My guest today is author Farah Heron, whose latest book, Kamila Knows Best, is an updated spin on the Jane Austen classic Emma! Along the way we talk about:

  • Updating a unique, challenging character
  • Addressing the age gap between the characters
  • The importance of hot wet saris
  • Curly hair care techniques
  • Lipstick recommendations

What are your favorite Emma retellings? And what are your go-to lip color recommendations?

Music: purple-planet.com

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Transcript

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[music]

Sarah Wendell: Hello and welcome to episode number 504 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books! I’m Sarah Wendell, and today my guest is Farah Heron. Her latest book, Kamila Knows Best, is an updated spin on Emma, and along the way we talk about a lot of things, including updating a character, the importance of hot, wet saris, and curly hair care and lipstick recommendations – basically all the essentials you need in an author interview, right?

I will have links to all of the things we talk about in this episode in the show notes, and you know where that is, right? At smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast!

Hello and thank you, as always, to the Patreon community. You guys have kept the show going, you make sure every episode has a transcript – thank you, garlicknitter! – and you’re wonderful! [You sure are! – gk] Thank you for being part of our community. If you would like to have a look, go to patreon.com/SmartBitches.

This podcast is brought to you in part by June’s Journey, a Hidden Object Mystery game that several of you have downloaded and started playing along with me! Hello to all of the members of the SBTB Romance Club inside June’s Journey, and nice job on us getting that first place! June’s Journey is a Hidden Object murder mystery set in the roaring ‘20s. You play as June Parker, an amateur detective investigating a series of mysteries full of twists and turns around every corner. You progress through the mystery story by gathering clues found in different scenes, and you level up by building and restoring property on Orchid Island. There are so many different elements, but the heart of the game is the Hidden Object scenes where you try to find as many objects as quickly and accurately as you can. It is very easy to get caught up trying to beat my last score. I really like the puzzle challenges, but I really like how relaxing it is, and one of my favorite things to do at the end of the day now is listen to a podcast and try to beat the weekly challenges. There is a detective in all of us. Find your inner detective: download June’s Journey free today on the Apple App Store or Google Play!

This episode is brought to you in part by Headspace. Do you ever feel like your mind doesn’t have an off switch or that tension is constantly traveling through your body? Or do you feel tired no matter how much you sleep? That is just one of the few ways that stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness can harm your mind and your body. This year, why not make small changes to your daily routine that have a big influence on your mental health and wellbeing? Start your year with Headspace. We all say we’re fine when we don’t really mean it, but fine isn’t really an emotion, is it? How many times have you told yourself you’re fine when all you’ve really felt is anger or sadness or just nerves? Headspace is scientifically proven to help you manage your feelings and your mental health. In fact, a recent study proved that in just two weeks Headspace can reduce your stress by fourteen percent. Whether you want to relieve stress and anxiety, sleep better, or improve your focus, Headspace is your daily dose of mindfulness for real life. I personally love the courses on anxiety and on happiness, but I really love the sleepcasts. My favorite is still Cat Marina. However you’re feeling, try Headspace at headspace.com/SARAH and get one month free of their entire mindfulness library. This is the best Headspace offer available, so go to headspace.com/SARAH today – headspace.com/SARAH.

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This episode is brought to you in part by Lumineux. Science time! Here is something I didn’t know: ninety-eight percent of the oral bacteria in your mouth are good for you! They’re actually essential for your oral health. It turns out the fact that all bacteria is bad is just a myth, and Lumineux is busting this myth wide open. Lumineux makes toothpaste, mouthwash, and whitening products that are totally new and a different approach for improving your oral health. They use purposeful and uncompromising ingredients like sea salt, aloe, and coconut oils to clean and brighten your smile, plus everything they make is certified nontoxic. I really like the toothpaste ‘cause it leaves my mouth feeling extremely clean, and I look forward to using it, and I never get those weird sores on the inside of my lip, either. I hate those! Everything is dentist-formulated, backed by over fifty studies, and proven to protect the good bacteria, also known as the microbiome. Find Lumineux on amazon.com and get seven dollars off today. That’s L-U-M-I-N-E-U-X. Remember, it’s spelled with an X so you can X out the harm. Lumineux: dedicated to illuminating better ideas in oral care.

All right, let’s get this episode started! On with my conversation with Farah Heron.

[music]

Farah Heron: My name is Farah Heron. I am a romance writer. That’s it! [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah? Congratulations on your new book. Please tell me everything: what will readers find inside this book?

Farah: Okay, so my new book is Kamila Knows Best, and it is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. It’s set in Toronto in a South Asian community, and it’s got lots of fun parties, really cool clothes, dogs, and a ton of fun.

Sarah: And hot, wet saris.

Farah: Hot, wet saris, yeah. [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: Yes.

Sarah: It must have been very tempting to call the book Hot, Wet Saris.

Farah: I hadn’t actually thought of that till now, but maybe we can, we can talk to my publisher about it –

Sarah: Yeah, it’s just –

Farah: – [Laughs]

Sarah: – it’s just a supply chain! No big deal! I know that the Emma vs. Pride and Prejudice debate is a very fierce one, and I’ve seen many people on both sides, so why is Emma your favorite?

