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.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Me, Islam, and an Interview

Note to self: Don’t go out for a walk on the nature trail when every landscaping company in the area is cutting the grass. Not fun!

This morning, I was struggling with a tricky concept in chapter one of my work in progress.  And like I always do when I get mentally stuck, I go for long walks on the trail by the creek close to my house. I tried to ignore the buzzing sounds of tractors and lawn mowers by reflecting on an incident or rather an experience I had last week.

A professor, a good friend of mine who teaches a course about Gender and Islam asked me for a favor. She was struck by how many of her students never met a Muslim woman, let alone had a sustained conversation with one. She asked if I would be open to having a student interview me as part of an assignment to write an essay about both the experience and me. I thought it a great idea, an opportunity to dispel any misconceptions that might be present in the student’s mind. I’ve always advocated putting the responsibility on the shoulders of us women to dispel stereotypes, and especially us Muslim women to shatter the dark images/concepts that are shoved onto us by people who don’t know or understand Islam. 

I believe we have a role—I have a role, a duty to speak up and defend what I believe in. I abhor complaining, and I hate waiting for someone to do something, or for an event to happen and change the status quo. I believe in trying - not necessarily succeeding - to engage as much as possible in the society I live in. So I went to the interview, armed and ready.

Of course there is no way for me to know what the student wrote about me after the two-hour conversation, and that’s not what really concerned me during my walk. What I mulled over was my own reaction to the deep questions asked of how I perceive myself as a Muslim woman. Questions concerning my views on gender roles, sexuality, spirituality, practices, motherhood, work outside the home, LBGT issues, and dress code to name a few. I promised myself to be honest with the extremely polite and intellectual student, and I was taken aback by how some of my ideas and personal beliefs affected me when I articulated them. Thoughts gain a different measure of weight when spoken, a higher elevation when explained, and they open up whole worlds when they cross aisles and are received as they were meant.

I always thought of myself a deeply spiritual person. If people want to put me in a box and stick a label on it, they would probably use Liberal Muslim. I, however, try to shy away from labels when it comes to people, and being totally honest, it was not an easy road traveled to free my mind of such biases, for I harbored plenty. I am ashamed to admit a few still linger. Halfway through the interview I noticed how defensive I became, projecting my pre-perceived notion that by simply being asked those questions, I was being attacked. That was not the case at all. I forced myself to stop and switch direction. I didn’t need to be in defensive mode, a habit so hard to get rid off in the times we live in. I didn’t need to protect my beliefs and my idea of Islam. This wonderful student simply wanted to know who I am, and what I stand for, and I owed her nothing less than complete openness. I am who I am. I seek not her approval, nor reject her scorn. I believe that was the goal of the assignment, after all.


This morning, I swiped away the grass shreds flying in my face and headed home. Like those lawn mowers on the trail, I tend to push my way through situations not paying attention to the noise and chaos my approach sometimes leaves behind. From the other side of that interview table, I saw the damage I could have caused had I not dropped my shield and opened up. I only hope the student saw me with clarity.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Thursday, October 2, 2014

4 Star Review from InD'Tale Magazine

"An incredible tale of modern day romance born out of the violence in the Middle East. Readers will be pulled into this spellbinding story."

In the October 2014 issue of InD'Tale magazine, a full review is given to Shadows of Damascus with a 4 star rating.

Link to InD'Tale Magazine article

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Second Book

I am happy to announce that I signed off my second novel BITTER ALMONDS to Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. to be released in multiple languages. Possible release date is summer of 2015 in the UK and the U.S. Arabic translations will follow in the Middle East.

Furthermore, SHADOWS OF DAMASCUS will be released in print by the end of September. Paperback copies will be available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes& Noble, and Soul Mate Publishing website.

Moving forward on this writing path, I am in total awe of the whole experience so far.



