The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer

Aisha Saeed - Forty Words for Love

September 12, 2023 Marissa Meyer Season 2023 Episode 169
The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer
Aisha Saeed - Forty Words for Love
Show Notes Transcript

In this week’s episode, Marissa chats with Aisha Saeed about her latest YA magical realism (with a bit of fantasy and romance), FORTY WORDS FOR LOVE. Also discussed: the origins and impact of the We Need Diverse Books organization, how there’s been much progress in creating more representation and diverse books but there’s always more work to be done, what it means to write the book of your heart, using fantasy to give distance and perspective on real world issues, how things can happen that you have no control over, but that you do have control over the books you write, and so much more!

We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) https://diversebooks.org/ 
Beth Pickens MAKE YOUR ART, NO MATTER WHAT https://bookshop.org/a/11756/9781452182957 

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[00:10] Marissa: Hello, and welcome to the Happy Writer. This is a podcast that aims to bring readers more books to enjoy and to help authors find more joy in their writing. I am your host, Marissa Meyer. Thank you so much for joining me. One thing making me happy this week, it's another one of life's simple, delightful pleasures. I have a bouquet of fresh picked flowers on my writing desk today. It was actually picked by the girls in our new gardens. This new house that we just moved into has a couple of different garden areas and it's been kind of fun the last couple of months seeing what things the previous owners had planted. And we've got a lovely little rose patch and some dahlias and honestly, some things that I don't even know what they are. And we have a beautiful hydrangea that just started blooming. So the girls and I have been going out, trying to go out about once a week and pick a new bunch and scatter them throughout the house. And it's been really lovely and delightful. And the roses smell so good. Very much a simple joy. I wish I could have flowers on my desk all the time. And as I say those words, I think, Marissa, you probably can actually have flowers on your desk all the time. Why the heck not? That's going to be one of my new goals for this year. All right. I am also so happy to be talking to today's guest. She is an award winning and New York Times bestselling author of a number of books for children and young adults, including the middle grade novel Amal Unbound and the young adult novel yes, no maybe So, which was co written with Becky Albertalli. She is also a founding member of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books, and her newest novel, 40 Words for Love just came out last month. Please welcome Aisha Said.

[02:06] Aisha: Thank you so much for having me. As I was saying, off mic, I'm a big fan of yours. I'm so excited to be here to chat with you.

[02:13] Marissa: Oh, thank you. I really appreciate that. I love it. When before the recording, you brought up writing graphic novels which you have not done yet. I'm working on my fourth graphic novel script at this time, but I think a graphic novel needs to be in your future.

[02:33] Aisha: Let's see this. 40 words for Love is lucky number 13. So let's see what future books hold for me. Maybe a graphic novel is in my future.

[02:42] Marissa: I hope so. I can see it. I think your words are very visual. The story, the world that you create. I can see graphic novels being a thing for you.

[02:53] Aisha: Thank you. Thanks. You're so big.

[02:56] Marissa: All right, so the first thing that I love to ask my guests, I want to hear your origin story. You say you're 13 books in but take us back in time. How did you know you wanted to be a writer. How did you get started? How'd you get published? What's your story?

