This is a prayer from my journal, from an undated entry, and it’s up here in case I need to return to it. I believe I was relinquishing some things around writing at the time, but I can utter these words as I try to become a Christian:
Help me let go of those dreams, those well-fed hopes, stubborn desires even though they came mostly from places of sincerity and love and, perhaps, mystery. Grant me the freedom to choose some other life, to set some different course. Make me fearless in that choosing. Inspire me as I close and choose and change.
The role of the editor is an intimate one because she reads your mistakes and judges your intent and suggests an alternative path to your goal. As much as we think we do, we never like alternative paths. We like what we know, words we’re married to, what we’ve spent days writing toward.
An editor sees your gaps, can exploit your errors rather than clarify your efforts, and help you listen to you, to your words, and to the hopes underneath them. Like a guide, she takes in your hardest-won words and makes them better.
An editor can damage you. An editor can discourage you. Or an editor can draw a simple, clear line between your work and your end. She can look ahead and see the page when you can only see the sentence. She can show you that there’s more in you without suggesting your earlier presentation as inferior.
Her words return again and again: “There’s more. There’s more in you. Go for it. Go. See. Soar.”
What did it take from you to create A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, and what are a couple things the creative process gave you? In addition to an engaging book. The process of writing this book gave me an entirely new perspective on my life and my purpose. I became a writer while creating this novel. I had other published projects before, but this was the first time I threw myself into a work completely, immersing myself in research, in my characters, and in the imagined world I wanted my readers to inhabit. In some ways I lost myself in the process, spending days just listening to Iranian music, reading books on the region, watching videos. I certainly let my personal life falter, and there were days when I barely did anything but work and drink espressos. So this novel took a lot from me. But it also made me who I am as a writer. In addition, the process taught me to value rigor and brevity and detachment in my writing. It taught me to dig for the most important details and to present them concretely and imaginatively. These skills will always be valuable to me.
You describe yourself as an exile. How has your exilic condition impacted your writing? Mostly in the themes that capture my attention. I often write about home, about displacement, and fear. These are familiar topics for me because of my experiences as an exile. They are like obsessions. I can’t get away from them.
To quote Saba’s reflection, “This story is about fathers and daughters.” As much as the novel is a large story between sisters and their mother, isn’t it as much about a father and daughter? I think it’s even more about a father and daughter, because theirs is the only relationship that isn’t already dead. With the other members of her family, Saba has only memories and her imagination. She can turn those over in her mind, but she can’t have anything new. With her father, she has a flesh and blood person who loves her and wants to be allowed into her world.
Part of my experience reading was in learning Saba’s opinions about the differences between American and Iranian men. How might American fathers be different from Iranian fathers? I think fathers are fathers. To love and protect your children are universal instincts. The cultural differences seem minor compared to that.
Talk about how Saba’s life became an echo of her twin sister’s. Where did that come from in your writing process? How did you connect with both Saba’s experience and Mahtab’s? I consider their stories representations of the two ways that my own life might have gone. I was raised in America and so the Mahtab stories mirror my own. But the Saba stories are the Iranian experiences I might have had, if I had stayed behind. To parallel them seemed like a natural exercise, and something I took great pleasure in.
Where would Saba call “home”? Cheshmeh, Iran
The novel returned to themes of desire, hunger, memory, and love. Did you learn particular things about such themes in writing or revising? Did you develop a love or appreciation, for instance, of your own family history? Absolutely. The research alone gave me a great appreciation for the richness of my own history and roots. But, obviously, I also used many of my own emotions and experiences in writing Saba and Mahtab’s stories. In doing so, I deepened my understanding of the themes you mention.
What are you reading these days? “The Woman Destroyed” by Simone De Beauvoir.
How can readers connect with you and support your work? You can like my Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/dinanayeri
And you can visit my website: http://www.dinanayeri.com
When history is collapsed into myth, responsibilities become diffused, and repentance and reconciliation become impossible. In the inflated realm of mythical oppression, villains are so villainous that no one sees themselves reflected on the image. Few can trace accrued privileges to specific and intentional evil acts. Similarly, victims become so quintessentially and epically victimized that all escape routes from the condition are sealed off by a maze of self-doubt, blaming, and low self-esteem. The antidote to this phenomenon is to attend to the details, to understand the specific events, ancestors, life stories, causes of oppression, and avenues of social change. Historical and spiritual specificity is salvific. Then and only then can the movement toward moral flourishing begin.
Writing by Joyce Rupp
I wait out sluggish days,
empty evenings, mulish
attempts to capture words
inside the undulating sea
of my mental thesaurus,
not even remotely available
for me to scoot them
onto my fingers and
into necessary revision.
So I wait, and wait,
and wait some more
while I fumble uselessly
with worthless concoctions
one early dawn
the tide comes in
and the first word peeks out.
then they all follow,
and like a flock of gulls
I swoop in to snatch
I found this video about the writing and habits of Joyce Carol Oates here. It was produced by Kristina Budelis and Sky Dylan-Robbins. I trust you’ll enjoy how she talks about language, her routines, and the non-extraordinary act of writing.