What Are You Working On?
I've been impassioned with this story for twenty years. It has been the most challenging book I've ever worked on and I came close to giving up several times but somehow managed to push through. I'm glad I persisted because it has been enormously gratifying.
I was doing research for my first book Harem: The World Behind the Veil when I came across the story. I was so drawn to it that I almost abandoned everything else I was writing in order to concentrate on it. It would not leave me and kept coming back and I kept researching and coming across additional information that made it more and more mysterious and fascinating. It was like going through a gallery of mirrors without reaching an end.
I believe that each book requires a special way of telling it. I began in third person, omniscent narrator, but somehow it did not feel right. I finally had a breakthough that it had to be told as a "confessional novel" with a first-person voice. Maybe even several narrators. This once-popular genre has gone underground for some time but I like resurrecting old conventions -- for example, the gothic novel, or the fable -- but with a twist that indicates the writer is playing.
The greatest challenge has been taking a real incident based on real lives of people and turning it into a novel. I am such a research junky and get so lost in research that I might have overdone it and knew too much about the real people. What began to happen -- something that often happens with fiction -- is that the story claimed a life of its own. I could not do it because I would be veering away from the truth. I realized that it is a very restrictive form because you cannot let your imagination go wild and do what it wants to do. The two forces seemed to be at war with each other and I was becoming the casualty.
It wasn't until I had written the novel that I decided to disregard many of the facts (I was attached to some incidents but they did not move the story forward). So it was the challenge of brutally cutting those out and letting the craft shape the rest. The book that came out is absolutely a surprise because the novel has won the wrestling match.
I hope to finish in two months. I'm in a slightly different situation than most American writers because I have a double identity; I am also a Turkish writer. Although I write everything in English and my work gets translated into many languages, I already have a contract in Turkey since my books have been greatly successful there. I have prospects here also, though it is not a mainstream American story. But it is about some recent high-profile issues like literary hoaxes and plagarism (e.g. James Frey or JT Leroy -- coincidentally, Savannah Knoop, the woman who played JT LeRoy in public appearances, is a member of a writing group I lead).
New York Times review of Harem (Jun. 11, 1989)
See more What Are You Working On? interviews.
published 20 Mar 06 on Too Beautiful. email copyright 2006 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco