newsletters i never sent
sabrina carpenter stans don't @ me
Starting a newsletter to “share” my “thoughts and feelings” only to immediately stop having “thoughts and feelings” to “share” is, I have to admit, classic Zeba behavior. I’m a private person by nature (a textbook Scorpio, one might say), but there used to be something freeing about Tweeting or Tumbling into the void. Less so these days.
This isn’t to say I didn’t consider sending newsletters between August and now. I even drafted some of them, only to forget, or give up, or double-think myself into paralysis. So below is my partial 2022 roundup, including things I could have shared if I had an attention span greater than that of a goldfish.
Book Stuff You Should Know About
Three months until MIDNIGHT STRIKES, so before I get to share some Very Fun news (hint: 🎨), how about we release the (drum roll please) full!! cover!! jacket!!
LOOK AT HER!! In full color!! With jacket copy!! And blurbs from incredibly wonderful authors and friends!! And my face?? What??
I might have cried when I first got this in my inbox. We’ll say that’s why I didn’t post it immediately on my socials, not something incredibly silly like “I tried to make a legible graphic highlighting each panel only to give up at 1am on a weekday and block out all memory of graphic-making until I decided to make, of all things, an Aesthetic Reel instead.”
Time marches ever forward (for now), so if you’re so inclined…
Things I Read That I Loved
to paraphrase Mindy Kaling. I didn’t read a ton this year (see: attention span of a goldfish), but anyway:
IN A GARDEN BURNING GOLD, Rory Power. Best fantasy I’ve read all year. Don’t go into this one with any preconceived notions. Just let it unspool before you. Then, I beg you, come talk to me about it.
THE MARVELOUS MIRZA GIRLS, Sheba Karim. Not a 2022 book, I know, but one that squeezed my heart into pieces and broke my brain. Every few months I think “I could totally write a contemporary,” but then I remember Sheba Karim exists, so like, why bother.
LEGENDBORN. Yes, yes, I’m 1,000 years late to this, but as someone for whom Shadowhunters et al were formative influences, I had an absolute blast with this one. I am obviously a Selwyn apologist (though I also very much love an honor-bound prince who’s down bad1 ); no, I haven’t read the sequel yet.
I’M THE GIRL, Courtney Summers. Oof. I love contemporaries that push the boundaries of what literature for teens can be (see: THE MARVELOUS MIRZA GIRLS), and cannot stop thinking about the balancing act Courtney pulls off here. I’m in awe.
HOW TO FAKE IT IN HOLLYWOOD, Ava Wilder. There’s not a lot I love more than a celebrity romance, except maybe a fake-dating romance, so this one really hit the spot for me. Smart, hilarious, devastatingly good.
Hyperfixations I’ve Had
The World Cup: I did not consciously name my debut’s love interest after a certain campeon del mundo but looking back, who can really say?
Essays I Almost Wrote
Not a hyperfixation, but an academic fascination that stemmed from this promotional video for the Hindi fantasy film, Brahmāstra (dir. Ayan Mukerji, 2022). My brainrot is such that this otherwise disposable promo artifact actually resulted in my longest unsent newsletter draft:
As briefly as humanly possible, Brahmāstra is proudly marketed as Bollywood’s answer to Hollywood’s giant fantasy blockbuster tentpoles. It’s a fantasy-superhero movie about a young man that doesn’t burn in fire who gets pulled into a secret magical society that has defended ancient divine-magic weapons from a Big Bad because he is a divine-weapon himself. Despite a lot of film industry and politics brouhaha that I won’t go into here, Brahmāstra has become the highest-grossing Hindi film of the year so far, and is set to start a trilogy. It’s now streaming on Disney+/Hotstar in India and is accessible through Hulu in the US.
Now, I first saw the ‘influences behind Brahmāstra’ IG video when it dropped in August, but wanted to wait until I saw the actual film to revisit it. Now that I finally have, I can say that it was right: Brahmāstra is a YA fantasy. It has every single beat you would expect of a 2000s YA fantasy. Its lore reveals happen like clockwork (including—spoiler alert for anyone who 1. reads this newsletter and 2. cares about Brahmāstra—the ‘your parents were secretly in the secret magical society too’ reveal). Its worldbuilding, its magic systems, its themes are all reasonably well done but also more than a little passe for anyone who has, I don’t know, read any prominent 2000s children’s or YA fantasy with a male protagonist.
From the video, we learn that Mukerji’s influences include the big names in fantasy series—Star Wars, LOTR, HP—but on his bookshelves is also stuff like Wheel of Time, the Bartimaeus Trilogy, and Artemis Fowl. That was just the stuff I could see by while zooming in on my laptop and muttering enhance, enhance like I’m a detective in a police procedural leaning over the IT guy’s computer searching for that last bit of evidence tying the suspect to the crime. (I do not watch a lot of police procedurals). I would not have been surprised to see some HDM there, or Inheritance Cycle, or honest to God the original Shadowhunters trilogy. And that’s to say nothing of the Indian culture and Hindu mythologies and markers that Mukerji is also very pointedly citing as influences. So aside from all of the signaling-by-way-of-production-design that went on in that one (1) promo video, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to write fantasy, especially from non-Western subjectivities and positionalities.
Again, asking big questions that I am subsequently hard-pressed to answer is classic Zeba behavior. But I am, and remain, deeply fascinated by the question of what it means to be, in both my and Mukherjee’s case, a South Asian creative twisting Western-origin fantasy tropes, plots, character, etc. What do we pick and choose to adapt? What do we leave behind? What do we lose in the act of cultural translation?2 What do we stand to gain?
Cakes I Have Baked and Endorse
Blood orange olive oil cake, a 2020 mainstay I returned to twice this month in my apartment kitchen, with varying success. (This just in: using zest and therefore having a thing that can zest does make a difference!). Next week I will make it with actual blood oranges.
Cannoli pound cake, just yesterday. As a lifelong Jersey girl, there’s nothing I love more than a cannoli. This one ended up “giving scone,” but in even more classic Zeba behavior, I made this in a round cake pan instead of a loaf pan and messed with the bake time a bit.
Lemon blueberry cake, which was wonderful for winter citrus. It became very tall for some reason.
That’s All, Folks
Those are all the thoughts I had in 2022! Here’s to more (or less, depending on how much fun I find promoting my book) in 2023!
I can feel my copy of BABEL glaring expectantly at me from across the room. I’ll get to it one day.