Last week, Tellest had the wonderful opportunity to look at a great new story from an up-and-coming author, Mariam Sheriff. Her book, The Deep, takes a different sort of look at the magic that above and below the waves, and was interesting to read indeed. But I also wanted to find out how Sheriff prepares to work on her tales, and what her process was like. Now you’ll get to see the answers to those as well. Read on to learn more about Mariam Sheriff.
Tellest: Hello Mariam! I wanted to start this interview off by congratulating you on the release of your debut fantasy. You’ve embarked on an adventure that most people only dream of, and I’m interested to see where you go from here. Thank you for sharing some of your time. I’m sure it’s a precious commodity, so getting a chance to hear about your process and your writing journey so far is something I very much appreciate. Without wasting any more of your time, let’s jump into the questions and learn more about you.
Mariam Sheriff: Thanks for having me! And because my book is about a nautical fantasy, I will start by saying Let’s dive into this!
T: One of the questions that I always ask about early on comes down to what inspired the writer to become a storyteller in the first place. Part of the adventure is learning that there is one to be had, and that often comes from favorite authors, or another storyteller that is close to the person as they were growing up. Who helped to convince you to begin writing your own stories?
MS: I fell in love with writing through reading satirical books written by an Egyptian author. His style was humorous yet philosophical, nevertheless. I learned then that writing can be a way to express yourself and reality in an artistic way. Writing also became a haven for me through difficult times.
T: Your books have a certain flowing cadence to them. Since you mentioned writing being a haven, and a way to express yourself, have you ever considered working on poetry?
MS: I did in the past but can’t picture myself becoming a poet any time soon.
T: Your book, The Deep, looks beneath the waves to show us a world that most people can only catch a few glances of before they must return to their own. How were you able to bring that world to life for Stanley, your protagonist, in such beautiful ways?
MS: I did a thorough research about the ocean and marine life while writing this book. Months of research. I wanted to bring the beauty that already exists beneath the waves and merge it with the art of storytelling. I think that made some details in the story much more magical. Because they are actually real. But too good to be true.
Now my parents at least know why I was watching hours of documentaries about whales.
T: You’ve interspersed pictures in with your story that helps to immerse the reader in the world you develop. How important was it for you to include these in The Deep?
MS: It’s a big part of this story. Which is all about taking the reader into a journey outside of time and place.
T: When you are writing your scenes, how do you visualize them? Is it like watching a movie in your head, or is it something different?
MS: Of course! As an author, I feel like I am the movie director. I choose everything from the set to the characters clothes, the lines, etc. I like the idea that reading fiction is like watching a movie in your mind.
T: Although there’s certainly some magic and majesty in your story, you take care to wrap in some very human elements as well. That includes some abuse that your lead character has had to endure. What were the challenges in exploring that history and the vulnerability of your protagonist in such a way?
MS: It’s a challenge to write a character with a complex sad past. Because you must make that past and pain a crucial part that affects every decision and action that this character makes even in a subtle way. Another challenge is to elegantly convey your character’s vulnerability without being overly dramatic or redundant. Easier said than done.
T: Would you say it is more important to develop a character with a rich backstory to explore, or to follow along with them as their traits and emotions are built within the story?
MS: I prefer a character with a rich backstory that gets explored as the events unfolds.
T: Telling a story—especially a fantasy one—can be a daunting task for a lot of people. As someone who has scaled that mountain, you have some valuable insight to the process. What advice would you give to someone who was looking up at the peak, wanting to start their climb?
MS: I will tell them they are heading to a hell of a ride! A journey that no matter how daunting it might be, they must enjoy the process. My main advice is to work hard on building their story’s characters. They are the core of any anecdote. There is no story without characters. Also do your work from the heart. Whatever comes from the author’s heart will reach the reader’s no doubt.
