Thursday, March 29, 2007

You Can't Win 'Em All

Today I woke up to an email from someone on a writer's site I've joined. He said my books are "boring and cheap."

He's never read my books, and is going only by the brief description I posted on the site. And he's not a literary heavyweight. He's a 15-year old who lives on the other side of the world and aspires to write fantasy. I didn't comment on the work he posted because I'm not really into fantasy. To each his own genre.

So my young critic is not highly qualified to pass judgement--he just know what he likes. And that's fine. He doesn't have a fancy title, but everyone above the age of 14 who reads is qualified, in some sense, to critique my work. And not everyone will like it.

It's tempting to have dreams of changing the world with my words. That's my fantasy. But not everyone will read my books. And not everyone will love them. That's life.

We can't change the wotld--only our own small patches of the universe.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fact or Fantasy?

Should children be exposed to fairy tales? You know, the ones where the wicked stepmother plots against the beautiful girl or where the lazy young man steals and murders the rightful owner. That's right. The ones many of us grew up with. The ones which have become part of our culture.

The tales are violent, exhibiting the worst in human character. They also teach lessons about jealousy and greed. Sometimes you take the good with the bad.

Or should our children be steered away from fantasy altogether? Should they be exposed to only facts instead? Certainly there is enough in the world to learn.

What about storytelling as a whole? Is it a waste of time or a useful cultural expression? I've heard both viewpoints. And all of these points matter more when we are talking about our children.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Like Cleaning the House Before the Maid Arrives. . .

When I wrote my first novel, I had full confidence in my own ability to edit the manuscript. I pored over the words and phrases, watching for grammatical errors and smoothing my expressions. I was quite proud of myself.

Now I feel embarrassed. My atttitude was typical of the hubris of the beginner. I can do it. I know it all. In reality, I knew much less.

My last three novels have been professionally edited. The editor meticulously checks the grammar, down to the last comma. She also peruses the plot for holes or inconsistencies, and offers valuable hints.

The strange thing is, before I send a manuscript to her I make sure it is as error-free as possible. I become obsessed. I don't want to send her a piece full of holes, even though her job is to plug up the holes--within reason, of course.

I wonder how many other writers edit their works before sending them to the editor.

Monday, March 26, 2007

To Be Concise

Last week I was asked to write a sentence or two in tribute to someone. That simple exercise took me three days.

Before my books are published, I must write a short bio and a synopsis, each with a word count. I dread doing these.

I'm currently working on a novel which runs about 370 pages--before editing and formatting. This is easier for me than to write a short piece with a limited word count.

Some people think that writing a book requires more talent, but I'm in awe of the short story writer.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Getting the Word Out

My books are selling on Amazon at an unprecedented rate. I just checked.

The reason I'm writing is to offer a different perspective and a fresh understanding of Islam in America. I want people to read my books and come away with lasting impressions. As one teenage reader said, reading Rebounding helped her to become a better Muslim.

It would also be nice to write a best seller sometime before I die. But that's not why I write.

Each of us has to do his or her part to spread truth and peace in whatever way possible.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Stressful Writing

I just finished writing an argument. I like writing arguments because I can think of the meanest, most hurtful thing one character could say to another. It's a catharsis.

But it's also stressful. That's why I'm taking a break right now before plunging back into my story.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Finding Isaiah

In Echoes, he was an infant. He barely received mention in Rebounding. Turbulence showed him as a caring, curious--and somewhat rebellious--teen. In Ripples, he takes the spotlight.

I have never had as much trouble with a character as I've had with Isaiah. He's stubborn and sweet, intelligent and immature. I started writing Ripples three times before I could find Isaiah's voice. In one incarnation, he went completely over to the dark side--so to speak. In another he was weak and ineffectual.

I have it now. Isaiah is a young man full of nuances and contradictions.

Aren't we all? (Well, not young necessarily, but you know what I mean!)

Monday, March 19, 2007


It's nearly 1 a.m. and I barely noticed the time. I'm just now feeling sleepy.

That's writing can do to you.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Looking for a Perfect World

On Monday night I finished another revision of Ripples, the next book in the Echoes Series. I guess that's why I haven't written in my blog since Monday. My routine has been disrupted. The fact is, for the last two nights I've shut my laptop down before realizing that I hadn't blogged. I was tired and decided to leave it for the next day.

In both reading and writing, there's a letdown at the end. I'm about 10 pages away from completing a novel, and that will also be a bit disappointing. For days, I have become involved in the lives of the characters. Soon I will close the book and leave them behind.

I plan to begin another revision of Ripples sometime this weekend--maybe even tomorrow. I used to count the number of revisions. Now I don't. What matters is that the finished product is almost as good as it could be. It will never be perfect. (Ask my publisher how often I've annoyed her by trying to make last minute changes before the book goes to print.)

Which is probably why I haven't read Turbulence yet--not since receiving my copies. I'm afraid of finding a terrible mistake I somehow overlooked. I'll wait for the reactions of my readers before picking it up and going back into that world.

I've heard it said that most artists are perfectionists. I know I am. Though I gave up long ago in my efforts to mold the world into my vision. Raising six boys will do that to you.

The world I live in is not perfect. But I hope to make the world of my characters as close to the ideal as possible.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Conveying Emotions

A few days ago, my 14-year old son came to me for some writing advice. How, he asked, can I make the characters so real that their experiences will affect the reader?

