Interview

Author Spotlight: Samira Ahmed

We are so excited to have debut author of LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS, Samira Ahmed, on our blog today! This book is not only wonderfully written with lots of heart and humor, and it’s very timely so we think everyone should give it a read when it comes out on January 16, 2018 from Soho Teen.

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  1. Samira! Give us the quick pitch for LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS

Love, Hate & Other Filters is a story about a girl who is Indian and Muslim, but also a girl like all the other girls—she has hopes and dreams and crushes and but has to confront bullying and Islamophobia and faces a world trying to tell her who she should be and what she should do. Ultimately, she’s an American girl who is simply trying to figure things out and forge her own path.

  1. I love that you used real life inspiration for the location of your novel. Are there specific places within Maya’s town that are inspired by places you’ve been?

Her entire hometown! Maya lives in a fictionalized version of my hometown, Batavia, IL. The forest preserve and the Japanese garden that she visits with Phil are based on the actual Fabyan Forest Preserve near where I grew up. And Maya mentions driving by the Lincoln Tree—that was a real tree when I was in high school but, sadly, was cut down. A lot of times kids would go out to that tree to…um…study!

Another real-life spot that I mention in the book is Geja’s Café in Chicago where Maya has dinner with Kareem. It’s a fondue place that has been around since the mid-1960s and is considered one of the most romantic spots in Chicago—apparently more people get engaged there than any other restaurant in Chicago. This might be an apocryphal story, but it’s cute, so I’m going to stick with it.

  1. In some ways Maya has to face things that no parent would want their child to have to grapple with, but it’s a fact that so many young Muslims these days have to face versions of Maya’s fears. What inspired you to write Maya’s story?

Personal experience.

My first brush with Islamophobia was during the Iran-Hostage Crisis, when I was very young—about 7 or 8 years old. I was in Chicago with my parents and a grown man yelled at me, “Go home, you godd*** f***ing Iranian!” I was shocked. Literally, couldn’t move. Had never heard an adult speak that way, and certainly never to a child. It was my first exposure to the ignorant and the blatant hatred of bigots. It was this moment where a part of childhood was shattered and I wanted to capture that same feeling in writing.

Islamophobia isn’t new, not at all. Prejudice is as old as America, older. But so is hope and resistance. In writing Maya’s story, I wanted to show all of those things, to remind us of what he have to fight for.

  1. I love how you use the metaphor of “filters” to explain prejudice and judgement. How did you come about giving Maya a passion in film-making? Was this at all influenced by anything personal? Did her passion for film-making inspire these amazing social metaphors or was it the other way around?

I love movies. Really, who doesn’t? But both Maya and I have a special place in our hearts for documentaries. Maya says documentaries have a way of exposing unbearable truths and that is part of what I wanted my novel to do.

Maya also uses her camera lens as the way she views the world. It’s her filter—one that gives her distance, one that allows her to edit and shape both her world and the world she presents to the viewer. At the same time, she encounters Islamophobes who view the world and their interactions with others through the filter of hate and bigotry.

We all have filters that alter how we interpret relationships and experiences and part of the goal of the book was to explore those filters.

  1. One of my favorite parts of reading an ownvoices contemporary story is to see the relationships. You have great explorations into Maya’s relationship with her parents. What’s one of your favorite parts about writing family dynamics in your novels? What’s one of the hardest parts? 

I really wanted to present family dynamics and relationships in a truthful way. Maya loves her parents but also sometimes resents them and sometimes disagrees with the choices they make for her. All that felt very real to me—the parent-child relationship is never a simple one but I think that is part of the beauty of it. It is also one of the hardest things to capture.

One part of their relationship that I had fun with was the jokey-cheesy, sometimes sarcastic part. I think the opening chapter captures some of that—how her dad just laughs to himself when her mom is giving Maya a hard time or how Maya’s mom humble-brags, in part because it gets under Maya’s skin. I also had fun writing the part where Maya is so squeamish when she sees her parents express any physical contact at all. I remember seeing my dad kiss my mom when I was in 2nd grade—a peck, really—and I thought it was both hilarious and shocking.

  1. I know you didn’t use any Critique Partners for LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS before you sold it. Are you a magical unicorn and can you bestow such writing magic upon me?

Haha. Yes. I am a unicorn. I’m sprinkling my magical unicorn glitter on you right now, do you feel it?

I’m a very solitary writer. And I’m also a big believer in finding the process that works for you. There is no formula for writing the perfect book. And while I didn’t use CPs for LH&OF that doesn’t mean I won’t for future books.

  1. Can you tell us the funnest part of the debut process so far?

Obviously meeting you, Kat! And having you force me onto Instagram for my own good. Sometimes we aunties need to be told what to do.

  1. Yay! I’m so excited I met you too! And your Instagram is so pretty already, I’m so proud. LOL. Okay, next question is also about authorly stuff. Do you have any advice for young writers?

I think the most important thing I can share is to know yourself. There is a lot of advice out there. Some of it will work for you, some of it won’t. Know who you are. Know how you write. Know the writer you want to be. It’s a journey.

I’m not a fan of prescriptive writing tips. There is no one perfect process and that’s why, for myself, knowing what works best for me is the starting point of the writing process.

Also, publishing is a tough business. And it is a business. Sometimes you feel like you’re facing a World of No. Just make sure that the “no” isn’t coming from your own inner critic. There are enough people who will say no to you; so say yes to yourself.

  1. I saw you have another amazing book deal! Can you tell us a bit about that book?

I’m super excited about MAD, BAD & DANGEROUS TO KNOW and thrilled to be working with the fabulous team at Soho Teen again to publish this novel in Fall 2019.

It’s a literary mystery that was inspired by a poem by Lord Byron and a painting by Eugene Delacroix and follows a young Indian-French-American-Muslim girl who meets a descendant of Alexandre Dumas one summer in Paris. Together, they set off to unravel the mystery of a 19th century Muslim woman who appears in correspondence between Delacroix and Dumas. It’s a dual narrative that intertwines past and present and leads the characters on a journey through parts of forgotten Paris.

And yes, apparently, all of my titles will have ampersands.

YAY! Thank you for joining us Samira! Everyone go pre-order LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS!


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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. A graduate of the University of Chicago, she taught high school English, helped create dozens of small high schools, and fought to secure billions of additional dollars to fairly fund public schools. 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.

 

Visit her online at www.samiraahmed.com

Twitter: @sam_aye_ahm

Instagram: @sam_aye_ahm

Facebook: SamiraAhmedAuthor


And now it’s GIVEAWAY TIME!

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Enter for your chance to win a pre-order of LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS!

Ways to Enter:

Comment on this blog post and follow the blog

OR

Retweet the tweet below and follow @Sam_aye_ahm on Twitter!

 

ENDS 12/15/2017 5PM ET

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