Today we’re joined by Lamya H., who has just released their debut book Hijab Butch Blues – a memoir about coming of age as a queer Muslim immigrant, using the Quran as a reference point. We discuss what is gained and what is lost from writing under a pseudonym, and how Lamya approached the decision to include known religious figures in their storytelling.
The Stacks Book Club selection for February is The Round House by Louise Erdrich. We will discuss the book on February 22nd with Mina Kimes.
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Traci Thomas 0:08
Welcome to the stacks a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas and today I’m speaking with Lamya H. Lamya is the author of a brand new book called Hijab Butch Blues. The book is a bold and beautiful memoir about Lamya coming of age into their own as a queer brown Muslim immigrant. I loved this book so much and I knew when I finished I just had to have Lamya on the podcast and so now here they are. Lamya’s work has been published in places like Salon and the Los Angeles Review of Books and today on the show Lamya tells me why they chose to write under a pseudonym, how using prophets and figures from the Quran enhance their ability to tell this story and how they see the relationship between religion and justice. Remember, our February book club selection is the Roundhouse by Louise Erdrich. We will be joined by Mina Kimes to discuss this book on February 22. Everything we talked about on each episode of the podcast can be found in the link in the show notes. If you love the show, and you want more of it, please go to patreon.com/the stacks and join the stacks pack. I could not make the show without the support of the stacks pack and for just $5 a month, you get bonus episodes or virtual book club access to our Discord which is very much the place to be if you love books. Plus, you get to know that your contribution makes it possible for this podcast to exist every single week to join head to patreon.com/the stacks. And now a special thank you to some of our newest members of the stacks pack. Katie Stringham Ashley Irvin a booth Kinlaw Martha Francis Goodman, Tracy Clement Livia, Angela banks Adams and Kate Matson. Okay, one last thing before we dive into the episode, if you could take one moment to make sure you are subscribed to this podcast, wherever you are listening right now and leave us a rating and a review. Five stars goes a long way to helping get the show in front of new audiences and building the Stacks community. I always forget to ask you guys about doing this, but I know that I’m supposed to so I’m trying to be a better person in 2023 and ask for what I need. So please leave the Stacks a rating and a review, especially if you’re listening on Apple podcasts or Spotify. Okay, now it’s time for my conversation with Lamya H.
All right, everybody, I am so excited. I’m joined today by Lamya. Ah, they are a brand new debut author. Their memoir is called Hijab Butch Blues. And I don’t like to make huge pronouncements early in the year. But I have a feeling this book is going to be something that a lot of people are talking about for the whole year and beyond. So, Lamya. Welcome to the Stacks.
Lamya H 2:38
Thank you. Wow, it’s January. So thank you for saying that.
Traci Thomas 2:43
Well, I don’t know sometimes I read a book and I’m just like, Yeah, this is gonna, this is gonna resonate with people, people are gonna be interested and curious and excited. And I just feel like your book is one of those books. And you know, I don’t know, I don’t have any say they don’t let me vote for Pulitzers or anything like that. So just my opinion.
Lamya H 3:00
I don’t know why they don’t. They should, I agree firmly.
Traci Thomas 3:04
Will you in sort of 30 seconds or so just tell folks what this book is about?
Lamya H 3:08
Yeah. So this book is a memoir, like you mentioned, it’s called Hijab Butch Blues. In the book, what I do is I retell stories from the Quran as queer brown immigrant narratives, alongside stories from my own queer brown immigrant life. What I’m what I’m trying to do is I’m really trying to rethink of figures and prophets from the Quran, as these flawed, messy and deeply human characters, as people who sometimes make good decisions and sometimes make bad decisions and who find themselves in weird situations, you know, instead of being perfect goody two shoe saints, and I use these stories as starting points to reflect on my own life on you know, the situations that I’ve found myself in, as someone who’s queer as someone who is non binary, someone who wears hijab and who is visibly Muslim. And as someone who, you know, was born in South Asia and grew up in an Arab country, and has now lived in the US for the past 19 years now,
Traci Thomas 4:11
I love the framework of using these prophets and figures from the Quran in In your book, I think it is. Sometimes I think when authors use, like, I don’t know, strict like these structures where they try to do a lot it, it takes away from the story. But in this case, I thought it enhanced I felt like I understood you better in knowing about the figures that you were that you were pulling from in each chapter. And I felt like I understood them better as I got to know you. And I think that’s really hard to do, but I just I loved the the kind of conceit of the book, and I’m wondering how that idea came to you?
