Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Syrian Dreams (Part 2)

LeAnne Hardy: Last week author Kati Woronka told us about getting to know the female Syrian university students whose lives she describes in Dreams in the Medina. (See the end of this blog for details on how to enter to win a free e-copy.)

Kati, how do you find time to write in your busy schedule as a university lecturer and qualitative researcher?

KW: This is a big challenge for me, one I am constantly trying to negotiate in my life. Dreams in the Medina was a six year project, and I had a few breaks in between jobs to work on it, so I'm struggling to find time to write now. As I think is true for most writers, though, I don't just write to produce something. I write as a way of processing life and keeping myself sane. So the motivation to keep writing is pretty big!

LH: Did you know when you began Dreams in the Medina how it would end, or did that come to you later?

KW: Roughly. I started off writing two or three chapters, most of which has now been deleted from the final product. Then, at the recommendation of an experienced editor, I drafted a synopsis, outlining the story for the entire book. Some details changed as the character's lives took shape, but most of the plot followed the storyline I set out in the original synopsis.

LH: What was the hardest part of writing a book like this?

KW: Writing a first draft of the book was not difficult. I had a lot of pent-up story inside of me that flowed out easily. What was difficult was revision, knowing that a first draft is never a final draft, but feeling unsure of what to change. I enlisted the assistance of several editors and was actually frustrated when they didn't recommend significant changes. I knew the book wasn't perfect but couldn't figure out quite what to change. So it took quite a few revisions until I felt I had the feedback I needed.

LH: So much is going on in Syria today. Do you know if your friends are all right?

KW: Sadly, I have lost touch with most of my friends from the days I lived in the Medina. Back then, cell phones were almost unheard-of, Facebook was banned, Arabic script was not available on most computers, and hardly anyone I knew had an email address. So when we graduated, we each went our separate ways. Facebook has helped me find a handful of my old university friends, but there are many others whom I have been unable to contact. Every few months, I spend a day or two looking again, because I do worry and wonder.

The friends with whom I have maintained contact are all still alive and well, though not a single one has stayed living in her home. Some have moved to other places in Syria, but most have fled the country and are now living as refugees. At least they and their loved ones are alive. Not only that, but I thank God that none of my friends' brothers are fighting in the war; instead they are committed to peaceful living and non-violence. But it scares me to think what might have happened to the friends about whom I have no news, and their families.

LH: How do you see storytelling contributing to future peace in Syria?

KW: When I lived in Syria, it was a peaceful and hospitable country. Often, Syrian friends and I look at each other and shake our heads. This is not the Syria we know. But almost three years into a violent conflict, there are countless broken relationships. How will people ever learn to live together in mutual respect and dignity, if they don't hear each other's stories? Stories remind us that people are human, and that behind every act there is a deeper story. Today I hear stories of how a woman witnessed the brutal execution of her two sons and, out of her anger, became a sniper. I hear stories of young men fleeing the country, leaving the rest of their families behind in a war zone, because if they stay they will be recruited into the army or a militia. I hear stories of Christians providing safe haven to Muslims and vice-versa. I believe that sharing such stories will be a means by which Syrians learn to some day rebuild their society in peace and hope. But the right stories need to be told, stories that promote understanding and reconciliation, not stories that promote hatred.

LH: Stories are so important for understanding other people. And as you say, they must be the right stories. Kati, what can we expect from you in the future as a writer?

KW: I maintain a blog called "CulturTwined". Although I don't update regularly, the purpose is to celebrate diversity and unique encounters between people who are different from each other. And I have recently started working on a new novel about Syrian women. Leila and her friends are all grown up now, and each is experiencing the breakdown of the country that she loves in different ways. This book will explore the response of Syrian women in these hard times.

LH: Thank you for sharing with us, Kati. I, for one, will really look forward to your next book and the insights your intimate knowledge of the situation bring to us.

Kati is offering a free e-book to a reader who comments on this blog. As usual this contest is void where prohibited by law. The odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Results will be announced, Sunday, February 2.

LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her fiction reflects her faith, her passion for storytelling that stretches the mind and the cultures she has lived in. Learn more at www.leannehardy.net .


  1. haha, I feel a little like I'm cheating the system by commenting twice, but in re-reading the end of Part 1, it said "comment both weeks" to increase my chances of winning. :-) So my comment this time is more about your writing in general -- I can't imagine the patience and excitement it must take to plan and draft out a book like this. Somehow it also seems extra exciting when you have to write under a pseudonym. ;-) Plus I have huge admiration for authors who whole-heartedly take on a task about writing about a different culture. It is far more challenging to write believable fiction about a culture that's not one's own. Suddenly little things that make the characters "not American" become really important to show, and yet the challenge of just casually just having things in the background without the characters being out of character and pointing them out... Ok, clearly I am not an author myself, and I don't think I'm explaining myself very well, but it's a challenge that I've always wondered about. Looking forward to reading your book and learning a lot about Syrian culture, regardless of whether I win a copy or buy my own or get it from a library. :-)

    ~Erika Hazelton

    1. Hi Erika, thanks for your comments! They are very interesting and insightful. I have been traveling the world my whole life, so maybe that helps fuel my desire to write about different cultures. Because I was so thoroughly immersed in Syrian life for so long, it felt like a very natural thing to write about - I personally think I'd struggle to write about life in America, not having lived on that side of the world for many years now! So I'd be very curious to hear what you think of the way culture is portrayed in Dreams in the Medina.

  2. Kati, I can only guess how you must feel about your friends caught up in that cruel war. Wondering what has happened to all those you can't contact would be sad. Just keep praying for them. God can make beauty come from ashes. We can't truly understand what these dear folk are going through..

    Yes, please keep up your story telling.

    ritagal at optusnet dot com dot au

    1. Thanks Rita. Yes it is hard. But strangely enough, I feel privileged. I feel privileged that I don't have to watch this destruction from the sidelines, but instead am finding ways to stay involved - even if it is, as you say, just praying for friends who may or may not still be alive.

  3. However did I miss the first part of this interview? I try to check this blog regularly. What a fascinating story your book must tell. I'm off to look for a copy now. Thank you for your persistence and transparency, Kati.

    1. Hi Judith,

      Here's the link for the first half of the interview! I really appreciate your kind words here.


  4. Thanks LeAnne, and so interesting, Kati.
    Our daughter works with refugees from many countries, and as a family, we are touched by the plight of those affected by war and hardship, having experienced just a little of it ourselves.
    Blessings as you continue to write your stories.

    mcleedu at gmail dot com

    1. Hi Mandy, I've been thinking recently about refugees again, and the feeling of frustration, impatience, and desperation that so many feel. Your daughter does some very important work, and I'm sure it means so much to many people that you are supportive together as a family!

  5. Thanks so much for your post. Your book sounds incredible Kati. I love what you said about how stories remind us that we are human and behind every act there is a deeper story. That is so important when our world is so full of seemingly inexplicable acts. thanks for the reminder to look closer and dig deeper.

    1. Thank you Linsey! I hope I never forget the looking-closer and digging-deeper... that's where the soul dwells.