Tuesday, October 14, 2008

CUTTING LOOSE - by Nadine Dajani

My guest on the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour today is Nadine Dajani, born in Beirut, Lebanon to Palestinian parents, and raised in Montreal, a writer who taps upon her multicultural heritage in her fiction. She is the the author of the new novel, Cutting Loose...

Meet three women who are as different as could be—at least that’s what they think—and the men who’ve turned their lives upside down as their paths collide in sizzling, sexy Miami. . . .

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 SuĂ©ltate 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…

“Dajani spins a tale of three women and their individual journeys to find happiness. Through strong writing and distinctive characters, readers are drawn into their lives, their loves, and their internal struggles. Dajani wraps it up nicely in the end, leaving us with a delectable tale that is hard to put down” – Romantic Times

“Engrossing” – Publishers Weekly

As an adult Nadine moved to the Cayman Islands to pursue a career in offshore banking. She has yet to see her “golden parachute,” but was able to reap the rewards of Caribbean relocation by island-hopping to nearby Cuba, Jamaica, Honduras and Miami.

Nadine’s travel articles have been published in Atmosphere magazine. Cutting Loose is her second novel.

Nadine stopped by to answer a few questions about the writing life and to give some advice, not the least of which is stop worrying about those fonts!

Who are the top three writers who have influenced your writing style?

I blame Sophie Kinsella (AKA Madeleine Wickham) for introducing me to chick lit, and the notion that a young female writer may actually have an audience. Even though our styles are very different (no one does ebullient, quirky, and lovable characters like Kinsella) but it’s because of Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding that we now have a resurgent market for female-centric books that portray young, realistic versions of women, and that’s what I want to write. Like chick lit in general, my writing is starting to veer away from the whimsical and more towards the realistic, and I think that trend will only intensify with these new economic times we find ourselves in… it’ll be harder to justify designer name-dropping when most of your audience now shops at Wal-Mart, and not just for tube socks and light bulbs!

Another writer I admire very much is Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, a very angry, very political, very Latina writer who manages to have hilarious sex scenes, plenty of fashion and pop culture, and happy endings in her books along with the political and social commentary. She’s like the Tom Wolfe of Latina chick lit. She also fights the label “Latina” and embraces it in equal parts – there’s no doubt there are lots of themes particular to the Hispanic community in the States, that doesn’t mean only Latinas should be reading these books – in fact, the opposite is true – just like foreign films, books about cultural pockets in our world are vital for everyone to read since they present a more complete version of the reality on the ground.

Finally, Marian Keyes is wonderful for her voice and the depth of her characters, not to mention plots that start out fun and fluffy yet hold a much deeper – usually gritty – theme at the core.

What are you reading now?

My reading tastes are pretty varied, and I do love my political commentary and non-fiction. I started The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby and it’s a little dry so far, unfortunately, but I’m determined to get through this hefty tome since it covers a topic that weight heavily on my mind, especially in light of Sarah Palin’s strategy… when did Americans shift from electing people who should know a lot more about foreign policy, diplomacy, economics, and the differences between the three branches of government, to electing people they’d like to have a beer with?

The other one I’m trying to get through is The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, which is a brilliant concept: instead of watching the character make a choice at the beginning of the novel and then see where that choice takes her, we are presented with two alternate universes, each the consequence of Irina having chosen to go ahead and cheat on her common-law husband, or how things would have unfolded if she’d resisted…The writing is very elegant – I find myself rereading passages just to soak up the words and the full meaning – but so far it’s a little slow, as you might expect out of a novel where there’s two sets of every chapter!

What is the elevator pitch for Cutting Loose?

Ranya Hayek, of ex-Middle-Eastern royalty is cut off from the family reserves when she runs out on her gay (but otherwise perfect) husband and is reduced to begging for a job when luck brings her face to face with a studly Miami mogul (who she’d otherwise be cruising if she weren’t too broke and desperate to care. And still married…) Will Ranya make it in this strange city with a Latina editor out to get her, a roommate nursing a twenty-year-old grudge, and a womanizer (who just happens to be the boss’s brother) set to make her his next victim? Or possibly… his wife?? Throw in some political commentary, and brace yourself for a wild ride!

What is your writing schedule like?

Extremely erratic! Isn’t that terrible? For any writers starting out – please do not take this as license to be erratic… it is NOT the best way to work. Unfortunately, I find that if I don’t get in a ton of “thinking time” up front and don’t work out the characters’ issues from the get go, it’s difficult for me to start. But once I have a few “Ah Ha!” moments under my belt, I get started and zip through the first draft. If I start earlier than I feel comfortable starting, I end up throwing out most of what I’ve written at the beginning. So to answer your question – a whole lot of daydreaming for many months, then a few hours a night to get the broad strokes down, and then cramming as I would for an exam – getting 4 or 5 thousand words out in one sitting, wherever I can squeeze in the time, usually right after work and doe many hours in a row! It’s a harrowing schedule, but so far it’s worked for me.

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?

It’s not a “connections” game, like so many people assume. It’s actually much more democratic than that. It’s about honing your craft by reading a lot, writing enough so that it doesn’t feel like pulling teeth anymore, and staying true to your voice and your sensibilities. I’ve been to lots of RWA conferences by now and it always amazes me how newbie writers are so focused on things like font, margins, length of manuscript… it makes me feel bad for the poor editors who have to answer these questions over and over again every year! And I always walk away with the sense that so many beginning writers are missing the big picture… write a book that you yourself would love to discover in a bookstore, and devour in the course of one weekend. Are the characters interesting, or likeable enough you’d want t be their best friend, or funny enough that even though they’re nasty you’d stay with them the length of the story just to hear what they’ll say next? Is the plot logical and believable? Are you ending chapters with cliffhangers that will keep readers glued to the pages? Fortunately there’s no one way to do this (otherwise all books would sound the same!), but the flip side of this is that there’s no one answer to how writers write. It’s a long, messy process of self-reflection and indulgence, and the deeper you dig as a writer, re-examining your own choices in life and figuring out what the real issues at stake are, the more your writing will resonate. And that’s what you should be worrying about… not fonts.

Find out more about Nadine and Cutting Loose at her Web site.

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