I think I get to know an author through their books! From reading Darius the Great is Not Okay (Dial Books) I just knew that Adib Khorram had been to Iran at least once, that he was rather fluent in Farsi and that he’s a Star Trek fan. Well, one out of three isn’t all that bad, especially when the book really is that good. I enjoyed getting to know the truths of Adib Khorram and I think you will, too.
EC: Do you speak Farsi?
AK: Unfortunately, no. I’ve tried to learn a couple times but I never found a program that worked for me. Fingers crossed that Duolingo will eventually add a Farsi course, because their program has worked pretty well for me!
EC: Which is the best Star Trek movie?
AK: Oh my. That’s a TED Talk and a half! If I was forced to choose only one…I have a great, abiding love for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It had a really great blend of drama and humor, it gave every character a chance to shine, and it combined a terrific sci-fi concept with the very real and current problem of our poor shepherding of the Earth’s environment.
EC: How did you create Darius? Was he a character who just came to you or is he based on someone you know?
AK: He’s definitely not based on someone I know, though I’m sure I borrowed bits of pathos from people around me, and from myself, in crafting him. I’m always wary of describing characters as coming from nowhere. Darius came from an intermixing of my own feelings about growing up Iranian-American, overweight, and dealing with depression; the needs of the story I wanted to tell; and the particular parts of being a teenager I wanted to highlight, most especially the very deep and sincere passion with which teenagers pursue their interests, and which I feel adults often fail to honor or recognize.
EC: I love the description of sekanjabin and really hope I get to taste it someday. What is your absolutely favorite Iranian dish?
AK: That’s another TED Talk! I feel like chelo kabob is too obvious an answer, though it is great. One dish I love that didn’t make it into the book is a saffron-marinated baked salmon that my aunt makes. It’s divine.
EC: I was right there with Darius when he said he expected Yazd to be in black and white! He really opens unfamiliar readers up to a whole new world. What kind of research did you have to undertake to write this book?
AK: Researching Darius was such an interesting process, because I had a wealth of primary sources—my dad and his whole family were born and raised in Yazd—but very few of them had been there recently. So I had lots of old family photos to rely on, and family stories and recollections, but I had to combine those with books and articles I could find on Yazd as it is today, rather than 20-30 years ago. I do still have some family there, and I got the chance to talk to them, browse their more current photos, and get info that way. I also used a lot of Google Street View!
EC: The friendship between Darius and Sohrab is just beautiful. What can you tell me about your best friend?
AK: When I was growing up I never had a friendship like Darius and Sohrab’s, where we just instantly clicked and dived right into a deep, deep friendship. All of my best friendship were people I got to know in school, and we just grew closer together until we became inseparable.
As an adult, I have found myself quicker at forming deep friendships. One of my closest friends, I made through work; we got to talking one afternoon over drinks, and somehow, it felt like we’d known each other for years.
I feel like I definitely pulled little bits from lots of my friendships in crafting Darius and Sohrab’s relationship. They kind of got the best of everything.
EC: I think you managed to write Darius’ depression without getting lost in it. It was consistently there, but not utterly overwhelming. How did you maintain that balance?
AK: Honestly, a big part of it was remembering my own teenage years, trying to navigate high school and friendships while also managing my own depression. I saw a counselor and a psychiatrist fairly regularly.
Still, living with depression never defined how I saw myself. I was a theater kid. I was a Star Trek fan. I was obsessed with Magic: The Gathering…perhaps too obsessed. Depression was just the tiniest fragment of who I was. I tried to get that across for Darius as well.
EC: This is such a good book! What other books would you recommend to your new fans?
AK:Thank you! Readers who want more Star Trek nerdiness should check out John Corey Whaley’s HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR. For a story about life-defining friendships, Benjamin Aliré Saenz’s ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE. For more Iranian characters, Sara Farizan’s HERE TO STAY and Arvin Ahmadi’s DOWN AND ACROSS.
Thanks, Adib for the interview. I wish you much success!