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Let’s Get Lit Fest: Muslim Authors Week INTERVIEWS with Ari Reavis, Hena Khan, Nafiza Azad, and Farah Zaman

Hello, everyone! I’m so excited to share some amazing advice and books from Muslim authors! If you haven’t checked out the Let’s Get Lit Fest (on twitter and instagram), where have you been? Check it out and participate to be entered into giveaways and also just because the authors are so cool! This online book fest features absolutely phenomenal authors from different marginalized communities! Make sure to check out the Author Line-Up over at Emmie Books. You can see all the authors involved for this week HERE.

It’s just so inspiring and amazing that there are some amazing Muslim authors writing different genres! Fantasy! Contemporary! Mystery! It’s all FANTASTIC! Their characters just sound so fun and for the ones I haven’t met I definitely am excited to meet them! Like everything they said is truly brilliant and I am not good at words so without further ado here are the interviews!

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

Ari Reavis: I’m Ari Reavis. Wife, and mother of five. I’ve been muslim for 12 years. I’m a reader of all kinds of books, but romance will always be my true love. My books are romances, ranging from new adult to adult. So far, I’ve published five books.

Hena Khan: Hi! My name is Hena Khan and I’m picture book and middle grade author. A lot of my books feature characters who share my heritage, which is Pakistani American Muslim. My picture books introduce Islamic culture, practices, and traditions, and my middle grade features kids like mine who are navigating life and overcoming challenges and regular kid stuff!

Nafiza Azad: My name is Nafiza Azad and I am the author of THE CANDLE AND THE FLAME which came out last year and the forthcoming THE WILD ONES: A BROKEN ANTHEM FOR A GIRL NATION scheduled to hit shelves next summer. In THE CANDLE AND THE FLAME we accompany Fatima on her journey to find herself and to defend the city and the people she loves from those who would destroy it. THE WILD ONES is about Paheli and her group of wild girls who are all survivors of assault and other abuse as they traverse the world through a magical corridor known as the Between and rescue other girls who are caught in the same circumstances they escaped from.

Farah Zaman: Assalaamu Alaikum and Ramadan greetings! My name is Farah Zaman, and I’m a self-published author living in New York with my family. I’ve always been an avid and voracious reader and I believe I’ve read enough books to sink a ship! I’ve written three books so far in The Moon of Masarrah Mystery Series: The Moon of Masarrah, The Sign of the Scorpion and The Hour of the Oryx. I’m presently working on the final book in the series, Beneath the Crimson Circle. The books are more or less for ages 12 and up, set in a fictitious archipelago in the Middle East and include big chunks of adventure and intrigue. The main protagonists are a quartet of teenagers named Layla, Adam, Zahra and Zaid, who work hand in hand to solve the mysteries.   

What inspired you to become a writer?

AR: What inspired me to be a writer, at first, was feeling like I needed to tell a story. I would say my first book came from my soul and all the others after have come from my heart. What keeps me writing is just wanting to tell a love story. Coming up with the romantic dates and having the couples work through their problems. I love writing about love.

HK: I think my love for books and story fueled my desire to write, which I’ve always done in some form since my childhood, whether it was poems, plays or a family newspaper. My desire to publish books for children grew out of motherhood and realizing that there was still such a severe lack of representation of Muslims and Pakistani Americans. And I wanted to change that!

NA: There was never one instant that led me to this point but a gradual cohesion of desires and dreams that allowed me to pick up a pen and tell stories in the way only I know how. Also, an intense desire to leave behind something of myself in this world that will hopefully outlive me.

FZ: There were two main motivations. First, after reading so many books, I felt the natural urge to create my own stories. I believe this is true of many other authors. It’s like all the books you’ve read become like seeds planted in your brains, eventually bearing fruit in the form of books. Second, I wanted to see more representation of teenage Muslims in books being published. There is a plethora of children’s books out there but a veritable dearth when it came to Muslim teenagers as the main characters. As a mother of two teenagers at the time, I felt this lack keenly. That’s why I decided to do something about it. With all the Islamophobia that Muslims have endured in the past two decades, I was determined to make it possible for our teenagers to see themselves portrayed in a positive light, proving themselves as clever and capable of saving the day as any other heroes and heroines out there. At the same time, I wanted the books to be entertaining enough for teenagers (as well as adults!) of all cultures to enjoy. 

Who’s your favorite Muslim author?

AR: My favorite Muslim author is Hafsah Faizal.