Lamya H 4:50
That’s a great question. So, you know, I grew up with stories of these prophets and figures and I’ve just been here wearing them in different variations for so long my whole life. And when I started hearing these stories as like, four or five year old, they would be very bare bones and very, sort of like short and pithy. And as I grew older, the stories got more complex. And especially as I started reading the question for myself, the stories got more complex, and I learned more about things. And I, you know, I’ve always been a really big reader. And in reading, I’m always thinking through what the characters in books are doing, and thinking through their decisions and, you know, thinking through what must be going through their heads. And so it felt really natural to me to do the same with the stories from the Quran. And to really sort of like, think of these figures as like characters in the text, who also have, you know, internal narration and who are making difficult decisions and have conflict and are thinking through things in their head. So in some ways, I’ve sort of like always seen these figures as complicated and messy, and, you know, human, but the way that this conception really came around was a few years ago, when I went to, I found myself me and my partner found ourselves going to visit my family for yield. And I wasn’t out to my family, and I was taking my partner along as a friend. And I was thinking through the act of doing that, and how hard it was. And really thinking about the story of how this eat came about. The story is that Ibrahim, who is this prophet, who’s also known as Abraham has, has this person who is sort of like offered to him by his wife. In it’s unclear in what situation Her name is Roger, and he has a child with her Ismail, and his wife Sarah gets, gets jealous. And so he’s asked Ibrahim exiles harder and ismail to the middle of the desert. And I was thinking through a lot about Hodder because the Eid celebrates sort of like the story of Ibrahim, Ismail and Hydra. And later on, Ibrahim is asked to sacrifice Ismail and Hydra is just, you know, supposed to be this character who’s just standing there and just like allowing this to happen, that this person who she has a kid with, is going to kill her kid. And so I was thinking a lot about sort of like sacrifice and rage and anger and exile and what it must have been like for hogere in all of these situations, because it was even that story was sort of like omnipresent. And I was thinking a lot about the situation that me and my partner were finding ourselves in to where we were going to see my family, who I love deeply and who I have this like complicated relationship with where I love them deeply, but I’m not out to them. And I was thinking through all of the sort of like sacrifices involved in that. And that’s sort of where the idea came to me through the parallels. And also because I’m the person who, because I’m someone who reads a lot, I also end up writing a lot. And when something when something feels difficult to me, and it’s something that I’m thinking through, and I’m trying to tease apart, like why something is making me feel weird or, or upset or just like uncomfortable, what I tend to do is I tend to write about it. So I found myself writing about the story of harder, and I found myself writing about myself and notice the parallels. And one of the essays in this book, the one titled harder actually comes from that. It’s towards the end of the book, but it’s one of the first essays that I wrote. And once I wrote that, I found that there were so many other stories that I wanted to tell so many other parallels that I wanted to draw. And honestly so many other things that I wanted to think through that, you know, had always been on my mind that I wanted to think through through the lens of the Quran.
Traci Thomas 9:06
I love I love that. I love that that was one of the earliest essays that you wrote, because it does come solely, which is just interesting to think about now, kind of knowing the story, but that sort of was my next question, which is how did the book come together? Did you have to add or drop figures like as you were coming through, like, oh, you know what, I need one about Miriam like, I can’t do it without this, this piece and she wasn’t in there originally. So you added her in or vice versa, or someone that you had that you were like, This isn’t working.
Lamya H 9:34
I don’t think I’ve dropped anyone but I did add the last essay in the book, which is the story of Yunus. So I wrote the chapters sort of separately, but they all sort of speak to each other and came together as a book once I had done writing them all. And when I when I wrote the whole thing, my editor read it and was like, hey lumea you actually never address why you write on They’re a pseudonym. And so she suggested thinking through an essay about that. And as I was thinking through, it came to me this, this parallel of Yunus, who is a prophet who’s also known as Jonah. His story came to me. So Jonah is this prophet who preaches to his people, and none of them are listening to him. And so he’s like, deuces, I’m out. And so he gets on the ship, and he leaves them. And he and there’s this, there’s this big storm. And so they draw lots and he loses it lots and he’s supposed to sort of jump off the ship because the ship is too heavy to weather the storm being without someone having to jump off. And I hope this isn’t a spoiler, because I feel like this is a pretty like,
Traci Thomas 10:50
People know Jonah and the whale. I feel like the spoilers would be like parts of your life, not parts of the like, Bible, Hebrew Scripture. I feel like that’s like people are familiar.
Lamya H 11:03
So um, so Jonah jumps off the ship, and he gets swallowed by a whale. And, to me, that story has always been about Jonah giving up. But in talking to my friend, it made me realize how much actually the story is more about Jonah being like, like, sort of like having boundaries.
Traci Thomas 11:25
Yeah, healthy boundary. Jonah.
