Babble Book Club: Discussion TODAY with Farzana Doctor 6:00pm EST/3:00pm PST

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Farzana

Kaitlin, the agonias comes from the work of Dr. Susan James, a psychologist who writes about Azorean immigrants. Her work was really helpful for drawing Celia.

MegB

Not a question of economy, but I'm curious.  As a writer, how do you intellectually balance between getting the story out, with whatever truths you might be revealing, and knowing that there is a market that must be, to some extent, catered to in order to get the story read by as many people as possible.  You seem to balance this quite well, but it can't be easy.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Farzana wrote:

Kaitlin, the agonias comes from the work of Dr. Susan James, a psychologist who writes about Azorean immigrants. Her work was really helpful for drawing Celia.

I enjoyed their incorporation and how it made a familiar and real presence for Celia.

It seemed everything was alive and animated: The neighbourhood whispered, the communities talked and moved as one, clothes had separate lives and rooms could 'die' so to speak.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Agonias is a really interesting phenomenon, I think, and a neat conceit in the book. I was wondering if agonias, and the other mental afflictions in the book (Ismail is in, as you put it, "stasis" for 20 years), had any relation in your mind with the novel's first pages and the idea of motion and movement. I wonder if you, as a psychotherapist, were connecting moving minds with moving people at all.

Farzana

Rebecca, I think for me the story has to come first. A novel takes a long time to write, and so the premise had better be something that holds my attention for a few years!

Issues regarding the market (which are really important) come later, in the revisions/editing process. I look for ways to make the story more palatable, interesting, accessible etc. at that stage.

One thing I try to do at readings is to share both serious and funny scenes, as way to communicate to the audience that this book isn't going to be a huge downer. Laughing

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

You set up these absolutes of the notion of 'good' and 'bad': 'good girls' 'bad people' 'good choices' 'bad influences'. 

I find this rhetoric damaging and dangerous, and very easy for people to use to dismiss others and their values; however, it rounded the story. Did you find it difficult, yet necessary to incorporate these notions?

Farzana

Thanks Kaitlin!

Catchfire, I was thinking a lot about mind and body connections during this book. The inspiration for the first page actually came from my sister, who is an RMT and Feldenkreis practitioner. She's often spoken to me about how not moving the body can have an impact on our emotions. 

As a writer, it's important to "show vs tell", and the body's motion (or lack of motion) is a lovely literary device!

alex alex's picture

Farzana wrote:

Issues regarding the market (which are really important) come later, in the revisions/editing process. I look for ways to make the story more palatable, interesting, accessible etc. at that stage.

One thing I try to do at readings is to share both serious and funny scenes, as way to communicate to the audience that this book isn't going to be a huge downer. Laughing

On the issue of connecting with your readership -- have you heard from any South Asian/Portuguese immigrant communities about your book and feedback on any of the issues it touches upon? Wondering if you have had success doing outreach within your neighbourhood on the book connecting with potentially new audiences?

kim elliott kim elliott's picture

Farzana wrote:

I first heard about a story like Ismail's in the media many years ago. While I was disturbed by the death of the child, I was most obsessed by the question of how someone manages to go on living after making the biggest/worst mistake of his life. My research involved reading more of these media stories and imagining redemption. I didn't want to speak to a parent in this situation because it is such a painful topic.

I did worry a lot about the "sellability" of a book with such a serious/difficult premise. I still do. My biggest allies are booksellers and readers who let people know that this is really a book about redemption, creating family, as well as a love story. But, yeah, it can be a hard sell. Many parents have told me that they hesitated (at first) to pick up the book.

Thank you for being so candid about the research process.  I found myself - still find myself- thinking about Ismail, and that process of going on with life after that one pivotal moment of distraction.  The parts of the book that were the most difficult for me to read where those moments where he remembers his daughter; and those when he re-lives that day in his memory.  Is there a psychological connection between the idea of agonias and the physicality of the memories that Ismail experiences?

But as you say, the pain you experience through empathy with the characters is absolutely worth it as it also a story of healing, redemption, and the most unusual love story (a story of many loves/kinds of love).

Farzana

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:

You set up these absolutes of the notion of 'good' and 'bad': 'good girls' 'bad people' 'good choices' 'bad influences'. 

I find this rhetoric damaging and dangerous, and very easy for people to use to dismiss others and their values; however, it rounded the story. Did you find it difficult, yet necessary to incorporate these notions?

 

I think that it is necessary, especially in dialogue, to write this kind of rhetoric (especially if it fits with a character's way of speaking). Hopefully, by naming some of these notions, the reader is able to question them.

Farzana

kim elliott wrote:

Farzana wrote:

I first heard about a story like Ismail's in the media many years ago. While I was disturbed by the death of the child, I was most obsessed by the question of how someone manages to go on living after making the biggest/worst mistake of his life. My research involved reading more of these media stories and imagining redemption. I didn't want to speak to a parent in this situation because it is such a painful topic.

I did worry a lot about the "sellability" of a book with such a serious/difficult premise. I still do. My biggest allies are booksellers and readers who let people know that this is really a book about redemption, creating family, as well as a love story. But, yeah, it can be a hard sell. Many parents have told me that they hesitated (at first) to pick up the book.

