The Teen Press Corps was lucky enough to snag an interview with the lovely and oh, so fashionable Sabaa Tahir. We got a chance to get to know the author behind the most anticipated book this spring/summer, An Ember In The Ashes which also happens to be the Teen Press Corps Buzz Book for the month of May!
TPC: What has been your experience breaking into the YA market?
Sabaa Tahir: I didn’t have any writer friends when I first was published. I ended up meeting so many authors and other people in the book world that have been so supportive and friendly. People that I would fangirl over would blurb my book or tweet at me and it’s really cool and surprising. It’s almost like you don’t expect them to be people and then they are and you’re like, “Oh! You’re really cool!” I was at this Penguin author meet last night and Marie Lu was there. She’s going to be moderating an event for me in L.A., so we started talking about random stuff and learned that we both love the movie Contact.
It was a surreal moment for me because I love her books so much and then we were fangirling together. I don’t know if that’s exactly what you were asking, but one thing I’ve noticed about getting into this world is how supportive the YA community is and how much they love their books and each other. I think that camaraderie is really special and specific to the YA community.
You meet your friends. People who you know you’re going to be friends with ten years from now. You hear about writer friendships from the group that came before us, like early 2000’s writers, and to realize those are real . . . it’s just the best.
TPC: What were your favorite books as a kid and did you take any inspiration from them?
ST: There’s this book called Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy. I really loved this book because it was what we call a mirror book, which is where you see yourself in a book. It was about a Persian girl, and I’m not actually Persian but it was the first time I saw a brown person in a book that was portrayed positively. It was just really special to me. So much so that I asked the librarian if I could have it. She was really nice, she was like “You can ‘lose’ it . . . ” [All laugh]. That book was a huge inspiration for me but I didn’t draw from that story. What I did draw from, in a weird way, was the Random House Book of Fairytales. It’s a compendium of fairytales that I actually read to my kids. It has all the classic fairytales and I loved it because it took me away. As a kid I needed that escape and that’s what I wanted my book to be. So in a way, that inspired my story. You’ll see that with books you read at this age. You’ll read them now, and then at twenty years old and the books will be completely different, and they’ll be different again when you read them at thirty. You see them differently each time.
TPC: Which part of writing your novel was the most emotionally draining? The most fun?
ST: I consider my characters part of my family, like I live with them while I’m writing. I really struggled with having to not pull my punches in regards to what my characters had to do. I had to ask myself, what would this character do, would she whip the 10 year old to death or not? And when the truth was “Yes, she would,” it was very difficult to acknowledge. Because that also means acknowledging that stuff like that happens in the world and did happen in different time periods which was very emotionally draining. That’s also why I love writing and every day was such a joy for me. I wrote for two years while working a night job with 40-hour weeks, then I wrote with a newborn. To be able to get daycare for my son, even just for a few hours and just be able to write was incredible because I really got to live in that world entirely which was really fun.
TPC: Which of your characters do you identify most with?
ST: I identify equally with both of my main characters which I think I had to do because it’s a two protagonist book. I identify with Laia because she’s not brave and at that age I was also not brave, but she is really determined and I like to think that I’m determined. I identify with Elias because he really struggles with his choices and who he is or expected to be. He’s a brooder, which is totally me. I actually identify with all my characters because they’re all little pieces of me.
TPC: What are your hopes for your future career, besides publishing more books?
ST: I want to write the sequel. And I’d really love to see the Ember in the Ashes movie get the greenlight. I’ve heard great things from paramount and the script is finished so I’m very hopeful. I want to see how the fight scenes look and things like that.
TPC: If you could spend a day with a character of your choice, who would you choose?
ST: Hermione Granger. And I would pick Hermione from the end of the Harry Potter series because I think she’s much more chill.
TPC: What are some of your writing rituals?
ST: I need to listen to music when I write, I can’t write without it. I match certain songs up with specific characters or scenes. I write at home in my office at night but during the day I go from coffee shop to coffee shop. Every coffee shop in my area knows who I am. It’s weird because I’ll work two hours at Red Rock Café, then go to library, then go to Starbucks. I started off not planning, then four years into writing my book I started planning.
TPC: How did you move from your first draft to revising?
ST: For me, writing is revising. I almost feel like I just wrote one draft that was a completely different story then revised it into what it became. I spent about a year writing one draft, then revised a bunch, then had to rewrite when I realized I didn’t have a plot.
TPC: Do you have any advice for writers or aspiring writers?
ST: My writing advice is kind of harsh, but I really needed it. My advice is don’t make excuses. Writers find a way to write. Writing isn’t easy, it’s really difficult. If you find yourself wanting to write but you’re not doing it, really think about why that is.
Editor’s note: UPDATE! In the May 19th issue of Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf, it was announced that the follow up to The Ember in the Ashes has been signed up by Penguin! Yay!
Ben Schrank at Razorbill has acquired the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, which was released in February and has hit national bestseller lists. The second volume takes readers into the heart of the Martial Empire as protagonists Laia and Elias fight their way north to liberate Laia’s brother from prison. Razorbill has tentatively scheduled the untitled follow-up for April 2016, with an announced first printing of 250,000 copies. Alexandra Machinist at ICM did the deal for world English rights.