Interviews

Hend Hegazi

1. We know you as an author. What don’t we know about you as Hend Hegazi?
I’ve loved animated movies ever since I was a child. I still enjoy watching them with my kids. But that’s not really the interesting fact. The interesting fact is that I hope to one day be a voice for a cartoon!

2. Could you please take us through your journey as an author?
The dream to become a published, widely-read author began when I was very young. In elementary school, I often wrote plays and acted them out in front of the class. But I put aside my writing to focus on academics, and then when I got older, to focus on my home life.
About seven years ago, after I had written a short story and decided to turn it into a novel but found that I kept dragging my feet with it, I told myself that I either had to put in the effort to fulfill my dream… or simply forget about it. That’s how I came to finish Normal Calm. I spent months querying agents, getting rejection after rejection (I think I topped 100!), until I finally came across FB Publishing. I will forever be grateful to them for taking a risk on me and helping me fulfill my dream.
Behind Picket Fences was written as a personal challenge: “Can you write another novel, or have you reached your limit?” Alhamdulillah, I’m now working on my third novel and hope to finish it up soon.

3. Who are your favorite authors?
Khaled Hosseini is such a gifted writer whose books always affect me. And I’ve recently read Wonder by R. J. Palacio, and although it is not a genre I typically gravitate towards (children’s literature), she really won my heart! Her writing is inspiring.

4. What or who inspires you?
This is such a difficult question because my inspiration comes sporadically and in different forms. Anything can inspire me: a book, a movie, a scenic view, a random topic of conversation. Most often the inspiration begins as one thought that marinates in my brain for a while before I begin to write about it.

5. What topics are you passionate about with regards to writing?
I love to shed light on the Muslim American experience for two reasons. First, as a Muslim American, I never had literature which represented me, so I’d like to help fill that gap. Second, I want the larger American community to embrace Muslim Americans, with their differences and vast similarities, as an integral part of the American fabric.

6. Have you considered writing non-fiction?
I’ve written some non-fiction; my work has been featured in SISTERS Magazine as well as Azizah Magazine. I’m planning on writing a memoir for my next project. We’ll see what happens.

7. There are many who are averse to the term Islamic Fiction. What is your stand on it and how do you respond to them?
I think that your question can be understood in two different ways. The first is those who oppose fiction, regardless of any other label attached to it. They feel that telling stories of people or events which are imagined is a form of lying. I don’t give in to this theory. The best way for us to understand a message is often through an example; I don’t think these examples have to be based on real events for them to be beneficial. And it isn’t a lie because no one ever claimed it to be based on real events.
The second way your question may be understood is that some people who don’t oppose fiction on its own find it hard to attach the term “Islamic” to it because of the portrayal of prohibited acts within the story. For example, one of my characters in Behind Picket Fences cheats on her husband. Some critics of the term may say, “Since this act is prohibited, this story can not be called ‘Islamic.’” Well, to be honest with you, I don’t label my books “Islamic Fiction” for this very reason. Perhaps that theory is correct. I don’t know. And because I don’t think it’s a debate worth getting into, I don’t use this label. I prefer “Muslim Fiction.” Muslim Fiction is written by a Muslim author and/or shows how some Muslims interact on a daily basis. It shows them with their virtues and their flaws. That’s what I try to do with my books; to give the accurate picture of how it IS not how it SHOULD be.

8. I felt Behind Picket Fence had the writing style of Danielle Steel – in a halalized manner. Have you been compared with any such author?
That’s really very kind of you. To the best of my knowledge, you’re the first one to compare me with any author, let alone one who has such a huge following.

9. How and when do you write?
I sit at my dining table, preferably when my monkeys are at school or sleeping, and write into a notebook. Once I’ve filled between ten to twenty pages, I’ll transcribe my work onto my laptop. This gives me the chance to both write by hand (which is preferable for creativity) and to use the laptop for organization, speed, research, etc.

10. What advice would you give to novice authors?
Learn from the criticism. No artist is liked by everyone. None. So there will be people — lots of people — who don’t like your work. There is nothing wrong with that. But if you can not take their negative feedback and grow from it, then you do yourself a disservice.

11. Could we have a peek at your work-space? 🙂
Unfortunately, I’m away from home as I write this, so a pic is not possible. But honestly, it’s not my ideal work-space; I use it because I have nowhere else to write, not because it is where I prefer to write.

Hend Hegazi was born and raised in Southeastern Massachusetts. She graduated from Smith College with a degree in biology and a minor in religion. Shortly thereafter, the winds of life and love blew her to Egypt where she has been living for the past 15 years. She is a full time mother of four as well as a freelance editor who recently joined the Djarabi Kitabs Publishing team as the Managing Editor. Some of Hend’s work has been featured in SISTERS Magazine. Her fiction and poetry focus on the human condition, often shedding light on the Muslim American experience. Hend strives to be God-conscious and aims to raise that awareness in her readers. As a common theme in her pieces, the intimate relationship between God-consciousness and love is often explored. Hend’s debut novel, Normal Calm, was published in January 2014. Her latest novel, Behind Picket Fences, was published in July 2016. You can read her poetry and blog posts on her website, http://www.hendhegazi.com.


Zeneefa Zaneer

1. We know you as an author. What don’t we know about you as Zeneefa Zaneer?
I don’t know whether this is a good thing or not, but I love to try my skills at everything that I get fascinated with. This has made me a Jane of all trades, everything needs a touch of professional polishing (where my enthusiasm dries up in the middle of everything without polishing up anything).
I am also a person who is too greedy to eat achcharu (chili/salt/pepper/vinegar mixed in sour fruits) – the name itself waters my mouth 😁

2. When did you decide to become a published author?
At a very young age, like sixteen. I had written four novels by then, when I asked my dad to help me with publishing because nobody I knew was a writer. A writer was someone so rare to be known, like as if writers come from another world. Then after ten years of struggle I finally published a book at the age of 26.

3. Who do you most like to read?
J.K Rowling, and Jodi Picoult. J K for her plot building and magical language style. Jodi for fact presenting and poetic way of writing. Can’t say which one I like the most though. This admiration can change as I explore more writers in the universe of books.

4. What or who inspires you?
Nature, people, children, real life events, dreams and books.

5. What topics are you passionate about with regards to writing?
Life issues, and family matters. I’m mostly known for romance but my books are not just about man and woman finding love. They speak more real life issues.

6. Do you write non-fiction?
I’ve been writing nonfiction on and off, although I’m not so passionate about it. Sometimes I get philosophical and that’s when I write that has got nothing to do with fiction.

7. There are many who are averse to the term Islamic Fiction. What is your stand on it and how do you respond to them?
Here we have two kinds of people:
1. Those who strongly dislike the idea, saying that we don’t have to separate ourselves from others.
2. Those who say that fiction is totally unacceptable.
I’m a pro Islamic fiction writer. I believe that our representation is necessary. But I believe that we shouldn’t limit ourselves only among us. We must not draw a circle around us. Our books, our stories should reach general audience, not only Muslims. Without being preachy in every chapter, every circumstance can deliver our message. That’s the duty of a storyteller. We spread the beauty of Islam in a creative way to every mankind.

8. I assume part of your success on Nothing But Love is due to crowd-funding. Could you tell us your experience on it?
Crowd-sourcing isn’t a new concept. It had been there for ages in communities. We trade things with those who lend us a hand. I saw crowd-sourcing as a good platform for marketing my book before it got published. Through crowd-sourcing I got pre-orders for the book. With that pre-ordered funds I could afford for the expenses of publishing. This means you are selling your product before it’s manufactured. I know some authors crowd fund even before they’d started writing a book. I was around the corner wrapping up my project and found this platform to be very effective.

9. How is your journey as a self-published author?
It’s not easy. I must say that I wasn’t in favor of self-publishing. Because I self-published my first book and could only sell a few hundreds of books. Even then half of them were given free.
And then I went for mainstream publishing for another book, where my book was successfully sold out but I haven’t got a single penny out of it.
I’d completed six English novels by the time I decided to publish Nothing but Love. I sent my manuscript to other publishers – some gave positive feedback and others didn’t reply.
I wrote Nothing But Love in 2011, and five years had already passed. I was wondering when I would see my books get published. It took another year to finish with editing. I’d gone through the novel more than twenty times, where by the end of it I could blindly pick the page of any scene. I hired a professional editor but I still found loopholes. I’m a person who gets so impatient seeing typos and mistakes. It’s not just for English novels. It was same with my Sinhala novels. I still find typos in my published books 😁  Editing is a never ending process. Then along with my good friend, a qualified writer and an editor I did the final round up.
And then, I had to tackle USA tax forms for e-book publishing.
Marketing is another major topic which I found very difficult.
So self-publishing isn’t a piece of cake as some other writers define. It’s hard work. It’s a one man show, or with me, a one woman show with three little kids distracting every third minute.
And then, no matter how good your book is, the place where you come from matters. I’ve contacted editors, reviewers and every known, unknown person for exposure of the book. It’s been over a year now yet I haven’t heard from them. Only very few people lend you a hand. At the same time books that haven’t yet published get massive shout-outs. I’m not saying that one should climb through someone else’s success. But I find that with regards to places dedicated for writers, books, and Muslims, most pay heed only to those whom they know. That’s the world law I guess. 😊

10. What advice would you give to novice authors?
Don’t give up! I won’t promise you an easy climb. Success doesn’t rain over you. You have to struggle.
Read in your favourite genre. Write whatever comes to your mind. Editing comes later. Write like you are the best. Edit like you are the worst. (Just saying 😁)
Be realistic. Check whether your voice is appropriate for the character. Like if your main character is ten years old then sound like a ten year, not like a sixteen year old. No matter how well you build your plot and present your facts and flow with a unique style, if your voice doesn’t fit your characters then you are going to sound odd.

11. Could we have a peek at your work-space? 🙂

Well, if that’s what you want, here it is:My phone – i5. This is the device that I use to write since 2013. All what I do mostly come out from my phone. From power point presentations to NaNoWriMo win novel I do it with my phone.

Reason being, ever since my old laptop crashed I found myself harbouring on this phone. I do most of my work once kids fall asleep and my youngest keeps waking up when I’m not around. So it’s been handy for me to use the phone rather operating through a computer.

Zeneefa Zaneer is a bilingual contemporary novelist and a children’s book author from Sri Lanka. She is a diverse author who blends Sri Lankan Muslim culture and Islamic teachings in her stories. Her books focus on family, relationship, love and more. She is available at http://zeneefazaneer.com.

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