Asha Means Hope

My fingernails are decimated. I just signed and sent off a contract to Random House for Asha Means Hope, the story of a Bengali teenager who comes to America during the 1970s. Asha is a recurring character in my life (read the short story called "The Fire Escape" on my website to meet a preliminary version of her). So why am I freaking out?

Okay. Here's the scoop. I've signed a contract for a novel that's NOT YET WRITTEN — a huge vote of confidence from my wonderful Delacorte editor Francoise Bui (please imagine the correct French spelling of her name). I do have about half of Asha's story written, so Ms. Bui is not completely insane.

It's also the first time I'm writing a novel without plotting out a rough but steady "narrative arc" before I plunge into story. This time, I'm writing fiction-cum-memoir purely from my right brain, letting the characters inform the plot as I travel along with them. Not my usual style at all.

Finally, I'm panicking that I'll reveal too many family faults and foibles, even though I'm writing fiction. I don't want my beloved parents or sisters to feel humiliated and exposed — I'm a good Bengali girl, after all. But I do want to write truth. How do writers like Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes) spill their ancestral shame across the printed page so freely? Any insights?

Okay. Deep breath. I'm heading off to Peet's to get some writing done.