Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I'm lying on the floor staring at the ceiling
And it's not even a ceiling anymore

This is not a call to arms
Rather a question
As a misguided statement

I’m on my knees in my boxers
And the light burns

My book is sleeping in my bed
Its naked pages exposed

Words erotically ejaculating from my mind
My mind is unthinking
My mind is non-present

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why I Hate Writing

"I HATE writing."

That's not the kind of start you want to go with when you're speaking to a bunch of undergrad writers. But I didn't stop there.

"I hate writing as much as I hate reading!" I told them.

After the hesitant giggles subsided, I went on to explain to them what I meant.

I was giving a short talk to the students of the International Literature Class at the University of Iowa as part of my participation in the International Writing Program.

If a writer tells you that writing is a joy, know that they are lying. Writing is associated with misery and here's why:

When you're not writing, you are miserable.
When you are writing, you are not happy with what you're writing.
When you finish a piece, you find it horrible it is.
When you publish your work, you think of how you could've made it sound better.

Get the picture?

When it comes to reading, well. We were brought up associating reading with school textbooks and homework. Anyone who's gone through government schooling must've grown up hating books. We never explored the idea that reading can be for pleasure, and not just punishment.

At home, my parents had a big wall library full of all sorts of books on religions, politics, history and philosophy. My father kept insisting that I should read. The idea never appealed to me.  Later on in life, I discovered that I can read what I want, when I want, for nothing more than passing time.

Following the talk, a bunch of the students asked me about the short story 'The Red Hand' which they had read as part of their class. I was both honored and flattered by their comments, questions and responses.

Here are some of them:

"From the cryptic description of the Red Hand in the beginning, I was on the edge of my seat" - Matthew McLaughlin

"Your story intrigued me from the beginning. I thought that this story was a metaphor about our society and the way we look at inspiration," - Aubrey Davidson

"First of all, I must say I really enjoyed your short story, 'The Red Hand', as it was very good at hiding it was going to be a short horror story, instead opting for a more traditional mystery novella kind of feel," - Akira Mizobuchi

"Your story was so descriptive and realistic," - Erica Jennings

"Your story left me fixating on this idea of whether it's worse to know or not know," - Kelsey Chingren 

It was a real pleasure to speak to these bright young things and I was pleasure with the way they responded to my story and my talk.

I ended my speech by saying that the less we know, the more we discover. And it's that notion that kept me going as writer. I wanted to discover things for my self. My life was defined by NOT doing what I have been told to do.

Photos by Asma Nadia 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering to Forget: 9/11

My first visit to the United States of America was exactly two years before the horrific events of 9/11 in 2001. 

I had spent 3 weeks traveling across country as a journalist as part of a print journalism program for international journalists from around the world. We visited large cities and small towns and met amazing people.

But more importantly for me, it was my first real taste of the actual America, the one we grew up watching on television and it was my first time away from home for such a long time, away from family, all by myself.

I was standing in the newsroom at the paper I worked at when I saw the first images of 9/11. I dismissed it as a fluke incident, thinking one of those small planes or choppers somehow lost control and hit it. I wasn't prepared for the magnitude of what was happening.

Later that night when I was home with family, I was in total shock and utter confusion. My brain just couldn't process what my eyes were seeing. To this day, when I try to conjure up moments and images from that day, my mind fails. 

For years to follow, I would become paranoid about revisiting the States. After seeing the aftermath of 9/11 ripple across the ocean to reach the rest of the world. Just as Americans thought all of us Arabs/Muslims hated them, I was convinced that all Americans would hate us.

That was, of course, an absurd assumption, on both counts.

Today, on the 12th anniversary of that horrid day, I am here back in the United States of America, as the first from my country to be selected for the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, feeling oddly at home. 

People are people no matter where you go. They are not how politicians and religious figure describe them. They are not out there to destroy you, or steal your wealth, or take away your faith, or freedom. And more often than not, they'll be nice to you regardless of how you look.

They are just people, after all.

I read a column which argued if it was time for Americans to let go of 9/11, as the younger generations grow up, having no connection or memories of it. I was in my early 20s when it happened, so it'll always somehow be etched in the back of my mind, but my little nieces and nephews will grow up in a world where 9/11 is a historic event, not a memory.

What scares me is the notion that every generation, it seems, has to go through such a devastating event in history. Be it war, terrorist acts, invasions, natural disasters, revolutions. 

The one thing we mustn't forget, as time passes, is that we are all just people. 


Saturday, September 07, 2013

Upcoming Readings & Talks in Iowa City

The IWP folks will keep us quite busy over the coming weeks. I will be taking part in several talks and readings in various institutions and events, including the University of Iowa and the Iowa City Book Festival, all of which sound exciting and I’m thrilled to be asked to appear in them. 

Here is a list of upcoming events so far: 

Talk and Reading 
Cornell College, Iowa City 
September 12th 

Talk with ILT Class
University of Iowa, Iowa City 
September 16th – 3.30pm 

Freedom Limits Panel  
Iowa City Book Festival, Iowa City 
October 10-13 

Prairie Lights Bookstore, Iowa City 
October 27th – 7pm

Thursday, September 05, 2013

A Novel Approach

The question of what differentiates a novel from a short story might at first seem obvious. Many immediately refer to the ‘length’ and word count of each form

But the reality, as I am discovering more and more from my chats with numerous fiction writers scattered in every corner of Iowa City, is that length is the last difference to consider.

Van, a first year fiction writer at the Iowa Writers Workshop, whom I met following a rather entertaining, albeit odd, poetry recital at The Mill, jokingly said that he doesn’t even know what a novel is anymore.

He told me how short fiction is a much more fluid form that he enjoys exploring. I agreed with him. There is something far more refreshing and rewarding about writing a short story. I pointed out that novels spend the first couple of hundred of pages building up to this ultimate climax that the reader is meant to care for, this of course doesn’t apply to every novel. But it often is the case.

Where as with short stories, you don’t have to have such a climax. It’s an exploration of the human condition rather than a telling of a series of events. The night before, I was dragged by the ever wise and wonderful Canadian/Egyptian writer Karim Alrawi to the Foxhead, the famed bar that many great writers spent their time deliberating literature, and writing, and naturally, enjoying the odd drink or two. 

I had expressed my anxiety to Karim about starting a new novel. I had two unfinished manuscripts that I no longer felt attached to and felt the need to use my time during the IWP to begin a new project.

And what he said sounded so simple, yet something I’ve never considered before. He said. “Start with your ending. Figure it out and build your story from there.” Your final act, your ending, is the reward that the readers looks for after investing time in reading your novel. So it is crucial.

Short stories, sometimes, don’t even have to have plot. But approaching a novel from the end would allow it to grow organically and gradually, branching into the events and characters that leads it to it.

That and choice.

Present a moral choice that your protagonist has to make in order to resolve the conflict. A choice that builds suspense by the time the reader has developed an emotional connection with the character.

With that in mind, let’s get to writing.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

One Week in Iowa

It’s been a week in which I partied like I was 22 all over again, kayaked on a beautiful day in Lake MacBride and was told off by the ‘lake’ police for swimming off the ‘grid’, randomly met a well-known political cartoonist in a bar full of writers and poets late one night, ate more burgers than a healthy person ought to eat in one week, picked fresh apples from the orchard, wrote some, sat through a bunch of mind-numbingly boring ‘orientation’ sessions and two entertaining readings at the warm and cozy Prairie Lights Bookstore, was mistaken for some poet from Chile named Steve, got an Iowa City Hawkeyes t-shirt for five bucks which upon wearing people would randomly yell ‘GO HAWKS!’ at me, had the misfortune of spending my first night with my window almost shattering from the noise coming from the annual freshman party in the park literally meters away from me, wrote some more, and drank, probably, an entire barrel of coffee.
So that’s one week down.
Nine to go.
I think I love this place.