Tag Archives: writers

Meet Maryam Durrani

Young Female Writers Club: Fan Girl Dreaming

Written by K.L. Kranes

It sounds like the plot of a book. 13-year-old Maryam turns fanfiction success into successful book series and finds her true self in the journey.

This isn’t fiction. Maryam Durrani, fanfiction writer, novelist, self-published author of three books, has accomplished more in her 18 years than many writers twice her age. Maryam’s book dreams likely started far before fanfiction readers discovered her stories of the Last Airbender. In fact, it really started with a shampoo bottle.

“I always loved reading,” Maryam explains. “When I was little, in the bathtub I’d read the back of shampoo bottles.”

As a child growing up in Ashburn, VA, Maryam would read anything. If it had letters strung together to make sentences, she devoured it. She spent hours daydreaming, building worlds and characters in her mind.

Soon she picked up a pencil and strung together sentences of her own. Family, friends, and teachers encouraged her to write. Maryam completed her first book in the back of an English classroom, filling 350 pages of a spiral-bound notebook. It still sits on her bookshelf in her room, a token of her passion and talent.

Winning first place in an international writing competition gave Maryam the courage to aim for something bigger. At 13-years-old Maryam stood in front of her parents and told them she wanted to publish a book.

Many parents would pat their young daughter on the head, smile, and forget about the idea five minutes later. Most 13-year-olds would forget five minutes later too and move on to another whim. Not Maryam. Writing was not a whim. She was ready to write and publish her novel even if no one supported her. She expected a lecture on the difficulties of publishing a book. Instead, her parents gave her the kind of advice Dumbledore might give Harry Potter. “You have to do it because you never know where it’s going to go until you reach the end,” they told her.

And so she did. Maryam was only 14 years old when she self-published her first novel, Assassin.

By its name alone one might expect Assassin to be a story of an innocent boy trained to be a deadly assassin. It might conjure an image of him with swords crisscrossed behind his back and a scar from his temple to his neck. But Maryam had read enough books about boys battling for the fate of their souls. She wanted to write something different.

A determined, intelligent girl, Maryam didn’t always connect with the characters in young adult books. She gravitated toward strong female characters and they were hard to find. Even Hermione Granger, one of Maryam’s literary idols, didn’t star in her own story. She was a sidekick.

Maryam longed to read books about smart, independent female characters who took control of their own destinies. Since she couldn’t find any, she decided to create one. Adalia, the main character of Assassin, became the character Maryam had always wanted to read. Instead of a boy with swords crisscrossed on his back, it was a girl battling for the fate of her soul.

“Adalia doesn’t let anyone slow her down. Her confidence, perseverance, and determination always shine through even in the darkest of times,” Maryam explains of her main character.

Like her main character, Maryam oozes confidence and determination.

“If I had a catchphrase would be, “Prove ‘em wrong!” Maryam explains.

Although there’s little reason to doubt Maryam’s ability to accomplish her goals. By the time she turned 18, Maryam’s young adult, science fiction novel had grown into a trilogy, Assassin, Ascendant, and Apprentice and Maryam had grown as a person and a writer.

She’d fought to write and publish her work. She’d fought against self-doubt, spending many nights wondering if editing, revising, and the painful process of story creation were all worth it. Now, at 18, Maryam speaks of herself and her writing with the kind of maturity usually found over three or four decades, not less than two.

“Don’t be afraid of what people think, because, at the end of the day, your writing is yours,” she says.

Maryam also looks to the future with a practical determination. Although filled with dreams, she understands the difficulty of becoming a professional novelist. It’s time for her to leave behind writing in the back of high school English classes. She is considering a career in the sciences. That doesn’t mean she won’t continue to write. Maryam has already figured out the writer’s secret. If you’re a real writer, then you’ll write. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s your job.

“Wherever I am with whatever I have and how much I’ve achieved,” she says. “I see myself content, curled up in a warm blanket with a hot cup of coffee and an exciting new book to read.”

Books are a part of Maryam’s soul and she could never leave them behind. It is only a matter of time before the story of another strong female character stirs Maryam’s pen to start writing again. Until then, there are plenty of chances to enjoy her writing.

Maryam’s work is available on Amazon and on Wattpad (www.watpad.com/user/draninator).

