Thursday, December 28, 2006

Life imitating art. . .kind of

Next week, insha Allah, I will be traveling with my mother to warmer climes. Our trip will resemble, to a point, the journey of a main character in the Echoes Series.

I won't say anything more, but I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


As of December 26 at roughly 1:30 a.m. the Echoes Series was finished. Well, kind of.

The third book, Turbulence, will come out at the end of February, insha Allah. I've written several drafts of the fourth book, Ripples, and expect to have it completed within six months. Last night (technically early yesterday morning) I completed the first draft of Silence, which ends the Echoes Series.

I can't wait to share these books with my readers. I hope you'll enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Filling in the gaps

I haven't done much writing today. But it's only 11 p.m. and I have another two hours. Maybe three.

The time I did spend writing, I worked on providing more details in an earlier section of my rough draft of Silence. And I noticed something. Not for the first time.

What I wrote today sounds stilted to me, and rough. I'm sure some of it is. But what always amazes me is that when I go back to read what I wrote previously, some of it sounds very good.

I'm not the only writer with this experience. I think it's common.

I'm come to the conclusion that we writers are our own worst enemies. We worry so much about what people will think that we tear apart our own work and sometimes don't show it to the public at all. We fear rejection. We're convinced everyone else writers better.

A little humility is a good thing. But I believe writers are, in general, an insecure lot. That's why we sometimes experience wrter's block. And that's why some writers never allow their works to be seen.

Doubting your work is normal. It probably isn't as good as it could be--not if it's a first draft, anyway--but it's yours. And you can keep working on it, polishing it, until it is very, very good.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


I'm working on a difficult story line right now. Death comes. And how many ways can people mourn?

They can moan and wail. They can softly weep. They can deny. They can collapse.

They can reminisce while they miss the one they loved. They can hide their feelings and soldier on.

I've asked it before. How many different ways can you say someone cried?

I hope my readers will feel the raw emotions of the characters. Sometimes that isn't easy to do. I come perilously close to resorting to cliches. I work hard to avoid repetition. I don't want the story to read like a soap opera.

But life is emotional. And that's what a writer must convey. Sometimes very delicately.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Another World

I was writing an intensely emotional scene tonight when my 17-year old tried to get my attention. I don't know how many times he called me. When I did finally respond he said "Never mind." But I wouldn't let him get away that easily. My concentration was broken.

Reading takes us into another world. So does writing. I imagine my characters before me. I "hear" their voices. I picture the world they see through their eyes.

Sometimes, when I'm in the middle of writing a novel, I wonder why the rest of the world is oblivious to a world in which I am totally engrossed. The anger. The grief. The joy. They're all so real to me. Why can't anyone else see them?

Which is one reason why it is such a wonderful thing to hold my printed book in my hands. Finally, others will see and feel what I have seen and felt all along.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Pulling the threads together

Every novel is composed of different story threads which, by the end of the book, come to a satisfying end of some sort.

As you know, I write from the top of my head. Sometimes the various story threads are easy and natural for me. Other times I must work at them. In Silence, the story I'm working on right now--the fifth and last book of the Echoes Series--the threads are pulling together in my first draft. That's never happened this easily before.

I guess it's like they always say. Practice makes perfect. Well, not perfect exactly, but definitely better.

I can't wait for you to read these stories so I can talk about them. In two more months Turbulence will be out, insha Allah. And I can't wait to hear what you have to say about it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Last Chance!

Tomorrow, December 15, is the last day to buy books for Eid at a specially discounted price.

You can order MWP titles (including Islamic Rose book, Star Writers, and Halal Food and Fun) through

And you can order my books--Innocent People, Echoes, and Rebounding--by going to my website at

If you have any questions please email me at

Books are great Eid gifts. Ask my kids!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Going Strong

It's happened twice now in the space of five or six weeks. I don't think it's a coincidence.

One night last month I wrote about how I was struggling with my NaNo novel. The next day, I found my groove and took off.

Last night I mentioned my minor difficulties with Silence, the last book in the Echoes Series. I couldn't quite find my way, writing only a few pages a day and procrastinating because I was on the verge of serious writer's block.

But I have it. It happened today. Now I'm at the point where I can write while my kids are making noise. Soon I'll be able to do it while my husband's watching a game on TV. When I'm really strong, nothing can stop me.

Maybe talking about it is what fixed it. That's my guess. You might want to try it too if you ever find yourself stuck or in slow motion.

From what i can see, it works!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hesitant Steps

I've mentioned before that I strongly prefer to write from the top of my head over writing from an outline. The planning, which is welcome to some writers, stifles me. I'm having that problem again.

When I started writing Echoes, I knew only that the book would be about a new American Muslim named Joshua Adams and his relationship with his mother. I started from that very minimal perspective and wrote my story, encountering many surprises along the way.

Before starting Rebounding, I knew I would be including certain changes in Joshua's life--and the lives of those around him. But, for the most part, I plunged in.

In Turbulence, I knew what the central theme would be--which I won't discuss right now because I don't want to give anything away. I had one or two events in my mind. The others popped up on their own.

When writing Ripples, I felt more constricted. I needed to bridge the books while giving voices to different characters. As I mentioned, Isaiah gave me a very hard time. Kyle and Jennifer were much more cooperative. In fact, I wrote a wholly different novel while trying to define Isaiah. I may pursue that story line in another book one day.

Silence is the hardest of my Echoes Series books. I know of two major events in the book. Events which dramatically affect the other characters. But I'm struggling to express myself with everything in between. It will take me a few days or weeks to become comfortable enough. Once I am, I will write day and night until the story is written. But I'm not there yet.

So far I'm taking hesitant steps with this story. I write a little, then break to eat something or check my email. I haven't written at all yet today. I'll start in a little while, insha Allah. I will probably write only a page or two. It will take time for me to build up steam. To get to the point where I'm thinking about the story even when I shouldn't--like when I'm praying (astagfirullah).

Sometimes my writing gushes and I can't type fast enough. Sometimes I need to pull it out, gently, gradually. But I never give up. The story is there. My job is to discover it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Four days left!

No, not NaNo. That story is safely tucked away.

There are four days left in the Muslim Writers Publishing Eid'l Adha sale. Through Friday, the 15th, you can save 40% on any book published by MWP. That includes books in the Islamic Rose series, along with Star Writers--an Islamically-oriented book for writers--and Halal Food and Fun--a great cookbook for kids or adults.

My books, Echoes and Rebounding, are included in the sale. And I have a special price also for Innocent People, which is not an MWP book.

I always buy books for my kids for Eid. It helps them value reading, which is a must. Last Eid I gave my ten-month old granddaughter some books too. It's never too early to start.

I hope you'll take a look at our books at and Don't just fall back on gifts like DVDs and video games. Give the gift of reading.

Iqra! It's the gift that doesn't need batteries and never wears out.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Building Tension

I'm at the point in Ripples right now where the tension is so great that I need to take a break. I know how it ends, and I control how it flows, but still I get involved in the story.

In order to build tension, there must first be foreshadowing. A hint of something. Whether it's horror, action, or romance, there must be that little clue. An astute reader will pick it up. Others will miss it entirely. And I imagine many readers, like me, later slap their foreheads and say, I should have seen it coming.

Sometimes the tension builds rapidly. Other times it's much slower. A single step. A noise. A doubt. Then it progresses. When writing, I like to remember Othello. Shakespeare's tragic play started out quite simply before becoming much darker.

Of course, once the tension reaches the boiling point you need a resolution. It can't be trite, either. Your resolution must reflect your characters and their motives. For me, the resolution is the hardest part. In writing Ripples I had to brainstorm all the possibilities, and write out two of them, before I could find an acceptable ending.

Building tension is fantastic for the reader. That's what makes a person stay up until 3 a.m. just to finish a book. But it's a problem for this author. When my characters get into trouble my teeth grind. I have to save my work and go on the internet until I'm ready to jump back into the fray.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Echoes Series Women

I recently received a comment from a reader suggesting I should give the women in the Echoes Series stronger voices. She especially would like to hear from Jennifer, she said.

I've thought about the roles of my women characters since I started the Echoes Series. When I wrote Heather, originally, I was going to show only her mean nature and sharp tongue. But I softened her a little because I didn't want to simply produce a stereotype. Heather has turned out to be a fun and sometimes warm character, and definitely a main stay of the series.

And I wonder too why I write primarily from the male perspective. It's a challenge, for one thing, and I always like a challenge. And I have lived in a male-populated (and often male-dominated--drop by our house on a Sunday during football season and you'll see what I mean) family for 25 years. If any woman can understand how guys think, I should be able to. (It's not generally that hard, really.) And of course Joshua has made a most compelling character.

But I have not forgotten Jennifer. Like her mother, she has a quick tongue--though she's a little better about controlling it. Like her father, she's energetic and sometimes restless. And of course she needs her turn at narration.

I'm working on her story right now in Ripples, the fourth book. But she has two coconspirators, and conarrators. Kyle, Brad's son, and Isaiah, Chris's son, both make strong appearances in Ripples.

Jennifer is growing before our eyes--from a toddler to a young woman. And she will continue to grow to the end of the Echoes Series.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Books About Writing

Some authors swear by them. Others loudly brag the'd never touch one with a ten-foot pole. Who's right?

I belong to Writers Digest Book Club. I just sent in an order. A book for me to help with an upcoming novel (Silence, the final book in the Echoes Series) where I tread unfamiliar waters. A book for my 13-year old about writing horror. (Watch out, Stephen King.) And a calendar about grammar for my 17-year old who, I think, is a budding linguist.

