The books shown on the left are by Homa Pourasgari. Click on the cover to order.

Chris Phillips did this interview with
author Homa Pourasgari on November 23, 2009.

Homa, how much of this book is autobiographical?

None of it is autobiographical. It�s all
fiction based on imagination, 3 years of research and facts. But I do have a strong background on the Middle-Eastern culture since I�m Iranian, have observed many unfortunate situations in my lifetime and have a deep understanding of how the Middle-East views the world around them.

Why did you choose the medium of a good romance novel to advocate for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia and other countries under its influence?

As you say, romance is the medium but the book itself isn�t a �romance novel.� It�s a mystery with romance incorporated in the story to make it more interesting and fun to read. The reason for the romance is that love is part of life and people often lose all logic and sanity when they fall for someone. The realists may disagree with me but then again the realists never fully experience the joy and pain of love the way the romantic does.

The second reason for incorporating romance was to create tension. In countries where religion is the rule of law, segregation of sexes often leads to violation of human rights. The one who commits adultery is decapitated, stoned to death or jailed. If a man and a woman flirt they may get flogged. A woman who has had premarital sex is considered tainted and thus undesirable.

Many nonfictions books have been written about lack of human rights in Saudi Arabia but not everyone reads them. I wanted to capture the attention of those who don�t enjoy reading nonfiction and at the same time do something different instead of following the status quo.

In the forward it mentions a previous book, since I am not familiar with it, could you briefly outline what that was about?

My first book was a romantic fiction. Again, not a �romance novel� but a �Romantic fiction.� In a romance novel, an entire book is devoted to a relationship between two people with little content. My book titled �Lemon Curd� was about the issues men and women face in today�s society � putting in an obscene amount of time in a career, having difficulties balancing work and family life and often finding it tough to make time for a relationship.

So much has changed since the 50s. Women are getting married much later in life and hold high positions in corporations. Way back when, people could make it on one income and the wife took care of the home and the kids while the dad went off to work and worked shorter hours. Today, most couples have to work to make ends meet and are often exhausted by the end of the day to spend time with each other and with their children.

The background in Lemon Curd is international with emphasis on current events. I wanted to write a book that would represent our time period. I was hoping if someone would pick up Lemon curd a hundred years from now, he or she would say, �Oh, this is how people used to live at the turn of the millennium.�

What are you working on now?

I�m working on a novel about what has contributed to the decline of the US economy, the fall of the dollar, unemployment, the destruction of the small businesses, the corruption in our government and the downward spiral of the middle-class. Of course it�s all fiction ;-)

I advocate separating the Romance novel from the political and social change agenda and making advocacy a separate book, have you considered that?

I appreciate your suggestion but No. Like I said, there are too many books written that way and I have never followed the status quo. I want to write meaningful fiction. I�d like readers to be both entertained and at the same time learn about the world around them. That�s just my style. I realize the critics will have a hard time liking my projects but I�m okay with that because when I write, I throw away all the rule books. And as far as the romance in a novel goes, it�s all part of life. In real life, we don�t separate love and romance from other aspects of our lives, so why should it be so in a novel? It wouldn�t make sense.

If a reader were interested in helping with your agenda on Human Rights, what would you recommend they do?

I highly recommend joining organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. They often send petitions right into your email box and it�s much better to work together as a team in order to make changes than to go at it alone. There are those who believe that charity starts at home and that�s alright as well. ACLU in United States, for example, focuses on internal policies that affect human rights. Either way, it�s really important to get involved. None of us can truly be free when others are enslaved. Another great idea is if readers are involved in social media such as facebook or twitter, they should post links to human rights abuse and petitions. We all need to spread the word and let our governments know that we are well aware of what�s happening and do not approve. Change happens through awareness and not by shutting our eyes and pretending that we live in utopia.

What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

There were actually two major difficulties I faced while writing this book. One was weaving the facts into fiction and making sure the reader can feel what it�s like to live in a country with little freedom. The second was getting inside the head of my female characters, Dawn and Sahar. I really had to place myself in their minds in order to feel their despair and so for a few months I was really depressed because I had become them!

Is there anyone in particular who influenced you?

There was no one person but a collection of people and circumstances. My English tutor in the US taught me how to write and pushed me to work hard. My French instructors in Paris always encouraged me to work on essays because they enjoyed reading them. And then of course there was Iran, the country where I was born. I grew up there before my teenage years. Education and gaining knowledge through reading was a crucial aspect of our culture. Also, everyone took naps in the afternoons. At noon, many people would come home from work, rest a few hours, then get back to work until the evening. Like most children, I hated to sleep, but my mom didn�t want me disturbing my father. So while he slept, I sat in his home office and read the collection of books he had bought me. Fascinated by the stories, I would often write one of my own.

What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a writer?

You need to have thick skin and believe in your work when no one else does. It is easier to conform and become a bestseller but much harder to hang on to one�s individuality and write for the love of the art. Those who write for the love of the art and not for the �business� of writing are the ones who will make their marks in history.

Do you have anything specific you would like to say to the readers?

One is to encourage your children and family to read, be it quality newspapers, magazines or books. Television and movies are fine but when we read, we learn to use our imagination instead of depending on the imagination of someone else to bring art to life. Two, buying books labeled as �Best Seller� or because the cover is nice does not necessarily make it a good book. There are many bestsellers that are actually great books and there are many terrible ones that make it because of heavy marketing. And three, readers oftentimes only read books about their own culture and country but I feel that it�s important to step outside of one�s world and find out what�s happening elsewhere.

Thank you, Chris for this interview. I really enjoyed answering your thoughtful questions.