Teymour Shahabi - A Harry Potter-esque Page-Turner
Teymour Shahabi was born in Paris of Persian parents and moved to the United States to study Comparative Literature and Mathematics at Harvard University. He lives in New York City where he still spends time with both words and numbers, alongside people imaginary and real respectively. The Secret Billionaire, his first published book, won multiple awards for young adult fiction. As our Author of the Day, Teymour tells us all about this book.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Secret Billionaire is about.
The story of “The Secret Billionaire” begins several decades before the first chapter, when one of the world’s wealthiest people, a legendary tycoon named Lyndon Surway, takes off in his private plane and never returns. At the end of a months-long, fruitless search, he is finally pronounced legally dead, leaving behind no family. According to his will, his sole heir is his “dear friend Lucian Baker.” Only there is no trace of anyone by that name. Decades later, Andrew Day, a student on a scholarship at the country’s most exclusive boarding school, sets out with his two best friends on an adventure to solve the mystery.
The book received multiple awards. What surprised you most about reader reactions to it?
What surprised me the most was the wonderful diversity of readers who enjoyed the story and felt wrapped up in the mystery. I’d expected that the book would appeal most to readers like Andrew Day himself: teenagers in high school or middle school, mostly from the US. Instead, I was thrilled to learn that people of all ages, from children to elderly readers, living in countries all over the world, found Andrew’s adventures relatable and gripping. At first, when people whom I would never have thought of as young adult readers told me the book made them stay up late at night or miss their train stops, I secretly wondered if they were just being nice to me (and extremely insightful, too, since they knew exactly what would make me happy). Their engagement in Andrew’s journey is a testament to the universal power of storytelling and books.
Readers said that this book was a "Harry Potter-esque page-turner." Was this your intention?
Those readers could not have given me a bigger compliment. Like millions and millions of others, I loved reading Harry Potter, and J.K. Rowling’s passionate fans always remind me of what a wonderful time it is to be a reader and a writer. The comparison to her work amazed me when I started seeing it in reviews, and it continues to thrill me now. When I started writing “The Secret Billionaire,” my only intention was to entertain readers. Getting swept up in a page-turner is one of the most magical feelings in the world, and I’ll gladly take on all the challenges of writing for the chance to make that happen.
How did you manage to keep the book fast-paced throughout?
Anyone reading the book could tell that I love food. And one of the biggest storytelling lessons I ever learned came from cooking competitions on TV: always end on a cliffhanger before any commercial break. I replaced the culinary hazards (will the crust burn in the oven?) with plot twists (where does the secret tunnel go?), and I added as many chapter breaks as possible.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
When I was much younger, I played the piano for several hours a day. Nowadays, I struggle to capture the chords for pieces that I used to know inside-out, but the love of classical music remains a major part of my life. (Also, if loving food, particularly breakfast and dessert, were a skill, then I’d be an Olympic medalist.)
Why Young Adult? What drew you to this genre?
I don’t remember making a conscious decision to write in this genre. Like so many readers of young adult fiction, I find that many of the struggles and joys of adolescence seem to go on in my life to this day, as if I were only pretending to be as grown-up as everyone else around me.
Tell us more about the cover and how it came about.
The cover was designed by the brilliant artist Kerry Ellis (https://www.coveredbykerry.com/), who also designed the beautiful cover for the sequel, “Someone in the Walls” (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZCLX2KV/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vpp… ). The image is taken from a picture of Chambord Castle in France. I grew up in Paris, and like all French schoolchildren I’d seen photos of Chambord in history textbooks all my childhood. The lush, intricate Renaissance architecture seemed a perfect illustration for the Surway House. And can you find a secret light in one of the windows?
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plan out all your scenes before writing them?
I wish I were a more careful plotter or a more cavalier pantser—currently, I tend to plan the beginning and the end and the major milestones in between, and then I let the characters and scenes take me wherever they wish to go. This approach requires heavy editing, with back-and-forth corrections to cover up plot holes and plant clues, but it allows the story to unfold naturally, following its own logic and revealing to me along the way.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Most of my writing is done in long, uninterrupted stretches of 4-8 hours, with excessive amounts of tea and, ideally, total silence. If I can’t find the latter, then I play rain sounds on YouTube (this video is especially cozy: https://youtu.be/3sL0omwElxw). And if I can’t find the tea, then I’m toast.
What are you working on right now?
I’m delighted to share that the sequel to “The Secret Billionaire,” titled “Someone in the Walls,” is now available on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZCLX2KV/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vpp… ). I’m extremely excited about the second book, even though—or perhaps because—it was somehow much harder to write than the first one. As for what’s next, I promised myself to start writing a new book in February, which will be something I’ve never done before: an unabashed love story.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
For (extremely rare!) updates on my writing, readers should sign up for my newsletter at www.teymourshahabi.com. (Anyone who signs up will also receive a behind-the-scenes secret). You can also find me on Facebook (facebook.com/teymourshahabiwriter) and Instagram (teymour.shahabi), and I love few things more than emails from readers: [email protected]. Please, please reach out!