Questioning AUTHORity is a weekly feature here at Bookish Serendipity in which I interview MG and YA authors. Today I am featuring N.H. Senzai, author of the MG novels Shooting Kabul and Saving Kabul Corner. Thanks so much to Mrs. Senzai for participating!ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I grew up speaking two languages, balancing life lived on the edge of two cultures, and, happily, two cuisines—tandoori chicken and hot dogs, grilled side by side on the 4th of July. I got on a plane for the first time at two months, in Chicago, IL, where I was born, and have been travelling ever since. I grew up in San Francisco, Jubail, Saudi Arabia, and attended boarding school in London, England where I was voted “most likely to lead a literary revolution” due to my ability to get away with reading comic books in class.
ME: What inspired this story ?– did you always plan to write a sequel?
NHS: I never planned to write a sequel to Shooting Kabul but over the years people kept asking me about what happened to Mariam – She is the little sister who gets left behind in Shooting Kabul, when her family escapes from Afghanistan. Over the years people asked me to write a book from her perspective, of being left alone in Afghanistan. But since she’s six I couldn’t really do that in a convincing way. So for my second book, which isn’t *really* a sequel, but more a companion novel, I decided to have her show up as the protagonist, Ariana’s best friend.
What inspired the story, or plot of the book, was the Hatfield and McCoys, the legendary families in West Virginia who carry on a family feud for generations. In Pukhtunwali, the code of honor followed by Pukhtun’s (the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan) there is a concept of Badal, or revenge. So I merged the two together and thought wouldn’t it be interesting if two families began a feud in Afghanistan over something silly and the conflict travelled to, and continued in San Francisco?
ME: Can you tell us the story of how your novel gets published?
NHS: My journey to getting published is pretty standard for a writer. First you have to write the book. Then you have to revise and edit till it’s all polished and as perfect as it can be. At that point you have two options; the first is to approach publishing companies directly, or two, find a literary agent. A literary agent is someone who represents the author and has connections with publishing companies. Its hard work finding the right agent for you, you have to write letters explaining your book and your background. It can take months and even years.
I decided on the second route and found a great agent, Michael Bourret at Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency. Michael submitted my first book, Shooting Kabul to many publishers and we ended up at Paula Weisman Books at Simon & Schuster. Since I already had a relationship with them, they wanted to see my next book idea, Saving Kabul Corner, which they acquired as well.
ME: Where does your writing take place and regimen look like? Has it changed from the first book to most recent?
NHS: I have a pretty busy schedule as I have a “day job” and a family which demands to be fed! So I write whenever I find the time, which is usually at night, when its quiet and I have a couple of hours to focus. Usually it’s on the sofa, with a nice cup of tea and hopefully cookies…. My favorite place to write is in a café with a good cup of coffee… and cookies.
ME: Do you draw inspiration from people and places in real life?
NHS: Absolutely – the adage that truth is stranger than fiction really rings true for me. The world is full of so many interesting people, places and stories that they sometimes end up in my books. As you will see in my advice to writers, books that can tap into the world, making references to events, people, foods, locations, scientific discoveries, hobbies, etc., connects with readers. Both Shooting Kabul and Saving Kabul are inspired by Afghanistan and the Afghan people, their culture, food and history. My next book draws on the history of India, coupling it with an adventure story.
ME: What is the best part of being published?
NHS: One of the most amazing things is to hold your book in your hands for the first time – it’s surreal to see how an idea that started off in your head became sentences, paragraphs, chapters and a whole book! Then it’s amazing that people actually read the book, and the next best thing are the emails from kids who’ve connected to the story.
ME: What advice would you give to teen and aspiring writers?
NHS: One. Read. Read voraciously and choose a variety of books, magazine, newspapers, heck even websites. And I don’t mean just fiction. Read nonfiction! Books on Russian history, Thai cooking, presidential biographies, poisons, travelling through Africa, astronomy…. All this information percolates in your head and makes you a more interesting person and ends up in your books, making them more interesting too. Two. Write every day. Even if it’s for ten minutes. Writing is a craft and you need to learn the science and the art of it. Three. Find the company of writers. They will be your support group and can understand the unique anguish you are going through…!
ME: What can we expect from you next?
NHS: My next book, tentatively titled Partition Junction, is scheduled to be out next fall. For this book I looked into my family closet and decided to write a story about Maya, a girl who uncovers a family mystery that takes her on an adventure from Pakistan to India.
Today you hear that Pakistan and India are hostile, nuclear neighbors, but pre 1947 they were one country before the British partitioned them. As one nation formed two — 12.5 million people were displaced as they crossed from one newly created country to another, and nearly a million (some say two) died due to religious and ethnic violence, which no leader could control – not even Gandhi.
Both my parent’s families were casualties of partition – my maternal grandparents lost everything in their dash from India to Pakistan while my widowed paternal grandmother refused to budge from her ancestral estate in India. While that gets ready to go out, I’m noodling over a few other book ideas….
ME: Thanks so much for stopping by, Mrs. Senzai. I appreciate the interview and look forward to reading “Partition Junction” when it comes out.