Monday, June 26, 2017

Writing for Change: Samira Ahmed Speaks

With the intensity of the 2016 election, I've found myself drawn to those like myself for whom current events can not be extricated with their work. 

On that note, I have Samira Ahmed, author of Love, Hate, and Other Filters (Soho Press, 1/16/18), here to share the ways in which the political climate has shaped her writing. Take it away, Samira!

Lean In…To Hope

Say their names.

Nabra Hassanen
Maulana Akonjee
Thara Uddin
Azzedine Soufiane
Ibrahima Barry
Nazma Khanam
Khaled Belckacemi
Aboubaker Thabti
Mamadou Tanou
Abdelkrim Hassane
Srinivas Kuchibhotla
Ricky John Best
Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche

This list represents only some of the individuals who have lost their lives in Islamophobic attacks in the United States and Canada in the last year or so. Not all of these people are Muslim, but, nevertheless, were victims of Islamophobic bigotry.

And this is only a partial list and doesn’t include assaults, vandalism, Quran burnings, anti-Islamic protests, and the ongoing threats and hate speech directed at Muslims or those who “appear Muslim.”

Islamophobia isn’t new to the United States—indeed it comes anyone living during the Iran Hostage Crisis or in the aftermath of 9/11 knows that. But since the 2016 Presidential campaign, anti-Islamic sentiment is on the rise.

My debut novel, Love, Hate, and Other Filters, confronts Islamophobia on the page. Some of my inspiration, if you can call it that, for incidences in the novel, stems from my own experiences growing up as the only Muslim in my small Midwestern town and from what I witnessed after the 9/11 attacks while living in New York City. In 2010, when I first had the idea for this book, a New York City cab driver was stabbed after a passenger asked if he was Muslim.

When faced with this rising tide of ignorance and hate, when you are made to feel like you are the “other” in your own nation, in your only home, there are a few choices before you—and sometimes you have to make the same choice every day. What can I do with my anger and fear and sorrow and disbelief?

I chose to use all of these feelings and filter them into my writing, but I chose to filter these feelings through hope. For me, leaning into hope was how I could write my resistance; how I could stand and not cower; how I could declare, as Langston Hughes wrote, that, “I, too, am America.”

I hope that my book can be a mirror for so many kids, Muslim or not, who might feel like they’re on the periphery. I hope it can show them that they are loved and that they are enough.

I also hope my book can be a window for so many kids who may have never met a Muslim, but have only heard the fear mongering from politicians and talking heads and hate groups. I hope those kids can see what it means to be a Muslim in America, firstly that it simply means that they are American.

But I also wrote this book for me. Putting this book into the world is a way for me to send a little light into the darkness, to hold onto hope and to remember.

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Samira Ahmed was born in Bombay, India, and grew up in Batavia, Illinois, in a house that smelled like fried onions, spices, and potpourri. She currently resides in the Midwest. She’s lived in Vermont, New York City, and Kauai, where she spent a year searching for the perfect mango. You can find her on Twitter @sam_aye_ahm and on her wesbite at www.samiraahmed.com.

Her debut novel, Love, Hate, and Other Filters, is available for pre-order now.

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Thanks so much, Samira! For more in the Writing for Change series, check out posts from Kelly Loy Gilbert, Tanaz Bhathena. and Rachel Lynn Solomon.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Writing for Change: Rachel Lynn Solomon Speaks

2017 remains a year with a particularly charged political atmosphere, and I've found myself drawn to those like myself for whom current events can not be extricated with their work.

Today I've invited Rachel Lynn Solomon, author of You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone (Simon Pulse, 1/2/18), to share with us the ways in which the political climate has shaped her writing. Take it away, Rachel!


I never thought I'd see a swastika outside a World War II movie. In fact, I avoid books and films about WWII partially for this reason. When I was young, my parents filled my bookshelves with Holocaust literature. I never grew desensitized -- I don't think that's possible -- but I did grow weary. It was too much. Too much hate for a child to try to process. Too many questions without answers.

In the days and weeks after the election, I saw them. Swastikas. Not in my neighborhood, but in news stories, scrawled across brick walls and painted on synagogue doors. It seemed the election had given racists, bigots, misogynists, and anti-Semites permission to go public with their hate.

My first revisions for YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE were due a few weeks after the election. On November 9, I couldn't get out of bed. I'd cried myself to sleep the night before. Finally, finally, I forced myself to brush my teeth, let my dog drag me onto a walk, wept with a friend into coffee mugs. I signed up for monthly donations to the ADL, CAIR, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, numerous others. I started calling my representative and senators.

