We are obsessed with all-star author collabs and Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed is no exception! Both Becky and Aisha brought their personal experiences and some of their fave real-life settings to their novel about Maya and Jamie, two teens who rekindle their friendship while volunteering for a political campaign.
We got to chat with Becky and Aisha about their characters, The Office romance inspo, their Target shopping list, and the important message at the heart of Yes No Maybe So. Check out what they had to say below!
Q&A: with Becky Albertalli & Aisha Seed
CO-AUTHORS OF YES NO MAYBE SO
What was the process like writing this book together?
Aisha: Indescribable. When you first begin drafting, writing a book is a solitary endeavor. Just you and the notebook or computer screen. But with this book, Becky and I got to obsess over this book together. It is amazing to share the writing process with one of your best friends who is as invested and as in love with the characters as you are. Without a doubt it is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Becky: I completely agree. It was honestly so special, for so many reasons. I loved watching our ideas build off each other – it happened so organically, and we always ended up in a place that was so much richer than where either of us had started. And of course, working so closely together on this book has given us a really safe and productive space to process our reactions to the real-world events that inspired it. We always say this book was our life raft. I think some of that comes from how much we believe in this story, but some of that simply comes from being able to work on it together.
Maya and Jamie visit a couple of real places in Georgia throughout the novel. What scene and/or setting did you most enjoy writing?
Becky: We really did pack this book with so many of our favorite hometown settings. Maya and Jamie are especially fond of the patio furniture displays in their local Target store. So, of course, Aisha and I couldn’t resist meeting there occasionally to discuss and work on the book. We even signed our book contract in the Target patio section! I also loved writing Jamie’s sister Sophie’s bat mitzvah! I was able to give Aisha a tour of my childhood synagogue (The Temple, on Peachtree Street), and being able to revisit that space was so meaningful for me.
Aisha: One place that was very special for me was Café Intermezzo which you’ll read about in the book. Becky and I met up for the very first time there. We didn’t really know much about each other, other than the fact that we had books debuting within a month of each other but within minutes it was like we’d known each other forever. Years later, Café Intermezzo was where we developed the first seeds for the story that would become YNMS. This café happens to be a favorite of Maya and Jamie in our book—and it’s so special to us to see bits of our world featured in the story.
We loved watching Maya and Jamie slowly go from friends to MAYBE something more! What do you love most about their relationship?
Becky: I’m sure this will be obvious to anyone who reads the book, but Aisha and I are both very invested in Jim and Pam from The Office. I’m such a fan of stories where the romance develops from a very real, loving friendship. Maya and Jamie made this especially fun to explore, because their cultural differences sometimes contributed to them interpreting certain moments very differently.
Aisha: Yes! I love all the conversations Maya and Jamie have! They have such a great rapport. I’m such a huge fan of love stories that are driven by conversation. When Harry Met Sally, the Before Sunset trilogy—I love those love stories where you get to watch in real time as the characters go from friends to realizing there could be something more. It gives me butterflies!
There are some really awesome side characters in this story too! Do you each have a favorite?
Aisha: This is so hard! We love all of them so much. It truly is hard to pin one down, but I think two of the MVPs have got to be Willow (Maya’s cat) and Boomer (Jamie’s dog). Fun fact! I foster cats from the Atlanta Humane Society and one of my foster cats—Willow—found her forever family with Becky! It was really cool to see Willow get a cameo in our book.
Becky: I love the pets so much!! I think the most fun side character for me to write, though, was Jamie’s little sister Sophie. Sophie’s so different from Jamie – she’s a total wiseass, and she gives Jamie absolute hell, even though she adores him. She’s a little sister, through and through.
Do you see any part of yourselves in your characters, and how so?
Becky: I identify so much with Jamie, especially his social anxiety and his tendency to get stuck in his own head. Jamie and I aren’t natural activists – speaking to strangers is way outside our comfort zones, especially if we’re not sure whether people will appreciate what we’re saying. It’s hard to be an opinionated people pleaser, especially if you’re naturally shy! So, it was really important to me to explore activism and political engagement from this perspective. There are so many ways to make a difference, even if the process feels like it’s made for a totally different personality type.
Aisha: I think there’s a piece of me in all the stories I write, but Maya is the character I most directly relate to than any other character I have ever written. The story of growing up Pakistani Muslim American in the United States—the reality of bigotry that my family and I have faced but also the joy we carve out regardless– that truth was important for me to write. My friend Ayesha Mattu told me once that joy is an act of resistance—it is something that stays with me and guided me as I wrote Maya’s story. She goes through a great deal in this book, but she also has joy and laughter through it all.
If you had to buy Maya and Jamie each gifts from Target, what would you get them and why?
Aisha: Oh this is easy! I’d get these two the cozy egg-shaped patio chair in the Target patio section they love so much and a big bag of goldfish to snuggle up with and eat together!
Becky: Absolutely what Aisha said.
What message do you hope readers will take away from Yes No Maybe So?
Becky: It is possible to make a difference even if you’re not eligible to vote. It was really important to us to make Maya and Jamie seventeen years old – they can’t actually vote in the election that’s at the heart of their story. But, of course, the results of elections have very real consequences for teens, young people, and other people who can’t vote. So, we wanted these readers to know we see them, and that their frustration is so deeply valid. We hope Yes No Maybe So can be a kind of a road map for people who are desperate for ways to participate in a system that seems designed to exclude them.
Aisha: Completely agree with Becky here. When the current political climate is the way it is—it’s very easy to want to give up and lose hope—but this is precisely when we can’t lose that hope. I want readers to know that their voice matters and that any action—large or small—in pursuit of justice is important and necessary. And as 2020 elections grow closer with each day, we cannot afford to be complacent.
Click here to find out more information on how you can #MakeYourVoiceHeard this election season and beyond!
About Yes No Maybe So
A book about the power of love and resistance from New York Times bestselling authors Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed.
Jamie Goldberg is cool with volunteering for his local state senate candidate—as long as he’s behind the scenes. When it comes to speaking to strangers (or, let’s face it, speaking at all to almost anyone) Jamie’s a choke artist. There’s no way he’d ever knock on doors to ask people for their votes…until he meets Maya.
Maya Rehman’s having the worst Ramadan ever. Her best friend is too busy to hang out, her summer trip is canceled, and now her parents are separating. Why her mother thinks the solution to her problems is political canvassing—with some awkward dude she hardly knows—is beyond her.
Going door to door isn’t exactly glamorous, but maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, the polls are getting closer—and so are Maya and Jamie. Mastering local activism is one thing. Navigating the cross-cultural crush of the century is another thing entirely.