Thursday, June 28, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

I have some news that I must share. The bad news is that Bananabeth is taking the month of July off from the Banana Peelin' series to recharge some batteries and write some middle grade before graduate school starts again and she has no time to flip off a light switch! (Panicking! Quick! Ten CCs of  emergency chocolate, STAT!)  The series will be up and running again in August with some talent that excites her so much, it has transformed her voice to a high pitched squeal that only whales and dolphins are able to interpret.  Eeek! Click. Click. (Dolphin langauge for "I wasn't joking.")

The good news is, the series is going out with a bang with this week's featured author. Today's post will make you LAUGH OUT LOUD. I promise. Please welcome today's Banana Peelin' author, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen!

I always say that since I write fiction for a living, I never let the truth get in the way of a good story. But when it comes to a “banana peel” moment in my writing career, there are so many genuinely horrific things that have happened (or that I’ve done!) that I could not make them up if I tried.

For example, I could tell you about that time I was doing a school visit and I fell off the stage…but as embarrassing as that was, it’s a fairly tame story. There was the time I went to a school and overheard some boys saying things like, “She’s so HOT!” – and then realizing they were talking about my DAUGHTER. Again, awkward and uncomfortable, but not really about my writing journey (and let’s be honest – that is not a memory I want to dwell on. I’d rather re-live the falling off the stage thing!). And then there was the time I wrote a whole YA novel and did not realize that it was AWFUL until I’d spent 6 months on it – but that’s a really sad story and I don’t like to talk about it.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to think of a good, entertaining banana peel moment to share with you…and I keep coming back to something that happened to me at an educator’s conference. I don’t want to give away any incriminating details, but I believe enough time has elapsed that if I leave out some specifics (to protect the innocent), you guys can get the humor without hurting any feelings…So here goes:

At this educator’s conference, I was asked to stay for the author dinner. Normally, that’s a nice ego boost, people treating you like you are special. (I never turn those down.)

Now, at this particular dinner, the organizers warned me that they were going to ask each of the authors to speak a little bit on how he or she got on the track he/she is on. I figured this was going to be very casual, low stress.

Oh, no. No no no no no.

Each author was asked to speak for 5 to 7 minutes. Not a minute or two. For 300 to 420 seconds. And we would start AFTER dinner.

And there were 15 of us. That’s 75 to 105 minutes of “a few words.”

The cherry on top of this banana split? I was number 14 on the list.

Does that sound bad? Don’t you worry. It gets worse.The first guy is routinely on the NYT Bestseller list. And used to walk a celebrity’s dog while he lived in the YMCA. (Imagine how that feels: he’s on the NYT Bestseller list, and I, you know, published something.)

The next woman has won like 712 awards. The next woman felt honored to be a children’s book author since she didn’t learn to read until she was like 9.

I haven’t won very many awards and I learned to read at a normal time.

Then a guy comes up and has his wife sing the national anthem to the country he created in his novel (she wrote the national anthem).

Then a guy plays the flute and gives us a Native American blessing.

By this point, I was incredibly resentful of being number 14 on the list.

Then a guy gets up and raps his picture book. Which I TOTALLY would’ve done had he not beat me to it. Really.

Then a woman gets up and tells a joke. And I think, Great! I’ll tell a joke! Except then I realize that the only joke I know has a hooker and a crocodile in it. This was not the right audience.

I don’t even remember what else happened, but trust me when I say that it just got worse and worse.

But as with all things in life, there are lessons to be learned. The most important actually ties into what we do as authors and storytellers. The thing is, all the stories we would tell are already out there. As authors, we can’t find new stories – we can only find new ways to tell them, ways that leverage our own personal narratives to create our fictional narratives. In a room full of authors who have been asked to talk about how each got on the path to success, the story is really the same – hard work, perseverance, and the overcoming of many embarrassing, difficult, banana peel moments. But the way each of us told his or her story was unique. And even though I was scheduled toward the end and spent a great deal of time mentally railing against the injustice of being forced to think up a new story every time someone else “took” my idea first, by the time I got up there, I’d found my unique voice. I talked about my non-traditional path to writing and the ways that I used my life to inspire my art. I talked about how writing was both a career and a calling for me, and how difficult it was for me to accept that the more successful I got, the harder it was to follow the calling and not the career. And I talked about how I write for many of the same reasons that others do – to inspire, to create, to be heard – but that I also write for a reason that no one else had mentioned yet: I write for Visa. I write because I’ve got bills to pay.

And, in case you’re wondering, the other lesson learned – the one that might be more important – was this: insist you must leave early so that you are scheduled near the beginning and not second from last. Because it is so much harder to think of something interesting to say after 13 other people have talked.

