As part of #RamadanReadathon, I’ll be hosting a series of author interviews to spotlight new and upcoming releases from debut and established authors. I’m so excited to welcome Farah Naz Rishi on the blog today to talk about her debut novel I Hope You Get This Message!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani-American Muslim writer and voice actor, but in another life, she’s worked stints as a lawyer, a video game journalist, and an editorial assistant. She received her B.A. in English from Bryn Mawr College, her J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School, and her love of weaving stories from the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s probably hanging out with video game characters. You can find her at home in Philadelphia, or follow her on Twitter at @far_ah_way.
ABOUT I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE
Seven days. Seven days. The Earth might end in seven days.
When news stations start reporting that Earth has been contacted by a planet named Alma, the world is abuzz with rumors that the alien entity is giving mankind only few days to live before they hit the kill switch on civilization.
For high school truant Jesse Hewitt, though, nothing has ever felt permanent. Not the guys he hooks up with. Not the jobs his underpaid mom works so hard to hold down. Life has dealt him one bad blow after another — so what does it matter if it all ends now? Cate Collins, on the other hand, is desperate to use this time to find the father she’s never met, the man she grew up hearing wild stories about, most of which she didn’t believe. And then there’s Adeem Khan. While coding and computer programming have always come easily to him, forgiveness doesn’t. He can’t seem to forgive his sister for leaving, even though it’s his last chance.
With only seven days to face their truths and right their wrongs, Jesse, Cate, and Adeem’s paths collide even as their worlds are pulled apart.
Salaam, Farah! Thank you so much for joining us! To begin with, could you quickly introduce yourself and your debut novel I Hope You Get This Message? How would you describe the book in emojis or comps?
FR: Walaikum assalaam! I’m Farah. I used to be a lawyer; my area of expertise was wildlife and environmental law—but now I write full-time and occasionally do some voice acting work. If I’m not chasing a deadline, I’m playing video games, or watching anime with my cat, dog, and partner.
I Hope You Get This Message is the story of an alien planet that has threatened to destroy all of humanity on Earth, and three teenagers—Jesse, Cate, and Adeem—who scramble to tie-up loose ends, face their pasts, and right their wrongs. The book has been described as We All Looked Up meets The Sun is Also a Star, and I’d say that’s pretty darn accurate.
To sum the book up in emojis… 👽💥🌎📻🚗🏳️🌈📡❤️🌅
Wow, I should write all my books in emojis.
In what ways are the three protagonists of the novel – Jesse, Cate and Adeem – similar, and in what ways are they different?
FR: The one thing that connects Jesse, Cate, and Adeem is how most of their problems stem from their inability to communicate to their loved ones. Jesse has failed, for years, to reach out to both his mom, who works an impossible number of shifts at the local diner, and his counsellor, Ms. K. Cate also bottles up her emotions out of fear of burdening her mom, who is struggling to find the right balance of medication for her schizophrenia. And Adeem has never been able to be open with his family, in part because he doesn’t know how.
As for their differences, Jesse and Adeem are on opposite spectrums of how they see the world. Jesse has been knocked down so many times that he believes people are inherently bad; it’s how he’s justified his thievery and conning and taking advantage of people for so long.
Adeem, on the other hand, tends to have a more positive outlook. Though he’s certainly not naïve—he knows evil exists, and he’s dealt with his fair share of racists and bigots—he believes that most people aren’t so bad.
Cate, meanwhile, is smack in the middle. She doesn’t have time to think about sweeping psychological judgments on humanity when she’s just trying to be a supportive daughter and survive school. Until Alma arrives, her world consists of herself and her mother. Nothing else matters.
Let’s talk about music! What songs are these characters currently listening to?
FR: Oh man, I love this question. Music has been key in how I’ve come to understand these characters, their story, and if I can’t find a song that serves as that gateway, I can’t write them. These are basically the trio’s theme songs:
Jesse: Tom Misch – Beautiful Escape (feat. Zak Abel)
Cate: Broods – Mother & Father
Adeem: Skogsrå – Out of Time
In the novel, Earth gets a message from Alma about the end of human civilisation. What message do you hope readers will get from the story?
FR: No matter what happens, no matter how much life beats you down, no matter what you might tell yourself… you are strong enough. One of my favorite lines in the Quran is: “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear.” So far, I have found that to be the truest thing there is.
I couldn’t agree more! Now imagine yourself in this end-of-the-world scenario; what would you do if you only had seven days left to live?
FR: Pray. God, I would pray: for the protection of my loved ones, for forgiveness, and for a painless death.
And then I’d eat my weight in chocolate cake, Matilda-style.
And finally, what inspires you to write, and what are your favourite books written by Muslim authors?
FR: I wrote this book during the most difficult time of my life; over a span of three years, I lost my dad, my little brother, and my mom. There’s a line about Cate that I really connect with: “Cate had felt like she was drowning in the stress of her life, and it was all she could do to cling to a piece of driftwood floating by, a piece of stability.” That’s what this book was for me. Driftwood to cling to when I was certain I’d drown.
Adeem, in many ways, feels like an extension of me; we share the same religion, the same faith, the same outlook on life, so writing his story was cathartic. My little brother suffered from depression, and not long after he came out as bisexual, he died of suicide. To write a character so like me who was able to find and hold their beloved sibling before it was too late was absolutely crucial in helping me find healing. Of course, it was a painful process, but if I can reach out to someone else—if someone else can connect to Adeem’s story and find the inspiration to grab their loved ones and hold on tight—then it will have all been worth it.
Right now, I’m reading A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, and not only is it just one of the best books I’ve ever read, but it’s also mind-blowingly surreal to relate to a group of characters so deeply. I mean, when do Muslim readers get to experience that? Rarely. Too rarely. So to read a book about a Muslim family and their problems, problems I know all too well, feels a bit like coming home. Finally.
Beautifully written – I love that quote! Thank you so much for your time, Farah. I can’t wait to meet these characters and read their story!
Want to win a copy of I Hope You Get This Message by Farah Naz Rishi? Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win this book or a book of your choice from any of the authors featured during #RamadanReadathon! These books will be revealed throughout the month so keep your eyes peeled for more interviews on this blog.
This giveaway is open internationally, as long as Book Depository ships to you.