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You are now entering the world of my thoughts.

This blog is my diary of works in progress. The only way a writer can improve upon her skill is to practice, practice and practice some more. Here, in this place of quiet peace, I pen to paper my thoughts and creativity. Welcome to my world.

Copyright © 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 SN Taylor, All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 16, 2015

Author Interview: Hend Hegazi

Today's interview is with debut author Hend Hegazi, author of Normal Calm. Hend is a freelance writer, whose work has appeared in notable Muslim magazines such as Azizah and SISTERS.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Massachusetts, USA. I graduated from Smith College with a degree in biology and shortly after, moved to Egypt where I have been for the past 13 years. I’m married and have 4 children. I’m a freelance writer for SISTERS magazine as well as a couple of online magazines. Recently, I’ve delved into the role of freelance editor, which is an endeavor I’m really excited about.

Can you share with us a little about your publishing journey?
I have always loved to write, but I didn’t become disciplined about it until I realized that those millions of published authors out there are no better than me! Some are exceedingly more talented and their stories are far better than mine, of course, but the opposite is also true. Authors are just regular people who simply make their writing a priority. When I accepted that truth, the idea of finishing my novel shifted from being a dream to being an achievable goal.
Once I finished it, I did all sorts of research on how to get published. Naturally, I learned that unsolicited manuscripts get no notice from most publishing houses and most authors make use of agents. So I set about doing my research into which agents may be interested in an Arab American story, and queried a bunch. A whole bunch. And although a few showed interest, in the end they all declined, saying it was a tough sell. Between the actual rejection letters and the no-reply rejections, I hold under my belt more than 100 agent rejections. Although I mention it with humor, at the time it was discouraging. I decided I would no longer pursue it: if it was meant to be, then God would make it happen.

I stopped actively researching agents, but if I learned of an Arab American published author, I would skim her acknowledgements page, searching for the mention of an agent. If I found one, I would query the agent, if not, I sent the query directly to the publisher. And that’s how I found FB Publishing. I sent them my manuscript, and they saw enough potential to publish it, Praise God.

What inspired your story, Normal Calm?
There were two things: First, I really hated the Arab mentality of blaming rape victims for this horrendous crime which was committed against them. During my research on the subject I have learned that victim blaming is really an international crises, one that all ethnicities struggle with. In Normal Calm, I felt the need to stand up and clearly say that rape survivors are the victims and should never be criminalized.

The other motivation was a desire to give people a window into the lives of Arab Americans. I wanted to show people that although we have religious and cultural differences, we are really more alike.

What was on of your biggest challenges, if any, while writing Normal Calm? And, how did your overcome that challenge?
The biggest challenge I faced was how Amina, the main character, would deal with the rape. In my earliest version, she reports it to the police. That’s what I wanted her to do, so that any readers in her position would be encouraged to take that same route. But when it came down to it, I realized that the novel would take a different path from the one I originally had planned: the police report would lead to a trial, and sentencing, and all sorts of things which, I felt, would pull the story away from the social repercussions of her rape. The thing which made her NOT file a report is the fact that her rapist flees the country. Don’t get me wrong: I encourage any victims of rape to report it to the authorities, but for the purposes of this fictional story, having him leave just made more sense.

Tell us about your favorite scene in your story, without giving us too much of the story.
There is a scene when one of her perspective suitors basically calls her promiscuous, and she tells him off. I love her brashness in that scene, partly because it comes as a shock, even to herself. It shows that we are capable of strength beyond our own awareness.

What is the most important thing you want your readers to take away after reading Normal Calm?
That even when there is a lack of support from people you love, being honest and staying true to yourself will always be rewarded with goodness.

Do you have any other projects you are working on that you can tell us about?
I’ve finished writing my second novel, Praise God, although I still have no news of publication. Along with my freelance writing and editing, I’m developing some ideas for my next book and hope to begin writing that soon, God willing.

If you could share one piece of advice that you wish you had been given at the beginning of your publishing journey, what would it be?
Do not overlook the small, niche publishers. For example, there are Muslim publishers out there, even though they may not easily turn up during your search. Facebook is a super resource to help locate and connect with people, and that includes niche publishers.