My favorite non-reference book for writers is Between the Lines. It deals with the subtle nuances in a story. The little things which separate pulp fiction from literature. I read a few pages at a time and always come back wit a little more writing wisdom than I had before.

Maybe you don't need books. That's fine. I don't think Will Shakespeare ordered a single volume to make his plays read smoother. But maybe you do. And that's fine too.

One thing I love about writing. Few rules. Lots of room to roam.

Monday, December 04, 2006


I stepped out into the cold night air. It was so cold I had to zip my jacket and stuff my hands into my pockets. He finally joined me. "Hurry up," I said. "It's cold out here."

What is it? Cold. Good, you've been paying attention.

Maybe it's a little too cold though. Three times in one sentence. We get the point already.

What about this instead?

I stepped out into the frigid night air. The cold ran through me. I zipped my jacket and stuffed my hands into the pockets. He finally joined me. "Hurry up," I said. "I'm freezing."

That's better, isn't it? It's still not literary quality, but it's easier on the eyes and the tongue. And it paints a clearer picture.

Synonyms are a wonderful tool. I advise using them whenever possible.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


I'm back to work on Ripples. This afternoon I finished reading through the printed manuscript, which I haven't looked at for the last month. Now I'm ready to start revising. Which I have.

But I needed to take a break. I had written an intense emotional scene and I needed a breather before I could go on. That's when I know I'm hitting my stride.

I may have said this before. Writing is one profession where we're happy if people cry. And the reaction starts with me. If the passage doesn't move me to tears or laughter or make my muscles tense then I'm not doing my job.

I cried the most when writing the 9/11 scene in Innocent People. The feelings of that day surged unexpectedly. I knew I had done what I was supposed to do.

I talked yesterday again about first drafts. Usually my first draft--most of it anyway--is dry, nearly void of intensity or emotion. When I revise I write like a reader, looking for the best way to make an impact.

I'm sure you've heard it before. It's not what you say. It's how you say it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Feel Free to Criticize and Advise

I have often said that a first draft is only a beginning. It is a way to put the story to paper and see where it will take me. It is exhilarating because the thoughts in my head have become words and plots. It is also embarrassing. Many of the phrases and sentences I have written will later be deleted. They are poorly worded, redundant, or sometimes even contradictory to other parts of the book.

In short, while my first draft is helpful to me it's not something I would be willing to show the rest of the world. Until now.

I have posted an excerpt from my NaNo novel on my website. It's very rough. I've read through it again after posting and see the changes which need to be made. But it's a start. And from this seed, insha Allah, a novel will grow.

So feel free.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Thrill of Victory

It happened last Wednesday, but I'm still elated. I am a NaNoWriMo winner. Today I downloaded my certificate. And my profile has a special little logo on it now.

Writing takes perseverance. I've spoken with many people who have started something but never finished. Of course, many have good excuses. Small children. Full-time jobs. Finishing college.

I deferred my dream for many years. Finishing college. Working full-time. Raising my children. After 9/11 I decided life was too short. The following spring I quit teaching and started writing.

I know there are many writers out there who have not finished a manuscript. I hope they are able to do so. Reaching the finish line is so sweet. Bittersweet, actually, because the book is finished. The book you have lived with for so long. But sweet nonetheless.

And for NaNo writers it's only the beginning. Now it's time to start revising.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I did it!!!

Less than thirty minutes ago I finished my NaNo story at 50,413 words.

I'll take a few days off. Then it's back to work on Book Four of the Echoes Series--Ripples. I still haven't found exactly the right approach for this book. But I hope the NaNo 50,000 word challenge has helped me.

It's a great feeling. Alhamdulillah!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Blame it on Nano

I'm sorry I haven't posted here much this week. It's NaNo's fault.

I'm up to 42,507 words. And I don't want to stop until I'm done.

Though I'll have to, of course. We're going to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I wanted to be finished before we left, but I won't quite make it.

Insha Allah, I will complete the 50,000 words before the end of the month. Then I'll put the manuscript away for a while. But I like my characters, so I'm sure they'll resurface. In a few more years, you can look for Nina Weston.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Nano fatigue

Sometimes I wonder why I'm doing this. I wonder if the story I'm writing will ever be publishable. I wonder if I should just call it a day.

But I keep pushing away. Over 26,000 words now. And less than two weeks left.

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. . .

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hitting my stride

I'm nearing 22,000 words now, and expect to pass 23,000 before going to bed tonight. Almost halfway there. I still have a ways to go, but I have a chance.

The story is finally starting to pull together. I bumbled around quite a bit, trying to locate the plot. The character I knew, but I had to find her reason for existence. I'm getting there.

Writing a book requires patience. Lot of it. It would be nice if we could just wish it into existence, but in truth it's a great deal of hard work. The rough draft. The revisions. Lots of them. Pulling the story together and finding the nuances to make it unique. Finally the book is published--and holding your own completed books in your hands ranks up there as one of the most satisfying experiences of life.

Of course, then there's the marketing. A book won't be much good if it isn't read. This is my weak point. There are many of us who would prefer to sit behind our laptops and never have to face real people. But, with few notable exceptions, successful writers cannot be hermits.

My NaNo story is far from publication, though I do think I will one day get it published. It is extremely rough. But it's there. It exists. And it's getting stronger, which is always a good sign.

Writing is not for the faint of heart. It takes determination and perseverance. A heavy dose of impracticality always helps, I think. I mean, how practical is it for a person to sit at a keyboard for hours on end and expect to produce something which will change the world.

I always hope I'm not just tilting at windmills.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I passed the 20,000 mark

Which isn't quite enough, really, considering that the month is half over now. But I have been making good time since my slow start. The prize is still in view.

My biggest problem is that I'm not certain where the story is going. As I've said before, I'm one of those writers who jumps in with both feet, without an outline or much of a plan. I do know where I ultimately want the story to end. But it continues to surprise me.

When the month is over, I need to get back to Isaiah. That boy still needs a lot of work.

It has helped me, I think, to take this short break from the Echoes Series. I have an entirely new character, Nina Weston, with her own challenges and attitudes. When November is over I'll put Nina aside, but she exists in my writing world now. I plan to come back to her at some point and fully develop her story.

What is most differento, to me, about the Nano writing exercise is that the word count is everything. Normally I pay little attention to how many words I have. Not until after the story is finished anyway and I realize I need to cut out all the excess verbiage.

This is quite an experience. I think every writer should do it at least once. Why? Because it's there.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Yesterday I was full of optimism. Today hasn't been quite so hopeful.

I've written, of course. Just not as much as I wanted to. I still have an hour or two before bedtime and I hope to sneak in a couple hundred words, at least. But it hasn't been easy.

I realized sometime last week that I would need to expound on some early sections in my novel. If I were simply writing, I would probably finish a very rough draft first and then go back and fill in the empty spaces.

But it's not an ordinary novel, it's a Nano novel. So after fiddling around for much of the day I finally went back this evening and provided much needed description and transition.

I briefly thought about giving up. But I still think I can do it. In fact, I feel much more hopeful than I did at the beginning of the blog. Talk about the power of positive thinking.

When I do write normal, usually more than one month novels, my first draft is basically an extended outline. All of my books, so far, have doubled in length since the first draft. In my newest novel, Turbulence, I actually started in the middle of the book. Later I realized it was the middle and I needed some very solid opening chapters. You could almost say I wrote that novel backwards.

I'm not satisfied with my NaNo effort. Given several months of revision I think it could be quite publishable. But now it is like any other long-term project--essentially bare, waiting for growth and development.

I don't know if I've helped any readers by writing this, but I have helped myself. I'm ready to go again. Two hundred words before bedtime. At least.

Monday, November 13, 2006

15,000 with 17 days to go

I started very slow. Only a few hundred words the first day. Now I', working to make it up.

This whole NaNoWriMo experience is exposing me to a very different way of writing. Normally I proof and revise as I go along. Often I change the entire direction of the story before I finish writing it. The problem is that revision takes time, and I have only 17 days left.

So I push ahead, knowing I'll need to change much of what I'm writing but not daring to pause. It is a marathon of letters and syllables strung together into a plot. It is a challenge and a competition. Mainly with myself.

I'm determined to make it, even if I don't get much sleep in the last days. When I was in college I successfully walked 20 miles to raise money for hunger relief. This endeavor is a selfish one. But on December 1, insha Allah, I will be able to relax knowing I've met my goal.

Back at the ranch. . .

Thursday, November 09, 2006

6000 words and counting

I haven't been very diligent yet in my NaNoWriMo effort. Just a little more than 6000 words so far. I have my characters and a central plot. Today I simply spent too much time catching up on my email.

But I'm going to do it, insha Allah. I'll buckle down and write a couple thousand words ever day. After my granddaughter leaves next week. Which is not a day I'm looking forward to.

At least I will have my novel. And I'm determined to finish it. I just have to remember that writing, like everything else, is 99% perspiration.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Write On

I'll be out of town all next week and I don't think I'll be able to access the internet during much of that time. I plan to be back and blogging the following week, insha Allah.

Keep writing!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Finished. . .For Now

About an hour ago I finished my most recent draft of Ripples. And I always have mixed emotions. I'm happy, certainly, to complete my task. But it's always a let down to come to the end of a book--whether I'm reading it or writing it.

My new climax works, though it needs to be tuned up. I expect to spend much of the next four to five months making the writing stronger and the organization tighter.

But I have it. This story has vexed me for some time. I have had trouble nailing it down. Now I'm more than halfway there.

And I'm gearing up for NaNoWriMo. Right now I have three or four different plots in mind. I have less than a week to decide which one I'll go with.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Just the right touch

I wrote one of my critical scenes today. I'm sure I will need to go back and change it. At least once.

