Helloooo Pub Crawlers! I’m so excited to introduce you to our newest member, author and cat wrangler Aminah Mae Safi!
Mae is one of my absolute favorite humans, and I think by the time we get to the end of this introduction, she’ll be one of your favorites, too. I can’t wait to see all the smart and funny articles she writes for Pub Crawl!
1. Since people can (and should!) visit your website — www.aminahmae.com — to learn about how awesome you are, can you tell us something we can’t find anywhere else online?
I have been to every continent except Antarctica! Also, I can kiss my elbow 😘
2. I don’t think I knew that about you, actually! Hah! Okay, well, something anyone who already follows you knows that you have a pair of kitty monsters and your Insta Stories featuring them are top notch. So, important question: if those cats ruled the world, what would our world be like?
Probably both nicer and a lot scarier? One of my cats is truly the empress of everything, and as long as everyone worshipped her appropriately, we would all be fine. Maybe.
The other cat is really just here for snuggles and snacks, and maybe overthrowing the kyriarchy. So as long as there are still lots of kitty treats, she would be a very rolly polly advocate on all of our behalf.
3. Yikes. I mean, anyone who has cats will be able to adapt to that pretty quickly. Dog people are going to have trouble though. All right, to writing! A lot of authors find repeating themes in all their books. Do you? And what do you think that says about you?
I definitely find that whatever ideas or concepts I’m struggling with make their way into my books. The funny part is, I don’t notice this when I’m drafting. I just think, “oh, wouldn’t it be interesting to think about what the third generation of immigration looks like, particularly the grandchild of a successful immigrant?” Like it’s some kind of thought exercise. And then I start editing and I do a face palm, because clearly, I’m thinking about legacy and immigration and what the future of all of that looks like, and I’ve tried working these ideas out with the characters I’ve created. But my drafting mode brain is so turned off from critical thinking— I really just need to keep going and keep telling myself the story— that I don’t notice any of this until the editing phase.
Or at least, that’s what happened in book two. But I think on some level, all art is autobiography. Not because you put a character that looks or acts directly like you onto the page, but because whatever you’re thinking about, whatever you’re struggling with— that will always make its way into what you’re working on.
Also, I think I’ll always think about family and legacy, about love and hope, and about feeling in between. But I think that’s why I write YA!
4. Those are all really relevant topics today! And speaking of relevant, you talk about unlikeable heroines a lot, and you aren’t afraid to write about girls who make mistakes. Do you ever wonder if they’ve gone too far and can’t be redeemed?
I have worried that I went to far! But then I remember that redemption is, in many ways, in the eye of the beholder. I know that there’s a line we can all cross from which we cannot go back. But at the same time, I like to hope that we can all redeem ourselves, on some level. I always try to think of what I find heroic— Lulu, from NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR, went too far for many people, in the first pages of the book. All she does is push a guy into a pool, but there were plenty of people who didn’t feel her anger in that moment was justified. And by the way— readers have a right to feel this way! Never going to argue that one.
But I love that her anger gets the better of her. And I love that she’s a character willing to face herself and her worst days. I think it takes a huge amount of courage to face yourself and be honest with yourself. It’s one of the most everyday kind of heroics and it’s the kind of thing we can all do.
I guess my trick for that is, let your characters do their worst. See where they are at. Maybe you can’t pull them back. But maybe you’ll find their grit and their determination. Characters tend to show you what they’re made of when they’re backed into a corner, particularly if they’ve backed themselves into that corner. Then again, I’m a big believer in exposure therapy and facing your fears. Can you tell I’m a Gryffindor?
5. You’re definitely a Gryffindor. Just writing a book and sending it out is incredibly courageous. Will you tell us a little about your journey to publication, and about some of the lessons you had to learn along the way?
Oh man. I really fell into the— it’s slow until it’s not category. It took five and a half years to find an agent with my manuscript. I just kept plugging away and editing and and reworking that first book until I found my agent Lauren. I also had the immense opportunity to participate in the first #DVpit on Twitter, which truly helped me find my agent. And also helped me see and believe that there was an audience for my work. After that, I did a round of edits with my agent on my first book, and it sold within three weeks to my editor Kat. It was just one of those moments where the timing all lined up. I feel incredibly lucky that everything happened so quickly after signing with my agent, because I know that’s an exception, not the rule.
