An Indies Introduce Q&A with Nedda Lewers

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Nedda Lewers is the author of Daughters of the Lamp, a Winter/Spring 2024 Indies Introduce middle grade selection and March/April 2024 Kids’ Next List pick. 

Lewers is an Egyptian American author and former teacher. She writes books that take children on fun adventures and feature characters who are trying to make sense of the big, complicated world and their place in it.

Andi Richardson of The Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia, served on the panel that selected Lewers' title for Indies Introduce.

"Lewers’ debut is a magical tale of what happens when a logical science-minded kid encounters things she can’t explain," said Richardson. "When Sahara and her father travel to Egypt for a family wedding, she gets more than a trip down memory lane. Mysterious glowing jewelry, a questionable bride, and a magical chamber of hidden treasure will open her mind to things she never thought possible. This was an adorable book full of family love and Arabian traditions!”

Here, Lewers and Richardson discuss Daughters of the Lamp.

Andi Richardson: Tell us a bit about your publishing journey and how it feels to get your book on shelves!

Nedda Lewers: My publishing journey didn’t begin until later in life. After forty years of living on the East Coast, my family and I moved to Los Angeles for my husband’s job. Even though it was hard leaving behind cherished friends and family, our beloved home, and a teaching position at a school I adored, our big move forced me to ask, “What now?”

During childhood, writing had always been a means of self-expression and reflection for me. In retrospect, it makes sense that years later, as an adult, when so much was uncertain in my life, I would turn to it again. Eventually, my what now turned into what if and how about, leading to, “How about I try and write a novel?” Sahara and her world were born from that question.

Drafting the initial manuscript of Daughters of the Lamp was far from easy. I enjoyed writing, but I knew nothing about crafting a novel. At forty-one, I was a beginner again, taking writing workshops online, reading books on craft, studying works by other middle grade authors, and making new friends in the writing world virtually and in person. It took me two years to complete the first draft, then another to close the gap between what I read on paper and what I envisioned in my head. I needed help with the latter, and luckily, I found it in the form of input from dedicated critique partners and an exceptional mentor. Taking the time to work on the manuscript led me to a fantastic agent. She helped me hone it further for submission, where it found a wonderful editor who believed in it as much as we did.

Over six years after the cross-country move that upended my life, I find myself at the exciting precipice of my first novel debuting. My publishing journey didn’t happen overnight, but it has taught me to embrace the change and uncertainty that have brought me to this point.

AR: I love how the story changes timelines and weaves in some folklore — how did you research the long-ago time period?

NL: Both those elements are critical to Daughters of the Lamp. I spent over six months researching the Arab folklore I wanted to incorporate into the story, which included asking my parents to recount stories they remembered from their childhoods and reading countless published versions of them. When I re-read the story of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” the character of Ali Baba’s servant, Morgana, popped off the page. I was captivated by all the witty ways she saved Ali Baba time and time again from the wrath of the thieves seeking revenge against him for infiltrating their secret chamber.

The story of Ali Baba wasn’t new to me — I heard it a lot growing up — but I didn’t remember Morgana being portrayed as the story’s heroine. I began to ask what if again. What if Morgana was the hero of her own tale? What if she started a magical legacy passed down for one thousand years through the women in her family until finally it reached NY-born Sahara Rashad? And what would Sahara do with that legacy? That’s when the series really started to take shape for me.

Creating an authentic tenth-century world for Morgana required a great deal of research. I consulted several secondary resources, including books and university papers, on the medieval Islamic world that helped me understand what life would have been like for a female servant back then.

AR: How much of you is in the character of Sahara?

NL: Sahara and I definitely share some similarities — both of us appreciate a good plan. Though contrary to my main character’s affinity for the logical, I am a sucker for all things magical. As a kid, I relished being transported through fiction to magical lands. However, I often wished that the characters in those stories looked and sounded more like me and the people around me. Sahara’s character developed from that wish. As did the desire to explore what it felt like to go through childhood trying to navigate living in America when my family had so many ties to a land a world away. A land they thought of as home, too. Growing up as a first-generation American wasn’t always easy. But like Sahara, I came to learn easier isn’t always better.

AR: I see you have been a teacher. How did that influence Daughters of the Lamp in storyline and characters?

NL: Once I set out to write the novel, I quickly decided I wanted my protagonist to be a kid. I have learned so much from my own children and the students I taught. I wanted to honor the gifts and lessons they’d shared with me. One of the journeys I loved watching and facilitating as a mom and teacher is the shift from black-or-white, concrete thought to nuanced thinking that allows for an understanding and appreciation of life’s many gray areas. My reverence for this process affected everything from Sahara’s character arc to the themes I explored through the course of the story. My students and daughters have shown me time and time again just how beautifully messy life can be, and it was important for me to try and celebrate that in my work.

AR: What’s next for you?

NL: In a few months, Children of the Wind, the second installment in the Daughters of the Lamp series, will also come out. I’m so excited that kids will have the opportunity to go on more adventures with Sahara and her family and to find out what happens when her best friend from New York joins her in Cairo.

Currently, I am working on crafting another middle grade story that is not in Sahara’s world but is very much rooted in the complicated, gray areas in life. I love delving into that murky space — you never know what treasures you might find there.

Daughters of the Lamp by Nedda Lewers (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 9780593619308, Hardcover Middle Grade Fantasy, $18.99) On Sale: 2/20/2024

Find out more about the author at

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