Farah: Emma is my favorite character. I don’t know if I would say Emma is my favorite Austen book? I love Pride and Prejudice; it’s, of course, my first love, just like so many of us.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: And I absolutely love the movies, but my favorite book, the one that I reread the most, is Persuasion? But Emma was just a ton of fun to adapt, like, to kind of turn it, turn it on its head?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: And it’s, she’s most definitely, easily my favorite character. I love her differences, her, like, the contrasts between her generosity and her kind of self-absorption, and how, how she loves her family so fiercely, but she really doesn’t, she doesn’t really open up to them. She doesn’t really, she doesn’t, she’s kind of on the edge of, of her community, and I love that about her. So I, I had a lot of fun with the character, but I, I know that some people, I know that it’s a hard character for a lot of people to like.

Sarah: It’s really interesting, ‘cause when you were talking I was thinking, you know, Emma was one of the first characters that I read where I was like, I would probably find you very frustrating in real life? I can see all your flaws. I can make a bullet-pointed list of all of your personality flaws that I’m like, oh girl, come on! No, that’s not good! But I root for her anyway.

Farah: Yeah! And that, that’s why I found so much fun about, about recreating that character is – I mean, I saw it as a challenge.

Sarah: Yeah!

Farah: Years ago, I had a review, and I don’t even remember the book, but I read a book review on a, on an Emma retelling, and it was just, it, it, and the review talked a little bit about that challenge of getting all of those flaws on the page –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: – and yet still making sure that the reader roots for Emma. Like, that is a very challenging thing to do. I like, I mean, I, I, I do think at some point I bit off more than I could chew, ‘cause it was a lot of work to try and get that perfect balance?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: But that was, that was exactly it: to get readers to still root for her, to still identify with her, even though she does a lot of very frustrating things.

Sarah: Yes. And the title captures it perfectly, because Emma and Kamila both think they do know best, and in some ways they do! But not in every way.

Farah: [Laughs] Yeah, they do, yeah. Titles are so funny. It was actually hilarious: every one of my books has been a nightmare to title, where we’ve gone back and forth with, with the publisher and my agent, so when, when I didn’t have a title for this one for a long time, and, and then finally, on my very last draft before I handed it in, I’m like, Kamila Knows Best, and it’s literally a line from the book –

Sarah: Yep!

Farah: – that she says at some point, and that’s, the line came first, so I’m like, that’s the title, and it was just such a last minute, like literally the day before I handed it in, and then not long after, my, my editor writes back to me and my agent saying, oh, we have some cover concepts! And she’s showing us all these cover concepts with the Kamila Knows Best on it, so my, my agents are like, they didn’t fight you on the title? Like, it was the first time I’ve never been, like, come back and say, that title doesn’t work or something?

Sarah: Win!

Farah: So we’re like, we’re just not going to say anything!

Sarah: Yeah!

Farah: ‘Cause we were all, we were bracing ourselves, expecting it to, to, the title to change. But then as, as, because I hadn’t put a lot of thought into it, but now I realized that, yeah, actually, the title matches it absolutely perfectly.

Sarah: And it captures Emma’s fundamental flaw as a character, in, in that –

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: – she is incredibly generous and she’s incredibly smart, and she does know a lot of things, but she also has a lot of hubris that prevents her from recognizing when she has catastrophically screwed up.

Farah: Yes, and that’s ex-, exactly! It’s like Clueless, right? It was –

Sarah: Yeah!

Farah: – the perfect adaptation, that movie.

Sarah: Yep! And you, yet you root for her! You root for Kamila; you root for Cher in, in Clueless – I mean, it’s a brilliant, brilliant thing, especially because I remember when I was researching and writing my first book, you know, more than ten years ago – my gosh – there’s a whole, whole section where writers were talking about how writing heroines is really difficult because romance readers can be very hard on heroines. Heroes can get away with some absolutely dastardly deeds, but we’re, we collectively can be very hard on other women. I can’t imagine why that is –

Farah: [Laughs]

Sarah: – it’s not at all a pattern generally in society. I don’t know why that’s the case, but it, you know, it’s hard to write a heroine that you know is going to tick people off, but Emma gets it, Emma gets it done!

Farah: Yeah! And they, it is very hard, and it’s something that I was – that’s why I said I may have bit off more than I could chew –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Farah: – should I be doing this? I mean, Jane Austen herself said, I’m going to write a character that no one but me will love?

Sarah: Yes!

Farah: But everybody does love Emma –

Sarah: Yep.

Farah: – but even, even way back in Jane Austen’s time, she was like, yeah, people are going to hate her!

Sarah: Yep! She’s, she’s a bit much. Yep.

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: Yep. She would be great on Twitter.

Farah: Oh my goodness, yes!

[Laughter]

Farah: Oh, I’m just imagining the gossip about the community and –

Sarah: Between Emma on Twitter and Emma on Instagram, that would be an absolutely fantastic social media presence, right?

Farah: It would be so good! I can imagine, like, the little salty quips about Mrs. Bates where she’s – oh my God. [Laughs]

Sarah: And then Emma’s take on current celebrity gossip would be hilariously on point –

Farah: Yes.

Sarah: – and also just a little mean – just a little.

Farah: Yeah, just a little bit!

Sarah: Just a little.