I’ve learned lots of things. Be kind to those around you. That sounds pretty basic but really it helps. You don’t owe anyone any more of yourself than you’re willing to give, but kindness really does help get through the day in a much better mental state. I think every book teaches you something. Book one taught me persistence. Book two taught me that I can do everything I had already done with professional constraints and time constraints. And, much in the way that every book is different, every career is different. You’ve got to walk your own path. You can’t sit around wondering why you didn’t get someone else’s opportunity. That way lies bitterness and madness.
6. Those are such wise words, Mae! If you had to say writing is like another activity (knitting, running, sky diving), what would you pick and why?
Working out! Or, really, training. I box now but I’ve also trained for half marathon and trail half marathons. When you train you have to put in these workouts that you don’t always particularly like. And you have to keep showing up. And some days, it’s just not your day. You can’t lift as heavy; you can’t run as hard. You strain a muscle and you have to go back to re-building your base rather than moving forward.
But you keep showing up, you keep putting in the work, and you get stronger. Writing is like that, to me. You are the sum total of the inputs you put in. Of the work you keep doing. Of the days you show up to the keyboard (or the page!) You don’t control the output. In a workout, even when you show up, you don’t know exactly how fast you will get, or what your gains will be. You have to have faith in the process and doing your best every day that you have the opportunity do do the workout or sit in the chair. With writing, you don’t know if your book will be hated or will beloved, a best seller or something that flies under the radar. But you control the work. You control putting your butt in your chair and learning and growing as a writer.
I honestly think most things in life are like this. You control inputs, never outcomes.
7. Absolutely. So, last real question: You’re really into classic movies. What are some of the writing/storytelling lessons you’ve learned from them?
Oh goodness, loads! What I love about classic movies— and honestly movies in general— is that they’re a visual medium. They have to convey a lot of information, super quickly, and get an audience behind a character pretty immediately. I learned so much about genre and archetypes from movies. About moving a plot forward, about getting an audience to care. There are so many little tricks. I think I also love bad movies especially for this, because you can see the moment the story or a character goes off the rails and you think ah, but this is how I would do it.
I also love that, despite all of the rules of cinema, there really are no set boundaries. There are eras where all movies were written in a three act structure. But loads of TV is written in four act structures. And a lot of classic cinema is in five acts. What I love about watching movies is— you can see all this. See the assets of any act structure. See the boundaries of genres. It helped me get less attached to any one way of storytelling, and understand that you have to do whatever best serves the story you are currently writing.
8. Bonus question! You get into a bar fight. It’s about books. What about books, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Have I ever mentioned that, years ago, I wrote a very angry letter to The New York Times about how they compared Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë and continued calling the fandoms between these two authors the “Battle of the Bonnets?” They did publish a portion of my letter online. Anyways. I would definitely get into a bar fight about this. Brontë and Austen wrote in two different eras. Charlotte Brontë was one years old when Jane Austen died, for heaven’s sake. I love both of these authors, but for very different reasons. And I’m so tired of them getting lumped together because they were two women who happened to write in English in the same century.
That, or about the idea that Jane Austen wasn’t political. She wrote during wartime England, and she wrote about one of the king’s soldiers being unscrupulous and dishonest. She constantly digged at the financial realities of what the then-current laws of inheritance did to women. Add to this the fact that she came from a conservative family, and held many conservative viewpoints herself— see her thoughts on Mary Queen of Scots, oh please, they are a gold mine— and you get this amazing, wholistic view of a human being with thoughts and feelings and viewpoints that were definitely political. She was just a master of subtlety, and that subtlety is still lost on people.
And frankly, my weapon of choice is my hands and whatever is closest to me. I’ve been taking martial arts since I was seven. I box now. If I’m too small to overpower whoever I’m fighting, I’m not above cracking bottles over people’s heads. I swear I’m not always a violent person. Just don’t get me started on Jane Austen if you’re not prepared to finish it.
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I also wholeheartedly recommend picking up a copy of her book, NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.