Tag Archives: young adult

Young Female Writers Club: Yasmeen Jaaber

Leading with the Written Word

Written by K.L. Kranes

The iconic Whitney Houston once sang of how children are the future and we should let them lead the way. Recent events have turned those lyrics into truth. Our children have stepped onto the world stage as the real leaders in the movement for equality and justice. Some speak out on television, such as the Parkland students. Others use a different medium, the written word. 

One such writer is 15-year-old Yasmeen Jaaber of Chesterfield, Virginia, who infuses her poems and stories with deeply personal experiences and ideas in the hopes of spreading a message of tolerance and love. It is the kind of leadership only our children seem to be able to achieve—honest, open and fearless.

Yasmeen started writing at a young age. In elementary school, she would come home every day and write stories on her sister’s computer. She’d always loved to read, but hated to finish a book. Writing gave her the power to continue stories as long as she wanted.    

At first, Yasmeen wrote what she called “silly stuff,” just for herself. As she grew older and entered her teen years, she started to view the world differently. “More issues became more prevalent to me,” Yasmeen explains. She suddenly found herself writing about her fears and hopes for America. 

As a Muslim-American and a black woman, Yasmeen feels it is important to talk about the issues facing minorities. “I need to use my voice as an artist to talk about something that really matters,” she says.

Talking to Yasmeen is like talking to a ray of sunshine. Her voice rings with positivity as she tells the story of how she made a video as a young girl in which she told her future self she would have a book published by the 9th grade. “My old-self was telling me what I could do,” Yasmeen says. This time-bending pep-talk exemplifies Yasmeen’s fearless, can-do attitude. 

Her younger self was also right. Yasmeen could do it. She recently published her first book, a picture book, through the Richmond Writer’s Workshop called Flea-Man. The book is about how a boy’s love of a superhero teaches him to learn to be himself. It can be purchased via the Richmond Writer’s Group website (http://www.richmondyoungwriters.com/picture-book-project/).

Although Yasmeen reveled in seeing her name on a book for the first time, it was one little boy’s response to her work that truly impacted her. “When I handed it to the little boy, he looked so excited and he ran upstairs to get his dad to read it to him,” Yasmeen explains. “That experience was really profound for me because it was the first time actually seeing the kids I was impacting with my story.”

Although Yasmeen oozes positivity, it does not always come naturally. “I often struggle with keeping a consistently positive attitude because it can be very exhausting.” It is not surprising. Prejudice has followed Yasmeen throughout her short life. “In school I’ve had many, many ignorant things said about my hijab,” Yasmeen explains. 

Like many minorities, Yasmeen feels as if she lives in a state of constant worry. The kind that makes her look over her shoulder or fear walking to the bus stop alone at night. “If I wasn’t Muslim or black or a woman, there’d be a lot of things I wouldn’t know. Being who I am, I’ve experienced things that have taught me lessons about being a minority in America.” 

Yasmeen channels these experiences into her writing, tackling topics many might view as controversial, such as homophobia and racism. Recently, she wrote a poem about burning the Confederate flag. It helped her sort through her emotions about the symbol, which she notes gives her shivers whenever she sees it. “When I finished it [the poem], it was more lyrical than I imagined,” Yasmeen says. “There was something so calming about it even though it was a crazy thing to write about.”

Yasmeen recognizes the importance of her role as a writer and how it can help change the world. “A lot of people just don’t know. If you grow up in a world where nobody tells you anything you’ll keep going as if what you’re doing is fine.” According to Yasmeen, writers have the power to open minds and change the world by sharing their perspectives in an intimate way, which is something Yasmeen does not shy away from doing. Yasmeen’s poems and stories tend to be intensely personal. 

One of the pieces Yasmeen is most proud of is a poem inspired by the recent #MeToo movement. In it, she writes a letter to the person who sexually assaulted her. “I felt the momentum from the #MeToo movement and I was so angry I had to get it out some way,” Yasmeen says. “I wrote the poem for myself, but I’m still insanely proud of myself for acknowledging it in such a detailed manner, and not breaking down. It’s really hard to talk about it, but writing about it is like going back in time.”

This type of raw strength to face personal injustice, prejudice and fear permeate everything Yasmeen writes. She is the type of fearless young woman needed not only in literature but in the world. She challenges the status quo, tries to help educate through her work and shares her own experiences to help open minds. Young women like Yasmeen Jaaber are our future and we will be lucky if they lead the way.

K.L. Kranes is a blogger and author of young adult novels. Her debut novel, The Travelers, was published in 2016 by Saguaro Books, LLC. See more from K.L. at www.klkranes.com/blog.

