We are so thrilled to reveal the gorgeous cover for Aisha Saeed’s debut YA novel, Written in the Stars! Aisha has been a valuable and cherished part of story and chai since the beginning, and we could not be more excited for her about her forthcoming novel. Aisha ‘s efforts to promote diversity in literature are truly inspiring. Below, she tells us how her beautiful cover came to be, and shares some authors who inspire her, even as she inspires all of us. ~ Jennifer
Jennifer: Congratulations on your debut novel, Written in the Stars, which will release in March of 2015! Can you tell us a little bit about the novel?
Aisha: Thank you! Written In the Stars explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Until it’s time for her to get married, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.
Jennifer: Your cover is gorgeous. How did the design come about? Were you involved in the process?
Aisha: I am very fortunate that my editor, Nancy Paulsen, was committed to making sure the cover art for Written in the Stars was an authentic representation of the story and included me in the collaboration process. For example, I was involved in selecting the South Asian girl reflected on the cover and gave feedback and examples of the types of clothes I thought Naila would realistically wear. I’ve heard so many horror stories of people having no say with their covers and feeling frustrated, but I appreciate that my feedback was not only valued but encouraged.
Jennifer: Did you have an idea of what the cover should look like when you were writing the novel?
Aisha: I’ve always loved henna patterns. One of the earlier working titles of this book was actually Hands of Henna. I love drawing henna designs and I appreciate how communal the act of applying henna for weddings and holidays can be. I remember on my wedding day, the henna artist spent three hours detailing my hands and arms with intricate designs. It was incredible to be a canvas for such a temporary but gorgeous piece of art. I also love how henna is usually applied with many people together, family and friends, all watching as the art unfolds. For this reason, I always envisioned some sort of henna overlay on my cover art and I was pleased when this did actually happen.
Jennifer: How do you think the actual cover reflects your vision?
Aisha: I love this cover and I’m so happy with how it turned out. The dark backdrop along with Naila’s silhouette capture the heaviness of the subject matter, but the stars and the title’s bright lettering hint at hope. That truly is the tone of this book and while the common adage is, “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” in this case, I don’t mind because it really does capture the essence of the story.
Jennifer: How did it feel to see your finalized cover for the first time?
Aisha: One of my personal biggest challenges with converting to e-books is how much I love covers. While an e-book does have a cover, I love holding tangible books with covers I can hold with my hands. Once I’m done reading, I also love seeing how the cover aligned with the essence of the story as well. Seeing my own cover for a book that’s lived in my heart for so long was an incredible experience. It transforms that work that has mostly lived behind a computer screen into a real and tangible thing, a book in the truest sense and that is an amazing and humbling feeling. After a lifetime of seeing beautiful covers of books I love, I am so incredibly fortunate to have this moment to see my own novel with a cover I love.
Jennifer: Your commitment to promoting diverse narratives and good storytelling is so inspirational. Which authors inspire you?
Aisha: Thank you! There are so many authors who inspire me, from Jane Austen to Zadie Smith and I’ve been lucky to have met many inspirational authors on my writing journey. Suzanne Staples, author of Shabanu, however is the most directly inspirational for me because until I read her novel in college, I had never read a story featuring a Pakistani protagonist. While Shabanu, the main character of the book, grew up in a nomadic tribal family and her life experiences were sharply different from my own, it felt incredible to see on the book cover a Muslim Pakistani girl looking back at me. Her novel showed me my stories mattered and deserved to be told. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Suzanne Staples. She gave me invaluable advice when I was still in my earliest drafts. Her generosity with her time was incredible and what better mentor could I have than the person who inspired me to finally put pen to paper?
Congratulations to Aisha and don’t forget to preorder Written in the Stars here!
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Aisha Saeed is a contributor to story and chai, focusing on YA books and writers. She is also a mama, lawyer, teacher, and maker and drinker of chai. She is a contributing author in the New York Times featured anthology Love Inshallah. Aisha has been blogging for a decade at her website, and her writing has also appeared in places such as The Orlando Sentinel, BlogHer, Muslim Girl Magazine, and Red Tricycle. Her debut YA novel WRITTEN IN THE STARS will be released in 2015 by Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books. She is represented by Taylor Martindale at Full Circle Literary Agency.