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Update to Gaza Sisters Story

My family and I took a quick trip to Palestine in August. I was fortunate enough to meet with a doctor in Jerusalem, who was given permission to go into Gaza during the ceasefire that held for 5 days before the fighting resumed, and then ended with the permanent ceasefire agreement. I asked the doctor to try to find out about the Gaza sisters, Hala and Fatimah. The instant I gave her their family name, she winced and said in not so many words that the news would most likely not be good. That family was hit hard, the doctor explained.

And so, I waited. I went through the rest of my tour in Palestine and left without hearing a word from the doctor. The instant I landed in the airport coming back home, I received this very short email:


"The news is good, they had evacuated their home but they are fine and are now back in their home apparently, I got this through the coordinator who was responsible for them form PCRF."

A sigh of relief, and a quick prayer for this favorable outcome carried me through the rest of my day. And then I looked at the date: August 19st. The fighting had resumed. 

Two days later, on the morning of August 21st, I got another email from the doctor:

          "Hope we will get to see you again, the situation is Gaza is pretty dire today."

That was the last I heard. I keep waiting for more news. Nothing so far!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gaza sisters

The girl brought her head down. She swung her legs back and forth under the kitchen table and crossed her arms on the wooden surface. A single braid sat neatly in the middle of her back. A big window behind her framed her profile in the mid morning light. She looked small, too little for an eleven-year old.

Her sister sat to her left. Her head stayed upright, her legs dangled above the floor and she crossed them at the ankles. She ran her hands over her hair, tightened her ponytail, and then brought down her hands to her sides to grip the bottom cushion of her chair. Her size didn't match her age, either. She looked like she was five or six, not ten.

The girls exchanged quick glances then sat perfectly still. They were nervous. We had that in common, at least. I could not clearly see their faces from where I stood at the other end of the big kitchen. But I had seen pictures in their files and had read their psychological evaluations. I was prepared. Or so I thought.


Fatimah and Hala are burn victims from Gaza. They came to Houston for treatment sponsored by the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, or PCRF for short. PCRF is a non-political, non-profit organization dedicated to fighting the medical and humanitarian crisis facing children in the Middle East. The girls could not be treated in besieged Gaza. Doctors and surgeons had volunteered their time and expertise to provide reconstructive surgery for them in Houston. A number of wonderful volunteers were involved in the girls’ unbelievable journey. On my end, I had volunteered my family to host the girls in our house during their stay, and this was my first meeting with them. The month was October, the year 2011.

My daughter and son formed a deep relationship with Fatimah and Hala, and we all kept in touch after they returned to their family in Gaza once they finished their treatment. Now I have no idea what happened to them. I can’t get through on any of the numbers I have for their parents. Their mother was also burned in the same explosion that maimed her girls. PCRF representatives informed me they are also trying to get a hold of them, as well as the other children they helped from Gaza. No news yet.

Today, my daughter asked me about the girls. She said she felt nauseated for not being able to do anything. I had no answers for her. And the little information I could gather was not promising. 

I remember the long nights, when the girls couldn’t fall asleep no matter how hard I tried to ease their pain. I remember the way I had to shield them from people’s stares, the many times I had to set strangers straight on how they got hurt. More often than not, people would doubt my account when I mention the Israeli invasion of 2011. But once in a while, informed individuals would briefly close their eyes and mumble, “Yeah. We heard about that.”

Going back to those days, when the girls graced us with their courage, their everlasting smiles, their giggles and tears, their hopes and dreams drawn in crayons and hung on my fridge door, I gulp for air to get rid of a suffocating sensation. We helped them heal, and where are they now? Are they still alive? In what shape or form? What kind of nightmares are they having? Are they with their mother and father? Holding them when they wake up screaming during the night? If they are alive, are they able to sleep? And how many children are burned like them this time around?

I heard my daughter’s voice quiver when she asked, “Will you let me know as soon as you find out anything?” And I’m afraid of what I may have to say.

I can’t, cannot imagine what those mothers who saw their children’s bodies torn by the latest Israeli bombardment on Gaza are going through. What courage, what faith, what strength they have!

How can they go on after this horror?

