Along with the crisp scent of autumn and the aroma of pumpkin muffins, there are exciting "firsts" in the air for this coming year, starting with something I've long wanted to do: My first blog contest!
Being a member of the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, I've had a chance to host virtual book tours for many wonderful authors over the past six months, and I look forward to many more. However, Nadine Dajani has an extra-special place in my heart because she was a friend prior to my joining the ranks of the "pubbed," she's the one who paved the way for me to join the GCC in the first place and she's simply a fantastic person whose women's fiction stories are funny, well-narrated and insightful. And because I think everyone out there should have a chance to read one of her books, I'm giving away a signed ARC of Nadine's newest release Cutting Loose (Forge, October 2008) to one lucky person who leaves a comment on this post. And, because fall is my favorite season and because I'm a fan of the seasonal treat, caramel apples...I'll include a Victoria's Secret Beauty Rush swirl lip gloss--flavor: "The Big Caramapple"--too!
A little about Nadine: Born in Beirut, Lebanon to Palestinian parents, she spent the first nine years of her life in Saudi Arabia before settling in Montreal. While Nadine could definitely think of better ways of spending a year than devoting it to mastering the French language, the experience (and all that duty-free terminal shopping) would turn Nadine onto the wonders of world travel and the quirky, unexpected (and usually hilarious) ways cultures meshed (or stubbornly refused to). As an adult she moved to the Cayman Islands to pursue a career in, what else – offshore banking. And while Nadine has yet to see her “golden parachute,” she did get to reap the rewards of Caribbean relocation by island-hopping to nearby Cuba, Jamaica, Honduras and Miami whenever the travel bug bites. Nadine’s travel articles have been published in Atmosphere magazine, and her first novel, Fashionably Late, was released by Forge in 2007.
*I know Cutting Loose is the story of Ranya, Rio and Zahra--three very different women, or at least that's what they think!--whose paths and romantic relationships collide in sizzling, sexy Miami. What's one scene from this story you loved writing and why did it excite you?
There were two chapters in this book that were just so much fun to write, they made every this-is-such-utter-crap-why-do-I-do-this-to-myself moment totally worth it.
Interestingly, they’re both from Rio’s POV, the Honduran-American editor-in-chief of Sueltate magazine, who has a… how shall I put this… booty call relationship with her boss. Her voice is just so snarky and cynical and in your face, the complete foil to Ranya’s sickly-sweet innocence. The first scene I loved writing is when we first meet Rio – she’s just had a roll in the hay with Joe, the boss, and it was amazing as always, but now he’s getting up to go and leaving Rio totally alone and empty. What I love about this scene is how Rio comes off strong and completely jaded to the reader as though this treatment could never affect a tough chick like her, and yet, we still sense the vulnerability and despair underneath.
I know you said just one, but there’s another chapter I can’t say too much about for fear of giving too much away, taking place much later in the book where Rio is at her lowest point, desperate, and looking for trouble… and life throws her a life line in a way Rio would have never expected. This is the scene in the book I am constantly reading over and over again. It’s so hopeful, yet manages to stay true to the grit and realism of Rio’s outlook. I will tell you this little bit of a spoiler… they’re both love scenes! I never in a million years thought I could pull off so many different, plot-advancing sex scenes!
*Name some of your favorite musical artists/groups. Did you use any musical references in your novel? If so, do they play a significant role?
I can read a lot of heavy books and I’ll enjoy them, but when it comes to music, it has to be upbeat and catchy. There is nothing that will lift my spirits better and faster than pop tunes or dance music, salsa, hip hop, etc. Music snobs hate people like me probably because they blame me for all the “crappy” music that’s produced (at least I make up for my bubblegum music tastes in more refined choices in film and literature… sometimes).
Since I’ve discovered Spanish music, I haven’t gone back. There are a lot of things that Spanish and Arabic cultures have in common, and music is one of them (actually, they share some common roots). Seeing as this book takes place in Miami, there’s a whole lot of reggaeton happening. It’s basically a unique Caribbean-Spanish hip-hop style that I totally adore and can’t get enough of.
(Oh, you know what a music lover I am, too! And, yes, though it's often criticized, I agree that there's nothing like a fast-paced, toe-tapping poppish tune to brighten my mood!! You'll have to recommend a few Caribbean-Spanish hip-hop artists for me to listen to next. :)
*Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you'd become a novelist?
No – I always did better in “word” heavy subjects like literature and history and, while most of my high school friends would probably rather lick the bed sheets aboard the Motley Crew tour bus that write a composition, I liked it when the topic was inspiring (which, unfortunately, it hardly ever was. And in senior high, I voluntarily elected “Creative Writing” as my English requirement, which elicited quite a few “what the heck is the matter with you”s from friends. So no, those people would not be surprised, but I’ll bet my fellow accountancy classmates in University would be!
*Do your neighbors/hometown acquaintances know you're a published author or did you just choose to tell those closest to you?
In Montreal, only my friends and family know (and their friends and families…) but Cayman is such a small place that I often get that do-I-know-you-from-somewhere stare, and so I’ll say, “I’m the one who wrote a book,” and their face will light up in recognition. It’s amazing! I also do a lot of client meetings for my current job, and every once in a while, someone will squint their eyes at me and say: “Aren’t you the one who wrote a book?”
I love it.
(After all the hard work of learning the craft of writing and finally getting a novel published, this kind of recognition must be frosting!)
*What's a personality trait you love about one of the characters in your novel and why?
Good question! Hmm… this is a trait that both Rio and Zahra share throughout the novel, and that Ranya struggles with – resiliency. Rio and Zahra take a lot of serious punches, both throughout the plot development and behind the scenes, and they keep rolling with them one way or another. They may not always respond in ways we like, but when we meet them, we can imagine they’re already done some serious growing up which has left them scarred: Zahra is the only daughter out of five offspring who had the chance to escape a life of destitution in Bethlehem, in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. She’s now carrying the burden of supporting this family she left behind, which is the fate of so many immigrants in this world. Rio hasn’t had it much easier – taunted with the label of ‘illegal’ just because of the way she looks and the language she speaks, and this in spite of being a perfectly legal citizen of the United States. I find a recent study about the decrease of illegal immigration to the US very interesting – the stats did not go down because of better detection or deportation methods, but because the US is no longer an attractive beacon for employment. Hoarding doesn’t pay in the long run folks – sharing and empathy has a way of paying dividends while xenophobia does just the opposite.
Resiliency is just another way of saying “growing up” for me, and I admire both Rio and Zahra for it, and so does Ranya, as a matter of fact!
As always, Nadine, thank you for your thoughtful and detailed answers to my questions. It was a delight to have you here and to celebrate the release of your second novel! And to anyone out there who posts a comment, I'll draw the name of the winner at 10pm (Central Time) on Tuesday, October 21st.
Happy fall, everyone!