Silver lining: it could’ve been worse — I could’ve been number 15.


Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen is the award-winning author of many, many books for children, including picture books, nonfiction for young readers, and a forthcoming chapter book series called THE SPECTACLES OF DESTINY (due out in 2014). Her picture book QUACKENSTEIN HATCHES A FAMILY was selected for the California Readers 2011 Book Collections for School Libraries. BALLOTS FOR BELVA was named to the 2009 Amelia Bloomer List and received an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award in 2008 and FLYING EAGLE was a National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Science Trade Book selection for Students K–12 in 2010. Her science book, NATURE SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS, was named a finalist for the 2011 AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize for Excellence in Science Books. And her books CHICKS RUN WILD (named one of Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of the Year in 2012) and HAMPIRE! (nominated for a Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award) are her personal favorites, and just fabulous.


Sudipta speaks at conferences, educator events, and schools across the country, teaching the craft of writing to children and adults. She lives outside Philadelphia with her three children and an imaginary pony named Penny. Learn more about her and her books at



  1. Fun post! Sudipta, you had me at falling off the stage! And I love that you write for Visa. Don't we all? I'll have to use that one on someone.

    Elizabeth, have a relaxing month off. What's your master's degree in?

    1. Thanks for your comment Tina! This winter I will be finishing (hopefully) a MA in Education with an emphasis in English Language Learners. Yay! =)

    2. Thanks, Tina -- the kids at the school thought the falling off the stage was great, too!

  2. What a wonderful post, Sudipta! Thanks for the tip about getting placed early on the list - I'll remember that, if anyone ever asks me to speak at a conference - not likely! I had a similar situation at my college graduation. I followed a girl who graduated Magna Cum Everything, then they announced me - Lori Grusin, BS.

  3. I forgot to say, I love your books! Also, I hope July brings lots of relaxation and writing, Elizabeth!

  4. Nice to read how about an award-winning professional riding the waves on humor-board! Great post and have fun splashin' around in July Elizabeth~

  5. You weren't kidding about the laughing!
    Fun post, ladies!
    :) Carter

  6. Have a great July off, Elizabeth!

    Thank you for sharing those moments and lessons, Sudipta. I hope you didn't get hurt when you fell off of the stage!

    1. Thanks Heather! I am still waiting to read your revised story! This next round? Can't wait! :)

    2. The only thing that hurt was my pride!

    3. That's tougher to heal than your body!

      I sent the Sheep in Shoes out in the June rotation :)

  7. Sudipta, is it possible that you might post the crocodile/hooker joke? I'll buy two of your PBs in compensation! (OK, that's not strictly true - I'm buying two of your PBs anyhow, for two upcoming baby showers with pirate themes! How lucky that I have very seafairing friends.) Great Banana Peelin' - thank you so much for sharing!

    Beth, have a magical July and enjoy the foray into Mid Grade!

    NotAnonymously Yours,
    Melissa K.

    1. Thanks Melissa K.! So glad to hear that you will buying Sudipta's books as gifts. :) See you in August!

    2. Email me and I'll happily tell it to you! And thanks for supporting my work -- means a lot.

  8. So, so funny! Totally should've followed your advice, Elizabeth, and put the hot chocolate down :-)
    Sudipta...I am in love with every one of your books that I have read! Love-love-love!
    By the way, I might be your pony...because my name is Penny and I have always liked to trot here and there!
    Thank you for sharing your banana peel moments.

    Elizabeth-Enjoy your break and I will look forward to the "slips" you will bring us after your recharge your battery! charged up as you always sound, it might be scary to have you any more energetic! LOL!

    1. Ha! Penny, do I sound charged up? Really? :) Thanks so much for stopping by and I look forward to hearing from you in August!

      P.S. You're funny. :)

    2. If you're my pony, will you please stop leaving my house a mess? My kids insist it isn't them leaving their toys scattered about, it's the pony.....

  9. Great story, Sudipta! You're a funny lady (I've seen videos), so I'm sure you wowed the crowd, even at number 14.

    Elizabeth, have a productive hiatus! Taking one myself in August, and secretly looking forward to it.

    1. Thanks, Renee! Not sure if I wowed, but I only talked for 3 minutes!!

  10. You are right, Elizabeth. I did laugh out loud. I love your sense of humor, Sudipta! Thanks for sharing. I look forward to checking out your books, which look wonderful!

    Have a great hiatus, Elizabeth. It's good to unplug sometimes.

  11. Sudipta, I didn't want to laugh at your story but I couldn't help it. I might have to keep in mind the whole falling off the stage thing if i ever find myself in front of an audience trying to talk about my

    Dona L Martin

  12. Wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing! :)

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