When dealing with emotions, it's hard for the writer to find the right touch. We don't want to be sentimental or maudlin. We must stay clear of cliches. How many ways are there to say someone is crying? Whimpering? Weeping? Sobbing? Tears dropping like bombs to the floor? (No, I would definitely not use that last one--not unless I was trying to be funny.)

And how strong are the emotions? Do the characters hide what they're feeling, or do they let it all out? Do the feelings emerge in stages? What's the right pacing? Maybe it depends on the character. One may hold her feelings in, to be released at another critical moment. Another may show his emotions to the world.

I know I need to go lightly with this scene. Don't throw too much at the reader. Expose the situation in stages. Wait for just the right moment to reveal that last clue. Sometimes it's very hard to wait. I want to tell it all right now. I would make a lousy mystery writer.

Not too hard--don't pound the reader over the head with tried expressions. Not too soft--be subtle but not obscure.

I write and rewrite these scenes many times--often I'm still rewriting the day before the final draft goes to the publisher. I need just the right words, just the right mood--the right touch.

I've said it before. Thank God for word processing. (Alhamdulillah!)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Puzzle Pieces

My story is now coming together. The plot lines are solidifying and I think I finally have the right to call it a story. The breakthrough I experienced last night was just what I needed.

As I've said before, I feel like I'm discovering, rather than writing, the story. The first book in the Echoes Series, Echoes, was inspired by a dream. Each of the first three books contained part of that single dream. When I reached the fourth book, I worried because no more dreams materialized. But I knew the main characters, who have been with the Series since they were children. I could anticipate how they would act and react. Only one, Isaiah, gave me some problems because he is very conflicted. And another character, someone who emerged in this book, was supposed to make only a cameo appearance. But she was too strong, and she wouldn't leave. I don't know if I'll ever be able to get rid of her.

Struggling through a sentence, a paragraph, a page is a difficult experience, and can turn some away from writing. But discovering the key is a wonderful feeling. I think that's what keeps me writing.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Searching for the Right Fit

Every book must have a climax. Usually that's not a problem for me, but it has been in writin Ripples.

I have fully written out two climaxes for this story, and rejected them both. They simply didn't fit. Some elements of each worked well with other details of the story, but they didn't feel right.

This evening it happened that I had to wait in the car for my husband--and I had nothing to do. No book to pass the time. No reading of any kind. Just waiting.

After several minutes I grabbed a piece of scratch paper from my bag and started brainstorming. I needed to find the right climax for my story. It took several more minutes of jotting and thinking, but I finally found it. I hope.

Every story needs the right fit. All of the details must come together toward a satisfying conclusion. One of my earlier options seemed very contrived, as did some of the ideas I brainstormed. The flow of the story must be believable and acceptable to the reader. Otherwise you need to go back and try again.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Eye-Opening Lesson

I was about to write this blog last night when, suddenly, I could no longer keep my eyes open. I put down my laptop and leaned into my pillow. Only for a second.

When I woke up this morning I realized there was a lesson in this, as there is in everything. That is: You can't write with your eyes closed.

Think about it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Copy, Cut, Paste

This happens to some extent with every book. I write a passage, and later realize it would fit better somewhere else. I copy and cut--always afraid it will escape into the black hole of cyberspace. Then I paste and rewrite to make the passage more comfortable in it's new home.

I've been doing that a lot lately with Ripples, the fourth book in the Echoes Series. In one case it was a matter of chronology--I realized the event would have to take place earlier. But sometimes it just takes me a while to find the right place for a passage. Occasionally I've banished whole paragraphs to my remnants file. They won't fit with this book, but I don't want to discard them entirely.

Copy, cut, paste. I remember when all this needed to be done manually--with scissors and glue. The modern method is much easier--just as long as I don't lose any of my words to the great beyond.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Writing in the real world

The writer creates a world where his or her characters will live. This world, the setting for the story, could be at any time--past, present or future--and in any place--even Mars. But no matter where and when the story is set, the writer must follow the natural rules of the universe.

A story set 5000 years from now on Jupiter will, of course, leave a great deal of room for the imagination. People may fly. Strange creatures may inhabit the environment. But the writer must still "keep it real." For instance, if he introduces a slurpote as a plant-eating animal and beast of burden, then of course a slurpote cannot later eat one of the humans. The writer must follow the laws of his own world.

I write in the world we know. And I must be careful not to contradict myself. In one of my stories, a character becomes paralyzed and can no longer walk. But in an early draft I had that character "walking up to the door." Unless I insert a miracle--medical or otherwise--I cannot let that character walk again. He can move or wheel, but never walk. These are my rules, and I mut abide my them.

I could give other, more embarrassing, mistakes made in my early drafts, but I'll stop here. In short, a writer must be consistent. From my experience as well as my observation, inconsistency in a story is a very easy trap. That one reason why the writer must be thoroughly familiar with the manuscript before submitting.

Would anyone else care to share an early draft goof?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Great books

Each person, or at least each person who actually reads, has his or her own list. Many include Shakespeare as well as other classics, both time-worn and contemporary.

Tonight I began my list for Listmania on Amazon. It's not complete, and I may decide to put some books on a different list. Some of my books are classics. Others have barely registered.

What I look for in a book is heart and soul. I want emotions, though not sentimentality. I want to feel angry, hurt, or victorious, just the like the character in the book. I've listed only a few books which have touched my heart. In the coming days I plan to list more, insha Allah.

A reader's taste is an individual thing. As is a writer's. My 17-year old writes fantasy. My 13-year old writes horror--he is aspiring to be the next Stephen King, and I think he has a good chance. My 17-year old loves book series like Redwall and The Hobbit. My 13-year old is constantly on the lookout for a good scary story or film. And I love stories which touch my heart and leave me with a profound sense of satisfaction.

Each of us has his or her own "great books"--our lists are very different even though we're in the same family. We don't argue, because we recognize the difference in tastes. We also know that no matter what you like, it is very important simply to read.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Finding a Way to Do Both

Right after I posted yesterday I realized it conflicted with my post for Tuesday, in which I said I couldn't wait to start writing. I guess that sums up my state of mind these days. I don't know whether I'm coming or going.

I did write a little today. Nothing stupendous, miraculous, or earth-shaking, but at least I wrote. Well, actually I revised a little from my first draft. But that counts. Doesn't it?

The rest of the day I enjoyed spending time with my daughter-in-law and my beautiful little granddaughter. They are both very sweet. I think my granddaughter is becoming more comfortable with me now. Last night she was stunned to be carried off the plane and faced with strangers--and more uncles than she could possibly imagine. Today she began to relax. We had some real fun together.

So I spent time with my family. And I wrote. Later I will have to concentrate on my story--the kind of concentration where I barely recognize the people around me and completely tune them out. Every story, and certainly every book, needs that level of commitment at some point.

But for now I will write a little, play a little--and enjoy the best of both worlds.

When Life Gets In the Way

I probably won't write much for the next couple of weeks or so. My son and his family just arrived. And tonight I finally had the opportunity to meet my precious little granddaughter. She is every bit as sweet as I knew she would be--and did I mention she's already talking, at eight months?

Sometimes life does get in the way of our writing. But that's okay. A writer can take a break from time to time and come back stronger. And life experiences are often what goes into our writing so even while I'm playing with my granddaughter I will be preparing to write.

Sometimes writing can become life. I know it's happened to me. I live in the world of my invention, contemplating plot twists and dialogue. I sit at my computer, oblivious to my surroundings.

But for now it's time for something else. Moments of closeness with my son and daughter-in-law. Moments of joy--elation, really--with my granddaughter.

And my story hasn't gone away. It's still percolating in my brain, waiting for the time when it will burst fully formed onto the page.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

(Jamilah finished working on Turbulence today so now it's time to) let her (work on) Rip(ples)

It's done. I have been working on this story for a long time. I think I started in 2004. I wrote the last part first. Then I went back and wrote in the first part. And just as everything was beginning to gel I lost 80 pages, inexplicably--at night they were there, and the next morning they were nowhere to be found. Fortunately, I knew the story well enough by then that I could successfully reconstruct.

When I began, I knew only the basics about my main character. Over the course of the novel, I continued to discover more about his personality. That's what it is to me. Not invention, but discovery. There came a point when I was realized he was not who I thought he was. That was the turning point for this book.

Every time I turned to the manuscript I found a new way of saying things. Just this afternoon I was still editing and rephrasing. That's a continual problem for writers. If we work on our books until we think they are absolutely perfect, they will never be published.

And now it's done. I think I made all the necessary revisions. The manuscript is formatted.
It's time to take it to the next level. And soon, insha Allah, Turbulence will be ready for all of my readers.

Now I can spend some time on Ripples. That manuscript has patiently waited for me. I can finally give it first priority. As with Turbulence and every other book--at the beginning--I know the main character and the primary plot. Now it's time to smooth everything out.

It's time to write!

Monday, October 09, 2006

I Can't Wait

I'm nearly finished with the nitty-gritty prep work for Turbulence. Soon it will be up to my publisher to bring the book to life. And I know she will do an excellent job.

And as soon I turn the final manuscript over to her, I can dig into my next book, Ripples. I'm ready. I've dabbled in making changes here and there, but until now I haven't been able to give this story my full attention.

Oh, and I signed up for the NaNoWriMo--the goal of which is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I'll start with all new characters.

I am ready to write.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


I didn't write anything today. I'm working on formatting my manuscript. Not very much fun, but it needs to be done.

Writing is full of mechanical tasks. Check spelling. Check grammar. Check formatting. All those little tedious details which bore those of us who are creative. But a good manuscript, a professional product, demands attention to those little nit-picking details.

