Saturday, March 23, 2013

Expert Reviews of my contest entry

Here are the complete reviews posted by judges on my private account in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest about my book, Shadows of Damascus. I hope it gives you a better idea about the book.

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

It didn't waste any time showing the root of Adam's struggles. The war scene was very vivid. PTSD is a very real problem and more needs to be written about it.

I also felt Adam's sense of disorientation even 5 years later when he was home.

What aspect needs the most work?

Fadi's accent seemed a little ridiculous with the b's instead of p's. I'm sure that's the way it really is but it didn't read well.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

The idea is very timely. The excerpt gave the background information quite nicely. It made me want to know more about Adam and his struggles. My curiosity was piques about Yasmeen and how she will cope.

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

Oh my, what action and suspense in this excerpt! My eyes were transfixed in fear as I read this at a faster-than-normal pace. What better way to start off a story than with a graphic combat scene? Even the Arabic accent seems real, as Arabs can not pronounce the /p/ sound and instead use the /b/ sound. There is suspense and thrill all throughout the plot as is given here, and the pitch promises even more.

What aspect needs the most work?

Stylistical there's nothing that needs work that I can tell. I truly like this story. My question is more factual. In Chapter 2 the protagonist is back in his hometown of Platteville, Wisconsin. He had planted an orange and a lemon tree in his mother's back yard. I don't think citrus trees can even thrive in such a cold climate as that found in Wisconsin. These trees are very sensitive to frost and prolonged cold.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

Based on the pitch, the real plot hasn't started yet. All we get is the setting and some motive. There is a love story here, a theme of redemption and gratefulness, all which haven't been introduced yet. What is presented in the excerpt promises to give the story some heart-pounding thrills, based on real events that are happening in Syria right now. The author has succeeded in introducing political suspense into this story that many who have seen action in Iraq (like I have) can appreciate and relate to. This story should appeal to a wide generation of readers.

Friday, March 15, 2013


I've learned that my book Shadows of Damascus has passed through the second round of eliminations in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Out of the original 10,000 entries down to 500 at this stage, Shadows of Damascus one of them. The book is a fictional novel about current events taking place in Syria. I'm excited, hopeful and delighted.

Mid April, another round of eliminations will take place and the semi-finalists will be announced. I pray to be one of them. The prize is a publishing contract so the book might actually see the light. Judges are basing their reviews on four criteria:

Overall strength of excerpt - Prose/style - Plot/hook - Originality of idea.

You can check out an excerpt of the book on under my name. You'd be able to download an excerpt and leave a review if you're an Amazon member. Here's the link:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


As an adult, I’ve made many decisions in my life that taxed my nerves and my resolve. I’ve let go of a few convictions and adopted others, realized certain biases that stuck to my skin like dirt and tried to shake them off, made mental decisions to take specific stances, crossed my heart with promises to let go of lies and strive for truths.
No different than any other person, I’ve journeyed through the growing years discovering things about myself, some I liked, many I embraced with a grain of salt, and many more I resisted to acknowledge, struggled to change, and then had to shamefully accept and try to control.

When I worked with domestic abuse victims, I repeated a sentence many times to the clients who’d been through Hell and back with their abusive partners, and still expected their relationships to improve.

No one changes his or her nature.

In my clients’ eyes, there was the expectation that something foreign triggered the abuser into action. Most victims believed they were that foreign element. If only they could change whatever trait they had that caused the abusive treatment, their lives would be better.  Very few, and I think they were the lucky ones, realized that it’s inherent in the abuser’s nature to treat them that way.

But he’s taken the anger management course.
But he’s been going to therapy.
But he changed jobs, and he’s no longer stressed.
But he’s promised to keep taking his medication this time.
But his parents are out of our lives now.
But he loves me.

I know many therapists, counselors and reformed abusers would have a fit with what I stated. But I truly believe that no one can change his or her nature. That’s what I tried to drill into my clients, the ones who listened, anyway. The ones who didn’t, and kept going back to their partners after each trial to break away, asked for help again and again. Sometimes, it took them months, sometimes years, and unfortunately most of the times, way too late.

Examining my own struggles to improve the kind of person I am, I see how difficult it is to shed an undesirable trait, whatever that may be. It takes determination, with all the inner strength I can muster. If I take telling lies, as an example of such a trait, I’d have to be constantly aware of what comes out of my mouth, my mind fact checking all the time, my conscience awake and alert (and yes, my conscience takes long naps sometimes.)

For abusers, it should be logical to let go of a behavior that causes harm to the people they supposedly love, shouldn’t it? But it’s not logical. And it’s not easy. It’s not something that can be handled with outside forces, a disease that can be treated with pills or therapy. Abusive behavior is a lifestyle choice. It’s a conviction, a belief by the abuser that he has the right and the power to dominate. Like a religious persuasion, an unwavering faith that needs to be shaken from the core to be able to adjust it. But first, he’d have to make the decision to accept his behavior as his own manufactured product. Accept it, and then try to modify it.

I’ve had many clients with success stories, moving on in life and finding a measure of fulfillment. Many clients remained stuck in their own bubbles, not for lack of trying, but for lack of understanding the roots of the issue. Those are the ones that wake up my conscience when it falls to sleep, exhausted, frustrated and sometimes defeated.

So, if you are in an abusive relationship, get out. Don’t wait. Don’t cling to a hope that will never materialize. He will not change.

If you know someone who’s being abused, help her break away. If you can’t do it yourself, do the research on her behalf. Find out about Women centers and organizations in her area and give her the information. If you can’t do that, tell her she deserves better, that she’s worth more in everyone’s eyes but his. Empower her.

If you know an abuser, do something about it. Don’t have a drink with him and laugh at his jokes, wincing internally at your helplessness. Tell him. Confront him. Better yet, smack him around for once and see how he likes it. Look him in the eye and show him what kind of man he is. If you can’t do that, then for God’s sake, find someone who can.

Lilas Taha is a novelist, winner of the 2017 International Book Awards  and is the author of Shadows of Damascus and Bitter Almonds.