Then I opened my book, and I turned my rage into words.

YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE is my fifth completed novel. Strangely, it's also my first book with Jewish characters. I figured I never read books about Jews that weren't about the Holocaust, that those kinds of books didn't really exist. It seemed as though there was no way to write about our rich traditions, beautiful languages, and cultural history without it being wrapped up in tragedy. Characters in YA novels celebrated Christmas. I did not. That's just how it was -- despite how Other it always made me feel.

When I began drafting YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE about four years ago, I wanted it to feel more personal than any of my other books. My characters, I decided, had to be practicing Jews. Through the revision process, YMMWIG grew into even more of a challenge to the current administration. The book is unapologetically feminist, sex-positive, liberal, and Jewish. My characters pray, observe Shabbat, and speak Hebrew with their Israeli mother.

Eight months after the election, I am still in mourning for our country. I am still fighting back in small, perhaps not always visible ways. And while I still struggle with Holocaust literature, what I've learned in recent years is that tragedy is not our only story as Jewish people. I want more stories about Jews in the modern world, about JDS and JCC and B'nai B'rith and Birthright. About the holidays we observe. About the feeling you get when you meet another Jewish person and you feel in your bones that you understand each other on some deep level. Klal yisrael, a phrase I include in my debut: we are all connected.

And there is the story about my relationship with Judaism, too -- one I am still figuring out how to tell. One day, I'll get there.

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Rachel Lynn Solomon is the author of the contemporary YA novel You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone (Simon Pulse, 1/2/18), available for preorder now. A former journalist, Rachel currently works in education and loves tap dancing, red lipstick, and new wave music. You can find her on Twitter @rlynn_solomon and online at rachelsolomonbooks.com.

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Thanks so much, Rachel! For more in the Writing for Change series, check out posts from Kelly Loy Gilbert, Tanaz Bhathena, and Samira Ahmed.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Writing for Change: Tanaz Bhathena Speaks

In 2017, news headlines are hard to ignore. I can't remember a time in my life where politics have been so center stage in my mind. As writers, we have our own unique role to play as we struggle to reflect truth in our prose.

Today, I have Tanaz Bhathena, author of A Girl Like That (releases 2018), here to tell us how the political climate has shaped her work. Take it away, Tanaz!

Finding Hope in Darkness

I abhorred reading about politics as a teen. Yet, oddly enough, I've always liked books that have had a political backdrop. In school, I was the kid most likely to check out Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey along with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter from the library and enjoy both for how they reflected our world in different settings.

While reading the news often filled me with despair, fiction lifted my heart, giving me glimpses into human beings and their failings and also their innate capacity for goodness. I eventually began to follow politics more closely to see how it impacted people and their lives.

When I first started writing my book in 2006, I did a great deal of research--not only about the politics but also the history of Saudi Arabia. A part of me still wholeheartedly believes in people and their capacity for goodness--so much that I wondered if some of the themes I would be exploring would still be relevant when this book finally got published. Here's the thing though: People are slow to change, even when it is for the better.

In 2017, debates still break out worldwide over regulating women's bodies and consent. Wars are fought over race and religion. Domestic and sexual abuse are still problems and so are bullying and mental health.

I initially wrote A Girl Like That with an adult audience in mind. There was swearing (a whole lot of it that has now been cut). There were adult perspectives alongside the teenage ones. In the end, though, no adult publisher wanted it. It was too dark, they said. "Do the two main characters have to be dead at the beginning? Can you change that?" they asked me.

When I finally did sign a contract with a young adult publisher, these voices still echoed in my head. Will teens want to read this book? I wondered. Will they find it too dark or too issue-heavy?

But then I remembered the teen who hated the darkness of our world and found hope in even darker novels.

As Madeline L'Engle once said, "You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."

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Tanaz Bhathena was born in Mumbai and raised in Riyadh, Jeddah and Toronto. Her short stories have appeared in various journals, including Blackbird, Witness and Room Magazine. A Girl Like That is her first novel, available for preorder now. You can learn more at tanazbhathena.com.


Thanks so much, Tanaz. For more in the Writing for Change series, check out posts from Kelly Loy Gilbert, Rachel Lynn Solomon, and Samira Ahmed.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Writing for Change: Kelly Loy Gilbert Speaks

With the intensity of the 2016 election, something amazing arose: millions of people are now engaging in politics in ways they never had before. Town halls are packed, phone lines are jammed. And we writers have a unique role to play. 