How can we all?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Together We Came!

In celebration of the first annual immigrant heritage month, I am honored to be featured on the Arab American Institute website as part of their Together We came campaign. I shared my story on how I came to the States.

Here's the link: http://www.aaiusa.org/together-we-came-your-stories


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Honor!

In honor of my late father on his special Father's Day, I am offering my book Shadows of Damascus for $.99 on Amazon throughout the week.

http://www.amazon.com/Shadows-Damascus-Lilas-Taha-ebook/dp/B00HUZUG8Y

Happy Father's Day!



Monday, June 9, 2014

An Honest Review

I'd like to share this recent review Shadows of Damascus received since it is not posted on Amazon. My Devotional Thoughts Book Review

"I was especially drawn into the storyline of this book since it involves a Middle Eastern woman and an American soldier. I visited Yemen several years ago, and whenever I read about a story surrounding the Middle East, I find myself greatly intrigued and somewhat reminiscent. In light of the current crisis in Syria (as far as I know, things are still bad there), this romance was quite timely and involving. The book was a simple read in once sense, but it was highly emotional. There were no bedroom scenes, but descriptions of violence and profanity can be found throughout the book. There were times I was so disturbed by the descriptions of violence that I had to give myself a moment to digest the story. Though not for the faint of heart, many will discover a beautiful love story that will reveal things we don’t often contemplate as typical Americans.
One of my favorite parts of the book was the religious depictions within the book. Islam was praised as being a religion of peace in spite of the extremists’ horrific acts. Yasmeen was seen to be as sweet and kind as could be. Adam’s dad, however, had supposedly found God, and his behavior was nothing but hypocritical. I appreciate it when secular books point out this idiosyncratic religious dichotomy. Yes, I am a Christian, but this book reminds me that there is still a dim view of my chosen faith out in the world today. No wonder people are leaving the church in droves!
What I did not like was what I perceived as an abrupt ending. In fact, I found myself searching to make sure that I hadn’t missed a page. I would have preferred a bit more closure, but that is just my humble opinion.
I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I was not financially compensated, and all opinions are 100 percent mine."

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mourning!

And there it is    that tight squeeze in my chest, that missing breath when I first wake up, that sudden rush of adrenaline making my ears ring, igniting my disoriented brain with the new reality: My father is dead.

What do I do now? How do I get out of bed? Do I go about my day’s chores the way I always have? How could I with the weight of a planet pushing down on me, sinking my head deeper into my pillow?

Go back to sleep.
Go back to dreaming nonsense.
Go back to being unaware.

     Such is God’s Will.

Those words get me up. Words that move my feet and make me brush my teeth and put on the striped t-shirt he liked. I empty the dishwasher and clang dishes too loud, and then I pause. He doesn’t ask me to take it easy, he doesn’t complain about the noise. He doesn’t say anything anymore.

     Be strong.

Two more words carry me through my morning coffee. I use his favorite mug    the one with the Native American scene painted in bright colors, the one that will probably chip or break someday because nothing lasts forever. And where would I be then? Would I still be disjointed like this? Which mug would I use?

I don’t want to be strong, baba. I don’t want to hold it together for everyone’s sake. I want to be weak. I want to collapse and cry and scream and have to take pills to feel numb. I want this gut-wrenching feeling to pass, to go away, to leave me be.

I want to hang on to you, rub your shirt between my fingers like I used to do as a child to fall asleep. I want you to hug me back and say you would squeeze my bones out if I held on any tighter. I want to nag you to check your sugar level before you go to bed every night. 

Okay, make it one more night. Just one!

    Ask for mercy on his soul.

When did I ever stop? When every action, every thought, every breath I took was shaped by his strangely beautiful soul? Why ask God now? God is all knowing, and He must know how I feel. He is watching, listening, always.

I am a product of my father’s actions. I am an extension of his existence. I have a purpose and a road to travel. My father set the course, gave me the tools, and believed in my abilities. He loved me. He loves me still. 

Am I worth it, baba?