Updated: Feb 2
Today I would like to introduce you to my Author Friend, Shirin Shamsi.
Shirin is going to tell us about her writing career that extends to not only picture books but middle grade.
How many years have you been in publishing?
My debut middle grade novel was published in 2019, but I have been writing since my children were very young. In fact, I truly decided I wanted to write for children when I became a mother.
Tell me more about your book and share about your illustrator.
My book is about a girl named Zahra, who longs for a sister. Her parents are in the process of adoption. It begins when she sees the new moon, which is also when
the month of Ramadan begins. Her mother tells her it’s a month of giving, so they pack boxes to take to a refugee center. Zahra accidentally drops her teddy bear in one of the
boxes. The next day, she looks all over the house for the teddy bear. Later she helps her mom at the refugee center. There is a twist at the end that I don’t want to reveal, but the twist in real life is even better!
The illustrator, Manal Mirza, told the editor that she remembered me from her childhood. She said I would often read stories to her class when she was 6 years old! The goosebump moment for me came when I realized that it was in that classroom that I may have shared the original draft of this story. As I would take my stories, draw pictures, and laminate them for my children. I often took them to the school where I volunteered, to share them with the kindergarten and first grade classes.
How many years you have been working on this book before you got a contract on it for publication.
The original idea for ZAHRA’S BLESSING came to me many years earlier when I first began writing for my children. After many rewrites and a complete revision, I signed the contract in 2020.
Is this your first publication? If yes, do you have other manuscripts under contract or preparing for submission (if you want to share). If no, talk about your other publications.
ZAHRA’S BLESSING is my debut picture book as Shirin Shamsi. I co-wrote PLANTING
FRIENDSHIP with Callie Metler and Melissa Stoller under the name Shirin Rahman,
which was released in October 2021. I have a middle grade novel, LAILA AND THE SANDS OF TIME (Clear Fork Publishing, 2019). I have also written some readers for
educational publishing companies. My picture book with Atheneum, THE MOON FROM DEHRADUN, will be released in the Fall of 2022.
Do you write full-time? If no, what do you do besides write?
Although I devote most of my time to writing now, especially since the pandemic began, I have worked in Early Childhood and also arrange book fairs in schools as a Barefoot Books Community Bookseller.
What inspires you to create picture books? Do you write any other genres (MG, YA, adult)?
Picture books are so much a work of art. I love seeing the fusion of text and illustration, form a kind of poetry. Picture books are so special. They are usually a child’s first experience of books – they open up a world for children. That’s such a huge and important moment. To be able to write picture books is such an enormous honor and I feel so privileged to do that.
I also write chapter books and middle grade novel. I am in the midst of working on a chapter book series and a middle grade novel. I write in an irregular, nonlinear way, so there are lots of manuscripts that are works in progress.
What surprised or surprises you most about being an author?
I thought I could just sit quietly and write away. There’s so much that goes into the creation of a book. After you have written the book, there’s the editors, the marketing team. So many people are involved in the process of this one small book. It really takes a village.
Where do your ideas for new manuscripts come from? Has a manuscript ever started out in one direction and by the end been a totally different story?
Most of my manuscripts start out one way and end up totally differently. In ZAHRA’S BLESSING, the very first version was told from the teddy bear’s perspective. Zahra was a minor character at the beginning and end of the story. It has really changed from the original version – 90% of it is totally different from the original idea. My ideas come from anywhere. I will sometimes wake up at 2:00 a.m. with an idea that is bursting from me. If I am too tired to write it down, then I lost it.
What is your favorite thing about being an author?
Writing stories for the most important people in the world! That is the most uplifting thought for me when I sit down to write. Children I write for, will be tomorrow’s leaders. I hope they will be more empathetic and compassionate. I believe they will be. Children give me hope.
When you are “stuck” or have “writer’s block”, what do you do to help you over the hump?
I struggled with this for years, but now – at long last! – I have a solution. I simp
ly put my work away and paint or sketch or listen to an audio book. Sometimes we need change, or replenishment, to reignite our creativity. So, when I get stuck with a story, I know it's time for a break from it, so ideas can marinate. It has worked quite well so far.
Do you write in the morning, evening, or late at night? Do you have any music or background sounds to keep you focused on writing?
I need complete silence to write, so early mornings are my favorite times to write. I work on critiques or editing later in the day, but my most creative time is the morning.
When you first started out, where did you find the most positive influence or support to help you with the process of becoming a children’s author?
I really think everything came together after joining SCBWI. I was struggling before then. I would write, then put away my work for months – sometimes years. I did not have a support network, until I joined SCBWI. It has been wonderful.
To date, what would you say is the biggest moment of your career?
The first big moment was when I received a request for the full manuscript of LAILA AND THE SANDS OF TIME. I was so accustomed to form rejections that I had to reread the email. I did not believe what I was reading.
The day of my book release was wonderful – and holding my book in my hands. It was a beautiful moment for my family too.
Signing with my wonderful agent has also been amazing. I have two book contracts since signing with Saba Sulaiman from Talcott Notch Literary. It has been such a relief to have her support.
I think every time I see a story, that I’ve written, become a book – it blows me away every time. I can never get tired of the joy it brings.
When you first started out, what is something you wished you knew about the process of being an author?
I knew nothing about the process when I started out. I think with hindsight, I would have joined SCBWI sooner, and taken classes sooner. There is so much we need to know before embarking on this journey. SCBWI and Children’s Book Academy classes, Storyteller Academy, these are some of the classes that have helped me in my journey.
What is next for you as an author? Any news you can share about an upcoming project?
I have many unfinished works-in-progress, but there are three more books coming out in 2022. THE MOON FROM DEHRADUN, is based on my mother’s experience of the Partition of 1947. It was the largest forced migration in history, many people fled their homes and became refugees overnight. I often heard my mother relate this story, and knew I had to write it down one day. I’m so honored that it was through this book that I signed with my agent Saba Sulaiman. It will be published in fall of 2022 by Atheneum.
I also have two books under my pre-married name, being released through Clear Fork Publishing.
BASEBALL-A-SAURUS (June 2022)
BUILDING BRIDGES: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (October 2022)
If you could tell an aspiring author one thing, what would that be?
Don’t write to trends, write from the heart. Trust your creativity and get your stories out, then take your time revising. It’s a long process, but with patience and hard work, you CAN fulfill your dreams.
For more from Shirin, visit her at:
Thank you for reading about my friend, Shirin Shamsi. Shirin is offering a book giveaway. To enter, comment below midnight before February 14, 2022.
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