[03:15] Aisha: Yeah, so I think for me, I always loved to write stories since I was a kid, but it never seemed like something that was a viable goal to be as a career. Growing up, I never had author visits. I had never met an author until I was actually under contract for my very first book. And so for me, growing up, I loved to read, but authors just felt ethereal. They did not live among this world like us mortals. And I'm talking to you right now from my child's bedroom, and there's, like, toys all staring at me. And I now know that authors are very much mortals, but back then, I didn't know. And when it was time to pick majors for college, there's no author major. You could do creative writing or you could do English, but there was nothing that would guide me straight to a path to becoming an author. And so I was a teacher for a number of years. I taught second grade. After that, I was a lawyer. I represented kids in the legal system with Atlanta Legal Aid. And all along, through this whole journey, I was writing because I love to write, but I never wrote with an eye toward publication because I really just didn't know how that then, you know, as the years went by, and especially, and this feels important to say I started seeing South Asian authors getting their stories published, which, growing up, I never saw. And so I saw Junpalahiri, her book, Interpreter of Maladies, was doing really great, and I was watching the success, and I realized, oh, well, maybe, maybe I can do this, and maybe there is a way for me to try to become an. So, you know, in between studying for the bar exam, being a lawyer, I started working on my very first novel. And it took a long time when you're working in this small snatches of time that you can find while you're doing a full time job. But, yeah, so I worked on it on the side, and then I found out I was pregnant with my first son, and then I realized, okay, so I'm going to become a mother. I'm a full time lawyer, and I do still want to see where this book thing is going to go. And I realized something's got to give. And so I luckily had the privilege my husband has a full time job that I was able to quit my job as a lawyer and give myself a year to finish this book that I'd been working on. Slowly, slowly. Yeah, I finished it, and I found my agent right away. She loved the book, and then she took it out on submission, and I had two and a half fun years of no. Everyone saying no, and it was really disheartening because it wasn't just oh, we don't like the plot, or we don't like the character. It was more like, I already have another Indian author on my list. I'm not even Indian. Right. Or Books like these don't sell. I don't see this book becoming mainstream. And over the years of these rejections, it really felt like the coded message was a book about this girl who is South Asian and Muslim. It's just we don't see a market for it. And it was really disheartening because I could work on plot. I could get a freelance editor to help me with pacing. What can I do if you just don't connect with the voice of this character? And luckily, on my 30th submission, a couple of years in Nancy Paulson at Nancy Paulson Books, penguin took a chance, and she loved the book, and she helped open that door for me to enter into the world of publishing. But, yeah, it's definitely not something that I know. Some people grow up, like, dreaming of being an author, and they know it's what they're going to do. For me, I loved telling stories, but as far as becoming a published author, it took a lot longer for me to actually become brave enough to take those steps, to go on submission and do what I needed to do to get to where I wanted to be.

[07:23] Marissa: Yeah. And to find an editor who was brave enough to say, yeah, this is a book that the world needs right now, and kind of ignore this arbitrary rules that publishing had set up for so long. Yeah.

[07:40] Aisha: I'm so grateful to you know, she's been in the business for a number of years, and she has a diverse list. She always has from the start of her career. And so I feel like it was a perfect match and a perfect way to enter into the world of becoming an author. So I'm very grateful to her for giving me my start.

[08:00] Marissa: Yeah. No, I love that. What year was that?

[08:02] Aisha: What year did your first book come out? My first book came out in 2015.

[08:07] Marissa: Okay, so about eight years ago. And then at what point did you get involved with, we need diverse books, which is such a powerhouse in the Ya world? Yeah, it has been for so long.

[08:18] Aisha: Yeah. So interestingly. My book came out in 2015, but We Need Diverse Books launched 2014. Okay. Yeah. So I had just signed the book deal in 2014, and I was so excited, and I was asking my agent, when am I going to go on tour? What's it going to look like? Just asking all these questions. And she was like, oh, honey, no. She's like, no, your book is a quiet book. You'll have a publicist, but you won't know who they are. Your publisher will be doing things for you, but you may never know, but trust that they're doing things. And I said, okay. What? That was so new. To me, and I didn't have author friends to talk to or turn to to ask. And so I went to Google, and I started looking up what the statistics were for authors getting published. And one thing that I kept finding consistently was that books featuring BIPOC creators marginal LGBTQ as well, books featuring people written by people from marginalized communities, our books didn't sell well. They weren't promoted as much. And so there was a self fulfilling prophecy that was happening where the books are not promoted, then they don't do well, and then publishers throw up their hands and say, well, we tried, but they don't sell well. And I found a lot of statistics about how many books get published every year, how many books get reviewed by the New York Times, by BIPOC creators, and everything was pretty much saying the ODS were against me. And so I found a lot of these links and graphics on the website of an author named Ellen O, who I'm sure you've heard of, and she's a middle grade and Ya author. And I went on to Twitter to say thank you to her because this was terrible news, but it was good to know what I was getting into. And I happened to, by coincidence that day, stumble into a conversation that was happening about the issue of diversity in books that Ellen O, Melinda Lowe, and many other authors were talking about, because that year BookCon was having a big expo, and they were having a children's author brunch or breakfast, and it was all white males. And so everyone on Twitter, back when Twitter was know, we were all talking about it, and we know we don't believe people don't want diverse books. We don't think that's true. And so as the conversation grew, we said, let's take this off Twitter. Let's exchange info. And so we did, and we said, let's do a three day campaign. We'll ask all our friends, author friends, we'll ask our editors to use the hashtag, we need diverse books because and say, Why? And I mean, we were hoping for our friends and for fellow authors to share, but we had no idea it was going to go viral and mainstream the way it did. It was everywhere. Remember being interviewed by NPR? And it was incredible. And amidst all that, BookCon reached out to me and said they wanted us to come to BookCon and to talk about this issue, which was really great, because I think some people could become defensive, right, and just block everyone who's criticizing them. But they were like, why don't you come and talk about this? And so at that time, I was not a published author. Many of us just had like and we were looking at the lineup. Kim Kardashian and Mindy Kaling is going to be there, and we're like, who's going to show up for us? But we went and people did show up. It was standing room only. And, I mean, they had to turn people away, and it was just such an electric moment. And that's when we realized that, okay, we can't just be a hashtag, because that was the initial intent. Hashtag bring awareness. We realized we needed to incorporate, become an organization, and join the many others who've come before us because we're not the first advocating for diverse books, but join those and join on that journey with all the others who've been advocating to just work on sustained change. My book came out in 2015, which was after We Need Diverse Books had already launched, which was pretty cool, and We Need Diverse Books to my book doing better than perhaps was predicted. So I'm very grateful to we need diverse books for so many things.

