Novels are birthed from a wide variety of inspirations. I wrote Christiana Athena: The Girl with the Headaches in four weeks from a hospital bed at the University of Washington while undergoing a bone marrow transplant. It was either writing a book or laying there thinking about my suffering and watching soap operas. But I’ve never had a problem with writers’ block. Once I have an idea, words flow into my mind in a torrent. Sometimes, too many words. However, my Achilles heel is detail and I have a feeling that was not a very good book because I was rushed.
In about four weeks, my new novel The Stones of Yemen will be published. It is the culmination of three years of intensive work. For much of 2020 and 2021, I spent hours every day living, virtually, inside Yemen’s bloody civil war.
This book may have saved my life. As you know, I have been quarantined in my house for this time. If it had not been for my imaginary friends, Bryan, Sheila, Jabbar, Abdul, Mona, Ghada, and et al., I would have gone mad. If not mad, having suicidal ideation. I’ve worked with publishing coaches and professional editors. I’ve read many books for my research and have fully edited the entire manuscript 25 times. I may have edited Christiana Athena once. But it has been a labor of love and I am proud of my work. I am excited for the world to meet it.
The impetus for this story came about in an unusual way. I often get up during the night and write, or study, pray, or think. It has been much more so since I’ve been ill. Components of my illness often wake me as do the drugs I have to take (like steroids) to contain that illness.
It is a habit of mine, that when I wake up at 2 A.M. the first thing I do is check the BBC’s world news and oddly, my world earthquake alarm. I worked an earthquake in Pakistan once, and was on call (before becoming ill) for a while for other earthquakes.
I remember it was one of those wee hours of the morning news check that I saw the dramatic video of Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami. It was the same situation when I got up one early morning in 2015 and saw the news about Nepal’s earthquake. I had been there just a couple of years earlier and it was still dear to my heart. I immediately (as it was afternoon in Asia) started reaching out to my Nepali friends on the ground and my earthquake relief team (who were in the South Pacific at the time).
It was the year before I became sick, specifically on August 9th, 2018, that I got up in the night to check the news and saw the story about the bus full of Yemeni boys being bombed, killing up to 50 people, mostly children. Having worked so much in the Middle East, my heart was broken. Within a couple of days, the news broke that the bomb that killed the boys was dropped by a Saudi jet, but was made by Lockheed Martin in America. Immediately anti-American protests broke out in the area.
My mind began thinking about that story and how, in America, we don’t understand the hatred that some people around the world have toward us. No country is completely innocent in wars, and America is no different. But it is hard for us to have introspection. I heard some talking heads express that the bombing of the school bus was staged, or the dirty Houthi Yemeni put their own kids in the bus as a “shield target.” Totally absurd. Would Americans put their kids on a school bus, knowing that it would be bombed just so we could have grounds to protest against the bombers?
Over subsequent weeks and months I considered the ramifications of this world event. I wanted to get inside the mind of the father of one of the victims. I named this father Jabbar. Then I wanted to imagine that bad actors (terrorists) got a hold of this grieving father, and turned him into a mule of hate toward America.
But I wanted to add many other layers to this story. I wanted to put an American in the middle of this terrible event. But not just any American. I created Bryan, the son of a victim of the 9/11 calamity in New York, himself a type of causality of that hateful event. Incredible tension ensues when you imagine the son of a victim of a terrorist attack (Bryan), whose best friend (Jabbar) is now being recruited by the same terrorist group, because his son was killed by an American bomb, which was supplied by America in its “War on Terrorism,” which resulted from the 9/11 attack and Bryan is the only person who can stop him. A vicious circle of madness!
In this mix, I added an intense love story, and a story of finding beauty in a war zone, written in the souls of the people who must bear the pain of that war.
After about a year of thinking about this story, when my career abruptly ended, I wanted to give a gift back to my profession, so I made Bryan a physician associate and while an imperfect man, was a PA that all PAs could be proud of.
This was the making of The Stones of Yemen. As the fruit of my three year labor is about to be harvested by the reading public, I am excited. I hope that you will support me in this novel as it will be in paperback, hardcover, Kindle, and audio. I don’t write to make money. I would give my books away for free if I could. But I write for artistic expressions, to give my new life some meaning, and to bring joy and entertainment to the readers.
5 responses to “The Making of a Novel: The Stones of Yemen”
I really enjoyed reading one of the early drafts. I am sure this book will be well received. Congrats on its coming to publication!
For that I am so grateful. I will send you complimentary copies. I don’t think you will recognize what it became, but that early direction was very helpful.
Congratulations on the publishing of yet another book. You are an inspiration and I will definitely buy and tell others of the book. I have always known you for your compassion and love seeing that come out in your writing (and work). Best wishes for the holiday season as well.
Awesome, looking forward to reading it!
I have had that happen two or three times. A story bursting nearly full-grown into my head, demanding to be written. Thing is, when that happens the resulting story is usually DARK. As in (actual example from 2010) “The Green Mile as written by Beatrix Potter” DARK.
Somebody told me once that it was often the Dark and Strong emotions that put power behind the storytelling. And as a corollary, the Christianese requirement for Happy Clappy Joy Joy and Never Ever Offend the Professional Weaker Brethren dooms Christainese fiction to the bottom of the barrel.