Lemon Curd and her latest novel, The Dawn of Saudi: In Search for Freedom
Good day Homa and thanks for participating in our interview
Hi Norm, it’s my pleasure to be here.
How did you decide you were ready to write The Dawn of Saudi? As a follow up, as this is your second novel, did you approach writing this one any differently from your first one, the Lemon Curd?
I was frustrated by the Bush
Administration’s deliberate secrecy about the human rights
abuse in of Saudi Arabia while he had no
problem criticizing other more moderate countries and
labelling them as “Axis of Evil.” I was also upset at the
silence of the media about an extremely oppressive regime while
they had no problem portraying other middle-eastern countries as
I thought how could this be when Saudi Arabia has the worse human rights history in the world? And to be fair, it wasn’t just the United States that was keeping quiet about Saudi Arabia but also England, Germany, France and many other western countries who depend on their oil, business and cooperation to monitor the middle-east.
Regarding how I approached the story - With Lemon Curd I
visualized the characters in my head. With The Dawn of Saudi, I
actually started copying and pasting pictures and looking at them for
hours and hours to see if their image would be befitting of my
characters. Then I created a background for each such as what kind of
habits this person would have, what would
be their favorite food, did they dress conservatively
or trendy, what where their hobbies and things like
Also, The Dawn of Saudi was my first attempt at writing mystery and I wasn’t sure if I could do it since I have usually written stories with somewhat of a romantic plot. But I managed to pull it off, thanks to my editor who would point out all the plot holes in the story. I’m glad that I decided to write a mystery. It’s sort of like acting. If you’re always playing similar roles, you will be a mediocre actor. For me, I always like to challenge my art and to not be afraid of trying new things. I mean, I write what I believe in and hope that people will like it. I usually try to write about important issues such as ethics and morality which was the theme of Lemon Curd and human rights which was the theme in The Dawn of Saudi.
Did you know the end of The Dawn of Saudi at the beginning? As a follows up, how did you develop the plot and characters? Did you use any set formula?
I had no idea how the story was going to end and I was more concerned about telling the world about the injustice, repression, racism, prejudice, human trafficking and applied arbitrary laws in the Kingdom than I was about the plot. I was trying to figure a way to fit all the important points in without overwhelming my readers and sounding boring and dry and so in the process the plot sort of created itself.
I have never used a formula in my work. I think
formula books are tedious and readers can see right through them.
Besides, my messy and chaotic life doesn’t understand
formulas. I have often tried to be structured, have a
clean desk, write an outline, do a synopsis and all the right things,
but my brain just doesn’t work that way.
Here is an
example of how I work: I was ¾ of the way in
my writing when my cousin and her daughter wanted to get
together. So, we met at a restaurant and my cousin’s daughter,
Sahar, asked if I could use her name for one of my characters. I told
her I wasn’t sure if her name was Arabic. I mean as far as I knew,
Sahar was a Persian name. So, when I went home that night, I
looked for her name on Arabic Websites and noticed that Sahar was
also a Saudi name.
But now came the problem of how to incorporate her name into my book, especially since I was almost finished with my story. I mulled it over for a few days and decided to change the name of one of my main characters which was originally named Reyhana to Sahar. Once I did that, the story and the characters took a whole 360 turn, the plot became more and more complex and the characters decided how the story was going to unfold and end. Of course, I couldn’t pull any of it off without my editor, Heidi. She is very tough on me and makes me rewrite and rewrite until I get it right.
Can you tell us how you found representation for The Dawn of Saudi? Did you pitch it to an agent, or query publishers who would most likely publish this type of book? Any rejections? Did you self-publish?
