Sabina Khan is the author of ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE (Scholastic/ April 6, 2021) and THE LOVE & LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI (Scholastic, 2019). She is an educational consultant and a karaoke enthusiast. After living in Germany, Bangladesh, Macao, Illinois and Texas, she has finally settled down in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, with her husband, two daughters and the best puppy in the world.
What inspires you to write? Where do you get your ideas?
A lot of my inspiration comes from social issues that are close to my heart and that affect me as an immigrant, a woman of colour and a mother. Most of my ideas are a drawn from my own experiences as a young child in Germany, coming of age in Bangladesh, and then moving to North America in my twenties.
Tell us about your book
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is about a 17-year-old Muslim lesbian whose conservative parents have no idea about her sexuality. Unfortunately, they catch her kissing her girlfriend and whisk her away to Bangladesh to marry her off before any hint of a scandal can get out. This is a story of Rukhsana’s struggle to get back to her life in Seattle and her girlfriend without losing everyone she loves in the process.
Zara Hossain Is Here is about a 17-year-old bisexual Muslim immigrant from Pakistan who, along with her family is waiting for their green card process to be finalized. She deals with Islamophobia and bullying at school on a daily basis, but one day her tormentor goes too far, leading to a hate crime that jeopardizes her and her family’s immigration status in the US. Zara struggles to figure out a way to stay in the only place she’s ever called home.
Tell us about your writing journey and how you got where you are today.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer but life sort of got in the way. Then around 2010 I began to seriously write a book which I eventually self-published in 2014. That was followed by a couple of years during which I thought that there was no point in continuing. Luckily, that’s when I found out about DVpit and Pitch Wars on Twitter and I’m so glad that I decided to pitch Rukhsana’s story for those. I was paired with an amazing mentor in Pitch Wars 2016 and things have been pretty amazing since then. I got my agent and my first contract through that and now I’m looking forward to writing all the stories I longed for as a young reader.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers & creators?
Find a group of people who will always root for you and be happy for all your successes, big and small. Surround yourself with other writers who are in the same place that you are. You can be there for each other and learn from each other through all the inevitable ups and downs in this business. Read widely across genres. And just write. The rest will fall into place.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers & creators from marginalized backgrounds?
Ignore the voices that say our stories aren’t important, that there is no market for them. Don’t listen to anyone who says you have to tell your stories in a certain way to appeal to certain audiences. Tell your stories with authenticity, the way only you know how.
How do you weave your culture(s) into your book(s)? How do(es) your culture(s) influence your writing?
Since my stories are all about characters from the same background as mine, weaving my culture into my books just happens organically. I love to write about the warmth and affection between my characters and their families, as well as the more difficult parts, like navigating their way between all the family expectations and their own hopes and dreams. My favorite thing to write about has to be the sharing of food and how it draws people together.
What is your writing process like?
I find that it varies with each book. Sometimes the process is chaotic and rushed, at other times it’s carefully planned. I’ve stopped trying to stick to any one method and find that it’s best to just let the story flow out of me as it wants to.
What’s your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite part? Why?
My favorite part of the writing process has to be drafting because the possibilities are endless and it’s like meeting new people and getting to know them as they live out the roles I’ve created for them.
My least favorite part is probably revising because I have to really deal with all the flaws that I so casually ignored during drafting.
What superpower would you like to have?
Do I have to pick just one? Well, in that case, I pick time travel. I’d love to be able to experience life in different eras and to see what the future holds.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I would say 6-8 weeks for a decent first draft, although I’ve been known to write really bad first drafts in 2-3 weeks.