Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Live Chat

I will be chatting live on Coffee Time Romance about SHADOWS OF DAMASCUS plot and character creation today March 24th at 9:00 pm Eastern time.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Essence-capturing review of Shadows of Damascus

SHADOWS OF DAMASCUS received this review recently on Amazon that really captured what I intended in the book:

"I finished reading Lilas Taha's novel "Shadows of Damascus" and did not want it to end! It took me back to the Middle East, to the sights, sounds, aromas, people and to the sad realities, and then transplanted me back to the US on an emotional journey with many dizzying resonances. The author created believable and charming characters and managed to portray so well the hurdles that Jasmine and Adam had to go through with all their human flaws and differences: differences that go beyond those of a Syrian woman and an American man, but on to the nuanced relationship between the Middle East and the United States. She ends her novel without really ending it, for the story, like the relationship between the US and the ME has not ended yet. A lovely novel that leaves us hungering to know more about Jasmine and Adam's journey, as well as that of the US and the sad and torn Middle East."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Character Creation

When I seriously considered writing a book, I knew that in any story, characters have to become alive, invoke emotions, reactions, and thoughts from readers. Whether the character is the main one in the story, or secondary in a subplot, it doesn’t matter. All the actions and dialogue coming out of the character have to be convincing. 

With Shadows of Damascus, I had a general idea of who the characters were, and how they interacted with each other. Developing the specifics of how they went about their daily lives, their views of the world they lived in, and their convictions became my true challenge.

It is important to pin that down to create a character that readers could connect to, if not personally, then to someone they know. Real people, with quirks and shortcomings, weaknesses and strengths, dreams and aspirations, successes and failures. Even if the plot doesn’t call for all the details, writing them in brings the character closer to the surface, to be understood, accepted or rejected, despised or fevered, whatever the reaction from the reader maybe, a reaction nonetheless. I found as I developed my characters, they pushed me to a different angle, a different scene or a new problem that wasn’t in the plot to begin with. This approach may not work with all genres, and every writer has his or her method.

It was also very important to pin down the physical image of the character. I’m one who doesn’t cut out pictures from magazines and stick them to a board or in a sketchbook to help with images, though I think that is an effective way to go about it. I’m one who keeps everything in my head, which may explain the lost look I sport around when I’m developing a scene. I got in the habit of observing people. Wherever I am, I take in details: facial expressions, hair styles and colors, manicured fingernails, scruffy beards, the way a tall man walks, how a plump lady tries to cross her legs, the small gestures between couples they try to hide in public, yet fail. To me, it’s more than hair and eye color, skin tone and body structure. It’s more about how the characters carry themselves, and most importantly, what they try to conceal.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Born on Christmas Day

He was born on this day. 
Seventy-seven years ago. 

Christmas day was always a day of celebration in my house: A day to give thanks for the gift of my father’s birth, a day to wrap presents and cook special meals, a day to bake black forest cake with cherries. We used to say the whole world celebrated his birth, and I always believed it.

There will be no celebration this year. No pictures taken by the fireplace. No hugs. No kisses. No shrimp in garlic sauce for dinner, no sweet potatoes, no almonds covered in dark chocolate with green tea. No returns the following day for the sweaters that didn’t fit, or the pants that where too long.

Six months have passed since he left us, and he keeps visiting me in my dreams on a daily basis. Does my subconscious refuse his passing? Of course it does! Do I cry out of the blue sometimes? No doubt I do! Does the belief that he is in a better place make it easier? No, it does not!

There will be silence in my house this year. Prayers and reflections, memories told and old pictures shared. There will be fasting, too.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Keeping Austin Weird

Copies of SHADOWS OF DAMASCUS hit the shelves at the leading independent book store in Texas: BookPeople bookstore in Austin.It is available in 3 sections of the store: General Fiction, Romance Fiction, and Local Author Fiction.

My contribution to Keep Austin Weird!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Writing Fiction

Writing fiction requires not just an active imagination, but also a decent ability to tell a lie. Lie with conviction, with complete abandonment of the truth, and create a web to support the fabrication. A fictional story has to be complete, in all its angles, worlds, twists and turns for it to resonate with a reader. As a writer, I would advise other writers to believe the lie themselves. Live the lie if need be, and keep learning.

No matter how good a writer may be, there is always room for improvement. And if someone were gracious enough to point out shortcomings, that would be the chance to open up and accept. I am not saying all criticism is valid, but I have come across excellent writers who get offended when someone shines a light on a weak point in their work. In the writing world, and specifically in the publishing world, there is very little room for ego. A writer can always reject or accept suggestions, but a writer who wastes time and energy defending his or her work to a critiquing eye is someone who will remain at a standstill.

Make it better, bring it home for the person who found it lacking in one area or another during the editing process, and be grateful someone took the time to give you feedback. But above all, trust your instinct. Like anything else we do in life, we tend to have that nagging voice in our heads telling us when something just isn’t right. If it is a plot issue, and you feel the strings are not knotted tight enough, someone will pick up on that. So do your research, tighten the knots yourself, and make the plot as plausible as possible. If that little voice in your head raises questions about a certain character’s behavior that is not consistent with the kind of person you created, fix it. Characters don’t have to be predictable and consistent. Real people are not. But if you took the time to paint a character in a meaningful way, then his or her behavior must match. Redo the scene that bothers you deep down, it will bother your reader too.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Book Signing

I will be discussing and signing copies of my book Shadows of Damascus at the River Oaks Bookstore in Houston, TX on Saturday November 15 from 4-6 pm.