[12:41] Marissa: Yeah, no, and I think it's fair to say that the We Need Diverse Books organization, the movement, the awareness. I mean, I think that a lot of books have been published over the last six, seven years that probably wouldn't have gotten published if it wasn't for you and your team drawing awareness to this. I really feel that it has changed the landscape, particularly within Ya fiction. For the better.

[13:09] Aisha: I hope so. I mean, I definitely see a rise, and it would be great to think that. But I will also say not to be a Debbie Downer, I think as wonderful it has been, we've seen BIPOC creators and LGBTQ creators getting bigger advances, seeing their names on the New York Times bestseller list, like, seeing their books getting into classrooms. But I think back then, I remember I don't remember who, but somebody had said, who'd been in this diversity advocacy for a long time, they said, as great as this all is, there will be a backlash. And we were just like, what? No, this is great. Everybody sees how this benefits everyone. It's a win win. And now we are seeing the backlash. We're seeing book bans. We're seeing school board meetings getting taken over by tiny majority, but a tiny minority. Excuse me, but a very vocal minority and very organized minority. So it's been really interesting to see Diverse Books get this power and attention from publishers and from readers. And now seeing this backlash, it's just really interesting.

[14:25] Marissa: It is interesting. And obviously, the book bans are a hot topic. So many eyes are on the situation and what's happening. I guess I had not directly connected it to the need for diversity, but no, that makes a lot I don't know.

[14:42] Aisha: It's hard to know for sure, but it's just interesting to watch. Like, 2014, We Need Diverse Books begins, and now as these books that started coming out, that publishers starting putting out, it takes time, and now we're seeing this pushback. But I do believe, on a happier, more optimistic note, that I do not think that these people will win ultimately.

[15:08] Marissa: I agree.

[15:09] Aisha: I think that they are a very small minority. Yeah.

[15:13] Marissa: Any idea what the next step is or the next stage in promoting diversity and getting more of these books on the market? Or is there something that you're hoping to tackle? Not you specifically, but the group?

[15:28] Aisha: I think we're slowly getting there. I think in the beginning, it was just incredible to see, oh, wow, there's a book by Diverse Author. This is amazing. And then it became but we want more representation. There's more than one single story for each group. And I think that is slowly happening. So I think it's great. And I think we're slowly seeing books by marginalized creators moving from just being identity stories, because that can be very limiting for a creative when all you're writing about is your marginalized identity. Because, of course, we contain multitudes and should be allowed to write about whatever we'd like. And so I think I'm seeing those changes and I'm seeing that evolution. But I also know that as a writer, I am very in the know of what's coming out. But I feel like when I go to a bookstore or a library, it's not always reflective of the books that I'm really familiar with coming out. So I think when you're in the bubble, you can say, oh, there's so many diverse books these days, and there's so much out there. But what are the kids accessing and the young people accessing? What's being put in their hands? I'm not sure that's all directly translating quite yet. I'm hoping that diverse books will be less and less niche. I still think even though there is much progress, I think there's more to.

