ASHBURN, VIRGINIA - Maryam Durrani is a typical American teenager with a wild imagination and a knack for telling stories about dungeons, dragons, kingdoms and young girls.
She wrote her first book in longhand at the age of 13. Later, after learning about a website called wattpad, an online community where readers and writers can discover new user-generated content, Durrani uploaded her stories to get feedback from readers.
"On one of my works, I received over a half a million reads. People are still reading it. I can see their votes and reads and comments on my work," Durrani said.
To date, Durrani's unpublished novel "Doubled Elements" has received more than 700,000 views on wattpad. Positive reader feedback prompted the young author to self-publish and sell her books.
Now 18, Durrani credits much of her writing success to her parents. Her father, Irfan Durrani, helped get her books published while her mother fostered her passion for literature.
“When she was in kindergarten, I gave her a journal with a pen and asked her to write in it to express her feelings and I think her writing journey began from there," said Zainab Durrani, Maryam's mother.
But the teenager soon tired of reading books with traditional storylines, which often revolve around a male hero who saves the day. So she decided to change things a bit, creating characters that would appeal to young girls.
"I wanted to write about someone that I could look up to," Durrani said. "And that is where I came up with the idea for the main character. She is a warrior, a general…she can do anything she wants. And she is powerful. I wanted to write about a role model for me and other girls."
Her parents are proud of Durrani's accomplishments as a writer, but they are especially proud that their daughter, who wears a Muslim headscarf, has become a role model for young girls, including those like her who wear the hijab.
Durrani says she didn't realize she was viewed as a role model until she visited her sister's private Muslim school.
"I had so many fans there," she said. "Apart from my online readers, I could see my fans in real life there. So, I kind of felt like I was writing for them now. I was giving them a character or a person to look up to. A strong female role model for them."