Thursday, January 30, 2014

Shadows of Damascus on USA Today

I'm excited to let you know that Shadows of Damascus was featured on USA Today HEA Site on 1/27/2014. Here's the link if you want to check it out, and scroll down to the Romantic Suspense list. Nothing Sweeter than newer contemporary romances USA Today

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Making Generalizations

I first published this post on 10/19/2012.  Since that day, a development happened linked to that specific incident in the post, and I thought to share it now.

So many times, I wished I could turn back the clock and revisit a situation I didn’t feel comfortable with, armed with more courage and just the right “come backs.” This was one of those situations. Once you read it, you will most likely figure out why I’m doing this.


When I was a teenager   just a few years back   I was hooked on a French television show that keeps popping in my head every now and then. Each episode showed M’sieur BuĆhar, a man in his forties, having to endure the presence of annoying characters in everyday situations. He consistently handled stressful scenarios by imagining ways to “off” the annoying person in front of him, a defense mechanism that almost everyone I know uses at some point in their lives. I know I have, many times. My favorite method? Instantaneous combustion, visualizing the offending person in front of me suddenly burst into flames, and vanishing from my personal space.

M’sieur BuĆhar blew up his boss, drowned his mother-in-law, shaved his wife’s head, stuck a gun in the mouth of the salesman who sold him a crappy car, slit the throat of a boring monotonous lecturer, knocked out a policeman before he issued him a traffic ticket. You get the point? He did that all in his head, with a smile on his face. Sometimes, when I have to suffer a situation beyond my control, I close my eyes, summon M’sieur BuĆhar behind my eyelids and let my imagination run wild.

A few days ago, I didn’t just imagine M’sieur BuĆhar; I wanted to be M’sieur BuĆhar, extending a hand to repeatedly slap the extremely pompous person talking to me. Speaking condescendingly, making assumptions about my life without asking a single question first, judging my thought process before hearing the reasons behind it, brushing away any comment I was able to articulate as unimportant. Simply, insulting. I could have spit out something to put her in her place, or simply walked away after giving her a “drop dead” kind-of-look. But I couldn’t. This person held something in her hands. I needed it back, unscathed, untarnished, and pure. A project, my dream project. So I pasted a smile on my face, nodded my head like the patient person I was trying to be, looked her straight in the eye and called M’sieur BuĆhar to the conference room.

He stormed in, kneeled behind her back and fumbled with something at the foot of her chair. Gradually, this woman started dropping inch-by-inch until only her neck and head remained visible above the table surface. She kept talking, and I found myself looking down at her. M’sieur BuĆhar’s face popped from behind, wiggled his eyebrows at me, and then left the room. The meeting was over, I got back what I needed, and left.

Do you have a M’sieur BuĆhar to come to your rescue? I bet everyone does.

You probably figured out the dream project I needed back was the manuscript to my book, Shadows of Damascus, and the woman I had an interview with was a literary agent I pitched to in a writers conference. I was naive, inexperienced, and thought I had a good book prospect in my hands. I also thought that decent agents would most likely tear my work apart (notice the stress on the word work) to point out why they are rejecting it. I did not expect the verbal attack on my person from someone I have never met before, though I’ve been subjected to many forms of it in my line of work with domestic abuse victims. But this was a professional person, in a professional setting.

That meeting stayed with me for a long, long time. I talked about it to fellow authors, and found almost every one of them had a similar demeaning experience. It didn’t help alleviate the sting much. No one should have that kind of power over me. Over the years, I have experienced racial discrimination, religious intolerance, criminal hatred from abusers for advocating on behalf of my clients, harassed for being an outspoken woman, and on occasion, shut out from certain circles for not being outspoken enough. By far, my experiences are not unique; too many have been subjected to worse. But this was the first time a complete stranger found a way to shake my core the way this agent did.

Ironically, those same experiences taught me how to persevere, how to pick up the crumbles of my pride and move forward again. And I charged! Not running away from what happened, but running toward my goal. Shadows of Damascus is a published book now (by Soul Mate Publishing, NY).

If anyone tells me I should be thankful to that agent for giving me a kick, I will scream. I wasn’t sitting on my bum, twiddling my fingers and needed for her to kick me into action. I was working hard, very, very hard on getting my manuscript into the right hands. What gave me the strongest boost was my strong relationship with the people who believed in me: my family, my editor at SMP, and fellow writers. My writers’ community has the most generous and genuine professional people I have ever met. They help each other, exchange contacts and opportunities, and channel information with ease and without strings attached or expectations. I don’t think there is a professional atmosphere that lacks personal competitiveness, at least not in most cultures. But I found that writers in general want to see each other succeed. Perhaps they were all kicked down at one point in their careers, and the memory is just too profound to brush aside, keeping them grounded and helpful. I certainly hope I get the chance to help another writer reach his or her goal someday.

