Jordanian-American author. Novel out in 2019

Awarded at F. Scott Literary Festival

Posted: November 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Everyday me! | No Comments »

I’m so humbled and honored to receive an award at the prestigious F. Scott Literary Festival in Rockville for my short story Ustaz Ali. I was especially happy to be awarded alongside veteran author Richard Russo, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Empire Falls.

They Called Me Wyatt out in Spring 2019

Posted: May 8th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Everyday me! | No Comments »

They Called Me Wyatt

It has been a long journey. A tiresome, journey of three years, but it’s finally happening. LA-based publisher California Coldblood has acquired my novel They Called Me Wyatt to be released in Spring 2019.

I’m elated and in disbelief. Dreams do come true, albeit slowly and with a whole lot of sweat, and tears.

Here is a quick description of my novel as mentioned on Publisher’s Market Place:

In the tradition of THE LOVELY BONES: When Jordanian student Siwar Salaiha is murdered on her birthday, her consciousness survives, finding refuge in the body of a baby boy in Seattle. Stuck in this speech delayed three-year old, Siwar tries but fails to communicate with Wyatt’s parents, instead she focuses on solving the mystery behind her murder. Eventually, her consciousness goes into a dormant state after Wyatt undergoes full anesthesia.

Fast-forward 22 years. Wyatt is a well-adjusted young man with an affinity towards the Middle East and a fear of heights. While working on his graduate degree in Middle Eastern studies, Wyatt learns about Siwar’s death 25 years ago. For reasons he can’t explain, he grows obsessed with Siwar and spends months investigating her death.

I will be using this space to blog about the book’s updates and the writing journey (the inspiring, exhausting soul-sucking, spirits-uplifting journey.)

Meanwhile, you can pre-order the novel here.

Many thanks to the village that made this book happen.

Follow the conversation on Twitter: #theycalledmewyatt.

The trials and tribulations of publishing fiction in the US

Posted: November 29th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Everyday me! | 1 Comment »

One of the biggest challenges that I faced during the span of my thirties was getting my fiction work published. My journey into the world of fiction publishing was tiresome, and frustrating most of the time. Getting published in the US proved to be harder than what I had naively imagined. What first prompted me to write fiction when I moved to the US was a profile of Yiyun Li in the Washington Post. I was so impressed by the fact that when Li moved to the US she hardly spoke any English, but just a few years later she became an award-winning author, and a bestseller.

I wanted to be her. She wrote about the Chinese-American experience, and I wanted to write about the Jordanian-American experience, the only world I knew. I started by taking fictionwriting classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. I wrote short stories about Jordanians in the US, and Jordanians in Amman. I wrote about women stuck in traditional marriages, and men who wanted to escape their realties. I wrote about family feuds, and life after divorce. I shared my stories with friends and fellow writers. I revised, and rewrote until I was ready to submit to literary publications.

I submitted, received rejections, then revised and resubmitted. I must have sent around 200 submissions. Through the years, I saw how the submission process changed from using snail mail with self- addressed envelope to mostly online submissions that made the process much faster and less intimidating. The rejections kept piling up. Most were standard rejection letters or Emails, but on one occasion I got a signed letter from an editor of a literary journal in Louisville, which gave me some hope.

fjords-womens-edition2While the rejections kept coming, I was being published elsewhere, in the non-fiction world. My byline appeared in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Esquire magazine, Aljazeera, and others. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why it was so easy to get recognition in the non-fiction world but not in the imaginary world. I naively thought that telling the truth like it is the case in writing non-fiction was harder than making up stories and telling lies.

No one accepted my stories until October of this year, nine years after I started my fiction journey. The journal which sent me an acceptance letter was the Richmond- based publication Fjords Review which included my story Under Contract in their special women’s edition. You can read my story here (Page 53).

Seeing my fiction work in print gave me an immense amount of encouragement that I dug up my unfinished novels and started the resuscitation process. Currently, I’m almost done with the first draft of my debut novel They Called Me Wyatt, which is an Arab-American murder mystery set in a world of magical realism.

theycalledmewyattI know that if I want to bring this it to fruition, I have to commit, I have to keep writing, and stop winning. It’s work and hard work. I don’t know what the future of this novel will be, but I know for sure that I have to see it to the end. Cheryl Strayed eloquently described my current determination to finish the book in her essay “Write like a motherfucker” that was published in her book Tiny Beautiful Things. “I had finally reached a point when the prospect of not writing a book was more awful than writing a book that sucked,” she wrote. I would hope that my book wouldn’t suck, but if it did that would not be as bad as living a life unfulfilled. It won’t be as bad as knowing that I had this vision once, but I never worked hard to make it happen. That would definitely suck! Here’s hoping.

Online resources to help your audience understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Posted: August 25th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Everyday me! | No Comments »

Whether you’re trying to put the latest escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian violence in context for your audience or trying to stay informed yourself, here’s a list of social media accounts to check out, followed by a list of sites that can help you understand the background on the conflict:

On Facebook

israel-palestineA number of journalists who are currently covering the conflict from the field have been using Facebook effectively to disseminate information and engage with the audience. Among them is Ayman Mohyeldin, a foreign correspondent for NBC News. The Arab-American journalist (who was pulled back briefly from Gaza and then sent back after a backlash) was among the first journalists to report the story of the four Palestinian children who were killed on a Gaza beach by an Israeli raid. Mohyeldin’s coverage of the conflict has earned him the respect of fellow journalists.

