Susan is the author of Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win out November 2022.
1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?
If I could travel back in time, I’d visit Tehran, Iran in the early 1920s, when my grandmother, Navob was a princess in the Qajar Dynasty, which ruled the Persian Empire from 1742 – to 1925. To be clear, she was not Princess Kate with a tiara or anything. Her father, Ahmad Shah Qajar, had many wives and children, but she did reside on the grounds of the Golestan Palace with him.
2. Your book is set during the fall of 1979. What fascinates you most about this time period?
My book is set in the year the Iran Hostage Crisis exploded across the nightly news and made Iran — which had once signed a Treaty of Friendship with the United States in the late 1860s — and Iranians into pariahs. After the country’s revolution, during which the last king (or “shah”) was overthrown by a religious leader (called the “ayatollah”), dissident students seized the United States embassy in Tehran and took all the American employees hostage. Their rationale: the U.S. had accepted the despised Reza Shah Pahlavi for cancer treatment. Following a failed rescue attempt in 1979, all the hostages were finally released in 1981.
In fact, the 2012 movie Argo was about the rescue of several hostages holed up in the Canadian embassy! The movie was based on an article in Wired magazine entitled, “The Great Escape: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran.”
I chose this time period so that my lead character, Jasmine Zumideh, would have to reckon with her heritage in a way she never has before when her opponent for senior class president stirs up anti-Iranian hysteria at school following the crisis.
3. What elements of this time period do we still see today?
Anti-Middle Eastern and Iranian sentiments are still with us, as well as the 24-hour news cycle, which was ushered in by Nightline, a nightly newscast that delivered daily, breathless updates on the hostage crisis; it stayed on the air for twenty years.
Plus, bell-bottom jeans, hoop earrings, and platform shoes.
4. What kind of insights do you think teens from this time period have?
Teens of the late 70s/early 80s did not have the helicopter parents of today. They had to figure most things out for themselves, which did foster a certain amount of independence and self-discovery. There was no social media, so they didn’t see highly curated online personas to which they might have felt they could never measure up. And because they weren’t online, they had to connect more IRL — or spend hours talking on the phone…like, a landline with a cord and everything!
5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?
There were a string of kooky, 1970 fad diets I omitted because they might send the wrong message to young readers, but they were hilariously ridiculous: The Stewardess Diet, which consists of a hard-boiled egg and a piece of Melba toast, plus all the coffee, tea or Sanka you can stomach; or the Grapefruit Diet in which a half a grapefruit is eaten with every meal to burn away unwanted fat (it doesn’t).
6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)
I loved The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed, about a black student at an elite, white high school during the 1993 Los Angeles uprising; The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, about a young women’s attempt to survive a loveless arranged marriage in the late 17th century Netherland’s; I, Claudius by Robert Graves is a classic, and I didn’t read it but adored the Wolf Hall limited series. And a very funny Netflix series with a lightly satirical tone and political backdrop similar to Jasmine Zumideh (but set in Ireland during the Irish “troubles”) is Derry Girls.
7. What are you working on right now?
Sadly, I’m not working on another book of historical fiction but a YA contemporary about a brother and sister who have never met, joining together to find the father they never knew — coming Fall 2023 from Wednesday Books.