5 Questions for Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh

Nadia Shammas is an Arab-American writer born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She is best known for being the writer and co-creator of SQUIRE, a YA Middle Eastern fantasy graphic novel set to be published by HarperCollins in February 2022 (art and co-created by Sara Alfageeh). She’s also the creator and curator of CORPUS: A Comic Anthology of Bodily Ailments. Her clients include Marvel, DC Comics, IDW Publishing, Scholastic, Tor, and HarperCollins. When Nadia isn’t writing, editing, or trying to find room for her ever-growing comics collection, you can find her watching trying to win the love of her cat, or planning her next food adventure in Brooklyn. She is represented by Charlie Olsen at Inkwell Management.

Sara Alfageeh is a Jordanian-American illustrator and creative director in Boston. She is passionate about history, teaching, girls with swords, and the spaces where art and identity intersect. She has just wrapped up drawing SQUIRE,  and is currently co-founder of One More Multiverse.

Voyage: What was the inspiration behind your novel, Squire? What made you want to tell this story?

Nadia Shammas: SQUIRE was inspired by so many things. It was inspired by the stories both Sara and I loved growing up, like Fullmetal Alchemist and Avatar: TLA. It was inspired, emotionally, by the very real and messy feelings I grew up with as an Arab-American growing up in post 9/11 NYC. And it was inspired by the celebration of my heritage, of all the things I adore about being Arab now.

Sara Alfageeh: SQUIRE was inspired by the fact that I always had one foot on the other side of a border, much like our main character Aiza. It pulls me right back to reading about the Knights of the Round Table during the summers I spent in my father’s village in Jordan. It is also heavily inspired by the conversations I would hear from my high school students back when I was a teacher. They always had the boldest ideas for change, and young people all around us were leading the charge towards massive systematic problems in the US like gun control and climate change. I wanted a book that spoke to that fire.

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V: When you write your stories, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away?

Nadia: Each story I work on has a different hope, but all my stories want to reach out and express something to my readers that I wish I could have seen when I was young. I remember a landscape of books that meant the world to me, but never reflected me. So I hope that my readers see something in my works that they hadn’t seen before, but are so specifically familiar.

Sara: We hope readers help understand how to question the stories that are being told to them, and think about their roles in the always-unfolding moments of history we are living in.

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V: What was the hardest scene of Squire to write?

Nadia: For me, I think the hardest scene to write was the confrontation scene between Doruk and Aiza after she gets made into a SQUIRE. It was a really emotionally charged scene, and I wanted to get big ideas in there while not losing sight of the characters.

Sara: Scenes between Basem and Hende were re-written so many times. Our antagonists were tricky because we wanted to make sure every character truly felt like they were the main character of the story, and would act accordingly. Not clean-cut good or evil people, but [we wanted to] show that every person has the capacity to tip the scales one way or another.

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V: If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?

Nadia: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Along with reading, writing was my escape and my way of contextualizing a difficult childhood. Something I always felt with reading is that it helped me feel connected to other people, and I knew I wasn’t alone because someone else had written words that expressed my feelings better than I could. I would go back to my old self and tell them, you’re doing that for someone else. It’s all going to turn out better than you can imagine.

Sara: Don’t make your first book a 300-page fully colored saga with eight main characters, and throw yourself utterly into the deep end of publishing. But if you do, do some push-ups and get a good work chair.

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V: What are your writing must-haves?

Nadia: A playlist or album and a fresh cup of coffee. When I put my headphones on and the coffee’s been made, I know it’s work time.

Sara: Trick my brain into work mode by putting jeans on, hot cup of earl grey, cat in my lap, and a TV show I can half pay attention to in the corner.

Head to our Instagram page (@voyageya) to hear Nadia and Sara read the first page of Squire! Find their video under the videos tab.

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