I am super excited to have author Theresa Mae for an interview about her latest book – If All Else Fails. Theresa is the author of an exciting new collection of diverse YA fiction and I cannot wait to feature these books here on Electively Paige! This post may contain affiliate links.
Theresa and I chatted quite a bit about her latest, If All Else Fails, and so without further ado here is the interview:
Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview, Theresa!
Of course! I’m really excited to be a guest on your blog. Thank you so much for having me!
To start things off, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and one of your latest books – If All Else Fails?
Sure thing. I’m a Muslim thirty-year-old mother of three girls, a wife of twelve years, and a dedicated super fan of caffeinated drinks. I love to travel, which has led me to over a dozen countries, and I could watch reruns of I Love Lucy every day and still be entertained.
If All Else Fails is the first book of my diverse young adult collection. In the bookstore, it would fit into the young adult or inspirational section, but it’s more young adult since it’s not about a person leaning on their faith to get through a life obstacle. It’s about a girl discovering the true nature of Islam, which is a faith that is most misrepresented and misunderstood. In my opinion anyway.
If All Else Fails is the first book of The Five Pillar series. It is based on a high school senior named Ruby Saunders, who discovers the faith of Islam through a class project she is required to complete for an assignment. When she pairs up with a Muslim girl named Layla, they form an unlikely friendship, which leads Ruby—who is agnostic—to explore Islam through her new friendship.
This book also highlights the struggles many girls face, such as feeling pressured into a physical relationship at a young age. It also explores the self-discovery and question every person asks at some point in their lives—does God really exist?
1.) I feel it’s important to make subjects approachable to teens, be it exploration of their own faith or understanding of the faith of those around them. Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose to tackle exploration of the Muslim faith in If All Else Fails?
Absolutely. And I totally agree with you. Religion these days is a hot topic for a large majority of people. Either people are offended by your beliefs because it conflicts with theirs, or they feel like you having a strong foundation in faith means you will reject them and their right to choose their own faith, because you’re probably an extremist of some kind. In my opinion, people have stopped understanding the beauty of diversity in this way. I say this because even with the countless movements for social and legal equality going on, people—as in the individual person—still feel the core need to prove that their belief is right.
What ever happened to agreeing to disagree, and just moving on?
Back to your question. I started to write young adult inspirational about a year ago, which was about three years after my first book was published in 2012. If All Else Fails is a direct response to many of the questions I receive from random strangers about my faith. I imagine because I was born and raised in America with an Irish complexion and a diluted California accent that people feel they can relate to me—which I love. Questions are great. They mean genuine curiosity and the desire to expand their minds. So anyway, yeah. They ask me questions. Lots of questions. After a while I realized non-Muslims need resources to quench their sense of curiosity about Islam, and since I am an author and a Muslim, why not cater to this need?
I also wanted to provide Muslims with literature that they can relate to. Books that have Muslims as main or supporting characters. Books that are sentimental, thought provoking, and entertaining all at the same time.
2.) Do you feel as if misinformation plays a large role in today’s society when it comes to the Muslim faith?
Without a doubt. But also the unwillingness to accept that the Muslim faith isn’t a religion of barbaric, bloodthirsty radicals out to convert the world with the sharp edge of a sword.
Are there radicals in Islam? Absolutely. Are there Muslim men who abuse their wives in horrible ways? Yes, there are. I don’t deny any of these things. But I also try to bring perspective to these points that others love to highlight during political debates on FOX News.
Let’s take a closer look.
Are there radicals in Islam? Yes. But there are radicals in every faith. This is why we see mass shootings led by people who believe they are messengers of God. And don’t forget the “patriots” (as they call themselves) who have planted bombs in public parks in the USA, in hopes that the explosion will remind the world of the danger of Muslims in general public. Unfortunately, radicals get the biggest news headlines out of anyone. It’s just a fact of life (and media), but it doesn’t mean every Christian or Muslim or Buddhist is an extremist. What? Didn’t know Buddhists could be mass killers, too? Let’s not forget the Buddhist Monks in Myanmar and Burma who have been slaughtering Muslims. I’m just driving the point home, here. And I think you get it.
