Hello bookish people!
This is Meenu here again with an interesting author interview with a young and extremely talented Farah Naz Rishi. I have always been a fan of South Asian books in general. I would love to read stories about people and their culture, especially the ones which are geographically nearer to my location. This gives me a sense of relevance that I could easily relate to those characters. At the same time, it is an extreme pleasure in reading about communities which are under-represented in the literary world. If you had already read my review of It all comes back to you by Farah, you guys know how I picked up her book. It had brown characters and one of whom was wearing a beautiful lehenga, as soon as I found asian name on the cover with a plotline set in the US without a doubt I wanted to read it. Once I read it, I wanted to have a conversation with the author. Farah and I, we planned to do this interview by the beginning of this year and then life happened to both of us and finally we got back to the author interview we planned eons ago.
Every author interview is special but this interview is a little extra special to me, I have been excited and dying to do this interview from day one. Okay, I will stop my rambling here and let me give you guys a proper introduction to this awesome author.
Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani-American Muslim writer and voice actor, but in another life, she’s worked stints as a lawyer, a video game journalist, and an editorial assistant. She received her B.A. in English from Bryn Mawr College, her J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School, and her love of weaving stories from the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s probably hanging out with video game characters. You can find her at home in Philadelphia, or on Twitter at @farahnazrishi
Thank you so much Farah for accepting to do this interview session with me. First of all, I would like to let you know I completely enjoyed the experience your book gave me. I’m super excited to talk to you about your amazing book today.
Okay, so this is first question I ask all my favourite authors. What inspired you to write and how would you describe your writing journey?
Like most writers, I was inspired by the books I read at a young age. Reading a book that touches at your heart feels like magic. I wanted to be a part of that magic, wanted to learn how I could make people feel the same way. But writing wasn’t something I could dedicate much time to until I was in grad school. By then, I felt so tired, so shut down, I had forgotten how the magic felt. To heal, I had turned back to writing, and well, the rest is history.
That’s genuinely wonderful! Tell us a little bit about yourself which is not available on the public domain?
Besides books, I love anime and video games! Also in high school, I DJ’d several of our school dances and founded a club called the Techno Appreciation Society. I really, really love music.
What is your writing process like? And do you have any alpha or beta readers who give you suggestions and brainstorm ideas with?
I have one of those Victorian fainting couches in my office, so I often whine and throw my temper tantrums about the writing process on it. But when I actually have any hope of writing, I always make sure to outline my stories ahead of time and plan what I’m writing for the day. I also talk to my partner, who listens as I babble on about any story issues I’m working through. It helps. A lot.
On average how long will it take for you to complete a book?
It depends on the book, honestly! For my first book, I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE, it took two or three years to finish. My second book, IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU, took a few months. My third book, IF YOU’RE NOT THE ONE, took about six months. Every book presents unique challenges, many that I can’t foresee until I’m deep in the process. It really does depend.
What is your writing schedule like?
I’m very lucky and privileged to be able to write full-time. I usually start writing right after breakfast, and I start late in the day—around 10, because I’m lazy and like to sleep in. Usually I write until my brain shuts down around 3. If I’m on deadline, I’ll get back to writing in the evening for a few more hours.
What kind of research you did do before starting It all comes back to you?
Thankfully, I didn’t have to do very much. I pulled mostly from my own experience. Any research I did was mostly focused on traditional dancing, and making sure I could convey Kiran’s love of dance authentically.
I know that you are a voice actor, so can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yes! I’ve always dabbled in acting, but like writing, I couldn’t dedicate as much time as I wanted. Voice acting in particular is something I’ve always been fascinated with, and I finally took the plunge about five years ago by taking an intensive two-month long class. I fell in love. It gave me another outlet. The one downside to becoming a full-time writer (not that I can really complain, honestly), is that writing begins to feel like work, like stress—and not the healthy kind. I needed another creative outlet. In a way, voice acting helps me be a better writer. And being a writer helps me be a better voice actor. The two professions are symbiotic in that way. It’s been wonderful.
How did you come about with this plot-line? And how did you decide you want to talk about Pakistani American people and their stories?
That’s a really good question, and a really hard one to answer. It’s hard to say where I get my ideas from—if I knew, I wouldn’t always be stressed about figuring out what to write next. But I try to focus on tropes that excite me, and I start with a character who is living out that trope. For IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU, I wanted to write a reunited-exes trope, but I wanted to include parts of my cultural background because there is still such little representation. Naturally, I gravitated towards big South Asian weddings as the backdrop; South Asians are so iconic, and in Bollywood films (and sometimes real life), they are drama-filled—perfect for a coming-of-age rom-com! Once I had figured out who my central characters were, the story concept began to write itself.
