I promised to post questions and answers from my recent virtual book tour. Here's a first installment on that promise. The Q & A came from Inna Selipanov's blog, Onions and Tea.
Hello Inna! I'm excited to be the first poster. :-) I'm a chemist and I believe that Mohamed has studied chemistry, as well. I was wondering how his background as a chemical engineer influences his writing, if at all.
I have to start by saying that I absolutely LOVE your question. I’ve never really thought about it explicitly, but the truth is that my academic training in chemical engineering does indeed influence my creative writing.
I think I’ll answer your question along two dimensions. The first is structural. The second is topical detail.
Structural: My training as a chemical engineer entailed problem-solving through the use of linear thinking around the notion of processes and repeatable, predictable reactions. In that sense, I can see that in my creative writing, I tend to organize my themes and thoughts (and hence, my prose and plot) in ways that are consistent, integrated and logically cohesive. If you read Resolution 786 closely, you’ll see that many scenes, especially at the minute (molecular?) level, have an integrated set of details. For example, if someone cites an event or characterization in an e-mail message, many scenes later, a detail of description or dialogue will support that previous citation. An interesting permutation of my detail-oriented linear thought process is the fact that I use literary cubism as my overall architecture for telling stories, so data and storylines and narrative exposition are offered through multiple written venues such as e-mails, poems, dialogue, and legal documents and may appear, at times, to be non-linear. Still, despite what might at first glance appear to be an unorthodox amalgam of cubist writing, in the final analysis, as applied by me, becomes an integrated, internally consistent system of systems that, if successful, weaves an understandable story that has a unified theme and is told through the motives and experiences of consistent and believable characters.
The second way in which my training as a chemical engineer influences my writing is along the dimension of topical detail. Yes, my first novel and the partially completed draft of my second novel both deal heavily in themes of theology. But looking back through the prism of your question, I now see that topical details revolve around my training and experiences as a chemical engineer. Adam Hueghlomm is in Iraq to collect data to test the efficacy of a new mine-detecting technology; he carries a research notebook with him. Hueghlomm’s intense reverence for logic and literal interpretations is the basis for the legal indictment of the Lord in that first novel. Euclidian geometry and the mathematically infinite nature of pi are invoked in the title of the final chapter of the novel, a tip of the hat to my engineering training in mathematics. Moving from my first novel and into the second, here’s how a minor but frequent character in that novel is introduced:
Oh he loved his own kind, clinging to them in a square dance of loose bonds. His rotund torso held up two punctuation marks, small appendages that poked into the world in a dissolving, soft clutch, an ever open 104.5 degree arc of welcome. Aetch, as he often called himself, had been born in the early twilights, above a gurgling, empty ocean, on the tip of a crackling electrical discharge that shot from nothing to nowhere. He was a quite witness to the endless turn of wheels, the cycling infinity of death and rebirth. ‘Each one of them is a retold pun in a never-ending cosmic comedy,’ Aetch-to-oh often told himself, a gargled giggle.
Oh, the people he’d known. Oh, the places he’d been. Oh, the things he’d seen.”
Who is Aetch-to-oh? He’s a water molecule who has been floating about the earth since the early twilights of creation. That’s right. A water molecule is a character in “Christmas in Mecca.” I believe this, too, is an observable manifestation of my training as a chemical engineer. Who else might include a water molecule (complete with his 104.5 degree molecular geometry) as a character in a novel?
Apologies for the rather long answer. Here’s the short version:
Yes, my training as a chemical engineer influences my fiction. It forces me to have a logical and internally consistent storyline despite my seemingly unorthodox literary style of cubist writing. It also provides me background material that helps me create the details of scenes, settings, characters and chapter titles in my fiction.