Farah: Just a little bit. [Laughs]

Sarah: One thing I love about Kamila Knows Best is that it is a combination of really lovely characters, including Alexis and Tahani, and you said in your Author’s Note that you wanted to end up with a character that you wanted to be friends with, and part of the context of that is that she has good friends who like her! Now, this is completely successful, by the way, ‘cause I totally wanted to hang out with Kamila.

Farah: [Laughs]

Sarah: I would like to know about the specific party throw pillows. Like, what do they look like? Where do –

Farah: Right?

Sarah: This is, this is a whole thing I didn’t know was, was a thing? Like, you had special throw party, throw pillows for your parties?

Farah: I mean, as, as a writer I have to, like, have some suspension of disbelief –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – but I can’t imagine, where would you put them when you’re not having a party?

Sarah: That’s, that was exact- –

Farah: Where?

Sarah: I’m like, she didn’t even put out the special party pillows, and I’m like, wait, you have special party pillows? What?! That’s a thing? I am adulting all wrong. [Laughs]

Farah: I don’t think any of us can, can quite adult like Kamila.

Sarah: No! But when did you sort of, sort of fall for her when you were writing? What were the parts of her that you were like, yes, this is the character I want to be friends with?

Farah: A lot of it is the, the idea of her being very preoc-, I don’t want to say preoccupied, but she’s very conscious about looks, about how things look, about how her apartment looks, about how her, her, her clothes and her, her dresses and her hair and everything –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – and I think that’s, that, those are traits that a lot of people think of as negative traits, especially for women, and we –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: – can talk about why that is, or everybody knows why that is –

[Laughter]

Farah: – but I wanted to have those traits in her, because I think that reflected Emma to me, but at the same time I needed readers to love her, and I needed to love her. I mean, if I don’t love the character, then I’m not going to be able to, to do her justice. So her generosity; her, her – at some, she, she paints pictures of her friends’ pets for them, and that probably takes her hours, and she does it just because she loves the dogs and, and loves her friends. When she’s, even when she’s matchmaking, it’s very much, she wants everybody to be happy. It isn’t, it isn’t her as necessarily playing God –

Sarah: No.

Farah: – but she wants her friends to be happy and, and, and – happy in their life and satisfied. So I think putting all those little, those little tiny bits of generosity into her is the way that I fell in love with her, the way that I – and then I, I’m imagining that you, you do have that one friend, you know, like, the kind of friend that when they go out shopping and they see something that they think that you’ll like, they’ll buy it for you.

Sarah: Yeah!

Farah: Or – like, everybody loves that person in their life.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: Or if it’s someone, they should. And that, that’s how I saw her, is that person that’s just, like, a little over the top, but so super amazing and generous and will always buy you lunch, and –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: – that was kind of what I was going for.

Sarah: Yeah. And also the aspect of, of Kamila that – she wants the people around her to be comfortable and happy when they are in a situation that she has created. Other people’s comfort is very important to her.

Farah: Mm-hmm! Yeah. Very important to her. And that’s something that is, I tied into the culture –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – well, I tried to. I mean, we’re, South Asian communities, especially tight-knit, close ones, you’re all, you’re, it’s very welcoming. Hospitality is very important –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – when somebody comes over, you feed them, and that’s something she definitely took from her older generations. She put her own spin on it –

Sarah: Yep!

Farah: – by having these big, lavish parties, but that still is the, the – the root of it is the same, where she wants people to be comfortable in her home, and she wants everybody to feel that they’ve eaten enough food and that they have, they’re entertained and that they are welcome into the community.

Sarah: Yeah, and that you’re welcome and, and that you are, you, you are, you are wanted in that space? She wants people to be there, and she wants them to feel comfortable enough to be themselves there. Which is –

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: – which is a really, I think, unique aspect to Kamila: she doesn’t – and Emma, too, of course – they don’t want people to change to, to be how they want? She just wants people, she wants to direct them. She doesn’t want to take charge of them –

Farah: Right.

Sarah: – and change their personalities; she just wants to direct them. Like, if everyone would just listen to me, I know how to solve this problem. You just have to do what I say.

Farah: Yes. Yeah, and I think that’s something that people don’t necessarily see in Emma.

Sarah: Yeah!

Farah: With, with Emma and Harriet, she’s not trying to turn Harriet into her –

Sarah: No.

Farah: – she’s trying to be, she’s trying to turn Harriet into the best possible Harriet she can be.

Sarah: Yes, exactly!

Farah: So Emma’s idea of what that is is a little different from what Harriet’s idea of what that is, but she’s not trying to turn anyone into a, a, like a little Emma.

Sarah: No. She doesn’t want people to, like, worship her, and she doesn’t want people to be like her. She wants to direct other people so that they can be happy, because that’s what she wants.

Farah: Yeah. Exactly.

Sarah: And then, of course, she trips on her own hubris, because of course she knows best!

Farah: [Laughs] Yes!

Sarah: Now, I love that, one thing in the early chapters, that Kamila starts off very compartmentalized. She says, all a girl needs are friends, companionship, and sex. I have plenty of the first two, and I know where to find the third. And then she ends up finding someone who fulfills all three! Very efficient. Well done!

Farah: Well done!

[Laughter]

Sarah: What do you think are the, like, absolutely crucial elements for Rohan’s character in, in sort of each department?

Farah: Yeah, he was, he was a tough one to kind of cra-, he was a tough nut to crack.

Sarah: Yeah!