You can view Mohyeldin’s Facebook page here, and follow his updates by subscribing to his feed.

The New York Times’ Jerusalem correspondent Jodi Rudoren’s reports are widely read and discussed worldwide. In addition to her timely updates, she is also known for her effective engagement with readers on her Facebook page.

Also reporting from the field is The Times’ Anne Barnard. She posts regular updates from Gaza on her verified Facebook timeline.

On Twitter

There is no doubt that Twitter is changing the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Here are a few journalists worth following on Twitter for their updates from the region: Sarah Hussein of AFP, Nick Casey, the Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, Rushdi Abualouf, a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza and Ruth Eglash, The Washington Post correspondent in Jerusalem.

You can find even more Twitter accounts to follow on this list.

Background on the conflict

If you are new to explaining the conflict, the following sites will explain how things reached this point:

The BBC has a page dedicated to the conflict under the title “Middle East Conflict,” which includes some background.

Another resource to check out is the Council on Foreign Relations’ interactive crisis guide, which provides historical and geographical background.

Vox magazine gives a basic overview of the conflict in its article, “9 questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict you were too embarrassed to ask.”

Finally, the Huffington Post has a dedicated page on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with updated news and contributors’ blogs.

Archive photo courtesy of Joe Catron on Flickr with a CC-license.

What happens when a ‘full-blooded American’ sends a letter to a ‘foreign’ mom in Suburbia

Posted: May 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Everyday me! | No Comments »

FlagpicLast week I experienced my first racist incident in the eight years I have been living in the U.S. I have seen and heard of racism happening to others, but this time it hit close to home. It was an attack against the core of who I am.

I don’t want to get into many details, but I can summarize the incident as follows: I received an unexpected four-page letter addressed to me in the mail written by someone who I would like to refer to as a “new member of the community.”

The bizarre letter ended with the following sentence: “I am a full-blooded American, and I [the name of the sender] won’t tolerate any misbehavior from an alien or a foreign person/family.”

I had to read this sentence a number of times to realize what it was, a personal attack, a racial one. Previously, I was under the mistaken notion that racism won’t happen to me, not where I live and not in this era. I most probably thought that because, to quote one of my friends, I live in a “D.C. bubble,” and I’m not in touch with what is happening in the rest of the country. He definitely had a point. I live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. where having an accent is the norm, and where speaking Arabic is a huge advantage not a deterrent, as it means, government contractors want to hire you. It is the area where diplomats, political refugees and international aid workers reside. It really is a melting pot. No one seems to be bothered by where you come from.

My neighbors come from different parts of the world, and a big portion of them were not born here. Racism was not supposed to happen here, not to me.

When I shared the incident with my friends, the majority of them just told me to brush it off, since it was one, isolated occurrence, and there was no need to dwell on it. I tried to follow their advice, but I simply couldn’t let go. I worked so hard to make the U.S. my home, but unfortunately this small incident has succeeded to shake the identity that took me years to build. I am a Jordanian-American journalist married to an American, and raising my American-born kids in my new home country. In suburbia, I’m a mom, a professional, a wife and a neighbor. The fact that I was “foreign born” was never an issue, well, until I received that letter. I suddenly began to raise all these existential questions of who I am and where I belong. Who is a full-blooded American? Where is home? Who is a foreigner? Will I ever belong here?

It really hit me to the core, when in reality it should not. I know better. I live in the D.C. metro area, and this was just an anomaly.

The incident made me think about the urgent need for grassroots awareness campaigns that focus on tolerance, the existence of the “other,” and the current cosmopolitan nature of the American society.

There is a lot that needs to be done on the micro level. We need to move beyond the fancy D.C. conferences that tackle tolerance, and interfaith and go to the neighborhoods. We need to organize community meetings, block parties and dinner invitations where people just get to know each other as humans and not as news headlines. Neighborhood committees mainly tasked to create cross-cultural understandings should be present in every community across the U.S. The notion of “full-blooded” Americans should not continue to exist in this day and time.

It is worth noting that this incident happened to me the same week of Halloween. I was mulling my Americanism the same week I was performing the all-American tradition of dressing my kids in costumes, taking them trick-or-treating around the neighborhood and handing candy to neighborhood kids. It was also the same week that I sent my Thanksgiving invites and planned my menu for the 17 people who will be coming over to my house to celebrate this all-American holiday.

It is also worth noting that the same day I received the letter, I got a visit from another neighbor who came bearing gifts. She was grateful to me for watching her house and picking her mail while she was away on vacation, that she brought chocolate, wine and gifts for the kids. Somehow with this incident the world managed to balance itself, which was a relief. However, if there was one thing that I learned from the letter incident was that we still have a long road ahead of us to erode the notion of “full-bloodedness” and simply learn to co-exist. And if by any chance the letter’s sender happens to read this column, then I would like to say, please join us for dinner tonight.

Image Credit: Creative Commons/ekornblut.

*This post first appeared on the Huffington Post.