Top of the morning to ya and welcome back!
Today, let’s read through the interview with Mohanalakshmi..it’s sure to be a very interesting tale all its own!
1. Love Comes Later tells the story of Abdulla’s arranged marriage to his cousin Hind. Neither is excited about the prospect—Abdulla because he is still recovering from the untimely death of his former wife and unborn child; Hind because she is a thoroughly modern girl who does not appreciate the prospect of being anyone’s second option. How did the inspiration for this story surface, particularly for the characters of Abdulla and Hind?
In conversations with people in Qatar, expat or Qatari, the subject of love inevitably came up. For women, the main issue involved the small pool of people they felt they had to choose from. My surprise and revelation came, however, when my male friends expressed similar sentiments. We often think men have all the power in male-dominated societies but from these discussions I began to realize how society limits both male and female aspirations with universal social expectations like marriage. The story began to form there: what would make a man unlikely to marry? And why? What would he do in order to keep his freedom?
2. You met your husband in Qatar although you are both American-raised and come from Asian heritage (you South Indian, and your husband of Laotian descent). How did the two of you meet? This sounds like such a magical love story!
We met at work, believe it or not, and at first the entire possibility of forging a lasting bond with someone I’d just met seemed as foreign to me as the desert landscape outside. I had my mind set on my career and wasn’t looking for a relationship; people were throwing dire warnings my way not to take anything starting overseas very seriously. But over time, I was impressed by the strength of my husband’s character and realized, despite the naysayers, I had never met anyone else like him. The desert is a great place to find out what someone is really about because you can’t rely on the busyness of life at home–work, family, friends–to hide behind. It’s just you, in a foreign setting, and that can be like a pressure cooker for most expats. What’s inside eventually comes out. Lucky for me, I listened to my gut, and six years of marriage later, I’m more and more grateful.
3. In Love Comes Later, how do the characters of Hind, Fatima, and Luluwa embody the modern Qatari (or Arab) woman?
They’re each their own personalities and have characteristics of different parts of Qatari society. Each of them occupies a space that demonstrates the changes in society as increasingly Qatar become open to the rest of the world. While Fatima was live, she was probably the most conservative of the three, which makes sense because she is also the oldest. She wanted to get married, and though she had a job outside the home, was much more excited about the birth of her first child. Hind has been allowed to study abroad without a family member, and during the story that causes her to become increasingly liberal-minded. Luluwa is very young at the time of this story, and she represents those in the next generation, who have even more choices facing them about tradition and society.
The Arabian Gulf is different from the Middle East, partly because of the oil revenues that drive the economy, but also because of the gender segregation that is very visible and preserved by the local community. While the female characters may have a lot in common with other Muslim women from the Arab world in terms of personal aspirations, their circumstances and context are unique to Qatar.
4. Based on your experiences, what is the one thing you believe Westerners would be the most surprised to learn about the city of Doha?
You can make relationships here that will last for a lifetime a lot more easily than you can at home. Part of the reason is that we are all in the same boat–expats and locals alike–everyone is searching for ways to make contribute to the rapid growth and development of the nation so that means you are engaged in meaningful work. Most people here are interested in cultural exchange and open about the world in general around them. This, plus the fact that the country is such a melting pot means that you and your children (if you have any) are more likely to have friends of different faiths and nationalities than many other places in the world.
5. What made you decide to relocate to Doha in particular, and what has motivated you to stay for so long (7 years)? Do you plan to move back to the U.S. one day, or might you set-up your permanent homestead in Qatar?
I don’t know of anywhere else that is investing as much in education as the Arabian Gulf at the present moment in time. I came to work at an American university, took some time to consult at the national university, and then worked for a newly established publishing company. They were all fairly big name organizations in their own right and the ability to contribute significantly on the programmatic level as I’ve done at a fairly young age would be difficult to replicate anywhere else.
Sorry, my academic side took over for a second! I am a scholar and this is a wonderful place to have the resources–perhaps most importantly time–to work on research and writing. And because I am a writer, I can’t remember another place I’ve lived that has so inspired me with subject matter–unless it was inside my own head as a teenage immigrant.
We agree in our house that we’ll stay as long as we’re having fun. And that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.
6. In your memoir From Dunes to Dior, you note that your American upbringing combined with your South Indian heritage, doctoral education, and femininity mean you’re a rather unique mixture of social identities in Qatar. How hard is it for you to reconcile all these sides of yourself while trying to fit in to this new society and take pride in all that makes you you?
Depends on the context; when I’m in traffic, it’s not unusual for me to return stares from men elbowing each other to have a look at me driving while they’re sitting in buses going back to their accommodation. In the classroom some students are taken aback for the first few sessions but eventually I grow on them. In instances where I have one on one interaction–or people hear my Western accent–I don’t have that much difficulty. It’s when I’m in places where judgments are made by skin color–the mall or first time meetings–that I have slightly more difficulty but in general these smooth out over time.
7. You’ve published six ebooks within the space of a year. How on earth do you manage to be so productive? Do you plan to keep this pace up, or are you just sprinting to get started?
I had the luxury of a backlist of manuscripts that had been politely declined by a number of agents over the years. Each time I stalled, I would go on and write another. I decided to give all of them a home on e-readers as a way of reaching readers. I have two more to go as part of the original list of 8. And of course there are ideas for new stories that keep coming up–even the possibilities of two more books with characters from Love Comes Later–but I think I’ll take a more relaxed approach after December!
8. You chose to pursue indie publishing even though your PhD in English Literature would make you a prime candidate for the traditional publishing model? Why indie, and if given the choice to do it all over again, would you still choose this path?
I came to indie publishing because I put a lot of time and effort into my academic books and no one–not even my mother–ever read them. That’s a long time for them to just waste away in the library. I kept hearing the indie drumbeat at conferences I attended and decided these manuscripts that weren’t being picked up didn’t need to be rejected 60 times in order to make it into the hands of readers. I don’t regret going indie. I wish I had done it sooner in the sense that it would have been fun to work on a single book, release it, and then start another book, instead of this wild and creative space I’m in right now where I’m revising one book, researching for another, and promoting others.
9. As a writer, what is the message you are trying to get out to the world? Who are you trying to reach, and what do you want to tell them? Are your books more entertainment/ informational driven, or is there a deeper resonance you are trying to achieve?
I want to take readers to places they’d like to go but can’t physically get to because of time or financial considerations. A book is the oldest form of technology we have, and though we’ve put them on tablets and found ways to make them enticing through video or graphics, we haven’t actually changed what a book does which is transport us to worlds other than our own. I want my stories to capture the essence and wonder of storytelling for the reader who will enter a world unfamiliar and yet see something of him/herself in the characters, dilemmas, and settings.
10. What can readers expect next from MohaDoha?
I am working on other titles… the very next one is a coming of age story, set in the U.S., told from the perspective of a young female protagonist, Sita, who we’ll root for to grow up into an empowered woman despite those who have other plans for her life.
I love interacting with readers. The more feedback I get, the better content I feel that I create. So the door is open–tell me what you loved or what was confusing–and I’ll keep you posted on the release date for An Unlikely Goddess!
Don’t forget to enter for a chance to win!
I hope you’re all enjoying the tour as much as I am!
Continue being awesome!
This is Catherine Knox, signing off.