HK: Oooh, that is a really hard one! For so long, I was the only Muslim author I knew, since my first picture book came out in 2008, and I had been writing books for Scholastic Book Clubs for 6 years prior to that! So it’s really lovely to now have a growing community of Muslim authors around me, and to see the variety of much needed voices join me in this space. That said, N.H. Senzai helped me immensely with Amina’s Voice, my first middle grade novel, and I don’t think I could have gotten it done without her encouragement!

NA: Honestly, I love them all. But if I had to choose, it’d be a toss up between Ausma Zehanat Khan and G. Willow Wilson.

FZ: I can’t say that I have a favorite one as yet. Since I write mysteries, I’ve been mostly reading books in that genre, and there haven’t been Muslim authors writing mysteries. I only recently found out about two of them and have started reading their books. Alhamdulilah, there are now many more books being self-published and traditionally published by Muslim authors and I plan to read as many as I can. Perhaps I’ll even find a few favorites among them! 

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

AR: The MC’s from my first book, Ebony and Marcus, listen to a lot of music. A LOT. So if they were together while social distancing, I imagine them having this epic music marathon.

HK:  Let’s see. If Jameela from More to the Story was stuck with Amina from Amina’s Voice, I think they would have a blast being creative together, making videos and interviews and eating the delicious baked treats that Maryam, Jameela’s older sister would provide them. Amina would love being in a house with four sisters and all the antics that come along with that, including the fighting, banter, and silliness.

NA: They would drive each other nuts. Fatima Ghazala is way too good for someone like Paheli.

FZ: Lol…If brother and sister Adam and Layla Horani were stuck at home, their parents would probably banish them to the basement for bad behavior. Adam doesn’t like being cooped up and would definitely get on Layla’s nerves. Unless they found a dead body in the garden and set out to social-distance solve the mystery. That would keep them away from each other throats but cause no end of trouble for their poor parents! 

What are your favorite books?

AR: My favorite books are anything written by Bethany-Kris. Seriously, I would read her grocery list. And autobiographies, usually where the person escaped some really bad circumstances and rose above them.

HK: My favorite book of all time was Little Women, which is why my novel More to the Story is based on it. I took many of the story lines and favorite aspects of the classic and wove them into a fresh new story featuring four Pakistani American sisters growing up in contemporary Atlanta. I loved Little Women because of the sibling bonds, the strong personalities, and the joys and sorrows of growing up with struggles and tried to capture the spirit of it in my book.

NA: I don’t have the space here for all the books that have accompanied me at different times in my life, honestly. I cannot choose one. It’s like asking a mom to choose a favourite one among her children.

FZ: I enjoyed Enid Blyton’s books as a child, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and comic books as a teenager and in my adult years, some romances, the Sherlock Holmes series, books by Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins-Clark, Deanna Raybourn and other mysteries, thrillers or gothic suspense books.

What made you want to write in your current genre?

AR: I wanted to write in the romance genre because I love love. I love the emotions romances make me feel, the way you get to witness people meeting, their journey to love, the heartbreaks along the way, and their happy endings. I want to give that to people. Take them on those journeys, make them feel those emotions.

HK: I love writing books for kids of all ages, to hopefully encourage lifelong readers. It’s a dream come true to have kids read or be read my picture books when they are very little, and then go on to reading my chapter books on their own. It’s amazing to think that they are growing up with my books, and that they are helping to shape their outlook on life.

NA: I’ve always written fantasy. Dragons and darklings speak more to me than contemporary but who knows? I might surprise everyone (even myself) some day by writing a contemporary.

FZ: I love mysteries and always enjoyed the twists and turns, the surprise endings and the clever detectives/sleuths that finally solve them. As a Muslim, I felt that I could write clean, wholesome books in this genre as opposed to other genres that would take me out of my comfort zone, such as fantasy and romances. But I’ve grown a lot as a writer and believe I can now write in other genres without feeling that I’m compromising my values. So I may explore other genres in the future, Insha Allah

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

AR: My favorite character I’ve written would be Ebony. She would tweet: How can anyone not listen to music? My soul needs it everyday. My favorite character I’ve read is Mia from the Nevernight Chronicles. I imagine her tweeting: Blood goes perfectly with this outfit.

HK: Jameela, my protagonist in More to the Story, would probably write: Leftover pasta in fridge missing. Investigation underway. Person of interest.

NA: A fave character? One I’ve written or one I’ve read? Let’s say one I’ve written. That would be Paheli and she’d write one sentence: “Where are my mangoes?”