Fortunately, the bulk of my writing time is taken up with creating rather than simply reviewing. That's what I love about writing.

By the way, I've signed up for the National Novel Writing Month activity--
www. I already have enough to do, but I think it will be fun. It is certainly a challenge.

And it is possible to write the rough draft for a novel in a month. I wrote Rebounding in two weeks.

You might want to check it out.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Taking risks

I have always loved to write and for many years I moaned that I didn't have enough time to pursue my passion. Finally I decided to quit my teaching job and dive into writing. I had no net, except for my kind husband. I'm still not selling enough books to make a living, but hope springs eternal.

I have been writing novels for four years now, and I want to move out of my comfort zone. This last summer I began writing poetry. I hadn't written a single poem--well, none for mass public consumption--since I was in college. Carter was president. But I have produced possibly a hundred poems now, maybe more, and I become more confident each time I write. I still have a long way to go.

When I was in high school I tried to write short stories. I even sent one or two off to magazines. They were rejected, of course. Very recently I've begun to dabble in the short story again. I have read short stories which dazzle and amaze me, and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to compete in this category. But I would like to improve.

Writing is taking risks. It's often not recognized as a normal profession, and many make little money and no fame from it. We don't write, actually, for the money or the fame. We write simply because we must.

At some point we must be willing to take that dive. And hope Allah provides us with a safety net.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I'm pressed to express

Do you know the feeling you get when you finish reading an enjoyable book? If the book is well-written, the ending will be quite satisfying. But you have devoted hours, and probably days, to the story, and you feel sorry to see it end.

That's how I feel about my own work as well. Today I finished reading through Turbulence. Then I spent the rest of the day in limbo--not ready to commit yet to another story.

This blog was much longer, and probably more eloquent, but I accidentally deleted a couple of paragraphs. Deleting my work is worse than finishing it, of course. I have a few moments when I don't want to write at all--I don't trust my finger, the keypad, the computer.

Reading and writing are about so much more than words. They are reflections of life.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Read very carefully

I am still in the process of preparing the manuscript for my third Echoes Series book, Turbulence. I plan to be finished by Wednesday, insha Allah.

I take a long time because I know soon the manuscript will go to the printers. I can't afford to let any mistakes slide by.

And I have found several. In many places, I simply forgot to type in a word. I became so involved with the story line that I forgot about my words and just writing. Oops, I mean kept writing.

I've also found many places where another word would be more suitable. I grimace at the number of sentences in which I repeated a word a number of times. Oops, I mean more than once. To correct that, a thesaurus is indispensable. I have many in my house. My favorite is fairly new. Check out "Flip Dictionary." It's the best thesaurus I've ever found.

And of course sometimes I smply forgt a leter or mispell a wrd. Can't let the manuscript go to the printers looking like that. The amazing thing is, I can read through a manuscript several times without catching those little errors. (I should have used a thesaurus to find another word for manuscript back there, but my Flip Dictionary is another room. My thirteen-year old, a budding writer, was using it.)

Finally, having an editor is indispensable. I sent Innocent People to the presses without any help--I was the sole editor, and it shows.

We all have to read the fine print. You can have the best plot line the world has ever seen, and write it eloquently, but if you send it out into with any of these errors, you can never hope to be on the New York Times bestseller list. Or even the Podunkville Times.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Keeping the voice

I finally began in earnest today on the refinement of Turbulence. Getting rid of the rough edges and questionable passages. Making the story clear while keeping the voice.

This is very important. Writing is more than stringing words together in a grammatically correct fashion. To write is to give vibrancy to a character. And each character has his or her own way of speaking and thinking.

So my editor did give me a few suggestions for smoothing out some passages. I've already conquered the most difficult. While I was doing this, I remembered that it is very certainly not only what you say, but how you say it.

Whatever you do, always remain true to your characters.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Right Time to Write

I have some pressing writing to do. Over a week ago the editor sent me the third Echoes Series book, Turbulence, with her suggestions for a few changes. Not major. Shouldn't take long at all. But I haven't done them yet.

Last week I was ready. I would wake up on Monday morning and dig right into it. But when I woke up I discovered my laptop gone and all my plans changed.

So now I have a new laptop. I did look at the manuscript yesterday, and made one small change. Today I haven't been able to tear myself loose from cyberspace.

It's probably just an excuse, but sometimes I feel I need the right time, the right mood, to write. It didn't happen today.

I hope it happens tomorrow.

Monday, September 25, 2006

I didn't get much writing done because. . .

I have a new computer, alhamdulillah! And the best part is that my 22-year old son bought it for me. He works long hours hauling boxes, saving for his college tuition, but he insisted on doing this. And during Ramadan. What a great kid.

So last night and most of the day today I spent my time downloading programs, getting my new computer to look like my old one. I successfully downloaded software for the printer--a major accomplishment for me--and now I'm ready to go.

I can't wait to start writing again. I've missed it greatly. But today I had to lay the groundwork. Tomorrow I'll get down to business, insha Allah.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Pulling it all together

On Sunday night, the last time I used my laptop, I had a sudden breakthrough on my upcoming book, Ripples. I was typing along, when I realized I had my theme.

When I first write my books, they are littler more than conglomerations of scenes. There is a story line, but it's weak. As I continue to write and revise, my story becomes stronger. But sometimes I can go through many drafts before I find the one element which will pull everything else together and create a novel from all those separate stories.

In Ripples, the fourth book in the Echoes Series, the main character is Isaiah--Chris's oldest son. In Echoes, Isaiah was a baby. He was briefly mentioned in Rebounding. In Turbulence, which will come out early next year, insha Allah, Isaiah is a young man. When I came to Ripples, I knew basicaly who Isaiah was, but I had a hard time drawing the lines of his personality. He's a complex character, and I've had to struggle to highlight all the different aspects of his personality.

Finally, on Sunday, I discovered the common thread which would unite the story and give it consistency. This thread also helps to define Isaiah and his conflict.

I won't give it away, of course. I just wanted to share that. No story is complete without the ties that bind.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


We never appreciate something until we are without it. Breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping are all natural. Most of us take our health for granted. And we also forget to thank Allah for our wealth.

I have finished Day 3 without a laptop, and I never realized how very much I depended on that machine. Tonight my publisher emailed possible covers for the newest book, Turbulence. But our family desktop can't open the documents. My laptop could.

So often today I thought about things I needed to do, then realized I couldn't do those without my laptop. My professional life is on hold.

We must be grateful for all of our blessings. They can disappear in a flash.


My laptop is gone and I am practically computer-less. I do have this desk top, alhamdulillah, but it's slower and I must share it with the rest of the family. I waited until 11:30 tonight for my turn at the computer.

The worst part is that I can't write. I tried to use the CD for my most recent work, but couldn't access it. I don't want to start anything new on this computer. And because I must share it I can't write when I want.

Insha Allah, my husband and son have promised to buy me a new laptop on Saturday. Until then I will have to make do. I'm watching more TV than usual--not a good thing--simply because I can't think of another way to pass the time.

I need to work on my stories. I can't concentrate. I can't even think clearly. I guess I can't call myself anything but a writer.

Three more days.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Writer's Tool

I learned how to type when I was in high school, and since then I have rarely been away from a keyboard. When I was young I bought a small typewriter where I clicked away telling stories late into the night. I gradually moved up into larger typewriters. And, finally, computers. Word processing is a dream compared to the old days.

For the last several years I have always had a laptop. Always a Toshiba, actually. I found my first Toshiba by accident, many years ago, when our neighbor was selling his. It was in excellent condition, loaded with software, and it served me well for at least seven years--as I get older, time begins to blur.

When my old Toshiba began to fade I bought a new one. Faster and larger, with CD/DVD capabilities. I spent many hours with my new machine.

But this morning I came downstairs and found it gone--the space it had occupied on my desk was empty. All day I have been quietly mourning the loss. And I feel lost without my own keyboard to pound.

My laptop didn't just walk away, of course. There were signs of a break-in. My cell phone and charger are also missing, along with some money. I think that's one reason I'm still awake.

Now I must share the family desk top with my kids and their school assignments. I waited three hours to use the computer tonight. Homework always comes first. But I have two books in progress. One has come back from the editor and needs some simple changes. The other, the fourth book in my Echoes Series, was finally starting to show progress. Last night I made a major breakthrough in the story. This morning it was gone. (Alhamdulillah, I do have CD copies of my story files.)

I'm anxious to get back into writing. But I think I must wait until I am able to buy another Toshiba--although I did see a very nice Sony on sale.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Foreshadowing and subtleties

This is my latest challenge. I want to introduce a major plot twist. I admire authors who surprise their readers. But how much foreshadowing should I allow? How many hints? How bold will my hints be?

"Subtle" is one of my favorite words in the English languages. Even the spelling of the word confirms the meaning. But a writer has to find the balance. Some surprises. Some hints. Just the right measure of both. And stir.

Another of those little things which defines good writing. I'm working on it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I should have discussed this topic much earlier because it is, in fact, the reason I write.

Inside I am a jumble of memories and emotions. If I try to bottle them up, I sometimes feel I will explode. So when I feel tense, or when I simply want to enjoy myself, I write.

A few words I read tonight triggered a flood of emotions. I quickly wrote them into a poem. And I feel better.

Maybe that's the reason so many people are writing these days. There is a wonderful release. Whether the piece is a personal narrative or a novel very loosely based on actual life, the writer can let go of all those jumbled up feelings and thoughts. And breathe deeply.

I write. . .therefore I am.

