Author Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Samira Ahmed

This post is one in a series introducing the ChiYAwriters.com contributors. We hope you’ll stick around to learn more about us and to follow our writing adventures in and around Chicago!

*waves* I’m Samira. I write YA. And poetry. And short stories. Also, essays. But mostly YA these days. I’ve lived in the City of Chicago (with a 13 year break) for 13+years.

So here’s some questions. I have some answers. Some of them are totally made up. Because the first rule of answering questionnaires:

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Who is your fictional hero?

To me, heroes loom largest in childhood when you can literally look up to someone. And when I was a kid, I often imagined life in the little log cabin of Laura Ingalls. Never mind the atrocious indoor plumbing situation. I wanted to run wild in the prairie and make molasses candy in the snow and have calico dresses and survive a frontier childhood.

Who is your real-life hero?

I’m not gonna lie on this one. There are a lot of people in real life and through history that I look up to, but I’ve never really thought of anyone as my personal hero. And those people I admire, probably change to suit my life at that moment. Right now, it’s these guys. Because, CHICAGO.

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If you were a fictional character, who would you be?

Growing up, I couldn’t really imagine myself as any character because no character really looked like me, felt like me. That’s starting to change, but even with that, I still have a hard time really seeing myself as any character.

But if there could be an Indian Nancy Drew…Yeah, I’d be her. Because of my (solely aspirational) sleuthing abilities and gumption. Also, because the TV show Nancy Drew got to kiss Parker Stevenson (Frank Hardy) in the late 70s. 4th grade Life Goals. That is all.

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What is happiness to you?

Sun.Sky.Beach.My little family.

The startling good fortune of these moments of life’s perfection.

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What inspires you to write?

Turns of phrase in my favorite poems and short stories that I read over and over.

The extraordinary moments in quotidian life.

My strong desire to have my children, and all children, walk into a bookstore or a library and see themselves on a shelf.

If you could give three books to every young adult, what would they be?

Okay, I’m gonna straight up skirt around this question and give you 2 short stories and a book (of connected short stories). In each of these selections, young people face stark choices that pit them against others and themselves. Every human should read these.

1) Everyday Use by Alice Walker
2) Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates
3) The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

What’s your favorite work of art (book/movie/song/sculpture/etc.) with a Chicago connection?

One. Single. Favorite? Now, that’s just cruel. I can’t choose. The choices are endless and all important.

Don’t believe me? Here’s John Cusack in the greatest Chicago-showcasing movie, ever, High Fidelity. Telling it like it is:

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And here’s my favorite Chicago Art Institute montage. Go. See. All of them.

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Also, this skyline. Architecture is Art. Fight me.

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What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

Gwendolyn Brooks. Yeah, I’m cheating again. But she is one of our greatest poets. And she lived here and I heard her read here and  you must read When You Have Forgotten Sunday.

And here’s what she thought of our fair city: “(L)iving in the city, I wrote differently than I would have if I had been raised in Topeka, KS…I am an organic Chicagoan. Living there has given me a multiplicity of characters to aspire for. I hope to live there the rest of my days. That’s my headquarters.”

The Fountain of Time. Lorado Taft, 1920. An overlooked but brilliant sculpture on Chicago’s South Side.

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But pictures don’t do this work justice, so here’s a video (dramatic music=bonus).

HOLD UP. That’s all? I didn’t even get a chance to add my favorite Chicago parade scene from a movie. Here it is. You’re welcome.

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This post is brought to you by Samira Ahmed at ChiYAwriters.com.

Author Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Anna Waggener

This post is one in a series introducing the ChiYAwriters.com contributors. We hope you’ll stick around to learn more about us and to follow our writing adventures in and around Chicago!

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Hello! I’m Anna, and I’m stoked to be part of ChiYA and learn from some very funny, smart writers while inflicting you with occasional literary rambles of my own. Since it’s only right to give you a warning before doing so, here’s a little bit about myself:

 

Who is your fictional hero?

I admire Katniss for being so proactive and for defending the people she loves and the principles she believes in, while simultaneously living with faults and vulnerabilities that are relatable. I also admire her for being far more outdoorsy and savvy than I could ever be. That’s a respectable way of saying I would for sure die on my way to the Cornucopia.

 

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Who is your real-life hero?

My mother sacrificed so much to ensure my sister and I would have opportunity. When things feel overwhelming, I think of her: any issue I’m facing suddenly seems pretty piddly by comparison.

If you were a fictional character, who would you be?

I think I most closely resemble John Watson. I’m not an instigator and wouldn’t willingly start snooping around a crime scene, but I’m very loyal and willing to go along with people who I care about or who intrigue me. I’m a pretty good problem solver as well, so I like to think I’d get my book’s Sherlock out of sticky situations.

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What is happiness to you?

Happiness is feeling secure—in your living situation, financially, and when you’re alone with your thoughts—and having something to look forward to, even if that something is simply extra whipped cream on a slice of pumpkin pie.

What inspires you to write?

Characters, plotlines, and scraps of description or dialogue often pop into my head during quiet moments—on a walk by myself, for example, but usually when I’m half asleep. That said, reading fiction is the thing that most inspires me to take those ideas and do something with them.

The truth is, I’m not a writer who has to write. I’ve learned that if I’m not regularly reading fiction, I just don’t feel the itch to create anything of my own. Realizing this has made me much more intentional about finding time for both reading and writing.

If you could give three books to every young adult, what would they be?

This is an impossible question, but here we go!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Brown Girl Dreaming

I think each has its own approach to encouraging readers to use their imaginations, develop empathy, and find joy and adventure in reading. Plus, all have the benefit of being very rereadable.

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What’s your favorite work of art (book/movie/song/sculpture/etc.) with a Chicago connection?

Kanye West has made some interesting life choices lately, but he’s a musical genius. “All Falls Down” and “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” are two of my favorite songs, mixing his signature swagger and flow with sharp social commentary and the raw honesty that so often makes his music unique and powerful.

What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

As a person who loves good food, I’d have to pick Kabobi, a great Persian restaurant in Albany Park. When it comes to writing rather than food, I’d pick the L: I love brainstorming on the train. The motion, anonymity, and sense of urgency (trying to finish before reaching my stop) really kicks my muse into gear.

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This post is brought to you by Anna Waggener at ChiYAwriters.com.

Author Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Gloria Chao

This post is one in a series introducing the ChiYAwriters.com contributors. We hope you’ll stick around to learn more about us and to follow our writing adventures in and around Chicago!

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Who is your fictional hero?

I love Audrey Rose from Stalking Jack the Ripper. She was a girl ahead of her time, wanting an education and career before that became the norm. She fought her arranged marriages and snuck out behind her father’s back. She loved science and was badass enough to go after a murderer, yet she still loved pretty dresses and gossiping.

I don’t want to chase serial killers, but I admire her intelligence, confidence, and all-around-badassness.

Who is your real-life hero?

I look up to J.K. Rowling for her creativity, dedication, and talent. She created an entire world and brought us in using third person! Harry Potter made me fall back in love with books after a long hiatus and was an important part of my journey.

I also look up to my husband, who pursued what he loved and gave me the confidence to chase after my dream. Without him, I would have never started writing.

If you were a fictional character, who would you be?

All of my own characters have a bit of me in them. I guess you write what you know.

What is happiness to you?

My husband of course, and sitting down at my desk to write with a cup of tea. I’m also obsessed with Dance Dance Revolution, board games (Takenoko or Ticket to Ride, anyone?), and of course books.

What inspires you to write?

I first started writing because it was my escape from dental school. When I came up with the idea for American Panda, it was partly therapeutic, but more so, I wanted to write the book that I wish teenage me (and me right now) could have so she would know she wasn’t alone in her struggles to fit in, straddle two cultures, or have different dreams and priorities than her parents.

I want other teens to know they aren’t alone. I also want to show them how to find the humor in their struggles, which took me almost thirty years to find.

If you could give three books to every young adult, what would they be?

What’s your favorite work of art (book/movie/song/sculpture/etc.) with a Chicago connection?

There’s a Renoir in The Art Institute of Chicago that will always be special to me. When my husband and I first visited to decide whether or not to move here, we visited the museum and we were both blown away by the Renoir—how lifelike the woman’s eyes were, how vivid the colors—and we stared at that piece for quite some time. Seeing that painting always makes me remember how we fell in love with the city before we moved here, and how it’s now home.

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What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

I love 57th Street Books. It extends much farther back than you would initially guess, it’s underground meaning you can go stacks-spelunking, and it has a fantastic selection of young adult books. I spend a lot of my weekends there!

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This post is brought to you by Gloria Chao at ChiYAwriters.com.

Author Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Lizzie Cooke

This post is one in a series introducing the ChiYAwriters.com contributors. We hope you’ll stick around to learn more about us and to follow our writing adventures in and around Chicago!

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A few of my favorite things…

Who is your fictional hero?

Hermione. She’s bookish, brave, and—when the occasion demands it—badass. She stands up against bullies and champions the downtrodden, even when her classmates mock her for it. And, like all the greats, she needs only one name. Hamilton. Beyoncé. Hermione. Enough said.

Who is your real-life hero?

Jane Austen. Because she wrote women into the narrative. (To paraphrase the lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda, another of my real-life heroes.)

If you were a fictional character, who would you be?

Rory Gilmore. We share a love of books, coffee, and proving people wrong when they doubt us.

What is happiness to you?

A treehouse stocked with books. And hot chocolate. In a maple tree. In autumn.

What inspires you to write?

I write to understand other people and, ultimately, myself. I’m always seeking to uncover how our experiences shape who we are and who we are becoming.

Also, Hamilton. It’s in my head at all times. On repeat. Whether I have headphones on or not. My Shot inspires me to write the best damn story I can. Wait For It  inspires me to be patient with myself (and the publishing process).

If you could give three books to every young adult, what would they be?

  • Hamilton: The Revolution (a.k.a. The Hamiltome) by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter (Are you starting to see a pattern in my responses? This book not only includes the full lyrics of the musical Hamilton but also reads like a master class in the creative process.)
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (I’m not going to give a reason for this one. Just read it. And hug it. And cry over it.)
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (I’m cheating since this book isn’t even out yet, but I’m 99.9% sure it will be on the list. Scratch that. 100%. Preorder it here, folks.)

What’s your favorite work of art (book/movie/song/sculpture/etc.) with a Chicago connection?

Hmm, I’m tempted to say Hamilton since it is being performed in Chicago now. But . . . that seems like a bit of a cop-out. Instead, I’ll offer an old favorite and a new favorite.

Old favorite: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. This classic story of growing up in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood reads as fresh and relevant today as ever. Plus, the writing is pure poetry.

New favorite: Sky Landing by Yoko Ono. This sculpture, unveiled just last week in Chicago’s Jackson Park (South Side shout-out!), is a lovely, hopeful work of art comprised of twelve steel lotus petals growing out of the ground.

What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

Promontory Point, a.k.a. The Point. This small, treed peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan on Chicago’s South Side is a wonderful place to walk, bike, barbecue, and swim all summer long. In winter, it transforms into a stunning landscape of snow and ice. With views stretching from the city’s downtown skyline to the Indiana border, it’s the perfect spot to sit and watch the waves and contemplate your place in this big, crazy, beautiful world of ours.

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This post is brought to you by Lizzie Cooke at ChiYAwriters.com.

Author Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Kat Cho

This post is one in a series introducing the ChiYAwriters.com contributors. We hope you’ll stick around to learn more about us and to follow our writing adventures in and around Chicago!

Hey guys! Kat here, hope you don’t mind while I ramble for awhile about a few things that inspire me as a writer and a person. (Also, there will be lots of GIFs)

Who is your fictional hero?

Mulan, because of what she represented to me as a kid. She was strong and brave and she made choices because of her love for others over her fear for her own safety. I mean, war is terrifying! But she preferred taking her father’s place because of her love for him and her family. I think it was also because she sought to find some honor in her own way since she didn’t seem to fit in. And as an Asian kid growing up in 1990s central Florida I always felt like I didn’t belong (yes, I AM Fresh Off the Boat the TV show).

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My other answer is Ponyo because she’s amazing and she can be a fish or a girl and she has maaaagic!

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Who is your real-life hero?

I can only pick one? I mean, my sister is my hero because she’s so smart and able to adapt to any situation. I idolize my cousin because she pushed me to actually pursue writing and she has such a huge heart. I’m a big fan of the Obamas because who wouldn’t look up to them? (#couplegoals)

I also really love Lin-Manuel Miranda. I think everyone loves him. However, I loved him since In The Heights was a struggling play on Broadway. I knew about him through my alumni grapevine and I think people already knew he’d be big. But, just to look at how he’s stayed so true to himself with his work and STILL made it. I mean, if someone had told you they were going to write a hip hop musical about a founding father of the United States, you’d probably have HARD side-eyed them. Which actually kiiind of happened. I was at the commencement at my aforementioned alma mater (Go Wes!) and Lin-Manuel was the speaker and he hadn’t yet finished writing Hamilton, but he rapped My Shot at the podium and I think people were a little shocked and surprised (and delighted) by it all. It was amazing and cool to see when it wasn’t even a full play. Then to witness the huge success later on was awesome.

So, long story just a tad longer, LMM is my hero because I am inspired by who he is and how he has stayed true to his roots through thick and thin and beyond. I hope to be that kind of creator one day.

If you were a fictional character, who would you be?

I’d be anyone who gets to kiss Song Joongki. But if I had to pick just one character, I’d be San from Princess Mononoke. She’s fierce and bold and knows who she is. She also gets to hang out with wolves and I’m fairly certain she’s going to marry Ashitaka and he’s my anime boyfriend.

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If I was going with book character I would be Zuzanna from Daughter of Smoke and Bone hands down. She’s so bright and funny and bold. And she has a great creative streak. You can also tell her mind is wide open to possibilities. She’s also a loyal friend and I strive to be that myself.

What is happiness to you?

Family.

What inspires you to write?

All of the voices in my head…[awkward crickets]. No, seriously, I do have a lot of random daydreams and I am lucky enough to remember a lot of my dreams. So I used to keep a dream journal. It’s a strange mix of fantasy and weird.

When I was younger I used to lie awake in bed and act out my favorite scenes from books but I’d change them to play out how I wanted. I never realized it was a weird version of fan fic. Then I would actually write those scenes down (in legit fan fiction). I always knew where I wanted my characters to go, I just never thought that others would want to see it too. (Until now!)

If you could give three books to every young adult, what would they be? 

Redwall (fantasy and food and the little guys win!)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (because I adore the characters and the world and imagination that built that world)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (I honestly adore this book. While I think the other books are solid, I consider this the book where HP started to transition from MG to YA. It also has great themes of “what is family?”)

What’s your favorite work of art (book/movie/song/sculpture/etc.) with a Chicago connection?

Transformers 3! Hahaha, Just kidding. I actually loved Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and will always love it as a classic part of my childhood. It uses Chicago as such a fun playground and shows off some of the best parts of the city!

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What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

I have two places I love.

Soho House lounge/Allis. It’s a great space for brunch or an afternoon drink and during the day it’s a great space to write!

Speaking of places to write, my amazing ChiYA ladies introduced me to Chicago Athletic Club which has a wonderful space for writing with great architecture and ambiance. PLUS, it doubles as a bar later in the day!

Thanks for sticking through my looong answers and if you want to connect on Twitter I’m @KatCho

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This post is brought to you by Kat Cho at ChiYAwriters.com.

Author Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Ronni Davis

This post is one in a series introducing the ChiYAwriters.com contributors. We hope you’ll stick around to learn more about us and to follow our writing adventures in and around Chicago!

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Hey guys! Ronni here!

One thing I enjoy is answering random “survey” questions, so of course I jumped at the chance to fill these out. Hope you enjoy! 🙂

Who is your fictional hero?

Regina Mills from ONCE UPON A TIME. I love everything about her.

Who is your real-life hero?

I can’t narrow this down to one person. Bits and pieces of everyone I love make up my hero.

If you were a fictional character, who would you be?

I’d love to be Regina, but I’m not that badass. And anyway, I’d probably rather be someone like Cher from CLUELESS: beautiful, rich, with a good heart.

What is happiness to you?

A feeling of contentment. Like a warm day, and there are flowers blooming, and the sun’s out, and there’s a light breeze. I have a snack and a good book and I’m relaxed and feeling loved and fulfilled and excited for the future, especially if there is a Disney World trip in it. That’s happiness to me.

What inspires you to write?

Many things, but usually music, or watching TV, or a good book. I read these books and think “Hey, I can do that.” And then I usually start writing and go “Oh crap, maybe I *can’t* do that… but I can do *this*. I also get inspired by things people around me say, and being around other writers, brainstorming story ideas.

If you could give three books to every young adult, what would they be?

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s Stone) by JK Rowling
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

What’s your favorite work of art (book/movie/song/sculpture/etc.) with a Chicago connection?

Has to be Cloud Gate! I’ve lived in Chicago for almost ten years and still, visiting “The Bean” never gets old. In addition, I love the movie Girls Just Want to Have Fun–it’s set in Chicago although I doubt it was filmed here, and Save The Last Dance, which was set and filmed here. And of course, there’s Divergent, in which I was an extra.

What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

Hmmm, I’ll have to think on this one. 🙂 I’m a homebody so I don’t poke around the city too much (I know, I know!).

YAY that was fun! 🙂 If you want to know more about me, you can find me all over the web at the handle “LilRonGal”, and I have a blog that’s been around a super long time: anywhere-is.net. I also blog at thetheologians.net.

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This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.