Meet the Author: Q & A with Yahiya Emerick

Today in “Meet the Author”; I am honored to interview Yahiya Emerick. He is an author of over twenty books including the Ahmad Deen and Layla Deen series, an educator, a publisher and president of the Islamic Foundation of North America (IFNA).

 

Muslim Children’s Books and Media (MCBM): Assalamu alaykum brother Yahiya and welcome to the blog.

Yahiya Emerick (YE): Wa alaykum assalam, happy to be here!

MCBM: Tell us a little about yourself.

YE: Well, I was born and raised in a small town in the Midwest region of the United States.  I was raised as a Baptist Christian and had a pretty unremarkable childhood.  I became interested in theological issues when I was around fifteen years old after hearing a sermon one Sunday that made absolutely no sense.  The preacher was trying to explain the concept of the Trinity, and, needless to say, it made me more perplexed than before.  I accepted Islam when I was nineteen and away at college.  I had been reading the Qur’an for about six months and couldn’t deny the personal appeal from God to the reader.  Ever since then I’ve moved about and did some activists work and eventually I became a school teacher.  So here I am today.

MCBM: When did you begin writing? Why?

YE: I was an avid reader from an early age.  I really got into Sci-fi/Fantasy books at about thirteen years of age, and I always marveled at how skilled writers could weave entire worlds just from their own imagination.  I had some helpful creative writing teachers in grade school and I sometimes wrote short stories for fun.  I didn’t start seriously writing until after I had become a Muslim.  I saw that a lot of Islamic books were written in a very one-dimensional way without much verve or imagination.  I wanted to write books that would show people how I saw Islam when I came into it.  For me, Islam was a blend of spiritual, emotional, intellectual and practical things all woven together in an artistic tapestry that one could use to decorate their inner and outer world.  After being exposed to classical Muslim literature from the “Golden Age” I now know that this is exactly how Islam was lived before by so many, and it is the lens through which we must see Islam again.

MCBM: How did you come up with the Deen family (Layla and Ahmad Deen) stories?

YE: I was teaching a world history class to a bunch of sixth graders, and I wanted to spike up a lesson one day.  I started to narrate a tale, totally off the top of my head, about a boy named Ahmad who was exploring some old ruins.  My imagination got carried away and I found myself weaving a full-fledged adventure story.  The kids were mesmerized and I realized that part of the reason they were happy was that the story had a Muslim hero.  So that week I sat down and wrote, “Ahmad Deen and the Curse of the Aztec Warrior.”

MCBM: You have also authored several books on understanding the Qur’an, one especially for teenagers. What was the reason behind writing these books?

YE: As a movement, Muslims have so many blind spots that it’s sometimes unnerving.  There’s a reason that Christians and Jews have so many niche markets and books for all levels.  Muslims take it for granted that, well, a kid from a Muslim family will be and stay Muslim by osmosis and association.  Christians and Jews used to think like that, but then the secular world began to swoop in and steal their children.  Muslims have not fully reached this awareness that we have to do da’wah to our own children in order to win their loyalty for life.  I write books, therefore, to bring Islam to our young people in a way tailored for them.  Too many of our ‘scholars’ live in ivory minarets and fail to see the lives of the real people below them.

MCBM: Are you writing any books at present?

YE: All the time.  I always have at least 5-10 projects in one stage of completion or another.  If I didn’t have to work two jobs to support myself and my family, I could (inshallah) publish or produce a new product for our youth and for da’wah each month!

 

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Some of the many books witten by Yahiya Emerick

  

MCBM: Why do we need Islamic stories (fiction) in our schools?

YE: Kids form their attitudes by watching and imitating their peers.  That’s how they learn.  Most parents recognize pretty quickly that after about eight or nine years old, the average kid is pushing the boundary and seeking to explore beyond the world of mommy and daddy.  By puberty, kids look almost exclusively for inspiration and identity from their peer group.  Books are another window into viewing and adopting attitudes and if our kids spend their reading time reading only about non-Muslims and their world, then our Muslim kids will feel that the non-Muslim world is the ‘real’ world.  Nobody wants to be in the ‘unreal’ or ‘fake’ world, so even if our kids appear to be Islamic to us, in their minds they are only biding their time until they can fully enter the ‘real’ world.  After working with Muslim kids for fifteen years, I cannot tell you how many good little Ahmad’s and A’isha’s have transformed after their teenage years into something unrecognizable as a Muslim.  Having some books with Muslim characters allows our kids to see that, in addition to the non-Muslim world, there are places and spaces to be Muslim, also.  The two can even mix, and in that mix, Islam can still remain.

MCBM: What can parents do to encourage their children to read on the whole and especially to read Islamic literature?

