Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

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The Blog Tour: My Writing Process

August 23, 2014

NOTE: This website is currently under reconstruction, so like a first draft, it’s a little disorganized.

In 2005, I went to the Squaw Writers Conference in what I only partially realized was an attempt to escape the LA screenwriting world and discovered the sweeter side of writing–novel writing. It may pay less and probably fewer people will read your work than see your work, but there are so many fewer human beings to suck up to in the process–and they are overall nicer human beings. Like Patricia Dunn (http://www.patriciadunnauthor.com/2014/08/) and Myfanwy Collins (http://myfanwycollins.com/blog/), who I met at Squaw Valley and who are both the reason I am taking part in this blog tour. Both have great YA novels coming out this year. So proud and honored to have them as friends and writers.   

Patricia and Myfanwy are outstanding editors, as well as writers—and I think that is in large part because they are big readers. Their feedback on the first draft of The Night Counter was so vital. And Pat has been my guru on so much in my life, including helping me shepherd my middle grade novel into the world, along with her best friend and fellow writer Alexandra Soiseth (http://soisethwriter.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/my-writing-process-blog-tour/)

Squaw Valley is also where I met Alma Katsu, the incredibly prolific fantasy writer of the Taker Trilogy. Alma’s just plain sharp, and it could be all those years working for a mysterious organization. She’ll be answering these questions next week, along with one the funniest writers I know, Amy Bridges, whose Texas/Alaska upbringing is as entertaining as her hijinks in LA today. (See more about them below)

1) What are you working on?  

I wish someone would tell me how respond to this one today. The best answer is somewhere between nothing and too much. I am either cursed or blessed–or somewhere in between—for loving to consume and write television, films, fiction and magazine articles. I even like the orderly, mechanical process of writing academic articles and recipes, but that is my escape

paperbackfrom the stress and chaos creative writing causes. Luckily for the world, I don’t do music lyrics.  

Today I’m reworking from first to third person a middle grade novel about a girl trying to have the perfect Christmas in the small town in Minnesota where she lives with her immigrant Arab parents. It only gets worse when a vision of the Virgin Mary is spotted on their driveway. I’m also drafting my next novel, which involves Abu Dhabi but doesn’t have any camels or oil wells in it so far. I’m also going to spend a lot of time logging footage from The Golden Harvest, a documentary that is a multi-country project that has always bound my family together—olive oil. Any of the above could be a screenplay, too…in the meantime, they’re just tearing at my heart and soul, demanding I focus.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

We are all as individuals our own genre, made up of all the things that have happened to us, that we hope will happen to us, and that our own individual brains juxtapose together. Sometimes for me that juxtaposition comes out as fiction or non-fiction, written or filmed.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Because it comes out of me—it tells me at some point, “Please write about me” and I try to respect the request. I have also written purely for money but that stuff isn’t worth discussing.

4) How does your writing process work?

I move a lot so getting a process down is hard for me, as time zones and cultural clashes and day jobs dictate making adjustments to the different worlds. But I can speak to what have been the elements of my ideal situation, which I am really trying to capture now as I start this new novel.

  • Wake up when it is still dark outside and neither my head or the road is rattled yet. And then I write for a fixed amount of time without stopping even for chocolate, say two hours. Or until I write a thousand words. This early morning joy has been hard for me to capture in the Middle East, where social life often begins at 9 pm, making going to bed early not so easy.
  • I reserve afternoons for re-reading or editing. And for reading the millions of things in this world that I want read.
  • I tell myself I can go to yoga as soon as I am done writing.
  • I tell myself I can watch my latest TV obsession when I am done writing
  • I tell myself a lot of things to stay put at the desk.
  • When all of the above fails to happen, I clean my house. I have a very clean house.

 

Look for these blogs next week:

Alma Katsu’s debut, The Taker, has been compared to the early work of Anne Rice, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for combining the historical, supernatural and fantasy in one story. The novel was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by the American Library Association and rights have sold been in 16 languages. The Reckoning, the second book in the trilogy, was published in June 2012, and the third and final book, The Descent, published in January 2014. The Taker Trilogy is published by Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster and Century/Random House UK.   alma

Ms. Katsu lives outside of Washington, DC with her husband, musician Bruce Katsu. In addition to her novels, Ms. Katsu has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly and an occasional contributor to The Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Master’s writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University, where she studied with John Irving. 