FZ: One of my favourite characters is batty English tutor Mrs. Haddad, in my second book, The Sign of the Scorpion. Her tweet would definitely go something like this: Hello! For God’s sake, what’s wrong with you young people? Can’t you tweet something that makes sense? All I see is absolute rubbish!

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

AR: My first book is definitely something I wish my younger self had read. It would’ve given her such hope, a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. It would have let her know she wasn’t alone, in how she felt, or what she’d been through.

HK: Yes! I absolutely write the types of books that I would have loved to read as a kid. I loved books of all kinds, but I gravitated toward realistic fiction and stories about families, siblings, and finding your way in a complicated world.

NA: Yes. It’s a matter of finding a reflection. As Muslim women, we have to seek a little harder to find reflections that show us as we are and not through someone else’s biased perspective. I wanted Muslim girls to have someone they could identify with. Someone who lived a messy colourful life flavoured by chai masala and giggles with her sisters. Who lived a halal life and whose faith is an echo of the reader’s. I hope I succeeded.

FZ: Oh yes! I loved mystery, adventure and intrigue. Exploring dungeons and secret passages, seeing strange new places, and solving baffling mysteries were right up my alley.  

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

AR: I would hope my community takes away that you can write what calls to you. Many told me that as a muslim I shouldn’t be writing romance. That it wasn’t appropriate. But it was where my heart was, so I followed it. I would hope people take away that you have to do what makes you happy, not what others tell you to. As for what I hope people take away from my book, specifically the first, is to be more conscious of the patterns they repeat within their families.

HK: I hope that my readers feel seen, that their experiences are validated, and that they are less uncertain about who they are and their place in the world. I hope they realize that their voices and stories matter, and that they are needed.

NA: I hope they realize they deserve as much respect as anyone else and have as much right as any other teen to be complex and messy, and flawed without having to represent anyone or prove anything.

FZ: The message I’d like my readers to take away is that Muslims can be heroes and heroines too, solving mysteries, going on adventures and catching the bad guys. Practicing their faith doesn’t preclude them from doing any of this and having a jolly good time. For too long, they’ve been left out in the cold, reading about others and never about themselves. As a reader, I can attest to the powerful influence that books have on people’s lives. That’s why it’s imperative that Muslim authors write Muslim-friendly books. We all know the harm that comes when others try to tell our stories. I’m happy that there is such a strong push now for Own Voices and Diverse books. The world is changing, and our books need to reflect this.           

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

AR: My advice for aspiring authors would be to just write. Even a few words a day will eventually amount to a book, if you keep at it. Don’t try to write like anyone else, write the story you need to tell. The story that runs through your head at night, keeping you awake; write that one.

HK: What really helped me was to have a writing group, a community of writers I admire who critiqued my work and made it significantly stronger. I highly recommend that! I also think it’s so important to read books like the ones you want to write—as many as possible! And then, just do it!

NA: Don’t stop writing. Don’t believe anyone who tells you you can’t do it but do listen to people who give you legit advice on your craft. Don’t assume you know everything. Even established writers are always learning more about the craft so you have no excuse.

FZ: If it’s your dream to write a book, the onus is solely on you to do it. No one will take your hand and make you sit at a computer. The burning ambition to write has to be within you. And you’ve got to commit to your dream by putting actual words on a screen. Then you’ve got to find the discipline to continue even if what you’ve written, sucks. Get it all out, then go back and edit it. As the experts say, you can’t edit a blank screen. If writing is something you can’t live without, then you have what it takes to become an author. But if all you do is think about becoming an author, you’ll never be one. Unfortunately, many authors who have written books never fulfill their dream of becoming published because of the painful process involved. Many authors like myself have turned to self-publication as an alternative. However, not everyone can afford to do this. All I can advise you is to keep trying, make lots of du’as and if it’s written (pardon the pun) in your destiny, you will become published, Insha Allah.

Thank you so much to these wonderful authors for taking the time to answer these questions! I’ve got to say I feel truly inspired and grateful for so many amazing books this year and in the future! Are you all looking forward to any specific Muslim authored books?

Make sure to check out the rest of the LGL Book Fest and participate with the hashtag #LGLFestPrompts on twitter for some fun!

Check out the Authors Showcase HERE. Previous weeks of LGL Book Fest include:

9 thoughts on “Let’s Get Lit Fest: Muslim Authors Week INTERVIEWS with Ari Reavis, Hena Khan, Nafiza Azad, and Farah Zaman”

  1. They all sound well-read and so sweet, I’m so proud of them. I’m definitely adding some of their works to my TBR. I also really enjoyed the questions and their variety, well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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