Meera: When my kids were little, I often searched for multicultural picture books for early learning. They were hard to find but the few we read were enriching in many ways. Since then, a book on colors set in a cultural backdrop was always on my mind. I grew up in India and every time I stepped out to the street, there was so much to take in –  colors, textures, smells, chaos, sounds! But capturing and packing all of that into a picture book manuscript was the challenge. I had tried a few different drafts and given up. In 2017, I pulled out the manuscript and started playing with it, incorporating active as well as sensory elements. Soon, the colors and markets seemed to come alive.

Candice: That’s the hardest part about picture books–packing so much in while not overcrowding the story. You definitely found that balance! What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

Meera: Revisions! A first draft usually makes me happy because I’ve actually acted on an idea. Then, at a certain point down the road you realize that the story has great potential. You start rolling up your sleeves and paying attention to hook, rhythm, imagery, and start to push harder to shape it up into something that’ll stand out. Sometimes, this happens when you get positive feedback or insightful direction from critiques. I love to discover and navigate the possibilities that open up during this process. With every iteration, words grow richer, plot tighter, ending stronger, and a small sprouted idea transforms into a full story arc.

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Waves of moving color, soft cotton, chimes, clinks, and lullabies–my kids and I adored all the senses this story invoked.

Candice: Love this! I always say creative people are creative in a lot of different ways. Do you have other outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?

Meera: I love photography and very often I attempt to communicate through a visual composition. I used to photo blog for a few years, where the writer in me took a back seat and allowed a picture to speak for itself. To me, objects, light, and placement are equivalent to characters, plot, and setting. I also enjoy decorating interior spaces, and again, I try to include things like memorabilia and art to make the space feel lived in and to tell stories.

Candice: Leaving room for the illustrator is something I struggle with so it sounds like your photography interest helps with that–great idea! Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity? 

Meera: I believe we’re all creative all the time! Like when we cook or garden or hang a picture or play with a kid. Some of us pause longer and invest more because it brings us joy. If we let life happen and engage with the world, we’ll find countless ways to express creatively. I believe the important thing is to take the time to stop, listen, look closer, and soak in the moment.

Candice: Great advice–listen, look closer, and soak it in. Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Meera: Yes! Coincidentally, it’s about a very creative person. My next picture book, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (Spring 2021), is a biography on Amrita Sher-Gil, the Indian-Hungarian artist who was a pioneer of modern Indian art. And I can’t wait to see the creativity Ruchi Bakshi Sharma will bring to the illustrations. I’m also working on edits for another picture book (yet to be announced) and I’m enjoying the collaborative process with my editor and illustrator. I have another idea for a book for which I’m trying to draw from within to find the best way to tell the story.

Candice: That sounds amazing! I love creative coincidences. Thank you for being here with us as we listen, look closer, and wonder at words, Meera. And congrats on A GIFT FOR AMMA’s release!

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I love backmatter fun facts! The kids thought this was cool but don’t think they’ll be trying stinky tofu or oyster omelets anytime soon! There’s also a spread explaining all the items our narrator discovers in the market, like jasmine, turmeric, vermilion, etc…

Want to travel within this lyrical, colorful story? Be sure to request it from your local library or independent bookstore. They do so much for our communities and need our support during this pandemic. You can find it online at bookshop.org which also supports local indie bookshops (you can pick your own local indie if they’re an affiliate. If not, it goes into a pot to be divided among indie bookstores.)

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Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the U.S in 1999. An electrical engineer in the past, she now enjoys writing for children, leading early literacy initiatives, and advocating for diverse bookshelves. Meera is the author of picture books, The Yellow Suitcase (Penny Candy Books, 2019), A Gift For Amma: Market Day in India (Barefoot Books, 2020), and the upcoming title, Between Two Worlds (Penny Candy Books, 2021). She has also co-authored several kids’ books in India. Meera believes in the transformative power of stories and likes to write about people, places, and experiences less visible in children’s literature. For more information, visit meerasriram.com

Mariona Cabassa studied illustration at the Massana Art School and completed her postgraduate degree at the School of Fine Arts in Strasbourg, where she also learned how to speak French. She has illustrated more than 80 books in Spain and other countries. She lives in Barcelona, Spain.

Call to Creativity: is there a subject in children’s literature that you’d like to see more of on bookshelves? Think about ways you could put a new, creative spin on a book of colors.