Lamya H 11:27
Yeah, healthy boundary, Jonah. And so I really start really sort of started to think of this whale as protection instead of punishment. So I couldn’t help but draw the parallels between that and writing under a pseudonym. You know, there’s this way in which it’s easy to see a student is to see writing under a pseudonym is kind of like tragic, like, oh, how sad that I can, you know, tell this story as my, you know, real life persona. But actually, to me, it’s a way of having boundaries. And it’s a way of protecting myself, you know, possibly just for the time being, but you know, it’s a way for me to be like, This is what I want to do. This is how I want to do it in ways that make me feel safe and comfortable. And allow me to be really honest. So yeah, that’s, that’s a story that definitely came about after I was done writing most of the other chapters in the book.
Traci Thomas 12:24
Do you ever write in your, like, I know, this book is published in your student? And but do you ever publish things in your other name? What do you call it your real name?
Lamya H 12:36
I do. But I, you know, actually, it’s really funny, I actually have another pseudonym that I used to write about, sort of like work stuff, I work in a field that’s really white man dominated. And so I write a lot about what it’s like to work in that field. So I’ve used a pseudonym to write under that, to write about that. And then I’ve also written stuff under my real name. But those have been more sort of like research slash academic articles, as opposed to really sharing a lot about myself. No one told me that writing a memoir would feel so vulnerable once you were done writing it, and it was going out into the world. So in some ways, I’m really grateful that you know, the people that I work with can’t look up my memoir.
Traci Thomas 13:30
Okay, this is a very me question. And I’ll just preface this by saying, I’m a Leo, in case this informs anything about me to you. Do you ever feel like when you write in a pseudonym, and people love it, or hate it, that you’re like, I want to own it so bad, so I can, like, clap back at people? Or like, collect my flowers? Or are you comfortable just being like, the work is in the world, and I can have my own private feelings about it, but I can never attach myself to it publicly.
Lamya H 14:00
Um, you know, there are, there are a lot of things that make me sad about writing under a pseudonym, but this isn’t really one of them.
Traci Thomas 14:10
I mean, like, what is it so you’re healthy and well adjusted, and not a crazy person whose ego maniacal? Okay,
Lamya H 14:15
no, I disagree. But no, I mean, like, some of the things that make me really sad are just not being able to like name my friends in the acknowledgments like, that makes me really sad. Thank you, all of my friends who are really lovely and who I wish I could have named by name as opposed to by initials. And then I’m also just like, really sad that I didn’t get to make more pointed critiques of the place where I grew up, or you know, the Islamic center that I go to Yeah, but I guess like attaching my real life persona to this work that I do isn’t really one of them. I think most of the people who I surround myself my with a In real life, know, of my pseudonym, and then it it kind of like, I think it ends up being a boundary thing to where it makes me less likely to go out and try to figure out what other people think of my work because because like, in some ways I can’t write.
Traci Thomas 15:18
Right, right. Are there things that you feel like are freeing for you or like that you’ve gained that you gained from writing in a pseudonym, besides what you said, you know, before about just being able to, like put the story out there. But other other things that are like, feel really positive to you about doing this.
Lamya H 15:38
I definitely feel like I can be a level of honest and vulnerable that I wouldn’t have been able to be without using a pseudonym. I think that’s been the most freeing thing. I would say.
Traci Thomas 15:51
Okay, back back to the book itself, though, I this conversation is very interesting. Because also, the other thing is that for people who are listening, and you’ll see this on the stacks, Instagram, is that Lommy also doesn’t obviously show their face in in any of it like on the cover of the book. It’s sort of like a profile. I don’t even know if that’s you, but it’s sort of like a profile, hidden, you know, glimpse, and then also on social media and things. And so there’s this sort of like privacy mystique about you, that is very, you know, titillating, if you will. But back to the book, I want to talk about your interpretation of Scripture, because I am, well, I should say this, you don’t know me, but I’m, I’m not religious at all. I did go to Catholic high school, my mother is Jewish. So I sort of have this like, weird, you know, I know a little bit here and there. But I also like, don’t practice in any way. And so it’s not really a part of my life as an adult. That being said, one of the things that happens to me when I read scripture, and this has been true for my entire life, the moment I start reading the words, my brain shuts down, and I feel like I’m reading a completely foreign other language. And so I’m curious how you make sense of the Scripture, because from the first essay in the book, there’s like, very early on, there’s a line from scripture, and I was like, Oh, my gosh, I understand this. Well, I actually didn’t understand the Scripture, but I understood your explanation. So clearly, and it like made it come to life for me. So I’m wondering how you sort of approach translating, or like reading into life or breathing story into the actual, you know, text of the Quran itself.
