I first met Aminah Mae Safi at this year’s YALLWEST conference–where, unsurprisingly, she ran out of Advanced Reader Copies of her debut, NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR. The book just came out, and I can’t wait to buy it:

Lulu Saad doesn’t need your advice, thank you very much. She’s got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It’s all under control. Ish.

Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can’t find her way out of this mess soon, she’ll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She’ll have to go looking for herself.

You’re agented by Lauren MacLeod at the The Strothman Agency. What was your query process like, and how did you know Lauren was the right agent for you?

I queried this book a couple of times, but I went through re-writes each time I queried. The time when I found Lauren, I did #DVpit. It was amazing to be able to pitch this book in a space that was so supportive and so excited for a main character like Lulu. She’s mixed race and she’s Muslim and pitching during #DVpit made me feel like there was a whole community of readers and writers that were ready for her.

The rest of the query process was pretty standard. I queried the agents that showed interest from the pitch event. I had a request from Lauren for a partial, and then a couple months later for a full and then an offer. I think she’d been traveling in the summer. Lauren and I just jived on the phone, which was amazing. She saw the core of my book and wanted to preserve that Not the Girls You’re Looking For is ultimately about friendship.

My piece of advice when you do get to the point where you talk to an agent is this— ask them what they want to change. Because you’ll likely do a round of revisions with your agent. Lauren and I were on the same page with what we wanted to change and what we wanted to preserve. She was also excited about upcoming projects I had in mind.

Excellent advice! On your website, you’ve said that NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING for is your “ode to mean girls, messy friendships, and bad decisions.” What do you hope readers take away from Lulu’s story?

That they don’t have to be perfect to take up space in this world, to take up space in the pages of stories. And also, that we can all push past our worst days and our worst selves and grow into better people.

Indeed we can. You also have an art background. What do you love most about art, and in what ways does it let you stretch your creativity? 

Art history has been a love of mine for as long as I can remember, even before I actually knew what it was. So much of art history was, for me, taking the visual arts and connecting them to the time and place and people who made them. Art is at the heart of culture, of politics, of religion, and even of science. Art is about the stories we tell and why we tell stories is what keeps me going back to all kinds of art— watching movies, listening to music, visiting the paintings hanging in museums, as well as writing my own books.

When I get blocked, I often go to the museum. I think there’s something about looking at art that helps me get out of my head and keeps me from stagnating in my own storytelling problems. Nine times out of ten, that’s what works.

Wonderful. What are some of your current projects?

I’m currently working on an enemies to lovers rom com set in LA as two girls work together to make a film and try very hard not to fall in love. I started it when I was up in the Bay Area and homesick for LA— so it’s my love letter to the city, to my favorite places, and my more complicated relationship to films in general. It will be out June 2019, so look out for more info on my Instagram (@aminahmae) or my website (www.aminahmae.com) soon!

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