[16:51] Marissa: I agree. I agree. And that's a really good point. I know it's so many bookstores, especially indie bookstores, I feel like really are tapped, know what their readers want and need and what's happening in the market. But how many know readers go to Target for their books or go to Walmart for their books? Because that's the retailer that has books in their community. And I honestly absolutely no idea what their buyers are looking at.

[17:20] Aisha: And looking for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dog Man is my I have kids in that market, so we're at the Target bookshelf all the time. And it's like Diary of Wimpy Kid and dog man. They're great. They're also really great supporters of we need diverse books. But like okay, little more in the middle grade. I'm speaking to at least yeah, the middle grade section where we spend a lot of yeah, yeah.

[17:45] Marissa: Okay, well, thank you for what you've done for We Need Diverse Books. I think it's been really great and there have been changes. And as you say, there's more to go still. The work is not done, but I think we are moving in the right direction.

[18:01] Aisha: I agree.

[18:03] Marissa: And with that, let's talk about you and your new book. Would you please tell listeners, what is 40 Words for Love about.

[18:14] Aisha: Yeah. So 40 Words for Love is my first solo young adult since my debut, Written in the Stars, which came out in 2015. And this story, I guess the closest description I could say for category would be, like, magical realism with a little bit of fantasy. It's a very contemporary feel, but has bits of magic within it. And it's a story about two teens living in a town called Moonlight Bay, which used to have lavender and pink waters that would heal anxiety. It had soothing elements to it. They were a company town. There was a big candy manufacturer that would use the waters to make anxiety reducing candies that people would buy all over the world. And one day there's a tragedy and a young boy drowns in those sea, and the company closes up and leaves. The ocean turns gray and the town starts to crumble. And the story follows these two teams. One, her family's grown up for generations in Moonlight Bay. And the other, her name is Yaz and Roth he is from a place called Gola. They've fled climate change. The area was turning icy and cold, and they've come here to Moonlight Bay for refuge, where they've lived happily and welcomed for years. But now, as those seas have turned gray and resources are dwindling, the locals are getting angry and they need someone to blame for what happened. And they start looking at the goal of people who came about ten years ago and say, well, maybe things wouldn't be so bad if they weren't here. And so the story follows this particular tension that's running through the town, and it's also following these two teens and their own individual desires and goals for their own future. And along the way, they realize that they have feelings for one another, and they need to figure out what to do about that. So it's a lot going on in this ya novel that I wrote. Yeah.

[20:12] Marissa: And not only are they finding out that they have feelings for each other, but there's like, a really compelling reason for why they can never be together. So there's a little bit of a star crossed love aspect, which, you know, we love a star crossed love story.

[20:30] Aisha: Yes. It's interesting, actually, because initially when I started writing this book, I've written a lot of middle grade since my debut. And so when I began writing this story, I thought this was going to be middle grade. Actually had a very middle grade concept for it. Started writing it in about 2016. It's been a long time since I've started writing it. And then as I wrote it, I just realized the voice coming out, they were older and that they were in love with each other. And so it's really fascinating when you start out a story with a certain intention, and then the characters tap you figuratively on the shoulder and say, no, that's not what we're doing here. And so you have to go back to the start, start over to follow the voice.

[21:16] Marissa: Yeah. No, that is interesting. I've only to date written young Adult, and that's a question that comes into my head when I talk to authors who have written among multiple age groups. Like, how do you decide with this for Ya? Is it middle?

[21:32] Aisha: Yeah, it's to me, it's always been just following the voice. For example, Amal and Bound, which is probably my most well known book. And it's a middle grade novel about a young girl in Pakistan and her quest for freedom. She becomes an indentured servant through the course of the book. And that book began as a Ya book. So it was my second book after Written in the Stars, my first young adult novel, my first book. And I thought, okay, I'm a young adult author now, so my next book is going to be Young Adult. And I began writing this story, and as I was writing it, I was like, Something's not working, but I don't know. So I just kept going. And I wrote this whole book as a young adult book, and I gave it to my editor, and I said, Nancy, something's wrong with it, but I don't know what it is. And she read it and said, you know, what's wrong with it? You wrote a middle grade novel, Young Adult. And then suddenly I looked at it and I said, you're right, because the worldview, the way that the character saw the world, interpreted things, the way she related to her parents, everything was younger. And I had it in my mind, I am a young adult author. This is what I will do. That I wasn't allowing that voice to properly speak to me. And so once I let the story become what it had wanted to be, then everything fell into place, and then I actually fell in love with middle grade. But yeah, so that's kind of how it goes. I kind of start with an intention, but then I keep an open mind that the story may go a different way.

