Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Author Interview: Dana Salim

Dana Salim is an author and co-founder, with her husband, of DS Publishing, LLC.  Dana's childhood was split between Amman, Jordan and Vancouver, Canada. She finished Industrial Engineering at the University of Jordan before moving to Ohio, and then Texas.  On her about page she describes herself as loving “singing silly songs, standing in the breeze and eating chocolate cake.”  Her most recent book, Beautifully Different, was recently reviewed on Happy Muslim Mama and Umm Salihah's Book Reviews.

Many people dream of becoming writers, what made you put pen to paper and actually write a book?  
I've had this dream since I was a kid in elementary school, always writing poetry and stories on the side as a hobby. But I never actually went after it till I was pregnant with my son. I became motivated with the idea of writing a children's book with a character named after him so we can read it together during bedtime. I also wanted to write a book where Muslim kids can enjoy going on adventures like ones they read about in other books they borrow from libraries but with a character they can relate to. Little did I know, there was so much more to publishing a book than writing it. But as hard as this path of becoming an author has been, it's also been rewarding and I’m thankful to God for that.

What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I’ve always been inspired by Shel Silverstein and Dr Seuss, both of whom write in unique ways related to them while sharing important lessons with kids. Dawud Wharnsby has also definitely inspired me from a young age. I still remember attending an Eid gathering and he was there singing and I was in awe, not only with how he wrote poetry but also how he turned it to beautiful nasheeds/songs.

What inspired you to write this book, Beautifully Different?
The inspiration for Beautifully Different came while listening to the song "Love Who You Are - by Harris J". I was on a road trip with my husband Hamzah and our little boy Yousuf and we had Harris J's album "Salam" playing when this song came up. The entire subject of bullying and trying to 'fit in' is one that I am passionate about. While listening to this song, an idea started forming and I immediately knew that I needed to write. I needed to try and answer the question that popped in my head "Why are people different? Why couldn't we all be the same?". Then, I took my iPad and started typing for an hour or so, and the story was written. I can't explain how the idea turned into the full story because I don't start a story knowing how it's going to go or how it will end. I just start writing and with the flow of words the story takes shape. That's how "Beautifully Different" came to be. 

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Each one has its own inspiration. The first book in the series titled “Dreamland with Mommy” was inspired from a poem I wrote years back. I wanted to take kids on adventure full of silliness and fun. The second book “Beautifully Different” was inspired by the song “Love Who You Are" by Harris J.

What do you love most about writing?
There are two main things I love about writing. The first is the power of words and being able to use them to teach kids important lessons in a fun way. The second is being able to create worlds that readers can travel to and enjoy.

What do you find the most challenging about writing and the journey to getting published?
I published my first book in September 2015, one year before establishing our company, DS Publishing. During my publishing journey, before and after the company, the biggest challenge was and continues to be marketing. Your day-to-day life changes from a person caring for family or working with others around you to someone trying to get their name and book out there.

I think what helped the most in overcoming it was two things: persistence and having supportive people around (especially my husband) when I faced self-doubt or discouragement. It's not easy when you are doing your best without immediate results or benefit. But after persisting and finding new ways to market, it finally started producing results.

Do you ever suffer from writers block and if so, how do you overcome it?
Yes, I think every writer faces that at one point. With children's books it was easier for me to overcome it than with writing a YA novel. I usually just stop writing for a few days and use that time to think about the story without overstressing it. I try to think of different scenarios and endings until something clicks then I go back and continue writing. There's a YA chapter book I started writing a few years ago and halfway through I got writers block. I put it aside for a bit and tried to think of how I wanted the story to proceed. After a bit of thinking, I realized I couldn't proceed because I wanted to change the beginning which would affect the plot. I also realized at that time that I wasn't ready for this story yet. Who knows, it may be my next project.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read. That’s the first and most important one. The more you read, the better you will be as a writer because reading helps to expand your imagination, your vocabulary and your writing. My second piece of advice is to start writing immediately, even if it is done on the side while you focus on school. When you get an idea, write it down. Keep a journal of all your writings, and keep at it till you reach a point in life when you can take it to the next level. And my third piece of advice is connect with authors out there. So many of them (myself included) have their emails available for people to reach out to them, so use that. Ask them questions and learn from their experience because it really helps to take advice from someone who has done it. Other than that, always remember that nothing comes easily so work hard, be patient, believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who believe in you and support you. You will face obstacles, you will make mistakes but that’s life; a big and continuous learning process. As long as you look at a problem you may face as just another step on your journey instead of a reason to stop, you will be able to do anything, God willing. 

Thank you Dana Salim! You can learn more about Dana's books here or watch an interview with her here.

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