Farah: So he, I, I was very, I wanted him to have that kind of, that, you know, little bit scolding, a little bit teasing –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – the way Mr. Knightley does in Emma.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: But he also had to be, like you said, he had to be her friend. He had to be – he couldn’t be the, the older brother or father figure that I’ve seen a lot when, when you do these, these stories. And so I, I, I made the age difference between them a little bit less than in the source material, and yeah, technically he is her sister’s brother-in-law, but I really tried to get away from that, that older brother scolding feeling?

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: And so the way I kind of did it is that they hadn’t really been close until recently, because if I’d had them close their whole life the way that they are in Emma, then I think that that friend bit would be a little bit hard for the, for, to really understand?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: I, I think it would be very difficult to be a very good friend of somebody who is ten or fifteen years older than me that I’ve known all my life. That is an auntie or an uncle; that cannot, I cannot reach that, that, cross that barrier into friendship. And that was something that I –

Sarah: Yeah, that is an elder person; that’s not –

Farah: Yeah!

Sarah: – that’s not an age mate, yeah.

Farah: Yeah! And especially, especially in a tight-knit community? That’s, that’s, yeah, that’s – and especially that he’s close with her dad. So I, I – so that was, that was something that I – I mean, I can – I, I personally am not a big fan, but I can kind of get the sexual attraction to somebody that’s that much older than you or that you’ve known for a long time, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t cross the friendship barrier that way, so that’s why I kind of made them so that they, their friendship is more of a recent thing. Because it, it, you’re right, that she has to find somebody that fits all of the, the holes in her life, so to speak. Even though she seems to think she has it all.

Sarah: Yeah. And she’s got things very specifically compartmentalized, and I, I love that she’s like, no, I have friends, I have companions, and sex, and I know how to get sex; that’s not a problem.

Farah: That’s not a problem, yeah.

Sarah: But then she meets somebody who has all three, and she’s like, well, crap!

[Laughter]

Farah: Crap! She doesn’t know what to do with that.

Sarah: Nope! And Rohan, the thing, one of the things that I like about how the book opens is that they’re in the kitchen, she’s kind of a disaster, and he knows exactly who she is, and she knows exactly who she’s going to be, and, and she is her absolute authentic messy self with him right from the start.

Farah: Yeah. Yeah, and that was also, that, that intimacy from the beginning is something that I pulled directly from Emma.

Sarah: Yes.

Farah: That – I always think back to the, my favorite Emma adaptation is the Kate Beckinsale movie from like – I’m aging myself; it’s very old – but I love that one, and I always think about the first time you see the two of them together. They’re in a dark dining room, and Emma’s just having dinner with her father, and Mr. Knightley comes in – as opposed to starting it in a party or –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – in a ballroom or any of the other places that you could introduce an Austen hero and heroine, they chose a very quiet family dinner.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: And that was something that I wanted to recreate, so that’s why I had it as a family breakfast, where it’s just the three of them.

Sarah: Yeah. And it captures that sort of mundane part of her day. This isn’t during a party; this isn’t during an evening with the, you know, the party throw pillows. This is –

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: – this is an average, mundane morning, and he is part of that, and it’s not weird that he’s there.

Farah: Yeah, exactly, yeah. He’s, he’s, he’s, it’s not weird that he’s there. Meanwhile, her other friends are always there at big events and parties –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – and things like that.

Sarah: Yeah. There’s a sort of a, a, a role that dressing up plays with some of her relationships, that she doesn’t see people until she – there’s some people in her life that she doesn’t see until she’s dressed?

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: And then there are people who are there for the everyday, I’m in my pajamas, I just set fire to things in the kitchen –

Farah: [Laughs] Yes.

Sarah: – moments, and that’s where Rohan fits in.

Farah: Yeah. Exactly, yeah. And then she hasn’t even gotten dre-, you’re right, she hasn’t even gotten dressed. There’s a scene where she comes down and she’s still got the bonnet on her hair –

Sarah: Yeah, yeah!

Farah: – and he makes a comment about it. I mean –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – the fact that she’s comfortable enough to have him see that in her –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: – speaks a lot about her.

Sarah: And it’s, it’s, that kind of intimacy is a boundary that usually in, in a, in a romance between two people who don’t know each other very well, that sort of mundane intimacy comes later, but with Emma –

Farah: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – with the source material and with this book, it starts at the beginning.

Farah: It starts right at the beginning, yeah.

Sarah: Yeah!

Farah: Yeah, and that’s the same way, that they’re, she’s just eating, eating dinner with her dad, and he comes in.

Sarah: And it’s like, oh yeah, you’re here. Okay!

Farah: How was your ride? It was good! It was a bit of bad weather. And it’s just that, exactly, that mundane, kind of domestic conversation.

Sarah: And it’s not a surprise that he’s so very much embedded in, in the, into the, the daily minutes of her life. Like, he’s just always there; he’s always around.

Farah: Yeah. Yeah.

Sarah: And the transformation of, wait a minute, now I see you as somebody who is very important, but also still part of the mundane life. Like, the intimacy makes it more complicated.

Farah: Yes. Yeah, totally.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: And I think that, kind of stepping over that, moving the relationship to a different level is –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – very tricky, and I can understand why Kamila just didn’t know what to do with herself. So complicated!

