Publishers’ Preview: Diverse Voices Redux: Five Questions for Aminah Mae Safi

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine

This interview originally appeared in the May/June 2019 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Diverse Voices Redux, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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In Tell Me How You Really Feel, Rachel (filmmaker) and Sana (cheerleader) have been wary of each other since an awkward incident back in freshman year. Can things be different now?

Photo: Steve Mieczkowski.

1. How much of you is in Rachel and how much is in Sana?

I gave each of them pieces of me. Rachel has my ambition and my temper. I got Rachel immediately — she was frustrated and trying to realize her creative vision. She’s the pricklier character, but she was so easy for me to write. Sana was harder. She didn’t open up right away. But I know what that is too — to grip tight on your emotions to present a palatable and placid surface life. I gave her my need for control, to maintain mastery over her situation and over herself, and my need to constantly be in motion.

2. The girls’ date at Urban Light reminds me of Annie and Liza at the Temple of Dendur in Annie on My Mind. What’s your go-to teen lesbian novel?

I owe a debt of gratitude to anyone who came before me and paved the way. Annie on My Mind is such a touchstone for so many readers, I’m not sure Tell Me How You Really Feel would exist without it (or would get to exist in the same form). But my go-to is Sara Farizan’s Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel. Farizan has this amazing ability to have you laughing — and then you’re crying from some beautiful truth she’s dropped.

3. Sana turns to her faith for guidance, and that Mecca-finding app you mention is fun. (I tried one.) Have you been to Mecca?

I have not! But aren’t those apps amazing? Technology is wild, and the ways it has changed people’s relationship to their religion is something I love to incorporate into my work.

4. What’s the perfect L.A. date?

I think there is no single perfect L.A. date. I put some of my favorite spots — the museums, the late-night joints, the Thai food places, even the streets I love to drive down — into the novel. But L.A. is a city that you can keep exploring and discovering, and I hope the reader gets that sense as well. You’re never really done with L.A., and L.A. is never really done with you.

5. Have you ever been or dated a cheerleader?

I was an eighth-grade cheer captain, and in fact I still have my uniform.

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