Thank you for being so candid about the research process.  I found myself - still find myself- thinking about Ismail, and that process of going on with life after that one pivotal moment of distraction.  The parts of the book that were the most difficult for me to read where those moments where he remembers his daughter; and those when he re-lives that day in his memory.  Is there a psychological connection between the idea of agonias and the physicality of the memories that Ismail experiences?

But as you say, the pain you experience through empathy with the characters is absolutely worth it as it also a story of healing, redemption, and the most unusual love story (a story of many loves/kinds of love).

 

Agonias is term specific to Dr. James' work with Azorean immigrants, but it seems very related to experiences of depression and anxiety, both of which have somatic (body) manifestations, like Ismail's sweating.

This is a longer story than I can type here--but after writing the book, I learned from my father that he'd left me in a car when I was an infant, and I went into some physical distress (I recovered, needless to say). No one told me this story until the book was published. I wonder if my body remembered, and if this was what made the story so compelling to me.

Farzana

alex wrote:

Farzana wrote:

Issues regarding the market (which are really important) come later, in the revisions/editing process. I look for ways to make the story more palatable, interesting, accessible etc. at that stage.

One thing I try to do at readings is to share both serious and funny scenes, as way to communicate to the audience that this book isn't going to be a huge downer. Laughing

On the issue of connecting with your readership -- have you heard from any South Asian/Portuguese immigrant communities about your book and feedback on any of the issues it touches upon? Wondering if you have had success doing outreach within your neighbourhood on the book connecting with potentially new audiences?

 

My acquisitions editor at Dundurn also lives in the same neighbourhood, and we've spread the word amongst neighbours. Many have told me they've read the book and enjoyed the setting. I've heard from widows, 2 of whom are Portuguese widows, that they experienced some mirroring of their lives through the book. Finally, I've heard from young, queer, South Asians, that they appreciated "seeing themselves" in the book.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

@Farzana: like an unconscious desire to heal as well? 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Your creation of visible for queer women of colour in the literary landscape is something that is not often (rarely) represented. The conversations felt real and vivid and are so important to expose.

Do you think Fatima represented Zubi to Ismail, and this is potentially how he would react to her in this situation or is there are difference between Ismail pre- and post-death?

Farzana

@Kaitlin, I think so. 

It's really difficult to know for sure--it involves the unconscious mind. But I do believe that most of us operate on so many levels and that our bodies can remember things that our minds cannot.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Has the "God loves Pavement" tour provided another voice and outlet for queer women of colour to garner exposure and "see themselves"?

Farzana

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:

Your creation of visible for queer women of colour in the literary landscape is something that is not often (rarely) represented. The conversations felt real and vivid and are so important to expose.

Do you think Fatima represented Zubi to Ismail, and this is potentially how he would react to her in this situation or is there are difference between Ismail pre- and post-death?

 

I did want to create a character (Fatima) who would get under Ismail's skin and propel him forward. I very consciously chose to write her about the same age as Zubi would have been if she'd lived. I also wanted to find a way to mirror his marginality with hers.

 

Farzana

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:

Has the "God loves Pavement" tour provided another voice and outlet for queer women of colour to garner exposure and "see themselves"?

 

I think so! For those who don't know about this tour, check out www.godlovespavement.tumblr.com

I just got home last night from a 9 day tour with Vivek Shraya, author of God Loves Hair (we mashed our two titles together for the tour title). he;s also a queer South Asian writer. We toured through the NE US and met lots of queer south asians along the way...

 

kim elliott kim elliott's picture

@Farzana @Kaitlin - that is rather incredible, your personal connection to this story.   But I also believe that the memory of the body can work that way.

Farzana

kim elliott wrote:

@Farzana @Kaitlin - that is rather incredible, your personal connection to this story.   But I also believe that the memory of the body can work that way.

Yes! I haven't shared this personal story much...it still gives me shivers.

Farzana

Thanks to all of you for reading the book. It's a real privilege to be able to share my work and have it so well received. 

alex alex's picture

Thanks for the link! Looking forward to reading more about the tour. And, thanks for the insight on your book at today's club. I really enjoyed Six Metres - the characters, the setting, the ideas...it was very thought-provoking, Farzana!

Farzana

This was fun! And the hour went by really quickly!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

I hate to cut us off (!) but it has been an hour!

Wow! Feels like minutes!

Thank you Farzana for joining us for yet another rapid-fire book club conversation!

Your answers and comments were enlightening, heart-warming and so personal.

Thank you for sharing!

kim elliott kim elliott's picture

Egads! Has it already been an hour? This discussion has been great. Thank you for the link about the tour - I wasn't aware of it either.  I'm looking forward to reading your next book Farzana!

Farzana

Thanks everyone! I'll sign off now and let you continue chatting. 

 

If any of you would like to come to a Toronto reading, I'll be at Glad Day Books on April 14th, 7pm.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Thanks Farzana! I really enjoyed reading your novel and was really impressed and inspired by your ability to evoke sympathy and understanding (as well as anger and frustration!) in me

Thanks for contributing such a unique work to the Canadian literary landscape!

 

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