Let’s Get Lit: Muslim Author Interviews II


Hi and Salaam to my Muslim siblings! 

Welcome to the second round of author interviews for the #Muslim Authors week of the Let’s Get Lit Online Book Fest.

Here’s a small recap if you didn’t know what we’re about. The Let’s Get Lit Online Book Fest (LGL Book Fest) is a six week long book event which seeks to highlight books by marginalised and debut authors with books coming out this year. This is the fourth week of our event and the Muslim authors week. You can read the first and opening event of the week, where we introduce all the authors featured this week here. You can also find the first round of author interviews hosted by the amazing Rameela @Star Is All Booked Up, here.

Today for the fest, I’ll be interviewing another round of four authors. They are Rabiah York Lumbard, Sahira Javaid, Fariha Khayyam and Marzieh Abbas.

Q: Please introduce yourselves and briefly explain what your books are about!

Sahira: Hi, I’m Sahira Javaid. : )  I write poetry and my YA fantasy Crowning Soul is debuting August 9 of this year! I’m so hyped!

Crowning Soul is about a biracial girl who gets pulled into another dimension and has to mend an angel’s soul and stop malevolent jinn from shattering her own soul. I’d pitch it as Inuyasha meets the City Of Brass.

Fariha: Hello, I’m Fariha! Self-published author of SHARDS and YA book blogger.

SHARDS is a short modern-poetry collection. It is about the journey of a girl as she struggles to come to terms with what she has endured. Mind you, it come with trigger warnings, so please read those as some of the poems can be quite dark. 

Rabiah: Salaams and Ramadan Mubarak! I’m an American Muslim (going on twenty years now) and a kidlit author (going on a decade now) who currently lives in Doha, Qatar with my hubby, three kids and many, many cats. I write heart-centered picture books like my Gift of Ramadan and The Conference of the Birds and also heavier, “high concept” type of contemporary novels like my debut YA thriller No True Believers.  

Marzieh: Hello and Salaam! I’m Marzieh Abbas, a Pakistani, Muslim author and baker. I live in the bustling metropolis of Karachi and began writing a year ago (May 2019)! I won a scholarship to Mira’s Children’s Book Academy in August, and have since attended conferences and workshops virtually. I am a member of SCBWI and enjoy connecting with fellow writers on Twitter. I also blog about my author journey and life in Pakistan on Instagram @beansprouts_pk. I run a book review group on FB: Children’s Book Reviews (CBR Global).

My debut picture book: “Hamza’s Pyjama Promise” was published in January 2020, by a UK Muslim publisher: Sun Behind the Cloud Publishing. It’s a spin-off on “The Day the Crayons Quit“, only in this version Hamza’s body parts have written letters to him!

My second book is called “Hamza and Aliya share the Ramadan Cheer” and was to be released this April, but has been delayed slightly due to the pandemic. It has been published with Kisa Kids, a US faith publisher, but is aimed at Muslims and non-Muslims alike; a story about the true spirit of sharing the joys of Ramadan. It’s also literally a slice of my life- it revolves around a family that loves to bake and is set in the blessed month of Ramadan, with the kids eager to distribute food and dessert to neighbors and share the Ramadan Cheer.

Although both these books have been published by faith publishers, I do want to write books about Muslim characters in everyday life situations and aim to publish with mainstream publishers some day.

Q: What inspired you to become a writer?

Sahira: When I was ten, I can still remember when a local author came to our library and spoke about her book. I loved the adventure, the escape her books were, so I started writing my own adventure and haven’t looked back since.

Fariha: Hmmm, I started writing when I was in university, that almost a decade ago (wow). I wrote in the little notebook I carried with me and on the memo app on my mobile. I backed them up on proper document, so they don’t get lost. It wasn’t until much, much later that I decided to publish them. At that time there were new Muslim authors and it really encouraged me to continue writing as well.

Rabiah: I was inspired by motherhood and the lack of quality and nuanced stories that show more than one type of Muslim.

Marzieh: I have always loved to write, but never got around to doing so. Last year when I was on a hiatus from baking, I wrote my first draft of both the books mentioned above. I began studying the craft and initially wrote my books as memos to my kids, tried my luck at submitting them and I have been extremely lucky.

Q: Who’s your favorite Muslim author?

Sahira: Oh wow, this is a tough question! If I really have to choose, then it would be S. A. Chakraborty. Her book The City of Brass gave my heart so much happiness when I read about Muslim characters in a fantasy for the first time. I love how she wove Islam into the story and it’ll always be in my heart.

Fariha: Well, that’s difficult to say, really. The Muslim Shelf Space has grown quite a bit and I’ve still yet to read all of them.  My favorite author at the moment would be Sabaa Tahir and Hafsah Faizal.

Rabiah: Oh, so tricky. And I don’t want to leave anyone out or hurt any feelings. So I’m gonna pick a dead person! Lol. One of my favorite Muslim authors is Rumi. I know, it sounds cliché. But his poetry is a balm for the soul and more importantly, best understood as a tafsir of the Quran.

Marzieh: Rukhsana Khan and Sadia Faruqi

Q: If two of your MC’s were stuck together while social distancing, what would happen?

Sahira: Oh goodness, this depends if I want a funny, scary or romantic outcome. ; ) Let’s go with the latter! I guess I’d pick Nezha and Kayan. Nezha would eat all the chocolate and joke about how they couldn’t touch each other anyways. Kayan would probably stay up all night and sleep in the morning. There would be a lot of blushing. lol.

Fariha: N/A (Since my book is a poetry, it doesn’t have two MCs)

Rabiah: If it were the little girl and her grandmother in The Gift of Ramadan then they’d be baking yummy treats and probably packing on the pounds like the rest of us! If it were Salma B. and her cute boyfriend Amir from No True Believers then, well, I think they’d need to find an Imam to initiate a zoom wedding because—I mean—you know, they’re young and bored and stuck together. Haa. Haa. 

Marzieh: A bake-off for sure!

Q: What are your favorite books?

Sahira: Just a few: A Crown of Wishes and the Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, The City of Brass by S A Chakraborty, Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, Six of Crows duology by leigh Bardugo, Children of Blood and Bone, The Candle and The flame by Nafiza Azad.

Fariha: My all-time favorite would be The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I also never get tired of (re)reading The Ember in the Ashes Series and the Six of Crows Series.

Rabiah: For PB—anything by Tomie DePaola, may he rest in peace. For MG I loved the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker. And for YA I will gladly consume anything written by Jason Reynolds or Jacqueline Woodson.

Marzieh: Too many to mention, but the ones that come to mind are

There’s a Bear in my Chair by Ross Collins

-ish by Peter Reynolds

The big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan

Yasmin series by Saadia Faruqi

Q:  What made you want to write in your current genre?

Sahira: Fantasy is such a beautifully broad genre to me. You can add adventure, comedy, romance and suspense. Most of all it’s the journey of finding yourself that pulled me in.

Fariha: I still do write poetry on the sidelines, but I’m not sure when another poetry book will be published. 

I read YA/Fantasy and love anything to do with dragons, magic and well, you name it. That lead me to write a fantasy story of my own. It’s far from being complete at the moment

Rabiah: Fear and pain. I needed to get past it.

Marzieh: My kids were my inspiration! The characters in my books are even named after them. I was open to change the names, but both my publishers were happy to keep them. I also feel picture books can be used to address any issue and are a great conversation starter for any topic!

Q: Your favourite character now has twitter, write a tweet like they would.

Sahira: Character huh? I’ll choose one from a manga. For those that know me, they’ll know who and why I choose him.

InuYasha @TheRealInuYasha

‘Kagome, you baka! Stop following that damn fleabag!”