Lamya H 17:25
Think it helps that I have sort of like a rudimentary understanding of Arabic, My Arabic is not great. And every time I’m outside an environment where Arabic is being spoken, I just like, forget it all. But, but between sort of, like having grown up in an Arab country, and just like constantly being around Arabic, I understand it enough that when I look at the English translation, I can match it to the Arabic. And I think that really helps, too. Because sometimes scripture is translated in these like weird formal ways. We’re using like words like die, and you know, like, dying. I don’t even know if I’m saying the right the die. Vine. Is that Yeah, yeah, that’s right out. Yeah. Which feel really unnecessarily wide. Why do people do that? Why is there this formal language that people don’t use in their everyday lives, when scripture is supposed to be something that is part of your everyday life, if you want it to be? And so yeah, I guess I just I don’t understand why translations are so inaccessible.
Traci Thomas 18:31
Lamya H 18:34
But I think the combination of being able to look at the Arabic and then also look at the English translation, and sort of like merge them really helps me with, with being able to get a sense of what they’re saying. And actually, maybe because both the Arabic and the formal English are so weirdly inaccessible, maybe having to draw my own. Yeah, my own sort of interpretation from those two texts. Maybe that helps to with the accessibility. But I think I think Scripture is something that’s meant to be interpreted by everyone, always, all the time. And all reading is an act of translation. And so I believe really deeply that text is meant to be something that we grapple with individually, and that stories are sort of like lenses onto ourselves. And it helps to also be a big reader, because then I can extend some of my some of the ways in which I think about literature, also to the Quran. And I think all of those things really helped me feel like it’s something that I can on and interpret and think through on my own. Does that make sense?
Traci Thomas 19:53
Yeah, yeah. No, it totally does. I mean, in the book, you talk, there’s a part where you talk about taking Islam seriously, not only in terms of ritual, but also in terms of text and spirituality and then centuries of classical interpretations. And, and that really, I don’t know, that just stuck out to me because I think my own personal experience with religion is so much about the ritual of it and less about sort of the spirituality. And also the relationship to religion, like, through time and through through interpretations is sort of how I read that is like, part of your relationship to religion is that you’re tied to previous generations and the way that they interpreted the text and what you can bring to it and sort of like a communal translation. What do you feel like that part of of your religious experience, gives to you, or brings to you that maybe people don’t understand or don’t think about or maybe take for granted.
Lamya H 20:52
So I actually like, so the ritual and the rules come pretty easily to me, and maybe that’s very Capricorn of me. I love this. But I actually don’t know very much about astrology, but all of my friends are gay. And so of course, I know everything about astrology.
Traci Thomas 21:13
but I live in LA. And so I’ve learned a lot. And that’s how I’m ers Yeah, but I have twins and their Capricorns. And I, my father was also a Capricorn. And I don’t know anything about Capricorns. Except for that I have lived with Capricorns the majority of my life, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about a Capricorn except for I think that you all are very regimented, and like go gallery people.
Lamya H 21:35
that’s what everyone tells me to. And then sometimes I tell people, I’m a quadruple Capricorn, which I don’t think is a thing, but don’t tell any of my friends. Okay. But, so actually, rules and rituals come pretty easily. To me, I actually find it like kind of soothing, to follow, to follow ritual, and routine, in some ways. And interestingly, I think the hardest part of religion, for me is the spirituality and the just sort of like, feeling. And I think the combination of sort of like ritual, and also sort of like, the fact that like, other people have put so much effort into religion by just like studying it and thinking through it, and like, you know, asking totally asking a lot of questions that are existential and, and deep, and also, like, really shallow, like, how do you, you know, how do you wash up before you pray? Like, you know, I think, but I think the minutiae, and the sort of, like, deep, richer questions, really speak to me about religion. And they create their own sort of spirituality in some ways. And then the final part of that, to me, is the idea of sort of, like justice and like living justice, and to me, religion works best when it is towards justice.
Traci Thomas 23:12
Okay, we’re gonna take a quick break, and we’ll be right back. Okay, we’re back. You were just talking about justice. And I want to ask you a little bit about, you know, your embrace of religion. Because I know for so many people who are queer, there is a struggle, because in a lot of Scripture, you know, if there are things that you could cite, then that would say that your existence is a sin or what have you. And I’m wondering, because I have so many friends from Catholic school in my life, who, you know, were adamant like, I was raised Catholic, I don’t fuck with these people. The Bible says this, or whatever. And I know that there are there are Muslims who feel similarly about the Quran, and there are Jewish people who feel some way about the Torah. And so I’m wondering, how did you find a way to embrace religion when it’s when it’s been alienating for so many other people? And what was that process or discipline that you had to find? What was that like for you?