[23:03] Marissa: Yeah. Oh, I love that. And thank heavens for editors.

[23:06] Aisha: Thank heaven for editors. Absolutely. Where would we be without them?

[23:11] Marissa: I know, truly. Sometimes they just see things that we just cannot get past our little bit of brain power.

[23:20] Aisha: Yeah.

[23:22] Marissa: So when I received the copy of this book to read for our interview, there was a really nice little letter from your publisher, and in it, it mentioned that for you, this is the book of your heart. Do you still feel that way? And why? What makes this the book of your heart?

[23:42] Aisha: Yeah, I mean, I feel like you probably can relate to what I'm about to say. Every book has some part of our hearts within it because it takes a long time to write a book. We have to like it a lot. But the reason this book is unlike anything I've done before. I typically write contemporary novels. I have written fantasy for Wonder Woman, for Disney. I've done it in that capacity. But for my own original work, I've never done anything other than contemporary realistic. And so it was really scary because I've had this idea in my mind for many years, since 2016, the story has been with me, but I knew it was different from what I normally write. And so it's intimidating, but I just felt like I had to tell the story, and so I was really grateful. Zareen Joffrey is the editor for this one at Kukila at, you know, I told her the idea. I told her it's different from anything I've done before, and it's scary to do something different. But she loved the idea and she knew what I was trying to do. And this story, it's been interesting because I feel like, especially with the tiktokification of social media and everything, books need to fit into certain categories. Like this is fantasy. This is friends to lovers. There's certain categories. And I had a really hard time figuring out what this was because there's parts of it that are realistic, but then there's fantasy. There's a portal that the goal of people traveled through to come to the other side. There's also a lot of contemporary tone within the story. And so I call it the book of my heart because the themes within it are so deeply personal. They're from my own life, they're from my own upbringing and how I was processing it. It's also the book of my heart because it's really scary to write something new, something that didn't, I felt like, fit into an easy category, but to still do it anyways and to put it out there into the world.

[25:39] Marissa: Yeah, I relate to that a lot, both on two different levels. One, there's, like, the market. You don't know. Where is it, like, legitimately? Where is it going to get shelved?

[25:52] Aisha: Exactly.

[25:53] Marissa: That's an important question. And bookstores. And you have to know where to put something. And it is scary for an author to in your case here, you're both doing something that doesn't fit neatly into the predetermined publishing boxes, but then also kind of going out and doing something that's different for your career. And so there's also the fear of, like, will my past readers enjoy this? Is this what they're wanting and expecting from me? So there is a lot of fear that comes with that. Yeah.

[26:25] Aisha: I mean, my hope is that even though there are elements to the story that are magical, that are different, the heart of the story is still what I write, which is about relationships and family and community and navigating, difficult circumstances. Those are all still there. And those carry through within every book and every genre that I write. But the conceit of it was, was it was intimidating to take on, but really, really grateful to Coquila and Jireen for taking a chance on it.

[27:00] Marissa: Yeah, I'm curious. So you mentioned how a lot of the themes in this book and I'm kind of reading between the lines, there's a theme of bigotry in the book. The people in this town kind of turning against the Gollobs and Roth and his family. There's kind of a refugee situation happening where they've fled from their former world and are trying to now make a new home in this new community. And I'm wondering if having the magical element and kind of doing a little bit more leaning into more fantasy as opposed to straight contemporary, do you think that those two things work together to make it easier to write or how do you think that affects each other?

[27:51] Aisha: Absolutely. I feel like that's why I was drawn to write it in this way, because I needed a little bit of narrative distance, a little bit emotional distance, because, yes, the story covers bigotry. It's telling. These people, the Golo who've lived here for some of them their entire lives, they were born here to go back where they came from. Obviously, living in the United States, as I do. Right. Are it's not hard to know what inspired those themes for me as a woman who's grown up here in the United States, as a Muslim Pakistani American. So absolutely. And then with she in her life, they're dealing with economic uncertainty. People cannot afford the services that her family provided. They used to make necklaces that would soothe people's hearts, but people aren't making any money, so now they don't know if they're going to be able to pay for the upkeep of their home. Her father's moved away to get another job. Those also were things that I went through as a child. As a teen, my dad lost his job. He had to move far away, take jobs, that he was an electrical engineer, but he was taking jobs outside of that because there was a recession. I dealt with a lot of these things personally, but when it was time to write this story, I didn't want to write about it directly. And I think part of the reason that I chose this medium is because in my culture, in South Asian culture, we do tend to sometimes take pain that's very real and turn it into a story, to have that narrative, just that emotional distance. So I grew up on stories that were real but were told with a bit of flair, a little bit of magic, just to give a little bit of distance. And so I think that's also why I decided to tell the story that way.

