Book Chat is back! This week, I’m thrilled to be joined by the amazing Sahar Abdulaziz. Several years ago, Sahar and I worked with the same publisher, but I didn’t really become familiar with her work until I discovered–and fell in love with–her novel Unlikely Friends. As some of you may know, I’m a fan of stories that feature intergenerational friendships, and Unlikely Friends is a wonderful example of such a story. But that’s only the beginning. Sahar is also a brilliant writer of suspense, non-fiction, and more. So without further ado….
Mary: Sahar, when did you first know you were a writer?
Sahar: I don’t recall having a single definitive moment when I thought, hey, this is who I am, what I do. Acknowledging that I am a writer/author came as more of a progression: I write; therefore, I am. It wasn’t until I compiled an author bio that I faced this eye-opening epiphany, and even then, it took an accomplished author-friend to persuade me to self-define as an author. Up to then, when asked, I’d say, “Me? Oh, I write stuff.”
However, taking ownership of the writer/author title brought a strong sense of self. —I’m a writer. I’m an author. This is who I am—who I want to be. As a creative, I use words as my artistic medium to extol images and emotions. Once I established the title, I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. More so, owning the title allowed me to commit to learning the craft and how best to make black spots on paper inspire.
Mary: I love that last phrase how to make black spots on paper inspire. What genres do you write? And why?
Sahar: I am a multi-genre writer. I have written in suspense, thriller, non-fiction, satire, contemporary fiction, sci/fi, and a children’s book. I don’t consciously shift genres, but write the stories that speak to me. Many of my stories incorporate genre fluidity, or a hybrid genre, meaning, a genre that blends themes and elements from two or more different genres.
For example, one novel might be satirical but equally suspenseful. Another novel is a thriller, but proportionately mysterious. I have written contemporary fiction that publishers labeled as Family Life Fiction, whatever that is. Publishers have categorized my suspense novels as psychological or political thrillers. I don’t deliberate on the story category until its completion, and then only for marketing and publishing purposes, but thank goodness for subgenres, I guess.
Mary: For sure! And I wish more authors would feel comfortable writing stories that speak to them, regardless of genre. It takes courage to veer off the path, but the results can obviously be very rewarding.
So, which of your books would you recommend to someone discovering your work for the first time? And why?
Sahar: Being a hybrid-genre writer, any recommendation I make would depend on what the reader enjoys.
- Looking for a political thriller? I got you. Tight Rope.
- Perhaps suspense novels based on contemporary societal issues and family dysfunction? Not a problem: The Broken Half, As One Door Closes, Secrets That Find Us, Expendable, and The Gatekeeper’s Notebook.
- Need a laugh and a bunch of warm feels? The Abernathy & Crane Series, Books 1-4: Unlikely Friends, Devoted Friends, Unexpected Friends, and Forever Friends.
- Non-Fiction, Self-Help; But You LOOK Just Fine. A user-friendly resource featuring coping tools and profiles of individuals who live with depression and anxiety disorders.
- Searching for a children’s book for a pre-school age reader about the power of imagination? Definitely, The Dino Flu.
I write character-centered stories concerning pressing societal issues. When a novel is a thriller, the characters will face systemic racism, bigotry, sexism, and misogyny. The suspense books all unpack indefensible problems like domestic violence, sexual assault, and generational child abuse. Along with being heartwarming and hopefully funny, my satire novels unveil shattering emotions like loneliness, loss, and grief. My non-fiction book “puts a FACE on most disorders” while unmasking the devastation inflicted on those living with depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, panic disorder, and SAD [Seasonal Affective Disorder]. The book also seeks to provide coping tools and strategies for symptom management.
Mary: That’s an amazing list, and I look forward to reading much more of your work.
Now, let’s talk about something we all wish would go away: the pandemic. We’ve been dealing with for over two years now. How has it affected your writing?
Sahar: Two years? Uck, it feels like a lifetime.
The pandemic had a significant impact on my writing between 2019 and 2022. I was in the middle of writing books 3 & 4 in The Abernathy & Crane Series, which is satire. It’s supposed to be warm and fuzzy, encouraging and funny, but nothing happening in the world felt close to that. I am honestly shocked the last two satire books didn’t turn out to be dystopian. No exaggeration.
As a writer, I believe in showing up for myself foremost, so despite wanting to curl up into a blob under the covers, I fought through the sadness and continued writing. But I won’t lie. There were countless times filled with prolonged emotional droughts when my words fell flat or refused to fall.
Eventually, however, despite the grief and heartache the pandemic has and continues to cause, I found my writing voice again, but not without a fight.
Mary: I’m glad your writing voice has returned, Sahar. I think it will be years before we have any grip on the effect the pandemic has had on our brains. Like you, I’ve struggled with a good deal of sadness over the past two years and some days I still find myself unable to write. Recently, though, I’ve been working on a novel in which the pandemic figures prominently. Have you included references to COVID in your writing so far? And/or do you see yourself writing about it anytime soon?
Sahar: Great question, and I don’t have a concrete answer for you on this yet. But it has been something I have thought about and discussed with other writers. COVID-19 is a part of our collective story and not something we can write past. At the same time, we are all still in the fog, grappling with how to insert this life-changing event into fiction. Some authors have made it an integral feature in their novels, while others have chosen not to include it.
So far, my stories have taken place before the COVID-19 event. However, I haven’t ruled out including the pandemic in future writing projects.
What’s something about you that you wish more people knew?
I am NOT my characters.
I have never been a librarian, although they are my heroes. I have never been a serial killer, although I am admittedly a serial muncher. I have also never committed homicide or any of the other heinous atrocities some of my characters have done. However, no matter what genre I write in, I am emphatically and unequivocally dedicated to exposing these cruelties through story because for me, silence is never an option.
Mary: No, it is not. Sahar, thank you so much for chatting with me today. It’s been a pleasure having you as a guest, and I hope readers of my blog will check out your work!
Suspense writer Sahar Abdulaziz is the author of twelve books––including, But You LOOK Just Fine, The Broken Half, Tight Rope, The Gatekeeper’s Notebook, Unlikely Friends, Devoted Friends, Unexpected Friends, and her latest 2022 release, Forever Friends. Most of her work is in realistic fiction: psychological thrillers, suspense, and satire. She writes about characters facing complicated life challenges and is determined to tell their stories, eager to put pen to paper to share their compelling accounts. Honors include Women Under Scrutiny Anthology, The Daybreak Press Award, Fofky’s Reader’s Choice Award, and Monroe County Community Media Expression Award.