I was thirteen years old when I wrote my first novel.
I was thirteen, I did it in a month, I didn’t have an outline, and, frankly? I scarcely remember how it happened. All I know is I decided on October 31, 2008, that I was going to write a book. And I sat down, and for the next thirty days straight, I wrote it. There’s a physical copy of Sunrise by Heb/a Za/he/er gathering dust on my desk, and a PDF of it on my hard drive (232 pages!), and notebooks filled with my handwriting in my hoarding cabinet, and my parents like to take it all out at parties and show me off.
Like, okay, the writing a book part isn’t embarrassing — that’s kind of awesome, I know it is. But this isn’t a post about showing off. It’s embarrassing because the main character of Sunrise is nothing like me; his name is Zeal sof Scinka. He is the crown prince of Cipe, a fictional kingdom that I designed with my friends in eighth grade, and works on a backdrop of Medieval England that’s typical for high fantasy, even though all of us are South/east Asian. He has older sisters that could take the throne before him, but don’t because they’re women. He has Father Issues, and his mother is dead. He speaks English, and only English.
His experience of the world, in other words, is basically what the media I tend to consume consider the default: White, male, cisgender, heterosexual protagonist. Upper or middle class. Ambiguous (agnostic?) faith. Orphan. Handsome.
I wrote a book the following year, too, and it has the same problem. Lucas Delth has six sisters and is the most important of all of them, especially since his older brother, Idek, didn’t live past childhood. Luke has a love interest named Aerona, whom he falls in love with on a whirlwind adventure as they try to reach the sky colony of Aerona’s dreams. Aerona is an orphan and from a marginalized race; she’s independent, strong, and a fierce fighter.
Until she meets Luke and after an initial distaste for him, starts to lose things that make her who she is in favor of a poorly cramped in romance.
Ugh. Why, me? Why.
But, uh, yeah, so, I’ve written things, and yes, I have physical copies of them to distribute, but I shy away from showing them to people because I’m twenty years old, and what I liked to read and write about at thirteen and fourteen is very different from what I want to read and write about now: people like me. People outside of the default. People of faith. People of color. People of struggle.
I am, of course, not the only person who wants this, and I wouldn’t have it any other way — because we don’t want to just write, we want to read. And there isn’t any one experience. There are communities among us and things that unite us, but none of them are uniform, no individual is exactly the same as anyone else.
So I have a proposition: Let’s write a book. Let’s make it about all of us, and learn about each other. We are not the default. We are Muslims, we are students, we are daughters and sons and sisters and brothers, and some of us are orphans, and some of us are parents, some of us were born into this deen and some of us weren’t, some of us wavered and found our way back, our skin are different colors and our mouths know different tongues, but we all say la ilaha illallah, and all of us are people, and we all have stories to tell.
We’re the #MuslimsOfRutgers.
What do you say?