Tomi Adeyemi & Sabaa Tahir: YA Superstars on Living & Writing Heroically
Two of the top-selling YA Fantasy authors of ALL TIME give us a master class on earning, output, and living as epic a life as the stories they’re writing. On this fifth birthday of the Beautiful Writers Podcast, these #1 New York Times bestselling novelists—Nigerian-American Tomi Adeyemi (Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue and Vengeance) and her dear friend and mentor, Pakistani-American Sabaa Tahir (An Ember in the Ashes series)—astound with their frank, nothing-is-sacred admissions. Still only in their twenties and thirties respectively, these women have nevertheless learned to stay disciplined and committed to a story long after it’s lost its spark, faced brutal rejections and failed deal-making, and even stared down the “evil eye,” giving them fierce determination. Homeschooling during a pandemic while on deadline? No problem. Who says you can’t write a battle scene while setting the table and yelling at the kids to wash their hands?
TIME Magazine’s list of “100 Best Fantasy Novels of All Time” includes two books apiece by Tomi and Sabaa. Imagine that! Keeping company with titles that go back as far as the ninth century (The Arabian Nights) and include classics like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Mary Poppins, The Fellowship of the Ring, A Wrinkle in Time, and several of the Harry Potters, our guests, with their black and brown heroic characters—created long before the Black Panther movie electrified audiences—have written stories that will stand the test of time.
Tomi and Sabaa tell us what it’s like to write a series where girls in their ancestral countries finally feel seen; how they feel deserving of making seven figures, and what it takes to embody the courage to walk away from major publishers or movie studios if the soul of their stories is compromised. They reveal whose music pumps through their veins on the regular to enable them to wake up every day and be their own heroes.
However, that doesn’t mean that Tomi and Sabaa don’t have to rest up and HEAL from all their epic world-creation. Or that dating is easy when you feel the need to hide what you do from strangers. Or that being black or brown at this time in history doesn’t bring radical weight and urgency. World-changing is never uncomplicated. But when film companies like Paramount (which first optioned Sabaa’s books—she’s since changed course in a “secret,” exciting development), and Disney/Lucasfilm (which are developing a franchise from Tomi’s books—only the third one after Star Wars and Indiana Jones), it’s the little things that keep them grounded: the puppies, chocolate, the welcome interruption of UPS deliveries. Of course, kids, siblings, and parents pulling focus and busting their chops always remind them of what matters—and that even characters fleeing a maniacal king or empire still need to eat and sleep and will laugh, have crushes, fall in love, and be annoyed with the person they love.
This is an episode I’ll go back to again and again when I need a shot of confidence. This is the show I’ll share with my grandkids. “Oh, you think you can’t do that thing you want more than anything? Listen to this!”