Lamya H 24:08
That’s a really good question. I think that there are so many difficult things about religion. You know, like, being raised as a girl, for example, and then reading the Quran and like reading some translations as being like, Oh my God, this like, sounds terrible. This is so anti feminist and so misogynistic. Or, I think the fact that there were so many difficult things, made it feel like queerness or like the homophobia that that you sometimes see in religious spaces or in like texts. It felt like an extension of that in some ways. like, I guess like, I live a life that is so I complicated and, and messy to begin with, like, there’s so many things that I live that I have to sort of like, not reconcile but I have to like contend with on a daily basis. Like, for example, like I live in the US and pay taxes towards you know that that essentially go towards really unjust wars and occupations like these are things that I contend with on a daily basis. And so to me, it feels it doesn’t feel foreign to contend with the patriarchy in translations of the Quran, or the homophobia, because I don’t know, life is complicated and messy, and to me, sometimes, sometimes you have to take what works for you and, and fight against the parts that don’t.
Traci Thomas 25:49
Yeah, yeah, I mean, ya know, that’s such a great answer. It’s sort of a, it’s sort of an obnoxious question in the sense that, like, you know, no one asks straight people, how they can be religious or whatever, you know, like, and I understand that that sort of like the stickiness of that question. But on the flip side, I do, I think it’s really interesting of what you said, and also important to talk about it simply because I know there are so many people who feel like so many queer people who feel alienated by the things they were taught as children or like, or, or harmed by those things. Right. And, you know, again, like you were saying, like women to and people who, you know, it’s not simply people who are queer, who feel that way about religion, of course, but just that there is this, that the choices that you’ve made to remain, you know, in the Muslim culture and like to remain a practicing Muslim, is something that I find really admirable, because I think in the book, you do a great job of sort of presenting the complications, and also kind of finding ways to, I don’t know if this is the right word, but like queer the religion, right, like, there’s this whole section about the non binary nature of a law, which I found to be really interesting. And I found it to, again, like I said before, what you write about the figures in the book, and also what you write about your life, make both things make so much sense. Like they come together so beautifully, in a way that I was like, wow, I’d never considered that. And that’s, that’s fantastic. Like, I’m so happy I read best, because I feel like I’m, I’m understanding, a point of view that had had never occurred to me or I’d never thought seriously about. So it’s not really a question, but I do sort of feel a little bit of like, I need to justify asking the question, because I know that that question inherently, is fucked up. And, like, sort of a rude question. But I also think that the book itself does speak to that in a much more nuanced and interesting way than a two minute answer ever could. Yeah.
Lamya H 27:55
And I mean, like, to me, I think, I think that the point of religion is for us to put effort into the ways that we live, instead of, instead of living a life that sort of like I’m thinking and, and just going with the flow and again, like this doesn’t have to be through religion, like a lot of people experience that through, like a daily gratitude practice or meditation or, or it’s more like organizing and fighting for justice. But I do think that some of the complications and the messiness allow us allow me at least to put effort into the way that I practice, they’ve definitely made me delve deeper into various texts and verses that I find problematic or that I’m angry at. And so yeah, I really I see the complications and the message is not as something to be I guess, like shied away from but something to embrace, and again, like, not to judge people who do find it really hard that there is all of this sort of like homophobia, and, you know, misogyny. But, for me, it’s just it’s definitely been something that has enhanced practice for me the practice of religion and also just really brought a lot to the way that I live my life and how I want to live my life.
Traci Thomas 29:33
There’s a there’s one my I’ll just tell you, my favorite essay in the book, or my favorite chapter is the use of one for people who know the Bible. It’s it’s Joseph, you might you might notice Technicolor Dreamcoat. I certainly do. I have a theatre background and I was on that show as a child. And so I’ve already felt a connection to that story, because I know it you know, pretty well, as well as you can from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and Yeah, I just that essay you talk about, you know, really delving into the complications and the messiness of these stories. And there’s a thing I don’t I don’t think this is a spoiler, but there’s a thing you sort of talk about which is this, like, desire to please other people because of, you know, your your identities and like to make yourself useful. And I don’t know, I just thought essay really, like that was the one where I was like, yeah, no, I fuck with this book really hard. Like it just really like I was I was enjoying myself the whole way, obviously. But I got there. And I was like, yeah, and then like, from there on out just the whole thing. I was like, this is really like something substantial. Do you have a favorite? I know, they’re all your I know, they’re all your children. But do you have a favorite essay in the book for you?
Lamya H 30:58
Oh, um, they’re all there are all my babies. I think. I think one of the ones that I like the most is the one on Nora, which it was who’s also known as Noah. And the fact that he’s asked by God to make this arc in the middle of the desert, which is like, totally an exercise in futility. And, and so I draw parallels between that and what it’s like dating as a queer Muslim hijab wearing person in New York. And I really enjoyed that one, because so I, you know, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that I had been on a lot of bad dates in my life,
Traci Thomas 31:45
including one where you told a librarian that you organize your books by color. And as a person who organizes my books by color, I cringed for you. I was like, why are they telling that librarian? This? This is not gonna go? Well, for anybody?