I ultimately loved all your characters, they were all unique and stood apart distinctly. How did you write such interesting characters? What was your inspiration?
If I’m lucky, characters will simply walk into my head. I honestly don’t know how to explain it. But often, it starts with a weird dream, or I’ll literally be daydreaming, and poof! A new character has appeared. I think subconsciously, they’re the amalgamation of whatever media I’m consuming at the time, and maybe a bit of my own feelings at the time, if that makes sense. So for IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU, Deen came first. Kiran was created as a response to his character.
Who is your favourite character from It all comes back to you and why?
Deen will always be my favourite. I relate to him in a couple of ways, and I’m also such a big fan of characters who are big flirts on the surface but are secretly hiding behind a mask of self-doubt and insecurity.
Now my question is about Kiran, I absolutely loved the ways in which tries to stop the wedding, though I know it’s crazy and wrong at some level I was able to relate to her. What was it like while writing her character?
Kiran was actually a bit difficult for me to write because I’m a pretty open book, especially when it comes to people I care about. If I had been in her shoes, I would have told Amira everything from the get-go. But I think it’s really fun writing characters that are completely different from you, that make completely different choices than what you’d do. I find that it helps me understand others better
If you personally ask me I think I will be some 70% of Kiran, how much of a Kiran are you?
I relate to her passion for dance (I’m not a dancer, but I feel similarly with writing and acting), and there’s very little I wouldn’t do for my sibling. I’d say I’m 50% Kiran! I’m more like 75% Deen.
If you had read my review about It all comes back to you, I would have pointed out I really loved Asher and Kiran’s friendship, can you tell a little about these characters and their friendship?
Asher was very loosely based on my own childhood friend that I grew up with. He lived in the same neighbourhood I did, and was the only other Pakistani- American Muslim at my school. But Asher is such a great character because he’s a little sarcastic and maybe too honest. He’s not afraid to call out Kiran when she’s being too much. He’s one of my favourite kinds of characters to write, in part because he makes such a great foil for Kiran, who inwardly freaks out a lot. He keeps her head on straight. Thank goodness.
I loved the bond between Kiran and Amira and also between the Malik brothers. Well, siblings love is something really amazing. I was disheartened along with Kiran when Amira makes plan of moving away from her sister and getting married. I think I’m yet again proving I am team Kiran (lol) so do you have siblings? If so how close you guys are? Do you make plans like Kiran and Amira? Do you guard each other’s secrets with all your lives like Deen and Faisal?
Unfortunately my little brother is no longer with us, but we were really close. I was lucky to have him in my life. I love writing sibling relationships; I think siblings are their own special species of relationships because they’re completely unfiltered. You can share the most absurd of secrets with each other, or say the most ridiculous things to each other—or even the meanest things—and then five minutes later act like nothing happened. And there’s that shared bond of living in the same family, of understanding things (traumas, family quirks) about each
other that no one else could possibly get. It’s so weird. And wonderful.
Which part of the book you absolutely enjoyed writing?
I really liked the ending. I know there’s a lot of people who hate open-endings, but I love them. I love being able to imagine the future of the characters, to guess what might happen to them. Life isn’t always wrapped up in a perfect bow, you know? So I don’t mind the lack of a clear ending. I think it’s more fun that way. Plus, the ending here felt really hopeful to me.
As someone from India and with family living in the US, I felt so closely related to your characters, let it be food, the wedding mode and all of that, it made me extremely happy. So as someone who is living in the US, how often do you get to meet your relatives, attend desi weddings and stuff? Do you love all these family gatherings or slightly bored of it like me? (I just hope my relatives don’t get to read this 😛 )
Ha! I used to get really bored at those kinds of gatherings, but now, I enjoy them. Maybe it’s because of the pandemic, but I haven’t been able to see my community as often, and I find that I miss that a lot. There’s something wonderful about desi weddings, too: the music, the food, the joy. I eat it all up. I haven’t gone to Pakistan in a while—I do still have family there—but I’m planning a trip for hopefully later this year. Hoping it actually happens!
I got super hyped up when you spoke about Briyani, I’m like, I will die for biryani and I’m not even kidding. So do you like Briyani and which is your favourite biryani?
This might be cheating, but I love every and all biryani! I have a soft spot for my dad’s seafood biryani, though.
The first thing that brought me towards your book was it’s beautiful cover, as soon as I saw a brown girl in a lehenga and I was like, Man I’m reading this book for sure. Who is the person behind this beautiful cover? Did you have a hand in the making of it?
