Liara Tamani is a writer who uses her own path of self-discovery as inspiration for her debut novel, Calling My Name. This coming of age novel explores so many aspects of life: aspirations, spirituality, and expectations. We were honored to be able to read this novel for ourselves. You can learn more about what we thought about it below:
Review of Calling My Name by Liara Tamani
Calling My Name by Liara Tamani is a beautiful look at what happens when someone is pulled in all different directions. Readers follow Taja Brown for years of her young life as she pushes through to find herself in a sea of voices that are telling her what she should be. This YA novel explores the realities of what a teen has to go through and the pressures they have to deal with on a regular basis. This novel goes beyond school and what college a teen should pick (although that’s discussed too). It’s about life, hope, and discovery.
The benefit of a novel such as this is that there are so many young readers in need of something like this. Adults tend to encourage teenagers to think for themselves, but when teens go outside of what is expected of them, suddenly adults change their tune. Parents, though they might mean well, can be the biggest culprits of this. But it’s not just the parents in a young person’s life. It’s everyone: friends, boyfriends, church communities. This novel will give anyone who reads it the courage to speak for themselves.
Figuring out what you want in life is difficult, but what Liara Tamani does in Calling My Name is show readers that their opinion about their own life matters. People grow and evolve, but no one does it faster than teenagers. That’s what this novel does. It gives those teenagers someone to look up to, someone who goes on her own path of self-discovery.
Q&A with Liara Tamani
We were able to interview Liara and learn more about her life, how she became an author, and where she sees herself going next. You can learn more about Liara below:
Just to start, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
My name is Liara Tamani and I’m from Houston, Texas (H-town!). When I’m not writing or reading, I’m usually dancing, doing yoga, or hanging out with my six-year-old daughter and my boyfriend. I love hanging out in parks and being in nature, but summertime in Houston makes that a little hard. It’s hot as hell! When the Houston heat is in full force, I like to spend time in museums.
What were you up to before you became an author?
So many things! After I graduated from Duke, I went to Harvard Law. I left after my first year because I never really wanted to be a lawyer. Leaving Harvard and the law profession (my dad’s dream for me) was really the beginning of following my own path. But I still had a lot of exploring to do before finding my way back to writing (my childhood love).
I was a marketing coordinator for the Houston Rockets and Comets (Houston’s NBA and WNBA teams). I worked on Girlfriends, the television show. I had my own design business and taught yoga and dance.
And then one night, when I was living in Los Angeles, running my design company, I sat with my laptop at my drafting table and started writing. It felt like home. Soon after, I started taking writing classes at UCLA Extension and then went on to get my Masters in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I wrote my first novel.
What inspired you to be a writer?
I’ve always loved language. I’ve always loved putting words together. I’ve always loved the beauty of lyricism and storytelling. I just didn’t realize I could actually become a writer. In order to connect to the dormant dream of being a writer living inside of me, I had to shed other people’s expectations and opinions of me. I had to trust myself. And I eventually did, mostly because I couldn’t face the sadness of living a life without passion. I couldn’t be happier that my younger self had the courage to find her way back to writing. So grateful!
You have a novel out called Calling My Name. Can you tell us a bit about the novel and what inspired you to write it?
Calling My Name is about a girl named Taja Brown, who’s growing up in Houston, Texas and trying to find her own path. But it’s hard to do when everybody around her has an opinion about how she should live her life.
Her parents have an opinion about everything. Her brother has an opinion about her needing to be a “good” girl. The church has an opinion about what she should believe about life’s big questions. New girls at her school think she talks too “white.” Her younger sister and friends have plenty to say about her boyfriend. Her boyfriend has too much to say about where she should go to college. Her top choices are prestigious schools far away, but he wants her to go somewhere closer to home, somewhere he can get into himself.
Let’s just say listening to herself and believing in herself enough to find her own way is no easy feat. And it’s not easy for a lot of us. It certainly wasn’t easy for me growing up. Calling My Name is the book I needed as a teen. I didn’t have a book like this, so I wrote one for other teens who might need it.
