Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to bestselling author Samira Ahmed, whose debut middle-grade novel Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, releases on Tuesday, September 21. (Click on the title to preorder from Bookshop.)
For a chance to win a copy of this novel, filled with fantasy and magic, click on the Rafflecopter link below before Saturday (September 18) at 11:59 PM. (U.S. only.)
Samira Ahmed is the New York Times bestselling author of Internment; Love, Hate & Other Filters; and Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know. She was born in Bombay, India, and has lived in New York, Chicago, and Kauai, where she spent a year searching for the perfect mango. She currently resides in the Midwest. Find her online at samiraahmed.com and on Twitter and Instagram @sam_aye_ahm.
About the Book
Dorian: Please tell us a bit about Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds
Samira: Amira & Hamza is a story about two bickering siblings who are whisked away to the mystical world of Qaf by a jinn army that recognizes them as the Chosen Ones who must battle a great evil in Qaf and end a civil war there. If they fail, the moon, the stopper between realms will break apart, unleashing monstrosities on Earth, and the world as they know it will end!
So, a typical day for middle schoolers 🙂
Dorian: Ha! What inspired you to write this novel?
Samira: There are three threads of inspiration that I wove together to tell this story. First, when walking my kids to school, they always wanted me to tell them stories, so we told a collaborative, winding epic of siblings who use magical objects to save their timeline and every story always ended with dessert! Second, those goofy stories we told out loud made me think of the tradition of oral storytelling in Urdu, my first language. Specifically, the Hamzanama—a grand epic that wound its way across the Islamic world, into India’s Mughal court and eventually to tales my great grandmother would tell my mom about mischievous, shapeshifting jinn and trickster peris, or fairies. Finally, the last thread of inspiration is really my own childhood—I had a golden ball—really a translucent ball with golden flecks that I was certain was magical. I would throw that ball into a small lilac grove in my parents’ backyard, and it would “transport” me to fantastical worlds where I was sometimes a fairy princess who wielded a sword.
Dorian: Although the novel is fantasy, were there any real-life experiences that influenced your writing Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds?
Samira: Well, every Muslim family has jinn stories! And mine is no different. When I was a kid, my aunts and uncles told me stories about jinn encounters that had become part of family lore including a jinn who possessed a tree and then haunted a person who broke a twig off that tree! And there was also a story of a snake jinn that was a protector—one who lived under the crib of a baby and acted as a guardian. There was another story of a jinn realm that you could enter through a deep well in my uncle’s back yard!
I also have a love of hidden histories and I’m fascinated by medieval Islamic astronomy and its incredible advancements, so when I read about the amazing al-Biruni and some of his inventions, including the Box of the Moon, I knew I had to incorporate it into a book!
Dorian: That’s so interesting! What were some of your favorite books as a kid that influenced your decision to become a writer?
Samira: In elementary school and into middle school, I absolutely adored Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume—two of kidlit’s greatest! I also loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and I read a lot of Agatha Christie, too, (maybe a bit earlier than I should have)!
I think I was always drawn to stories where young people were trying to find their power and their truth. And even though Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot were nothing like me, I loved how they used logic to solve a mystery—they were powerful because of their brains, not their brawn.
Writing for the Middle-Grade Audience
Dorian: Did you find writing a middle-grade novel very different from writing for other audiences? If so, what were the differences?
Samira: Middle grade books allowed me to lean into more whimsy and wonder and the curiosity of childhood and that was a part of the writing process that I loved. All writing requires imagination, but somehow, writing for middle grade, allowed my imagination to run even more free.
Dorian: What would you like readers to come away with after reading the novel?
Samira: The heart of the story is really about two siblings who learn to work together, despite their differences, despite their bickering, because they love each other. That bond of family—the one you’re born into or the one you find, like Amira & Hamza found in Maqbool and Abdul Rahman and Aasman Peri is an idea that I hope readers can feel a connection to. I also hope that readers can realize that even more than being anointed the chosen one, it’s important to choose yourself—to believe in who you are.
Tips for Writers
Dorian: I love that! What are two of your best writing tips for the authors in our audience?
- Know yourself. For me, this is the foundation of craft, of building a story. There’s a point where imagination meets paper and there is a lot of advice about how to do that, about what method is the “right” one. Every writer is different, every story is different and there is no one single way to write—knowing what works for you, knowing who you are is what can help you create the method that is right for you.
- Lean into curiosity. A lot of times, we hear writing described as a passion. “Follow your passion,” we hear people say. And you can have very passionate feelings about storytelling! But passion is also something that can burn out and that burn out can make you feel like you’re doing something wrong, like you’re “failing.” So what works for me, is to reframe the idea: I don’t merely follow my passion (it’s finite); I follow my curiosity (which is infinite). Every story I write begins with a question. And in the end, every story gives rise to questions, too.
Dorian: That’s great advice! What are you working on now?
Samira: My next book is another YA—Hollow Fires—which is out in May 2022. Hollow Fires is a story about a young woman’s quest to unearth the truth about a heart wrenching murder of a boy that too many people seem eager to forget. It speaks to the insidious nature of racism and the undeniable power of hope.
Thanks so much, Samira, for taking the time out to talk to us about Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds.
For a chance to win a signed copy of the novel, click on the Rafflecopter link below before Saturday, 9/18 at 11:59 PM. (U.S. entrants only.) I’ll announce the lucky winner on Sunday.