On that note, Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of Conviction, is here to discuss how the political climate has shaped her work. Take it away, Kelly!

I've been working on my current novel (forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion), which is about Asian Americans and immigration, long enough to have happily changed plotlines after the DREAM Act went into effect--and then been at a complete loss after the election this past November. As a writer of contemporary fiction, everything felt different: was I suddenly writing a dystopian novel?

I have always believed in the importance of the story as a means of demanding empathy, and I feel that now more than ever. I'm always conscious that I write for young people, many of whom are politically voiceless and yet still affected by this administration's policies, disregard for all norms and decency, and extreme endangering of POC/queer/disabled people, among others.

Sometimes stories feel useless, or at least like such small weapons against everything happening, and I think it's easy to get discouraged. But I think of the young people who don't fit the mold of what the administration believes a person should be and do and who have that message reinforced daily. I think of the people whose bodies and families are under threat. I think of the ugliness that's been given a national platform. And I hope, if nothing else, those young people will know that the literary community is behind them, that we see them and won't look away from what's happening.

I don't believe we can separate politics from anything we do, and I feel that acutely in my stories. Writing is a calling. May we ever answer it.

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Kelly Loy Gilbert is the author of Conviction, a 2016 Morris Award Finalist and Children's Choice Book Award Winner. She lives in the SF Bay Area. You can follow her on twitter at @KellyLoyGilbert and on tumblr.


Thanks so much, Kelly. For more in the Writing for Change series, check out the posts with Tanaz Bhathena, Rachel Lynn Solomon, and Samira Ahmed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Writing My Resistance: New Blog Design & Logo

I know so many writers who have had trouble getting words on the page since the election.  Honestly, when it seems as if the world is imploding around us, our own dreams and passions can feel like an indulgence. But that's simply not true.
 
Books create empathy. 
Books open doors to new worlds and new ideas.  
Books are powerful. 

It's clearer than ever that our world needs that. So we must write. And our responsibilities as writers of young adult fiction have grown with the rise of hatred and xenophobia around us. If we can instill a greater understanding of the world at large, we can create better leaders tomorrow.

As a writer with no book deal in hand (yet!), I wasn't keen on expending a lot of resources on a fancy design. But I decided that a new logo with a strong message could be a powerful reminder to myself about why I do what I do.  I wanted it to reflect my commitment to writing as a means of making positive change.

So I called up Vin, founder of Fabler & Design (and my sister). I said, "Hey, do you think you can make me a logo that is beautiful and elegantly captures the theme 'Writing my Resistance'? Oh, and on top of that, can you bring in elements of my Indian identity?"

I was inspired in part by the Shepard Fairey resistance posters that have been everywhere. I love how he has so easily captured patriotism and diversity together. But what he makes look effortless is no easy feat, so I knew that Vin had her work cut out for her.

Her first idea was beautiful, incorporating the Hindu Goddess Saraswati as a muse. Yet I had trouble easily translating it into the theme. We tried adding more elements to make the messaging clearer, but the added complexity was only making it more muddled. We decided to take a step back and try a simpler approach.

The header above is what Vin came up with on the second try. It captures everything I wanted to convey, with elegance and simplicity. I love how fierce the girl looks and how words flow seamlessly out of her head. (I wish my novels came out so easily.) We chose quotes by writers and leaders that honed in on the themes of books as weapons, writing as a means of identity, and the importance of taking a stand.

Take a closer look. I hope it inspires other readers, writers, and dreamers out there. I know it will keep me pushing along on this journey!

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If you like the design and you want to make a change to your own site, please contact Vin at Fabler & Design. Her current pricing for a new custom art logo is only $295, and as you can see, it can transform even a simple blogger account.



Thursday, December 8, 2016

Interview: Creating the Perfect Author Website with Fabler & Design


Hello, friends.  Today I have an interview with Vin from Fabler & Design!  We'll discuss her creative adventures in designing compelling author websites.

What inspired you to open up a business focusing on author websites?   

 A love of books is certainly at its heart. I am so appreciative of the work and care that authors put into the worlds they build. Giving an author’s personal story the same attention through her website design is not only a good use of my design abilities, but is a way to support the writers who make possible the many comforting hours I while away between bookstore stacks.


I also think a website is such an important tool for authors. It is a place where the author gets to fully display her own personality and show the voice that unifies her works. It is a place where fans can connect with the author beyond any one book, and where they can celebrate the love and labor put into the author’s work. Very simply, it is a practical and essential marketing tool.

After an author has expended so much creative energy telling the story in her book, not to mention other marketing and publication tasks, the details of building a unique webspace may, understandably, be overly burdensome. I hope Fabler and Design can help make captivating website designs more accessible, and help build a personalized home for an author’s work.
 
If an author chooses to work with you, can you tell us a little bit about how you will interact with them to make sure they end up with a product they love?

It’s important for me to get to know an author’s goals, tastes and personality to ensure her website shows off her style and fully serves her purposes. We’ll cover a lot of ground before I start designing, thinking about what content the author wants to highlight, viewing samples that will help me understand the author’s aesthetic, and discussing how the author describes her works individually and collectively. Once I have that background, I’ll mock up options that I think meet the author’s individual needs and we will work together from there to make adjustments.

I have noticed how immediately a person responds when they feel connected to something—it is my task to find the visual that creates that sense of connection.  

What are your thoughts for authors working with a strict budget?  How can they maximize their dollars?

* Use classic styles.  
 

 Making sure that your website will last you for a while is a good way to maximize your budget. Using the newest scrolling animation or a very en vogue style can certainly create an exciting webpage, but it may take on a dated feel as technologies progress and tastes reposition. So make sure your site is not too tied to a certain style moment.

That is not to say your website should be devoid of personality in order to be timeless. For example, I really like davidarnoldbooks.com. The approach is simple. His fonts and colors don’t feel tied to any era. Yet notably, his laidback style and a bit of quirk shine through.   






* Don’t tie the site too much to a single publication, but dedicate space to dynamic content.  

It may be tempting to splash your newest release all over your webpage, and it makes sense if you are able to update your site often. However, to avoid reimagining your website with each new release (which might mean a costly large-scale redesign) make sure you design feels connected to your overall writing. This might mean thinking a bit into your future—do you want your website to be tied to any certain genre, or type of protagonist? What do you see unifying the writing you have completed and works yet to come?


At the same time, make sure you design has space that is easy to update with your newest information. This makes your website feel more interactive. It can include spaces for news announcements and blog posts. Or this may be a space on your homepage that you can easily update with the details of your newest book.

Juliemurphywrites.com has a fun take on dynamic content—her photo diary homepage can easily be updated with new photos to keep it feeling fresh and current.  

* Find a picture or image that gives an instant visual of who you are as a writer.
 
This can take different forms for different budgets but having a visual that sets the tone for your writing can have a lot of impact. A visual can create instant mental associations in a way that nothing else will.

If you can find an existing image, you may be able to save some funds. For example, I really like the image that heads mattdelapena.com. It’s a simple image of hooded figure contemplating a stormy ocean, but it fits so well with his turbulent teen tales of introspection.



If you have a little room to commission something custom, it doesn’t have to be complex. For example lizzieskurnickbooks.com uses a styled “LS” as the main visual feature of its homepage. It gives the page personality and sets a light, fun mood. If an author wanted to add a small element such as this to her homepage, I would certainly work with her budget to make sure her website has that little extra personality.  




On the other hand, what would you recommend for an author who is ready to really invest in their site?

* A personalized logo  
 
Even with a more limited set of funds, investing in a logo can create a big impact. A single visual element crafted to showcase your style can tap into memory, recognition, and interest. It gives a reader something specific by which to remember your site. It helps a fan recognize you from one platform to another, when your logo travels from your website to your Twitter feed. And it sparks interest when a reader visits your site, encouraging the reader to continue scrolling and clicking.

A custom logo can also be a positive signal of how much you believe in your writing. It is a confident display of your core voice and a clear investment in your writing.

For example, my latest work, updating priyaardis.com, includes a logo that will last the author for many books to come. It gives a strong and immediate sense of the core of her writing—daring teen heroines whose hints of awkwardness make them more endearing.  

* Discussion pages

Having dedicated fan space will take a bit more time to manage and facilitate, as well as requiring a bit of an additional investment to set up. However, it can create a sense of connection and community that might prove invaluable as you begin marketing new works. Fan space will help readers connect to you, as well as forming connections with fellow readers. It can be a space where your most enthusiastic readers feel a bit special when you share extras, like new tidbits about your characters or story.  

What do you recommend for authors who are intimidated by the technical aspects of operating a website?
 
* Make sure your design allows for easy updating with your newest information.

Earlier I mentioned that you will want to have a space on your website for news, updates and your latest releases. But it’s important that you work with your designer and web developer to make sure there is nothing too complicated about how that information is updated; you will not want to go back to them for each little change and update.

