Nafiza Azad is a self-identified island girl. She has hurricanes in her blood and dreams of a time she can exist solely on mangoes and pineapple.
Born in Lautoka, Fiji, she currently resides in British Columbia, Canada where she reads too many books, watches too many K-dramas, and writes stories about girls taking over the world.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT!. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hello! My name is Nafiza Azad and I’m still navigating my many identities. I like to call myself an Indo-Fijian Canadian Muslim. I was born and grew up in Fiji and immigrated to Canada with a whole lot of emotional baggage when I was 17, along with my parents and a very tattered copy of Anne of Green Gables. I write female-centric books that celebrate life in all its messy (and often violent) glory. In the times when I’m not plotting or daydreaming, I watch Kdramas, embroider, and read.
How did you find yourself getting into writing fiction, particularly Young Adult?
As I often tell people, writing isn’t something I choose to do. It’s more of a calling than a carefully chosen career. I have been writing (not very well) for as long as I can remember. I started with these particularly atrocious poems when I was still living on a sugarcane farm in Fiji and hadn’t begun school. For a long while, I thought I wouldn’t be able to write anything but poetry. I have taken many writing classes that have, whether intentionally or accidentally, shaped my writing, but almost all the professors who taught them told me that I had no future in writing. So, of course, I had to prove them wrong. I write YA because when I was a young adult, I never could find the books that I saw myself in. I want to change that for other young adults like me who are searching for reflections not just of their faces and persons but of their lives. I want to write a book that is a friend, a home, for someone who might not be welcomed elsewhere.
Where did the inspiration for your latest book, The Wild Ones, come from?
The Wild Ones is fueled by anger. It came from the girl in the mirror who was determined to take the awful experience she had gone through and create something out of it that would render her more than just a victim. THE WILD ONES is a scream out in this world where women are considered expendable, dismissed, an afterthought. Women, especially POC women, are constantly fighting to be heard, to be respected; we put our dignity on the line, we put our lives on the line, every time we step out of the door. The Wild Ones is an explicit call to arms and also an invitation to a sisterhood. A sisterhood that’s often denied and denigrated.
How would you describe your writing process? Are there any methods you use to help better your concentration or progress?
The first thing I learned after writing my first book is that no, writing one book does not automatically mean you know how to write books. Every project is a different beast and often requires a different set of processes. However, there are certain ones that work for me. I start with a question and then elaborate on that question. I do a lot of work before I start writing the novel. A notebook accompanies me as I write and I fill it with character profiles, book aesthetics, research, plot, questions so that at the end, I end up with two books instead of one: the actual novel and a book that documents the journey that led to the novel. Drafting is the most difficult step in the process for me. Every word feels like it’s torn from me so when I’m drafting, I write a maximum of 2k words per day every day. It’s the longest process and the most painful one. I like to work in complete silence so I end up working late nights. I only work on one book at a time because I immerse myself completely in the world to the point that I feel like I miss entire seasons and months when I’m writing.
What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your writing journey?
This might sound odd but for all writers looking to write professionally, understand that writing is a business. Yes, it is art but it is also a product to be consumed. Don’t be too attached to your way of doing things. Your way of doing things might make artistic sense but if it doesn’t make retail sense, you will be in for a lot of heartache. I wish I had understood that at the beginning. Sometimes success does not depend on the quality of your prose but on how saleable your story is.
As a writer, who or what you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?
There are so many. I gravitate toward female writers like Kate Elliott, G. Willow Wilson, Alison Croggon, Stephanie Burgis, Sylvia Plath and poets like Pablo Neruda, Warsan Shire, Safia Elhillo, Fatimah Ashgar. I am also inspired by my fellow writers like London Shah, Julian Winters, Adib Khorram, Axie Oh, Kat Cho, Karuna Riazi amongst many others. Their passion for their stories, for their works, inspires mine.
Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I read webtoons! Korean webtoons are a whole new level! I watch dramas, accompany my mom while she gardens (I have a cherry tree I call Gerard). I returned to embroidering during the pandemic and I enjoy creating explosions of colour on fabric. I bake cakes and play with my niece and nephew who think that like them I’m also under ten. I take pictures of flowers and dream up more stories I want to tell.
Are there any projects you are currently working on and at liberty to speak about?
I just finished a draft of my second novel for S&S and all I can say about it is that it’s a faery tale. I’m also working on an adult fantasy which is a whole new ball game as I’m discovering. I have many more stories planned. Hopefully I get to write a good lot of them.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
“Is there really a sugar festival in Lautoka (the first city the Wild Ones visit)?” Answer: Yes, there is! I was born in a village a few km from Lautoka and the sugar festival which takes place in August (or took place in this Covid-fested world) was one of the highlights of the year. I have many fond memories of attending the festival.
What advice would you have to give to aspiring writers?
You’ve already made the decision to be a writer and it’s probably because writing is in your blood. The bad news is: success the way it traditionally looks doesn’t come to everyone. The good news: we live in a new world and you define what success is. So the only thing between you and success is your grit and your willpower. Write every single day. Read everything, even books that don’t speak to you because those are the ones you will remember longest. Share your work with people whose criticism won’t cripple your creativity but also know that writing as a craft is one you will be working on forever. Learn to do close reading. Write in different styles. Be bold but also be respectful. Some stories you can tell, others you don’t have a right to. Respect that.
Finally, what LGBTQ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Instead of books, I will recommend authors whose books are lovely in their exploration of romance. Mason Deaver, Julian Winters, Adib Khorram, Zen Cho, Benjamin Alire Saenz.Tasha Suri‘s newest book is amazing in its representation. Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé is also great.