Interview with the Intriguing Sabaa Tahir

Stepping into the Best of Books bookstore in Edmond, Oklahoma, I’m immersed in the abundance of novel filled with stories waiting to be read. The tiny bell tinkles as I open the door and a woman behind the desk greets me with a smile painted in red. She directs me to a small table where I wait for the New York Times best-selling author Sabaa Tahir

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When the bell tinkles again, I hear Tahir’s energetic voice greeting the store owners and pointing out the Harry Potter memorabilia at the front desk. My nerves are subdued as she strides into the room where I’m sitting, smiles, and introduces herself. Her long ebony hair falls onto her Bring Me the Horizon t-shirt and shines as bright as the silver bangles and necklaces that clink together as she shakes my hand. She slings her brown leather jacket across her shoulders and sits across from me at the tiny round table.

I notice the silver rings adorning almost all of her fingers and they remind me of Laia from An Ember in the Ashes, who wears a silver armlet that her mother gave her, and immediately I have to know more about her and the incredible book she wrote.

Sims: Is this your first time in Oklahoma?

Tahir: It is. I mean, I basically got stuck on the Tarmac in a thunderstorm and then I’ve seen the hotel, but everyone has been very nice, so I’m enjoying it so far!


Sims: What was your inspiration for the Ember in the Ashes series?

Tahir: So, I was inspired by two things. One, I grew up in a small town and never really fit in. I turned to fantasy books that could carry me away. Secondly, I worked at the Washington Post as an editor, and I felt like I was reading all of these stories about these terrible things that were happening in the world. After that, I just wanted to kind of write a response to all of that.


Sims: Who were your inspirations for Laia and Elias?

Tahir: There was no one who was a specific inspiration. The characters came to me out of the worlds that they’re from. I guess you could say Laia is a little bit like me as a seventeen-year-old, but more determined and cuter, and Elias is who I would want to be if I was a big warrior dude.


Sims: Why did you decided to write Ember in two different perspectives?

Tahir: As a journalist, I really learn the value of multiple perspectives on one story. I mean, this is only two. If someone were to walk in here right now and rip off his clothes and started robbing the store, when the police would come talk to us later, we would all have generally the same story, but we’d all have different perspectives. All of our perspectives are different, so it was important to me to have more than one look at this world, which seems so stark and horrible to one person but is home to another.


Sims: How did you create the setting? I saw the two maps at the front and back of the novel, and they are very detailed.

Tahir: I did not make those maps. They were created by a lovely gentleman named Jonathan Roberts. He is awesome! The setting is based loosely on ancient Rome and a myriad of other things, but I was procrastinating one week, trying to figure out things to do so I didn’t have to write. I decided to start creating this map. I went to the cartographer’s guild website to find out how to make a fantasy map. I originally had a roughly drawn map, but nothing like what I ended up with. All in all, the maps are incredible. The guy who does them actually does the Game of Thrones maps, so he’s like a legit mapmaker.


Sims: What can we expect from A Torch Against the Night? 

Tahir: You can expect to see our two main characters on a quest to save Darin, Laia’s brother. You can also expect to see a third voice. The character Helene finally gets her own point of view.


Sims: Is there a movie being made?

Tahir: It’s in development with Paramount, which means they’re thinking about it. Cross your fingers for me!


Sims: What has been your favorite experience so far as a young adult fiction author?

Tahir: Probably meeting people. I love meeting all of the readers and hearing what the book meant to them, if anything. I love meeting people who say “this makes me want to write” or “this makes me want to read.” I’ve gotten emails from people saying “this got me through a hard point in my life” because that’s what books were for me. They were inspirations and got me through things. And to think that maybe I wrote something that allows people to feel that kind of relief, that’s a gift.


Sims: What advice would you give to young writers?

Tahir: I would say three things. First, read a lot. Second, never give up. Third, don’t make excuses for yourself. If you find yourself not writing and you know you should be, think about why and ask yourself how much you want it, how much you love it.

The California native smiles and shakes my hand before slipping away to find coffee before the event. Sitting in the audience, I notice a plethora of people, young and old, male and female, all waiting to discuss her novels. Professor and author Jennifer Lynn Barnes finally introduces Tahir, and a hush falls over the audience as we await to learn more about, as Barnes put it, “one of the most prominent voices of Young Adult fiction right now.”

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