Don't dig too deep

When I was writing Echoes, I came up with a great plot twist while in the shower. But (for those of you who haven't read it yet, I won't give anything away) I went too far. My original idea took on a life of its own and led the story in an entirely different direction.

This is a frequent problem for me. Tonight I was writing a husband-wife argument. Those are always fun. The problem is, I dug myself so deep--made the issues so important--that I couldn't find a way out.

I finally reached daylight, with a little cliffhanger because the problem isn't resolved, only tabled. Eventually, though, I will have to finish the argument. And someone is going to win. Maybe while I'm taking a shower in the morning I can find a win-win situtation. I doubt it.

The moral of all this is: Create conflicts for your characters. But always provide an escape hatch.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I'm so happy and I know all praise is due to God for the easy times in my life. So, alhamdulillah.

My upcoming book, Turbulence, has been a very passionate project for me. I started writing this story in 2004, and from the beginning I had a clear idea of where I wanted to go with it. In some ways it's a story close to my heart.

All was going well until one morning when I turned on the computer and discovered that the first 80 pages of my first draft had disappeared. I called on two computer experts for help, and neither was able to recover the lost pages. They were gone forever.

Fortunately I knew the plot so well that reconstruction wasn't as difficult as I'd thought it would be. Of course, I was much more careful after that.

I toiled with my characters each day, developing them along the way. About halfway through I discovered something very important about my main character. When I write novels, I don't feel like I'm inventing stories. Rather, I'm exploring and discovering. The signs were there all along. I don't know why I didn't see it sooner. I think I was in denial.

I kept reading through my manuscript, fine tuning passages and keeping the story fresh. Finally I turned the story over to the editor.

She just informed me that, except for a few small changes, I am good to go. That is such great news. Sometimes books need major revisions. Rebounding did. It's wonderful to hear that Turbulence is right where it should be.

And it should be available to my readers at the beginning of next year, insha Allah. I hope you enjoy it.

Now I'm working on the next book in the series. I'm taking a different approach with Ripples. I'm still in the early stages, and I think it's working. By next summer I hope Ripples will be ready to join Echoes, Rebounding, and Turbulence.

And I can't wait to get started on Silence--the final book in the Echoes Series. I have many ideas. Hopefully in a few months I'll start writing and see if they work.

The moral of the story is--keep writing. And rewriting. And rewriting. And I think you'll get there. I hope I am.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My mind is elsewhere

I want to write. I really do. But these days there are so many distractions.

My son's leg is nearly healed, though he's still limping. It should be completely healed in time for the new school year. (And you know he's happy about that.) We're moving in less than two weeks--another house about a mile away. On Saturday an exchange student will be arriving to spend the year with us. The kids need school supplies--not to mention uniforms. I want to write, but I just can't concentrate.

I may not write much here in the next couple weeks. I have many projects to catch up on. I can't wait to delve into the fourth book of the Echoes Series. But not yet.

In September the kids will be in school and, I hope, I can relax. And I hope I'll be ready to write.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Writing for change

"The pen is mightier than the sword," they say. We can only hope it is so.

While the people of Lebanon suffer under nearly constant bombardment, we are able to do very little to stop the carnage. We can pray. We can talk about it. And we can write.

This is my contribution to the crisis.

Death of Innocence

Qana, ancient town
full of meaning for
many of faith

Attacked by the faithless
innocents massacred
bloody children,
crying mothers, fathers, nation

War, never pretty, made worse
with children in the crosshairs
peace becomes impossible
grief turns into revenge

Take your place in history
Auschwitz, Hiroshima, My Lai
Birmingham, New York City
murder on massive scale

Qana, grieving town
full of anger and
ready to fight

I don't know if writing a poem will have any effect. But maybe if many of us write, and spread the word, we can make something happen.

May God help us all.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Where did Joshua come from?

I write in first-person. I began this practice upon the recommendation of a publisher who rejected my first novel, Innocent People, but saw merit in the story.

But I am not Joshua. Or Evie. Or Brad. I develop my characters from a composite of my experiences, based on where I want them to go.

Joshua came mainly, I think, from my experience of teaching high school. I saw many young men like him--talented, full of potential, and completely lost.

Evie is a stereotype I created when I was young. The "fifty-year old woman." I've known very few people, personally, who fit the stereotype, but it remains. When my mother turned fifty, she mentioned my "fifty-year old woman" concept. But she didn't fit it--and she never has.

In two days, insha Allah, I will be fifty. I don't fit the stereotype either. I don't care about fashions or what other people think of me--except when it comes to my writing. I'm not Evie. She remains a decades-long figment of my imagination--though she has come to mean more than that to me.

When my next book, Turbulence, is published early next year I will talk about where Brad came from. But not yet.

My characters come from me, in the deepest sense. I have met people--often briefly--who inspire them. I take mental notes during all my encounters. And when I sit down to write, all those past experiences, those mental notes, come into focus.

Joshua comes from many different places. My concern for young men who lack direction. My experience with students who slouched through life. He comes from my experiences and my imagination. Amazingly, he has become a part of my life.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Muslims are people too."

Yea, I received a reply! Thank you, Sr. Safiyyah.

That's a great point. People seem to imagine Muslims as strange creatures. Covered and veiled women. Men with accents who keep shouting "Allahu akbar." Strange languages, dress, food, you name it.

But we're people. Most of us marry and have children. We all have feelings. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry. When we bleed our blood is red. And we do say Allahu akbar because we glorify Allah, who created us.

And we like to read. It's nice to read stories in general, but it's better to read stories about us. Finding characters with the same approach to life. Revealing that Muslims are never perfect. (As Ismail said in Echoes, "Being a Muslim doesn't mean being perfect. It just means you try.") Discovering characters who struggle with life here in the U.S., just as we do. And learning Islam from Muslim characters.

Thank you again, Sr. Safiyyeh, for your great comment. I don't know where everyone else is. But those of us who do show up need to keep it up.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is anybody out there?

I haven't received any responses yet, which is a really frustrating aspect of blogging. I throw my words out there, but I don't really know if anyone is reading them. I did once try to install a counter, but I did something wrong because it didn't work. Technology and I are not exactly best friends.

Writing books is like that too. Weaving the stories without any assurance that the books will be read. Sitting in my livingroom, in my own world which no one else can see. Finally delivering my books out into the world and hoping they will be well-received.

The worst part, of course, is picking up a best-selling book and knowing I wrote better than that. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

Writing is an act of faith, I guess. And speaking of faith. What do you have to say about Islamic fiction?

(If you don't like it, say so. I've heard worse. I can take it.)

Monday, July 24, 2006

So what do you think?

I haven't heard from my readers yet about Islamic fiction. I'm still waiting.

What are you looking for when you pick up a book? And what comes to your mind when you hear about Islamic fiction?

In 1986 I heard, for the first time, about Islamic education. Immediately I imagined so many possibilities. Many of them have come to pass. Others I'm still waiting for. But there's time.

Do you remember when your teacher (if you grew up in the U.S.) told you to read the Diary of Anne Frank? It was very moving, wasn't it? How did it make you feel about the victims of the Holocaust? Didn't it give you a different perspective?

That's what Islamic fiction can do. Make Muslims real. Not just masked men carrying guns or veiled women who walk ten steps behind their husbands. It can make us real for non-Muslims who would like to know more about us but are afraid to ask, and must rely on the evening news for all of their information. And it can make us real for the Muslim kids who grow up in this country and hear, daily, about how terrible Muslims are.

When I decided to become a writer, full-time, I also decided that every book I wrote would reflect the lives of Muslims.

So that's what I think about Islamic fiction. But I'm still waiting to hear from you.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Islamic Fiction. Why?

I would like to remind you of the petition. If you haven't signed it yet, please do.

I would also like to hear from my readers. Why is Islamic fiction important?

Islamic Fiction--Petition

Every society has literature. In fact, literature tells you a great deal about the society. It is a way to pass on the values of the society in a relaxed and entertaining manner, and my guess is literature has influenced most societies more than many other factors.

Many of us are trying to create an atmosphere in which Islamic literature is accepted. Middle Eastern countries have had literature, Islamic and otherwise, for hundreds of years. But some Muslims still balk at the idea of Islamic fiction written in English. Literature which speaks to the people of the land, in their own language and their own cultural understanding.

If you support Islamic fiction, and I'm sure you must, please sign the petition.

The Islamic Writers Alliance is sponsoring a petition to call for publishers, distributors, and book retailers and wholesalers, particularly ones serving the Muslim community to produce and stock more Islamic fiction. If you'd like to sign (I hope you will!) please go to:

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Nat the prison guard

Nat is another character in Rebounding. Not one of my favorites, but he represents a very real sentiment.

Nat is a guard in a federal prison. The prison where Joshua is held on terrorist charges. He has a daughter who is fighting overseas. Like any father, he is worried about her. And, because the enemies she's fighting are Muslims, he's is suspicious of all Muslims. This is not uncommon either. It's not that Nat is a bad guy. He's just a very concerned father.

But Nat's love for his daughter blinds him to any good he may find in Muslims he encounters. Instead he is hostile and threatening. After all, that Muslim inmate may have connections with a soldier in the Middle East who has a bomb waiting for Nat's daughter.

The United States is full of Nats. Not bad. Just so wrapped up in their own worlds that they can't see the larger picture. They are unable to accept the fact that the majority of Muslims are normal people, trying to earn money and raise their families.

Nat is suspicious and very angry. It's too bad he didn't take the time to get to know Joshua. Joshua is also a concerned and loving father. Nat would be surprised by how much they have in common.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Life and Art

I've broached this topic a couple times before, but I think it bears repeating. How far can or should an artist go to reflect real life?

