YEM Author Interview: Khadijah VanBrakle speaks on wanting to write about the intersection between culture, gender, and religion in Fatima Tate Takes The Cake

Khadijah VanBrakle is the author of Fatima Tate Takes The Cake. Fatima Tate Takes The Cake follows aspiring baker and Seventeen-year-old Fatima Tate. The novel explores a coming-of-age story that gives a much-needed voice to young Black Muslim women. YEM was able to speak with Khadijah about whether the book was inspired by her real life, writing representation for people who are marginalized, and what she has planned for the future.

Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first get into writing?

Khadijah VanBrakle: In 2012, it was my New Year’s resolution to write a complete story. It took me nine months to finish a MG fantasy. Even though that first attempt was terrible, I proved to myself that I could finish a draft. Over the next few years, I wrote several picture books and worked on learning the craft of writing before I found my Young Adult voice.  

YEM: Was any part of Fatima Tate Takes The Cake inspired by your real life?

Khadijah VanBrakle: Such a great question. I love to bake and since one of my daughters has a culinary degree and works in a very popular local bakery, the baking competition was a natural fit for the story. It was actually my literary agent, Kristina Perez, who first suggest adding it. While drafting and revising my debut, I was determined to ensure that Fatima’s dream of becoming a pastry chef was achievable.

YEM: What is your writing process like?

Khadijah VanBrakle: As a former pantser, I now do a ton of pre-work before drafting. I always start with character development. So far, all my young adult manuscripts are in the first person and knowing who each of the protagonists are and what impossible choice they face helps me craft the story I want to tell. I find that if I have established the main character’s stakes as clearly as possible, then finishing a first draft is much easier for me.

YEM: How does it feel to be able to show representation for people who are marginalized in your books?

Khadijah VanBrakle: It’s an amazing and sometimes surreal when I realize that characters who share my dual marginalization are living within my stories and others are able to read about them. Since FATIMA TATE is my debut Contemporary YA novel and only the second one I could find, traditionally published, that features a Black, American Muslim teen protagonist, I’m very grateful for this immense responsibility. It was super important for me to show in my book that many coming-of-age themes are universal but also how they can be addressed in different ways based on a person’s full background.

YEM: What have you learned about yourself as you wrote your book?

Khadijah VanBrakle: I learned that with any new skill, imposter syndrome is a real thing and can affect anyone. I’m an extrovert and consider myself someone who will put in the work for something I really want to do. But realizing that others can and will have opinions about my stories and sometimes even about me because I’m the author takes some getting used to. On my desk, there’s an important question written on an index card and I see it every time I sit down to write. The question is: Why does this story mean so much to me? If I can remember that about each thing that I write, it keeps a lot of negativity and self-doubt out of my head.

YEM: Did you know that you wanted to write about the intersection between culture, gender, and religion before you started writing your book?

Khadijah VanBrakle: As someone who is both Black and Muslim, I knew that this specific dual marginalization would be something that my main character, Fatima, and I have in common. All of the realistic topics in my debut are things that today’s teenagers are likely to encounter and bringing them to light was important to me. Too often, society downplays coming-of-age issues as trivial or easy to navigate and it was my intention to dispute that fallacy within Fatima’s storyline.

YEM: What do you hope readers take away from Fatima Tate Takes The Cake?

Khadijah VanBrakle: I’d love if readers come away with a sense of familiarity and connection to Fatima’s journey in figuring out her future. Her specific challenges are hers alone but the growing into who each of us wants to be as adults is a universal experience. I hope those unfamiliar with Black American Muslim communities discover some commonality and expand the definitions of what it means to live an authentic life as a citizen of the United States.

YEM: What advice do you have for others who want to be writers?

Khadijah VanBrakle: The most important piece of advice I received at the beginning of my writing journey was to learn the craft of writing. Finding informative classes and reading craft books really helped me. Getting your story out of your head and onto the page or screen is something all writers must commit themselves to and know that with practice comes better skills. It takes a ton of dedication to finish a first draft, especially your first time. I tell aspiring writers to become very familiar with your local library. It’s a good practice to read a lot of current titles in the genre you want to write. Most importantly, please don’t give up. Your stories are worth telling.

YEM: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

Khadijah VanBrakle: REVISING!!! Once there is a complete manuscript, I have an entire editing process that’s super time consuming but definitely worth it. For me, knowing that revisions will make my story better helps when I get overwhelmed by my least favorite part, which is drafting.

YEM: Who is an author that inspires you?

Khadijah VanBrakle: This isn’t a simple question because there are so many amazing authors I admire. Since it’s impossible for me to narrow it down to just a single author, I’ll keep it to three. I’m inspired by the books of Tiffany D. Jackson, Jennifer Niven, and Sabaa Tahir. Each of these brilliant authors have poignant stories that should be must-reads for everyone, especially teenagers.

YEM: What is a scene or quote that is your favorite in Fatima Tate Takes The Cake?

Khadijah VanBrakle: My favorite quote is from Chapter three, when Fatima meets the mother of Raheem Harris, the young man her parents are urging her to meet, to see if they’re compatible for an arranged marriage. It’s her first taste of Sister Jameela’s pretentious attitude, which reeks of the privilege of wealth.

“Dear, I’ve heard a lot of good things about you, Masha ALLAH,” Sister Jameela says. “Your parents are humble, hard-working people and raised you to be the same. Insha ALLAH you won’t be one of those girls who would marry him for financial gain—my son likes nice girls.” Quote from Fatima Tate Takes The Cake.

YEM: What do you have planned for the future with your writing?

Khadijah VanBrakle: I have a second, standalone Contemporary YA novel due out from Holiday House in 2025. My agent has a completed picture book manuscript of mine and I’m currently drafting a Contemporary Middle Grade book. With a third young adult manuscript drafted, but in desperate need of more revision and an idea for a fourth, I’m excited for my writing future.