Ava Homa is author of Echoes from the Other Land which was just nominated for the the world’s largest short story award: 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Ava is a Kurdish-Canadian, writer-in-exile, with two Masters’ degrees one in English and Creative Writing, another in English Language and Literature.Echoes from the Other Land has a running theme of resistance by modern Iranian women under an oppressive regime. Ava’s writings have appeared in English and Farsi journals, as well as the Windsor Review and the Toronto Star. She was a writer in Iran, and university faculty member. In Toronto, Ava writes and teaches Creative Writing, English, and ESL.
ML: Why do you enjoy writing?
AH: I can’t help it J I get the urge, it can be anytime, anywhere: in the middle of the night or while driving, swimming, walking in a trail or on the beach. At such times, I just have to write in a notebook or on the sand or just text myself with my cell phone. I am not always successful, though.
In addition, writing for me is a form of reflection. It makes decision-making easier for me especially when I feel confused. Also, I see writing as a form of therapy. It helps me when I’m trapped in unhappy situations. Writing is my world, is everything to me. I’m obsessed.
ML: What is your process?
AH: Of completing a piece of fiction? It varies from piece to piece. In general, I can say it’s like gardening. I have the seed of the idea and then I have to plant and attend to this seed regularly before it blooms. That means, in order for a vague idea to become a complete story, I need to work on it every day for a few months. I might only get to write a few hours a day but I’m always thinking about my story for example, about the different ways my characters can react to situations, and various ways my plot can proceed.
Usually, after three months when I feel a chapter of a novel or a short story is complete, I leave it for a while-a month or two- before I get back to it and read it from a reader’s point of view. I mean, I try to detach myself from my work and read it as a third person, as if this writer has applied for a contest and I am the judge.
ML: How long have you been writing poetry? Stories?
AH: Since childhood. I can’t remember the first time. My mother tells me that I used to be totally happy with a pencil and a notebook for hours. I know I completed my first “manuscript” when I was in grade five. It was an animal story: a bird who missed her mother and was stuck in a forest. It contained some of my drawings too. After that I wrote on and off for all my life but I took my first Creative Writing workshop in 2002. I went from workshop to workshop and a couple of instructors told me that I had a gift and I should continue writing. I listened J
ML: Who are your influences?
AH: That’s not that easy for me to say. My motivation for writing was internal. No one in my family or friends encouraged me because I wouldn’t share my writings with anyone for a long time. Do you mean which authors influenced me the most? I am a voracious reader, I swallow books. It’s not really easy for me to see who influenced my writing the most because it has not been conscious. I later realized that Hemingway, Carver and Salinger have had the highest impact on my style. I loved those writers’ techniques very much. Overall, in every book that I read, I find something to admire and I automatically pick up on them.
ML: Your book of short stories, Echoes from the Other Land, is a wonderful achievement. How long did it take to write?
AH: I appreciate that comment, May Lui! I worked on that book almost every day for four years. I would think about stories, write, re-write and revise each story for over six months.
ML: All the stories in your book are from a woman’s perspective. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
AH: Nowadays, feminism is such a broad term that when somebody asks me if I am a feminist I should ask what they mean by that word. There is no “ism” that I absolutely accept and identify with. If I am to find a title for my interests, I’d say I am a humanitarian. The reason I wrote from women’s point of view was because I believe women in Iran need more help than men. Their situation is worse than men’s although every person living under an oppressive regime needs help unless they are part of that regime.
ML: Share with readers of this blog what your inspiration was for the various stories in your book.
AH: First and foremost, I love writing for the beauty and power of writing. But, it is also an affirmative action. Women’s situation in Iran must change. Moreover, I heal through writing and I hope I can help my readers heal too. I think Iranians are a traumatized nation due to everything we had gone through. I am a Kurd and my history is more painful than other Iranians. There are many personal and historical reasons behind my writing.
ML: Were any of your stories based on your personal experiences?
AH: Not really. I wrote a few stories based on my personal experiences and they did not turn out too well so I did not include them in this collection. I think a professional writer should stay detached from her work. Writing about myself makes that difficult for me.
