Interview with Sahar Abdulaziz, Author of Tight Rope

I had the privilege of getting to read Sahar Abdulaziz’s Tight Rope as an advanced reader and it blew me away. I’ve reviewed it here for anyone interested. Now, I’ve gotten the chance to pick her brain a bit and get answers to some (hopefully interesting) questions.

What was your motivation for writing Tight Rope?

Allah and His Prophet [PBUH] have instructed that we speak the truth no matter who it offends –

So be it.

Over the years, I have written many complicated, flawed, but Insha’Allah, fascinating characters. Within my pages, they have experienced everything from sexual predators, stalkers, incest, rape, murder–and pretty much everything in-between. Tight Rope is a novel bursting with social commentary and complex characters. Through their voice and actions, decisions and resolutions, they respond to relevant issues inside and outside of American Muslim culture. In staying faithful to this project, I found it necessary to push the envelope of decorum to expose the power of lies and the dehumanization of hate. Nevertheless, with each story told, my heart has broken as my characters’ lives unfolded and bled out on paper …

With Tight Rope, I am asking my dear brave Readers, to once again take another agonizingly painful journey as my characters’ risk life and limb to face down hatred, systemic racism, sexism, prejudice, and abuse. Tight Rope won’t be a ‘fun read,’ but Insha’Allah, Readers, will find it a worthy one.

Was it a conscious decision on your part to write Tight Rope from so many different points of view?

Great question! In writing Tight Rope, it was my intention to peel away and expose some of the complex layers regarding a myriad of societal issues by highlighting a small handful of complex characters. When writing social commentary using a fictional platform, I do so by exposing the nuances of my characters through their eyes and experiences. I concentrate not only on their obvious behaviors but their personal backstory, history, political leanings, strengths, and shortcomings. I also dredge up their fears–how, when faced with calamity and loss, will an individual contend with their uncertainties. This personality trait alone is very telling because fear is what makes most people react instead of act. It is also the emotion which feeds and fosters racism, bigotry, sexism, and prejudice.

Could you sum up Tight Rope’s message in a single sentence?

No, not in a single sentence, but if I may, I think the message of Tight Rope can be summed up using the words directly from my character, Nour Ibrahim, a Black American Muslim activist when she wrote in her speech–

“The time for change is now. As American citizens, as People of Color, as Muslim Americans, we will not allow bigotry and racism to eradicate or define our existence. This is our country, and despite the hate, despite the historical revisionism and vile rhetoric to the contrary, we are not going away. This country was built off the backs of enslaved Africans and indentured servants; upon lands systematically stolen with the blessing of the government, who then went on to perpetuate a legacy of broken promises and treaties on the true original decedents of this country: The Native Americans. We will no longer be kept sequestered, unable to reach our God-given potential. We will fight for our right to exist, and we aren’t asking you for permission.”

Do you have a favorite scene or line of dialogue? 

I do, I do, I do. I have many, however, without giving away too much information, there is a particular scene in the book where my character, Doris Tetler gets into an argument which escalates into a physical altercation with a patient who shares her hospital room. I had to pull out all the stoppers to write this deliciously wicked scene.

Have you drawn inspiration from any other authors while writing Tight Rope?

I say this in all honestly–I am a voracious reader. I enjoy many authors from a host of different genres, which is how I feed and replenish my gray cells, but I firmly believe the writing process is as personal and individual as a fingerprint. Subsequently, no two author voices are the same, which is what I believe makes the writing process so extraordinary.

Regarding inspiration from other authors while writing Tight Rope, no, not while embedded in the writing process. Once I complete my research and know where my story is going, all the where and how–I sequester all energy and thought to the single task set before me. I do this, so I stay faithful and authentic to the intent without outside distraction.

However, with that said, just watching the daily news for the past year and change was enough “inspiration” to write Tight Rope and probably every other book I can conceivably think up now and into the foreseeable future. Every single solid day, inundated by ‘Breaking News’– and each time I saw that flashed across my viewing screen my gut locked up, and my heart dropped. It’s insane. The political climate in this country has become so convoluted, so bizarre, and beyond anything that can remotely or reasonably be considered ‘normal’… but more than that–it is a global and national travesty. I have never–ever felt so emotionally weighted and drained nor so compelled to write a book as I did with Tight Rope. Precisely because of all that is happening–the cost of writing this story was too important to screw up or ignore.
Are there things in Tight Rope which come from your own life? Perhaps a character based on someone you know or a location that you’ve included because of its personal significance?

No. The characters come from my imagination. Scary, right?! The location, however, is New York City. Being originally from New York, incorporating the city’s location into the story seemed a natural progression and helped with character proximity.
Do you have any advice for new writers?

I am frequently asked this question, and I have to believe that I must bore everyone to death who reads my answer because truly, I have nothing earth-shattering or awe-inspiring to recommend. In my humble opinion, for what it’s worth, the process of writing is directly linked to reading. If I were to advise anything, it would be to read, read, read– and not just in the genre you wish to write in. Reading makes you a better listener. It teaches one to observe people, their behavior, their body language. It also exposes the reader to a world outside of their bubble and allows preconceived notions and personal bias a chance to become softened and redirected, if one approaches each new body of work with an open heart.

Oh, and don’t quit. AND–learn to take constructive criticism without becoming defensive or reactionary. There is nothing more unbecoming or uncouth as an author too full of themselves to accept advice when necessary from those who may know more.

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