Lamya H 31:59
Yeah, it did not go. Well, it did not go well. Yes, there was no second date. In fact, we bumped into each other years later at a friend’s thing, and just like, just totally ignored each other. So no, I was saying that, you know, I’ve been on a lot of bad debts. And it was, it was a really good exercise in In reflecting on how much I’ve grown, in some ways, and it was also really fun to write something that felt funny.
Traci Thomas 32:49
Yeah, it is funny. I mean, that one was really fun. And, you know, we won’t tell about the whole thing. But I just, I mean, that was such an important part of your story as well. Let me just ask you this. Is there anything that’s not in this book that you wish was?
Lamya H 32:59
Oh, no, I don’t think so. Yeah, that’s a good yeah. Sorry. I don’t have a good yeah, no. And I yeah, maybe there’ll be a second book with things that will feel missing if they ever do.
Traci Thomas 33:15
Yeah, I mean, I’m, we’re recording this before the book has even come out yet. So it’s sort of a crazy question to ask someone whose books like not even in the world yet, but it’s a question I always ask. What was the hardest part about writing this book? And then what if anything came easily for you?
Lamya H 33:31
So, um, I don’t, I’m not trained as a writer. And I didn’t start writing until really, really late in my life. I think the first essay I ever wrote was in 2014. And it kind of, it kind of just happened because I was, you know, I would always, like, tell the stories, in which I was angry about something. And I was once like, I was telling my friend a story. And she was like, Well, you know, like, your rage doesn’t really do anything, if you just like, tell stories, and then it just sort of like dissipates, unless you write about it, like, nothing will happen because of the story. And it kind of like blew my mind. So then I started writing and, and really like, I mean, like, I had, again, like, I’ve always read a lot. And so I feel like I had been teaching myself to write for a very long time. But I really sort of like, thought through and like kind of, like studied other people’s essays, and really, like, taught myself how to write in certain ways. I think like the parts about, about writing this book that were hard were some of the skills that I just didn’t have. So in the past, I’d only written essays that were very much towards the point and that we’re making a very specific argument. But in writing this I had to learn how to move through time, and how to and how to like go back and forth in time without losing my reader. Um, so those were those were things that were hard. I’m, I’m really lucky and had, you know, a bunch of friends that I workshopped a few of the essays with and was just like, able to get feedback from people that was really helpful. So that was definitely hard. But it was also like, really fun and challenging to put myself in the shoes of my reader and think through, you know, what are some of the reminders that my reader will need. And then also like, what is like, what is giving too much like my, and just like learning to trust my reader that my reader will either remember, or will like, flip back or like, doesn’t need to be told explicitly, XYZ, because I can, like really trust them. So those were the things that were hard in terms of what came easily. Like, honestly, I think once I started writing, and once I had the structure in place, the stories and the parallels came really easily. And I wrote, I wrote the bulk of this book, during the pandemic, when the shutdown was happening. And I had, you know, suddenly, all of this time on my hands. So the writing of it once I had the structure in place also came easily, because unlike any other time in my life, I suddenly had time, lots and lots of time to really work on this.
Traci Thomas 36:19
And how did you use that time? How do you like to write? Where are you? How often is there music? Or no? Are you eating snacks? Are there beverages? Are there rituals, kind of set the scene for how you right?
Lamya H 36:31
So I read this tweet recently, comparing writing to having a crush, and that’s totally what it’s like, for me. I know it sounds so weird, but I think it’s just like, totally a thing. Like, you know, you get so obsessed with this idea that it’s it’s almost like you’re living in that world for a little while. And it’s all you can think about and you know, you’ll be like showering and sort of like thinking through, you know, how something should be structured or, or like a story will come to you. So that’s that’s what writing feels like to me. I wish I had a more sort of like disciplined practice where I did it every day or something. But it No, it’s more just sort of like, it’s more like having an idea and like feeling like obsessed with it and like having a crush and then letting it sort of like take over my life.
Traci Thomas 37:22
Do you have any writing snacks or beverages?
Lamya H 37:27
Oh, um, I mean, I really really like chocolate and dessert in general. I talk about it totally about oh my god, I’m really into things with like chocolate and cookie right now. So there’s this chocolate that I’m obsessed with that has cookie crumbles in it. Like just That’s delicious. It’s like dessert within a dessert.
Traci Thomas 37:47
Who makes it? Well, I’m we’re very snack friendly on this podcast. And so I just I need to know what I’m missing out on and I need some chocolate with cookies on it.
