Interview with Farah Naz Rishi, Author of I Hope You Get This Message

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. 

Farah Naz Rishi

What authors inspired you to start writing?

Hands down, the author who inspired me most was Jonathan Stroud, author of the Bartimaeus Trilogy. His writing had such a huge impact on me because his books were so different from anything else I’d ever read (I mean, footnotesIn a children’s book series?). His stories are so wacky and fun, but so full of heart–and Bartimaeus was the first character to make me understand the impact of voice on a narrative, the first character to make me realize just how much power a well-fleshed out protagonist could wield in guiding a reader through a complicated story. His series prompted me to write my one and only fan e-mail; he’s just that good. 

If you could live in one of your favorite books, which one would you pick and why?

I’d say there are very few books I’d want to live in because I’m fairly confident I would be killed within the first minute of arrival. But I absolutely love the Wundersmith series by Jessica Townsend, and maybe in the Wundrous Society, I’d stand a chance at survival. It’s one of those series where no matter what happens, no matter how horrible things get, you know deep in your bones that everything’s going to be okay. Plus there are giant talking cats, and I really, really want to meet Jupiter North. 

What is the hardest part of the publishing process, and how do you overcome it

Writing is such a solitary process, and it’s really easy to get caught up listening to that awful little voice in your head that doubts your ability, that questions whether or not your writing is good enough, or that you’re good enough. I am guilty of self-sabotage, and I often find myself devolving, when I’m deep in my writing, into this gloomy Eeyore-type person who is convinced I should just give up before I inevitably fail. But I have friends who, the moment they begin to hear a hint of negativity, give me a good wake-up slap. They rip off the shackles I put on myself, and help me move forward and upward. Therapy helps, too! I’d recommend it to anyone. 

Where did the inspiration for I Hope You Get This Message come from—specifically the setting?

It was only natural that writing a book about aliens meant having it set in Roswell, New Mexico. It’s where, in 1947, a supposed UFO crashed, and it’s since been the capitol of all things extraterrestrial. It’s a fantastically weird little town for what I thought was a fantastically weird little story. 

What was the first sentence you wrote for your book? Did you keep it intact or did you change it?

I wrote Jesse’s first sentence on a whiim, and to my surprise, we ended up keeping it. I wanted the story to begin with Jesse, in a moment of forced vulnerability and his sudden pulling back. It somehow made sense to me, especially because of how his character undergoes the most drastic change. This opening line, I believed, would also act as a perfect foil to the very last scene in the book, where he is in another moment of vulnerability…but chooses to stay.  

What is your favorite scene you’ve ever written in your book, and why is it your favorite?

Oh no, my favorite scene is definitely a spoiler! But I will say it happens towards the end, and it was the kind of scene I’d always dreamed of writing: when all the pieces suddenly come together, in a moment when all hope seems lost. It was really emotional and cathartic for me to write because it was then I realized just how in love I was with these characters and this project. It hit me: “Ah, this is why I wrote this book, this right here.” It was pure magic. 

What was the hardest scene to write for I Hope You Get This Message—and where did you get the inspiration to finish it?

The hardest scene for me to write was the very opening scene. You know when you roll up your sleeves for a big cleaning day, but the mess is so huge, you don’t know where to begin? That’s kind of how starting a book feels like. Starting is so difficult for me because I have to take this big, amorphous idea in my head with all these moving pieces and somehow finding a concrete beginning that doesn’t give away too much, but also convinces the reader to keep going, to stay with me. …Then again, maintaining that momentum was just as hard. So I guess this is a total cop-out answer: the whole thing was hard! 
But what helped me finish was, strangely, going through a lot of tragedies, starting with my dad passing away. The book became a place to dump all of these really awful thoughts and feelings. I wanted these kids to find a happy ending even though my own world felt like it was spiraling into darkness. For my own survival, I had to help find them a happy ending–because if they could do it, maybe I could, too. That’s what gave me the strength to finish. And to keep going. 

What’s the greatest piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

When writing a first draft, do everything you can to silence your internal editor, because she’s only going to slow you down. You have to give yourself permission to write that crappy first draft or else you’ll never get it done. And sometimes the only way to know something isn’t working is to write through it, so treat that draft as your proof of concept. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to demonstrate, to you, that it can be done. 

Interview : YA SH3LF

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