Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Dina Al-Hidiq Zebib author of Crossroads. Dina works in the field of education and professional development. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in education, and a Master’s degree in clinical psychology.
Norm: Good day Dina and thanks for participating in our interview.
What purpose do you believe Crossroads serves and what matters to you about the story?
Dina: When I started writing Crossroads, I wanted to shed light upon the universal struggles of women who are trying to manage their different roles as mothers, wives, career persons and individuals. My purpose was to provide an experience of ‘universality’ that would serve as a growth-enhancing factor, to allow similarly struggling women to feel more connected. Through my personal and professional experiences, I learned how other women in the world face similar issues, even though decisions made at ‘Crossroads’ might vary from one woman to another. I am approached frequently by women who express their concerns about certain decisions that they make in their lives. No matter which country they are living in, women are taking up multiple roles, and determined to skilfully manage most of them.
However, this is not an easy feat; consequences could be detrimental and might include behavioral problems or psychological disorders in children, as well as marital problems that may lead to emotional devastation, divorce and broken families. These are issues that matter to me and that I feel we should seriously worry about.
The decisions that Sara made in Crossroads were her own and are entirely subjective; they do not aim to exemplify the “right” choices that a woman should make, but rather portray a route that I have seen being chosen or contemplated by many women. Other women may choose, or have chosen other fulfilling paths, and they may have different priorities that are more meaningful for them. I hope that Crossroads will speak to others and be thought-provoking enough to help women reflect on what makes them happy, while considering possible consequences and the price that might be paid with every decision made.
Norm: Is there much of you in the story?
Dina: Of course, there is a lot of ‘me’ in the story. I believe there should be much of any writer in an authentic work of fiction. My writing is inspired by a combination of personal and vicarious experiences that have been incorporated into my character, shaping my thoughts and ideas. I am a mother who is entirely dedicated to her children; a wife who is deeply in love with her husband; a woman who is attentive to her needs and fascinated by the world; an ambitious professional who is particularly focused on progress and human development.
Nuances of my story characters’ personalities and feelings as well as story settings and events are influenced by these experiences. Also, as I mentioned before, I am approached frequently by mothers who express their concerns about certain decisions that they have made and want to make in their lives. They ask me for advice, even though they are the only ones who are capable of making the right decision that is most suitable for them. These are all channels through which I access valuable experiential information about the human condition that I use in my writing.
Norm: With the high divorce rate, do you believe couples don't work hard enough of keeping their marriages together, if so, please elaborate?
Dina: When couples first meet and fall in love, they are seized by overpowering emotions, affection and sexual desires, that drive them to sanctify their bond through the social union of marriage. Before getting children, couples are still able to tend to each other’s needs, and spend plenty of uninterrupted time together in activities they both enjoy such as sports, partying or traveling. It is when the first child comes along that their relationship becomes tested. Parenthood is a challenging and full-time commitment that many couples are not ready for. It might be a misconceived notion that we learned from our parents’ and grandparents’ generation who handled parenthood differently. Where I come from in the Middle East, mothers were fully devoted to their parenting role, and fathers were the sole bread-winners of the family.
This family structure changed drastically while I was growing up. The generation of women that I am a part of was encouraged to pursue higher education beyond the bachelor’s degree, and was advised to be an active contributor to society through work and career. We did not look upon ourselves as full-time mothers anymore, but as diligent providers and meaningful specifics whose relevance extends beyond the home.
However, throughout history, women were solely responsible for making sure their husbands and children were well taken care of. So, what happened with my generation? We as women continued to be expected by society to carry out this nurturing role, in addition to our second role as empowered, self-actualizing individuals. We are facing a challenging dilemma. Our husbands also have conflicting expectations, because they grew up in the same generation as we did, and experienced the same transitions we did.
Do I believe couples don't work hard enough to keep their marriages together? I certainly do! First and foremost, couples lack the knowledge and education necessary to sustain healthy relationships. They are discouraged when faced with marital difficulties that give rise to the conflicting emotions that they grew up with. The easy way out is usually divorce or separation. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to keep a relationship going. Communication is key to making a marriage work. Every partner has the right to express his needs, yet in the most respectful and considerate way. What happens is that couples tend to communicate their needs through anger and outbursts. This never works. The brain will refuse to listen to what the other is saying. Respect should never be lost, and hurtful outbursts will only create gashes that won’t be healed easily.
Firstly, couples need to
wait until they are calm before they can communicate their needs. It
is hard and quite a challenge, and needs to be practiced. If we do
not (explicitly, calmly and respectfully) express our needs and
thoughts, how can they be understood?
Secondly, if couples are clueless, hopeless or helpless, they should consult a therapist or marriage counselor. It really is worth the money and time. Thirdly, and very importantly, couples should recall their initial bonding moment, when they were consumed with love, passion and sexual desire. They should not let these sparks die down as they grow older and become preoccupied with life commitments. They must make an effort to spend uninterrupted time together to keep their flames alive, no matter how old they get.
Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for the book?
Dina: As I have written in the ‘Foreword’ of my book, I have always wondered about my role in life—my role as a woman, wife, mother, daughter and an individual—and what I wanted my role to be. Society is a powerful force in our lives in the Middle East; equally so is the condition of female empowerment and women’s rights. The common struggles of women that I was witnessing, as well as my own struggles in trying to find the right balance among all my roles, was the main inspiration that made me start writing Crossroads.
Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Dina: I was brought up to be strong and brave, yet sensitive and introspective. I was always encouraged to learn about life through experiential learning and self-reflection. This strengthened my inner voice and developed in me an emotional and passionate self, which I wanted to be apparent in my writing.
Norm: What was the time-line between the time you decided to write your book and publication? What were the major events along the way?
Dina: I started writing my book five years ago. I already had my master’s degree in clinical psychology, was working as a counselor, and was managing a child care and professional development education center in Beirut. Since then, my family and I have relocated several times to other countries, and I had my second son during that time. My book was published in March 2015.
Norm: How did you develop the characters of Sara and Hani? Are they based on anyone you know?
Dina: As I mentioned before in this interview, nuances of my characters’ personalities and feelings are influenced by my personal and vicarious experiences, and my understanding of the human condition that I have learned through my studies, interactions with people, and my inner voice. So Sara and Hani are a mixture of many people I have met, heard about and felt with my heart.
Norm: Did you work from an outline?
Dina: I do not work from an outline in its strict sense. I start out with the message I want to convey to people. I then craft out a storyline that is vivid and expressive, with realistic characters and intriguing settings and descriptions.
Norm: In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?
Dina: Personally, I do not consider that writers, who take liberties with their material, could go overboard when telling a good story. Writers are quite sensitive, insightful and imaginative people, and each has a unique story-telling or information-giving style. Every writer has a certain audience—they do not have to aim to please all readers. I do not expect myself to enjoy all books or all genres, nor do I expect that my book would please all readers. Different books satisfy the diverse needs that exist. Since making sense out of the world we live in is the ultimate need that describes the universal human condition, people could find answers and arrive at conclusions that are catered to their personal desires and concerns through different books.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Crossroads?
Dina: I have a WEBSITE and BLOG, where I post thoughts related to myself and to Crossroads: Comments and participation are encouraged. Also, I have a Facebook fan page where I post updates about Crossroads and my writing activities and events.
Norm: What is next for Dina Al-Hidiq Zebib?
Dina: I am currently working on a new story that examines another kind of marital crisis.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Dina: I have really enjoyed this interview, and I do not feel there is anything more you could have asked. Thank you for your time.