Interview With Sister Theresa Corbin

As Salam Alikum Readers ,
I had the pleasure of doing a interview with sister Theresa Corbin about her new adult Islamic coloring book .

What inspired you to write an adult coloring book?
A: My husband actually had the idea that I take the graphics that I have made through the years for my blog and turn them into a coloring book. The man is a genius. So, I did some research into the adult coloring book market and found that not much was available with an Islamic theme. There is stuff for young kids but not stuff for adults. So, I took my husband’s idea and decided that this coloring book needed to have a wider theme and audience to fill in the gap in the market. It needed to be about the basics of Islam and not just about my blog.

How long have you written on a blog?
A: I am coming up on 4.5 years. If feels longer. 😉

Do you keep a personal journal?
A: I don’t keep a journal. But I keep a folder on my computer where I write poetry and I keep an ongoing list of writing ideas that I want to flesh out/research in the future.

Do you have all your old drafts from when you first started writing?
A: Nope. When I started writing for myself and for fun not just for school, I wrote poetry. But my computer got a virus and I could not recover the first poems I ever wrote. They were probably terrible so I am not shedding a tear over them. But I was pretty private about my writing for a looooong time. I never let anyone read anything I had written. Even turning in a paper to a professor was hard for me. It was almost like they would be able to see all my flaws just from the few pages I had written on lit crit or what have you. Then, I took a class from the poet laureate of Alabama and she was so inspiring. She encouraged me to share my voice with others. She invited me to poetry readings and I realized that having flaws is what makes me real and relatable, and embracing the things I couldn’t control and polishing the things I could would potentially make me a good writer.

Is your work space neat or cluttered? 
A: Neat. Always neat. I can’t focus if there is even a dish in the sink in my kitchen. Clutter clutters my mind.

Do you hand write the drafts or use a computer or use both?
A: I use a computer. Everything I do is on a computer. I don’t even know what my handwriting looks like anymore.

How do you organize your day?
A: I go from hard and boring work to more and more creative stuff. First, I check emails and messages. Then I check my SM. Post on all my SM platforms. Read stuff by smart people for inspiration or information. Then I get to work on any assignment I might have or a blog post I am working on. I love my career because it involves reading, researching, and understanding Islam. So, I never feel like my work is preventing me from being a more religious or spiritual person, which I see many people struggling with. May Allah make it easy for them. After I finish the mental work of organizing my research, ideas, and/or emotions into words, sentences, and paragraphs; I turn those themes into graphics. I find this so relaxing. Then if I have time in the evening, I try to do something like create a new recipe or upcycle a piece of long unloved furniture or design a shirt or skirt I have long wished existed on the market. Or I just chill and watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or some 30 Rock. I call it comic research so my husband doesn’t judge me for being lazy or think I am obsessed with Tina Fey.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
A: I have always wanted to wonder around England and Scotland, having studied British Literature in university. But I have never had the opportunity to go. Although, I do feel very privileged that I live in the Greater New Orleans area. It is a city that is bursting with creative history and artistic inspiration. Walking down the French Quarter in the heart of the city, you will come across several famous writer’s haunts.

What is the first book that made you cry?
A: I cannot remember. I have read so many books that have made me cry and I must be honest I am not a crier. I know some people cry a lot at stuff like commercials or movies, but I just can’t. Reading something moving is so much deeper and more meaningful to me. One book that stands out to me now is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I love YA fiction. And that book had me crying and laughing all on the same page. I also have cried a lot at biographical accounts of the Prophet (PBHU) and his companions (may God be pleased with them). Their lives were so rough. And they were so down for the cause. It is inspiring. It’s also relatable these days with all the anti-Muslim rhetoric thrown around like it’s nothing and Muslims are nobody.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
A: I am not really sure. This book is my first that is not self-published. And Djarabi Kitabs has been amazing! I have read though that publishers leave a lot of the marketing up to the author which is kinda why you get a publisher these day and share the profits. Otherwise why not just self-pub? But that has not been my experience.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?
A: Both. It is exhausting getting all those tangled emotions (even research comes with emotion) beaten into communicable shape. I once had a professor who said language is the wild animal you need to train to produce good writing. And he was so right. But once you have done that, you feel amazing as if some burden you were holding has now been put down.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?
A: A huge trap for aspiring writers is thinking that they know everything and are at the top of their game but just undiscovered. Being a writer is one part talent and 100 parts skill. If you know you have the talent, then you have to work HARD to develop the skill and that takes time, patience, practice, and a lot of learning. If you refuse to learn and grow and take criticism, you have already failed.

Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
A; Hurts. Big time. But there must be some measure of self-confidence which is different than egotism. You have to be self-assured to get up on the stage of the blank page. But if you think you have nothing to learn and no one to teach you, you will get no where. Staying humble and hungry but confident will get you far.

What is your writing Kryptonite?
A: Anxiety. And I have it in spades. It crowds the mind and removes focus.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
A: No.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
A: Yes. I want to write under a male pseudonym and see if people react differently to my work. I mean, I know the reactions will be different, I just wonder in what ways and to what degree. Will I be more respected? Will I get less hate mail, messages, tweets, and comments when they disagree with me? Will people be less affectionate in their response when they enjoy my work?

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
A: You always have to have your audience in mind. But to say that what I imagine the audience wants drives what I write about would not be accurate. In fact, a lot of times, I know a certain segment of people will hate what I am writing about. I write about things I think will help people, things that will create more understanding. Or I write about issues that are creating grave injustices that neeeeed to stop. And a lot of those issues are women’s issues, Islamophobia, and convert issues. So, I think my activism more than anything else drives what I write about.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
A: Yes! In fact, I think everyone in this day and age is a writer. If you write work emails, you are a writer. If you have any social media accounts, you are a writer. If you write instructions to your husband on how to bake a lasagna, you are a writer. Writing happens and is required when we least expect it. You don’t have to feel strongly or be creative to write. Everyone is doing it. But not everyone is paying attention to how they are doing it and it is negatively affecting their lives. The better we communicate—especially in writing where there are no other cues from body language or facial expressions—the better outcomes we have in relationships, in social settings, in business, and even in politics.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
A: Most of the people I hang with are writers. But I consider most people to be writers. Listening to anyone’s life experiences always gives a writer a deep well of material to work with. Often the best writers are the best listeners.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
A: A little bit of both. My career is about my faith. My blog, my contributions to other publications, my coloring book—it is all in an effort to help people better understand Islam—whether that is a Muslim who doesn’t know the difference between his culture and his Islam or a non-Muslim who has never met a Muslim but is sure she knows Islam because of Fox “News” or a Muslim woman who doesn’t know her Islamic rights are being taken away or the convert who is just trying to make his way. But the works are all different and can stand on their own.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
A: Stop trying to be invisible. You have something to say and a voice with which to say it. Use that for your community and for your faith. And it’s ok to be scared … God’s knows.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
A: I don’t’ think it has. My first book was a book of poetry, self-published. It was a class project that I just wanted to turn into a book in hand. And publish on demand is so easy these days. I never expected anyone to read it or buy it. And the good news is that not many people have. The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book is my first book published by a publishing house. But it is a coloring book. It’s not my usual shtick. So, it hasn’t changed my process.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
A: The $18 on my domain name, islamwich.com

What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
A: Shakespeare. Oh how played out this man and his works are! But when you dig really deep into his sonnets it’s amazing how incredible he was at his trade. I don’t do bandwagon-ing. I don’t do pop culture. I am suspicious of anything that has mass appeal. But when I started studying Shakespeare, I found out why he is so widely read and popular. He was a genius.

What did you do with your first advance?
A: What is that strange animal about which you speak? Just joking. I have never had an advance. But for my first paid gig, I blew it on a fancy meal.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
A: It involved course language directed at me at a young age so I will not say it specifically. But it was so powerful that I think it shaped who I am. And I think I knew even as a child that if words can hurt, they can also heal.

What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
A: Poetry Magazine. I am partial though. Since I started writing with poetry, I think that if you can master or at least become proficient in that genre it can translate into evocative and expressive writing in any genre.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
A:

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
A: I am still working on that. My memoir writing prof in university would tell me that I treated my reader as if he/she were dumb, that I over state and remind too much of what is happening in an article or scene. I tend to worry about and nurture the people in my life too much (middle child syndrome) and I think that translates to my writing. I have tried to trust that people will get the things I am alluding to without over stating them. And also trust that the people in my life are capable of taking care of themselves. It’s about trust and I am working on it.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar?
A: If Will Ferrell and Oprah Winfrey were to have a baby, it would be the cutest baby ever! And also, it would be my avatar in the non-Hindu sense of the word.

