Interview with Farah Naz Rishi – I Hope You Get This Message

We are so excited to have Farah Naz Rishi on Rich in Color today! Farah’s science-fiction book, I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE, came out last month, and we’re thrilled to have her here to talk about it:

Seven days. Seven days. The Earth might end in seven days.

When news stations start reporting that Earth has been contacted by a planet named Alma, the world is abuzz with rumors that the alien entity is giving mankind only few days to live before they hit the kill switch on civilization.

For high school truant Jesse Hewitt, though, nothing has ever felt permanent. Not the guys he hooks up with. Not the jobs his underpaid mom works so hard to hold down. Life has dealt him one bad blow after another — so what does it matter if it all ends now? Cate Collins, on the other hand, is desperate to use this time to find the father she’s never met, the man she grew up hearing wild stories about, most of which she didn’t believe. And then there’s Adeem Khan. While coding and computer programming have always come easily to him, forgiveness doesn’t. He can’t seem to forgive his sister for leaving, even though it’s his last chance.

With only seven days to face their truths and right their wrongs, Jesse, Cate, and Adeem’s paths collide even as their worlds are pulled apart.

I was intrigued when I first heard about I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE. What were you most excited about when you were writing this book?

My favorite thing about writing is dialogue, so I was super excited to see how these three very different characters would interact. What would they say? What would they think? I honestly wasn’t sure, in the beginning. But I love that about writing: sometimes you don’t really know what things are going to look like until they’re on the page. And that was certainly the case with these characters.

I was also looking forward to the research. I had to do a lot of it for this book–on aliens and space communication, and radios–and though it was daunting, at times, it was also really fun.

Why did you decide to tell this story from multiple POVs rather than one?

I adore books with multiple POVs. I also think having multiple POVs is like having multiple books in one–every story has different ways of being told, right?–so being able to write one is a wonderful creative exercise. And in the case of IHYGTM, I believed I would be doing a disservice to the characters unless I allowed them all to have their own voice.

I love it when science fiction includes alien civilizations. What can you tell us about Alma and their decision to judge humanity?

Oh gosh, you know the sad thing is that 90% of the worldbuilding I did for Alma never made it on the page. I basically have a compendium for them that will never see the light of day! But simply put, the Almaens are a hyper-intelligent humanoid species that, as a society, value logic above all else. They have no room for concepts like faith, which is defined, in a sense, by its illogicality. They’re almost god-like, beyond us in their thinking. So when they look at humanity, they review its past and present–its actions unto themselves and the planet they live upon–and not much else. The future is an unknown factor, so they attempt to discount that. However, I believe that all species, that all Life, no matter how intelligent, necessarily holds on to faith. I think we have to; we can’t help it. To live means to struggle to hold on to that faith. And if that’s true, then how does that affect Alma’s final decision regarding us? I tried to write them ambiguously so Almaens could basically be a stand-in for the readers’ understanding of what a Higher Power could be, so the answer to that question–why or why wouldn’t they spare us–is a personal one. You’ll see in the ending 🙂

What do you think you would do if you thought the world would end in seven days? What messages would you want to communicate?

Honestly, the only message I would want to communicate is the one to my favorite bakery telling them I needed a giant chocolate peanut butter cake, stat. If the world’s ending, I only want to do the things I love, and that’s playing video games and eating cake. Lots and lots of cake.

What are some of your science fiction inspirations?

The Mass Effect video game trilogy! But I’ve also recently started watching The Expanse and LOVE it.

You’ve worked as a voice actor, lawyer, video game journalist, and editorial assistant. What drew you to writing, and why did you decide to write a young adult book?

When I first started writing, I had just graduated law school, and moved back home to stay with my family; my dad had been diagnosed with cancer, and wasn’t given much time to live. I began to write as a way to sort out a storm of complicated emotions–anxiety over my future as a lawyer, fear over losing my dad and what it might do to the rest of us left behind–and it kind of just…stuck. I mention this in my author letter in the ARCs for IHYGTM, but throughout writing this novel, I lost my dad, then my little brother, and finally, my mom. Losing my dad was only the beginning, and writing was the only way I knew how to process it all. Part of it always will be.

As for writing a young adult book, I genuinely believe the young adult audience is the best audience. Kids and teens are more receptive and open; I think they’re better readers, frankly. Even though they’re the most vulnerable of us, I find that as a whole, they’re unafraid of truth and consequences. And they bounce back faster. I admire that. There’s this part in Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse where Uncle Aaron tells Miles: “You’re the best of us, Miles.” That’s how I feel about the YA audience.

What were some of your favorite 2019 YA books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations?

WE HUNT THE FLAME by Hafsah Faizal, LOVE FROM A TO Z by S.K. Ali, and OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS by Justin A. Reynolds are just a few of my newest favs!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE?

Thank you for reading it and giving me and my disaster kids a chance 🙂

You’re welcome! And thank you for stopping by!

Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani-American Muslim writer and voice actor, but in another life, she’s worked stints as a lawyer, a video game journalist, and an editorial assistant. She received her B.A. in English from Bryn Mawr College, her J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School, and her love of weaving stories from the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s probably hanging out with video game characters. You can find her at home in Philadelphia, or on Twitter at @far_ah_way.