My first piece of advice is the one I share frequently, especially with new writers. Don't worry about the first draft. Just get the story down on paper. After that's done, you can go back and add the finishing touches.

Also, I told him that I empathize with my characters. When I'm writing, their struggles, even their thoughts, become mine. It's hard to draw the line. I imagine their voices. I can picture them. When I'm writing, they are real to me.

And add physical description. In Rebounding I wrote a major fight scene. In order to get the scene written correctly, I silently acted out some of the easier moves--when no one was looking. Later I asked my boys to actually pantomime the fight, which they were eager to do. I needed to see where a right jab would land in order to imagine how much damage would be done, especially if the fight continued over several minutes. Again, I want to emphasize, my boys only pantomimed the scene. No one was hurt.

My biggest challenge, when writing emotion, is finding different ways to convey 'smiling' or 'crying.' I need to be careful that my writing doesn't become redundant. Other body language helps. Though, once, I was writing about an African-American reacting to shocking news and, in my first draft, I said, "She turned white." Later, of course, I changed it--after I had a good laugh at myself.

Emotions are complex, and we want our readers to feel them. I love to hear someone say I made her cry. That means I did my job well.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Copies of Turbulence showed up at my door today, courtesy of UPS. Alhamdulillah.

I eagerly opened a box and held a copy. I flipped through it, reading passages I became very familiar with when they existed only on my laptop monitor. See your own words in print is a wonderful experience.

I've already related my difficulties in writing Turbulence. I ran up against some real-life difficulties in the two or more years since starting this story. I also encountered a few dilemmas within the story itself.

The first third of the book didn't exist in early versions. I wrote that in later. And still, I knew the story was lacking. The answer came to me, but I tried to ignore it. I didn't like it. Still, it nagged at me and wouldn't leave me alone. Finally I gave in. I adopted a new angle in my story line, going back and editing the text to make it more feasible. The story began to gel. At last.

Turbulence has been my most turbulent writing experience to date. There were times when I thought it would never be published.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"Nothing New Under the Sun"

I had an interesting discussion with my 17-year old last night. He's an avid reader and an aspiring writer, and he remarked how there seems to be no new plot. He's worried that when he's ready to complete his novel (he started one a couple years ago, but abandoned it), there will be nothing new to say. "Hasn't it all been said before?"

Yes, I believe it has. The love story, and all the possible complications of love. War. Fear. Anger and revenge. Crime stories. Horror stories. Fantasy and even science fiction. The details change, but the basic plot structure has been done countless times before.

His next question was, "Why do people read the same plots then?" My example was the movies he likes. Many of the extra-terrestial movies blend together in my mind, all more similar than different. But he watches them all, and we've purchased several of them. Even if he watches the same movie twenty times, he still finds something to enjoy.

I don't know why this happens, but it does. As it was written over 2500 years ago, there truly is nothing new under the sun.

But that shouldn't discourage us writers. Our challenge is to take an age-old story and tell it with engaging characters and, perhaps, a new twist.

Isn't that what creativity is all about?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


During the week, I frequently check out Amazon. Tonight, when I searched for the "Kolocotronis" page, I had a pleasant surprise. Turbulence is now available.

My publisher, Sr. Widad, has informed me that my copies of Turbulence have shipped and, I assume, they will arrive soon. Two sisters have pre-ordered, and I'm offering them special discounts.

Because of the death of my website administrator, I can't yet upload information on Turbulence to my site. But I hope you will look for Turbulence on the web. In addition to Amazon, you can find the description and cover at

Read the story of Brad Adams. He's a complicated man with a turbulent history few have been aware of, and his journey is only the first step.

And be sure to let me know what you think!

Monday, March 05, 2007


We all know humans are mortal, but we're still shocked and surprised when someone whom we know is taken. Death happens. . .but only to strangers. Right?

Last Saturday, I learned that the webmaster for my writer's website had died unexpectedly. He was around my age, probably younger. Too young to die. Right?

I knew Morey only online. There were weeks when I never thought of him. But his absence is felt by all the writers who depended on him. Now he's often in my thoughts.

Life may be short. . .or shorter. Only Allah knows how long each of us has. And when someone you know dies, even if the relationship is only in cyberspace, you are forced to confront your own mortality.

Many thoughts ran through my mind when I heard. What about Morey's novel, the one he hoped to make into a movie? What about his family and friends? Did I tell him enough about Islam? Why didn't I send the updates for Turbulence earlier so he could have posted them? What should I do now?

We laugh nervously at funerals. We think about the impact on our own lives. And we wonder about death. Often, we're too uncomfortable to speak of it. But we know it's there.

Nobody lives forever. So we'd better do as much as we can while we're able. Right?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Family Business

I attended my 17-year old's parent-teacher conference today. Several of the teachers remarked on what a gifted writer he is.

He has a distinctive style, often choosing ornate words when something simpler would suffice. But his writing doesn't sound pretentious. It flows. Four of his teachers said they're anxious to see what he's doing in ten years, and they expect him to be well-known.

My 14-year old is also a writer. His genre is horror, and he never passes up an opportunity to compose stories about violent encounters with the natural and the supernatural.

So we have at least three writers in the family, all very different. And my granddaughter is already showing signs through her love of books.

Not all of my children are writers. One strongly dislikes having to write, though he comes out with some very literary expressions sometimes. Another writes short, non-descriptive sentences and paragraphs. Fluid, but not very enthusiastic.

I'm proud of all six of my sons. And it is nice to know that two of them, at least, are interested in following in my footsteps.