DEBUT DISTRICT is a regular feature on Artsy Draft in which I post appreciation towards debut releases through author interview, book blitz, listopia, review, and other related content.
Hi, everyone! This week, I finished reading I Hope You Get This Message by Farah Naz Rishi and it’s instantly become a new favorite of mine. Farah’s genre-mixing of contemporary and science-fiction is a fresh breath of air, especially when both genres executed so well and balanced perfectly to deliver such a touching story. Today, I’m delighted to have a chat with Farah to discuss all about her debut, from the reason for choosing alien invasion to end humanity to the challenges of developing the three main characters’ arcs. Also, you can read my full review of I Hope You Get This Message here!
Q: Salaam, Farah! Thank you for chatting with me today! First of all, I want to congratulate you on your debut release, I Hope You Get This Message! Can you share what’s this story about and what inspired you to write it in the first place?
A: Thank you, Vinny! Well, I Hope You Get This Message is a story that envisions a hyperintelligent alien species that is currently debating whether or not to pull the kill-switch on humanity, which they’ve deemed a failed experiment. While these debates are happening, humans discover their plan to possibly destroy them all—a plan that could be executed in seven days—and of course, begin a worldwide panic. The story follows three very different teenagers in how they deal with this news, and what they do with their final seven days.
Q: Is there any particular reason for choosing an alien invasion to end the world in this story? Why not time-travel went wrong or AI gone mad?
A: I decided not to describe the aliens or really go in detail about who or what they are, and that’s because I wanted them to be seen more as a metaphor for our own collective Fear and Guilt and Anxiety about the current state of the world. Aliens felt like the perfect vessel for that end because to me, they represent the last great unknown to humanity that may in fact possibly exist—and therefore, possibly greatest fear of all.
Q: The three main characters in this story, Adeem, Cate, and Jesse, all struggled in some ways. What challenges you the most to develop each of their stories?
A: For me, the hardest part of developing any character is knowing how to balance how much of yourself to put in them, and how much to let them breathe on the page and be their own person. So for each of the three characters, I put a tiny piece of something I was personally struggling with at the time—with Cate, her relationship with her mother, with Jesse, his inability to open up, and Adeem, his relationship with his sibling—and then let it all loose on the page! It sounds cliché, but it really does feel like planting a seed and watching it grow, and more I wrote with each draft, the more those problems that were very much my own grew to be something more unique to the characters.
Q: In your author’s note, you shared an intimate behind the scene story during the process of writing this book. As a debut author, what other struggles that you had to face to bring this story alive?
A: Self-care is honestly the biggest and most important struggle with writing anything, but for me, it was absolutely imperative because I was also dealing with a series of losses. On one hand, there was this pressure to meet deadlines—personal and professional—but on the other, there was a desperate need to just…rest after everything that happened. In the end, I had to learn how to balance my priorities, and I was only able to do that with a lot of help from my support group. Especially as a debut, I felt a lot of anxiousness about hurrying up and getting the book out there—don’t we all want to see our name up in lights, if given the chance? But then I realized I only have one body, and nothing else mattered if I was just going to harm it in the process of trying to achieve my dreams. It was a humble and peaceful realization, honestly.
Q: One can’t deny that although this book featured the intensity of the end of the world as its main intrigue, you’ve left bits of wisdom here and there, whether it was a conversation between characters or their internal monologues. Which words of wisdom that you’re most connected with and why?
A: Honestly, I think my favorite bit in the book is when Adeem goes off at Ty and says, “Humans don’t make it easy for each other, and we kind of suck as a species, but we also do a lot of good, too. No matter how shitty things get, the moment we stop seeing the good and start treating each other like ants or some kind of failed experiment—that’s when the bad guys win.” I really believe that.
Q: Now, if these three friends are chilling during a summer break, which sci-fi movies that they’d most likely binge-watch?
A: I think Adeem would force Jesse and Cate to watch The Expanse. You know he’d totally appreciate nerd out over the hard science of the show. I think Cate would enjoy it, but Jesse would secretly get super into it and start daydreaming about traveling through space.
Q: The intense drama about life and hope that you delivered with this story was heartbreaking, but the miraculous sci-fi bits of Alma and how they conducted multiple trials to determine the faith of humanity was also scene-stealing! Are you planning to write more stories and mix contemporary and sci-fi again in the future? What can we expect in your next book?
A: I absolutely love playing around with genre, and my heart will always belong with sci-fi, but for my next book, I’m doing something a little different and writing an unapologetically Muslim rom-com. 😊
And that’s the end of my interview with Farah! If you’re looking forward to reading her book, you can find all of the details and information about it below!
I Hope You Get This Message
by Farah Naz Rishi
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.
Trigger Warning: Active shooter, anxiety, depression, homophobia, mention of suicide attempt, racism, violence.
Are you thinking about adding I Hope You Get This Message into your next reading list?