Tuesday, October 21, 2008

GCC Presents: Nadine Dajani and

Whew! So I'm taking a break from the whirlwind of ToML stuff to promote someone else's book, something you know that I'm always happy to do! We're returning to our regular programming with a GCC tour stop. Today, we have Nadine Dajini and her new book, Cutting Loose, which Publishers Weekly deemed "engrossing," and the Romantic Times calls, "hard to put down." Nice! Pick up a copy on Amazon today!

Here's the scoop, and then Nadine answers my usual questions (aspiritng novelists - be sure to read her answer to #3):

Ranya is a modern-day princess—brought up behind the gilded walls of Saudi Arabian high society and winner of the dream husband sweepstakes . . . until said husband turns out to be more interested in Paolo, the interior-decorator-cum-underwear-model, than in his virginal new wife.

Smart, independent, but painfully shy, Zahra has managed to escape her impoverished Palestinian roots to carve out a life of comfort. But she can’t reveal her secrets to the man she adores or shake off the fear that she doesn’t deserve any of it. Neither can she stop herself from thinking that if she holds on to anything—or anyone—too dearly, they will be taken away in the blink of a kohl-lined eye.

Rio has risen above the slums of her native Honduras—not to mention the jeers of her none too supportive family—to become editor in chief of Suéltate magazine, the hottest Latina-targeted glossy in town, and this in spite of Georges Mallouk, her clueless boss, and in spite of Rio’s affair with Georges’ delicious but despicable younger brother, Joe.

In this city of fast cars, sleek clubs, and unapologetic superficiality, Ranya, Zahra, and Rio wrestle with the ties that bind them to their difficult pasts, each wondering if she will ever manage to cut loose…

1) What’s the backstory behind your book?

I always look at a new book as an opportunity to address an issue that’s bugging me – looking at it from different angles, finding characters that embody the clashing views and struggles, and then put them in a room together against some dazzling backdrop.

In Cutting Loose, there are many issues – every single character in this book has a different ethnic makeup – there’s the Lebanese Muslim social butterfly, the shy Palestinian Christian accountant whose family is struggling to survive under military occupation, the Honduran-American whose piece of the American dream was much more hard-earned than most, and then there’s a multi-generational dynasty of Lebanese Christians with roots in the US going back to Frontier times, and who’ve built a business empire. Every one of these characters represents a demographic that flies in the face of the conventional narrative we’re always being fed about who really occupies this world we live in, and what it is that really matters to them. Their struggles unfold against a few cities – Montreal, London, and Miami, but most of the action takes place in sizzling Miami, where I love to spend time when I can.

2) It seems that a lot of readers confuse fiction with real life, assuming that a novel must be an autobiography of the author as well. How many elements of your real life are reflected in your book?

There are a few elements of Ranya’s experiences as an expat in Saudi Arabia that were lifted from my memories, but I was too young back then to really be out and about and have something memorable to comment on – I lifted some of my cousin’s experiences, who is older and so had more interesting things happen to her… like sharing a classroom with actual princesses from the Saudi royal family. There are so many of the (last stat I came across was 11,000 in a relatively unpopulated country!) so it’s certainly possible (probable even), if you go to the top schools. Like Zahra, I’m originally Palestinian, though born in Lebanon, and I did want to explore that a little bit. But the most autobiographical element is right up front in the first chapter – I was sitting in a posh London restaurant (Harvey Nichols rooftop terrace, to be precise), thinking about how to begin this book. Just as Ranya notices, Middle Eastern wealth is really on display over there, as may Gulf Arabs spend their holidays in Europe and take advantage of the excursion to as (as do tourists all over the globe…). I guess the lady sitting at the table next to me was a little miffed by all the headscarf-clad heads in this posh place, and the loud, jovial chatter, so she turned around to her companion and said” “C’est payant, le terrorisme” which I’m sure you guessed, means “terrorism pays”.

Let me tell you, for an author who was looking for a good way to start a novel dealing with racism, it couldn’t have been more inspirational.

3) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?

The old fashioned way – polishing and polishing and polishing my first effort until it was obviously ridiculous not to send it out. I researched agents, pitched at an RWA conference, identified my top two “perfect fit” agents, queried them both. They both requested a partial (that’s the first chapter and a 5 page summary). They both came back with both positive and negative feedback and gave me a shot at spiffing up my first few chapters and resubmitting. I did, and with their feedback, the chapters really were much better – and they both made an offer! It was an incredible moment in my life. In fact, I was keenly aware that no other “first” would top this one – it was the first time I’d gotten validation from someone willing to pay actual money for these sentences I’d strung together, mostly for fun. I decided on the agent I felt had the best experience, and the one who could offer constructive criticism (and not just gush over my writing, or want to be my friend). A couple of months later, I had a deal!

4) I have a serious procrastination problem when it comes to tackling my fiction. What’s your routine? How do you dive it? Do you have any rituals or necessary to-dos before or while you write?

I also have a serious procrastination problem, and there are no better motivators than meeting deadlines and getting that check in! I tried to weed television out of my life, but with all these Planet Earth reruns and the constant election coverage, I can’t resist anymore! It’s a constant struggle with no shortcuts… sorry.

5) Clearly, your book will be optioned for a multi-million dollar film deal! Who would you cast as the leads, if you were given creative control?

I love this question! The whole time I was writing, I had a clear picture of Aishwayra Rai (even made a reference in the novel…) of Bride and Prejudice as Ranya, the doe-eyed, mocha-skinned beauty being taken for a ride by the ageing blond-bombshell cad, Jude Law. As for her studly but darker-humored savior Georges, my dream casting would be my current Hollywood crush – Javier Bardem. But the boys are supposed to be brothers and I have a hard time picturing Jude and Javier as remotely related!

For the driven and snarky Latina editor of Sueltate magazine where Ranya lands her first ever job, I can see Rosario Dawson (who shares the character’s first name!) with a no-nonsense pixie cut. Marisa Tomei would be great too.

As for Zahra, the slightly overweight, shy Palestinian accountant, I think Jennifer Aniston would be fabulous if she agreed to put on 30 pounds and be made up to look frumpy, à la Nicole Kidman in The Hours or Renee in her infamous take on Bridget Jones.

And for my favorite character of all, the unlikely young Latin hunk poised to rock Rio’s cynical world, I would love to see Jay Hernandez who totally rocked my world in Crazy/Beautiful opposite a nutty Kirstin Dunst.

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