* Updating is easiest using a website builder with drag-and-drop editing. 

User friendly website building does exist! On a website builder, such as wix.com, all content is drag-and-drop. This means you are never viewing any code; and this means that anyone can update the information on the website without having to program the content.

I personally use a website builder for my own website and highly recommend that my clients allow me to build their site on one. It will make futures changes of an image practically a one-button process, and even updates of whole layouts very simple. It eliminates so many of the technical aspects of coded websites. This will save you time, money and anxiety!

* Try a blog page or display your Twitter feed as your homepage.

Blog posts are easy for most people to work with. If you want to continually include new content front and center, using your blog instead of other fixed homepage content, such as used on catherynnemvalente.com, can be an easy way to interact with your site. There are also programs that will automatically display your Twitter or Instagram feeds on your website, so this is also an option that doesn’t require any technical changes to refresh your main display.

What are some author sites you absolutely love, and why?
 
I have mentioned some already, but I also really love annaholmes.com. It’s so clean without being at all stark, and has such simple navigation (it’s actually just one long page). And I can’t help but love her main illustration that shows her feverishly attacking her work.

I also think veronicarothbooks.com is a gorgeous example of a very modern site. She has a little graphic twist on a large hero image as her header. There is a lot of interesting content that flows nicely as you scroll, while her colors and fonts keep everything feeling soft not busy.




How do you work with an author who maybe has a completely different aesthetic than you?

There is always a journey to understanding someone’s tastes, sometimes for the client as well as for me! I think it’s at the foundation of designing—that ability to identify which visuals are creating which responses, and understanding why certain elements work together. In order to understand someone’s style, I think about what she has described as her taste but also spend time dissecting a range of visual samples to which she has positively responded. It is its own puzzle really, understanding the nuances of a specific style. Once I have that understanding, that style gives me a framework to which I add my experience to create something that is true to the author’s personality as well as more broadly pleasing.  

Just for fun, tell us a little bit about your personal tastes. Where do you draw inspiration from?

There is so much design all around us, I actually feel like I can never stop finding new sources of inspiration! Some of my favorite sources are indeed book covers: booknerds like myself certainly spend enough time with them. I am a fangirl for all things Cartoon Saloon, the animation studio responsible for the film Song of the Sea—wow, something that pretty seems like it shouldn’t be possible. Maurice Sendak may be my illustration hero; he spent endless hours just observing kids to understand the quirks of their facial expressions and the little giveways of their joy and pain. Recently I started learning Sumi-e (Japanese brush painting) and I absolutely love its philosophy: finding the essence of your subject to capture it in minimal brushstrokes. Sumi-e teaches us to appreciate the process of creating—it has been such a welcome reminder to find some ease and flow.

Thanks so much for having me on Maya!


fableranddesign.com
Contact Vin: fableranddesign@gmail.com

Friday, June 26, 2015

Which Writing Rules Do You Break?

It seems that I've taken up the Slow Blogging movement.  Ah well, at least I am making progress on my WIP.  Real progress.  Daycare-enhanced progress.

And I've made it breaking many rules.

I've read tons of books and blogs and attended conferences on the craft, and I've learned that no two people do things the same way.  Still, there are these "rules", these myths about writing that keep on spreading, and in a way it hurts us.  Because we feel guilty when we don't follow the rules.  We think we're doing something wrong.

Let me tell you, the greatest writers didn't follow the rules either.

In the tumble of the past few years, where I've had so much trouble completing anything new, I've learned a lot about myself.

Here are a few that I consistently break, and why:

1. Write every day.  Trust me, I'd love to.  But life gets in the way.  It seems like the minute I hit my thirties, crisis after crisis has come my way.  And even where there isn't a big crisis, maybe I just want to spend a Sunday morning with the kiddo instead of writing.  Balance in all things.

2. Write your first draft quickly.  Nope, my first drafts are both slow and terrible.  I can't help it; it's my brainstorming phase.  I figure out the story best via prose, not outlining, but it is messy and it is slow.

3. Write till the end without stopping to revise.  I revise as I go.  The thing about novels is that usually there is a cause & effect for each event.  A leads to B leads to C.  So sometimes it's better to revise A before bothering to write C (since D might happen instead).  When you're running around without an outline, it happens quite often.

4. Blog often, in a predictable routine.  Ha! Maybe someday.

5. Don't let your family read your work.  I know not everyone is lucky enough to have family members who can give a good critique, but I do.  (I have learned that most non-writerly people are not so great at this).

So which rules do you break, and why?