YE: There’s lots of general advice out there on how to get your kids to become readers.  Of course, the kids have to see you reading all the time first.  Then you have to have lots of kids books and kids magazines around the house so there’s lots of opportunities to pick something up.  Weekly trips to the library and bookstore are a must.  Let your kids choose what they want to read.  Don’t try to blatantly micromanage.  Don’t interrogate your kids after every book or require a book report.  For Allah’s sake, cancel cable TV.  You don’t need it either.  In my house, we don’t even have regular TV service – by design.  (We only use the TV to watch DVDs.)  As for Islamic literature, you need to have a lot of it around!  Let your kids select things at book tables, bazaars, etc…  If you notice your local Islamic bookseller has little in the way of nice kids books, tell them to get some, or order online. 

MCBM: Why did you start the Amirah Publishing Company and what has been your experience as a publisher?

YE: I basically needed a venue to publish my own work.  It has never become a big company or anything.  I never had the time nor the money to do anything really big.  As a publisher, my biggest challenge has been to get booksellers to pay their bills when they order books from me!

MCBM: Where do you see the Islamic publishing industry in the next 10 years?

YE: Consolidated, definitely.  I also see it much more diverse.  There will be growth in the ultra-conservative publishing houses, who are subsidized by governments, and this makes it hard for the rest of us.  The good thing is that the quality of writing from those places is very poor, even if the English is correct, so people will still seek our products out.

MCBM: What are some of the themes/subjects you wish to see Muslim authors write about?

YE: More teenage, real life experiences.  A lot more literature for the tween set.  We need a monthly kids magazine and a separate monthly teen magazine.  These have been tried in the past, but always failed, due to a variety of factors.  We also need more diverse literature, not just flighty poetry or political books.

MCBM: What advice can give to young and aspiring Muslim writers?

YE: Write a lot on what fuels your passion.  Don’t worry if you can’t find a publisher – start on the internet and then get your stuff on the Ipad or Kindle!

MCBM: Do you have any final thoughts before we end?

YE: The world is entering a very new and untested period.  I believe we, as Muslims, need to transform ourselves to meet this challenge.  We must come out of our cocoons, smell the chai and see how we can make Islam relevant for the coming centuries.  Future generations will either have an easier time being Muslim or a harder time based on our groundwork today.  That’s a big responsibility and it is what Allah (swt) requires of us.  Strive together in His cause, the Qur’an tells us, and we will be compensated with satisfaction and Allah’s good pleasure.  Truly that is what seekers should work to achieve!  Ameen.

MCBM: JazakumuAllahu Khairan brother Yahiya, for taking time out from your busy schedule to answer these questions.

May Allah reward you for all the work you do and continue to do.

Visit the Yahiya Emerick’s website  to learn more about the wonderful work he is doing to develop quality Islamic education for children.   

Read some interesting articles written by Yahiya Emerick here.

Find more of Yahiya Emerick’s books and titles published by his company here.

Meet the Author: Q & A with Linda (Widad) Delgado – PART 2

Today we continue our question and answer session with Linda D. Delgado (also known as Widad) in the “Meet the Author” feature. Linda D. Delgado is a former police sergeant, writer (of the award winning Islamic Rose Books series), publisher (Muslims Writers Publishing company), and founder of Islamic Writers Alliance (a network of Muslim professionals working in the literary field of books and the written word. This is the second and final part of a two-part interview (read Part 1).

Q. What are some of your thoughts on why we need to read and how does Islamic fiction fulfill that need?

A. The importance of being able to read well with comprehension (understanding) is critical to children, students at any grade level, and to adults. Literacy is critical to success all through one’s life in education, employment and something as simple as reading street directions. Reading helps to expand the vocabulary of a person/child which leads to a better understanding of the world they live in.

If a child cannot read well, then parents and teachers can expect the child to have difficulty in all most all other studies. When a child, student, adult reads a good fiction story…one that is well-written, creative, interesting, fun, and non-preachy… enjoyment is the benefit. Fiction encourages the individual to enjoy reading which in turn builds on the vocabulary and comprehension skills necessary to be successful in non-fiction reading required for other course work and for employment and everyday living. Reading fiction encourages the reader to expand their imaginations and think of possibilities for many things in life.

Islamic Fiction badge/logo by Muslim Writers Publishing

photo source IslamicFictionBooks.com

Islamic fiction has the added benefit of showing the readers about Islam without the reader feeling they are reading a lesson or being preached to. With so many different genre of IF. One example is historical Islamic fiction. A reader can learn many historical facts about events and people without feeling as though they are reading a text book.

 Q. What can parents, educators and leaders in Muslim communities do to support authors and publishers of Islamic fiction? 

A. I think for parents the most important thing they can do with younger children is to read with their children. For older children I think they should be purchasing quality Islamic fiction books for their youth and teens to read. I think Islamic schools should be ensuing their libraries have plenty of Muslim authored and published books available for students. I also think that principals and teachers should incorporate Islamic fiction books in their language arts programs and also creative writing. A beginning could be the schools promoting Islamic fiction books through the annual and/or semi-annual book fairs Islamic schools hold each year. Instead of promoting secular fiction books, the emphasis should be on Muslim authored books. I also think that teachers and school administrators should provide recommended reading lists of halal Muslim authored/Islamic fiction books for listing on school web sites and schools should use IF books in summer reading programs. Holding creative fiction writing contests also encourages an appreciation for this category of literature with students.