I was so lucky to have Zahra Fatima draw the cover—she’s a phenomenal artist who somehow knew exactly what I wanted, and more. I can’t wait to work with her again, maybe sometime very soon… ��
Since I love your book so much I want to read more of this sort, if you could suggest a couple of books which are slightly like yours, what they would be?
If you could pause the real world and venture into the world of gaming full time, what game that would be?
Probably Stardew Valley. I love the idea of escaping the city to start a little idyllic farm.
Have you ever thought of creating a video game of your own?
Oh, yes. Always. A friend and I had started working in earnest on a visual novel several years back. Maybe we’ll return to it someday.
I really liked the part about Pre-martial Counseling with Imam, I was discussing about it with my best friend who is a Muslim and she is also getting married shortly. This is absolutely new to me and I loved the idea of it. So is this conventionally what every couple does before getting married? How did you add this part into the book?
I think a lot of Muslim couples attend some form of counseling—at least, this is usually encouraged, especially since many Muslims don’t really “date” in the traditional sense. So it’s a good way to get everyone on the same page in terms of values, finances, dreams for the future, etc.. I basically pulled a lot of it from the experiences of friends, and my own research. I also love the concept! I think it’s a great idea for anyone.
As a young writer what are the obstacles you have faced while writing and publishing your book?
The biggest obstacle I’ve faced is not feeling dejected about my craft. It’s difficult being a marginalized creator in publishing right now, and not just within the publishing industry itself. There are many walls of expectations around you, especially to represent your religion and culture and people absolutely perfectly. Which of course is wholly subjective. There is no perfect representation. Just your own. At the same time, you’re also balancing ensuring that your work doesn’t harm or misrepresent your people. It’s a tough and often unforgiving balance. But there are also people who are supportive and loving—that’s what I try to focus on.
Which is your favourite part of creating a book? Coming up with an idea or actually writing it or editing or convincing your editor/literary agent or marketing your book?
I love the initial moment when you’ve just come up with a concept that you’re really excited for. It represents possibility— all the possibility in the world. That, to me, is magic.
Tell us a little bit about your literary agent? How did you get yourself an agent?
I had a very unconventional journey into publishing, and I ended up getting an agent after publishing my first book, by reaching out to agents I knew who had worked with other writer friends. The usual journey, though, is that you get an agent before publishing, through a query letter and manuscript. Getting an agent, regardless of your journey, is a stressful experience and requires patience. But once you get an agent—a good, vetted agent—it feels amazing to have someone who advocates for you and is always in your corner.
How did your friends and family react after reading your book for the first time?
Oh God. I think the biggest takeaway I had gotten was that they couldn’t believe I had the focus to write an entire book, hahaha. Which is fair. But I think the other thing they said was that they could see all the bits and pieces of my life I’d pulled from, which I thought was hilarious.
If you could relive one event which made your career as an author absolutely fulfilling, what it would be?
Seeing my first ever cover. I remember being at the gym, and I had gotten an email from my editor telling me the cover was finished. When I opened up the email and saw the cover, I started crying. At the gym. Right at the pull-up bar.
As a published author what advice would like to give young and aspiring writers who plan to successfully publish their book?
Don’t stop growing. Especially if it feels like you’re stuck, like you’re just banging your head against a wall and you’re not getting to where you’d like as fast as fast as you’d like. It’s a hard, terrifying place to be, but I recommend trying to take it as an opportunity to let yourself just sit and grow. If you don’t normally, read across genres. Pick up books from genres you’ve never read before. And don’t just rely on How-To-Write books to up-level your craft. Reread your favorite book and try to remember why you loved it so much in the first place. Study dialogue in scripts. Pour over every line to see why it needs—or doesn’t need—to be there. Just like with anything else, you have to study writing to get better. And you will. It’s corny, but trees don’t grow no matter how much you beg them to; they grow when you trust the process and give them the nourishment they need. The same goes for craft.
Now, I can’t leave you without asking this question, what are you working on currently and when can we expect to read your next book?
My next book is IF YOU’RE NOT THE ONE, coming out next year! It’s a romcom, and a lot fluffier than anything I’ve written. It’s also my favorite.
Lastly, how was your experience answering my nosy questions?
These were so, so fun! Thank you for asking me questions I’d never even thought about before ��
I’m happy to hear this <3 Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my too many questions patiently. All these very best for all your upcoming projects. I had an amazing time doing this interview with you 😀
Get in touch with the author:
You can read my review of It all comes back to you here!
Happy Reading Folks!
And stay tuned for more interesting updates!