Prior to publication of her first novel, Ms. Katsu had a long career as a senior intelligence analyst for several US agencies and is currently a senior analyst for a think tank. http://www.almakatsu.com/

Amy Bridges is a Los Angeles based writer and blogger at www.jurassicmom.com.  Amy’s work has appeared on TLC, HGTV, and Discovery Health. She is a Hedgebrook alumnus, and the recipient of the First Prize Fiction Award at the San Francisco Writers Conference. Her play, Women ofthe Holocaust, was published by The Kennedy Center and The Northwest TheatreJournal. Her play, The Day Maggie Blew Off Her Head, received first prize inthe Edward Albee Prince William Sound Playwriting Lab, presented by EdwardAlbee. Her work has been nominated for The American Theatre Critics Association’s New Play Award as well as The Osborne Award for an Emerging Playwright.  Her creative nonfiction has appeared on The Nervous Breakdownand has received publication by New Lit Salon Press.  Currently, she isworking on a collection of essays. And of course, living in Hollywood, it is required for her to always be working on a screenplay. Follow her on Twitter @rattleprincess and Facebook at amy.bridges.12@facebook.com.

 

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Gained in Translation (and how I lost the ‘dude’)

May 7, 2012

Interesting.  I wonder what this is about?  That was my initial reaction when I opened a package from my publisher the other day and saw Przepowiednia Szeherezady.  I was thinking that another writer must be as equally obsessed with Scheherazade as I am.  Perhaps she had read The Night Counter, and had liked it so much she had written a book length analysis of it.  Perhaps that was why my name was in big letters under the beautiful Nubian princess on the cover.  We can all be delusional for a few seconds.

The Nubian princess on the cover I immediately recognized was not me.  However, it took me awhile to figure out she was indeed my Scheherazade from The Night Counter.  This was in fact the Polish translation of The Night Counter, with one of the main characters literally photographed in a way I had never imagined her.

Being as The Night Counter’s characters are fiction, I had never seen a photograph of any of the characters in the book outside of my head.  Nor did I ever contemplate how hard or easy it would be for the characters to master life in Polish.  Now sometimes in the space they forever inhabit in me, I can imagine them whipping up some witty repartee in Polish.  At least I hope it’s witty and true to themselves.  But no one ever really knows when it comes to translation.  Indeed, how Dobromila Jankowska (the translator) heard them in English might be different than how I heard them, and therefore they might be slightly different people in Polish.  Just like real humans, characters become slightly different when they move to a different language, let alone a different country.  Even my English doesn’t sound the same here in Abu Dhabi as it does in the US.  There are words I don’t use often now—“dude” mercifully high among them—because they sound foreign in English here and maybe I speak louder and slower.

Humor, which is more based on culture and language, than drama is probably the hardest thing to understand in translation.  In Germany, The Night Counter family is apparently quite funny.  I only know this from sitting at readings in Germany in which I would read in English to relatively stoic responses –I could have been reading a new political manifesto for Europe.  But when the translator read the German version, the laughter told me they were not thinking of The Night Counter as a manifesto, at least not one they took seriously.

The Night Counter became Feigen in Detroit (Figs in Detroit) via translators Nadine Psuchel and Max Stradler.  My German editor at Auf Bau called Max a replicant because he can translate in several languages faster than anyone she’s met, run marathons and raise a son on his own.  Max did the first literal translation and Nadine went in and made the characters authentic in German.  At least that’s what everyone who has read the translation tells me:  They said Nadine was able to deliver fully dimensional characters who sounded like they’d always been speaking German suitable for their phobias and demographics.

When I met Nadine, we clicked instantly, bonded by the hours we had both spent pondering every word in the book, something that creates a natural intimacy, as probably no one else has ever had to be so close to what goes on in my head.  We also had similar sensibilities, key to good translation. Here is an exchange, unedited, between us when she was doing the final pass at the translation:

Nadine:  On page 84: “Yeah, we could call it the International Dateline,” he said. “Sometimes these ideas just come to me. The entrepreneur in me, I guess” (Zade talking about a new cooperative partnership in his match-making services). The pun with date doesn’t work in German so we thought of him proposing the name “Achse der Liebe” – “axis of love”. But of course this would have a more political undertone so what would you think of that version? (We could also leave the name in English. Date in the sense of rendez-vous is known in Germany, so the pun would be lost but the name itself would make sense, maybe with a slightly different wording in his next sentences).

Me:  I love axis of love. It would have been better in English, too.

Translation is complicated, but it also made me understand my own language more–and I got to understand my characters better in talking about them as German speakers.  But perhaps on the other hand its simple.  When I met my Norwegian publisher last year, I asked her why she had bought the book for this country with one of the highest per capita reading rates in the world.  “I loved the story,” she said.  “I could see it in Norwegian.”

That’s it really:  translation at its most noble is love of sharing stories and information. Some of the best things I’ve read in my life originated in languages I only know how to say “thank you” in.  If I have any doubts about how translation makes life better, I only have to look at the woman on the cover of Przepowiednia Szeherezady :  Scheherazade understood stories and the importance of them for survival.  That’s why she’s been in translation for centuries, some translations recognizable to how I know her, and some less so–and one day soon, she’ll find herself saying “dude” in someone’s interpretation of her.

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Thank you, Steve Jobs, for Letting Me Write

October 6, 2011

Since I was in college, the one thing that has been in my life nearly everyday—and for better or worse, nearly all day—has

Thank you, Steve Jobs

been my Apple. Along with one of those apples that grow on trees, turning on my Mac has been part of my morning ritual wherever I have been and in whatever state-of-mind I have been in, minus a couple of war zones that have made it impossible. But even in those times, I would sometimes move my hands like they were going over the keyboards writing my thoughts.

I have never been addicted to my Mac, but I’d say we’ve been pretty co-dependent—or let’s say the best of friends, a reliable friend I always cleaned up with only the finest soft cloth, a friend I could count on to help me stay bond to my other friends and family, a friend I never cheated on once, no matter how many times a PC tried to get my attention. A friend who would only abandon me when it was his time to go, like Steve Jobs today. But my Macs always left memories behind, a hard drive that recorded our history together and the history of my life for the time we were together. And I am glad none of them tried to erase me from their memory, at least until we were no longer together .

It hasn’t always been the same Mac, but it has always been the same genius bringing me my new model—as well as smaller ones, ones that were phones, ones that meant I didn’t have to endure the same 10 pop songs on the car radio, ones that are what I now use to read all the books I love, new and old. Some Macs have been better to me than others, but overall, I would be less of a person for not having had them all in my life—even the big, bulky ones that weighed me down, that refused to move with the times, that were serious baggage, but only in the best sense.

I’m old enough to remember life before the various Macs that have lived with me. I would be a different person without them, as we would have all be. The way I stay in touch with people, read, listen to music, watch films, study, figure out my bills—all the paper and machines that would be cluttering up my world if my Macs hadn’t helped me get it together. They have also been fun–playing with my Macs in all their forms is something my nephews and I have bonded over, unlike video games (their choice) or baking cookies (my choice).  Apples are our happy middle.

Most importantly, my Macs helped make me who I am today. I wouldn’t be a writer without my Macs, whether for fiction, nonfiction, for film or television or print. And if I weren’t a writer, I wouldn’t have discovered peace of mind. Whenever my Mac and I have been writing, truly hard as it is everyday, I have felt that I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It couldn’t have done it without my Macs: I have weak hands and it is quite painful for me to write with pen or pencil and hard for anyone to read, including myself. It was only when I met my first Mac that I felt free to write.

So if you are wondering why this is posted on this blog dedicated to Middle East culture, it is because I would have never written anything about this part of the world if I hadn’t come here with my Mac. (And of course, because Steve Jobs was part Arab American.)