I have never pitched my work to any agents nor have I ever queried
a publisher. I self published from day one because I’m
impatient. There are authors who have queried publishers and agents
for a year and still didn’t get a response. Also, I enjoy the
entire process of writing, editing, designing the interior, coming up
with book cover samples and discussing it with my designer, doing all
the administrative behind the scene work and marketing. I
even did my own book trailer and designed my own bookmarks and
post cards. I am what you would call a control freak and an
entrepreneur who likes to see projects from beginning
to end which is a lot of hard work and takes time away from my
One other reason I decided to self-publish was
that many writers have told me publishers often make too
many changes to a story in a way that the story becomes
completely different than what the author had originally imagined. Of
course, my ultimate goal is to find a publisher I can work with so
that I can focus more on the writing and let the
publisher concentrate on the business end of it.
How has the feedback been so far? Have you received any disturbing emails, phone calls, etc?
The feedback in the west has been great! I pre-promoted my work at the LA Times/UCLA book fair and sold a lot of books. I have received emails and calls from many people who said they had a hard time putting the book down. On the other hand, my family is very worried about me. They didn’t want me to write about this topic but I couldn’t help it. I just can’t pretend that I live in a perfect carefree world which is what the media often portrays. I mean I look at it this way – if everyone had a conscience when Hitler came to power, many lives would have been saved. Unfortunately though, many put self-interest above anything else.
Incidentally, when my press release went out, some liberal Saudi websites picked it up and posted it. There are many moderate people in Saudi Arabia who want their freedom but are scared to fight for it. I can’t blame them; I would be scared too if I lived there. Awhile ago, I received an email from a famous Saudi blogger who wanted to interview me. While doing my research, I had read some of his posts and enjoyed them. But I was really surprised and kind of afraid that he had contacted me because I wasn’t sure if it was really him. So, I did some research and found out that it was indeed him. I contacted him and after I answered his questions, he asked me for a review copy of my book. I was hesitant at first but decided to mail him one. He is actually a very nice guy and I’m still curious as to what he thought of it since that was the last I heard from him. I think it is dangerous for him to write about me and my work. So, I have decided to let it go because I want him to be safe.
I know that my book is very controversial and after writing it, I
don’t think I can ever go visit Saudi Arabia because I
would definitely be arrested upon my arrival. My friend
from England told me that if I lived in London, a
fatwa would be issued against me. I guess you could say
that I am very glad that I live in the US. I
think the more books I will have out in the future, the more enemies
I will make because I like to write about subjects
that the mainstream media and governments try to avoid.
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 and how did you handle this in The Dawn of Saudi? In other words, how much of the book is realistic?
About 80% of the story which is about the Saudi
culture, customs, laws, social issues, difficulties people face
on a daily basis, forced marriages, child abuse and lack of
freedom is true as well as how large businesses and politicians
work by breaking laws and doing certain favors for each other. The
other 20% is truth mixed with some imagination
and drama to make the story interesting.
There have been many
non-fiction books written about Saudi Arabia that are far
more revealing and horrifying than my book. But not everyone likes to
read non-fiction and not everyone likes to know in graphic details
how people are tortured and killed. So, I wanted to write a
book that would both inform and entertain and at the same
time give readers that glimpse of hope for change. I don’t
like writing extremely dark books; there is enough of that in life.
When we read, we want to escape. I mean that’s how I feel. I don’t
enjoy reading books where throughout the entire book there
is nothing but despair, misery and hopelessness.
What do you want readers to take away after reading The Dawn of Saudi? What are your hopes for this book?
I hope that The Dawn of Saudi would encourage readers to
care about people outside of their realm. I would like for people,
especially those who live in the West and whose lives are not at
risk, to join organizations such as human rights watch and Amnesty
international and to sign petitions that uphold humane laws. I
would also like for this book to encourage people to really question
their politicians about their views on foreign policy and doing
business with countries who abuse human rights.
Nothing will change
overnight but nothing will ever change if no one cares.
We all belong to the human race regardless of nationality, race,
religion and sex. We should never let any government, leader or
faulty belief system divide us. Together we have the power to change.
Divided we will never accomplish anything worthwhile.
