I am very pleased to welcome author, Sahar Abdulaziz, to The Writing Life.
Abdulaziz strikes again. Her characters are the gal and guy next-door, masked in smiles, yet cloaked in secrecy. She challenges topics of family and marital discord, and the need for emotional survival. She skillfully lures the reader into her stories without being extensively graphic or sensationalistic with hard-hitting, uncomfortable subject matter. Fascinating glimpses into her characters’ internal talk that not only engage the reader, but challenges them to question the status quo, identify the issues as they truly present, all while exposing human frailties, and stripping away the forced facades and ambiguity. Abdulaziz traces the triumphs and tragedies of families torn apart by decades of betrayal, familial domestic violence, and sexual abuse. She also explores the human desire and need for renewal, closure and finally healing.
Sahar Abdulaziz graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology before going on to earn her master’s degree in health and wellness promotion and administration. She holds a Certification as a Domestic Violence Counselor/Advocate as well as in community health. She uses her writing platform and voice to advocate for the underrepresented, the disenfranchised and/or maligned. Her multidimensional characters have been described as having “substance and soul”.
Author of The Broken Half, as well as the recently published novel, As One Door Closes, Abdulaziz again demonstrates that those who have suffered abuse are not victims, but survivors.
What is your book’s genre/category?
The Broken Half falls under the genre/category of contemporary fiction.
Please describe what the story/book is about.
The Broken Half is the story of a young American Muslim woman, Zahra, whose marriage from the very start has been anything but peaceful. When faced with the difficult and dangerous choice to either stay in her abusive marriage or leave, Zahra soon realizes that each step she takes towards freedom is riddled with risky and uncertain repercussions, making her feel trapped and vulnerable. Danger within the marriage continues to escalate, and the clock is ticking. Zahra knows she is running out of both options and time.
This story traces the triumphs and tragedies of how families can be torn apart by domestic violence, and sexual abuse, as well as the human desire and need for renewal, closure and finally healing.
How did you come up with the title?
Often we will hear someone introduce their partner as their, “better half”, but in this story, my character’s marriage is severely damaged, hence the term – the broken half.
The question is, can the relationship between Zahra and her husband be fixed? And if so, at what cost, or is there nothing left worth fixing making escape the only answer? I felt that for many women facing domestic violence and abuse within the confines of their homes and marriages, the title, ‘The Broken Half’ would resonate.
The title, The Broken Half was also used to illustrate how domestic violence and sexual assault are not limited to one isolated punch or slap, but often manifested in a series of convoluted life conditions that are permitted to exist through apathy. The title is also a stark reminder of how critical a functional family core is to the individual as well as to the community at large, and how quickly both can unravel if these conditions are not adequately addressed.
What is the reason you wrote this book?
I wanted to use my writing platform to advocate for the underrepresented, the disenfranchised and/or maligned, especially to help others clearly understand exactly how someone—anyone, given the right circumstances and vulnerability—can be held captive emotionally, physically, spiritually, and even financially by an abuser. I wanted this story to dispel many myths and stereotypes concerning domestic violence and sexual assault. At the same time, I wanted to illustrate precisely how, “Just leaving” isn’t always a readily available option or resolution.
Again, although the story is fictional, The Broken Half sets out to realistically and candidly challenge topics of family and marital discord, the false perceptions of domestic violence and sexual abuse within a marriage, and bring to light the need for emotional survival.
What is your favorite part of writing?
I run the gamut of emotions when preparing to write. I think for me, the most agonizing aspect of writing is that period of time right after I finish writing a book, and just before starting on the next unknown project. It’s the ‘unknown’ that drives me, and the people who live with me insane. However, once I figure out what my next story will be about, I become energized, animated, and ready to jump in full force. The realization that I know exactly what I want to write about has got to be my most favorite part of writing -beyond thrilling. Mapping out how the story will start and finish in my head [and in my $1.99 lined notebook] becomes electrifying. New characters are born, their nuances are threaded into their personalities, and the real work begins.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
I have found that there is a fine line between being explicitly sensationalistic for the sake of shocking your audience and realistically describing an event that by its very nature is appalling and uncomfortable. When writing my books, because of the complicated and often uncomfortable topics, I try to lure the reader into the story without becoming extensively graphic while still providing hard-hitting, and sometimes difficult subject matter.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I enjoy many different genres of reading, much like I enjoy various types of food. Singling out any one specific or a few specific names feels impossible, so I guess by genre I would have to say I really enjoy the work of Mitch Albom, whose inspirational and faithful stories have always held special meaning and solace for me.