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Love Notes From Fatima and Scheherazade

February 14, 2010

Debutante’s Ball is a website of a bunch of fun authors with upcoming books.  Alicia Bessette, whose novel is coming out in

Love Notes

August and who’s one of the webmasters asked me to write a bit on love, and here you go, and I think Fatima and Scheherazade would approve:

Some Love Notes for Debutantes  http://www.thedebutanteball.com/?m=20100213

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One Hundred Years Twenty Years Later

September 2, 2009

During my tour of The Night Counter, I was often asked either “What writers have influenced you the most?’ or “Who are you favorite writers?”  I have no

One Hundred Years Twenty Years Later

One Hundred Years Twenty Years Later

answer for the first because to say Gabriel Garcia Marquez influenced me is to say that I’ve made some conscious choice to use his style or tone in my own work, which I haven’t, nor would I be comfortable implying that by being influenced by him my work stands should-to-shoulder with his.  I’ve been saying One Hundred Years of Solitude is my favorite book since I read it for the first time 20 years ago, long before I’d ever contemplated writing a book myself.  I’ve said that based on that ‘wow’ feeling I had reading it.  But in recent years, it seems like nearly every other person I meet mentions it as his or her favorite.  My favorite book had become a favorite book cliché.  I felt every time I said that people were thinking “well, she’s just taking her cue from Oprah.”  I’ve taken my cue from Oprah on several occasions, but when she chose it for her book club, I didn’t pull it out again.  I don’t tend to re-read a lot because I love reading so much and there is so much more for me to get to.  But as my tour began, I started feeling like literary cheese mentioning One Hundred Years of Solitude.

It was a book I’d randomly picked up at a bookstore, nothing I had studied in school. When I read it then, I had barely ever had a job, hadn’t finished all my education, hadn’t been to the many places that did indeed influence me, and hadn’t met the many people who would yes, influence my life, for better or worse, hadn’t seen babies grow into adults, watched marriages end under a multitude of circumstances and new ones begin, and hadn’t watched global events change the dynamics of the world I lived in.  It was also before the Internet, e-mail, cell phones, and so many other things that have affected our attention spans and the speed at which we get information, including fiction. Twenty years is a lifetime ago, let alone one hundred.  And then there are all the other great books I’d read since then, although none ever seemed to roll off my tongue as easily when the word “favorite” comes up.

So I decided to read it for a second time, the first fiction book for grown ups I had done that with in almost as long as I can remember.  I found my old copy and discovered my first revised reaction: I could no longer read without strain the small print like I had before.  Rather than consider getting reading glasses, I purchased a new copy with bigger type and began reading. The first couple of pages sucked me in as before, but now I had more demands on my time, and so couldn’t devour books for the long periods I used to, and reading a book over several days or weeks is not the same as in two or three days.  Nor was my memory as clear as before:  The first time I read it, I didn’t have to keep referring to the family tree to keep the Aureliano Buendias and Jose Arcadios straight, but unlike before I realized, having had to name a large cast of characters in The Night Counter, the repetition of names symbolized the families repetition of life’s mistakes. The book is also paced at the pre-Internet speed, indeed at the speed of a small village in the middle of nowhere South America, a little slow for me now.

There were parts of the book that made my stomach churn in ways that it had not before, particularly what now seems an almost cavalier depiction of incest.  On the other hand, although I had lived through war as a kid, I did not appreciate the truth in the cavalier way he treats the death tolls of war and plague as I did in this reading.  And I had not battled insomnia to appreciate the humor in the village that no longer sleeps.  Magical realism was not a word I was familiar with back then, but the mastery with which he wove it in is even more of a marvel to me today as a writer.  I could go on but suffice to say it’s still a brilliant book, but parts of it strike me differently.

