Interview with Farah Zaman, author of Beneath the Crimson Circle.
1. Tell us, from the point of view of the author, what your new book is about and why you chose to write it?
My new book, Beneath the Crimson Circle, is Book 4 in the Moon of Masarrah mystery series. The books are written for middle graders/early teens and follow the adventure of teenage sleuths Adam, Zahra, Layla and Zaid. In Beneath the Crimson Circle, the teenagers set out to prove the innocence of a young man who they believe had been framed for murder. I chose to write mysteries because it is one of my favourite genres.
2. What or who inspired you to write it?
On the whole, I get inspiration for writing by reading other books and taking examples from what is happening in the world. On a deeper level, I was inspired to write books for this age group because I wanted to see a representation of more Muslim characters in the books being published. Also, there are few books being published for this age group that featured Muslim role models who are clever and capable enough to save the day. I wanted our Muslim teens to see themselves being portrayed in a positive light and take pride in their Muslim identities.
3. What messages, including any hidden messages, would you like the readers to take away from this book?
There are no hidden messages. My books are just a means for our young people to have an enjoyable and fun-filled reading experience, while still maintaining the values and integrity of our faith.
4. Are there any linked themes between all of your books?
The themes of my books are the universal ones of fighting evil and promoting justice and goodness.
5. What challenges have you faced in getting to where you are today?
I’ve queried mainstream publishing agents with my first book but I wasn’t successful. I believe my book focused too much on the faith and practices of my characters, which does not have commercial appeal for the masses. Since I wrote it primarily for Muslim teens and tweens, I decided to self-publish instead of watering it down to make it more palatable for mainstream publishers. Self-publishing has been a learning process and I’m still learning as I go along. It is not for the faint of heart and you’ve really got to believe in yourself and your books because that’s the only way you’ll be able to survive the process and overcome the challenges. Also, self-publishing is not cheap. While I’ve been writing, I still hold down a full-time job or I’d never been able to publish my books. This is a common practice of many writers because unless you’re a mega-selling author, you cannot survive financially. But writing while working full-time is tough, especially when you want your books to be published within certain time frames. But it can be done as long as you stick to a routine and have the discipline to maintain it.
6. It’s great to see Muslim authors and female Muslim authors publishing more and more storybooks. What more can we do to encourage others to follow in your footsteps and get writing?
First of all, they have to be passionate readers. If you’re not a reader, you can never become a writer. I recommend to read, read and read as many books as possible, especially in the genre you wish to write in. Next, I recommend learning the craft of writing. Just like an author has to read for the rest of their life, so too do they have to keep on learning the craft of writing. You may have the best ideas in the world but if you cannot capture them on paper in a way that will grip your readers, then be prepared for failure. That’s not to say you shouldn’t write if you think you’re not perfect at it. On the contrary, if you do not write, you’ll never learn the craft. Both have to go hand in hand – you write and hone your skills as you go along.
7. What advice would you give others in terms of what they should do and what they should avoid when it comes to trying to get their works written and published?
There are only two means of getting your works published at this time. They are mainstream publishing and self-publishing. However, it is very difficult to get into mainstream. First, you have to find an agent who will agree to represent your work. Then there are the inherent prejudices that are rampant in this industry when it comes to books published by minorities and people of color. Besides that, your books have to have commercial appeal for the masses, which translates into subject areas that do not always align with the values of the religion. Lastly, if you are beyond a certain age, it becomes harder to get your foot in the door. Alhamdulilah, there are books being published now that are starting to break the barriers, so I would encourage all Muslim authors to try the mainstream route. If you have tried and not been successful at getting representation, have no fear. Self-publishing can help you to fulfil your dreams. You may not get as much recognition or credibility as you wish or deserve but it does provide an alternative to getting your works out there.
8. In your opinion, how can we get more and more children to read books and what responsibilities do we have as parents and older siblings and as institutions to help more and more people get more involved in reading and writing?
As parents, if we want our children to become readers, obviously we have to extol the virtues of reading and ensure our children have a regular supply of books to read. Getting them to join a library is the best course. Oftentimes, parents cannot afford to buy each and every book that comes out, so the library is the best place to obtain a variety without any cost. Institutions like schools can also promote reading by ensuring that a wide variety of books are featured on the reading lists as part of the curriculum. The establishment of school magazines and writing projects can also help to get young people more involved in the writing process. Beyond that, I don’t believe you can do more than that. There will always be children who have a natural affinity for reading and others that do not. Everyone has different talents that will take them in different directions during the course of their lives. As long as they are contributing meaningfully to society, that’s fine.