The author of If You Could Be Mine talks about her new lesbian YA novel, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, a light-hearted romantic comedy about an Iranian American teen girl.
By Malinda Lo
Sara Farizan made a huge splash in the YA world last year with her debut novel, If You Could Be Mine (Algonquin Young Readers), about an Iranian teen girl who contemplates changing her sex in order to marry her female best friend. The novel won a slew of awards, including the Lambda Literary Award, the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, and the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction.
Sara is back this fall with a new YA novel, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, a more light-hearted look at first love about an Iranian American teen named Leila and the girl(s) she crushes on at her Boston-area prep school. I invited Sara to answer a few questions about her new novel for Diversity in YA.
Malinda: How would you describe Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel to a potential reader?
Sara: It is a comic coming-of-age story with a funny and insecure protagonist who happens to be gay. It’s part prep-school drama and part figuring out who you are in your universe of family, school, social groups etc. There is angst, make out sessions, embarrassing farts, and emotional turmoil. It’s about liking the wrong person and learning to like yourself. A fast read, nobody dies, and it ends up being an uplifting story.
Malinda: In my experience, novels rarely come from one isolated moment of inspiration but rather a collection of ideas, some conscious and some subconscious, and sometimes I don’t fully understand those subconscious inspirations until years later. What were some of your inspirations for Tell Me Again?
Sara: I started writing Tell Me Again when I was 23 and depressingly unemployed in Los Angeles. I had been writing these spec scripts that I hoped would get me work, which involved writing teen soaps that had mostly straight, WASP characters. And I started writing Tell Me Again as my version of a teen soap. Over the years it ended up becoming very much part of what my high school life was like and also VERY, VERY different from what my high school life was like. I also wanted to write a story about liking the wrong person. Someone who you think the world of and then begin to question what it is you really do like about that person.
Malinda: Do you think you’d ever like to return to screenwriting? And what made you move from screenwriting to novel writing? They’re such different formats.
Sara: I would love to return to screenwriting only I don’t have the networking skills. I’m very bad at selling myself or my ideas. I was also always better at dialogue than relaying great visuals. But I miss it a lot.
Malinda: How did the experience of writing this novel differ from that of writing If You Could Be Mine?
Sara: If You Could Be Mine required a lot more research and has a more serious tone because of the subject matter. Sahar is also a lot different from me and is more adult in If You Could Be Mine. Leila, from Tell Me Again, is more like me, though I was more social and outgoing in school and definitely did not have a love interest or get into all the hijinks she does. It was easier to write Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel than it was If You Could Be Mine. I was also able to just do humor in Tell Me Again, whereas injecting more humor in If You Could Be Mine didn’t feel right.
Malinda: Tell Me Again was definitely funny, and it reminded me that I rarely read novels about lesbians that are funny! Did you set out to write a funny book? How do you see humor fitting in to your writing?
Sara: Well we lesbians have a long tradition of having funny ladies in our camp, no? I use humor a lot in life in almost every situation. My parents are both very funny people in their own ways and I also grew up figuring out how to make friends through laughter. Life’s so hard as it is, you need to laugh every so often. People remember funny and they remember if you made them feel happy.
Malinda: Tell me, how should a crush feel?
Sara: Oh God I don’t even know anymore. In high school, it was exciting and scary. Now I just watch Cheers on Netflix.
Malinda: Sam or Diane?
Sara: I love Sam and Diane. I can’t choose! But I am pretty sure I relate most to Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) when he tries to speak to women he’s attracted to. We both make unintelligible noises and strike out. I’d also love for everyone to say “Sara!” whenever I walked in the room, like with Norm.
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is now available.
Sara Farizan is the author of If You Could Be Mine. The daughter of Iranian immigrants, Farizan currently lives in San Francisco, but Boston will always be her home. She is an MFA graduate of Lesley University and holds a BA in film and media studies from American University. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is her second novel.