This is a special concern for Muslims because our moral sensibilities create barriers against the world. We don't want to expose ourselves to the ugliness. But can we pretend that it does not exist?

As I mentioned, there are words I will never use--either in speech or in writing. And there are topics I will never discuss.

But I do discuss topics which may make some squeamish. Suicidal thoughts. Depression. Anger. Marital discord and divorce. Rebellious teens. Terrorist accusations. Illicit attraction to the opposite sex. Spousal and child abuse. Alcoholism. I challenge anyone to show me these do not exist within the ummah.

We have two choices. We can sweep our problems under the rug and pretend they don't exist. Or we can openly discuss the issues and try to find solutions within the teachings of Islam.

Life is not always pretty. Must our words be pretty, or must they be real?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

How important are words, really?

I have grown sons who, unfortunately, have been exposed to some "bad words" through both work and college. I have an on-going conversation with my 22-year old who contends that the words I consider to be bad simply do not have the same clout they had back in my day. If he uses those words, he doesn't do it in front of me. But he confesses hearing them regularly.

I've noticed it too. It's difficult even to find a book to read without curse words. And I am constantly telling my kids, "They can't say that on TV." There are very few limits anymore.

So how important is a word? Is it simply an aggregate of letters with a commonly-accepted definition? Or does it have more power?

Listen to the leaders as they present their different viewpoints. Hear the words they use. Some choose their words very carefully. Some, such as The Decider, are often more careless with how they speak. But politicians in general understand the power of words. Freedom. Democracy. Mother and apple pie. Evil. With us or against us. They move the heart and stir people into action.

I believe words are very important. When I write I try to choose my words carefully, looking for just the right effect. Love, like, adore. Hug, embrace, hold. Walk, trudge, amble. It makes a difference which word you use, doesn't it?

Words carry emotions. We need to choose and use them very deliberately.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Writers and social issues

There are many reasons why people choose to write. Dreams of wealth, hopes of fame, an irresistible urge. Many of us write because we hope to make a difference.

History is replete with novels which have changed social conditions. When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Lincoln introduced her as "the little woman who started this big war." "To Kill a Mockingbird" highlighted racial prejudice. "The Jungle" changed the way America slaughtered meat.

Money and fame would be nice. But the best reason I can think of for writing is to make an impact and change hearts and minds. There are plenty of issues to write about. The current crisis in the Middle East is fertile ground. So are continuing racism, poverty, pollution, abuse--the list is endless.

I believe writers have an obligation to society. If the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, then we need to arm ourselves and get to work.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Joshua's hometown

Joshua is from Chicago. I chose that city after researching different places. Chicago seemed to be the right fit. And except for the traffic and pollution, I like Chicago. I lived there for three months back in 1978. It wasn't quite as crowded then.

As I write the Echoes Series, I've tried to stay faithful to my locale. Including special characteristics of the city. Brad grew up on the South side, so he's a White Sox fan. Joshua prefers the Cubs. Chris is focused on salvation and doesn't think much about sports.

At times I have actually perused the Chicago Tribune clssifieds to find the right houses for my characters. My husband and I spent a few hours in Chicago today. I enjoy driving through my characters' neighborhoods and picking which houses would suit their personalities.

I enjoy reading stories which contain details about the location. And I work to do the same in my stories

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Jared White

When Joshua needs a lawyer to help him fight an unusual lawsuit, Walt sends him to a tough young lawyer who won't give up, even in the face of difficult odds. Jared White.

Jared is a fairly young man, in his early thirties, who has tenacity and a strong sense of justice. He is an American Muslim convert who believes strongly in his faith but is not overtly religious. He is the kind of lawyer who wears jeans and eats pizza at his desk while reviewing documents and planning his case.

Jared knows American society and what it will take to win. And he won't give up.


I almost forgot about him. He's not quiet, exactly, but he doesn't want to cause trouble. He's easy-going, self-confident--maybe not the kind of character I would build a story around, but he's great for support.

What makes Peter special is that he married Heather. And he gave her the love she always wanted. Unlike Joshua, her first husband, Peter can make Heather feel important and loved.

Peter is an artist. He teaches college art classes--Heather was one of his students. They have a daughter named Brianna. And a condo full of art.

Peter gets along well with Joshua. He gets along well with everyone. When Joshua and his wife, Aisha, talk about Islam, Peter asks questions. He's open to new knowledge and experiences.

The only thing annoying about Peter--at least, what Joshua finds annoying--is his cheerful banter. And his attempts at silly little jokes. Joshua is still far too serious for all of that. Which is why Heather is much happier with Peter than she ever was with Joshua.

But Peter's quirks can be forgiven. He's good to Heather, Brianna and his three stepchildren--the children Heather and Joshua had during their short and difficult marriage. He's friendly. And he's always ready for a new experience.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Writing a series, part 3: the problems

When you write a series, each book must fit into the series as a whole and yet exist on its own merits. I would say that is the greatest challenge.

How to be original and yet maintain a connection? When I write, I'm tempted to fall back on the same phrases I used before. But this won't work--at leaet not if I'm writing for a different character. Each character must have his or her own voice.

Another challenge is to be consistent. In Echoes Joshua said he liked animals--blaming his mother for the fact that he never had a pet. In Rebounding, I made sure he had a pet. More than one pet, actually.

I write clues in one book which lead into the next book. But I don't know if the readers like this. Or would they rather have all questions answered in the current book?

The last book will be the hardest. For one thing, I have to decide how to say goodbye to my characters. And by the last book I have so many secondary characters that it would be hard fo rsomeone who hasn't read the ifrst four books to keep them straight. I'm working on it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Writing a series, part 2: the benefits

Some stories can be told well in a flash fiction piece or even a poem. But other stories need more than one book.

If your story covers a period of many year, even multiple generations, it should probably be in a series. If your story deals heavily with the history of your characters, it should probably be in a series. If you can envision your characters in diverse situations and plots, then you should probably be thinking about a series.

In a series, the author can develop each character more fully. Include back story to explain the character's motivations.

A series also draws readers. Perusing the bookstore shelves, particularly in the youth section, shows that writers have realized this. If someone reads book 1 in a series, he or she may likely pick up books 2, 3 and 4.

Readers enjoy series novels because of the identification with the characters and the feeling of being caught up in the story. Of course, single novels can do this too. But a series provides a sense of both familiarity and anticipation--like the continuing stories of the loved, and often maligned, soap operas. What will Harry next? What is the VFD? Tune in to the next book in the series for the answers to your questions.

When writing a series, the author becomes deeply involved in the lives of his or her characters. They grow through time, just as our own children do. They become part of our daily thought and vocabulary.

I'm enjoying the Echoes Series. Joshua Adams is an old friend to me now. And I relish plotting new developments in the lives of the other characters.

I often think about book five now. How will I be able to give my characters a fond farewell and provide my readers with a satisfying ending?

Tomorrow: The downside of writing a series

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Writing a series, part 1

When I sat down to write Echoes, I never intended to make it the first book in a series. It was the story of young Joshua Adams. That's all.

I lived in Kansas City at the time and got together regularly with my friend, Najiyah, who was also working on novel. Najiyah helped me in many ways to make Echoes stronger. When she finished reading my manuscript, she asked me what came next for Joshua.

I turned it over in my mind for a few weeks, and another story developed. Joshua and Aisha eleven years later. The changes in their family. The development of other characters. Resolution of conflicts carried over from Echoes. The result was Rebounding.

When I finished Rebounding I asked my son Musa, who is also a writer, to read the ending and see if he could find a way to extend it into another book. He make a great suggestion and I started working with it. The next book, Turbulence, will come out early in 2007, insha Allah.

While I was writing Turbulence I decided to extend the series to five books. The fourth, Ripples, has already been written. Now I need to revise.

The fifth book, Silence, will be the hardest to write. I've already written about 80 pages of a very rough draft. But I've decided to go back in a few months and start again. I know, basically, what will happen in that book. But I have a feeling the characters may take the story in a different direction.

It will be satisfying to finish the Echoes Series. But I will miss my characters. Especially Joshua. I've seen him grow and mature. I don't think I'm ready to say goodbye.

Tomorrow: The benefits of writing a series

Monday, July 03, 2006

Watch your language!

I hate curse words and vulgarity. They're demeaning and indicative of ignorance.

When my oldest son was four he repeated everything he heard. I was elated to find an Islamic school to send him to. One of the reasons I sent him to Islamic school was because I didn't want him to be exposed to bad language.

I did my best. We don't use bad words in our home. I was careful of the TV programs and movies my kids could watch. He attended Islamic school from pre-K through 12th grade. But he still manages to come out with the occasional word. I learned that it is impossible to totally protect our children from undesirable influences. We just need to do the best we can.

Keep this in mind. I don't use bad language. Except in my stories.

I don't write a steady stream of curse words. In fact, there are only four words I will use--all of which can be heard on network television, even in prime time. But I do allow the occasional word, judiciously used.

My recently-published novel, Rebounding, includes some scenes in a federal prison. I've never been in prison, but I think I can safely say they don't use 'please' and 'thank you' in regular speech. I sprinkled a few words into the dialogue of the prisoners to make the scenes authentic. Again, fairly tame compared to what is actually used because there are many words I refuse to speak or write. Ever. But I think it would have been ridiculous to completely ban rough language in those scenes.

My main characters don't curse. Well, almost never. One character inserts 'hell' and 'damn' into his conversation, though not on a regular basis. His father cursed, and he never broke the habit. And I allow two characters to curse a little when their situations become nearly unbearable. People do.

I believe language should be polite and sophisticated. But that's not always the way people talk. Muslim writers must make that choice. To use occasional language in an effort to make our stories more realistic. Or to sugarcoat everything.

