Aisha Saeed is the author of WRITTEN IN THE STARS, which is published by Nancy Paulsen Books. Aisha is also co-founder and Vice President of Strategy of We Need Diverse Books. In WRITTEN IN THE STARS, Naila, a smart Pakistani-American high school senior, is forced into an arranged marriage by her own parents. I was stunned by the trials Naila had to face. In our interview, Aisha shares what the hardest chapter was for her to write, the specific technique she used to query agents, and what has surprised her most since joining the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.
Janet Umenta: Did you draw from any real-life conversations while writing WRITTEN IN THE STARS?
Aisha Saeed: I definitely drew from real-life experiences while writing WRITTEN IN THE STARS. Growing up, I had childhood friends who were coerced and pressured into marriages they would not have chosen for themselves. While my novel is entirely fictional, those stories always stayed with me and served as the inspiration for my novel.
JU: Reading WRITTEN IN THE STARS reminded me of other great books that deal with traumatic events, such as Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK. What do you want readers, particularly young women, to get out of your book?
AS: While both genders experience trauma and violence, it’s an unfortunate truth that young women are, globally speaking, at a greater risk for facing issues involving power, control, and violence. While SPEAK and WRITTEN IN THE STARS capture horrific circumstances in different parts of the world, juxtaposed together, they serve to highlight the challenges women face all over the world.
I hope young women will read Naila’s story and realize that sometimes people who love us can be the people who hurt us. We have to pay attention to signs that may be painful to see, but we must take heed of them. I also hope readers will see that we make our own destiny. In the darkest of moments, there is always a flicker of hope. There is always a reason to not give up.
JU: What was it like sharing WRITTEN IN THE STARS with your friends and family?
AS: Some of my family and friends have read my book before it found its way into print and gave me invaluable feedback along the way. It was incredibly emotional to see the book in finished form and to be able to show it to them. Many of my friends and family, though, hadn’t read the book until it was published and that has been surreal, to see people you know reading your novel. Thus far, it’s been a great experience.
JU: WRITTEN IN THE STARS is your first published book. What was it like querying agents?
AS: I had a very specific approach to getting an agent. I went to a bookstore armed with a notebook and looked for diverse books that were similar to my own. I read the acknowledgments of those books and wrote down the agents representing the work and looked at their lists to find the best fits. I was very fortunate because I got lucky and found a home at the agency I had on the top of my priority list. Taylor Martindale, my agent, is amazing and fell in love with WRITTEN IN THE STARS. I feel fortunate to have found her.
JU: What was the hardest chapter to write?
AS: Chapter 38. I knew that without even having to look at the book. I don’t want to give away the plot details, but writing that chapter left me emotionally drained and exhausted for a few days. Even now when I look back through the book, I always have to skim those pages or avoid them entirely. Naila is a fictional character, but it’s difficult for me to see her endure it, particularly because I know that it is an experience many people actually go through.
JU: It is the one year anniversary of #WeNeedDiverseBooks. What has surprised you most since joining the campaign?
AS: I am absolutely overwhelmed, humbled, and amazed at the outpouring of support we’ve received not just from authors, and readers, but from everyone! Publishers, agents, librarians, teachers, parents, have come out to support us in ways that are so heartening. It serves to highlight just how important diversity in literature is to so many people. It’s a conversation we must continue to engage in.
About Aisha Saeed
Aisha is the author of WRITTEN IN THE STARS, which is published by Nancy Paulsen Books. Aisha is co-founder and Vice President of Strategy of We Need Diverse Books. Connect with Aisha on her website and on Twitter.