In June 2022, a young adult novel pitched as a speculative Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda will be unravelling a queer boy’s journey as he travels the world for a second chance at love after a possibly magical heiress grants him three wishes. Equal parts broken-hearted love story, epic myth retelling, and a world-journey romp to fine home, this story has a lot to offer. No wonder Kirkus praised it as “an intense read that’s packed with adventure, humor, and lots of soul.” Readers will even find themselves agreeing to the author’s idea of this being perfect for fans of Moana as it includes a protagonist leaving their home to solve problems, an obnoxious magical travelling companion, a journey to foreign lands, and shedding one’s fear to brave the scary world. Needless to say, it’s a pleasure to feature Naz Kutub — the author of The Loophole— on this blog today! To view more such posts by Muslim authors, make sure to check out this collaboration, Muslim Musings, spanning over Ramadan 2022. This blog post may contain affiliate links. To know more about them, please read my disclaimer.
Q/A with Naz Kutub on his upcoming debut novel, portraying tough themes in the midst of heart and humour, and writing a young queer Muslim protagonist.
Starting with the introductions, would you like to help our readers know more about your upcoming debut novel, The Loophole, yourself, and the weather where you are?
Hi everyone! I’m Naz Kutub, born and raised in Singapore but am making Los Angeles home (for now). It’s surprisingly cold over here right now, but my bedroom is nice and warm, thank goodness. My debut novel, The Loophole, is a Young Adult contemporary with magical elements that was inspired by the early years of my life. There’s adventure across the world as Sayyed – the protagonist – gets kicked out by his dad after he’s outed, and he has no choice but to go off in search for his ex-boyfriend, who’s gone missing, hoping they could give it another try. There’s oodles of hopefulness in it, along with a girl genie who’s not quite who she appears to be!
So it’s about Sayyed setting off on a journey across the world to find his ex-boyfriend, who has suddenly gone missing, while accompanied by a possibly-magical heiress. Well, how was this interesting idea even born?
I decided to take a few nuggets of my experience growing up – my tyrannical dad, my travel to distant countries, an ex-boyfriend who was always looking for happiness elsewhere, along with me being homeless at seventeen, and threw them all into this magical concoction, and what came out was this amazing story. I couldn’t be prouder of the result.
This YA speculative fiction is sure to be full of humour, heart, and so much more. How was your experience writing this story, especially while portraying first love and some tough themes at the centre of it all?
Because a lot of it was borrowed from my lived experiences, it was a lot easier to write. Most of it just flowed out of me. Granted, the girl genie character was entirely made up, it was still easy to portray who she was, because I found that she was the wiser, older part of me as I got older. And it was nice to be able to relive my travels to London and Istanbul, which are showcased on the wonderful cover!
The Loophole by Naz Kutub
Sy is a timid seventeen-year-old queer Indian-Muslim boy who placed all his bets at happiness on his boyfriend Farouk…who then left him to try and “fix the world.” Sy was too chicken to take the plunge and travel with him and is now stuck in a dead-end coffee shop job. All Sy can do is wish for another chance…. Although he never expects his wish to be granted.
When a mysterious girl slams into (and slides down, streaks of make-up in her wake) the front entrance of the coffee shop, Sy helps her up and on her way. But then the girl offers him three wishes in exchange for his help, and after proving she can grant at least one wish with a funds transfer of a million dollars into Sy’s pitifully struggling bank account, a whole new world of possibility opens up. Is she magic? Or just rich? And when his father kicks him out after he is outed, does Sy have the courage to make his way from L. A., across the Atlantic Ocean, to lands he’d never even dreamed he could ever visit? Led by his potentially otherworldly new friend, can he track down his missing Farouk for one last, desperate chance at rebuilding his life and re-finding love?
It’s no surprise that this debut is Sayyed’s story: as a gay Indian-Muslim boy, as a boy looking for his love, as someone discovering himself on a journey fuelled by three magical wishes. What was the secret to balancing all in order to create a main character like Sayyed?
Honestly, I had no idea if the story would even work as I wrote it. Because I decided to incorporate a third storyline of the genie’s origin story. But my agent and editor did such a brilliant job through it all, helping flesh out the most important details, while still not losing out on any of Sayyed’s depth and the overall theme, I think it’s all worked out beautifully, to the point where recently, I got a wonderful review by Kirkus, who called it ambitious, and even succeeding at the themes being explored.
Shazleen Khan made a stunning illustration for The Loophole’s cover—apologies for digressing but I must mention your “book jacket” here. Would you like to quickly tell us how it felt seeing the cover for the first time?
OH MY GOODNESS! That cover is EVERYTHING. Props to Shazleen and their wonderful talent. I just love what they did with Sayyed. I mean, just look at their faces. I was so excited to get it turned into an actual jacket, and I wore it with pride whenever I could. I’m hoping it’ll make an appearance at my book launch, which is happening in two short months! Yikes!
It’s easy to understand why readers are excited for The Loophole—set to be published on June 07, 2022! How excited are you? Any thoughts on what you expect readers to take away from it?
So the date is actually June 21, 2022 —I know, things in publishing can change very quickly. I’m nervous because I hope everyone understands Sayyed’s journey, why he had to go through with it all, and that readers fall for Reggie—the girl genie character—as much as I have enjoyed exploring these characters.
You’ve said The Loophole is “a love letter to teen Naz who had to find a means to an escape”. Only if you’re comfortable, would you like to elaborate on this, especially as an author whose writing will surely be a safe space for other queer POC and queer Muslim readers?
Growing up, I didn’t know I could be who I wanted to be, and be happy this way. I thought I would have to live a lie my entire life, and now, I hope that young queer Muslim readers understand that you’re perfect just the way you feel, and that you can find happiness within yourself to live your authentic life. And that as adults, you are given the chance to find a family of your own, people who will love you just the way you are.
With your debut publishing soon, what have you learned ever since that first step you took towards writing stories or getting them on shelves?
I think writing from personal experience makes the process so much easier. That’s the best part about it – I don’t have to lie one bit, and it’s made it such a joy, whatever new story I come up with.
This was a great chat! But before letting you go, would you like to share what you’ve been working on nowadays; any stories we should be excited for after The Loophole will surely win our hearts? Or maybe something you enjoyed reading recently?
Thanks for having me on your blog, Fanna. I’m working on a few new projects, the latest of which is a chapterbook about a Muslim boy and his magical adventures around the world. Let’s keep our fingers crossed it’ll find its home at a publisher soon!
Naz Kutub was born and raised in Singapore, and currently lives in Los Angeles with his partner Benson, and his two furry garbage collectors, Alex and Raffe. He will forever be grateful to fried chicken for being a primary motivator in his early years, and also for preventing him from becoming a fitness model, because writing is much more fulfilling. You can find him at www.nazkutub.com or @nazkutub on Twitter or @nazkutub on Instagram!
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Everything stated in this post is independent of any compensation, and the author’s answers and thoughts are solely their opinion; the formatting was done by the blogger but no changes were made in text.