For example, one thing we can do is to reduce our dependence on oil, shift to renewable energy and do business with countries that offer basic human rights to their citizens. We can make it a policy that when United Nations or the G8 meets, human rights should be on top of their agenda. Right now our world is all about money and power. And yes, we do need money but how much is too much? We are hording more and more each day without respect to the life that surrounds us. Am I an idealist? Perhaps but I have seen change happen with my own eyes after signing many petitions and speaking out for those who have no voice. People have the power to make a difference; they just haven’t realized it yet.
As far as my hope and aspiration for this book, I hope that many
people will read it and realize that every time they put gas in their
cars, their money is going into the pockets of the very people who do
not care about humanity.
Do you feel that the media seems to turn a blind eye to the awful
crimes that are taking place in Saudi Arabia particularly
slave labor and the treatment of foreigners? If so, what do you think
should be done about this situation?
There are many problems with the media. One, reporters
aren’t allowed to cover material that has substance and
have to cover stories that their boss approves. Two, the
media is owned by a selected few who are controlled
by governments. This in itself prevents the mainstream media
from covering sensitive issues. So we are not getting accurate
information but rather what the media and governments want
us to hear. Three is that the majority of the population are
oblivious as to what’s really happening in the world around them
including many reporters and politicians who have very little
understanding of religion, culture and politics of certain countries.
Personally, I get my news from many sources such as from various
the independent presses and presses from all over the
world. I am also a member of Amnesty, Save
Darfur, avaaz.org, Credo Mobile, organic consumers and
many other organizations. I don’t really need to watch the news.
They send me everything that’s going on in the world right into my
email box. Fourth, people don’t read as much as they used to.
The more you read, the more you know and knowledge is priceless.
far as getting the media to cover the real Saudi Arabia instead
of the surface news they have been covering, I don’t see it
happening anytime soon. Many governments would not
allow it. But governments need to hear from us through
petitions and collectivity. If we yell loud enough, they
will eventually hear us.
Here is a great example: A 19-year-old Saudi was ganged raped by 7 men in Saudi Arabia. Two of these men were no where to be found. But instead of trying to look for the criminals, their justice system sentenced her to 90 lashes for being in the presence of an unrelated man. She complained about the sentencing and her lawyer passed the information to the media. The Saudi government got angry and increased her sentence to 200 lashes and 6-months in prison and they suspended her lawyer’s license. Her lawyer leaked the information on the internet. In a matter of hours everyone knew. A petition was started and many signed it. Bloggers and activists made a lot of noise. The Saudis government was very upset because of our interference but was pressured by western leaders to change the sentencing.
Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share
with us? (We would love to hear all about them!)
There was a project I was working on but because of the current crisis in Iran, I have had to put it aside for now. So, my next book will be a mystery/thriller about what’s really contributing to the current economical problems, the destruction of the middle class and the unrest in third world countries.
Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
You can find out more about me on The Dawn of Saudi Website and the Lemon Curd Website. Also on the Homa Poursagari Website where I keep a journal and a link to a blog which I update when time permits. You can also follow me on Twitter but because there have been several unethical twitter accounts who are using my name to promote porn and bogus products, make sure you follow me from the link on the author’s website. Also, come visit me at The West Hollywood Festival of Books in October. I will be there signing books. More info will be available on my websites as I get closer to the deadline.
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?
Only this – many people are afraid to get involved, join
organizations and sign petitions and I would say there are some
dangers involved when we do things alone even in the
western countries. There are some dangers involved if we join
organizations that are not peaceful and are looking for
In fact, I would never join any activist organization that
wants to cause chaos and lead people down the wrong path and I do not
sign every petition that comes my way. So, when you
join, you really need to do your homework and make sure that the
values of the organization you have joined are logical,
peaceful and compatible with your belief system.
You also need to read petitions carefully and if you don’t agree with what it has to say, don’t sign it. Is this a lot of work and does it take away time from your everyday job? It is if you get dragged into it and spend too much time on it like me but not if you set a time limit like 30 minutes three times a week.
Good luck with your latest novel, The Dawn of the Saudi
Thanks norm for your time and for this interview. I will be in touch again when my next book comes out.