[29:45] Marissa: No, I mean, I think there's something really powerful about fantasy and how it can kind of give us this lens to look at the real world and real situations and real evils in the world. But to have that distance where we can almost comprehend it better in some. Ways.

[30:04] Aisha: Do you relate to that in your own writing as well?

[30:07] Marissa: Absolutely no. And for my own books, like, think about The Lunar Chronicles, where I was very intentional about wanting to create a world in which we are past racism. Racism simply does not exist in this futuristic world anymore. Skin color not a factor. However, there is still bigotry and prejudice against Lunars, against Cyborgs, and so you're able to kind of look at all the same issues, but in a different way that I'm able to write about it more comfortably in a way that feels more real. Because obviously I'm not a marginalized author. I don't have a lot of those experiences that people of color have. But then also you hope that it kind of makes readers think about things in a different light as well.

[31:00] Aisha: Absolutely. Yeah. And I see that with my own kids, with even picture books. It could be bears, right?

[31:10] Marissa: For sure.

[31:11] Aisha: You're talking about very real things and yeah, I do definitely find that very freeing about writing in a fantasy, which is new for me. I find it very interesting.

[31:24] Marissa: Another thing that I thought was interesting about this book is that within Ya, it's a fairly common trope or situation. Like the idea of the small town and the idea of a character, a teen character, who feels stuck, who feels trapped there's almost like a claustrophobic feeling. How am I ever going to escape from this small town that I've been born into or my family brought me to? And in this book, we have that same sort of vibe, but I don't know how much we want to really give away about the details of the magic. But it's like, really legitimate, one of these characters feeling intensely trapped, and I felt like there was kind of a neat parallel there.

[32:11] Aisha: Yeah, I think some of that was inspired. My husband grew up in a small town in South Carolina, and so it was interesting. We took a trip to a coastal community there years ago that I'd heard about that was very charming. I don't want to name it, I want to call it out. It was supposed to be very charming, and it was supposed to be amazing, and I'd heard so many amazing things about it, and then we visited it around the time that the story idea came, 2016. And it was nothing like we'd imagined. And it was crumbling. It was just the boardwalk had holes in it. There were really no tourists to be seen. Vacancies everywhere. Everyone looked so sad, and I remember just that disconnect. And my husband had grown up coming to this town for vacation, and he used to love it, and it was all so different, you know, to be honest, since the Pandemic, I've gone to places like Mendocino in California, which is supposed to be an adorable little community out west. I've been to Ferndale, California. I know they're supposed to be an adorable little community. And they've all been really affected. I feel like small towns, particularly small towns that rely on either industry, one particular industry, or rely on tourism, get very affected when there's a recession, when there's a pandemic, and it's really devastating. It was inspired by for me, back in 2016, I heard that there had been an economic downturn in that town and it still hasn't recovered. And then one time a few years later, we were at Yellowstone National Park, and on the drive there, we stopped at a small town. It was population maybe 200, and there was a gas station and there was a woman working there and she was selling baglava. And we were mesmerized, we're like, this is a tiny little town, 200 people, and there's a woman, and she turned out she was from Syria, refugee, and she had been resettled here in this tiny little town and she was selling you know, those kinds of things really inspired me. My husband's childhood, growing up as one of the only South Asians in his tiny town in South Carolina, just seeing the effects of what that's really those things really stayed with me and I really wanted to explore those small towns. Yeah. So I was just going to say, I think small towns can be such a microcosm. I think that's probably another reason why authors are drawn to it. You can really capture a lot of humanity within a small little snow globe of sorts of a small town.

[34:50] Marissa: Yeah. No, that's true. I've never thought too much about it. But you very rarely get like the mid sized city, it seems like it's either you're either in a tiny little small town and everybody knows everyone and is all up in each other's business, or you go the other route and you're like in New York or Tokyo.