Fariha: I love this question! My favorite character would by Rhys (from ACOTAR), I’m guessing his tweet would be like:

“Hey Darlings, I look and feel particularly awesome today, so here’s a selfie!”

Rabiah: If your Islam isn’t compassionate, it sucks. ~Salma. B.

Marzieh: Tuesday is a perfect day for baking, so is Monday, so is Wednesday! SO is everyday of the week! No what shall I bake today?

Q: Do you feel like your book is the kind you wanted to read when you were younger?

Sahira: For sure! I started writing it when I was ten. In a way it grew with me. I wanted an adventure and to feel like I belong somewhere. So, Noorenia was that world for me. : )

Fariha: I took anthology-literature classes in school and trying to decipher poetry was fun, but I never thought I’d publish a poetry book of my own some day! For my younger self, I think she would have found them to be too layered to be enjoyable (maybe!).

Rabiah: Yes! I know I would have identified with many of the characters in NTB, especially Vanessa. What can I say. I was a pothead. Astaghfirallah. 

Marzieh: Yes, absolutely!

Q: What do you hope readers, especially from your community, take away from your book or your experiences as an author?

Sahira: Hope, belonging and love play a big role in my story. I hope people see the representation of Muslims in my story because I know when I saw other Muslim authors writing Muslims into their books, I felt like I was seen. That in a world where we are usually the villain or backdrop character, we could be seen as humans. I made sure I showed my Muslims characters not just their religion in how they look, but the way they act. The way we deal with hatred and face it with mercy and love, the way we trust God, the ways we show compassion and acts of charity, even by our smile.

Love of all kinds is in Crowning Soul: self-love, friendship, siblings, parents and romantic.

My mental health has been mirrored in one character. To keep from spoiling, I really do hope people see the struggles of that character’s mental health, how they’ve been abused, yet they never give up. They keep trying to find themselves and their worth. It’s a messy beginning, it always is, but I’m looking forward to letting this character blossom.

Fariha: From my book, the takeaway would be that hardships come to pass, no matter how dire the situation may seem to be, just pray, sit tight, and don’t lose faith. From my experience, well, I never expected to be an author, writing is just something I enjoy doing, so do what you love to do – don’t let reality come in the way of your dreams.

Rabiah: I want them to remember that just because a Muslim doesn’t mirror their type of Islam doesn’t mean they don’t love God and take their Islam seriously.

Marzieh: I hope people are inspired to publish their own stories- I’ve had so many people from my community contact me for guidance. I honestly believe we need more books from diverse authors.

Q: Do you have any advice for any aspiring authors out there?

Sahira: Keep writing even when people tell you to stop. I’ve learned from seeing others and my own experience, that we’ll have that one person who tells us it’s not worth it. Don’t listen to them. If you’re passionate about it and it makes your soul sing, then write. Don’t forget to read as much as you can in any genre. You’ll learn about other story plots and who knows, maybe you’ll write in another genre too and that’s such a beautiful thing.

I know you’ll hear this from others: Don’t give up. Really, don’t. You might think it’s taking long, but the most beautiful and profound things have taken their sweet time. It’ll all be worth it. : )

Fariha: Write and continue writing! The world needs all the stories it can get and your voice matters. 

Rabiah: Patience, perseverance and professionalism will go a long way. And try something new. Try writing in a new POV, genre or writing style. Go bold. You’ll never know what you are capable of if you don’t step out of your comfort zone. Good luck. I’m always here to support you. 

Marzieh: Keep learning, have a growth mindset and take every rejection as a stepping stone that is getting you closer to you eventually becoming a published author. Also, don’t underestimate the value of a consistent critique group! Invest in memberships, make the right connections and tell the story your heart wants to tell! When you feel you have a great story, but just can’t get a break through, hire a professional editor and revise, revise, revise. Good Luck!

Thank you so much to these amazing authors for taking their time to chat. I’m really excited for all their books. 

You can catch the other events on the fest on these blogs:

|Instagram |Twitter | Goodreads | Tip me on Ko-fi



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