Month / November 2014
Behind the White Veil: Interview with Fadi Zaghmout
Interviewed by Tala Abdulhadi, posted on OC Magazine
Name: Fadi Zaghmout
Date of Birth: June 15th, 1978
Degree: MA in Creative Writing and Critical Thinking
Job: Information and Communication Technology Advisor
Currently Residing in: Amman/Jordan
Languages Spoken: Arabic and English
OC: How has your Creative Writing degree helped you develop as a writer?
FZ: The course had a critical thinking side where we read lots of critical essays. We had four main modules. I would say that the psychoanalysis module was my favourite. There is much to learn from Freud in terms of creative writing; ambivalence, the double, the uncanny, mourning and dealing with loss are some techniques I have developed. I also learned to cut down unnecessary words, and to focus on showing rather than telling.
OC: What inspired you to write Aroos Amman (Bride of Amman)?
FZ: Our heavy legacy of social values that is making our lives harder than it should be, as well as the social obsession in marriage and its effect on the lives of youth in Jordan.
I understand that marriage is a means to regulate sexuality, yet and while exaggerated in importance, the institution of marriage in Jordan is pretty limited. We have no civil marriage that recognises inter-religious, non-religious or same sex relationships. Women are expected to be virgins, and preferred to be young, along with so many other silly constraints. It also reinforces patriarchal society where it is expected that the man to provide a home and cater for all of the wedding expenses and post wedding daily financial responsibilities.
OC: Each character in Aroos Amman seems to have its own identity, socially speaking. How would you describe each narrator in terms of identity?
FZ: Laila is the achiever; a woman who plays it right, does what society expects from her and excels in it. Salma represents women who struggle with the social obsession with marriage. Hayat is a social victim who is forced to break out the social boundaries, whereas Rana is the contrary of Laila. She follows her heart rather than playing it by the rules. Ali represents individuals with two sides; one that is highly appreciated by society (being a man) and one that is highly condoned (his homosexual desires).
OC: The works of authors are always reflective of the writers’ own lives. Which character is most reflective of you? How is that?
FZ: I think there are different parts in each character where I somehow reflect myself. For example, I’d like to think that I am visible in the positivity, determination and honesty of Hayat, the rebellious and adventurous nature of Rana, and the activist social sensitivity of Salma.
OC: Why do you choose to write your novels in Arabic, but blog in both English and Arabic?
FZ: My blog tackles issues of gender and sexuality, and therefore gained more support from English reading audiences. When I read Arabic newspapers, especially local ones, I rarely see liberal voices that call for individual and sexual freedom. That is why I started using Arabic on my blog. I also realized that my English language is in not good as my Arabic. I can express myself much better in Arabic. I don’t think that I am capable of writing an entire book in English.
OC: What is the basis of your decision regarding which language to use when writing your novels?
FZ: I think it has to do more with my level of proficiency in the language. I am a native Arabic speaker and can express myself much better in Arabic. In addition to that, I am writing for an Arabic audience and publishing in an Arabic market.
OC: How did you come up with your latest short story It Was Just A Kiss? What messages were you aiming to send while writing it?
FZ: I had to deliver both a critical essay and a creative piece for my dissertation. For the critical part, I did a psychoanalysis read for the father/son relationship in two prose; The Kite Runner by Khaled Al Husseni, and When We Were Orphans by Ishiguro Kazuo, studying how a father figure affects the death drive of the son. I tackled the subject from a gender identity perspective.
The creative part had to be related. I thought of reflecting the father/son relationship into a mother/daughter one. Instead of a dominant manly father as in The Kite Runner, I came up with the character of this mother who is overly feminine.
OC: When should we expect your next novel?
FZ: I am hoping for a release date in September or October of this year (fingers crossed).
OC: Could you give us a brief description of your upcoming new work? Is it similar to any of your previous works in any way?
FZ: Sure I can. I would say it is different than Arous Amman. It tries to read a future where science can control the aging process and prevent dying from old age. On one hand, we have this huge shift in the paradigm of death while on the other hand we still have the same other variables that make us human beings. It is called Janna ‘Ala Al-ard (Heaven on Earth).
OC: If you had the choice of changing one thing about Jordanian society, what would it be?
FZ: I would heal the relationship between men and women.
OC: What advice can you give to aspiring writers?
FZ: I would advise aspiring writers to question everything around them; to deconstruct common truth, belief systems, social values; to be creative and bring us new stories that we haven’t heard before. That doesn’t mean writing a novel is an easy task. It requires discipline and dedication. There is no time to waste worrying about things. So just write, write, write, and worry later.
Fadi’s Top 5 Books:
Angels and Demons Dan Brown
The Pillars of the Earth Ken Follet
The Passion of New Year Eve Angela Carter
1984 George Orwell
The Kite Runner Khaled Al Husseni
Favorite Artist: Elissa
Favorite Movie: Halla’ La Wain
Favorite Dish: Fattet Makdoos
Favorite Author: Dan Brown
Dream Vacation: Seychelles Islands
Best Birthday Gift: A book with many white papers and a hard cover with my name on it to start writing my first novel.
Favorite Dessert: Knafeh
Guilty Pleasure: Bread
Most Embarrassing Incident: Once I was shopping and met an acquaintance. I said hi and we talked a bit. When I was ready to leave, I wanted to say goodbye. I approached him as he had his back to me. I poked his back, and he turned. He turned out to be someone else. I said bye and left!
Pet Peeve: Laziness
Your Biggest Fear: Death
Gratitude for those who helped me finish my second book
I thought that writing my second book would be easier than writing my first. It turned out that it is not. It was much harder, I don’t know why. In my first, I used to think that whatever I write is good enough, but that changed with my second and I became more critical about my own work. Perhaps it has also to do with the nature of the two books, where the first addresses issues of gender and sexuality that I excel at and the second is more of a science fiction addressing issues of ageing, life & death, and human nature.
I know that many other writers prefer to keep their work till they finish it before they let anyone read a line of it, but I am not like that. I need continuous feedback when I write, the more the merrier. Thus, having supportive friends who takes on the journey with me is a priceless service they offer me. For that I would love to thank:
1. Ghadeer Janineh, Ayman Al Hmoud and Lubna Al-Shami reading my progress chapter by chapter and giving me your continuos support and feedback helped me so much. I loved Ghadeer and Ayman passion for the story, always excited to read more and pushing me to rush and finish chapters just to see your reactions guys! It was different for Lubna, because she is more critical. At some point, I came to think that if Lubna thinks it is good, then it means it is good! I appreciate your help Najeeb Mahfooz!
2. Yousef Al Nabulsi: is very hard to please, and I haven’t pleased him yet. I am thanking him not for his continuous support in reading the story chapter by chapter but for his hard reaction on the first run of the story that prompted me to rethink it, throw it away, and rewrite the whole thing. I hated him at first but then I realised that he wanted the best for me. Sometimes, we need a clapping hand to carry on, but we also need a slapping one to get back on the right track.
3. Rima Adeeb Soudah, Farah Kamal Zaghmout and Kamal Zaghmout: mother, little brother and dad. Thank you for reading the final version of the book and for going through it and catching all of my language mistakes. I would never have had this self confidence and believe in my abilities without your continuous love and support. I love you dearly.
4. Rami Nabulsi and Natasha Abbadi: my supportive best friends. I miss those thursday nights in your home in Amman talking about the book. Telling you what I wrote or have in mind for the following chapters and examine it against your critical minds.
5. Haitham Al Dawoud: though not much of a reader, the book needed a sense of style. I would never have gained the ability of describing my characters aesthetics without your influence on my life. It isn’t only reflected on the characters, but the writer himself! Thank you!
6. Fares H. Hassan: Fares is a brilliant writer himself. He is a rebel and honest with himself and with people around him. I loved his review of Aroos Amman and was happy for his Janna feedback. He helped me correct some instances and come up with the titles for chapters.
I am sure that I have missed many others. I would like to thank all of my family and friends. Without all the love in my life, I wouldn’t have finished this book.