This question is for Amina (book character) ... If you could say or share one thing with rape victims around the world, what would it be?
Many rape survivors experience self-blame, but just as it is ridiculous to think of blaming the victims of theft for that crime, it is even more ridiculous to blame rape victims. It may not be easy to find a partner who will understand and accept your circumstances, but if you are honest and true to yourself, God willing, HE will reward you with goodness.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule and sharing your writing journey with us.
It is my pleasure. Jazakum Allahu khairan for giving me the platform to share my journey.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Book Review: Normal Calm by Hend Hegazi

Title: Normal Calm

Author: Hend Hegazi

Publisher: FB Publisher, Jan 1, 2014

Book Description:
Amina is an Arab American woman attending one of the best universities in the US. During the spring of her junior year, Amina is raped by one of her friends, making her essentially unmarriageable in the eyes of her parents and, possibly, the entire Arab community. When her mother experiences a nervous breakdown, Amina fears that she is to blame for her mother's condition. Eventually she falls in love with Sherif, but his reaction to her rape proves him to be unworthy. Deciding to forgo love, Amina focuses on her career. When her best friend introduces her to Mazin, however, she sees in him only good qualities. He is successful, kind, generous...but she feels no love for him. When Mazin asks for her hand in marriage, Amina struggles with the idea of settling for a man she does not love. Knowing that he, too, may abandon her when he learns of her rape is another burden she continues to bear.

Book Review:
This was a really good read despite it not being a book/genre I usually enjoy. The story touches on the subject of rape and how it is handled or viewed in Arab Muslim communities. Rape in general is viewed as "the woman's fault" in almost every culture but it is disturbingly so in Muslim communities because the responsibility of upholding ones dignity and honor is majorly placed on the woman. What is unfair about the practice is that it is not a religious thing. The Muslim faith places the responsibility equally and fairly on men and women to protect themselves and each other but somehow, somewhere, someone misinterpreted and placed it on women.

I enjoyed Normal Calm because Amina was/is a strong character. I loved that she stayed true to herself. Knowing the stigma placed on non-virgins, even rape victims, in her community, she did not allow the incident to change her character, her integrity when it came time to discuss marriage to potential partners.In all of her relationships, she was true to herself and those around, and that was her biggest asset, that is what strengthened her and her relationships.

I particularly enjoyed her friendship with Kayla, a non-Muslim friend she practically grew up with. The love, respect, tolerance and even humor they showed each other when it came to discussing religion, life, school, love and work, was refreshing. Amina found in Kayla a true friend, someone who listened with the intent to understand, not just respond. While Amina's family did eventually support and back her, Kayla was her rock in the beginning, when her life first fell to pieces.

There is still much needed discussions in our communities, discussions that will help heal, strengthen and finally put an end to the victim blaming society tends to do when a woman, girl, or child is raped or abused. Normal Calm opens that discussion, in my opinion, for the Muslim and Arab communities.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Book Review: Due for Discard by Sharon St. George

Title: Due for Discard

Author: Sharon St. George

Publisher: Camel Press, March 1, 2015

Genre: Mystery

Book Blurb: 

Aimee Machado is thrilled to be starting her first job as a forensic librarian at the medical center in the town of Timbergate, north of Sacramento, California. Her ebullient mood is somewhat dampened by her recent breakup with her former live-in boyfriend, Nick Alexander. And then there's a little matter of murder: on Aimee's first day on the job, a body is found in the hospital Dumpster, soon identified as her supervisor’s wife, Bonnie Beardsley.

Aimee’s heartbreaker of a brother and best friend, Harry, just happens to be one of the last people to see Bonnie alive, but he is hardly the only suspect. Bonnie was notorious for her wild partying and man-stealing ways, and she has left a trail of broken hearts and bitterness. Aimee is determined to get her brother off the suspect list. Aimee's snooping quickly makes her a target. Isolated on her grandparents' llama farm where she fled post-breakup, she realizes exactly how vulnerable she is.

Three men have pledged to protect her: her brother Harry, her ex, Nick, and the dashing hospital administrator with a reputation for womanizing, Jared Quinn. But they can’t be on the alert every minute, not when Aimee is so bent on cracking the case with or without their help.