We need to think of my son's generation. The ones who grew up with rough language in the media, the schools--just about everywhere. Do we want them to read our works? Or do we want to turn them away with a Pollyannish approach?

We have to be Islamic. And we have to be real.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


Some people are talkers. Others are writers.

The most important thing isthat we don't stay isolated, but reach out to communicate with others.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Am I any good or should I just throw this in the trash?

I once read that when Stephen King wrote his first novel, "Carrie," he didn't think it was good enough so he threw the pages into the trash. His wife retrieved the novel and persuaded him to get it published.

Every writer has moments of self-doubt. What am I doing? There are millions of writers and they are all better than me. Why am I doing this? Shouldn't I be doing something more productive? How wil my writing make a difference? Am I being selfish? Am I any good?

These thoughts are very common. We writers live in our own worlds. Our greatest hope is that someone else will find value in our words. And, of course, it would be nice to make a little money. But that's not the incentive.

The incentive is recognition. You did a good job. You are a talented writer. That's what we want to hear.

Sometimes I'm tempted to hang it up and go get a real job. But I love what I do, I hope that I'm good at it and I want others to be touched by my words.

So it's on to the next book for me.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


A chaplain provides comfort to those in distress. In recent years, the number of Muslim chaplains has grown.

This is the role of Yahya. Joshua is away from home and oppressed by his circumstances, but he finds comfort in his weekly visits from Yahya. He finds someone to listen, and someone to take his mind off his troubles.

Yahya is a quiet man. A minor supporting character. Someone who comes into Joshua's life when he needs him most.

Yahya is not a revolutionary. But he changes the world through his gentle presence.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The right length

Everything is measured. Our hours, our days. Our clothes and our homes. The portions we eat. The mattresses we sleep on.

Writing must be measured also.

If I am writing about action. Adventure. Strong emotion. I want the sentences short. Quick. To the point.

If I am writing about a warm summer's day I could write sentences which weave through the page, exploring all the nuances of summer and how it feels to be alive on such a glorious day.

Life is measured. So must our writing be.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Before he was sent to Iraq, Troy was just a regular guy. Married to Courtney, his high school sweetheart. The father of a sweet little girl named Danielle. Life was nearly perfect.

But he went to Iraq and life was never the same. He and Courtney tried to save their marriage and even had another child--a boy named Alex. It wouldn't work. Troy was addicted to meth and although he never wanted to hurt Courtney, he sometimes did. Finally she had enough and left, taking the children with her.

Troy continued his descent, falling deeper into his drug use--which was fuelled by his memories of the acts he was forced to commit in Iraq. He missed Courtney, Danielle, and Alex, but he couldn't stop.

When Joshua and Troy met, Troy was very close to hitting bottom. Troy hated Joshua, and Joshua felt like hitting Troy. But eventually they formed a friendship which helped Troy regain something of himself.

He wanted nothing more than to be a good husband to Courtney and a good father to Danielle and Alex. But sometimes life isn't fair.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ahmed Ali aka Abu Hamza

When Joshua Adams first met Ahmed Ali, Ahmed was a teenager. Joshua was in his early 20s. The two became friends. Praying together in the mosque and playing together on the soccer field.

In Rebounding, eleven years after Echoes, Joshua is a family man. So is Ahmed, who is married and has a young son named Hamza.

All Ahmed wants is to follow his religion and provide for his family. But complications arise. A father-son conflict in Chicago threatens Ahmed's happy life thousands of miles away in Karachi.

Abu Hamza is not a terrorist. Just a son, husband and father trying to get by each day. Even so, he will be pulled into circumstances beyond his control.

All in the name of fighting terror.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Getting ready for publication

My newest work, Turbulence--the third book in my Echoes Series--is nearly ready to send to the publisher. I've tightened up my story lines, excised superfluous verbiage (or deleted unnecessary words), and double-checked my grammar. Last week I printed out the manuscript. Last night--yes, while my son was in surgery--I started my "final" read-through.

My son came through the surgery well. By the time we were able to see him, he was partially awake and responding.

My manuscript isn't fairing quite so well. On every page so far I've found at least one necessary change. Sometimes more.

My worst errors were made through carelessness. In one place I wrote "(character's name) said." The problem is, this character had not yet given his name. I wasn't paying attention.

Most of my corrections are small. Reworking phrases to make them smoother. Rearranging sentences and, occasionally, paragraphs. Checking my grammar.

The thing with manuscripts is, they're never done. I thought I was finished a week ago. Now I know how much work I still have to do.

But it's late. I'll get started bright and early tomorrow, insha Allah.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Writing From Life Experiences or Life Imitating Art Imitating Life

No, I'm not in Dallas yet. I don't know when we'll be going. Plans can change in the blink of an eye.

I'm working on Turbulence, the third book in the Echoes Series. In that book, one of my main characters is hit by a car and ends up with a broken leg. I researched broken legs in terms of pain and treatment, looking for just the right degree of injury. I think I did a pretty good job.

This last Saturday, in the early a.m. hours, I was able to test my knowledge of broken legs as my husband and I waited in the emergency room with our 13-year old son. Who had been hit by a car. Fortunately, alhamdulillah, his only serious injury is a broken leg.

Many things run through your mind as you sit in an emergency room in the early a.m. hours, trying to stay awake and waiting for a doctor or nurse to tell you what comes next. One of my many thoughts was my story line in Turbulence. I congratulated myself on coming very close to the real experience, while making mental notes on what I need to change when I have time to get back to the manuscript.

Of course I thought about my son, his level of pain, and the prognosis for his leg. That was uppermost in my thoughts. But I also sneaked a few minutes to think about my story. And then I was sorry that I had no one to share my insights. No one to say, You did a good job on that story line. Such is the occupational hazard of the writer--living a story which exists only in your mind.

My son is home, and doing well, but he needs to go for surgery tomorrow because the bones are not aligned. As I suspected, a tibia can be difficult to mend. That's how I wrote the story.

Hopefully the surgery will go well tomorrow. His leg will be properly aligned and in six weeks he'll be able to walk without a cast again. Insha Allah.

I'm tempted to take my manuscript to the hospital with me to take my mind off the operation while we wait. It sounds strange--working on my book while my son's leg is being cut open. But if it helps me relax, it could be a good thing. Most of today I've been a nervous wreck.

I like to create a little trouble for my characters. But my son's experience was very similar to my story line. If I lived in the Twilight Zone I would be very careful.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Maybe I'll see you there!

In a few days we'll be hitting the road and heading for the Southwest. A little change of scenery is always nice.

If you live in the area, you may want to come to the ISNA conference in Dallas. There are great speakers and a good program. I'll have a booth there too. Come by to say "hi" or "salaam" and check out my newest book.

If you live in the northeast, you can go to the ICNA convention in Hartford. Br. Kemal will be selling my books at his booth.

I love summer. Always so full of possibilities.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A New Look

I have an announcement.

My book, Echoes, is being republished through Muslim Writers Publishing. It will be available soon, insha Allah, with a whole new look.

Echoes tells the story of Joshua Adams, a young American Muslim and recent convert. Echoes is the first book in the Echoes Series.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Little Maryam

Maryam Adams is a special little girl. She was born in the backseat of her father's car, on the way to the hospital. When she was one day old her family life was disrupted. She had a rough start. But Maryam is a survivor.

She has to be. She has five brothers--three of whom are close in age. And she came after Luqman. That's enough to keep her on her toes.

Maryam appears to be soft, but she has an inner strength which will get her through many difficulties.

Her birth was the first step of a challenging life.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Luqman Adams, A Sensitive Child

Luqman is a challenging child. Energetic and sensitive, he keeps Joshua and Aisha on the alert.

He demands attention. He makes noise whenever possible. And any disruption in the family routine disturbs him.

These traits will not change much as Luqman grows older. He will continute to be both energetic and very sensitive. And these traits will cause him some real problems.

Luqman is a caring child and his natural childish exuberance is intensified. He's a handful.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Muhammad Adams

Almost every family has one. The kid who can't stop asking questions, can't stop talking.

That's Muhammad.

From morning until night, he rarely lets up. Always questioning, probing.

Muhammad is a nice boy. Sincere and caring.

But rarely quiet.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Internal dialogue

Do you talk to yourself? It's not as bad as some people claim.

Do your characters talk to themselves? Do they carry on internal dialogues, loud enough for your readers to hear?

You can do a lot with an internal dialogue.

You can expose the hypocrisy of daily interactions. "What a nice dress," I said, smiling. I can't believe she wore that ugly thing out in public.

You can reveal important information about your character. "A car backfires. I jump. I don't know how long it will take for the memories to fade."

You can create a mood. "I walk into the house and kick off my shoes. It is so good to be home. I grab a Coke and sink into the couch."

Let your reader know what your character is thinking. It can be very revealing.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Jamal Ismail Adams

Jamal is the oldest son of Joshua "Isa" Adams and Angela "Aisha" Evans. He was named after his grandfather, Jim Evans.

Jamal is a calm child. He generally works hard--though he can find time to play a video game. He helps his parents. He thinks about many things but doesn't often express himself.

Jamal does not like conflict. He will not always be able to avoid it. But he will continue to approach life calmly, thinking before he acts.

Jim Evans would have been proud.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Leaner and meaner

"She walked over to the tree and looked up. She thought that maybe she saw the cat up there. The same cat she had wanted to catch all during the summer. It was a pretty cat. It reminded her of a kitten that she had seen at her grandmother's house when she was just a three-year old. That was a nice summer. She loved going to her grandmother's house. Her grandmother always made lots and lots of cookies, including some cookies which had big chuncy chocolate chips inside of them. But she didn't see the cat today. Maybe she would be able to see the cat again tomorrow."

