Meeting the Queen of the Emberlings: Sabaa Tahir

First off, long time no see.

It’s been months since my last life update and here’s why it took so long: I simply didn’t know what to write about. And more importantly, my writing no longer had a purpose. It took some time, but I figured out I shouldn’t be writing about something that had already took too much of my life. During those months I had a social media cleanse to focus on being present in real life and to stop stressing over how many people saw my Snapchat story or liked my Instagram post. It helped immensely.

Beginning my third year of college in only a couple of days, I’ve made a pact to myself and that pact is to write. However, I will only write if it has a purpose. An event I attended on Saturday, September 17, 2016, with one of my best friends Marcela, reminded me why reading and writing are essential, and therefore do serve a purpose.

In 2015, I read An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. The story follows two point of views. A scholar named Laia, fighting for her family, and a Blackcliff Academy soldier named Elias, who is fighting for his freedom. Laia’s brother Darin, was taken from her and thrown into prison and Elias is Blackcliff’s top soldier, but he doesn’t want to be one anymore. As the story goes on, these two characters find out that their destinies are intwined and that they must bring down what governs all, The Empire.

Immediately upon hearing the synopsis of this book, I knew I would love it, and not only because this world is lightly influenced by Ancient Rome. Sabaa Tahir’s writing is entrancing, going into the thoughts and struggles of these two different characters, feeling like this fantasy world exists. That’s one of the main reasons why I love fantasy.

A Torch Against the Night is the second book that recently came out and for the release, Tahir went on tour. And luckily enough, Los Angeles was one of her stops.

Marcela and I are huge fans of the book and instead of just saying, “We’re going to go,” we actually did.

At 7:45 a.m., we drove to Barnes & Noble at The Grove in Los Angeles to secure our spots in the Sabaa Tahir event. Bought the book. Check. Got our wristbands. Check. We were in. And we were simply ecstatic.

We were seated in the third row of the small yet comfortable event area, with the copies of her books resting on our laps. Two event coordinators were entertaining the crowd, telling us to enter the sweepstakes and even reading a Dr. Suess book.

After an hour of patiently waiting, the moderator, Nicola Yoon, author of Everything, Everything, came onto the stage and introduced Sabaa Tahir. Applause sounded out through the area and I remember being so nervous from the anticipation, I was happy it faded quite a bit.

To be completely honest, I didn’t know what to expect from a writer. But watching her speak, she exceeded any expectation I had.

Yoon asked her about her personal life. Tahir grew up in the Mojave Desert, in a isolated town. As a child she felt alienated by her surroundings, so she turned to books. Even breaking into her brothers chest of comic books to get reading material. But fantasy books was where it was all at.

Like most Asian parents, her dad told her “You’re going to be a doctor.” So for some time, Tahir worked at a hospital, to quickly find out this career was not hers. Then, she began work at the Washington Post. There she was able to learn how to write a good story, a good hook, and how to structure a good sentence.

One day, a story caught her attention. In the country of Kashmir, fathers, sons, brothers, were taken away from their families and were imprisoned. Having two older brothers herself, the story stayed with her. Therefore, creating the beginning of Ember.

It took six years for her to complete the book and I would like to personally thank her for taking her time with the story. It reminded me a well-written book doesn’t happen overnight. It takes countless days and nights, frustrating writing sessions, and a lot of research.

“What was the weirdest thing you had to research for ‘Torch’?” Yoon asked.

“How to smuggle stuff into prison. Like a weapon.”

Tahir followed the interview with a Trivia game and Q&A. For the trivia game, you had to volunteer before hearing the question. Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds. She’ll cough out the answer if you don’t know it. I figured it was now or never, so I raised my hand with Marcela pointing at me and she picked me. And thank God I knew the answer and I got a very special tote bag.

Lining up for the signing, I kept asking Marcela, “What are you going to say to her?” Both of us didn’t know. The nervous anticipation came back.

Marcela went first and I heard her say, “Thank you for creating Elias.” (And for those of you who haven’t read her books, Elias is the ultimate fantasy boyfriend every girl dreams about. So ladies, go to your local book store and pick up a copy.) “I just put everything I want in a boyfriend into Elias,” she said.

When I went up to her, she greeted me with a happy “Hi!” and I told her thank you for coming to L.A.

“So any exciting plans for the weekend?” she asked.

“Preparing for school.”

“Are you in college?”

“Yes.”

“Well good luck!”

From that short conversation and the simply way she said ‘good luck,’ I could tell she was sincere. I mean, REALLY sincere. I was shocked. I got so excited that I almost left without taking my picture.

I’ve been trying to come up with ways to describe her but it’s actually hard to come up with the right words. How she holds herself, her story, her humor, everything, is what I aspire to be. She offered advice on writing and it was: No excuses. If you want to write you will write. I can’t wait to finish A Torch Against the Night and I can’t wait for her upcoming books. Sabaa Tahir is an absolute wonder. Not only is she an amazing writer, she is so genuinely kind. So please, if you haven’t read her books, read them! You won’t regret it.

“You will spark and burn. Ravage and destroy. You cannot chance it. You cannot stop it.”

 

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