Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s eighteen-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash, and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks, and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.
Sabaa kindly chatted with me about her debut novel, An Ember in the Ashes.
Kristin Centorcelli: Will you tell us a bit about An Ember in the Ashes and what inspired you to write it?
Sabaa Tahir: An Ember in the Ashes is a young adult fantasy about Laia, an orphan who is fighting for her family, and Elias, a soldier fighting for his freedom. I was inspired to write it both by my childhood in the Mojave Desert, where I felt like I never fit in, and by the international news stories I read while working as an editor at The Washington Post.
KC: Why do you think readers will root for Laia and Elias?
ST: I think readers root for these characters because despite all the difficulty they face, they retain their hope. In addition to that, they face issues and questions that we will all, at some point deal with. How does one find their courage? How do you stand up to your friends when you know they are wrong? How do we deal with fear? Are our fates decided, or do we have a choice in our destinies? How far do you go for the things that matter to you? The themes here are pretty universal—so I hope they’ll resonate with readers of all ages and interests.
KC: You have a background in journalism, but have you always wanted to write fiction? Will you tell us a little more about that progression?
ST: I always wanted to write fiction, but I didn’t admit it to myself. When I was growing up, becoming a writer wasn’t really considered by my parents to be a reasonable job option. They wanted me to go into medicine or engineering. When I decided to go into journalism, they were quite wary, though eventually, they supported my career choice. I, however, still didn’t see myself ever writing fiction. Even during the first two years I was working on An Ember in the Ashes, I considered it a side project as opposed to a job. It wasn’t until I quit journalism that I fully considered myself a novelist.
KC: What made you decide to write a book for young adults?
ST: I didn’t realize it was for young adults until a little way into it! Initially, I just started out writing a fantasy.
KC: What were a few of your favorite books as a teen?
ST: Where do I begin? The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks. The Dragonriders of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. Lord of the Rings, of course. Too many to list!
KC: What are a few current faves?
ST: Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee (spectacular zero-gravity fight scenes.) Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell. Redeployment by Phil Klay. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera.
KC: What’s next for you?
ST: I’m hoping for a sequel. Cross your fingers for me!