A mother of two, Rahela Nayebzadah holds a PhD in the Faculty of Education from the University of British Columbia. Her novel, Monster Child (Wolsak & Wynn, 2021), is nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize. Monster Child was also a finalist for ReLit Fiction Prize. Her autobiographical novel, Jeegareh Ma (2012), was based on her family's migration to Canada from Afghanistan.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book, Jeegareh Ma (2012), was published by a very small Canadian publisher. After it was published, that was the end of it—there were no reviews, book events, readings, or anything. The editing process was also simple. My manuscript was revised once and the revisions were very minor.
My experience with Monster Child was completely different. My editors worked hard to perfect the manuscript. And, everyone at Wolsak & Wynn did an incredible job in promoting my novel.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
Jeegareh Ma (2012) is based on my family’s journey from Afghanistan to Canada, and although Monster Child is fictional, I would be lying if I said it’s all fictional.
I prefer to write fiction because I like to make up stories. I have more freedom, room for creativity and possibilities in fiction than non-fiction.
I don’t think I could write a poem if my life depended on it.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Because I don’t have much of a social life, I dedicate all my free time to writing. My writing comes to me quickly. With Monster Child, I wrote about 6-7 drafts before reaching the final shape.
4 - Where does a work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I work on a book from the very beginning. I always start with an outline and a brief summary of each chapter before writing the actual manuscript. Beginning with an outline works best for me because it gives me structure.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I don’t enjoy doing public readings. I’ve been told my readings are boring, and I couldn’t agree more. I feel like readers have a certain voice in mind for each character they come across when reading fiction. The last thing I want to do is ruin that for them with my deadpan voice.
And, because public readings make me nervous, I begin to avoid eye contact with my audience. This is not good.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Working carefully and critically with Afghan/Muslim voices is my biggest concern. Representation matters to me and the last thing I want to do is reinforce stereotypes.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I can’t speak on the role of writers. But, what I can speak on is my role as a writer, which is to combat racism, prejudice, and Islamophobia. I want my writing to disrupt narrowness and create openness, conversation, and an awareness of the ways our experiences are shared rather than separate.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
The role of an editor is essential. I don’t know where I’d be without my talented and remarkable editor, Paul Vermeersch.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Up until a few months ago, I would write during my children’s nap-time. However, now that they no longer take naps, I write once they’re in bed, which is at 9 pm.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When my writing gets stalled, I take a break from writing. I have to miss writing.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Rose water, saffron, and cardamon (sorry for choosing more than one)
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Movies, scripts, and books influence my work.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Reading literature written by BIPOC authors are important for my work. Their voices and stories matter to me. The works of Zora Neale Hurston, Wayson Choy, and Dionne Brand are especially important.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to travel alone, drive without having a panic attack, and take my brother to New York.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but my passion is writing for film.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I’ve always wanted to be a scriptwriter. But, because I didn’t believe in myself, I pursed teaching. Everything I do (in terms of writing) is so that I can one day become a scriptwriter.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I wish I had more time to read. With two young children, making time to read or watch a film is difficult. But, the last great book I read was Five Little Indians by Michelle Good. The last great film I’ve watched was The Mitchells vs. the Machines.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on turning Monster Child into a trilogy. So far, I’ve completed the second book. I’ve also written a fantasy novel, which I also hope to turn into a trilogy.
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