Adib Khorram, author of the Kansas State common read “Darius the Great is not Okay,” received praise and attention for his book last Thursday during his visit to campus. However his writing journey started long before his first published novel.
When growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, Khorram started writing fan fiction in sixth grade. He started with the Lord of the Rings, but his interests later shifted to science fiction.
“Some of my other friends got in on the writing game,” Khorram said. “So then that was a sort of Star Trek-inspired space opera, but mostly starring ourselves and our friend group.”
As he moved into high school and college, his writing focused more on school assignments. However, the desire to write creatively was sparked again once he took screenwriting in film school, but he didn’t see himself making a career out of it.
“If you want to get a screenplay produced, you either have to be independently wealthy, or know someone independently wealthy, and I was neither of those,” Khorram said. “I turned to novels, and wrote a whole bunch of really crappy ones, and then eventually wrote some less crappy ones.”
In 2014, Khorram came across a book that he said opened his mind to the possibilities of young adult fiction.
“I read a book called ‘Grasshopper Jungle’ by Andrew Smith, which takes place in small-town Iowa, and two boys accidentally unleash a plague of six foot tall praying mantises on the world, all while one of them is coming to terms with their bisexuality,” Khorram said. “It just kind of blew my mind what you could be doing in young adult fiction these days, and it really reinvigorated me and made me excited to be writing for young adults.”
Today, Khorram’s time spent writing often varies. In the morning, he takes time to do the business side of being an author, answering emails and researching. Afternoons are usually devoted to a certain word count, which he said is typically 1,500 words.
“Maybe that’ll take me 30 minutes, if I’m like, really feeling it, and maybe it’ll take me four hours, and I won’t quite make it,” Khorram said.
He said honesty and authenticity are what make good writing.
“At the end of the day, that’s what it’s really about, is connecting with people,” Khorram said. “If you can be honest about your own struggles, about your own thoughts, about your own feelings, and get them onto the page, it’s going to resonate with your audience.”
This strategy seems to have worked for Khorram, as the common read resonated with many students. Lilli Ward, junior in history and anthropology, said some sections of the book took her by surprise, but she knew exactly what it was talking about.
“The fact that [the main character] struggles with depression, I’ve struggled with that before, and I have a very, very, very close friend who struggled with that for a long time,” Ward said.
Thomas Leihsing, freshman in wildlife fisheries and conservation biology, said the book was a “tear-jerker.”
“Coming from a super close-knit family, it was kind of hard to see how separated he was from his family, and being able to see at the end how close he became with his family, it was really nice,” Leihsing said.
Khorram’s advice to aspiring authors? Be wary of advice.
“Try lots of different things, everyone works differently,” Khorram said. “Some people have to write every day, some people can’t write every day. Some people like to make outlines, some people can’t, they don’t work that way. So figure out what works for you, and then keep doing that. If it stops working for you, try something new.”