What's wrong with this paragraph?

Plenty. It digresses. Many of the sentences are awkward. And there are simply too many words. Some of the sentences should be combined.

One of the greatest challenge for a writer is to say what needs to be said without overdoing it. It's not easy, and requires a careful eye.

Good writing requires the right number of words. Not too many. Always try to write lean and mean.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


She is the youngest of Joshua and Heather's children. Joshua wouldn't come to the hospital when she was born. He ignored her for most of her first three years. Then he realized how much he loved his daughter.

Jennifer is a princess. That's what she's been told since she was very small, and to some extent she always believes it. But she is not aloof. She cares for her family, and she pitches in whenever she can.

Jennifer is also a writer. A poet. A journalist. She may try to write a novel.

Jennifer is not the kind of girl to sit on the sidelines. As a child, she basks in her position as center of attention. As a teen, she challenges her parents. As a young woman, she willingly accepts new adventures.

Like her older brothers, Jennifer had a rough start. But she didn't let that stop her.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Jeremy was a sensitive child. Usually quiet, and often reading.

When he saw his father pray, he asked questions. He was the first of Joshua's children to become a Muslim, making shahadah at the age of ten.

Jeremy is grown now. He is ready for college. Ready for marriage.

But he will always be that shy, sensitve boy.

Monday, May 22, 2006

What's the point of it all?

A reader recently accused me of being too vague in my writing. I needed a conflict he could feel, not a weak character who muddles through life. His comments bother me because I think he's right.

I've said it before. A story needs conflict. An interesting character and fascinating events are good. Spiffy one-liners are fun to write. But without conflict, all that pretty window dressing is like a sports car without an engine.

So I've broken my own rules. Unwittingly, caught up in the story I wove. Broken nonetheless.

Fortunately, writers are not arrested for breaking the laws of literary expression. Not yet anyway. The prisons would be stacked to the ceilings.

That's what we all have to remember. What's the point? What's the conflict? What will keep the reader reading?

And try not to break the laws.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Joshua's oldest son was born at an inauspicious time. His father was eighteen and his mother was seventeen. When he was five, his father walked away. His mother depended on him. And he never let her down.

Michael learned about life the hard way. Growing up with parents who hated one another. Becoming reacquainted with a father who had abandoned him. Being the man of the family.

But Michael is smart and resilient. His greatest asset, in his early years, was his grandmother, who always gave him the attention he craved. Later, his strength is in his intellect. He could see through the problems, analyze them and cut them down to size. He lives with his head, not his heart.

The first born is always in a difficult position. The experimental child. The oldest, who must be an example to the others. The companion to his parents.

Michael fills his role well. He bounces back from his parents' mistakes, cares for his brother and sister, and builds a bond with both mother and father even when they can barely stand to look at one another.

A high-achiever. That's Michael Adams.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The soul of the writer

The writer has a story in his soul. A poem written on her heart.

The writer pays attention to words. Words matter greatly. Not large. Say huge. Not small. Say tiny. The right word makes all the difference.

The writer has ideas which must be born. To stifle them would only create stress and sadness.

The writer hopes to make a difference in the world. To create the story or poem which will touch the hearts of others and make them think. Not only think, but wish for change.

Some writers have made an impact. All of us strive. Not all will make it.

A writer perseveres. Sitting in solitude in front of the computer. Writing and deleting. Revising and rewriting. Submitting and hoping. Waiting, often for rejection. Submitting again.

Because a writer knows it is the soul that matters.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The New Life of Evelyn Adams

After her husband left her, Evie mourned for twenty-five years. Then, finally, she got on with life.

A bout with breast cancer scares her into action. Life is too short.

Evie is in her 50s when she reinvents herself. New career. New outlook. And so much more.

Even after 50, as long as we are still breathing, life holds many possibilities.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Finding a balance in your characters

Most of my main characters are Muslims. But I have some very solid characters who are also non-Muslims. This is natural if you are a Muslim in America. Non-Muslim family members, neighbors and coworkers are part of everyday life.

If you are writing about Muslims, do you make them all good? Absolutely not. I have been a Muslim for about 26 years, and I have met both good and bad people who call themselves Muslims. Also, no person is always good. Even the best Muslim I've known has some flaws and weaknesses. The challenge isn't to be perfect, but to be careful and sincere when you do make a mistake.

If you are writing about non-Muslims, do you make them all bad? That's even more ridiculous. In the Qur'an, Allah spoke of those among the People of the Book who worship Him, give regularly in charity, and pray. They are assured a reward. Who they are, and how many, is for Allah to know, not me. But I know I have met many people who do not call themselves Muslims, but they live their lives in submission to the Creator. Isn't that what Islam is all about?

In every group of people--every religion, every race, every nation--there are good and bad. And most people are neither good nor bad, but a combination of the two. Sometimes good, sometimes not, and always struggling.

Writers must be real. This applies to Muslim writers also. Reflect the world we live in.

Paradise is very nice. But none of us has seen it. Each of us hopes to go there one day. Until then, we have to make the best of things.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Mahmoud and Ismail

I have sons. Something interesting I've noticed about my sons is that they are very generous. They will happily bring a friend home and offer someone something to eat. They feel a special kinship with other guys their ages. And they have a tolerance for their friends.

I've noticed this isn't just my boys. Men in general seem to be more open-minded and more accepting. Women are often judgmental of one another. But men are more likely to accept one another on face value.

This is what I had in mind when I wrote the characters of Mahmoud and Ismail. Both are from Pakistan. Mahmoud is more quiet and serious. Ismail is a little younger and much less reverent. Both play video games and basketball, and eat pizza. They're guys, after all.

Mahmoud meets Joshua through work. They become good friends, and Mahmoud introduces Joshua to Ismail, his friend and roommate. Although Joshua is not a Muslim, he is accepted. He's a guy.

When Joshua leaves his wife, Mahmoud and Ismail are the only ones who will take him in. Even though he still has many habits. They are patient with him and accepting. Because of their friendship, Joshua becomes interested in Islam. Six months after moving in with Mahmoud and Ismail, Joshua converts.

This is how da'wah is made. Not through stern lectures and reprimand. Through kindness.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A kind lawyer in a three-piece suit

When Joshua has problems with Homeland Security, his mother calls in a lawyer. An old friend of hers. Walter Thompson.

Walt, who is thinking about retirement, steps in and takes over the case. He investigates every possibility to have Joshua, whom he believes to be innocent, cleared of all charges.

Walt becomes an important person in Joshua's life. Not simply his lawyer. His friend.

Meeting Joshua changes Walt in ways he never could have expected. His world, which had been fairly narrow, suddenly expands. He sees a universe of possibilities.

Walter Thonpson is a great defense attorney, in the manner of Clarence Darrow. Caring for his clients. Willing to roll up his sleeves and plunge into the situation. Passionate about justice.

There are many lawyer jokes out there. I don't know many of them are true. I should ask my sister, the lawyer.

Walter Thompson transcends the stereotypes, and creates a very memorable character.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Losing myself

A few months ago I read an article about the spouses of writers. They all voiced the same complaint. A writer, even when physically present, can be very far away.

A non-writer, I don't think, can understand. How it feels to create families, societies, universes in your mind. How it feels to live in the world of your creation while attempting to navigate life in what others call "the real world." How it feels to successfully string together the right words to convey the meaning.

Writers, when we talk to one another, mention our spouses too. Overwhelmingly, most spouses of writers do not read their loved ones' masterpieces. Rarely, a husband or wife willingly becomes involved in the writer's work. More often, a husband or wife puzzles over the writer's strange behavior.

I feel sorry for someone who does not write and does not understand how it feels to lose yourself in words.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Telling a story, not preaching a sermon

Often, a writer will have an underlying motive for his or her story. A point to get across. This is fine.

The problem is when the writing becomes preachy. One glaring example is The Jungle, a classic written by Upton Sinclair. Sinclair's purpose was to promote socialism--this is glaringly obvious in a long speech delivered near the end of the book. But if you mention The Jungle, people don't think of it as a political treatise. Instead, The Jungle is notable because it exposed unsafe and unsanitary practices in meat-packing plants and led to the creation of federal food safety laws.

We have a great deal to say. But how will we say it? Through long lectures? I guarantee the reader will put the book down and never pick it up again.

Let's get real. Literally. Don't preach. No sermons. No lectures. Instead, we need to tell an engaging story with believable characters. They succeed. They fail. They learn. Eventually. No quick solutions. No miracles to whisk away their troubles.

This is why Upton Sinclair ultimately succeeded. Because he told an engaging story about an immigrant family struggling to survive. And he exposed real problems in the meat-packing plants, not through preaching but through examples. If John Doe is killed by human negligence, and your reader is able to identify with John Doe, or Muhammad, or Yusuf, or Ali, then your reader will get the message.

I'm still working on this. A very kind fellow writer just told me that a section in an upcoming novel is preachy. She's right. I need to go back to that section and rewrite. Same point. Different approach.

You want to make a point. Great. But make sure you don't forget the story.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


The youngest of three. Living at home, his brother and sister already moved on to lives of their own. Close to both mother and father. Quiet. Generally serious. Contented.

Until tragedy strikes. Then Marcus must learn how to survive through major upheavals. His family structure, his home, his life all changed by one event. And there is no going back.

Marcus is resilient. But he struggles. He relies on Umar and Joshua to get him through dark days. And the never-changing love and support of his mother.

Marcus will make it. But at the age of fifteen he learns how difficult life can be.