Janet Evanovich’s contemporary mysteries, which feature her highly entertaining character Stephanie Plum, the failed lingerie clerk turned Trenton, NJ bounty hunter is ridiculously comical. I cried tears filled with unbridled hilarity while reading her series. Evanovich nailed it.
In terms of classics, I am a super big murder mystery fan, or what I like to refer to as, ‘polite murders’ so all of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot’s detective books are mega-big favorites of mine. And, of course, without a doubt, all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s, Sherlock Holmes mystery novels are all-time favorites as well.
J.K. Rowling, Harlan Coben, Christina Baker Kline, Anthony Doerr, Erik Larson, Liane Moriarty, David McCullough, and Gillian Flynn are only a few of the artist/authors I deeply respect and admire for their skills.
What is your favorite place to write?
I do most of my most dazzling work while at airports while waiting for my flights to board. For some strange reason, I have the uncanny aptitude to zone out the world around me and focus on my writing voice the best as I sit in loud, bustling, and terribly intrusive atmospheres.
I believe my mind-numbing training came from mothering my six children. I found that while raising my brood, if I had any intention of getting any cohesive brainwork done, I had to learn how to block out the lunacy and foolishness that I lovingly call my family. Now my compromised brain simply doesn’t know how to handle too much normalcy and quiet.
Could you share something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I have Crohn’s Disease. It’s a debilitating, painful and incredibly intrusive chronic illness associated with inflammation of the digestive tract. Because of the severity of my disease, I am often unable to physically leave the house, often too weak or in pain. Thank goodness as an author/writer, I can work from home.
Unable to sit at my desk for extended periods of time, I wrote most of my first book, But You LOOK Just Fine in bed. There I was propped up with pillows, sipping hot tea, herb bag on a distended belly, surrounded by research, and tapping away on my laptop. Fun times.
Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?
The Broken Half is my fourth book and in all honestly, I am still at a loss when it comes to the publishing process. There is so much to learn and explore. I found that with each new book, there have been also new approaches that had to be implemented. Within each new project, goals naturally had to be transformed and tailored to meet those required changes and expectations. Unfortunately, with change also comes the ever-widening potential for unsuspecting errors to occur, so I have found that staying focused, determined, and committed become highly advantageous. Large pots of tea, and ample supplies of chocolate, as well as an account with Netflix, are also compulsory.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?
The biggest thing I think I did right with The Broken Half was in making sure that I honored all of my characters, including the antagonist by allowing their individual back-story to bring depth and empathy to their plight as well as to their actions and choices.
I did this because I firmly believe that it is important to remember- no one does anything in this life without prior experiences or because they lived safely tucked away inside a bubble. Therefore, it became necessary to make sure each one of my characters exhibited both nuance and history. This in turn helped to highlight where their individual motivation, rationale, and choices came from.
I also tried to include many facts about domestic violence and sexual assault without necessarily preaching or info-dumping- (I hope!) My intent was to stay as realistic to the content and platform of the story as fiction would allow.
Any advice for writers looking to get published?
I am going to sound like a redundant, broken record here, but my advice is to read. Read everything. –AND DON’T limit yourself to one particular genre just because you prefer to write in that style.
Kick your assumptions and opinions to the curb. Open up your mind to the richness of other authors’ works. I read everything from magazines, cookbooks, novels, blogs, the backs of cereal boxes, and telephone books. You name it -I read it.
Become a serious people watcher- not stalker- but a watcher. Observe, absorb, learn, listen, and most of all, respect. Respect the human condition that others must live and survive in so when you write your stories, no matter what you are writing about, you do so from a place of authenticity and genuineness, tempered by empathy, but never-ever dictated by apathy. Writing is a powerful tool, so use it wisely and judiciously.
Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/Sahar-Abdulaziz-MS/e/B00J9P5KNE/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
Where can we find your book?
All my books, including, But You LOOK Just Fine, As One Door Closes, The Broken Half, and my children’s novel, The Dino Flu, can be purchased on Amazon, iBooks, nook, kindle & Kindle app, B&N online.
What’s next for you, Sahar?
More writing. Booktrope Publishers is publishing a second edition of my book, As One Door Closes, this summer with a wickedly prolific new cover, and some additional tweaks inside. I’m also working hard on a new novel now. Another fiction. I am hoping to create a story that brings readers on yet another incredible journey. If possible, I would also like to write another book in the Just Fine series as well.
It has been a pleasure chatting with you at The Writing Life, Sahar. I wish you much success with your writing.
About Eleanor Parker Sapia
Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of PEN America and the Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.
A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.