Q. When and why did you start Muslim Writers Publishing Company?

Star Writers by Amtaullah Al-Marwani

photo source Muslim Writers Publishing


 
A. I began researching the secular and Muslim book publishing industries in early 2005 after my dearest friend and author died after a bone marrow transplant for the leukemia she suffered from. We were working together on a book manuscript and she asked me to promise to finish the book and get it published if she did not survive. She died three weeks after the transplant. I then tried to keep my promise by seeking publishing from other Muslim publishers once I finished the manuscript. I was not successful, so I felt that I should create my own publishing business to keep this promise and also to publish my own writing. I also decided to focus my publishing efforts on getting more Islamic fiction books published for older youth and teens and this led me to begin publishing other Muslim IF authors. The book that was my inspiration to become a publisher is, Star Writers. This is a very unique book that teaches Muslims how to write creative, fun, and halal Islamic stories. 

Q. What are some of the challenges authors of Islamic fiction face in getting published?

 

A. IF writers who write stories for very young children… the color illustrated books with limited text… have an easier time finding willing Muslim publishers. For IF authors who write stories for older youth (chapter-style books), teens, and young adults, it is still very difficult to convince most Muslim publishers to publish books at these reading levels. It is also difficult to convince Muslim retailers to make the IF books that do get published available at their bookstores. There are several factors which contribute to the obstacles of getting published and then convincing Muslim retailers to list/sell the IF books:

–Most Muslim publishers were educated in schools where fiction reading was not part of the curriculum and creative writing was not taught. (Countries with Muslim predominate populations) . 

–Unfortunately, a few Muslim scholars have taken the extreme POV that fiction writing is writing lies and fiction reading is a useless waste of time. There are individuals in the Muslim book industry that agree and there are Muslims who refuse to read fiction for this reason. 

–There are Muslims who do not understand that fiction reading is an educational requirement in schools in westernized countries. 

–Many parents of Muslim students in schools today did not read fiction as children/youth/teens so they do not understand its relevance to their children learning and succeeding in today’s school system. 

–Unfortunately Islamic fiction books have been mistakenly characterized as books that are dull, uninteresting, and preachy, are poorly edited with poor publishing book production values. This perception came about from fiction books published a decade or more ago and which were often translations of fiction books first written in other languages. 

– Muslim book retailers often follow Muslim publishers. Because most of the large Muslim publishers are not producing IF books for youth/teens then the books that do manage to get published are largely ignored by Muslim book retailers. 

The good news is that in the last two to three years I have seen a change in this with some of the larger Muslim publishers beginning to look for IF writers/stories for older youth and teens and it is becoming a little easier to convince Muslim book retailers to consider buying and making IF books available to Muslim book readers. Some book retailers and publishers are actually using the word ‘fiction’ on their web sites now. (:
  

Q. As a publisher what are some of the stories/themes you would like to see authors writing about?

 

A. I think that there is a critical need for IF writers to create stories that target Muslim male youth and teens. The stories should be ones boys would enjoy reading. Action and adventure stories, perhaps some book series with a young male character would be a good place to begin. I know that teachers seem to gravitate to historical fiction stories which could incorporate science fiction or fantasy.

 

Q. What advice can you give to young people who wish to become a writer?

 

A. There are several positive things our authors of tomorrow can do to gain skill as a writer and exercise their imaginations and creativity:

–Write every day even if it is for only 5 or 10 minutes. Writing in a journal is one writing exercise that can teach discipline.

–Write creative fiction short stories and ask friends, family and teachers to read them and give feedback and comments. Accept criticism/critique as a very necessary part of being a skilled writer.

–Enter your polished and edited short stories in fiction story contests. Even when you don’t when you benefit from the writing, rewriting the story and editing it so there are few if any grammar, punctuation, spelling , etc. errors.

–Research web sites which offer free writing tips a and offer writing techniques; that teach the technical parts of a book and the “language” of writing such as foreshadowing, prologue, POV, plot, etc.

–When older and if money is available, take a writing class to learn how to polish your writing and improve your techniques and skill.

 

 

JazakumuAllahu Khairan Linda, for taking time out from your busy schedule to answer these questions. Thank you for sharing with us valuable information about the Islamic fiction publishing industry. And for your great advice on writing, which I am sure will benefit many aspiring writers.

May Allah reward you for your dedication in bringing quality books to Muslim communities worldwide, for all the fabulous work you do and continue to do to through your books and to promote Islamic writers and their works.  


Learn more about what is Islamic Fiction (IF) at IslamicFictionBooks.com  

Find more of Linda Delgado’s books and titles published by her company at Muslim Writers Publishing.  

Read Part 1 of this interview here.