Sara Farizan, the critically acclaimed author of three children’s coming-of-age novels, including the Lambda Literary Award If you could be mine, branching off in new directions in two upcoming releases. She moves into the supernatural realm with her latest YA novel, dead flip (Algonquin, August), and into the DC Comics universe with the mid-level graphic novel My friend, Killer Croc (august).
The daughter of Iranian immigrants, Farizan grew up in Massachusetts with her surgeon father and stay-at-home mother. She attended private schools, where she felt different from her classmates due to her ethnicity and her attraction to girls, experiences of identity that she explores in her fiction. She majored in film and media studies at American University, where she came out of the closet. Three years later, she returned to school for an MFA from Lesley University. Her thesis project became her first published novel, If you could be mine, in 2013; however, the first novel she started writing was Tell me again how a crush should feel, which she published in 2014. Farizan has worked at an independent bookstore, as a waitress, as an after-school elementary teacher, and in other jobs that allowed her to write.
Farizan describes the opportunity “to play in the DC sandbox” as “a dream come true”. As a lifelong Batman fan (she’s read every comic, watched the animated series, seen every movie), when Farizan heard from a peer in 2017 that DC Comics was planning a new line, she asked to Susan Ginsburg, her agent at Writers House since 2015, to contact Michelle Wells — then at DC Comics, where she was responsible for bringing in mid-level and YA writers — to see if she could submit any proposals. Although her work was not accepted at the time, Farizan met Wells at a book festival while she was promoting her novel. here to stay some months later; Wells remembered her and asked her to do another pitch. She rearranged her old submissions and sent them along with a new pitch, which was accepted.
The seed for this story began to germinate when Farizan was in elementary school, writing journal entries about what she thought the next Batman movies would be. “I’ve spent too much time thinking about Batman in my life,” she admits. She wanted to set up a mid-level story in Gotham City, because even though it’s always dark, it’s a metropolis, full of people living their lives, and Farizan wanted to play with what it would be like for a kid who would grow up there. It was fun, for example, to include a Alice in Wonderland– Themed miniature golf course where the Mad Hatter statue is covered, as the Mad Hatter belongs to the villains of Rogue’s Gallery of Gotham, along with Killer Croc.
Farizan was drawn to Killer Croc for his backstory, namely that he was bullied because of his reptilian form. He then became a professional wrestler, idolized by young Andy. When Andy, who is also being bullied, meets Killer Croc, the thief becomes a mentor. The story explores what happens when his childhood hero comes into his life and shows him how to deal with bullies, but that hero also has Batman and the law after him. In this situation, how do we decide which choices to make? Farizan believes children struggle with many equally complex issues today, and that stories have the power to help navigate these issues.
The experience of working with artist Nicolette Baldari, which began at the start of the pandemic, proved to be a bright light in a dark time. “It was our escape,” recalls Farizan. “There were days that were bad for the majority of the world, and seeing Nicolette’s designs was something to really look forward to.” She says Baldacci intuitively understood her take on the story without having to go into detail.
In Flip dead, Farizan pays homage to the things she loved as a child, such as trips to the comic book store she visited every Friday. The novel works with tropes from 80s and 90s television and books that focus on college anxiety around friendship, particularly when a friend wants things to stay the way they are while another friend is ready to move on. The three main characters – Maz, Cory and Sam – are a tight-knit group, but at age 12, cracks in their friendship appear and widen dramatically after Sam’s mysterious disappearance. Cory’s journey mirrors that of Farizan: the author and character grew up as tomboys with close friends; then puberty hit and things changed.
Farizan describes dead flip as “a supernatural comedy with a horror bent that is literally about getting past a friendship”. Whereas dead flip is a stand-alone novel, she is open to writing more. “I loved this universe and I’m sad to leave it,” she says.
She frequently contributes short stories to anthologies. “It’s so nice to be invited,” she notes, adding that it allows her to try out different genres without the stakes being so high. She was delighted to find that two of her stories – “Why I Learned to Cook”, included in the Fees Inc. anthology, and “The End of the World as We Know It”, included in the For everyone anthology – are taught in middle and high schools. She is also open to publishing a collection of her short fiction at some point.
Sarah Alpert, Farizan’s editor at Algonquin Young Readers, describes her experience working with Farizan as one of growing together. Former Alpert boss and “forever mentor” Elise Howard discovered Farizan. Alpert worked on his third book alongside Howard (who retired earlier this year) and directed dead flip by herself. “Reading Sara Farizan is like talking to your best friend,” says Alpert. “Even when the subject matter is serious, it’s said in such a real and familiar way that it makes the hard stuff easy to tackle, and the fun stuff the most fun you’ll ever have.” The two share a love for all things pop culture, especially 80s and 90s movies and comics, which Alpert says made working together on dead flip an explosion.”
As well as featuring nuanced queer and Persian characters in a range of genres – family stories, romantic comedies, sports and now horror – what sets Farizan’s stories apart, according to Alpert, is that his voice, both friendly and funny , always happening. Regarding Farizan’s role in the literary landscape, Alpert notes the impact she has had on up-and-coming LGBTQ writers: “Sara is so humble that it’s easy to forget how influential her career has been. , how many people she has touched, inspired, and represented. I feel like she’s the cool lesbian YA older sister that would get everyone into R-rated movies.
A central theme in all of her stories, Farizan says, is “knowing the power of who you are and what you are when there are outside forces that want to bring you down and make you feel less than.” Grateful for the gift of a rich inner life, she hopes to cultivate this quality in others.
“I love stories so much,” she continues. “I write for my inner child, but I also write for actual children. I think children are more likely to ask questions than adults, and they’re more likely to question things. is such a joy to write to this. It’s also kind of crazy to think that you can revisit your childhood dreams and the things you loved in your childhood as an adult, and that other children will pass the torch and that they will also be delighted to write stories.
Kate Dunn, regular contributor to TP, writes fiction under the pseudonym Kate Courtright and is working on a novel. She lives in New York.
A version of this article originally appeared in the 07/18/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: Writing for Her Inner Kid