Sarah: I love friends-to-lovers romances? And I particularly like it when the thing that they’re terrified of losing is the role that they have in each others’ lives without the romance. Like, the whole, I don’t want to risk the friendship? That makes complete sense to me, because if someone is a foundational element to your life, you don’t want to screw that up! You don’t want to make a mess of that and have it gone. And so I, I get the idea that it is terrifying to see somebody who’s just part of the fabric of your day all of a sudden become this Technicolor source of much drama! Like, whoa! When, how did that happen? That’s a lot, and it’s, it’s fascinating to me that that is one of the foundational Austen stories.

Farah: Yes. And it’s quite different from the other Austen stories. Like, I –

Sarah: It is!

Farah: – I can’t even think of any other, off the top of my head, where they already know each other.

Sarah: No, it’s, it, I mean, Persuasion, they knew each other, and then they know each other –

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: – again, but they’ve changed and evolved, and things are different, and they have to sort of, like, undo a bunch of mess that’s between them. With, with Emma

Farah: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – it’s somebody who’s already been in her life, who still, like, it’s not like he leaves. Like, Mr. Darcy is hardly in Pride and Prejudice; like, he shows up like five times.

Farah: Yeah. And it’s only, like, that ballroom –

Sarah: This guy has no –

Farah: – it’s only that, that, that very glossy –

Sarah: The public –

Farah: – setting.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: Like, even in the, the, the BBC adaptation, they added in scenes of him, like there’s a scene of him fencing, and he’s all sweaty and, and disheveled –

Farah: [Laughs]

Sarah: – because, I mean, Colin Firth does look –

Farah: Colin Firth, right? [Laughs]

Sarah: – very good sweaty and disheveled. I do not critique this decision, but, like, they added in scenes ‘cause the dude’s hardly in the book. Like, he’s hardly present in scenes –

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: – whereas with Emma, they’re there all the time.

Farah: Yeah! All the time!

Sarah: Which gives you a lot to play with!

Farah: Yeah. That’s exactly it, is that, and especially in Emma, they’re, they’re at these get-togethers and within the neighborhood, and then he’s helping with her father, and he’s there all the time.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: That almost makes it, I never actually thought of that, but it almost makes it match more, modern romance more. One of the things that I had to learn when I started writing romance is you’ve got to get them on the page together!

Sarah: Yes!

Farah: It’s not going to happen if they’re not there!

Sarah: Yes, they have to get on the page together, and they have to start talking to each other.

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: Especially for the dialogue fans like me; that’s my favorite part, the dialogue.

What are your favorite parts of this book? Do you have a favorite scene or a favorite moment in this story that you like? Is it the wet sari?

Farah: [Laughs] The, the wet sari – I mean, I’m, I’m laughing at the wet sari one because as I’m writing it and I keep hinting at the wet sari, it’s not really a spoiler because I think the wet sari is first hinted at in chapter one.

Sarah: Oh no, it’s –

Farah: So I’ve been hinting at it –

Sarah: – he, she says to him, I, I want to find somebody who looks at me the way you look at someone in a wet sari, and I was like –

Farah: [Laughs] A wet sari!

Sarah: – oh, that was Chekhov’s wet sari, wasn’t it?

Farah: [Laughs] So everybody knew it was coming, so of course I had fun of, like, I, of playing, how am I going to get a wet sari into there at the end?

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: Like, how, how would I do that? So that was a lot of fun to figure out, to figure out the logistics of the wet sari.

[Laughter]

Farah: And, like, why would she be in a sari? Why is it wet? Why is she, like – also why is there nobody else around? So that was a lot of fun to write. I think the scene, the dialogue in the scene took me a few tries to get write, because I was trying not to exactly, not go exactly in the original Emma. I mean, that’s everybody’s favorite scene in Emma, where he says, if I loved you less, right?

Sarah: I might be able to talk about it more, yeah.

Farah: So I tried not to go exactly with that, but I wanted it to kind of mirror it, so it gives the same feeling as that scene?

Sarah: Yes, yes.

Farah: I love, I love ending the scenes with the dogs, Potato, the, the puppy, any of those. I, I absolutely love that dog. I think my favorite things to write in it were definitely the friends, though, her friend group?

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: Any of the times that she and her best friend Asha are together, and everybody else is, is having, like, a normal conversation, and the two of them are in, like, a different world.

Sarah: Yep, yep.

Farah: One of them will say something completely off the ball, and only her, her best friend would un-, understand them, and everybody else would be like, what the hell is going on?

Sarah: [Laughs] Yep!

Farah: So I really love that. I love, I love their dynamic, and I tend to love writing those kind of scenes with close friends and, and kind of an ensemble? So that was a lot of fun.

Sarah: Yeah. Especially because when you have a close friendship with someone, you develop your own dialect, and to outsiders it sounds like you’re speaking in code.

Farah: Yeah. Yes.

Sarah: And that’s tricky for a writer, because you want to display that sort of linguistic familiarity between two people, but you don’t them, so you don’t speak the code. You have to introduce the code to the reader so that they can understand what’s happening between these two people, even as the other people in their life don’t understand.

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: It’s quite a trick of language to pull off, really.

