A Peek Behind the Pen

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A couple of days ago, I posted on Facebook about my eldest turning 15. It was—by far—my most successful, most engaging post. The truth is, people don’t scroll through social media to learn new recipes or about happenings in the world; they can search for recipes on Google and they probably have news delivered right to their email. But people do scroll through social media in hopes of having some sort of connection, learning more about you, sharing in your life.

So, despite being a private person, this post is about me…in the hope of connecting with some of you. The questions were posed as an interview during my book blog tour for Behind Picket Fences earlier this year. (Oh, and that’s me in the picture above…nearly 18 years ago.)

 Where did you grow up? Siblings? Locale? Were you considered a “bookworm” or a jock? Married, single? Children?
I was born and raised in Attleboro, Massachusetts. I grew up the middle child between two brothers. I enjoyed swimming (still do) but after the first season of swim in high school, I began to wear hijab, so I opted out of the swim team in subsequent years. (The burkini had not yet found its fame. I was never fast enough to compete anyway, although I had ‘good form.’) I enjoyed being on the tennis team, but didn’t pursue it after high school. I attended Smith College, hated it my first couple of years then loved it. I graduated in 2000 with a degree in biology and a minor in religion (because a minor in chem was simply too much lab time!). I was enrolled in optometry school in Boston when my plans changed due to a sudden death in the family. I dropped out during the first week, then worked for a year as a chemist (go figure!) in a pharmaceutical lab on the outskirts of Boston. I worked for about a year, then I moved to Egypt (against my parent’s better judgment) to be with my now husband. We’ve been married for just shy of 16 years, and we have four kids ranging in age from 7 to 15. I’m the kind of person who acclimates easily to her environment, so moving here wasn’t too difficult, especially since the culture is the same that my parents raised us in. Nevertheless, there are some things I simply can’t adjust to (the crazy traffic is the first thing that comes to mind, followed closely by the atrocious educational system, just to name a couple).

Who are your favorite authors and favorite genres?
My favorite author is Khaled Hosseini. And while I enjoy many different genres (from paranormal to crime fiction to the classics), my favorite is probably contemporary fiction. I relate easily to the issues contemporary fiction explores as well as the emotions it challenges us with.

Do you have a favorite quote that sums up how you feel about life?
I don’t have a favorite quote, but I used to. It was ‘A baby’s being born,’ meaning that despite all the hurt or ugliness going on, right at this moment, a beautiful, innocent, pure soul is being brought into the world. That used to ease my heart, even temporarily. But now, that exact same quote increases my anxiety; the world is getting uglier by the day, and the children will be the ones who will (are already??) suffer the most. Unfortunately, I have become a bit of a cynic.

Where do you prefer to write? Do you need quiet, music, solitude? PC or laptop?
I definitely need quiet to write. Usually I sit at the dining room table in the morning, while the kids are at school. I prefer to handwrite into my notebook; yes, it takes much longer (because eventually everything must be transcribed onto the laptop), but I like the feel of the pen in my hand, I like not being tied down to the computer.

Are you a plotter or a panzer?
I am a pantser, but I have sticky notes all over my notebook and comments all over my documents that guide me. I find outlines stifle the creative process. I am planning on writing a memoir in the near future, and for that, I will probably prefer the organization of an outline.

Do you use real events or persons in your stories or as an inspiration for stories?
My characters are never replicas of real people, but they almost always have adopted characteristics from real people that I’ve met. For example, Morgan, one of the men in Behind Picket Fences, was modeled after someone I know and don’t particularly care for. With his inferiority complex and depreciating tendencies, you’ll find that readers won’t like him too much. Hassan, on the other hand, also adopted characteristics from real people. Despite his faults, readers will probably have increased compassion for him.

Do you set daily writing goals? Word count? Number of chapters? Do you get a chance to write every day?

My writing goal is to write for about two hours per day. Somedays that means quite a few pages, other days, it means staring at a blank page for an hour and a half and writing only one page.

What do you hope your writing brings to readers?

I hope that my books teach people a bit about forgiveness and love. I hope that my characters—the ones who seem at first glance to be irredeemable—will, thorough their humanity, arouse a sense of compassion from my readers. I also hope that my books will teach people that, despite our different colors and religions, we all yearn for the same things: love and compassion. I hope that my readers will learn a bit about what it means to be Arab American, and begin to feel that reading about Muslim characters is just as normal as reading about characters who are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, or anything else.

What long-term plans do you have for your career?

I’ve finished my third novel and hoping to find an agent for it. During November, I wrote the bulk of novel number four, and am currently finishing up the first draft. I hope to continue writing fiction, maybe with a memoir thrown in there somewhere along the way.
What advice would you give to unpublished authors?
OWN it! I don’t mean the pieces of writing that you produce, but your craft. Once you start calling yourself a writer, you start taking your writing career seriously; until you take it seriously, no one else will.

Share a fun fact readers wouldn’t know about you.

I hate my handwriting. Weird, right? I mean, you’d think a writer, and one who tends to write with pen and paper rather than on a computer, would have developed handwriting that she’s proud of. But no. I hate it.

Share something about you that would surprise or shock readers.

I tend to be a quiet person, preferring to listen than to talk. I’m not really a trouble maker, never was. But…when I was a senior at Smith, one of my friends and I TP-ed our hallway! My friend was even quieter, more soft-spoken, and even less likely to start trouble than myself! As you can see from the picture, we zigzagged the toilet paper, using tape to secure it all through the hallway. Our other housemates were surprised by the masterpiece that awaited them the following morning when they got up. We cleaned it all up, of course, but it was such fun creating it.

(Thank you for liking this blog post. If you’d like to keep up-to-date with my books and read the first chapter of Behind Picket Fences for free, please click here.)

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