For full disclosure, I belong to the Houston writers Guild . I met wonderful, supportive, and talented people there. I also had the opportunity to get to know fellow authors on line all over the world, including Soul Mate Publishing Authors. Making generalizations is something I try to avoid, but I will make an exception on this one. Every writer, author, and poet I met has been a tremendous asset to my professional and personal life. And for that, I am thankful.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Social Media Indigestion

So I established a Facebook Author page
and a Facebook book page
and an Author profile on Amazon Amazon Author
and a Goodreads author profile
in addition to my Twitter account @LilasTaha
and LinkedIn account
and my website
Oh! And this blog site.

Now, I am all exhausted. All I want is to write!

When I was a student, I coauthored a paper titled "Starving at the Banquet" with my mentor professor Barrette Caldwell in January 1993  publication  Interpersonal Computing & Technology Journal. The scope of the paper was mainly technical in the field of Safety Engineering, but it touched on the social effects of electronic media presence. At the time, the social media explosion had not happened yet. No Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or any of the many venues that keep us glued to our computers and smartphones or tablets. Our research discussed phone calls, emails, typed notes, and face-to-face interactions in the work place. I will not delve into the methodology and findings, but I can tell you the ultimate conclusion when it comes to the best way of conveying vital information content: Face-to-face meetings.

I wonder if this still holds true today, if we take in the "new" forms of communication in the electronic field. I need to do some "googling" as there must be lots of research done on this matter once I have some down time.

From my experience so far, from the minute I landed the publishing contract to launching the book, to this very morning, I have not stopped spinning my wheels on the social media engines. I'm exhausted, and really, all I want to do is finish my second book and find an agent for it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Breaking Boundaries

I'm honored to have been invited by the American Civil Liberties Union to be their guest of honor at the Planned Parenthood luncheon gala on January 22. Shadows of Damascus is grabbing attention.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Chatting with Author Chris Hernandez

Now that my book is published, and part of my dream came true, it’s time to bring down the jubilation and reflect on my writing journey. 

For over two years, I have struggled with this task, fumbled with prose and did away with most adjectives, swallowed my pride in face of honest critique - brutal at times, and somewhat isolated myself professionally and socially to get to this point. I relied heavily on the unwavering support of my family and friends, and the genuine feedback from fellow writers. Among them, author Chris Hernandez, who allowed me to dig deeper into the mindset of an American veteran. Despite the fact that we don’t agree on many issues, and are actually at opposite ends on some, we shared a common ground when it came to writing.

Chris Hernandez’s books are military fiction, and although that’s not usually my cup-of-tea when it comes to choosing a book to read, I learned a lot from his first novel Proof of Our Resolve, and had the opportunity to read ahead of time his recently released novel Line in the Valley. Chris’s books shed a light on the world of war I am not familiar with, or let’s say the world across the isle to the side I know. I had the chance to chat with Chris about his new book release and his writing.

Please introduce us to Chris Hernandez, the author: Background and a little history.

I’m a husband, daddy, granddaddy, former Marine and U.S. Army combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m also an almost 20 year cop. I’ve got no degrees and no formal writing training. When I was in Afghanistan I got an idea for a story, and once I started writing it I was obsessed with finishing it. That story has now turned into three novels. Proof of Our Resolve was the first part, Line in the Valley is actually part 3, but has been published second. 

Give us a short synopsis or a blurb about Line In The Valley.

Line In The Valley is about a battle on the Texas border. Unknown attackers take over eight small towns, infantry sergeant Jerry Nunez and his soldiers are ordered to take one of the towns back. And everything goes wrong. Nunez and his men find themselves in a worse situation than any of them ever imagined.

Line In The Valley is your second published novel. Why did you write this story? And in your heart, how does it compare to your first novel Proof Of Our Resolve?

I wrote this story to answer a question: what’s the worst thing a soldier can face in combat? And I came up with an idea. It was inspired by the no-win wars we’ve fought since 9/11, and the endless moral quagmires they generate. Proof is very close to my heart because it so closely mirrors my wartime experience, but Line In The Valley is a better book.

How would you describe your journey into the publishing world?

