Accomplishment does not necessarily come with old age, all it needs is a mix of strong will and determined mind. That’s what Maria Zaky had to be able to establish herself a promising first step of her way to doing what she loves. Being in her early twenties and a college sophomore, she is one of the youngest novel writers whose “Dear Tia” hit a home run to be a best-seller in various bookstores around Cairo. It is not every day that you meet an Egyptian writer who writes in English, but thanks to her education and journalism background, Maria brought a brilliant publication to life and decided to be a source of inspiration to hundreds of people her age. C-town Chatter wanted to dig a little deeper into Maria’s behind the scenes and know how her book made it to the public.
How does Maria see herself?
I currently perceive myself as a writer who aims to have a balanced living; I don’t want to miss out on any aspect of my life, either socially or professionally. In unison, my biggest goal is to inspire people, be a reason for them to be innovative in their own way. I can see I already made part of it possible, yet I have a lot of work to do.
What inspired you to write “Dear Tia”?
The main thing that pushed me to start working on my book is the writing residency course I applied to at the AUC. Applicants were required to submit a chapter that could potentially be the first of a whole novel. I wasn’t accepted after all but working on that chapter opened up memories I have made with people I met in my life, who were my main source of inspiration, my grandmother on top as she is the heroine of my novel. One thing led to another and so the novel was out in around a month.
How were you able to do this at such a young age?
Well, I, as a character, am a risk-averse. However, when it comes to that professional aspect of my life, I’m an adrenaline junkie. I know a lot of younger, older people, even ones my age who are very good writers but never feel comfortable with the thought of someone reading their work. I, foremost, chose to expose my writing owing to the fact that I want to leave a trace in this world. When my life is over, I would love to be remembered by an immortal legacy I devoted my time to. That’s the main reason I held tight to my chance when fate took me in the direction of being a published author at a young age.
Who supported you the most?
Basically, my dad. He pushed me to take a risk and go ahead with the book while my mom thought there wouldn’t be a fan base for an Egyptian writer who writes in English. In addition to some of my close friends; Petra, who told me about the course in the first place and was there during the whole process. Mary was a great supporter who played a big role too, and my brother, Paula had my back. So, shoutout to all of them.
Do you believe in a writer’s block?
I used to. Most people actually do, but I once read a saying that writer’s block is an illusion. It is proven that the first 10 seconds of writing are the hardest, it takes a willingness to get through them, and then the whole thing flows. Even though you might feel tired and unmotivated, the talent is deep inside you. So, I came to the conclusion that writer’s block is nothing but fantasy we chose to believe. On the other hand, I believe in being uninspired. On a different note, ideas always popped into my mind when I least expected. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to write down parts of the book in fear I would forget them the next morning.
What ranks did your book take?
It ranked best second book twice in a row in Virgin Megastore and was a best-seller in El-Shorouk bookstore as well. Besides the regular reviews on GoodReads, which I remember was 4.5 last time I checked, and some other websites.
If there was one thing you could tell your future writing self, what would it be?
Never give up on your writing, it’s the one thing you enjoy the most. Always prioritize it and never let the routine life conditions get in your way or bury that creative side of you. I would tell myself to always be persistent.
Do you want to take writing as a job or just a hobby in the future?
I really wish I could take it as a career someday, however, it all depends on the financial facet. Of course, I can’t rely on it financially for the time being since I’m in my beginnings, which is why I believe I will have to be doing something in parallel to make a living. Once I feel it’s a steady source of income, I will unhesitantly go for it.
What is the weirdest feedback you got on the book?
I wouldn’t call it weird, but my close circle responded to particular parts of the book as a detailed portrayal of myself; that these scenes show a side of my character and they could feel how much Maria put into them. Some told me they read it with my own voice. Another type of nice comment I got was “how did you know?”, that’s how the conversation started, “how on Earth did you know?”. A girl once stopped me to ask if I’m watching her, which took me by shock to then explain how she saw details of her life in some of the book’s events, and I recall getting the same feedback from 4 different persons. This could be for the fact that my book is inspired by reality as I rarely tweaked the actual events, which made me realize that readers can relate to honest emotions and react to sincere thoughts. The audience has the ability to detect what’s fake and what’s not. I think one thing that could take me over the moon is when my writing affects people and triggers their sentiments. I hope I can keep on making readers feel like my writing was personally made for them because then, I upgrade my relationship with them from being just a writer to being a friend having a face-to-face chat.
Does writing change you in a way or another?
Let’s agree that everyone is a new version of themself every passing day. As I mentioned, I’m not a risk-taker in my regular life, but writing somehow makes me flexible. I promised myself I will grab every opportunity I come across as regret is my biggest bugbear. Bungee-jumping and skydiving excluded though.
I’m also not someone who accepts to be criticized, yet this is another thing that I chose to reform to improve at what I do. In spite of that, there’s a fine line between critique and criticism. My book may not be perfect, and I’m totally fine with that, I mean it’s my first and when I look back, I see myself able to amend some parts of it. Hence, getting negative feedback for the sole sake of criticizing is unfavourable to me, but I’m always open to constructive feedback from my readers because I will take into consideration everything that could help me do better next time. Not to mention, I wrote this book as a way to exploit my talent and had no solid base of reference other than my mass communication and media education. After the book came out, I decided to have a thorough study to professionally express myself. I learned about writing, plotting, structure, developing characters as I felt the urge to take it to a higher level if I’m planning on pursuing a career in this field.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I have always dreamed of being a tour guide since I was a kid as I’m a big fan of monuments and antiques. I considered being a psychiatrist too.
Which part of the book was the hardest to write?
The first chapter was hard to compose as I had nothing in mind by the time; no story, no plot, no characters, no idea how the whole thing should go. Once I sat and arranged my thoughts, the whole thing flowed; to have a concrete base to start off your journey is crucial. The editing phase wasn’t my favourite too, especially that I failed to find a convenient editor. It wasn’t enjoyable having to re-read my work as I like to vent out on paper and leave it to the wind. Once my eyes get used to the words, it’s hard to spot the error; it needs a fresh reader.
Have you ever googled yourself? What did you get?
It’s funny how I was just thinking of doing that yesterday. I had a task at work to google some names and know who they are, then I thought to myself “what would one day be written about me on Wikipedia?”. I ended up not doing it after all, but I think some pictures would pop up since some of them are on Facebook, an image of “Dear Tia” probably. You know what? I will give it a try tonight.
What are your plans for the near future?
I am currently writing a book, but it’s on hold for now. I have been thinking of writing in Arabic, especially after the last short story competition I took part in at my university.
I did my research and participated to take second place. It brought back the good old days when I used to express myself in Arabic in my high school years. It made me miss that period as I am so fond of my mother tongue. Surprisingly, I like Arabic even more than the English language; prose, poetry, grammar, it all leaves me in awe. It made me realize how I ignored it for quite a long time, so I took baby steps by starting to write Arabic quotes and post them on my Instagram page. Some told me I’m more descriptive in my native language than in English, which makes me want to experiment with how things would go.
A true model of perseverance and hard work, this young lady paves her way in building a successful career and leaving a remarkable print. A bright future awaits Maria Zaky as she truly is and will continue to be a source of inspiration to many who are on the fence of showing their talents to the world. C-town Chatter wishes you the best of luck in the coming steps!
A daydreamer, an explorer, and an ambitious guy who believes in changing the world with his pen and paper. Perfectionism is his motto as he aspires to see the world through different lenses. If there’s one thing he could change about himself, it would be unintentionally correcting people’s grammar.