[35:08] Aisha: I've never thought about that, but I think you're right.

[35:12] Marissa: Yeah. I mean, I would be really curious. And of course, now that like said that and put that out, everyone's going to be emailing me about all these books that actually take place in Spokane. You're right.

[35:25] Aisha: Yes, of course. I'm sure there's exceptions, but generally speaking, a lot of you're right. They do tend to skew one way or the other.

[35:32] Marissa: Yeah, I wonder why. I don't know. Something about it must just catch our imagination more, maybe, or just the possibility for drama or I don't know. Now I'm really curious why we lean.

[35:45] Aisha: Into that so much. Yeah, now I'm curious too.

[35:50] Marissa: I'm even thinking about my own books.

[35:52] Aisha: Exactly.

[35:54] Marissa: One or the other.

[35:56] Aisha: Same here. Same here. It's either small town or big towns. Big cities, rather. Yeah.

[36:02] Marissa: So really briefly, one other thing I wanted to touch on with you in your character development specifically. One thing that really jumped out at me about these two characters, our two main characters, is that from the beginning, they both want something very badly we've got Yaz, who hears about this really cool art collective outside of town, and she hasn't painted in a while, but she wants to be an artist. She wants to go join this collective. And then we've got Roth, who dreams of being an architect and wants to go to architecture school but doesn't think it's possible for him. And of course, that's like, one of the big pieces of writing advice that you hear all the time, is to give your characters something to want and something to motivate them. Is that something that you think of really early on? Is it something that you're focused on when you're creating your characters?

[37:01] Aisha: It's a great question. I feel like, for me, my characters always come first. They come before the plot. They come before everything. So I just get a sense of this person talking to me. I know it sounds weird. I'm sure you can relate. And then I start seeing a setting. I feel like the setting comes next, and then I see them interacting, like, who's their community? Where are they? And then the plot kind of comes. So I'm trying to think. I feel like I knew early on that Ralph wanted to leave and that he had dreams for himself, because that part of his story is inspired by my own personal story as I grew up in South Florida and my family I love, but they really wanted me to stay at a local college, not leave the home for college. They wanted me to stay forever within a drive, like a 20 minutes drive from them. And I wanted more. I wanted to live in a dorm. I wanted to make new friends, see new things. And so I think early on, I knew that that would be one of the wants within this story. And I think through Yaz, that's my creative journey, like, wanting to do something, not knowing if I can actually do it, if I should actually take that risk. I gave up from many years writing and then came back to it. And so I think, yes, those were always there. They were there along with the voice. As I was developing who these two teens were, I was understanding that they both wanted these things, and they were both inspired by my own wants as a teen.

[38:36] Marissa: All right, my last thing before we move on to our bonus round, I feel compelled to point out that today that we are having this conversation. While this podcast won't actually go live for a couple of weeks, still we are talking on your launch day for this book. For starters, congratulations.

[38:55] Aisha: Thank you. It's so exciting to talk to you on launch day.

[39:00] Marissa: I'm glad you feel that way. Like I mentioned, I felt a little guilty when I realized that we'd scheduled this for your launch day, but I'm also happy to be talking to you. But part of the reason we had to reschedule our talk is because you have had a very tumultuous, dramatic couple of weeks. And I just think it's interesting. I wanted to bring it up because, of course, when we have a book coming out, we have all of these expectations and hopes of what launch day launch week, launch month is going to be like. And would it be safe to say that your experience for this book launch has been quite different?

[39:41] Aisha: Yes, I think that would be fair. It's been really interesting to launch this book, which is a story of many things, but also about coping with grief and coping with loss and what happens when our lives don't go the way that we planned. And that's literally what happened to me. I was at Arches National Park, mid July with my family, and we were hiking these incredible you felt like you were on Mars and we were hiking these incredible areas, and there was a boulder with some sand on it, and I stepped wrong and fell. And I broke my fibula bone in my leg in multiple pieces on the second day of our trip, which was not great. And since then, yeah, my first thought was, ouch. My second thought was, uhoh, I have a book coming out next month.

[40:32] Marissa: Oh, gosh.