Oh, geez. In a word? Frustration, anger, determination, fury, resignation, compulsion, and finally, limited success. I pitched to many agents at conferences, sent queries, and kept looking into literary agencies. I had several close calls with success, but nothing worked out. Then one day I was watching Fox News with my wife, and Tactical16 CEO Erik Shaw was being interviewed about their search for veteran writers. I immediately looked them up and sent an email. Less than a month later I had a contract for Proof. I still tried to get LITV published through the mainstream literary world, but a conversation at my last writers conference convinced me it’s not even worth trying. A very honest agent talked to me about LITV, told me it sounded extremely interesting and that he’d love to read it, but he was sure his agency wouldn’t be interested. Because literary agencies are looking for stories that appeal to the average book buyer: a liberal, educated woman. My subject matter wasn’t right for the target audience.
At a conference I met an agent who expressed a lot of interest in my story and background, praised my writing sample, gave me their personal email addresses, asked for my full manuscript, promised they’d be in touch as soon as possible, and then I never heard from them again. I had another agent tell me the dialogue in LITV was wrong; cops and soldiers don’t talk like that. I’m a longtime street cop, a two-time war vet, and this agent tells me I don’t know how cop and soldiers talk. She also told me to remove the entire first third of the story. Another agent told me LITV was too unrealistic, and that I should make Jerry Nunez more like James Bond. Because James Bond is such a realistic character.
After that, I quit wasting time with the publishing industry. If I have any success, it will come from independent publishers like Tactical16, and word of mouth. 

What advice can you give a writer who wants to get his or her work published?

If they just want to get published, write about zombies, vampires, young adult fantasy or a combination of all three. Or self-publish. But if they have principles, if they have a story in their heart that they want to stay true to, then they need to dig in and prepare for a long, painful road. Give up any stupid fantasies about overnight success, go to critique circles, go to conferences, get as many test readers as possible, and dedicate years to getting it right. And even then, there’s no guarantee of success.

How do you handle negative criticism, feedback and peer critique?

I welcome all of it. For a short time after I started writing, I had the “my writing is great and if you don’t think so then you’re wrong” attitude, which I think most new writers have. Fortunately, I’m a pretty humble guy, so that attitude didn’t last long. Plenty of peer readers, volunteer test readers and critique circle members have torn my writing apart, and I’ve made lots of changes based on their (and your) feedback. I’ve had some criticism I didn’t agree with, but when I see four out of five readers saying the same thing, they’re right and I’m wrong. I’ve also had some great critique from my blog readers, and my stories are better because of everyone who has taken the time to help me become a better writer. Thanks to all of them, and to you.

Thank you, Chris for sharing your thoughts.

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

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Shadows of Damascus is released!

My debut novel Shadows of Damascus is now available on Amazon. This is a very exciting time for a new author.

Check it out on this Amazon link:

Monday, January 13, 2014

Two More Days!

Two more days for the electronic book release of Shadows of Damascus on Amazon, two more days for the complete story of Adam and Yasmeen to be told.

He leaned his body back onto the counter, lowered his head, and talked to the floor. “Do you know why your brother sent you to me?”
“Because you owe him your life and he asked for payback.”
“Two of us were wounded and trapped in a house in Iraq. We both owe him our lives, but he chose me to protect you.”
“We have gone through this before.”
“Do you know why?”
“He told me I would be safe with you and I trust him, but I have no idea why you in particular.”

Shadows of Damascus to be released January 15, 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Recently, I was asked this question.

What better source of writing material than observing life’s vibrant cycles? Children are a great source of undiluted behavioral material.

When my son was four years old, he said something that floored me and prompted me to write something around his unforgettable words. Strapped in his car seat on the way home, after I dropped off my then six year old daughter at school, he said in his limited vocabulary:

I remember when I was big, and I crossed the street and a car hit me.  I turned into a butterfly and flew up in the sky.

Where did that come from? To this day, I have no idea. It could have been a TV cartoon show or a story book that prompted that image in his head, though I am aware of none. If I believed in reincarnation, I could have found a place for his words in my mind, could have accepted them and filed them as old soul memories. But I don’t have that belief, and I don’t subscribe to that school of thought. Hence, if I Believed in Reincarnation short piece found a place on paper, and eventually on my blog.

Dreams are another source of inspiration for me. I tend to remember many details about my dreams, and though bizarre like every dream there is, they filter through to my writing. I like to think they add flavor, seasoning, to the details of a story. In my book Shadows of Damascus, I included a couple of dreams I had before I started writing the book. I used one for the female character, Yasmeen, with slight variations, and another for the male character, Adam. Both fit nicely in the plot and I think both deepened the characters.