Farah: Yeah! And it was tricky with, with this character too, because she, Asha is her best friend, and Asha is kind of, if we’re, if we’re going on the Emma thing she is the – oh, I don’t remember her name; Mrs., the, her, who used to be her governess, and –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: Yeah. So it’s that character. So Asha’s a little bit older than her, and she also hasn’t known Kamila as long as, as, as, for example, Kamila’s known Rohan. So a lot of the intimacy, I felt like, the intimacy’s very much in the present?

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: So they work together at the animal shelter, and all of the inside jokes are just stuff that has happened recently, as opposed to the people that have known her forever.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: But I mean, I still think it’s important. You can have a friend that you haven’t known, or, like, you’ve only known for four years or something –

Sarah: Yes.

Farah: – that you’re that in sync with, and that’s what I was trying to establish, that they are very, very similar and actually quite perfect for each other, even though they’re not, like, long-term friends.

Sarah: Yeah. And, and this person provides the companionship of knowing who she is right now –

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: – in that context of, of working with the animals.

Farah: Yes, exactly. And she doesn’t know the old Kamila. There’s a lot of, of mention about how she was different when she was younger, and it had to do with a lot of the abuse she had from her mother and things like that.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: But her friends don’t know that past, but Rohan does.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: So that gives, gives you the abil-, gives, gave me the ability to kind of say, well, she can explain things, so it helps for storytelling, but also people see her as who she is, and, and she has to be the one that kind of peels back the layers of the onion to show people who she was.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: Meanwhile, Rohan knows both.

Sarah: Which is both wonderful, because she has somebody who knows her so well, and also terrifying to have somebody who knew her through all of the things that she’s been through. It’s another kind of –

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: – vulnerability.

Farah: Yeah, yeah, that’s very true.

Sarah: Yeah. Now, I have a few other questions. The one th-, and Estelle was telling me, all right, you have to ask this; I’m – okay. Your curls are so fabulous.

Farah: [Laughs] Thank you!

Sarah: Please tell me everything that you do to take care of your curls, ‘cause they always look so good. And so during the, during the pandemic, in 2020, I usually have very short hair, like I do now, but I, you know, couldn’t get a haircut, and to my absolute shock, my hair grew in wavy? I’ve never had wavy hair in my life. And so I started from absolute zero in terms of what do I do with curly hair, ‘cause I have zero knowledge in that department. And I kind of learned, and I learned that one thing for me is that I don’t know what my hair’s going to look like when it’s wavy. It’s a different hair every day, and I was like this is really frustrating! I think I want to cut it off again. But your hair looks great all the time! Please tell me how you take care of your curls.

Farah: See, I don’t think my – like, I’m looking at it now; I’m like, it’s flat and my hair –

Sarah: And I’m sitting here thinking, oh my gosh, look at the gorgeous curl pattern –

Farah: [Laughs]

Sarah: – and it’s shiny, and oh my gosh! Yep.

Farah: So I, I had heavily damaged hair and, like, I used to straighten it twice a week –

Sarah: Yep.

Farah: – religiously for years and years and years, and I just got tired of it, and I decided to start wearing it curly, and it was right, right before pandemic. Like, I literally have a picture of the last time I straightened it, and it’s like, like early March 2020 –

Sarah: Yeah, yeah.

Farah: – so it was right before. So it’s like, I’m going to, I’m going to figure out how to do my hair curly, and it wouldn’t curl anymore because it was so incredibly damaged. Like, the bottom like four inches was pin straight –

Sarah: Yep.

Farah: – and then it was frizzy at the top. So it was a perfect time because then everything locked down, and so it was a perfect time for me to have bad hair until I grew out all the bad stuff, and so I got a haircut and started paying attention to it, and it’s been kind of trial and error. I haven’t flat-ironed my hair since then? I’ve done a, like a blow-dry it straight twice in the last two years.

Sarah: Wow.

Farah: [Indistinct] So it took me like two years before I would do anything but – like, no heat damage.

Sarah: Wow.

Farah: And still it’s a nightmare! What you said is right: like, I never know. I, I, I’m, I’m terrified of when the world is open and I have to start going places, ‘cause when I had straight ha-, when I used to straighten my hair I could count on it looking the same day to day –

Sarah: Yes!

Farah: – waking up in the morning and, and, okay, just flat-iron a little bit and then I’m good. It’s like, what am I going to do when I have to travel or something, and I have to have – so I have no idea. I’m, I’m, like, I’m having a, a crisis now. I’m like, should I just start straightening it again?

Sarah: No, it’s so beautiful, and I, I know for you, because you are the one who takes care of it, you’re like, oh, this part is frizzy, and this part – I’m like, your curl pattern is, like, flawless.

Farah: Thank you, thank you.

Sarah: I mean, that’s why I cut my hair off, so I’d know what it would look like in the morning: it’s short. I mean, in the morning it sticks straight up and I just push it down, but it’s short, so it doesn’t do anything. The –

Farah: Yes!

Sarah: Your, your curls look great!

Farah: Thank you! So what do I do with it right now? I, I do diffuse it, so I do use a blow dryer. I, when I have time, sometimes I’ll just let it air dry, but the main thing is I don’t – I used to do Curly Girl, and if anybody knows anything about Curly Girl, they know how incredibly strict it is for, like, ingredients –

Sarah: Yes!

Farah: – and how you treat your hair. I don’t do –

Sarah: Yes, this is where I started, and I was very overwhelmed.

Farah: Yeah, Curly Girl is very, um, I have issues with it? It’s very, very strict about ingredients. So I did that for a while, especially while my hair was healing –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: – but now I don’t. I just find what works and, and use that. But I use, I use, like, a good shampoo and conditioner; I don’t wash it every, every day; and then curl cream, gel, and then a little bit of hair serum. That’s it for product.

Sarah: Do you have any products that you swear by?

Farah: I have a couple. I do not, I don’t always get the expensive ones, but sometimes I do. Right now I’m using, it’s called AG Recoil? So that is an expensive one, and it’s a curl cream?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farah: But if you don’t want to use that one, I also really like the Cantu Coconut Curl Cream, I think it’s called? So those are the curl creams I like to go back and forth, and then for gel, there’s one that I’m using right now, and it’s from Sally Beauty: BioTerra Alcohol Free Gel, I think.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: And it’s really, really liquid-y; it’s a very watery gel, which works well for my hair. Other people need more help?

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: But there’s, that one’s really good. Dippity-do – I don’t know how available these will be outside of Canada – Dippity-do is available everywhere here, and I think it’s a little bit harder to find in the US –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – but Dippity-dos are really cheap, and they’re very good. There’s a curl one, Girls with Curls –

Sarah: Yeah?

Farah: – Gelée or something, which is excellent. And then the regular, like the sport gel, like the really, really heavy sport gel is also really, really good.

Sarah: When I was in high school, Dippity-do was everywhere.

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: But, I mean, I was in high school, like, I graduated high school in 1993, so I was doing my hair in the time period when you would take a curling iron and go up and then also down and then spray until it sizzled, and then you had like a sideways hair butt on your forehead all day? Dippity-do was a major part of that experience for me.

Farah: [Laughs]

Sarah: I don’t know where it went, but it is hard to find in the States now.

Farah: Is it? Yeah! I didn’t realize it was a Canadian company until recently. I was like, oh, that’s why Americans are always saying they can’t find it.

Sarah: Yeah! Now, I also follow you on Instagram, so not to be a complete creep.

Farah: [Laughs]

Sarah: You have outstanding nail art for this book?

Farah: Yes! [Laughs]

Sarah: And you have great lip color, so I want to ask for recommendations for lip colors and nail polishes.

Farah: Lip color, I’ve always liked a darker, like a, a more saturated color –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – and I usually go back and forth between two right now, which I find that hilarious, and I’ve been wearing the same two shades forever. I find it really funny when people say, oh, your lipstick is always amazing! You always have the perfect color. I’m like, I have two.

[Laughter]

Sarah: Well, well, it works. What, what are they?

Farah: And they’re both the, the, the Maybelline SuperStay Lip Ink?

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: Like the stuff that never comes off, so I can put it on in the morning, and then I have to, like, scrub it to get it off at the end of the day. It doesn’t come off.

Sarah: Oh wow!

Farah: And then the two colors: I think this one is Pioneer? And then the other one is the bright red, which I don’t remember the name, but it’s just two that I wear.

Sarah: And they don’t move.

Farah: They don’t move. [Laughs]

Sarah: Like, you put them on and they stay.

Farah: I have to use like eye makeup remover to take them off at the end of the day.

Sarah: [Laughs] See, my problem is, I put on a lipstick, and somehow it ends up on my glasses? Like, I will like, why is there lipstick over here? Wait, what was I doing? Apparently I, I am very bad at smearing lipstick, so I do need a lipstick that does not move.

Farah: It does – Maybelline SuperStay Lip Ink or something, and again –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – drugstore brand; it’s not expensive; ten bucks.

Sarah: Yeah. I love, I love a good drugstore brand.

Farah: Yes, me too. I’m, I’m –

Sarah: You could just get lost in the CVS for half an hour.

Farah: Yes, yes. [Laughs] And then nails is like this weird stress reliever that I’ve discovered recently.

Sarah: Me too!

Farah: Watching nail videos on YouTube –

Sarah: Yeah!

Farah: – and when I’m, like, engrossed in my work and my deadlines and everything and I just need to kind of turn it all off –

Sarah: Yep.

Farah: – I started watching these YouTube nail technicians, and they’re just doing nails. So I was like, I’m going to do my nails! So I did Kamila Knows Best – and this was the first time I’ve done nail art. Like, I’ve done, well, I’ll do colors and glitter and maybe stick things on it, but the first time I’ve painted.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: So I have, like one nail has the little paw prints, and then one has an umbrella, and the other ones are just the raindrops on the yellow.

Sarah: It’s brilliantly done; the video is adorable.

Farah: Yeah, it’s, I mean, the video, I set it up like ten times or something? I think it’s like ten to fifteen –

Sarah: She does her nails so fast! Oh my gosh!

Farah: – very slow, but also I use gel polish –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – which is fabulous because you don’t have to wait for each layer to dry. Like, I could just do the, like the umbrella, the – I could just do the pink, and then if it messes up I can just wash and, like, put alcohol to clean it and keep doing it until I get it right –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – cure it, and then I can do the black, the black on top. I don’t have to wait or smudge what I’ve already done.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s al-, the, the bottom layer of color is already locked into place.

Farah: It’s cured, yeah.

Sarah: Yep.

Farah: And it only cures when you want it to cure.

