You have worked in various employment fields over the years. What lead you to be a writer?
I’ve always enjoyed writing even as a child writing diaries and short stories. My mother still treasures long letters that I wrote when I traveled to teach knitting in an orphanage in the Nilgiri Hills of southern India after leaving high school.
I shared my adventures overseas with friends and family who often told me to write a book about them. Most importantly, I wanted my children to know some of the stories about my life before I became a mom.
Your book is based on some of your life experiences. Like others, I was shocked at a young woman traveling somewhere without lodging. Would you still do this today? How would you feel if your children wanted to do this?
I can’t imagine doing it today as so much has changed in the world since the late 1980s, early 1990s when I traveled extensively even alone to Australia and Hong Kong. Back then, taking a gap year between high school and college was not only popular but encouraged. I spent my gap year in India although I didn’t go to college at that point but joined the Foreign Office on my return. For the last month of my gap year, I backpacked around India following my Lonely Planet travel book’s advice to find lodging and met other backpackers from all corners of the world.
Would I want my children to travel like I did? Definitely not. Nowadays the world is a far more dangerous place. However, I hope my children do some independent traveling outside of the USA perhaps to Australia or South America as I believe it’s important to broaden their minds but there will be far more research and planning involved than when I took off with just a trusty travel book tucked under my arm.
Since the book is based on some of your life experiences, were any of the sections painful or hard to share with the world?
Yes. I had a difficult relationship with my father starting in my teenage years through to when he passed in 1996. Our relationship was emotionally distant because he was such a stoic disciplinarian. Elizabeth’s relationship with her father somewhat mirrors mine. I never fully grieved him but through the process of writing my book I found I could. As I am now a parent of teenagers, I can understand much more clearly how much he loved me and was proud of me even though I didn’t see it at the time.
How long did it take you to write Gazelle in the Shadows?
It took a total of three years. The first year I created a visual story arc on a corkboard piecing together stories of my life with a fictional thread that weaves it all together. This helped tremendously as I wrote the chapters and researched my facts. I didn’t edit until I finished the entire book which took about another year. In the final stage, I sent my draft to an English editor as I decided to use British English as opposed to American English and I received feedback from various Beta readers. It underwent a few redrafts until it was ready to publish.
I read on your website that you are writing another book on Elizabeth. When do you expect to be finished? Can you give me a brief synopsis on the plot?
I haven’t started my second book yet as I’m still busy marketing the current one but I have the story in my head. I hope to start this year but I don’t know how long it would take to finish yet.
It will have elements of my life when I lived in Dubai. I met my husband in Dubai 20 years ago while he was on active duty in the US Navy. He is glad to hear that he will be in my second book but I haven’t told him that he may be a treacherous character.
Briefly, Elizabeth, a newly recruited MI6 agent, will be working as an executive PA for a British CEO of a Dubai shipping company which has come to the attention of MI6 because of its dealings with Iran.
Familiar adversaries from “Gazelle in the Shadows” stand in her way to finding the truth, threatening her life and the lives of many others.
When you are not busy writing, what do you like to do for fun?
I am an animal lover and have spent many years fostering and volunteering for animal rescue groups. I also worked as a professional dog walker and pet sitter while I was writing my book. I love being outdoors whether gardening, walking or camping with my family and our three dogs and cat.
You spent a great deal of time in the Middle East. Do you miss it or do you get a chance to go back and visit?
I haven’t gone back to the Middle East since leaving Dubai in 1998 and arriving in America. I have traveled to many Arab countries some of which I would like to visit again like Dubai, Egypt or Jordan. I would love to go back to Dubai with my family and visit places where my husband and I courted each other.
I would be too distraught to see Yemen or Syria, even if I could visit, because of the ongoing ravages of war. Going back to your previous question (3), the book brought up fond memories of the Syrian people who were so kind to me like my neighbors, teachers and local storekeepers where I regularly did my grocery shopping. But it pains me now because I often wonder where they are and even whether they and their families are alive.
You have traveled to various countries for your studies and your career. What has been the most interesting place you have ever worked? What has been the most interesting place you have traveled for pleasure?
It is hard to choose one place for either question because so many countries have been interesting to me in unique ways. I’ve been fortunate to travel to 40 countries but still Syria stands out as one of my favorites for both work and pleasure. I traveled extensively throughout the country visiting many historical sites, many of which now have to be rebuilt; the ancient excavations in Dura Europos, the magnificent Roman amphitheater in Bosra, the castles of Palmyra and Krak des Chevaliers and the monastery of St. Thecla in Maalula where the ancient language of Aramaic is spoken.
Stephen King once said “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write. Simple as that.” Do you agree? If so, tell me what you enjoy reading?
I partially agree with that. I believe that it’s important to read to enrich your creative abilities but when I’m in my writing mode, I rarely get a chance to read much for pleasure. The best time for me to enjoy my reading is on vacation when I like to immerse myself for hours with a book while relaxing on a beach or amidst a mountain landscape.
I have a varied taste for books from historical fiction to psychological or spy thrillers. I also greatly enjoy non-fiction books and articles on subjects like mental health and current affairs. I enjoy anything written by Philippa Gregory. I loved “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins, “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio and Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl Who Played with Fire”.
Do you have any advice for aspiring Authors?
In regards to process of writing the book, what worked for me was being accountable to my content editor on a weekly basis. Knowing he was expecting some work spurred me on to write something no matter how small. Also as a visual learner, I found that creating a storyboard plotting the chapters was a great help before I began to write.
I hope aspiring authors are aware of the work that takes place after the book is published. I didn’t realise until I had published that an author is very much like an aspiring actor in Los Angeles. Being in the mix of thousands of newly published authors, it takes tremendous focus and dedication to believe in your work and keep promoting it. Gathering a great, professional team around you, like I’m fortunate to have, is very important.