Lamya H 37:56
It’s called a Tony’s chocolate lonely and it’s their chocolate caramel cookie. Bar. So good. You can’t go wrong.
Traci Thomas 38:07
I love this for us. So you said that you have you know this whole other job career? How do you make time to balance that and this other writing career?
Lamya H 38:19
Um, sometimes I sneak away at work at free. Yeah, and set a timer for half an hour. And yeah, just right. I also do a lot of early morning writing. Just before work starts, when you know, it’s that sort of like, you know that that like, those few hours in the day where it feels like no one else is awake. Because just because like everyone else is doing their whole like, you know, breakfast shower, whatever routine. But I really liked that time of the day. And then I try to sneak in time here and there. I used to be really into going to a coffee shop on Saturday at 7am. And I don’t actually drink coffee, so I wouldn’t get like a decaf mocha. Because a coffee just like stimulates me so much though, right?
Traci Thomas 39:13
That’s in the book. You’re talking about that in the book.
Lamya H 39:16
Yeah. Is that a Capricorn thing that feels like a-
Traci Thomas 39:19
I don’t know. I don’t drink coffee either. But I think coffee tastes like socks. So for me I just I like tea, but it’s not about caffeine. I just hate coffee.
Lamya H 39:28
Yeah, I just don’t like the way that hot liquids fill in my throat.
Traci Thomas 39:31
Interesting. I’m as I’m sipping on a very hot tea right now. I love a hot liquid.
Lamya H 39:39
So I would I would go to a coffee shop and get my little decaf mocha at 7am and like all the baristas would be like, What the fuck? And I would like sit and write for an hour or two before it felt like everyone woke up.
Traci Thomas 39:54
Yeah, I love that. There’s there have been a few people who have talked about that, that time of day where it feels like no one else. CES awake or like no one else is working. And it’s like such a good time for them and you know some people have talked about you know, immediately getting up going straight into the office doing nothing, drinking nothing eating nothing touching their phone never until they’ve written and but this this morning thing does definitely you know early morning definitely comes up on the show. It’s like a good time for writing. What’s a word? You can never spell correctly on the first try?
Lamya H 40:26
Traci Thomas 40:28
that’s one of my words. Yes. Yeah.
Lamya H 40:30
So like are so many S’s like or like try embarrasses? Baris does it do Yeah. embarrassment. Oh my god. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 40:39
It’s all impossible. And they’re like, they’re slightly different. I feel like I don’t know I I’m just like, just I just type in a few letters. Wait for the red line. And then I’m like that you know what I’m talking about?
Just No, do it. Okay, I have another one. Okay, you ready? Yes. acknowledgement.
That’s another one. So hard. Oh my gosh, we have the sip. Can you do recommendation? Oh, wow. No, it’s impossible. Yeah, we have consonant issues. So there are people who have foul issues and they can’t spell words like restaurant. I can spell restaurant no problem. Tomorrow is also a word that I feel like vowel people have an issue with but we have all the consonant issues I’ve discovered this
Lamya H 41:20
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I can see that like February February. So easy to spell. Yes, I always are fine. Yes, February’s
Traci Thomas 41:27
nothing people who get who mess up February. I’m like, What are you? You just can’t spell anything. And then I’m over here. I can’t spell any words that have multiple consonants. I’m just like, I don’t know. Can’t do it.
Lamya H 41:38
As my second language, I’m always like, ESL card.
Traci Thomas 41:41
Oh, see, I don’t have that I just can’t spell very well. This is a horrible, very unfair mean question to ask a person whose book is coming out and is not out at the time of recording. But I’m gonna ask because sometimes people have an answer. What do it comes next for you?
Lamya H 42:00
Oh, um, so I, I want to write fiction next. I am. I’m sort of like in the very early stages of writing a book about that’s, that delves a little deeper into the place where I grew up. And I want to structure it around sort of like creative resistance, and the ways in which women and gender non conforming folks and people who are struggling still find ways to live beautifully and resist, even in places where it seems impossible. I know that sounds like really vague, but that’s okay. I’m still in the crush stages.
Traci Thomas 42:47
Yeah. Can I ask you about why you don’t name the place where you grew up? I mean, you’re, you’re one person have so many. Is that something that you feel like, like gives you away? Or is that something that you just don’t want to be associated with your work?
Lamya H 43:03
No, it is something that gives me a way, I think, yeah, the combination of the place where I was born, and where I grew up. Yeah, I think that combination gives me a way, especially since I’ve written about both of those things, using my real life persona. So I decided not to name either of those, like that healthy boundaries.
Traci Thomas 43:23
Yeah. No, I just was wondering because I was thinking like, a country. Like there’s so many people right, so I was like, Well, I wonder if there’s like something you know, inherently but but it makes sense that if you’ve written about it, using your real life name that then there’s like a way to connect you but I assumed there was a reason I just was curious for people who love job but blues your book, what other books would you recommend to them that are maybe in conversation with what you’re doing in your book?
