Meet Rising Star
Author Ayah Yasser
Ayah Yasser is a Muslim PB/YA writer and Engineer. She has always been a reader, and became one of those who ended up writing. She writes about human emotions, and ‘real’ characters. Flawed people (like everyone), struggling with their moral compass, desiring to do the right thing – always learning to do better. Fun fact (slightly nerdy): She creates software products in the day, and writes at night. She finds those two things very similar; both tell stories.
Ayah is currently seeking agent representation.
AD: Hi Ayah and welcome to the blog! Thank you so much for being here! I can’t wait to learn more about you and your work. Let’s start with your experience in the PB Rising Stars Mentorship Program. Can you tell us who your mentor was, what inspired you to apply, and how the program went for you ?
AY: Thank you for interviewing me, Amanda! The PB Rising Stars Mentorship was an amazing opportunity I came across without planning! Someone from the Twitter writing community encouraged me to apply, and told me that I would be a match for mentor Aya Khalil (Twitter, Website, Instagram). It seemed that one of my draft PBs, and my type in general fits her list, and I felt that we had things in common; in addition to the name of course 🙂 So I did apply, and I was incredibly fortunate to be one of the mentees, and Aya’s. PB Rising Stars Mentorship taught me a LOT about the art of PB writing; from my mentor Aya, founders Kailei and Ebony in workshops, and other amazing people who led sessions. They all made it work perfectly!
AD: Sounds like an amazing experience with a variety of opportunities to grow, learn, and make connections. Alright let’s do a speed round…
- Top three favorite children’s books of all time? Matilda by Roald Dahl (author) and Quentin Blake (illustrator), The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil (author), Anait Semirdzhyan (illustrator) & Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham (author) and C. G. Esperanza (illustrator)
- Coffee, tea (or neither)? Coffee! I try to limit my caffeine to 1-2 max per day (I already have trouble sleeping being a grand over thinker).
- Where is your safe place? With people I love; I just forget about everything which worries me and live in the moment.
- Dogs, cats, (or neither)? I’m not an animal person, but I love patting people’s cats and I appreciate the loyalty of dogs.
- Early bird or night owl? Night owl!
- Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world…Empathy, perseverance, confidence.
AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
AY: I have been a reader since I was a child; I started with shop signs and billboards, then newspapers, parents’ magazines, and everything I could find. So far it was all in my native language, Arabic. Then I learned English at school and couldn’t stop reading textbooks, then stories! Discovering fiction definitely altered my taste 🙂 Soon I was reading novels and went as big as the Harry Potter series and from there I was mostly interested in the Young Adult genre, and I starting writing a YA novel. For years, I’ve been doing editing and querying rounds (still am, and I’m plotting series), until I was encouraged to pair with someone from the writing community on a Picture Book / the Middle Grade genre in general. I started reading and writing that genre, and it has been a great journey! PBs and YA novels are different; I feel that moving between them is like switching languages.
AD: I love how since you were young, you’ve looked to your surroundings for inspiration and have always been a reader but did you always know you wanted to be an author a well? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
AY: It all started with the YA novel; it was before college. I didn’t take it seriously until I started college, but then I knew. So I studied Engineering, graduated, and I’m now a software Product Manager by day and I work on my writing whenever I can (with the hope of doing it profession
ally and having more time for it at least part-time).
AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing? Favorite genres you like to write in or favorite techniques?
AY: I love contemporary, and things I deal with / am surrounded with usually creep into my writing; e.g. self-image and self-acceptance. I also focus on representing people I know and those who aren’t represented much in fiction; i.e. those from / who live in the Middle East and Muslims. I think the best thing about fiction is reading and learning about everyone, and also finding a couple of books to read about a character you relate to; someone who could be you!
AD: Yes! Seeing ourselves in the characters and stories we read is so important and powerful but getting our stories into the hands of agents and publishers so children can relate and connect is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
AY: Believing in myself is an ongoing challenge; I keep reminding myself about my strengths, and try to focus on compliments and any sort of motivation from others. Publishing rejections make it even tougher, but we have to keep trying 🙂
AD: Yes! Never give up!!
AD: You mentioned the challenge of self-doubt and often as creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your journey?
AY: For PBs, it’s being chosen to be a PB Rising Star mentee; I know that everything happens for a reason, and I intend to keep going until I make it. For YA, I wrote a novel, did rounds of edits, got some good feedback, and planned a number of sequels. I try to tell myself that this itself is winning, and that I will catch a break in the publishing industry at some point.
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author? What makes your writing unique to you?
AY: I think that I understand emotions in a certain way, and I write about them in a relatable manner, which makes people say “Yes, that’s it!”. I weave it into the story to make the reader feel what the character is feeling, and I mix it up with humor in other scenes. I apply this to stories which aren’t currently widely in the market (stories set in the Middle East + Muslim stories in general). I simply write what I wish I could have read.
AD: What inspires your work?
AY: I take little things from my life and take those ideas to a complete fiction form.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
AY: When I’m hit by an idea, I write down notes on my phone or record a voice memo. The deeper I go into it, the more I get other ideas, and I keep that process. It’s one of the fun parts! When I’m not very inspired, two things bring the ideas back: spending time with people and fiction is usually helpful; books, series and movies take me to another world, and help me see something new.
AD: Notes and voice memos on the phones are the best! What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author?
AY: Iterating over and over on my work, and trying the group approach (mentorship, courses, and I’m working on the critique partner part after I have been heavily advised on that one)
AD: Oh yes!! I’m jumping on the critique partner/group recommendation train as well. Couldn’t do without. Having your community to help you improve and support you during the crazy ups and downs of the journey is vital! I’m sure you’ll find the same when you find the right match, too!
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
AY: Keep going! Draft and write, and get to know the writing community; it helps in shifting gears and trying new things. Also, doing things differently helps, and this mentorship made me realize that writing doesn’t have to be solo. I still find it tough to share my writing, because I worry about conflicting feedback, but there’s a stage for everything, and we don’t always have to take all feedback.
AD: Conflicting feedback can be tough but often the rule of threes comes in handy. If you hear the same thing three times or more, you may want to reexamine that portion of your story. Alright Ayah, sadly we’re coming to the end of the interview so please tell us where we can find out more about you and your work…
AY: Writer me is mostly active on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AyaxYasser