The first Wednesday of December and time for WHAT TO READ WEDNESDAY! We’re in for a treat today, so sit back and get ready to enjoy.
Please help me welcome author Zohreh Ghahremani…and feel free to call her Zoe. She’s the author of Sky of Red Poppies. Her novel won a 2012 One Book, One San Diego selection and she also has an impressive roster of reviews on Amazon for her work…and as you’ll learn from our interview, Zoe is a very interesting lady. So let’s get started
I’m honored to have you join me today on What to Read Wednesday Zoe. Please tell us about yourself in 5 sentences.
I am an Iranian-American and have lived in the US for nearly forty years. I was born to be a writer. I left the field for which I was trained and decided to write full-time. My hobbies are painting, cooking and gardening. I write both in English and in my native language, Persian.
We share a couple of the same hobbies…my favorite being cooking. I love how creative you can get in the kitchen when the mood suits. If we looked under your bed, what would we find?
Do you prefer to read with an e-reader or to read “real” books?
“I’m just an old-fashioned girl!” for I like to underline, edit, and make notes on the border. So for me it’s definitely the real thing.
What genre (s) do you write?
Why did you choose that particular genre?
“Literary”, to push for my best writing and ‘fiction” to twist and turn facts any which way I choose. It’s fun to play God!
Share the blurb from SKY OF RED POPPIES.
“A testament to the transcendent power of fiction, The Moon Daughter takes its readers on a journey through, across and between two strikingly distinct, yet decidedly connected worlds. Zohreh Ghahremani manages to enlighten, engage and entertain her readers in a way all authors aspire to and few ever achieve.” Melody Moezzi, author of War on Error.
Let’s play LUCK SEVEN…describe your book using 7 words.
Women, Iran, poignant, contemporary, poetic, friendship, fresh voice.
“It is the flexibility that I miss the most about my childhood; it is the remembrance of that innocence which helps me to forgive myself for who I have become.”
What makes your book stand out from others in the same genre?
Unlike other books that tell the story of few, mine is the story of an entire nation and its characters are chosen from all parts of Iranian society. Readers meet the good, the bad, the rich and the poor. My pen became the camera to depict decades that will never be again and I did it without taking sides.
Did you have to do a lot of research for SKY OF RED POPPIES, and if so how did you go about it?
I left Iran years before the revolution, so naturally, my information on its current events is limited and I needed to do much research, consulted those who were well-informed and read books.
Please share an excerpt from SKY OF RED POPPIES.
The door opened and nothing could have made me happier than the sight of Jenab, hauling his overstuffed briefcase and taking long, heavy steps. Leaning to the opposite side for balance, my teacher’s face had tightened into a serious expression and he did not bother to greet us. He dropped his case on the desk and went straight to the blackboard, where he wrote in large letters, “I think, therefore I am.”
Twenty-eight teenage girls stared back in utter silence. I could not begin to guess the topic he had chosen for the day’s discussion, but if any teacher could be bold enough to discuss what went on downstairs, it would be this one. Coming directly from the office, he had to know. But as he continued to stare at the class without offering any information, I concluded that perhaps he, too, was being cautious.
Gentle rain rapped on the window, and the smell of burning coal wafted from the corner fireplace. Our classroom rarely had enough heat, and now the thought of secret police being in the building made it impossible to feel warm.
Jenab ran long fingers through his graying hair. With half-opened lids of his droopy eyes, his expression held a permanent gloom. “Some days do not begin on the best note,” he said, putting more weight on the word ‘some’. “But I’m asking you to be in the present. Here and now. Because despite what’s pouring out there, our jobs remain within this classroom.” He turned to the window, as if to mask his apprehension. A drizzle brushed the building. The wind made the raindrops slide in different directions and the little squares of glass filtering gray light created a jigsaw puzzle of a rainy day.
The edge in his double-meaning words intensified my anxiety. If those men had not come for Jenab, then what did they want? I ran a list of other teachers in my mind, but none stood out. Any negative comments about the Shah or the slightest hint of sympathy for the oppositionists could result in secret police involvement. But no one at our school discussed such matters, nor had I heard of any demonstrations in our town.
Someone coughed and Jenab looked in that direction. Back to the blackboard, he tapped a finger under the words he had written, leaving a clean dot with each tap. “If what Descartes said is true, then your true existence began here. At this school.” He smiled his crooked smile. “With me.”
I agreed, and took the deep silence of the class to mean others did, too. Jenab thrived on his ability to mesmerize an audience and at my age, I longed to be mesmerized.
“There’s a unique substance in each of us,” my teacher began his opening monologue. “A raw matter known as the child. Pure and impressionable, flexible enough to be molded. Like clay.” His hands moved around an imaginary mound in the air. “Unfortunately, in the unbearable heat of the kiln we call ‘life’, that clay hardens and, before we know it, we are the unchangeable adult.” He went back to the window and stared out at the overcast sky hanging there like a wet sheet. “If an adult is dissatisfied with the outcome, he can take on a variety of colors to disguise his identity. But deep down, the hardened clay maintains its true form.”
Jenab went back to his desk and took out a book. I studied him amid the shuffling sounds of notebooks and pens around me as my peers prepared for a lesson in literature to follow. Jenab opened his book and began to read in his slow, deliberate manner. He may have distracted others, but I felt let down. On any other day I would have considered Jenab’s monologue my true lesson. His philosophical approach to literature gave flavor to the monotony of textbooks. I absorbed his words, drank them in, and in that drunken haze, dreamed my dreams. But this time he wasn’t convincing enough. I didn’t agree with his clay metaphor at all. Too young to fathom such hardening, I couldn’t believe my free spirit would ever be caged.
If you had to give a newbie author a pep talk to encourage them to keep going, what would you tell them?
It’s a long and bumpy journey, but you can only make it by putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. The only question you need to ask is if this is what you really want. Should the answer be yes, keep going and don’t allow anything to stop you.
Did anything surprise you about the publishing process?
Years ago I saw a movie titled, “The Singer, Not The Song.” At the time, this phrase made a lot of sense, but Sky of Red Poppies helped me to realize how sometimes the ‘singer’ is but an instrument to help the ‘song’ find its own way. As a writer, I used to believe that publishers were the only deciding factor in how well a writer did, but now realize it is the book itself that succeeds. My independently published novel has brought me more readers than I could have dreamed of and by now my “Poppies” have found a life all their own.
Would you give us a sneak peek into what your current WIP is?
The Moon Daughter is ready for publication. It is the story of two women. Part one – Rana – is told in third person. It is the story of a mother of three girls in Iran’s male dominated society of late 1960’s. She is faced with issues such as infidelity, bigamy, and other matters known to many women, especially those in the Middle East. Part Two is Yalda, the story of her American raised daughter, now a lawyer, who goes back to Iran to find out some facts. She tells her story in first person.
You can find SKY OF RED POPPIES HERE: