Hi guys! Today I’m leaving my summer engineering camp, and I’m so nostalgic right now! These past few days have been super fun (I hope, I’m writing this two weeks ahead.) To celebrate the end of camp (and the end of summer approaching so soon!), today I’m welcoming Sheba Karim, author of That Thing We Call a Heart (which I really loved), on our blog today! I met Sheba- who is a local author in Nashville- twice, the first at the SE-YA Book Fest and the second at Sandhya Menon’s signing and launch event for When Dimple Met Rishi! I was so glad to win an ARC of TTWCaH and I’m so glad to have the chance to interview Sheba! Enjoy!
About That Thing We Call a Heart
Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.
Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.
With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.
Featuring complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry, THAT THING WE CALL A HEART is a honest, moving story of a young woman’s explorations of first love, sexuality, desire, self-worth, her relationship with her parents, the value of friendship, and what it means to be true.
1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?
When I was young, my love for reading prompted me to try to create my own worlds and stories, and I began writing. I loved writing, and still do, because it’s such a powerful and expressive use of the imagination.
2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?
Growing up, I loved British lit, Austen, the Brontes, E.M. Forster. I also loved a lot of seminal YA literature like The Chocolate Wars and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In college and beyond, I started reading a lot of South Asian and diaspora fiction, Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Rohinton Mistry. I read YA and lit fiction pretty broadly now, though I don’t have as much time to read as I’d like. I’m always inspired by literature that skillfully incorporates humor.
3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?
I write full time. When I’m not writing, I’m playing with my daughter, cooking, reading or catching up with a show on Netflix.
4. Your newest book That Thing We Call a Heart follows Shabnam, a Pakistani-American girl who struggles to navigate the love surrounding her newfound romance, her family, and her best friend. Which character do you believe relates to you the most: Shabnam or Farah? Did you base any of their feelings, characteristics, and actions off yourself or your past experiences, or off people you know?
I have a little of both Shabnam and Farah in me. As a writer, you’re always drawing from your own understanding of human nature and your personal experience of others and the complexities of human emotion, but this is then channeled through characters and events that are fictional. So though it comes from you, it isn’t you.
5. Because you crafted characters that defy stereotypes about Muslims, why do you believe that it is important to accurately portray more racially diverse characters in YA fiction?
Because there simply isn’t enough out there, and because there are still so many stereotypes and false assumptions about various minority groups.
6. Since the Partition of India and the Bosnian Genocide are events that are significant to the storyline, how much research did you have to do for this book? What are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned about those two events?
I did do some research. One of the most interesting things I learned about the Bosnian genocide I put in the book, that people were forced to burn books to survive. The history of the Partition of India is dark and violent, but there are also stories of great heroism, of people risking their lives to help each other across communal lines.
7. How do you want your books to impact your readers? What is the message you want them to receive after they’ve finished your books?
I hope that they become immersed in the book, find it engaging, find aspects to empathize and relate to and also feel like they’ve learned some things they didn’t know before.
8. Shabnam loves to listen to Radiohead throughout the book. Are you a big Radiohead fan, too? If so, what is your favorite song?
I do love Radiohead. My favorite song changes depending on my mood, but I love all of the ones I put in the book.
9. Why did you choose That Thing We Call a Heart as the title of the book? What is so significant about that line that you decided it as the title?
Ah, it’s pretty simple—when I first wrote the phrase in the book, I thought, That would make a good title, and so it came to be.
10. I am so glad I was able to meet you at the SE-YA Book Festival and at Sandhya Menon’s signing for When Dimple Met Rishi! What are some of your fondest memories from those two events? Why do you love being an author at events and festivals like those two?
The SE-YA Festival is lovely because so many students are able to come and it has a great vibe, and it’s always super fun talking with fellow South Asian authors like Sandhya. Meeting readers and other authors are always the highlights of festivals and events.
11. Your upcoming novel The Road Trip Effect is slated to come out in June 2018. What can we look forward in your next book? Are there any secrets you could give us?
The Road Trip Effect is about three best friends who embark upon a life-changing road trip through the South. A significant portion of it is set in Nashville!
12. Do you have any tips to any aspiring authors or writers?
Writing itself isn’t really glamorous; it takes a lot of perseverance and discipline and spending time alone. Find good readers for your work who will give you honest and helpful critiques. Be prepared for rejection, and don’t give up. Everyone’s path is unique and has challenges—work hard, stay committed to the craft, and have fun!
Thanks so much, Sheba, for doing this interview! Hope to see you again soon!
About the Author
My second young adult novel, That Thing We Call a Heart https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2…, is out in May 2017 from HarperTeen. It features complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and is set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry.
My third YA novel, The Road Trip Effect, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3…, about three best friends on an epic road trip through the American South, is out June 2018 from Harper Collins.
My first novel was Skunk Girl. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3…. I edited the anthology Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Short Stories 2 (Tranquebar Press, 2012). https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1….
You can find out more here: www.shebakarim.com.
Do you have any thoughts or questions?
Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!