Would I still say it is my favorite book?  It was still an undisputedly unique, original transportation into a tragically magical place, a clearly allegoric third world town, with obvious comparisons to South American but also the Middle East realities. (Qaddafi anyone?). But with time I’ve learned that when it comes to things and children, it’s best not to have a favorite soda, a favorite shade of lipstick, or as I’ve discovered a favorite book. Today it’s one of my favorites, along with Anna Karenina, Cry the Beloved Country, Pippi Longstocking and a host of contemporary novels.

Just like homes, maybe with books too, you just can’t quite go back, at least not the same way.

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At A BOOKSTORE SOMEWHERE IN LA

July 17, 2009
A Bookstore Somewhere in LA

A Bookstore Somewhere in LA

Or How Not To Buy Your Own Book. The first day The Night Counter came out, my friend Natasha promptly bought it at Barnes and Noble in New York, and another friend did the same in Nashville.  So I thought I’m going to go buy my own book, too.   Just to see it in a bookstore, you know.  I went to the nearest bookstore and looked for it on the new books table.  It wasn’t there.  Nor was it anywhere around any hard cover books.  My heart sank.  It must have showed because suddenly there was a concerned store employee at my side.   “It should be here,” I boldly began.  “The Night Counter.  My friend got it in New York.  I heard it’s really good, and if New York has it, shouldn’t L.A.?”  I could feel my face turning red.  “Yeah, for sure…The Night Counter,” he said and started banging computer keys.  “Great title…hmm…I bet you it’s about someone counting nights as they go by.  What do you think?”  “Yeah, probably.  It’s supposed to be something clever like that,” I replied, turning even redder.

That’s when he looked at me carefully and smiled.  Oh, no.  In general, I don’t lie, as I can’t do it without getting flustered.  Nor would it be totally inconceivable for me to get flustered around a cute actor dude in L.A. standing in my personal space.  He was used to the latter, rather than suspecting that it was dealing with an author going undercover.  And there’s nothing like a flattered actor. “I’m going to find The Night Counter.  This just isn’t right.”  And he went off, with me in his wake, telling me about how he came out here from Ohio for this acting and liked meditating.   “I could just come back tomorrow,” I said.  “Really, it’s no big deal.”  “No, it’s supposed to be in the store, and we’re going to find it,” he said, with great actorly drama, almost running into a Japanese couple, clearly ESL students.  “Please, please, can you help us?’ the young woman said.  “I’m busy right now,” he announced.  “Looking for The Night Counter. What do you need help with?”  “We’d like to buy some books,” she whispered.  “Well you’re in the right place,” he nodded, and then we were off again, with him explaining I had good energy, just like him.  “Tell me you’re not sick of men with no energy,” he winked.  “Really I can come back,” I answered, my face turning redder because I kept thinking of all my hard work buried somewhere in this store.  “You know this book must still be back in the storage,” he decided.  “Just wait on me.  I’ll be back. Look at some books or something.”

And so I stared at all the other new releases that were all carefully and tenderly laid out.  Until my phone rang.  “I’m at the Barnes and Noble at the Grove.  The book has good placement, but I’ve moved a copy over to the Twilight section, so it gets more traffic,” shouted my friend Elizabeth, normally a refined, high-powered executive.  As I hung up the phone, my book knight appeared. “Ttill stuck back in storage, as I suspected.  The Night Counter by Alia. Yunis,” the actor beamed, handing my book to me with flourish. “You’re going to bring the others out, right,” I said.  “Soon, I’m sure,” he answered.   I wondered if he were on to me or just amused by increased flustering.  I prayed he wouldn’t look at the back flap and see the author photo and notice a resemblance, even without the make-up.   “You’re good people, seek out other good people,” he advised me, not opening the book.  “Me and you, we got those Midwestern roots.  We know good people.”  “Okay,” I promised, turning redder as I nearly crashed into the hard cover new releases.  “You know…um…you should put all The Night Counters out here in this new books section.” “Yes, indeed,” he agreed.  I backed all the way to the cashier, thanking him.  He seemed willing to chat more, and I suppose I could have chatted up the book, but at this point I was so horrified by my charade, I just wanted to pay and go.  At the checkout, the cashier checked my credit card signature with my signature on the receipt. But she never checked my signature with the author’s name.