Aisha Saeed is a mama, lawyer, teacher, and maker and drinker of chai. Her debut YA novel WRITTEN IN THE STARS will be released in 2015 by Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books. She is represented by Taylor Martindale at Full Circle Literary Agency.
I’m very happy to welcome Aisha to Luna’s Little Library. We met a BookCon 2014, Aisha was one of members of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Panel (you can read my post about it HERE) and got to talking afterwards. Aisha kindly agreed to stop by for an interview to talk about Diverse Book, writing and Chai Tea. 🙂
Tell us a bit about Written in the Stars.
Written In the Stars explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Until it’s time for her to get married, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.
Why did you want to write this book?
Quite simply this is the story that spoke to me. I’ve had the basic thread of the plot in my heart for years and years though it took me some time to find the courage to write it.
So the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Panel, was that experience like?
It was amazing on so many levels! First and foremost it was incredible to see the overwhelming support and turn out. I knew how many people supported the cause of diversity in literature but it’s one thing to see a tweet or an e-mail and quite another to be face to face with a portion of the community who supported this movement.
I’m also a HUGE fan of Jacqueline Woodson, Grace Lin, and Matt de la Pena, so to be on a panel with such gifted advocates of diversity and beautiful storytellers was an amazing experience.
And finally, it was also the first time I got to meet some of my fellow WNDB team members. They are amazing and it was such an honor to get to know them better.
One of the things repeated on the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Panel was that hardly anyone felt they had a book (never mind books) they could identify with growing up. Would having those books made a difference in your childhood?
Absolutely. Seeing yourself reflected in literature is a powerful thing. It tells you that not only do your stories matter but that you too are allowed to tell your own stories. As a child I always wrote stories but though I belong to a non-majority culture I never wrote about my culture or my experiences because I frankly never saw it and assumed that my experiences were as a result not worthy of print. I eventually, in adulthood, learned otherwise, but I do wonder how things could have been for my self-esteem and for my writing journey if I had known that I was allowed tow write stories reflecting me as a child.
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know.
I love to sing. I used to be in chorus in high school and I can belt out a mean tune even if I’m too shy to do it in public 95% of the time.
I’m giving you a free platform to talk about anything – GO:
I am SO excited that I’m debuting in 2015 with so many diverse books and so many awesome other authors. There is a relative dearth of diversity in YA and the future is just so promising!
What’s the scariest thing about your writing journey so far?
Writing. Writing is the scariest thing about my writing journey. There is so much self doubt along the way and wondering if you will figure it all out. It is the first step to a publication journey, but it is also the hardest.
And the best?
Ironically, the best part of the writing journey is also the writing. When we start writing we have no idea if it will be any good, we have no idea if an agent will sign us up or if a publisher will buy it, but we write because we love it and it drives us and feeds our soul. While it is undeniably scary and difficult writing has to be the best part of the journey because otherwise, why bother?
What happens next?
I’m in the process of outlining my next novel and excited about starting the whole crazy writing journey all over again with another book! I’m also wrapping up edits of my current novel that is hitting shelves in 2015 and getting ready to release my baby into the big wide world!
Can you pick 5 books you’d recommend?
(or follow Marieke’s lead and go with 13 – I’m not that strict :P)
- PAINTED HANDS– by Jennifer Zobair: If you know me you know that I preach this book to the masses because it’s just so good. I also love it because it’s a good book with Muslim characters that are just doing their thing.
- YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS– by Meg Medina. A fantastic insight into the ugly nature of bullying. Medina lays the pain bare and as someone who has endured bullying I can tell you it’s an authentic read capturing the emotions well.
- ABSOLUTELY TRUE STORY OF A PART TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie. I know this is a classic but I only recently read it and was completely swept away by this wonderful tale of a boy who loves his family deeply and dreams to reach the stars.
- BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson. This one is coming out in August and I am over the moon ecstatic about it! A lyrical memoir capturing Woodson’s childhood in a way that will make you laugh, cry, and fall completely in love with the story.
- ZEITOUN by Dave Eggers. A narrative nonfiction aimed at adults but would be great for highschoolers that explores a post 9/11 world in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the incredible injustice one Arab American Muslim and his family endure.
Luna: I’ve linked all the books to Goodreads, just click on the title.
Tea or coffee?
Chai! Always chai! With milk and one spoon of sugar if you please.
When no one is watching do you dance?
When no one is watching, I am alone. When I am alone, I write!
You can have one superpower, what would you like?
Mind reader. I’m a writer. Nosiness is an occupational hazard!
What’s the perfect cure to a bad day?
A cup of stove cooked chai and a good book.
One thing you couldn’t write without?
Chai. [are we beginning to notice a theme here…]
Hawaii. I could live there if I could.
Do you ever re-arrange book displays in bookshops?
No. But now I might….
What word describes you best?
You’re at the airport with a free pass to get on any plane – where would you go?
New Zealand. Have heard it’s gorgeous, free pass—why not check it out?
And finally, what is the question you wish people would ask and never do?
How many koala bears is too many? The answer: You can never have too many koala bears. Never.
This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?
Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.
Luna: Isn’t that cover wonderful? *swoons*
To read my interview with #WeNeedDiverseBooks Panel member Marieke Nijkamp click HERE