[40:33] Aisha: Literally, like, as they booted me up and took my x rays, I had trips planned. I was going to the National Book Festival. I had schools that I was going to be doing, and I couldn't do any of them. I couldn't travel. It was until actually today I got my scan that things are looking better, but until today, I didn't know if I would need surgery. And it's been hard. It's really hard to realize that you can't do the things you want it to do for this book. And I think, as you know, we had to reschedule this podcast because in addition to the broken leg, I developed strep throat and lost power for days due to a storm and got what I thought was a Victorian illness of scarlet fever. It's been hard. There's been lots of opportunities I've had to pass up and not do, and it's really hard. But at the end of the day, I didn't have control over those things. The only thing I have control over is the story that I wrote. I wrote the best story that I could, and it's out there in the world. But I'm really grateful to you for rescheduling and to be able to chat about it. And that's the hope. But yes, it is hard. It's very hard to have a book come out after so many years and to not be able to do what you'd wanted to do for it. It's not great. But again, I'm hopeful it'll find its readers.

[41:57] Marissa: Obviously, I'm kind of catching you after the fact, after you've kind of started to recover from all of this, but today it sounds like you have a pretty good attitude about everything and just is that something that you intentionally try to have? I can't control all of these things, but I can control the book. I control my attitude. Is that something that you've kind of worked on, or do you have any advice for people who are maybe experiencing a lot of conflict in their writing lives and just don't really know what to do?

[42:37] Aisha: I would say it's definitely something that I cultivated over the years. I mean, this is my 13th book. I'm going to try not to read into the fact I've had all these injuries. Number 13. Number 13. But, yeah, it's my 13th book. I do feel like every book will do what it will, and you have to keep your eye on the next book, and you have to keep on looking forward. But I will say that one of the ways that I've cultivated a better creative attitude about my writing and about my career is through books by Pickens. Is her name Beth Pickens. She has one book called Make Your Art no Matter What. And those books have been really inspiring to me because they just remind you why we do this. And as much I do want this book to find its readers, but the only thing I had control over was writing the book. And then things happen, and you just have to make your peace with it. But it's absolutely something that I cultivate, and I am grateful it's not my debut. I think I'd be much more devastated if it was my very first book, but this many books, and I do still that people who enjoy my stories or are curious will still find it. But, yeah, I am in a good place. I am very grateful that I get to tell stories for a living. And while this is unfortunate, the other opportunities I come, we don't know what the future holds. But, yeah, I do recommend to anybody who's creative to check out Beth Pickens work. It's very good.

[44:05] Marissa: I am not familiar, and I absolutely will. All right, are you ready for our bonus round?

[44:11] Aisha: I am.

[44:12] Marissa: What book makes you happy?

[44:15] Aisha: Right now I am reading the Comfort Book by Matt Haig. Have you heard of it?

[44:19] Marissa: No. I love the title.

[44:23] Aisha: It is a book of comfort. It's a book just with quotes and insights about how to get through difficult times. And another book that is my happy book right now is The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. And it's literally about a snail, but it's very slow, and it's about healing and the journey to healing.

[44:47] Marissa: What are you working on next? Maybe a graphic novel?

[44:52] Aisha: Not yet, but I am working on next is a picture book. So I'm going back to the younger age group because I write for all ages. And my next one's, a picture book called Zuni and the Memory Jar, coming out in June about a little girl who has a memory jar where she collects her memories with her family.

[45:12] Marissa: Lastly, where can people find you?

[45:15] Aisha: I am mostly social media wise on Instagram. It's A-I-S-H-A-C-S. Aisha c s is my awesome. That's pretty much where you can find me. Yeah. I miss Twitter. That's all I was going to say.

[45:30] Marissa: I do not. But to each their own. Awesome. Aisha. Thank you so much for joining me, especially on your launch day.

[45:40] Aisha: Such a joy to be here and talk to you and celebrate with you. So thanks for having me today.

[45:44] Marissa: Readers, be sure to check out 40 Words for Love. It is out. Now, of course, we encourage you to support your local indie bookstore, but if you don't have a local indie, you can check out our affiliate store@bookshop.org slash shop slash marissamyer. And don't forget to check out our merchandise. It is available on Etsy, Instagram and T public. Next week, I will be talking with Elizabeth Lim about her new fantasy, her radiant curse. If you're enjoying these conversations, please subscribe and follow us on Instagram at Marissa Meyer, author and at Happy Writer Podcast. Until next time, stay inspired, keep writing and whatever life throws you today. I do hope that now you're feeling.

[46:26] Aisha: A little bit happier.