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This blog was featured on 10/17/2018
Tahereh Mafi on Writing Sequels and Young Adult Novels
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Written by
She Writes
October 2018
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
October 2018

Tahereh Mafi, the bestselling author of Shatter Me, is best known for her incredible contributions to the YA genre. However, Mafi’s latest release, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, took a step away from her normal teen dystopian thriller and tackled a highly controversial topic: Muslim-American relations. Exploring the ways Tahereh Mafi approaches her writing career, we’ve gathered some of the author’s best interview moments and the advice her fellow writers can apply to their own careers.

On Creating A Relatable Character

During an interview with Seventeen, Mafi explained why she wrote a story about a girl who couldn’t touch anyone and the loneliness that comes with it:

“What appealed to you about creating a character that can't touch anyone?TM: Nothing at all. It's a fairly terrible thing, I think, not being able to touch anyone. But I do think that the isolation and alienation Juliette experiences is something that many teens (and adults) are able to relate to. We all feel a bit cast-off and misunderstood, sometimes; like there might be something about us that sets us apart from our peers. Juliette's affliction takes that idea to an extreme.”

Why She Writes Young Adult Novels

It’s no secret that the young adult genre has taken off in the past decade and Tahereh believes this is due to the way humans experience their first times and how YA novels often take you back to the most monumental times of your life. Read more from her interview with the Los Angeles Times:

“A lot of people ask why are so many people reading young adult fiction today  -- I really think it has everything to do with that experience of firsts. Nothing is quite as potent as experiencing life as a teenager. Everything is either the worst thing that's ever happened to you or the best thing that's ever happened to you. You're on a high. You're exhilarated constantly. You're either so sad you've never been so sad in your life, or so excited and happy you don't even know how to describe it. Your first kiss, first any kind of romantic encounter, your first driving experience, your first vacation, your first betrayal, your first everything. ... Every person, no matter how old you are, remembers what it's like to be 16. No one forgets that. You never forget what your first kiss was. You never forget your first big experiences in life.”

On the Evolution of Her Characters

While discussing details about her Shatter Me series with The Tempest, Mafi went into detail about what she was trying to achieve by writing her bestselling young adult series:

“The entire series revolves around the evolution of a timid girl on her path to becoming a strong, independent young woman. Juliette, the main character, starts out as a kind of skittish, broken animal in “Shatter Me;” when we meet her she’s weak beyond words – on the brink of insanity – but as the series evolves, so too does she. Her metamorphosis over the course of the three books teaches her to love herself with or without the validation of others. It is, at its core, a story about a girl trying to find herself in a world trying to tell her who to be.”

The First Time She Truly Felt Like A Writer

Authors are often asked about the moment they officially felt like a writer. While talking about her career with Seventeen, Tahereh Mafi let them in on that crucial moment that signified she had chosen the right career path:

“I've been a lifelong reader, but I never thought I could write a book -- I never thought I was capable of accomplishing something so monumental as writing a novel. It wasn't until after I graduated from college -- about 2 years ago -- that I dove back into the world of fiction and wondered if I might be able to try writing something for myself. I fell in love pretty instantly, and never looked back.”

On Writing Sequels

During an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Tahereh Mafi dove into what it’s like to write a sequel and the ways in which her own experiences with reading have shaped her writing:

“At the end of the day, I think I identify much more as a reader than I do a writer. Because I spent the majority of my life reading books, not writing them. So I understand so well what it's like to be impassioned by a novel. What it's like to finish a book and be so angry you just want to chuck the book across the room and send that author a very lengthy letter full of very unkind things. I've been there. I understand it. I also know what it's like to finish a novel and want to weep from the beauty of it. It's incredibly rewarding that to imagine that I've been able to re-create that in somebody else. The anger or the happy passion. I like it. I really do. But at the same time, I'm a little scared. I don't really know how people are going to react to the third book. I definitely take their feelings into consideration. Because I know what it's like to feel betrayed by an author when you follow a story. Not betrayed, necessarily. I remember when I finished "Mockingjay" ... I loved, loved “The Hunger Games,” just passionately loved those books. And when I finished "Mockingjay" I was absolutely devastated. I walked around in a daze for weeks....”

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