ML: Themes running through all your stories include relationships between men and women, isolation, anger and fragmentation. Can you tell us more about this?
AH: I like to write about things that transcend time and place. Human relationships overall – be it men-women or same sex couples- intrigues me. Humans are complicated beings and when someone wants to connect to somebody else at different dimension, whether emotionally, physically or mentally, things get very complicated. I think people can write about relationships for the rest of history.
Isolation, I believe, is an inseparable part of our life, too. We fall in love, work, live in a community, make friends, some of us marry and start a family … to make believe we are not lonely. I think some parts of us stays inaccessible, no matter how many people we have around us. Anger and frustration are temporary results of such situations.
ML: What was the process like getting your book published?
AH: I was very lucky in that regard. TSAR was the first and only publisher I sent my manuscript to and M.G.Vassangi loved my work. He endorsed it for me, something his wife told me he hasn’t done for anyone else.
ML: Any publishing tips for emerging and unpublished writers?
AH: Publication is a very tricky business. Don’t let rejections get to you. In addition to the fact that writing is subjective, publishers have enormous limitations in what they can publish. Nevertheless, try to see the reason for the rejection and if it makes sense to you work it out in your manuscript. Always seek to improve your writing. There is no end to that process.
Write for the sake of writing. If you get published fine, if not just continue writing. Let me tell you a secret, my friend, getting published is a huge distraction from writing.
ML: You run writing workshops occasionally. Tell us more about that.
AH: Over the course of a 5-session workshop, I discuss crafting a piece of fiction: “How to create characters who breathe on the page,” “The art of writing dialogue,” “Plot is the thing: Suspense and conflict,” “Point of View” and “Setting.” I distribute five short stories to the participants prior to the beginning of the workshop. During each session, participants are encouraged to read the text and analyze one element mainly. After that, members will be asked to read their own work out loud and get constructive feedback from peers. This way the workshops help the writers build skills from session to session. I will probably have some more workshops in the fall or winter. Your readers can check my website for updated information. http://www.avahoma.com
ML: What are you working on now?
AH: I am currently working on the manuscript for a novel called Hush. Hush is a novel told from multiple points of view that captures both the life of a nation at large and that of a family in detail. Hush shows the ordeal of the Kurds in both Iran and Iraq as well as the 2009 post-presidential election crisis in Iran. This novel shows both sides of the story that consist of hope and horror, solidarity and betrayal, pain and strength.
ML: Is there anything that you want Iranian communities, in the diaspora or elsewhere, to get from your writing?
AH: I think habitualization is human’s enemy and saviour at the same time. It’s the reason we can survive even extremely tough situations and it is the reason we internalize injustice. I want all my readers and not just my fellow country people to re-think some already established ideas such as gender roles, the role religion plays in everyday life, etc. I also think we need circles of healing. After years of living under tyrannical regimes, economic instability and all forms of oppression, we need to get together, tell tales, support and understand each other, get rid of our internal “windigo” and recover.
ML: What advice do you have for writers out there who are having difficulties with their writing, or who have yet to see their work in print, or who are afraid to perform their poetry?
AH: It’s unfortunate that being published and recognized is mistaken for being a great writer. I have seen more under-appreciated talents than I’ve seen worthwhile “big names.” Write for your soul and for the beauty of writing. Everything else is just noise. If you are true, honest and patient with your talent, you’ll finally get what you deserve.
ML: Are there any other comments that you’d like to share about your writing, the writing process and getting published?
AH: Thanks to you May Lui and to Black Coffee Poet! I wish you and your audience tons of happiness.
May Lui is a Toronto-based writer who is mixed-race, anti-racist, feminist and an all-around troublemaker. She blogs at maysie.ca, ranting and raving at any and all injustices and uses the f-bomb regularly. She’s been published in the Toronto Star, Fireweed Magazine, Siren Magazine, in the anthology With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn, at section15.ca and rabble.ca. Contact her firstname.lastname@example.org
Tune in to Black Coffee Poet Friday August 5, 2011 for a video of Ava Homa reading from her book “Echoes from the Other Land”.