What inspires you to write? Where do you get your ideas?
I love comics and my thoughts often turn into comics. Some of them I write down, some I let go. I usually work format first. So I’ll decide, I want to have a 32 page comic printed for a convention- what would be a fun thing to have at my table? A fantasy story? An autobio comic? I keep a folder of ideas, some of them are one sentence, some of them are “I want to make something that’s like this mixed with this,” some of them are fully conceived outlines. The more you practice generating ideas for comics, the more ideas you will get idly, like when you’re dreaming or showering. I also get a lot of ideas from scientific studies. Any interests you have can be transformed into a story.
Tell us about your book.
Piece by Piece is a story about Nisrin Moniruzzaman, a 14 year old Bangladeshi-American girl living with her mom, Nana (grandfather) and Nani (grandmother). After giving a school report for World Cultures Day, Nisrin and her best friend Firuzeh are attacked by a neo-nazi. The story is about how they deal with this and heal.
Tell us about your writing journey and how you got where you are today.
When I was a kid I loved comics but self expression was not encouraged in my homes (my parents were divorced, so I had two). I read manga in secret starting in middle school. In high school I kept a sketch book, but I was really discouraged because my artist “friends” would tell me my work was ugly. Art as a career was never an option in my family, so I went into Biochemistry. But I had a breakdown and ended up in the psych ward, where I drew comics about my experience. That was when I was 17, and I decided I would do whatever I could to draw comics as a career. I practiced as much as I could, went to art school at 23, dropped out at 25, and started posting my webcomic every week. When I was 27, I was published for the first time in Dirty Diamonds. Three years after that, I signed a book deal. I would not be here if it weren’t for the emotional and financial support of my spouse and friends, who are my real family, as well as strangers and colleagues who donated money to get me to events.
What advice do you have for aspiring BIPOC creators?
You are not alone. Put yourself out there. You will experience heartbreak but you will also find your peers and future colleagues. Support these people. Reach your hand to those who need your help. There are lots of people who will do the same for you, even if right now it seems like the world is full of people who want you to fail. It might take a really long time to find them, but you will. I have total faith in you.
How do you weave your culture(s) into your book(s)? How do(es) your culture(s) influence your writing?
I guess I try to be aware of it? This book is about our history, but usually when I write I’m not thinking “how can I integrate my culture.” I did (and do) try to reclaim my culture for myself, so if it’s reflected at all in my work that might be why. I think that our cultures are naturally reflected in our works. There’s not much we can do about that.
What is your writing process like?
Usually I thumbnail an idea first, and it’s unreadable. Then I translate it into a script or outline format. I often make a dummy book out of cheap paper, so I can imagine how I want the finished comic to look. I draw the pictures really loose in this version, but I make sure things are labelled and clear for myself in case it gets put away for a year and I forget what I was drawing. Then if it’s a watercolor comic, I pencil on watercolor paper and paint on top until it looks right, scrapping the page and starting over if it doesn’t look right. If it’s digital, I draw a sketch, trace the sketch on another layer, and then paint on top of that, or put the linework layer on Overlay over the paint so the lines pick up the color.
What are you currently reading?
A Woman of No Consequence by Maureen Kerr
What is your writing style in a few words?
What’s your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite part? Why?
I love painting, and I hate copyediting. I used to be good at it, but since I focused on drawing, words just look like shapes to me and I make a lot of mistakes. It’s embarrassing when I do it over and over and I can tell the editor is getting frustrated.
What superpower would you like to have?
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
This is my first one, and it took four months to solidify the idea/outline, three months to make the pitch, a couple weeks to write the script, two months to sketch, and almost two years to fully render: about three years total. But I got COVID towards the end, so I really don’t know how long it “should” take.
How do you deal with critiques of your work?
I’m either really happy about critique, because it’s an opportunity to fix something, or disappointed because something that I wanted to come through really doesn’t. I’m much more sensitive about my art than my writing. It’s easier for me to see that writing is something I made, whereas art feels like showing my face, so if people tell me it’s ugly I feel shame. But the shame passes, and I move on.
If you went on a desert island and could only bring two things, what would you bring?
A pontoon plane and a radio!