So, rather than me writing what I hope people want to know about re: the behind-the-scenes of Daughters of Silence, I asked my IG (Instagram) posse what they want to know. Here, the questions from near and far, and my responses.
What is your first memory of the act of writing?
I have early memories of practicing writing. Funnily enough, not the Ethiopic (Ge’ez) alphabet, but the English. My English teacher in elementary school used to say, “Your penmanship should be precise and elegant. If I am standing on top of a mountain,” she’d point out the classroom window even though there were no mountains nearby, “I should be able to read it effortlessly.” Her cursive was exquisite. Even during school breaks, I spent many an afternoon practicing my cursive in special notebooks with layers of dotted lines.
I remember the first story I wrote in English, about a black cat who lived in a forest but didn’t have any friends. By the end, black cat has friends. Not sure if they all left the forest. Or if leaving the forest was part of the process of gaining friends.
I also used to pretend to read English before I learned how to. I’d flip through my parents’ thick English novels really fast, sounding out rolling ‘r’s. Must be why “my English is so good” ;) I’d also rip out the blank pages at the back of my parents’ books, to doodle on. Only recently I found out why there are blank pages at the ends of books. Thank you, Internet! I never lacked for writing materials, but those pages were special because they had a ‘foreign’ texture, size, and most amazingly, were unlined – like some kind of freedom.
Do you have another book in the works?
-J, New Brunswick-by-way-of-Unknown
In the novel department, yes. Something light – I need it after eight years of mining the dark depths of grief and loss and abuse for Daughters of Silence! – inspired by my observations and experiences as a six-time bridesmaid for diaspora Ethiopian weddings. I’ve had many chances to witness the life cycle of diaspora weddings from engagement to the big day(s). It’s nice to giggle while writing, for a change. I’m loving working on something in the rom-com vein.
What were the most nerve-wracking moments?
- 2014: Preparing to open the email containing the first set of notes from my writing mentor, on the first thirty pages or so of the novel manuscript. In my fantasy-mind, the email would say ‘This is brilliant, don’t change a thing!’ but in my reality-mind I knew I was in for work. Check my Lithub article to find out how that went.
- 2015: The very first public reading I did of an excerpt from Daughters of Silence, at Cork, a restaurant and wine bar in Addis. Only seven family members were present – one of whom orchestrated the whole thing by not letting up until I agreed to do a read. Then the question my dad threw at me right after I finished: What is your message? Um…
- 2017 onwards: The waiting. To hear back from agents and acquiring editors. And once I got an agent, to hear back from acquiring editors. The months’/weeks’ long tension of anticipation, which was ironically worse if there was a set deadline for receiving a definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
- 2019: My first 5-minute public talk about the novel to booksellers. Now I know what stand-up comedians mean when they talk about bombing. Read about that here.
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