Interview with Alexandra Monir


About the Author: “Alexandra Monir is the Iranian-American author of the internationally best-selling novel The Final Six, which has been translated into numerous languages around the world; the DC Comics superhero novel Black Canary: Breaking Silence, from the New York Times-bestselling DC Icons series; and several other books for young adults. Alexandra spent her teen years as a pop singer before publishing her debut novel, Timeless, and continues to write music. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and young son and daughter” (Bio from author).

Find Alexandra Monir on the following platforms:

A huge thank you to Alexandra Monir for taking the time to interview with us! Her latest novel, Realm of Wonders, is out now from Disney Hyperion. You can find our review of Realm of Wonders here!

Aruna Sreenivasan: To kick things off, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! Realm of Wonders is releasing October 10th from Disney Hyperion. How are you feeling as we move closer to pub day?

Alexandra Monir: Thank you for having me! And yes, I can’t believe October 10th is nearly here! I’m feeling so excited, emotional, nervous, thrilled—all the emotions! ☺ It really is an ultimate dream project for me, and I just hope readers and Disney fans will love it.

AS: Realm of Wonders focuses on the life of Princess Jasmine following the events of Aladdin. Once again, she has to face a challenge; this time, it’s a contest for her throne. Of all the ways Jasmine’s life post-movie could’ve gone, why did you focus on a struggle for the throne? What did you hope to uncover about her character through this story?

AM: Something that always interested me the most about Jasmine is that she is one of the only Disney princesses who is technically heir to the throne—but in the original animated movie, that wasn’t acknowledged since it was Aladdin’s story, and the thought was that he would succeed the sultan. I really wanted to explore the reality of Jasmine being the heir apparent and what that would look like in such a patriarchal culture—would the powerful men overseeing the kingdom of Agrabah even let her be sultana? It almost seemed more realistic that they would find some kind of loophole to deny her the throne, and that’s what led me to the idea of the Crown Tournament. It also gave me so much to work with plot-wise, and it presented an opportunity for her character to grow dramatically over the course of the story.

AS: You’re in a very unique situation here because you’re not creating Jasmine’s character from scratch; rather, you’re building off a blueprint. Could you talk about what that was like? For instance, what elements of the Disney Jasmine did you want to work with or change?

AM: Rather than reinventing Jasmine, my approach was to further develop the character traits we already know and love, like her strength and bravery, her quick wit, the way she sees people for who they really are and not their “station” or rank, and then also explore her more vulnerable sides that we didn’t get to see in the movie. For example, we know Jasmine’s mother died when she was young and so she was raised by a single father who just so happened to be the sultan. How would that affect her and shape her personality? That was one of the questions I thought about a lot while writing her story.

AS: A core part of the book is feminism. Your Jasmine is an outright feminist character, as she is fighting a misogynistic system in order to claim her rightful throne. There are a lot of complex female friendships or relationships in Realm of Wonders. What did you want to communicate with your depiction of women in this book?

AM: It was so important to me to write a confident, empowering Middle Eastern character like Jasmine, someone who knows her worth and fights for the power that is rightfully hers, especially because historically, women from the Middle East have been portrayed as subservient, oppressed, and meek—the opposite of how most of us are! For the longest time, Jasmine was the only positive representation we had in the media, which is one of the reasons she and the movie Aladdin are so close to my heart—and so I really tried to honor her by giving her, and the other female characters in the story, as much depth and nuance as possible, while hopefully making Jasmine a role model for a new generation, just as she was for me.

AS: Scheherazade (best known for her role as a storyteller in One Thousand and One Nights) makes an appearance in the book! I won’t speak too much on her part in the book, to avoid spoilers. What drew you towards putting her in this novel? Did you always have her in mind from the beginning?

AM: Always!! The story of Scheherazade has been a huge part of my life since basically birth, because my mom was named after her, and my mom is also a recording artist and songwriter who composed and recorded a whole album based on One Thousand and One Nights back when I was a kid! So I grew up with the story of Scheherazade as much as I did with Aladdin and Jasmine, and knowing that their story originated through Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Nights made it an instant lightbulb moment for me, almost as soon as I started drafting the book—I knew I had to weave her in!

AS: Since you did write a Disney princess novel, I have to ask: who are your favorite princesses?

AM: Well, definitely Jasmine, of course! ☺ But other princesses I was obsessed with as a kid also include Snow White (a trip to Snow White on Ice when I was 2 is my Disney superfan origin story!) and Ariel, plus I always related so much to Belle over her love of books!

AS: Going off of that, do you prefer the live action or animated Aladdin?

AM: The original animated movie! It’s been part of my soul since I was, like, seven! ☺

AS: This book is undoubtedly a fantasy, but it does have some horror elements as well (i.e. creepy reflections in mirrors, guls, the dead coming back to life, etc). How did you strike a balance between the two genres?

AM: I love getting to write spooky thrills and chills, so the horror elements were a lot of fun. I think horror and fantasy go well together, since the fantasy setting and magic allow the reader to suspend disbelief and buy the different twists and scares!

AS: I’m so glad that you, an Iranian-American writer, got to tell the story of Princess Jasmine, whose ethnicity and nationality Disney left ambiguous in the movies, but was definitely pulled from a blend of Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures. For people looking to learn more about Persian culture and folklore, what sources would you recommend?

AM: Thank you so much! It meant so much to me that Disney was actively seeking out a Middle Eastern author to tell this story, and that they were so supportive of me weaving in elements of my Persian culture. For more on Iranian culture and folklore, I highly recommend the Shahnameh, which translates to Book of Kings, an incredible epic fantasy from ancient Persia. My mom ZaZa actually wrote and recorded an amazing album inspired by Book of Kings as well, and our very close family friend, Josiane Cohanim, recently completed an entire English translation of the Shahnameh. I highly recommend both!

AS: Finally, are there any upcoming projects you’d like to tease?

AM: Yes, although I’m not allowed to say too much just yet! The upcoming project I’m most excited about right now is for TV—an adaptation of one of my books—and I’ve been hired to write the pilot script. Hopefully this will get greenlit and end up on your screens sometime soon!

Aruna Sreenivasan, Pine Reads Review Assistant Director & Writer