Abdi Nazemian is the author of The Authentics. His novel The Walk-In Closet won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Debut Fiction. His screenwriting credits include the films The Artist’s Wife, The Quiet, and Menendez: Blood Brothers, as well as the NBC television series The Village. He has been an executive producer and associate producer on numerous films, including Call Me by Your Name, Little Woods, The House of Tomorrow, and Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood. He lives in Los Angeles with his fiancé and two children. Find him online at www.abdaddy.com.
Voyage: What was the inspiration behind your novel, Like a Love Story? What made you want to tell this story?
Abdi Nazemian: Honestly, I’ve been wanting to tell this story since I started writing. But I think I was too scared to tell it for a long time. It’s hard to revisit the most difficult parts of our past, and this book deals directly with the fear and shame I felt coming of age as a gay Iranian immigrant to the United States at a time when all I knew of being gay were images of death and disease. Like Reza, I moved to New York with my family at a young age, and like Reza, I was terrified of accepting my sexuality—and of AIDS. I didn’t think I’d survive. I couldn’t envision my life as a grown-up.
But ultimately, I wanted to tell this story to capture the love, unity, and heroism that conquered the fear and shame inside me. I wanted to write a love letter to the artists, activists, friends, and mentors who helped me overcome this really difficult part of my past.
V: When you write your stories, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away?
AN: The specifics are different with every story, but I always try to add more love and empathy to the world with my books. And I’m committed to adding queer Iranian characters into the world with each book because I grew up never seeing myself reflected on the page, and I don’t want any kid to feel invisible like I did.
With Like a Love Story specifically, I hope readers take away a sense of hope and unity from the novel. I want readers to know that if we come together, we can help move the world closer to justice.
Also, this is a love letter to queer history, and to knowing and sharing our diverse cultural histories. I hope the book inspires young people to learn about their history and celebrate it. One of this book’s guiding principles is the idea that by studying history, we can repeat the best of it. I hope we do more of that.
The other guiding principle is that love is our legacy. So I also hope people are inspired to make love their own legacy. And by love, I don’t just mean romantic love. I mean love of community, culture, friends, family, art.
V: What was the hardest scene of Like a Love Story to write?
AN: I struggled the most with the scenes of physical intimacy between Reza and Art, maybe because I was still holding onto some of the residual shame that the book itself explores. Thankfully, my editor really pushed me to write honest scenes of these characters exploring their sexuality, and I’m so happy she did. It would’ve been a mistake to write a book about the fear and shame surrounding sex without exploring the beauty and intimacy of it as well. Also, I think it’s so important for young people to see sexuality reflected in all its complicated beauty. I didn’t get that when I was a kid, and it led to a lot of shame.
V: If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
AN: I’d tell myself to be honest in my self-expression, and to write what I need to write, not what I think others want to hear. That said, I learned that lesson in my own time. Writing saved me. It gave me a way to make sense of my life. It was an outlet and still is.
V: What are your writing must-haves?
AN: Oh wow, this is a hard question. Here are a few that comes to mind:
- An extended period of solitude, especially at the beginning of writing a new project. Sometimes that means holing myself up in a hotel room. When I’m home, that usually means getting up very, very early so I can have hours of uninterrupted time to write before anyone else wakes up.
- A lot of coffee.
- A journal. I’m a big fan of the tools provided by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, and I recommend it to everyone, whether you’re a writer or not. One of those tools is morning pages, which basically means writing in a journal every morning, as soon as you wake up. I find that when I do this, my writing is more fluid and free. I go through journals very fast, and then throw them away, ‘cause my handwriting is illegible when I wake up, and because the point isn’t to write something good. It’s just to get all your thoughts out of your head and move on.
- Music. I usually have a playlist for each of my projects. It gets me in the zone, and if I’m going back and forth between different projects at the same time, the music helps me jump from one project’s tone to another (and for all the Like a Love Story readers out there, I created a Spotify playlist to complement the novel).
- Noise-canceling headphones. In a non-pandemic world, I love writing in coffee shops, restaurants, and hotel lobbies. Something about seeing people inspires me. But I don’t want to hear them, so good headphones are key.
- Empathy. I love writing flawed characters, but I have to love them. And most importantly, I need empathy for myself, because some writing days suck, and that has to be okay.
- Faith. Basically, faith that if I keep showing up to write, something good will eventually come.