Calling My Name has a lot to do with finding your own path. Do you personally relate to that idea? Did your own personal history influence the novel at all?
Totally! Well, I’ve already talked about leaving the lawyer path to find my own writing path. And perhaps even harder than that, I also had to leave my family’s spiritual path to find my own.
Like Taja, the protagonist of Calling My Name, I grew up in a very loving and religious family. My family was always in church. Also like Taja, I experienced a lot of doubts and questions and guilt around religion.
Oh my god, the beautiful, soul-searching Taja. She’s so incredibly strong and radiant. I totally wish I had the strength to choose my own path when I was in high school, but I didn’t. That came much later in life for me. If I had read about Taja’s journey as a teenager, it would’ve saved me from a lot of suffering. Through her curiosity and thoughtfulness, her interior life is on full display. And the emotional journey she goes on is inspiring. At least I hope it is.
Do you have any plans for another novel yet? If so, can you tell us about it?
I recently finished my second novel and submitted it to my publisher. Yay! It’s very different from my first, but I absolutely love it. It’s written in alternating perspectives (girl-boy), and the whole book takes place over the span of six weeks. By comparison, Calling My Name takes place over five years. I can’t give away too many details about the new book. But it’s coming! And I can’t wait for everyone to read it!
I also have a short story that will appear in a YA anthology edited by Ibi Zoboi entitled, Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America. In it, my words will be alongside the words of some of my favorite writers, including Renée Waston, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Jason Reynolds. I’m so thrilled. Look out for it early next year!
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? How do you like to create?
The process changes for every project, but I always start with something that has made an emotional impression on me, something that has touched me deeply. I recall these moments, and how they made me feel, and begin constructing fiction around them.
The construction process starts by filling Moleskin notebooks with a ton of handwritten notes. Bits of dialogue, maybe a whole scene, thoughts on setting and characterization—essentially anything that will help me dive into the world I want to create, into the minds and hearts of my characters.
From there, the writing process can vary greatly. With Calling My Name, I wrote the chapters out of order, rearranged them many times, cut some, added some. The process wasn’t at all linear. The second novel has a more traditional plot, so the process is definitely more orderly.
I write Monday through Friday and give myself breaks on weekends unless something is really pressing.
Is there a fun fact about yourself that might surprise our readers if you were to share it with them?
So random, but I bruise crazy easily. Always have. I’ll look down at my leg and have a huge bruise and have no idea where it came from.
What inspires you the most to write?
I seek inspiration anywhere I can find it. An overheard conversation at a restaurant. A lyric playing on the radio. I always keep my eyes and ears open for inspiration. And art, whether it’s literature or music or film, that reveals some kind of truth about the human experience is always inspiring.
What do you want your readers to gain the most from your novels?
When teens read Calling My Name, I want them to take away that it’s okay to think differently than all the people around you. That it’s was okay, necessary even, to find your own way, to figure out what you believe and who you want to be. I want them to know that the best guide in life is your own intuition.
What advice would you give to struggling writers out there who are trying to accomplish their dreams?
Keep pushing. There’s a lot of rejection in this business, but you can’t take it personal. Your work just needs to meet the right set of eyes at the right time. This usually doesn’t happen overnight. On the contrary, it can take many years. And that’s okay. If you keep writing and keep submitting, you will get there! Also, find a writing community. Writing classes, critique groups, conferences, etc. are a great way to connect with other writers.
Your career seems like it has only just begun! Where do you see yourself going from here?
I honestly don’t know. I could stay in the children’s book market, but I could also see myself writing adult fiction. I definitely think I have another young adult book in me. And perhaps a picture book. We shall see. For now, I’m taking it one project at a time.
Do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers?
Your life is yours! You have every right to live it (with regard to career choices, family choices, spirituality choices, etc) as you desire.
And follow your dreams! If you believe in yourself and put in the work, anything is possible.