T: You’ve finished your book and released it to the masses so that everyone can enjoy the story you’ve dreamed up. But writing is just one small part of the independent author’s journey. Another big focal point is marketing your work so that more people can find it. What have your experiences been in trying to spread the word?
MS: Tell me about it! Writing your book is just a little part of the whole publishing journey. Though we live in the social media age. And it’s been a great way for me as an independent author to connect with readers and marketing consultants. I did a lot of marketing work already, but I know there is still more to do. I learned a lot about patience I can tell you that.
T: When it comes to marketing, what do you think your “aha, I’ve done it” moment will be? Is it going to be the first time you set up an ad that really lights the internet on fire, or will it be the first time you nab something like a Bookbub featured ad? Perhaps it will be something different altogether.
MS: I had this moment already when I found two comments on Goodreads about my book. I was delighted that someone would read my book from cover to cover and enjoy it enough to take the time to review it. In my opinion this is the best compliment an author can get.
T: Being an author sometimes means you must have tough skin as well. It’s difficult to please everyone. What would you say is a decent coping mechanism for a storyteller who receives a not-so-positive review?
MS: There is no coping mechanism when it comes to dealing with criticism, let’s be honest. And my skin isn’t that tough either. So, I was left with two options: either hide my book forever or publish it to the world. But I keep in mind that as an author or as a human being you would never grow or learn without honest criticism.
T: Now that The Deep is complete, what’s next for you? Are you tapping into a new story in the same universe, trying for something different, or taking a few moments to breathe before you dive into something new?
MS: The Deep would be unlikely to have a sequel. Because to me its main theme was Stanley’s determination to face the depths of his fears, and secret past. Which he did at the end.
Also, I have too many ideas to just stick to one story. Why not explore a totally different world?!
I don’t usually take a break before writing another book; you don’t take a break from your passion. Though, it took me 5 years to finish the deep. So, my second book might take a while to get published. I care a lot about quality not quantity when I write a book.
T: What sort of things keep you busy when you’re not writing? It’s apparent that you did a fair share of research when it comes to The Deep, but what did that entail? What other things float your boat, so to speak?
MS: I work as a mechanical engineer so little time is left for many hobbies. But I do go swimming in the sea from time to time. It was part of my research when I was writing The Deep. To live my character’s experience myself. And I can say it’s a hobby that I won’t quit!
T: Your career seems like it would be a busy one that could carry a fair amount of stress. Do your stories serve as an escape of some kind?
MS: That’s why I started writing in the first place. Writing is like meditation in a sense. You enter another world far away from anything you know. There is no impossible and it’s where you have total control. Real life is much more limiting for my mind. That’s where, while writing, I can let my mind and soul soar.
T: What do your characters mean to you? It is going to be difficult to leave them behind to start a new story? Or are you happy to allow them to go off and live the rest of their lives, enjoying their peace and quiet (in some cases)?
MS: My characters will carry a part of me and my journey in life forever. It took a long time and effort to come up with them and build their stories. I think that I like the challenge that comes with being innovative and coming up with totally new characters. So, I usually would let them go in peace.
T: If someone wanted to learn more about you, where could they go on the internet to discover everything pertaining to you and your books?
MS: I posted an author bio on this website.
It includes some information about me. And about the time when I wrote The Deep.
T: Mariam, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to speak with me about your book, and to pull back the curtain a little bit to give some context about your love of writing, and your process. I know you’re busy with a complicated day job, so I appreciate the time you’ve given. Best of luck with The Deep, and with the books that are no doubt to follow.
MS: Thank you for giving me this opportunity, great questions indeed.
Once again, I’d like to extend my appreciation to Mariam Sheriff for spending some time talking about herself and her writing process. She’s going to be an author to keep your eye on, especially if you like stories with interesting magic and unfolding mysteries. As I mentioned in the interview, we recently promoted her wonderful and interesting book, and you can pick it up now. Check out The Deep: A tale beyond the waves on Amazon today!
You can also click here to see the trailer for Sheriff’s book!
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