It's not often that you get the perfect package of awesomeness wrapped into one human. However, sometimes the universe makes an exception. Meet the incredibly talented and all around bad ass writer Preeti Chhibber! She's a YA author, speaker, and freelancer who's written for SYFY, The Nerds of Color, and The Mary Sue, among others. Her short story, "Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers" was published in A Thousand Beginnings and Endings (HarperCollins, 2018) and she's gearing up for her debut release, "Peter and Ned's Ultimate Travel Journal" (Marvel Press, 2019) — a companion novel to Marvel's upcoming film, Spiderman: Far From Home. Releasing June 4th, the novel is said to be "written by," Peter Parker and his best friend Ned as they explore Europe on a school trip!
We had a chance to sit down and chat with Chhibber about her current release, journey as a writer, and just getting to know her all around! Check out our exclusive Q&A with brown queen Preeti Chhibber below!
How did you get into writing/becoming an author and what were your biggest challenges?
I fell into writing, sort of. I’ve always been a huge reader, but somewhere along the way I got it into my head that “real” writers were something else, and I was just playing around in fan fiction and blogging land. But eventually, I realized that it’s all writing. I’ve benefited greatly by growing up on the internet. Everything was writing practice, whether it was the advent of something like Fanfic.net where you’d put your fandom stories up for feedback on the Internet, or LiveJournal where you poured out your most personal thoughts… for an audience.
The biggest challenge, however, was not even realizing that writing was an actual job because it’s not really discussed as a viable option in our community and I didn’t grow up seeing writers who looked like me. It made it hard to imagine a world in which I could be creative as a career.
You're about to release your all-new book with Marvel, Peter and Ned’s Ultimate Travel Journal! Can you tell us about your process with writing your book and what we can expect?
I can’t say too much because I’m 90% sure Marvel is watching me write this, but I can say that it was such a fun (and stressful) experience. Stressful because it was a fairly tight timeline to write the full book. Fun because… well, I got to write Peter Parker! Spider-Man!! Years and years ago, I put it out into the universe that I wanted to write this book — and here we are. Spider-Man written by an Indian-American woman. What is life!
You're very vocal about diversity and inclusion in the publishing industry. What would you say are the biggest problems that need to be solved?
Accessibility is huge, both through a community understanding that this is a valid career, and in an industry that doesn’t value its marginalized employees. Publishing is an industry that requires an enormous amount of privilege to be a part of, and so there needs to be a reckoning of equity to diversify it.
There also needs to be significant education on how to best support their marginalized employees, and how to market/edit/discuss books by and about marginalized authors. It all goes hand-in-hand. I need publishers to look around a room of employees who have the power to make change, and if it’s all white, all cis, all straight, etc. I want them to realize that it is a problem.
As a writer, who are your biggest influences?
Oh wow, that’s so hard. I think my humor is heavily influenced by early-to-late aughts sitcoms, if I’m being super honest — like Scrubs, Parks and Recreation. Writing… growing up there was barely any desi representation in my reading (and in publishing in general, of course), so my favorites were Madeleine L’Engle, Tamora Pierce, Stephen Chbosky, Meg Cabot. People who wrote about young people coming to terms with themselves, of young people growing up. As I grew a little older, I picked up books like The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and Dancer by Colum McCann which were both wildly influential in drastically different ways. Lahiri showed me that our stories matter, that the story of first generation kids matter, and that there were people who recognized the issues of identity that I thought were unique to me. McCann showed me that there are so many ways to tell someone’s story.
I wish I could cite all the people of color I read growing up, but the truth was that I didn’t know how to find them. I’m so glad to be able to say that kids today have so many more opportunities to pick up books like My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Aru Shah and the end of Time by Roshani Chokshi, The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta, or the forthcoming Anatomy of a Heartbreak by Sona Charaipotra. Those are five recent books by South Asian women. Unheard of when I was growing up.
What are your top 5 TV shows that you would recommend?
Gah! This one is so hard!!! Okay, the aforementioned Scrubs, the original Norwegian edition of a show called Skam because it is some of the best writing of teens I’ve seen in ages, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Boy Meets World (it holds up, I swear), and New Girl because Hannah Simone low key has some of the best first-gen Indian representation on TV. Okay and *of course* I have to add in a bonus for The Red Line considering my brother (Vinny Chhibber) gets to play a character whose authentic experiences on screen are ones we so rarely get to see. A few weeks ago I saw two people ask him “What are you?” which is a dehumanizing question that I think so many of us have been asked. It was so cathartic watching him get rankled and then shut it down. I felt seen.
You're having a traditional Desi dinner party — What dishes are a must for a perfect meal?
I want street-style, like, pav baji, I want pani puri, I want bhel puri, dahi vada. All of that food that is so bad for me. I want it all.
What were your favorite Bollywood movies growing up?
I was lucky enough to be the perfect age when DDLJ came out, so of course Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge is on the list. I can also still sing most of the Antakshari song from Maine Pyaar Kiya, and I have to include an Aamir Khan joint on this list so we’ll add in Lagaan. (If I can cheat and add in some slightly more current favs: Dil Dhadakne Do, Khoobsurat, and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil).
What advice do you have for aspiring writers of color?
I would say find the community! There is no better support for writers of color than other writers of color. I have found so much help through my fellow desi writers, and it has been invaluable. We, as a community, have to support one another because no one else is going to do it.
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