Second, do Muslim men abuse their wives? Sure, there are some men out there who abuse their wives. But there are plenty of non-Muslim men in the Unites States who abuse their wives, too. Why do you think there is a battered women’s shelter in almost every city? They aren’t all there for Muslims. I would know. I lived in a battered women’s shelter for almost two years after we fled a very volatile domestic situation when I was six years old. Domestic violence is wrong, no matter who commits it. Period.
3.) Do you feel with this book in particular, you’ve put more personal experiences into it than your previous work?
100%. In fact, Ruby is pretty much me, minus a few details about her life. Of course, she’s fictional, but I was able to take my own life experiences and interject them into If All Else Fails as part of Ruby’s exploration of Islam, which was very helpful in making her questions, concerns, and adventures accurate and very real.
4.) In “If All Else Fails” the high school senior protagonist doesn’t believe that God exists. Why did you choose this particular character as opposed to, say, one comfortable in her beliefs and faith already?
I’ll be really honest here. More for reader comfort than anything. See, before I converted to Islam, I was Christian. Now, I think Christianity is a beautiful faith. But it just wasn’t what spoke to my heart. And as every great religion of the world will attest, there is no compulsion in religion or belief. It’s a choice of free will and intentions.
I chose for Ruby to be atheist because I wanted to start with a clean slate. I wanted to show a character who didn’t have to fight with transitioning out of one faith and into another, because that would be another series all on its own. I wanted to be able to concentrate on her exploration of Islam without having to worry that by accepting Islam (if that were an option she would want to choose) that she would be somehow forfeiting her salvation.
5.) What is something you’d like to tell teens who are experiencing religious intolerance in their daily lives?
Wow. That’s a tough question. I guess I would encourage them to analyze their surroundings, the people they choose to associate with, and then determine if that environment and those people are really healthy and beneficial for their spiritual walk.
The fact is, people change. And as we do, we will also need different types of influences. So these teens have to know it’s okay to cut people out of their lives who are hating on them because of their inner belief. They have to know that adults aren’t always right, and they can be just as prejudiced and judgmental as anyone else. So if you find yourself being treated unfairly, discriminated against, or being talked down to because your heart is calling you to a faith that your friends and family don’t agree with, I would treat them all with love and understanding, and also seek out a support system who will encourage your new walk.
6.) Thus far, do you feel that the overall response to “If All Else Fails” has been positive?
Overwhelmingly so! I have been astonished by the amount of positive feedback from readers, community, strangers, and booksellers. I am so excited to be blessed with the ability to deliver this diverse series to literature. It’s a great mission, and I’m proud to be on it.
7.) I really appreciate you taking the time to participate in this interview! Is there anything else you’d like to say to potential fans of your novels?
Yes. If All Else Fails isn’t a book about religion being shoved down your throat. It’s a book about answering questions in an entertaining way. It’s a book that will make you laugh, think, and hopefully broaden your mind. It’s a book that will likely encourage you to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. And we all love shoes.
About Theresa Mae:
“As a mother, author, and reverted American Muslim, I am determined to target a gaping hole in world of books. With Christian fiction and Amish romance popular in mainstream literature, I found there are very few books written for Muslim teens. So on my quest to add one more task to my otherwise insanely busy life, I had an idea and created a brand.
Muslim Teen was born out of necessity, to deliver relatable, relevant, quality literature to the Muslim youth by targeting topics that families of every faith often sweep under the rug. I believe talking about real world issues such as dating, hijab, and the epic struggle with self-esteem is vital to giving our teens the tools they need to wade through their daily struggles with confidence and pride in their Muslim identity.
Other than writing, I enjoy travel, learning random facts about absolutely anything, volunteering at my children’s school, and being as goofy as possible.”