Thursday, May 13, 2010

Virtual Book Tour, the Third (and Final) Q & A

I promised to post questions and answers from my recent virtual book tour. Here's the third and final installment on that promise. This Q & A comes from Austin Camacho’s blog, Another Writer’s Life, in Washington, D.C.

Libby asked:

Hey, speaking of your two new books what are they about? Your stuff's a bit weird and sometimes even strange but your book's people are like real people so sometimes I feel like you're telling me what happened to you today rather than I'm reading a book like the ones in English class. Do people ever think you're weird like your books?

Mohamed answered:

Dear Libby,

You’ve served me a well-basted roast of two queries and a side helping piled high with steaming commentary. Bon appetit.

Now to clear the plate.

Starting with your last question: Yes. Through these many years, quite a few people have commented that I sometimes come off as weird…introspective…sullen…isolated.

Are my books the same? Probably. They’re the intellectual progeny of my mind and, as such, they have a strong chance of inheriting my mental and emotional deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

Working backwards through your post, I’ll now address your comment about the “people” in my books. I’m elated to learn that you feel my characters are real. A novel’s “people” do not become well-written characters until they assume that third dimension of depth, that flawed and vulnerable humanity, that believable and recognizable voice. I’m fascinated that you think my books read like “I’m telling you what happened to me today.” That’s not entirely surprising. Vonnegut’s experiences as an American soldier in WWII are an anchor in the storyline of Slaughterhouse Five. Steinbeck’s experiences growing up in Salinas give generous contribution to the settings, images, characters and “feel” of his novels. Likewise, many of the scenes in Resolution 786 did happen to me, scenes like the debate regarding the meaning of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis while resting in bed; or the mysterious old man in a dusty Middle Eastern street grabbing onto people’s earlobes and handing them neon-green prayer beads (I still have the beads); and the beautiful and philosophically indulgent trek through the Utah desert leading to the Delicate Arch. So in all those instances, in a very real way, I actually AM telling you “what happened to me today.”

Now to your opening question: what are my two new books about?

Christmas in Mecca is a cubist novel about many things: the strategic tensions between the West and Islamic fundamentalism; our search for intelligent extraterrestrial life; the internal reconciliation of one character’s battered self-worth; the searing pangs of the unfulfilled quests in our lives and how we resolve to live with those disappointments as we journey between the womb and the grave.

Much of the book is traditional narrative. But the text also includes government memoranda, e-mail messages, and poems. Unlike the first novel, parts of the story in the second novel take the form of a play; others are dialogue structured in the form of a volley of instant messages. I don’t employ these alternate formats out of literary indulgence or as a gimmick. Chosen formats must fit and amplify the context and demonstrative power of the scene. In the case of the instant messages, I had come to a point in the narrative where two characters have a philosophically and personally revealing exchange of thought and perspective. Each character is introverted. Each is intelligent. Each is comfortable with and drawn to the written word. How best to frame such a dialogue, a discussion between two reclusive, bookish characters? I decided on instant messaging. This form of interpersonal communication preserves the informational and revelatory content of the dialogue. It also sets the conversation in a context that reveals the introverted nature of the characters, two people who prefer to exchange ideas while sitting alone in the privacy of a closed room.

That’s plenty on the first new book.

The second new book is my first shot at book-length non-fiction. It’s titled Creating Fiction: A Hands-on, Practitioner's Guide and it summarizes my literary lessons and techniques, the experiential by-products gleaned from the task of creating two cubist, absurdist novels.

Thank you for sharing your thoughtful observations of my writing and of my nature as a writer. There are many hardships to writing, things like self-doubt and finding the time. There are also many rewards. The greatest reward is to have readers like you, Libby.

Keep reading,


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