What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
A: I only once wrote fiction in university. I liked it, but what I write now is non-fiction, creative non-fiction, spiritual, autobiographical, and self-help stuff. But I must say that when I did write that little bit of fiction, I based my characters on people who have hurt me. It was cathartic to kinda tattle on them without actually telling anyone about them. I fully believe in covering people’s sins and mistakes. But I guess I owe them thanks for telling me about your real self.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
A: Only 2. The fiction I started in university, I intend to finish. I also have written a field guide for new Muslims with Kaighla um Dayo. It is unpublished, but written. We are trying to figure out the best course of action for this book because it is our baby.

What does literary success look like to you?
A: I do not intend to be successful in a literary sense. I intended to be successful in my activism.

What’s the best way to market your books?
A: I will let you know when I figure that out. But social media is the most promising horse in that race.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? Do
you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
A: I do tons of research because of the nature of what I am writing. You have to be on point with your research if you are going to write on Islamic topics. And it is not just a matter of finding a hadith or a Quran verse because we can’t take our religion piece meal. I have to go deep to find out what the conventional wisdom is, what the context is, how it’s balanced by other texts, and so on. And that has made me a much more spiritual person in and of itself because when I do go deep into my research, I am amazed by the things I find. It makes me love Allah (SWT). And for sure writing can be a spiritual process. If you surrender to The Truth in your writing, who other than God have you surrendered to?

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
A: Stereotypes. I crafted a male character in my only fiction and he was complex and deep and introspective. He cared about other people and was also aggressive when he needed to be and protective of his family and unable to multitask. But when it was peer reviewed, the reviewers thought that he was too feminine because guys “can’t be introspective and caring and complex”. I find that incredibly sexist, and quite honestly destructive to our young men and our society at large.

How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?
A: Not long, maybe a year. I wrote poetry thinking nothing would ever come of it, and that it was just for me. But honestly, I never wanted to be a writer. It is hard work. It is exposing. It’s intimidating staring at that blank page and thinking of all the people who will look at your soul through what is written on it. But I started blogging out of the sheer frustration with the stereotypes and myths there are out there about Islam. It was a way for me to get that frustration out without smacking ignorant people on the street. Apparently, that is frowned upon (legal disclaimer: I have never smacked anyone I didn’t already know and love). Then I was pushed into it by the lack of people willing to hire an educated, well-spoken, professional woman in hijab. So, I wrote more to fill the days of unemployment. I wrote full time, mostly unpaid, while I looked for “regular” work after graduation. Then the writing itself turned into something I didn’t expect. But as I got more and more paid jobs and turned my focus to seriously researching and writing for activism. The writing got easier and more complex and I built up a body of work and knowledge. I am so happy now that it turned out this way. This is my passion.

How many hours a day do you write?
A: Depends on what you mean by write. I am always writing in my mind, thinking of new topics to tackle. Or when I am on assignment, I am thinking of new angles to tackle old topics and what will be the intro, and what can I share that will evoke emotion, etc. My husband makes fun of me because we will go to a movie and after he will ask me what I thought of a certain scene. And I will have no recollection of it because I wasn’t watching the movie. I was writing. I physically sit down about 4 hours a day and write on my laptop. Research takes more time and then there is marketing and contacting editors and all that fun stuff that happens behind the scenes in a one woman show.

What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
A: Young adulthood. It was a time of huge upheaval for me. It was a metamorphosis period in my life.

What did you edit out of this book?
A: There were some graphics that I thought would look great starting out that just didn’t lend themselves to a coloring page, so I took those out. And that was hard because sometimes the pieces I worked the longest on just didn’t work for the book.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
A: Not really. Fiction is a many and varied thing. Isn’t it always different? And isn’t that what makes it go great?

What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
A: I think every writer has to make up her own ethics that she feels comfortable with and then explain that in the forward or on her website so that people know how many grains of salt to take with reading it. It would be incredibly unethical to write a biography of Napoleon using the story of Pinocchio and then claim it is a non-fiction narrative and not the fiction that it actually is. It is all how you represent it.

