Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Jesmeen Kaur Deo Interview - TJ Powar Has Something to Prove

Photo Content from Jesmeen Kaur Deo

Jesmeen Kaur Deo grew up in northern British Columbia, where she spent most of her childhood daydreaming. She loves books that can make her laugh and tug at her heartstrings in the same paragraph. When not wrapped up in stories, she can be found biking, playing the harmonium, or struggling to open jars. TJ Powar Has Something to Prove is her debut novel.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
I always have to give credit to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, because it was the series that made me fall in love with the potential of YA contemporary. Other formative YA works: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead really informed my voice. The Airborn series by Kenneth Oppel has everything I love in books—fast paced plots, unique settings, thrilling adventure, lovable characters and a side romance that leaves you craving more.

Also, I definitely learned a lot from fanfiction. There are incredible talents there. Like many people, I’ve read many fanfictions that have blown published books out of the water, stories I will remember for my whole life. I like how experimental it is, without the restrictions of traditional writing wisdom. It’s also from fanfiction that I got in the habit of writing third person present tense. I like the distance it gives me from the characters, all while feeling very in the moment.

Greatest thing you learned in school.
I can’t think of one singular thing! I will instead say that certain classes I took in undergrad—evolutionary biology, philosophy of mind and physical biochemistry—were some of the most interesting and eye-opening learning experiences I ever had. Evolutionary biology in particular has been an extremely useful tool as a writer, to make sense of the world.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Having early readers tell me that what I wrote really resonated with them. That they wish they had it as a teenager. That it made them hold their head up a little higher. That’s exactly why I wrote the book.

Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
Like a lot of people, I wanted to be a writer since I was quite young, about seven or eight. I wish I remembered what brought that dream on!

What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
I don’t believe there is any one right way to do things, but personally, I like to observe people in real life a lot. Listen to how they talk. Watch the power dynamics in a room. Pick up on peoples’ little quirks. I try to put myself in their shoes, imagine what they’re thinking. If someone does something that kind of irks me, I try to think of what their thought process might’ve been. Not only is this an empathy-building exercise but I think it’s helpful when I’m trying to write complex characters who have deep flaws as well as strengths.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I don’t have updates to share yet. But you can pretty much always assume I am working on something!

In your newest book; TJ POWAR HAS SOMETHING TO PROVE, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
Yes! This book is about TJ, a pretty, popular high school debater who becomes the subject of a meme along with her cousin Simran—where TJ is the “expectation” of dating an Indian girl, and her cousin who doesn’t remove her body hair is the “reality”. When the meme goes viral at their school, TJ decides to stop removing her body hair to prove to the world and to herself that her life wouldn’t be any different if she were hairy.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I hope they question some of their own internal biases, the way I did, and start to unlearn some of them! Moreover, I just hope they have a lot of fun. At the end of the day, the greatest thing I can do as a writer is provide an escape into stories.

What part of your characters did you enjoy writing the most?
I have to say writing TJ’s romance with her love interest was a lot of fun. Not only because their dynamic was so interesting to write (and often unexpected), but also because I got to write a hairy brown girl getting the kind of love story I would’ve been obsessed with as a teen.

What was your unforgettable moment while writing TJ POWAR HAS SOMETHING TO PROVE?
The day I put on shorts and no longer saw the hair on my legs as bad. I remember sitting there for ages, trying to figure out why I ever thought this hair was so horrible. That was the moment I realized writing this book had changed me. Somehow my paradigm had shifted. I hadn’t expected that—I set out to write something for younger girls. I never expected to benefit myself. But I did, and it was that moment, before this book ever sold, that I knew writing it was worth it. For myself.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I might introduce TJ to Eliza Quan from Not Here To Be Liked by Michelle Quach. They’re both fighting assumptions and have to learn things about their own views of feminism at the same time. They’re also pretty different but equally headstrong. I’d love to see what kind of argument they have.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
When my brother and I were in our mid-teens, we made a pact to stop fighting about things that didn’t matter, because life is too short. I kind of carry that idea with me, to try to appreciate what I have when I have it and remind myself to not get too bogged down by minor details of day-to-day life.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Try ras malai. It’s delish.

Best date you've ever had?
This goes for both platonic and romantic, but accompanying somebody while they do errands is such a great way to get to know them. For example, I love grocery shopping with people. You get something done you needed to do anyway, and you get to see how they operate on a day to day level. You can get a sense of what the ordinary feels like with them. And if they’re a good person to have in your life, it’s really fun.

What is your happiest childhood memory?
Now that is really hard! One memory would be when I was maybe eight years old and in my mom’s ancestral village in India, lying on the roof with my dad on a warm summer night and stargazing. That moment felt so peaceful.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
The first time someone told me that they believed storytelling was something I was meant to do. And when people first started telling me a story I wrote stuck with them for months or even years after they read it. Those things are what keep me going, the idea that I could create a legacy that outlives me with my words.

What is your greatest adventure?
I feel like I haven’t traveled enough to have an interesting answer to this. But ultimately I think adventure can be found anywhere, every day, whether it’s somewhere across the world or across your backyard. I think adventure is in the details. There’s so much that we miss and become immune to because it’s always there. Even in the people we see every day, the places we pass in our daily commutes. There is always something new to appreciate if you look for it.

Ten quotes from ten different characters:
  • “’Pretty’ is the last thing I’d call you.”
  • “Feel free to ask for pics of me at any time. Not for the paper, but in general.”
  • “Didn’t we get a bulk order of colour-coordinated team uniforms or did I hallucinate that?”
  • “Whoever invented the beep test should be in prison.”
  • “TJ, why do you always have to bust my balls like this?”
  • “I see emotional talk makes you hungry.”
  • “I told you, I’m running on BST. Brown Standard Time.”
  • “Just because I’m failing half my classes doesn’t mean I’m illiterate, dude.”
  • “What’s really a disease, and what’s just diversity? Who gets to decide?”
  • “Oh my god. I didn’t realize you were that hairy.”
Your journey to publication
I started writing seriously for publication in 2016. At that point, I had researched enough into the process of traditional publishing to know what I was aiming for. As well, I finally had the confidence to re-attempt writing novels, with the encouragement of countless friends from online fandom. Their support got me through the challenging parts of the process—and still does, to this day. So I wrote that first novel, a fun YA contemporary fantasy. But at the time, I didn’t have any connections in the publishing industry. I applied to mentorships with the hopes of getting some experienced eyes on my manuscript. Luckily, Meredith Ireland (author of The Jasmine Project and Everyone Hates Kelsie Miller) took me on in 2018, and it was with her help that I revised my book and pitched it to agents in the Twitter #DVPit event. Four months later, I signed with my agent.

However, that first book didn’t sell; the most common feedback was that people didn’t know how to place it on shelves. A lot of this is luck and timing, and I don’t think the time was right for that book. After a year on submission to publishers, I shelved it and my agent and I turned to the next book I’d been writing in the meantime: TJ Powar. That book sold relatively quickly. When I got the news from my agent that an editor had offered, the first person I told was my brother. Throughout this whole journey, he’s been the person I tell all the news to, both good and bad. Then I called my parents. They were all super happy for me, of course! My dad actually goes into bookstores sometimes and asks them if they have my book, all while pretending he doesn’t know me. He’s such a troll.

A charming rom-com about high school debater TJ Powar who—after becoming the subject of an ugly meme—makes a resolution to stop shaving, plucking, and waxing, and prove that she can be her hairy self and still be beautiful…but soon finds this may be her most difficult debate yet. Perfect for fans of Netflix’s Never Have I Ever.

When TJ Powar—a pretty, popular debater—and her cousin Simran become the subject of a meme: with TJ being the “expectation” of dating an Indian girl and her Sikh cousin who doesn't remove her body hair being the “reality”—TJ decides to take a stand.

She ditches her razors, cancels her waxing appointments, and sets a debate resolution that she will go all in to defend: “This House Believes That TJ Powar can be her hairy self, and still be beautiful.” Only, as she sets about proving her point, she starts to seriously doubt anyone could care about her just the way she is—even when the infuriating boy from a rival debate team seems determined to prove otherwise.

As her carefully crafted sense of self begins to crumble, TJ realizes that winning this debate may cost her far more than the space between her eyebrows. And that the hardest judge to convince of her arguments might just be herself.

You can purchase TJ Powar Has Something to Prove at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you JESMEEN KAUR DEO for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of TJ Powar Has Something to Prove by Jesmeen Kaur Deo.


  1. Sure, I've written a few love letters. They were sweet and not mushy.

  2. Thanks for choosing me for this exotic book.