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  • Writer's pictureKaris Rogerson

Maiya Ibrahim Feels Compelled to Write | Author Interview

The debut author of "Spice Road" talks inspiration, book recs, and advice for aspiring authors

Spice Road is a debut YA epic fantasy set in an Arabian-inspired world featuring spice magic, sibling love, and monsters galore. It released on Jan. 24, 2023, and I highly recommend picking up a copy! Spice Road's author, Maiya Ibrahim, answered some questions via email and I'm delighted to share her thoughts and insights with you today.

As for what inspired her debut, Ibrahim said, I always knew I wanted to write an Arabian-inspired fantasy because there was not enough Arab and Middle Eastern representation in SFF when I was growing up. Having a fierce, stubbornly loyal, dagger-wielding female main character was also something I knew that I would include all along."

The story began to unfold for her as she learned about the history of the Silk Road, and the spice traders who tried to protect their businesses (and avoid anyone else competing with them) by spinning up tales about monsters who guarded the spices. These were tall tales, but I began wondering what it would be like if the stories were true," Ibrahim said. "I imagined a mysterious desert where monsters and fantastical creatures roamed, a place where a spice grew that could temporarily grant you magical powers when you ingested it."

After multiple rounds of writing, rewriting, researching, revising, and trying to nail down her story, Ibrahim said she was delighted when the story finally began to look like she'd imagined it: when the revision rounds grew smaller and smaller, and "I felt like I had chiseled away all the excessive stone and was finally seeing the statue underneath, exactly as I’d envisioned," she said.

In addition to writing, Ibrahim is into video games, so of course I had to know: which ones, specifically. She shouted out both the Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises, but said the top favorite spot had to go to Red Dead Redemption 2. Ibrahim loved the game for the intense emotions it elicited in her, but also for the worldbuilding.

"You can really see the love and dedication of the team behind it in every detail," she said. "I always aspire to put that kind of effort into my own work."

Back to writing, Ibrahim said she writes because she's compelled to. "Storytelling is a compulsion for me—I feel innately that it’s something I’m supposed to do, and I’ve felt that way since I was a kid," she said. "I think it’s the closest I can come to dabbling in magic, being able to bring to life places and people, and then sharing them with others to enjoy."

On top of that, writing is a tool for processing her life and emotions.

As an author writing a fantasy inspired by the ancient Arab world, Ibrahim said she is grateful (and proud!) that she can "center Arab and Middle Eastern representation in Spice Road. My book isn’t even out yet (at the time of writing this) and early readers are already reaching out to me and telling me about how much the representation uplifted and overjoyed them. That adds a whole new level of meaning to my writing."

In fact, one of her fondest storytelling moments with this book was when she got her first ARC review. "It was a long and very thoughtful review, and I was absolutely blown away by the idea of someone out there actually engaging with my story (aside from my agent and editor)," she said. "That sounds silly, but after working in relative isolation for years, it was an exciting, joyful, and totally surreal moment that I won’t ever forget."

Ibrahim offered aspiring authors three pieces of advice: "Be tenacious with your dream...find your voice...don't try to please everyone."

If you have read (or plan to order) Spice Road, which you can do via that affiliate link (which will grant me a small commission), and are looking for more excellent books, Ibrahim had a few recommendations! The first was Chelsea Abdullah's The Stardust Thief, of which Ibrahim said it's, "everything I love in fantasy and more. A compelling quest, lyrical prose, worldbuilding that leaps off the page, and Arab representation in every aspect."

Another excellent read Ibrahim recommended was "The Daughters of Izdihar by Hadeer Elsbai, which I’m also reading and loving! Full of magic, politics, feminism, marriage of convenience and sapphic romance, all in an Egyptian-inspired setting!"


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