How do you select the names of your characters?
A: I like to give characters names that will lend meaning to what they will do or struggle with. I take this from my own life. My name means harvester. To me this meaning is very powerful. It reminds me that everything I do in my life will be harvested on the Day of Judgment and I will have to answer for it all. So, I try to plant only seeds that will make for beautiful crops come harvest time. inshaAllah.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
A: I would hide behind a stack of book as a librarian.

Do you read your book reviews? 
A: Yup. Feedback is critical.

How do you deal with bad or good ones?
A: The good reviews, I figure are people just being nice—lovers gonna love. The bad ones, I have to really dissect to figure out if it is constructive or just someone being a troll. If constructive, I take it under advisement. If it’s just trolling, haters gonna hate.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
A: Not in The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book. But sometimes in my non-fiction. Like sometimes I will make an inside joke that is meant only for one person who I know will read it, but that same joke also works in another way toward my theme so that everyone can have some understanding. It’s so much fun. I really love Easter eggs in the shows I watch. That’s why I love Tina Fey so much. There are a million Easter eggs or secrets in all of her works. But you have to really pay attention to find them.

What was your hardest scene to write?
A: The hardest are always about my own life.

Do you Google yourself?
A: The thought of Googling myself gives me an anxiety attack. I know there is some horrible stuff written and said about me out there. So, I just as well wait till the Day of Judgment to learn about it. That way it isn’t bad news, it is just a matter of settling up accounts with the Most Just Judge presiding over the case. My husband Googles me from time to time and he has told me that when you type in my name, the first thing that pops up in the suggestions is “Theresa Corbin husband”. I find that a bit creepy.

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
A: I would give up my cat. I hate him anyway.

What are your favorite literary journals?
A: I don’t have any favs.

What is your favorite childhood book?
A: The first book I remember reading my own and liking in childhood was The Catcher in the Rye. I was into teen angst well before my teen years and this book spoke to that.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
A: Convincing people that I am actually working. When you work from home people think you are not really working. And they bug you and ask you to do stuff and message you to death. It’s hard to get into any process when there is so much distraction. The Do Not Disturb setting on my phone has saved my sanity. Also learning that no one is entitled to my time no matter how much they think they are was a revelation.

Does your family support your career as a writer?
A: Yes, big time. My husband understands that my pay isn’t steady so he bust his butt at work. My siblings have been super supportive in many different ways. And extended family reads my work. That is huge to me. They are all non-Muslim and if they are willing to read what I have written about Islam just to understand me better, then that is success to me.

If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
A: I would have read more. I would have read all the time if I knew then what I know and what I wish I knew now.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?
A: The first edition of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book took a little over 6 months. The second edition took a little less than that. And The Field Guide for New Muslims took 2 years to write.

Do you believe in writer’s block? (DO NOT ask whether they’ve had writer’s block).
A: I do. I think it comes about when you are focusing too hard on writing something, anything. You can’t see the forest through the trees. For me at least it has always been solved by getting away from writing, doing something else totally unrelated, then bam! inspiration hits, alhamdulillah.

I received a Islamic coloring book to review and one to giveaway
The giveaway will be random to enter the giveaway please leave a comment about why you like coloring.

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7 thoughts on “Interview With Sister Theresa Corbin

  1. Papatia says:

    Assalamu aleikum to both of you sisters. It’s a very deep and insightful interview masha’Allah. It’s long but very detailed :). Masha’Allah to the hubs Theresa for inspiring you. I also love ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’, Will Ferrell, Oprah, Tina Fey, etc. Omigosh, we have so much in common after I read all this lol! Indeed souls are like assemblies… Jazakh’Allah khair to both of you sisters for making this happen. Love fil Islam and fillah :). Wa aleikum salam waramtulahi wabarakatuhu!

  2. FarzanaRijas says:

    I loved this. Thoughtful questions and deep answers. And pretty covering every aspect of writing. Alot to take notes on for beginners like myself. Thank you so much for this interview.Count me in for the giveaway. I would like to check out this book☺

  3. Zainab says:

    Would love to enter the giveaway. I love colouring as its something my sister and I enjoy to do together whenever we get to meet.

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