Teens Can Write, Too!

Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework

Interview with Writer and Activist Kaye M

Aisha here, and I’ve brought you TCWT readers a special treat: an interview with Kaye M., who doubles as @gildedspine on Twitter!

Now, I’m a huge fan of Kaye, and I wanted to give you all a chance to get to know her a bit better: Besides being the creator of several amazing hashtags (including #NotYourStockMuslim and #YesAllWomen), Kaye is also a writer, an activist, and a fan of YA literature. Furthermore, she will be leading a session at this year’s Chapter One Young Writers Conference, so be sure to sign up here to see her at the conference! Her session will be on the myths and the truths in common writing advice.

Without further ado, here’s the interview:

A: For you, what is the hardest part of writing?

K: The hardest part of writing is definitely drafting. I feel some days like I’m wired to hate my writing and I don’t understand my process the way I should – which of course, can only be solved through practice, practice, practice. But it’s seriously harder to fight off those feelings of low self-esteem (particularly when it comes to a sucky first draft) than put words down on paper.

A: Why do you think humans love to read literature so much?

K: I don’t remember who this can be correctly attributed to, but I know there is a quote that says that stories are within our marrow. They are part of the human experience and have often been our means of surviving hard times, difficulties, moments when we thought we might not persevere or overcome.

As bizarre as I still find it (mainly from a personal dislike of the play), there are lovers who remain steadfast because of Romeo and Juliet. I personally dwell and appreciate one message of Howl’s Moving Castle (which, if you know me online at all, is my absolutely favorite book) that pretty much goes along the lines of “Be proud of and take strength from who you are.”

At least, that’s my interpretation.

A: Your thoughts on diversity? Specifically diversity in YA?

K: Obviously, I have very, very strong feels for diversity being found in YA. As a woman from ethnic and religious minorities, I understand the desire for proper, empowering representation. This need and this empathy for others who also feel that need led to my participation with #WeNeedDiverseBooks and continues to fuel my career plans for the future.

In short, yes to diversity in YA, and long may it flower into new narratives that we can all enjoy and learn from.

A: What is your favorite genre to write, and what do you love about said genre?

K: I think my first love is and always will be fantasy, with magical realism being a close runner-up. As I haven’t yet woven together a proper magical realism tale, though, let’s just go with fantasy. I’ve always loved how there are so many different ways within fantasy to approach fantasy.

I grew up on a lot of it – particularly, as I always love to praise, Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle – and I think that’s why so often I dream up stories with strong, stubborn girls and worlds that are definitely not the one I live in around the edges.

A: What are your bookish goals for the year?

K: I’ve set my Goodreads challenge at 100 books for this year! So far, it seems to be going well, but I’ve started a new semester as an English major with a ton of texts to consume by the end of the spring. We’ll see how I fare once I get headway into my assignments!

A: As a Muslim, do you ever (or would you ever) incorporate your faith into your books?

K: Definitely, and yes, I have – in my current WiP, which is for no one’s eyes at the moment until it looks fairly decent. (Which will take a million years, it feels. *sobs*)
It has taken me years to come to terms with the fact that I can write about my faith, though. My mom has been trying to pound it into my brain for years. “Why can’t you write awesome Muslim girls if you want to write awesome girls?”

I talked about this during #WeNeedDiverseBooks, but for years, I didn’t think that Muslim girls were allowed to do anything in the fictional narrative, because of course, since we didn’t and still have meager representation, we probably weren’t interesting enough to write or read about.

I know better, now.

A: What are some challenges you face as a writer?

K: Oh, what challenges do writers not face?
With me, it always boils back down to self-esteem, and realizing when I need to let my manuscript slip out of my anxious, neurotic fingers and into the hands of someone else that can do it some good.

A: What fictional character do you identify with the most? And why?

K: Probably either Sophie Hatter or Lizzie Bennet, thanks to recent ruminating over my rewatch of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries (though, fun fact: despite my love for film and YouTube adaptations, Pride and Prejudice is not my favorite Austen title). I, too, am very snarky, suspicious and am impatient when faced with hysterics.

A: Who are some writers that inspire you?

K: My top tier of favorite authors includes Diana Wynne Jones (always, always, always); Laini Taylor, who I like to pretend is my fairy godmother of words, since her advice through posts and tweets is always what I need to read at a given time; Gail Carson Levine, as Ella Enchanted continues to have a strong influence on what I write and particularly the amount of heroines I write (read: nearly every idea I have); and Nova Ren Suma, who I am honored to consider a friend and constantly awed by.

These are not the be all and end all of my favorites, but they are definitely people that come to mind when I feel particularly discouraged and need inspiration. Also, they all write so lovely, and I covet ethereal prose.

A: Have you ever discovered anything about yourself in your writing?

K: Mainly, I’ve found that I’m allergic to writing boys. Well, maybe not allergic. And maybe not as long as they aren’t main characters or love interests. Also, I like writing about tough girls who face real, teenage trauma and deal with it like real teenagers do, not cut-and-dried “what adults would hope you’d do” teenage stuff.

Which is, you know, the majority of what YA does. Pretty much, I wish I could be like Tess Sharpe and Courtney Summers in the way that they don’t beat around the bush in what girls experience, as I love and admire them both dearly.

A: And… advice?

K: Okay. I’m the last person you want to ask for advice, on anything. Except, possibly, how to survive accidentally creating a viral hashtag by the skin of your teeth. All I can say is, learn how to block out the advice that tells you that part of your process is wrong – WITHIN REASON. That is to say, if someone tells you that you need to have a good structure to your story? They are totally right, my dear, and I hope you’d listen. But if someone tells you that something that seems to work for you doesn’t work for them, that doesn’t mean you have to scrap it.

For instance, for ages, I used to work on multiple drafts. Some would get farther than others, and others I’d just leave aside for later if they didn’t go anywhere at a certain point. And then, a certain, dear author who I shall not name as her advice is perfectly sound – just not for me right then – told me that was counterproductive.

Alright, then. I stopped it. I focused on only one idea and tried to ignore the others hopping like so many beautiful, flourishing bunnies in the flowery meadows of my inner conscious.

And that…didn’t work, either. Right now, I’ve worked out a process of writing down those other ideas while remembering to devote time to my primary project that works for me. But the point is, my friend Justine Larbelestier was telling me, a good month ago, that SHE works on multiple projects and sees which one goes the farthest.

So. Everyone is not the same. And that’s okay. Experiment freely and work with what works in your process for YOU.

And I totally believe in you. You need to know that. Because I do.


Thanks so much to Kaye for stopping by! Be sure to follow her on Twitter, on her blog, and on Writing with Color, a resource for writing diverse characters.


About hijabionhilltop

Aisha Monet is a writer who spends the majority of her time having deep conversations about rainbows, discussing all the ways the gender binary has failed us, and walking around Capitol Hill in sweatshirts that are way too big for her. You can find her at your local bus station filling in her eyebrows and writing poetry about stars.

One comment on “Interview with Writer and Activist Kaye M

  1. Ellie
    July 22, 2015

    Great interview! And great advice, too! I’ve struggled for a long time with my pantster nature and everyone else’s love of outlining, and just when I thought I’d made peace with my hatred of outlines, and with everything I read telling me to use one, I realized that this story that I’ve been working on for almost two years now may actually need to be plotted if it has any chance of being finished. So, yeah, my writing problems may slightly overstep the boundaries of reason . . . I’m guessing this plotting attempt will end like all the rest with a halfhearted plan that covers three and a half chapters, but we’ll see.

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This entry was posted on July 22, 2015 by in interview, Writing and tagged , , , , , , .
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