Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?
As a wife, mother, and caregiver, I rarely cook, exercise, clean the house, go to the movies, or out to a nice dinner on a whim. When it comes to getting important tasks done, which includes my writing, I set a schedule and plan accordingly. Otherwise, my family would starve, the house would constantly be a mess, and the book would never see the words “The End.”
How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?
It was easy to sit down and write something. The hard part was formulating and organizing my thoughts and ideas clearly into a story, especially as my mind and heart entertained several cultures and languages (Aramaic, Arabic and English). After many years of practice and working with professionals in the publishing industry, today I am able to write material that’s relevant and with substance without trying so hard.
Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
I’m currently working on my tenth book. At this point in my career, I trust my instincts enough not to push the process or confine myself with a number of pages, words, or hours. While I do have a schedule – I write best in the daytime while my children are in school – I allow myself to stop when I sense a strong resistance.
Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
To a certain extent, you have to be a loner in order to think deep thoughts, contemplate about life, explore your world, read great books, and to write your own book. If we do not distance ourselves from constant noise in our modern-day society, or at least carefully monitor it, then we fall prey to its distractions.
At the same time, it’s unhealthy to take this to extremes, lock yourself in the house and not speak to anyone. There has to be a balance or it’s easy for one to become depressed and feel self-important, characteristics which take the passion out of writing, out of life.
Do you think writers have a normal life like others?
Well, we don’t have the typical 9 to 5 job or get regular pay checks. We relinquish much of the material world in order to focus on our writing and because we are oftentimes not paid for our work. Over time, we learn that our payment is actually our abnormal lifestyle. Anyone who has found their path and followed their bliss recognizes and appreciates the luxury of having an abnormal life.
What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?
Rejections. No matter how much belief you have in your writing, enough rejections will frustrate you or make you doubt your storytelling abilities. It becomes more frustrating when you see stories with much less substance than yours get published. Agents and publishers tell you not to take rejections personally, but how can you not when these rejections get in the way of turning your manuscript into a book?
Rejections were more of an issue in the past. Nowadays, writers are able to take control of their careers and not have someone else authenticate their work.
The other hardest things are discipline and patience. Books are not written overnight. Oftentimes, they simmer inside of the writer for years before they are poured onto paper (or computer screen). Getting a book from A to Z requires much discipline, time, and patience, but what doesn’t? Most professions, including that of parenthood, require this type of commitment patience.
Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?
Don’t try too hard and don’t write for fame or money. Trying too hard will create the opposite effect and writing solely for fame or money will get in the way of your creativity. Write because a story is stalking you, wanting you to pay attention to it. When that happens, then the writing becomes of service to you and to others.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
My voice. Today, I’m able to write my truth through memoir. It took years for me to have the courage to be vulnerable enough to share my fears, inadequacies, hurts and joys with my readers.
What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?
I try to live a meaningful life by engaging in healthy and productive activities. This includes books. I value my time, so when I read a book, it’s important for me that the author cared to provide something of value to the reader and not took the easy route of clichés and stereotypes. Books with strong and complex characters and delicious language, that raise awareness, motive, inspire, and educate are a luxury that we should not take for granted.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
It’s more important to have a great life than to have a great book. A great life will keep you sane, passionate, and off of unnecessary substances. You can always turn your great life into a great book.
Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?
The first novel I read was Gone with the Wind, in Arabic. I was nine years old and living with my family in Amman, Jordan, where we awaited a visa to come to America. This novel gave me the impression that American women wore huge puffy dresses, said sir and madam rode horses, and had extravagant barbecues broken up by extravagant naps. When I came to this country, I was disappointed not to see the South portrayed in Scarlett O’Hara’s world.
Have you ever designed your own book cover?
I have a professional book cover designer, but I provide her with the images I want to use and describe to her how I want the images placed. She does a great job putting it all together and polishing up the details.
The front covers are very important to me as, like my stories, the images I use help dispel stereotypes of my birth country’s people and culture. They represent the stories inside the book.
Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?
Patience, my dear! Patience! And focus more on your accomplishments than your failures.
Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?
Although I write modern-day stories, my former NY agent compared my style, the complex characters, and the humor, to that of Jane Austen. So did an Iraqi book critic. As a child, my favorite books were the classics, such as Gone with the Wind and Washington Square. Today I’m reading My Brilliant Career (published in 1901) and Memoirs of a Babylonian Princess (1844).
I suppose naturally that style would spill over into my storytelling. However, I also think that this is partly due to living a in a traditional culture that resembles the world that Jane Austen’s characters lived in.
Do your novels carry a message?
My novels are based on true stories because I want to show the true side of a world that’s often buried under negative descriptions and tons of stereotypes.
Through my novels, the reader journeys into Middle Eastern traditional lifestyles which are full of rich and fascinating culture, complex tribal relationships, love stories, and a wealth of humor. They often learn something that they might be able to incorporate into their own lives. Someone once described my novels as “a recipe for life.”
Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
In 2011, I met bestselling author and mystic Lynn Andrews through a book. I called her for a bit of literary advice, not expecting her to change my life through her 4-year shamanic school. At that time, I had never even heard of Lynn Andrews or the word shaman.
I’m currently working on a memoir series I wrote about my experience in Lynn’s school. It’s called Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey through a Shamanic School. The first of the series was published in February 2016.
Have any of your books been adapted into a feature film?
One of my books, which will be published later this year, has a documentary that’s currently in post-production. It’s called The Great American Family. It is the story of criminal case about Dawn Hanna which was highly publicized here in Detroit.
Which of your books took you the most time to write?
The Great American Family. This book took five years to write because it required a lot of research and interviews. The story revolves around the Dawn Hanna case, an all-American girl accused of conspiring to broker telecom equipment to Iraq during the sanctions. Unbeknownst to her and the jury which tried her, her coconspirator was actually a CIA operative. The project was sponsored by the United States to listen in on Saddam and his men.
When Dawn’s family approached me to write a book about this case, I hesitated at first. “It’s too political,” I said. Finally, over time, I agreed in the hopes that this book would help enlighten people politically. I was also very touched by the dynamics of the mother/daughter/family relationship involved in the story.