 

 

The Next Literary Voices: Cara Hadden

It’s a classic story. A group of possessed marshmallows unleashes havoc on a small town in California. You’ve heard it before, right? Probably not. This type of atypical idea can only come from an inventive mind with a Roald Dahl sense of humor.

This story of marshmallow mayhem came from a mind in Virginia’s Spotsylvania County, just outside of Fredericksburg. This brave mind isn’t afraid to invent strange stories about sugary snacks. In a world where book readership is shrinking, it’s the kind of mind that just might be the future of books. It’s the mind of Cara Hadden.

“The worst kind of failure is to not try at all,” Cara explains when talking about writing and the fear criticism.

This sounds like an old proverb from a tattered library book or a piece of advice a grandparent might rattle off over dinner. It’s a thought of a person who has experienced life and its fickle fate.

But Cara’s not a grandparent or even an adult. She’s a 15-year-old freshman at Chancellor High School, and she understands failure and loss in a way most teens do not. I certainly wasn’t spouting Confucius-like quotes in high school. Like many, in my teens, my problems were more of the self-created melodrama variety.

This was not so for Cara.

There is an old saying that artists must suffer for their art. Whether this is true or not is debatable. In Cara’s case, from suffering an artist was born.

When Cara was just over a year old, her father was diagnosed with brain cancer. He battled the disease for ten years, passing away in 2014 when Cara was eleven and had just started middle school. Cara could have channeled her grief into any number of noble causes. Barely a decade old, it would have been understandable if she did nothing more than get up in the morning, hug her mother and grandmother, and go to school.

A few months after her father’s death, as part of an in-class assignment, Cara wrote a time travel story about a boy living during a nuclear war, based on a prompt titled, “Another Time, Another Place.” By the end of class, Cara’s story was not complete. She had more to say. Her teacher allowed her to finish the story at home. The next day, she returned to class with 9-pages of prose and a realization. She wanted to be a writer.

Armed with this new purpose, in 7th grade, Cara wrote another story, a very personal about her father’s life, including his four years in the Army’s 82nd and his battle with cancer.

“Even though he knew he was dying, he dealt with life as it came, and always had a positive attitude. That is one of the most heroic things that anyone could ever do,” Cara says of her father.

It wasn’t an easy story for Cara to write. Despite the fear of judgment not just of her writing, but of her representation of her father, Cara submitted the story to a writing contest. It won. She placed 2nd in the 2015 Spotsylvania County Teen Veteran’s Day Writing Contest.

Cara didn’t just write it to heal herself. She wrote it help heal others.

“Maybe other teens who have gone through similar experiences as me can be comforted by my words,” Cara says of the story.

What is clear about Cara is that her young mind understands a fundamental truism in writing. Whether it is marshmallows springing to life, memorializing her father or historical romances, writing is about connections. It’s about creating something that cuts through the confusion and pain to reach another person.

Perhaps Cara understands this because she has known suffering. But there is more to Cara than loss. To talk to her is to talk to a vibrant young woman who oozes potential and positivity. She’s a girl whose love of musical theater causes her to break into song in the middle of the day. She easily admits to her clumsiness while downplaying her obvious talents. Not only has she won writing contests, she has also starred as Ariel in a school production of The Little Mermaid. She’s a real, complex girl who has the same worries as most teens.

“At times I struggle with the normal fears that come with being fifteen, like fitting in and meeting new people,” Cara admits.

Cara describes herself as an imaginative, God-loving, intelligent, performer and bibliophile. She left out an important descriptor, likely a symptom of her humility. Cara is a writer. She’s not the kind of teen writer who scribbles a few lines in notebooks and hides them in a drawer, collecting cobwebs and dreaming of the day she sees her stories in print.

At 15, Cara is already an award-winning writer and soon to be published. Her story called The Letter, which is loosely based on her grandparents’ love story, was chosen to be part of an anthology from her writing group, the Riverside Young Writers, part of the Virginia Writers’ Club.

She credits the writing group with giving her a safe space to share her work and recommends potential writers join a writing group or create one.

“I cannot recommend joining a writing group highly enough. It is such an amazing opportunity because you get to be in an accepting environment with other kids around your age who share the same love of writing that you possess,” Cara says.

Cara and her story serve as a lesson for any girl or woman who wants to follow her dreams. You cannot let tragedy or difficulty stop you. If you don’t try, you’ll never know what you can do.

Written by Kristin Kanes