I first featured Aminah Mae Safi here. Her newest book, TELL ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL, debuted in June, and this enemies-to-lovers story should definitely be on your To Be Read list:
Sana Khan is a cheerleader and a straight A student. She’s the classic (somewhat obnoxious) overachiever determined to win.
Rachel Recht is a wannabe director who’s obsesssed with movies and ready to make her own masterpiece. As she’s casting her senior film project, she knows she’s found the perfect lead – Sana.
There’s only one problem. Rachel hates Sana. Rachel was the first girl Sana ever asked out, but Rachel thought it was a cruel prank and has detested Sana ever since.
In our last interview, you said that girls and women “don’t have to be perfect to take up space in this world, to take up space in the pages of stories.” What do you wish for girls and women who have difficulty accepting themselves?
You’ve got to believe in yourself. This is something I struggle with. But part of accepting yourself is honestly believing in yourself and trusting yourself. Learning to listen to yourself. Learning to spend time with yourself and your own thoughts. It’s all these things we try to actively prevent girls from doing when they’re growing up.
There’s this quote from the modern remake of the movie Sabrina: “I sat in a cafe, drank coffee and wrote nonsense in a journal, then suddenly it was not nonsense – I went for long walks and I met myself in Paris” and I think that’s what I wish for all girls and any marginalized person, particularly if they have trouble accepting themselves. Get to know yourself. Know you’re okay. We’re all imperfect beings in this life trying to figure out the best way to make a life for ourselves. We all feel that way. Feeling that way doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to believe in yourself. Develop enough of a sense of yourself so that you know how to trust yourself and know how to listen to yourself. I think that’s where belief starts.
It certainly does–though it can be, as you said, challenging to maintain. In TELL ME HOW YOU FEEL, I love how the relationship between Sana and Rachel evolves. Did you know how their story would unfold before you started drafting, or did it develop as you wrote it?
It’s always both, isn’t it? I mean, I sold this book on proposal, so I definitely had an outline. But things change as you draft. They always change. Many of the key scenes are as I envisioned them. Some new moments popped in at the last minute and really took hold in the story.
This is a bit metaphysical, but when I think I always know the story, I’m just finding it again. It’s like, the real story is always in there– waiting to be pulled out of whatever I’ve written. But I’ve got to get all the words down first— many of them the wrong ones— and then continue to edit and find that true story as I work.
So in the end, it genuinely feels like this was always the story and the romance couldn’t have unfolded any other way. But maybe that’s just a trick I tell myself so I can easily cut scenes and characters when they’re not serving the overall book. But Sana and Rachel turned out exactly as they were meant to and their love story unfolded exactly as it should have.
Lovely. What do you feel are the most difficult aspects of writing romantic comedies?
You’ve got to be rooting for the characters to get together, almost from the first pages. You’ve got to establish who the characters are and where they need to go, quickly. There are quite a few rules— mostly unspoken— with rom-coms that you’ve got to understand and acknowledge, even if you decide to break them along the way. Any kind of genre with structure, you’ve got to know when to play by the rules, and when to break them. You’ve got to know which tropes serve your overall story and structure, and which ones will only bog you down.
With a rom-com, you’ve got to do all of this, while also making it feel fun and effortless to read. Effortlessness is always difficult. Introducing people who are essentially two strangers to your readers and getting them to root for their love story is also difficult.
And it’s definitely a lot to think about. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?
You’re going to be alright, kid. Just keep showing up. We don’t control a lot in life, but we do control our own thoughts and our own actions. So quit worrying about other people and keep showing up.
Incidentally, I still tell myself this. Works wonders.