Asha's Adventures by Marnia Mustafa1. Tell us about “Little Asha’s Adventure: A Girl’s Journal of Malaysia,” your latest book.

Firstly, as a first time writer, I am truly honored with this interview opportunity. I also never thought surrounding myself with such talented writers of the High Country Writers can be such a wonderful and educating experience.

This book is about little Asha and her parents during their trip to the beautiful tropical country of Malaysia to visit her grandma and grandpa. Through its colorful  illustrations and the stories behind it, this book will expose little readers, and their parents, to the kind of adventures and experiences they will have when visiting another country with different culture. The friendly people, the delicious food and mouthwatering fruits, the colorful clothing, the warm sunny beaches and the festivals are all worth exploring.

2.  Why did you write this book?

The idea came after coming home from a vacation to my homeland of Malaysia. I come from a country that has a strong multi-ethnic, muti-cultural and multi-lingual society. Raised in such environment, I grew up to be someone that respects, acknowledges and most important understands the different values, customs and beliefs practiced by many Malaysians. Because of this, I would like my daughter, Asha, as well as the children that she shall be associating with, to develop such sensitivities to everybody around them, especially everybody that are so different from them. Realizing that children learn about other cultures and people through books, the internet, media sources and even from the school, Little Asha’s Adventures was written to educate young readers, and their parents as well, about the people and the cultures of countries so different from America. If Euro-American children find only people like themselves represented in literature, they could easily get the impression that they are somehow better or more worthy as a group than others. They need to learn that they can always learn something new and different from other group of children.

I strongly believed that by exposing children to people of different cultures, they will be better prepared to function in this diverse global society that they live in. I am a product of such exposure.

Marnia Mustafa3.  The illustrations are lovely.  How did they come about?

Some of the pictures illustrated were based on actually events that Asha witnessed and some were events that I experienced myself as a child. Interestingly, many of the things told in the book still remain the same until today. For example, the way the lion dance festival and the wedding celebrations were conducted remain unchanged until today.

4.  Where do you write?  

I started writing the book early last year, when I was going through my breast cancer surgeries and treatments. My parents were here assisting and helping me during that time (they were here for almost five months) and having them around, it helped me to reserve some time for myself to do my writings and drawings. But my favorite time to do my work was at night after 10p.m, when my daughter is asleep. For 4-5 months, I would stay up until 2.00-3.00p.m. in the morning sketching my drawings. My favorite place is sitting on the couch with my sketching book and my drawing materials watching Late Night Shows. It makes me think better! You just do not know how many sketches that were discard before finally deciding with the right illustrations.

5.  What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

I think I underestimated the difficulty of writing a children’s book and I am sure many people out there feels the same. Firstly, using and choosing the correct and proper words fitted for a child ages between 6-12 years old can be very difficult. You must put yourself in the shoes of these children to understand their thinking and their minds. Then, there is the issue of selecting the right pictures and the choices of colors.

Normally, when finding a children’s book, what attracts readers at first glance are the illustrations. Other than parents, our most important target audience are the children. With striking illustrations , a children’s book would be even more interesting.

It is something like an adult telling us about his/her vacation to a particular destination. By showing us photos of the vacation, we can understand and grasp their explanations better.

6.  Why did you pick a journal format? 

A journal format reflects a self story of a person. It is like a diary that the child would like to share personally with other children. It eases a child’s understanding of the Little Asha’s experiences.

7.  What advice do you have for first time authors?

Do not be afraid to write something that is very close to your heart. As far as publishing and marketing your book, talk and get advice from as many established writers as you can. When going through my cancer diagnosis, I learnt that sharing information is of utmost important. Writing goes the same way too. You will always learn new and informative information from other writers, even writers that are writing genres different from you.

asia-map8.  What impresses you most about Malaysia, your home country? 

Often described as “Asia In Miniature”, Malaysia acknowledge and celebrates quite a number of religious holidays and festivities throughout the year. Located in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is located between Thailand and Singapore. On the map, you will find Australia and New Zealand located underneath Malaysia. Flying to Malaysia from America would take a total of between 20-28 hours, depending on the airlines you are taking and the route you are going through. There are three major languages spoken in Malaysia. The national language is called Malay, and then there are the Indian and the Chinese languages. The Chinese population in Malaysian mostly speaks Cantonese. Most Chinese in China however speaks Mandarin.

Last year, Martha Stewart visited Malaysian and I think her visit to Malaysia was even featured in her television show.

The most impressive thing about my country? That has to be the food! The nearest place for you to sample a true Malaysian delicacy is in Charlotte at a restaurant called Cuisine Malaya.

9.  What surprised you about your new home in the United States?

Well, I am actually not new to America. The first time I came to America was in 1992, when I was sent by my Government to pursue my degree in Economics at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. I was there for five years. In fact, I have travelled to more than 20 states in America during my student years. I even went back to Kansas City in 2007 and some things still remain the same there!

10.  How did you meet your husband? — we love a romance.

Have you ever seen the movie The Terminal, with Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta Jones? Of course I do not look like the beautiful Zeta Jones but my husband was most certainly better looking than Tom Hanks! Well, I met Brad, my hubby, at the terminal at Newark Airport. I was waiting for my flight to go back home to Malaysia (I was on a business trip in the States and my flight was delayed) and Brad was waiting for his flight to Charlotte. I was bored but was in the mood for conversation. Then, I saw him, siting next to me. Well, I am very proud to say I started the conversation first and the rest was just history!

My favorite all time book has always been Jane Eyre. I thought I would find my Mr. Rochester somewhere in England. But I guess I found him in America!

11.  What’s your favorite Malaysian saying?

My most common used Malaysian phrase is “sayang”, which means honey/baby/sweetheart/darling. I used that to both my hubby and my daughter!

12.  Is there another book in the works?  Tell us about it.

The main reason I wrote a book about Asha’s experiences in Malaysia was because her mother is a Malaysian. For her to respect me as her mom, she must also understand and respect my ethnic background and my heritage.

Brad’s family was originally from Dundee in Scotland. I too, would like Asha to meet and understand the Scottish culture. We are planning a trip soon to Scotland and that would be my second book, Asah”s Adventure: A Girl’s Journal of Scotland. In Dec  this year, we are planning to go back to Malaysia again for vacation and since Bali island is just an hour by flight from Malaysia, I would like to take Brad and Asha to Bali as well. Hopefully, that would be my third book, about Asha’s trip to Bali.

To understand the culture and lifestyles of other group of people, a child must first learn that at home.

The best place to purchase the book is at www.authorhouse.com because they have the latest edition of my book.

You can also visit my website at www.ashaadventures.com

If you are interested to know more about Malaysia, please visit my blog at www.visitmalaysia.blogspot.com

Thank you Maggie for this opportunity!