Lamya H 43:50
Um, so right now I’m reading Bashar Rathmines roses in the mouth of lions. And a think it’s a really, really beautiful book because it talks about growing up as this young woman in New York, and it writes a, she pushed her writes beautifully about queerness and Muslim this. And I think it’s a really cool book to be in conversation with mine, especially since hers came out a few months ago. So I’m really excited for people to read those both together.
Traci Thomas 44:27
What do you hope folks will keep in mind as they’re reading your book,
Lamya H 44:30
I really hope that people will come away from this book with a sense of just embracing mess and how messiness can be generative. And then the other thing that I really hope that people take from this book, is that love is expansive and and can take so many different forms, including but not limited to, romantic Like, it can take the form of sort of like chosen family and community. And those are all things that are difficult to build and to sustain, but ultimately worth it. In the end.
Traci Thomas 45:14
We didn’t even talk about that part of your book about the your friends, but I love your friends, you have so many wonderful friends in this book, so many people that you kind of touch on here and there that I was like, gosh, I would love a friend like that they sound fantastic. And your friends, like challenge you and inspire you and just the way that you wrote about them. I feel like if when when they read the book, they’ll be like, Wow, that’s really nice. Lamya loves me.
Lamya H 45:42
I hope they come away with that, too.
Traci Thomas 45:44
I mean, I don’t know, I’m not them. So I don’t know. But I feel like how could they not? It’s just, it just seems like you’ve created such a beautiful community for yourself in this book. And I think that we you know, we talked a little bit about justice, we talked, you know a little bit about about the feminist sort of lens through which you see the world, but also this communal, this community aspect of your story, which I think is like so hugely important for religion, like there is no religion without some sense of community. And I think you really captured that beautifully in this book, too, is sort of a thing to just tack on to the end, which I should have talked about earlier, because it did really, really stick out to me. Like from your queer mentor who just seems great. And like I’m at the last chapter when you all are hiking and playing your games and talking shit to each other. Just like sounds like a good place to be thinking and creating and living. So I don’t know. I love that.
Lamya H 46:42
Everyone should have a queer life mentor in their life. Yeah, mine really changed my life in so many ways.
Traci Thomas 46:52
Yeah. And I love how it just like came about was like, Okay, you’re gonna be this for me. Thank you. And they were like, okay, cool. We’re here. We’re doing this. Yeah. So my last question for you is if you could have one person dead or alive, read this book. Who would you want it to be?
Lamya H 47:10
Oh, my God. I wanted I would want it to be Leslie Feinberg. Because it is. So Leslie Feinberg wrote Stone Butch Blues. And that’s where the title comes from. And Leslie was really this. This like, incredible queer and trans labor organizer slash person in the world. And just like, I don’t know, let’s say wrote this book that was just deeply beautiful and loving and intersectional, and deeply empathetic. And just like had a lot of solidarity with a lot of people who were similar and different. And so my, the title of my book borrows from that. Because some of those are things that I wanted to do in this book. I wanted to write a book that felt deeply intersectional. And that shows that showed the connectedness of various struggles. And so if Leslie was alive, I really wish that yeah, they would be the person that I was wanting to read this book.
Traci Thomas 48:23
I love that answer. And now I want to read that book. Lamya, thank you so much for being here. Everyone, you can get Lamya’s book, Hijab Butch Blues, out in the world now. You can get it wherever you get your books. It comes with a ringing endorsement from me. I think people who like this show will really really really like this book. So long. Thank you so much for being here.
Lamya H 48:45
Thank you for having me.
Traci Thomas 48:46
And everyone else we will see you in the stacks Alright, y’all, that does it for us today. Thank you so much for listening. And thank you again to Lamya for being my guest. I’d also like to say a quick thank you to Andrea Pura for helping to make this conversation possible. Don’t forget our February book club selection is the Roundhouse by Louise Erdrich, which we will be discussing on Wednesday, February 22. With Mina Kimes. If you love the show and want inside access to it, head to patreon.com/the stacks and join the stacks pack. Make sure you’re subscribed to the stacks. So if you listen to your podcasts, and if you’re listening through Apple podcasts, be sure to leave us a rating and a review. For more from the stacks. Follow us on social media at the stacks pod on Instagram and at the stacks pod underscore on Twitter and check out our website The Stacks podcast.com This episode of the Stacks was edited by Kristian Duenas with production assistance from Lauren Tyree. Our graphic designer is Robin MacWrite. And our theme music is from Tagirijus. The Stacks is created and produced by me Traci Thomas.
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