Young Female Writers Club

The Lyrical Side of Writing

Written by K.L. Kranes

The first time I read the name “Odessa Hott” I think it sounds like the name of a feisty, no nonsense protagonist in a YA detective novel. When I tell the real Odessa Hott this she laughs. You can tell a lot about a person by a laugh. Odessa’s is quick and soft, but sonorous. It’s my first clue Odessa’s much more than a 16-year-old girl from Mechanicsville, VA.

As Odessa and I continue to talk, I quickly realize I’m right. Odessa plays the Taiko (Japanese drums) and reels off opinions on Emily Dickinson with ease. When she discusses the writing process, effortlessly weaving metaphors and similes, I have to remind myself I’m not interviewing a seasoned English professor, but a young teenage girl. 

“Writing is a gateway into a multitude of new and used ideas. It’s similar to an enormous thrift shop!” Odessa explains, her enthusiasm palpable. Although Odessa and I speak over the phone or communicate via email, it feels as if there is a bright smile of excitement hiding behind her every word. “There are so many unexplored concepts. Even the ideas that have been used over and over can always be twisted into something never before seen. I don’t believe that any idea has been completely wrung dry. There is always a way to reinvent what has already been invented.”

Odessa has been inventing and reinventing stories since she was just 6-years-old when she began writing blogs on WordPress. Soon after, she discovered Storybird, a website where young authors can self-publish online using assorted work from global illustrators. In her teenage years, Odessa moved to new platforms, but continued writing, publishing over 30 works on the writing and fanfiction sites Quotev and Wattpad where she accumulated thousands of readers. 

“To this day, I get daily notifications of people leaving comments on my old stories, although I have since taken a break from online publishing,” Odessa says. 

As part of her creative growth, Odessa also participated in writing workshops with the Richmond Young Writers (RYW), based out of Chop Suey Books. Through the RYW, Odessa published her first picture book called Melting Tears, collaborating with local artist Sarah Hand. The story, along with stories from fellow RYW writers, is available on the RYW website. 

“Seeing not only my own book but everyone else’s in print was surreal,” Odessa says when discussing the project. 

Melting Tears is a fairytale about an imaginative rice paper girl and a morose king. Odessa explained her love for Japanese language and culture, which she has been studying for 4 years, inspired the story. 

The international influence of Melting Tears highlights the breadth of Odessa’s background. From K-Pop to Sherlock Holmes, it’s clear Odessa’s unique interests have continually influenced her life and creative process. If she were a song, Odessa would have a passionate drumbeat, a complex guitar riff and a dreamy harmony melding seamlessly with the melody of youthful optimism. I think Odessa would like this metaphor given writing isn’t her only passion. 

“For a long time, I thought writing was my calling,” Odessa says. However, as she got older, Odessa felt herself increasingly drawn to music. 

Although music had always been a large part of her life, Odessa’s father and mother are both musicians, it wasn’t until recently Odessa realized music is her true dream. And, if Odessa believes in anything, it’s the importance of following your dreams.

“I am a firm believer that you should chase your dreams for your own sense of fulfillment. Otherwise, it will leave you feeling exhausted trying to be what someone else wants you to be,” Odessa explains.

That doesn’t mean Odessa plans to abandon the writing side of her creative spirit. Even when speaking about her favorite artists, Odessa describes them with a literary undercurrent. 

“In 2017, my mother introduced me to Solange,” she says. “And ever since, I have been enthralled by her aesthetics, genre and voice. Her lyrics convey a powerful, poetic message.”

Odessa admits combining her two passions can be difficult. “My lyrics are mediocre,” she admits humbly when speaking about her attempts at songwriting. “I write poetry, but usually my lyrics sounds nothing like my poetry. I try to write a song but the lyrics don’t capture the real emotion I’m trying to find.” 

Even if Odessa hasn’t yet figured out how to merge her talent for writing with her talent for music, she certainly already understands how writing can influence music as much as music can influence writers.

“I think that having an understanding of different forms of writing can give you a powerful insight into lyrics you hear that you may have never considered before,” Odessa opines. 

It’s likely one day soon Odessa will turn that powerful insight into a beautiful music. I, for one, can’t wait to hear the combination of Odessa’s musical voice with her distinctive literary voice.

K.L. Kranes is a blogger and author of young adult novels. Her debut novel, The Travelers, was published in 2016 by Saguaro Books, LLC. See more from K.L. at www.klkranes.com/blog.

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).