Book Review: 

Aimee starts work at a dream job, a forensic librarian at Timbergate Medical Center. Her thrill is overshadowed by her recent breakup with boyfriend, Nick Alexander, a pilot for a rich philanthropist. On her first day of work, a murder is discovered. Not any murder, but the murder of her boss's wife. A woman with many secrets and even more vices. Nothing prepares Aimee for what she finds out next about the murder. Her brother, Harry, knew the victim AND saw the victim before she died. An investigator with a grudge is convinced Harry should be pinned with the murder. As things heat up and Harry is officially made the #1 suspect (after the victim's husband, of course) in the case, Aimee beefs up her detective and forensic knowledge to help find the real killer. She finds help in her new interim boss, single and good looking, Jared Quinn and ex-boyfriend, Nick. Aimee's first 'warning' goes unheeded. Now, she is convinced her brother is being set up. With a whole list of suspects, dangerously mounting threats and a conflicted love life, Aimee pushes on for the truth, whether it kills her or not.

What I loved: I enjoyed the characters. They were fun and easy to get to know and care about. It took me awhile to warm up to Nick but I liked him best of all. Aimee was a complicated character. I would like to say she was a strong character and it seemed like it. She is dedicated and loyal to her brother, to the point she risks her job, safety, and life to clear his name. Yet, she seemed to get herself into a lot of trouble she needed help getting out of, I was a bit disappointed her black belt was not featured as much in the story. I love a mystery where I suspect EVERYONE. With the exception of Nick, Harry, Amah and Jack (Aimee of course) anyone could have been the murder. After all, Bonnie Beardsley left a long trail of broken homes and hearts.

What I didn't like: The pacing of the story did not feel consistent. There were times where it seemed to move at a slow pace and then there were the "can't blink because I might miss something"  pace, like the final showdown! While I enjoyed the characters, there a were quite a few main players. It made it hard for me to keep up with the who's who and who did whats.

Overall, I enjoyed Due for Discard and look forward to seeing other books in this series.

$4.95 ebook, $15.95 paperback


Barnes and Noble:


Friday, March 6, 2015

Book Review: The Way of Tea and Justice by Becca Stevens

Title: The Way of Tea and Justice

Author: Becca Stevens

Publisher: Jericho Books, November 4, 2014

Genre: Religion, Political Science, Social Science

Book Blurb:
What started as an impossible dream-to build a café that employs women recovering from prostitution and addiction-is helping to fuel an astonishing movement to bring freedom and fair wages to women producers worldwide where tea and trafficking are linked by oppression and the opiate wars.

Becca Stevens started the Thistle Stop Café to empower women survivors. But when she discovered a connection between café workers and tea laborers overseas, she embarked on a global mission called "Shared Trade" to increase the value of women survivors and producers across the globe.

As she recounts the victories and unexpected challenges of building the café, Becca also sweeps the reader into the world of tea, where timeless rituals transport to an era of beauty and the challenging truths about tea's darker, more violent history. She offers moving reflections of the meaning of tea in our lives, plus recipes for tea blends that readers can make themselves.

In this journey of triumph for impoverished tea laborers, hope for café workers, and insight into the history of tea, Becca Stevens sets out to defy the odds and prove that love is the most powerful force for transformation on earth.

Book Review:

The Way of Tea and Justice recounts the amazing journey of Becca Stevens and her group at thistle farms as they established a tea cafe to help women off the streets heal and rebuild their lives. Becca Stevens is a pastor and much of the book reflects the ups and downs of her journey and how her passion for justice and love for her faith kept her focused even through some very difficult times in her life. Her concept of tea as a way to heal sent her on a journey to learn more about the history and culture of tea.

Her journey also took her across the globe as she visited tea farms around the world. She noticed the injustices against the tea laborers and began an effort called shared trade allowing for better wages and treatment of the labors while creating a business for women, other-wised not given a second chance by society, a safe way to heal and rebuild their lives. I enjoyed reading the many various aspects of tea history and tea culture Becca Stevens shared. I also enjoyed the heartwarming letters included in the book by various women who live and work at Thistle Farms. Many of their stories brought me to tears. I was moved by the love, hope and gratitude they shared in their letters.

The book is very contemplative and Becca Stevens does a lot of reflecting on faith, love, family and as well she reflects on matters of social justice. Sometimes the writing felt a little long-winded and repetitive, but I guess that is the nature of this type of writing. Despite that, I enjoyed the journey of the building of the Thistle Stop Cafe.

Member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators