Sara Farizan, the critically acclaimed author of three character-driven coming-of-age YA novels, including the Lambda Literary Award–winning If You Could Be Mine, branches off in new directions in two upcoming releases. She moves into the supernatural realm with her latest YA novel, Dead Flip (Algonquin, Aug.), and into the DC Comics universe with the middle grade graphic novel My Buddy, Killer Croc (Aug.).
The daughter of Iranian immigrants, Farizan grew up in Massachusetts with her surgeon father and homemaker mother. She attended private schools, where she felt different from her classmates because of her ethnicity and attraction to girls, experiences of identity that she explores in her fiction. She majored in film and media studies at American University, where she came out of the closet. Three years later, she went back to school for an MFA from Lesley University. Her thesis project became her first published novel, If You Could Be Mine, in 2013; however, the first novel she started writing was Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, which she published in 2014. Farizan has worked at an independent bookstore, as a waitress, as an elementary afterschool teacher, and at other jobs that have allowed her time to write.
Farizan describes the opportunity “to play in DC’s sandbox” as “a dream come true.” As a longtime Batman fan (she read all the comics, watched the animated series, saw all the films), when Farizan learned from a peer in 2017 that DC Comics was planning a new line, she asked Susan Ginsburg, her agent at Writers House since 2015, to reach out to Michelle Wells—then at DC Comics, where she was in charge of bringing in middle grade and YA authors—to see if she could submit proposals. While her work didn’t get accepted then, Farizan ran into Wells at a book festival when she was promoting her novel Here to Stay some months later; Wells remembered her and asked her to make another pitch. She revamped her former submissions and sent them along with a new pitch, which was accepted.
The seed for that story began germinating when Farizan was in elementary school, writing journal entries about what she thought the upcoming Batman movies would be about. “I’ve spent too much time thinking about Batman over the course of my lifetime,” she admits. She wanted to set a middle grade story in Gotham City, because even though it’s always dark, it’s a metropolis, full of people living their lives, and Farizan wanted to play with what it would be like for a kid growing up there. It was fun, for example, to include an Alice in Wonderland–themed miniature golf course where the Mad Hatter statue is covered up, as the Mad Hatter belongs to the Rogue’s Gallery of Gotham villains, along with Killer Croc.
Farizan was drawn to Killer Croc for his backstory—namely that he experienced bullying because of his reptilian form. He went on to become a professional wrestler, idolized by young Andy. When Andy, who’s also experiencing bullying, meets Killer Croc, the Rogue becomes a mentor. The story explores what happens when one’s childhood hero comes into their life and shows them how to handle bullies, but that hero also happens to have Batman and the law after him. In that situation, how does one decide what choices to make? Farizan believes kids have to wrestle with many similarly complex issues today, and that stories have the power to facilitate navigating those matters.
The experience of working with artist Nicolette Baldari, which began at the start of the pandemic, proved to be a bright light in a dark time. “It was our escape hatch,” Farizan recalls. “There were days that were bad for the majority of the world, and seeing Nicolette’s designs was something to really look forward to.” She says that Baldacci intuitively understood her vision for the story without having to go into much detail.
In Dead Flip, Farizan pays homage to things she enjoyed as a child, such as visits to the comic bookstore she visited every Friday. The novel works with tropes from 1980s and ’90s television and books that focus on middle school anxiety around friendship, particularly when one friend wants things to stay just like they are while another friend is ready to move on. The three main characters—Maz, Cory, and Sam—are a tight-knit group, but at age 12, cracks in their friendship appear that widen drastically after Sam’s mysterious disappearance. Cory’s journey reflects Farizan’s: both the author and her character grew up as tomboys with close guy friends; then puberty hit and things changed.
Farizan describes Dead Flip as “a supernatural comedy with a horror bent that is literally about outgrowing a friendship.” While Dead Flip is a standalone novel, she’s open to the idea of writing more. “I loved this universe and I’m sad to leave it,” she says.
She frequently contributes short stories to anthologies. “It’s so nice to be invited,” she notes, adding that it allows her to try out different genres without having the stakes be as high. She’s been gratified to discover that two of her stories—“Why I Learned to Cook,” included in the Fresh Inc. anthology, and “The End of the World as We Know It,” included in the For All Out anthology—are being taught in middle and high schools. She’s also open to publishing a collection of her short fiction at some point.
Sarah Alpert, Farizan’s editor at Algonquin Young Readers, describes her experience working with Farizan as one of growing up together. Alpert’s former boss and “forever mentor” Elise Howard discovered Farizan. Alpert worked on her third book alongside Howard (who retired earlier this year), and helmed Dead Flip on her own. “Reading Sara Farizan is like talking to your best friend,” Alpert says. “Even when the subject is serious, it’s said in a way that is so real and familiar that it makes the hard stuff easy to engage with, and the fun stuff is the most fun you’ll ever have.” The two share a love for all things pop culture, especially movies and comics of the ’80s and ’90s, which Alpert says made working together on Dead Flip a “blast.”
In addition to featuring nuanced queer and Persian characters in a range of genres—family stories, rom-coms, sports, and now horror—what makes Farizan’s stories stand out, according to Alpert, is that her voice, which is both friendly and funny, always comes through. In terms of Farizan’s role in the literary landscape, Alpert notes the impact she has had on up-and-coming LGBTQ writers: “Sara is so humble it’s easy to forget how influential her career has been, how many people she has touched, inspired, and represented. I feel like she’s the cool older sister of lesbian YA who would sneak everyone into R-rated movies.”
A central theme in all her stories, Farizan says, is “knowing the power of who you are and what you’re about when there are external forces that want to take you down a peg and make you feel less-than.” Grateful for the gift of a rich inner life, she hopes to cultivate that quality in others.
“I just love stories so much,” she continues. “I’m writing for my inner kid, but I’m also writing for current kids. I think kids are more inclined to ask questions than adults are, and they’re more inclined to wonder about things. It’s such a joy to write to that. It’s also kind of wild to think that you get to revisit your childhood dreams and the things you loved in childhood as an adult, and that other kids will pass the torch and they will also get excited to write stories.”
Kate Dunn, a regular contributor to PW, writes fiction under the pen name Kate Courtright and is working on a novel. She lives in New York City.