Sarah: Exactly. You have to make that happen.

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: I started doing my nails in the pandemic as a way to make myself not work, because –

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: – I can’t do anything when my nails are drying! I have no choice but to sit there and watch things on YouTube and not work because my hands are drying, my nails are drying! I can’t do anything, and it’s like half an hour to forty-five minutes of me just trimming and filing and painting and then, like, I clean up the edges. I have a special makeup brush that I use to clean up my cuticles, ‘cause –

Farah: Yeah.

Sarah: – one hand looks great, and then the hand that I paint with, my left hand, not so good.

Farah: [Laughs]

Sarah: But it was a really, a good way for me to make myself stop.

Farah: Yes.

Sarah: And rest, so I get it.

Farah: And I think, I think that’s, that’s one of the reasons why I loved it too is, is it’s a very methodical process, cleaning the cuticles and all that.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: I’ve also got, I’ve been looking for those kind of things that are, I don’t want to say mindless, but things that will, will force me not to check Twitter –

Sarah: Yeah!

Farah: – Instagram, or anything like that, and I’ve been working on like a miniature set; like, it’s a tiny little greenhouse with the little plants; it’s like a kit?

Sarah: Yeah!

Farah: And my goodness, I can turn off the whole world! Like, I, I can spend eight hours sitting there, and at the end of it I’ve made four tiny little, like, one-inch plants. Teeny-tiny things.

Sarah: Yes, I’ve seen those kits; they’re amazing!

Farah: Yeah! It’s not tricky to do. Like, it’s fiddly; it’s very small and you need to have, like, steady hands, but it’s not hard!

Sarah: No.

Farah: There’s not a lot of thinking; it’s just basically following directions, and I feel like right now I need that more than – I’ve got a ton of deadlines, I’ve got three projects on the go right now, and this is something that I can turn that – it’s the only thing I’ve found that I can turn everything else off.

Sarah: Yes.

Farah: That and YouTube nail videos.

Sarah: Yes!

Are there any books that you are reading or have read that you want to tell people about? I know you’ve got like all these projects on the go, so I don’t know if you have any reading to add.

Farah: [Laughs] I have a ton of projects on the go, and I do find it difficult to read when I’m that intense in a deadline? Right now I’m actually reading Sonali Dev’s The Emma Project

Sarah: Oh!

Farah: – which is interesting that, it’s, I find it hilarious that she and I both came out with South Asian Emma retellings in the same year. And we talked about, we, we discovered this, that we had that two years ago. We’re like, oh my goodness, we both have Emma books coming out at the same time. So I’m reading that, and I’m, obviously there are parallels with Kamila Knows Best because it’s the same source material –

Sarah: Of course!

Farah: – but there’s a lot of differences too? And I’m really en-, I’m really enjoying it. I’m, I’m liking her take on the story. And it’s funny that she, I don’t think she’s read Kamila yet, and I hadn’t read hers up until my book is out, and she’ll probably wait till her book is out –

Sarah: Right.

Farah: – just so we don’t, like, just so we don’t, like, obsess over what we could have done differently or anything like that.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Farah: But I love Sonali’s books; I love this whole series, so that’s great.

What else? I, I just finished – well, not just finished – before this I finished a book by Taj McCoy: Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell?

Sarah: Yeah?

Farah: And it’s coming out later this month, I think. I don’t think it’s out yet.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: And it was excellent. I really enjoyed that one.

And the other book that I’m really excited about that’s coming out soon, but it was out on audio already is The Stand-In by Lily Chu?

Sarah: Ooh!

Farah: And so it came out on Audible, and then the print is coming out soon.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: And it is set in Toronto – now, Lily’s a friend, but, so I was able to read it before it came out, but I did a reread of it recently, and it is so good; it is so, so good. I love, obviously I love set in Toronto because I live here, and I love anything that puts my city in the, in the spotlight, but it is just a really, really good story about – I mean, it’s, it’s a celebrity romance –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – but it doesn’t feel, like, it feels a lot more grounded? It feels more about her journey –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farah: – which I absolutely love.

Sarah: Awesome!

[music]

Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you to Farah for hanging out with me, and thank you to Estelle Hallick for connecting us to do this interview.

I have questions for you: what are your favorite Emma retellings, and what are your go-to lip color recommendations? I would love to hear from you. You can email me at [email protected], and if that doesn’t stick in your brain, Sarah with an H at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books dot com [[email protected]] also works. You could open the window and yell – I probably wouldn’t hear you – or you can leave a message at 201-371-3272, especially if you have a bad joke. You know I love those.

And of course I will have links to all of the products, books and movies that we talked about in this episode; never fear.

As always, I end each week with an absolutely dreadful joke, and this week is no different. This joke comes from Jewel. Thank you, Jewel! This is marvelous! It’s a meta bad joke.

How do you measure puns properly?

Give up? How do you measure puns properly?

You use a sighs-mograph.

[Laughs] I don’t usually sigh at a bad joke; I usually just groan or immediately run and write it down so I don’t miss out on remembering it for the show, but yes: sighs-mograph! Thank you, Jewel!

You know you can always send me bad jokes, right? It’s like my favorite thing?

On behalf of everyone here, we wish you a fabulous weekend with the very best reading, and we will see you back here next week.

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.

[end of music]

This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at Frolic.media/podcasts!
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