Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Get the Scoop on...Shaila Abdullah

All this month, Shaila Abdullah and her new novel Saffron Dreams have been touring the blogosphere. Her latest work revolves around a Muslim woman and her search for identity after 9/11 when she also loses her husband. Check out my review here. Find out more about Shaila here. I am grateful to have Shaila come to my blog today and answer a few questions. I hope you all find it as interesting as I did!


Cecilia, thanks for having me on your blog. Your teaser and giveaway has attracted a lot of attention and I have been following it closely.

1) Several of my readers have shared their whereabouts on 9/11. Can you share with us what you were doing when you first heard the news?
9/11 was a very surreal day for me. I was at work when a few friends mentioned that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We huddled in a room where there was a TV and witnessed the second plane hit the second tower. There were tears, a sense of disbelief and realization that our lives were forever changed. Over the next few days and months, I came to the conclusion that we as Muslims in the U.S. will never be looked at the same way again. That somehow we were guilty by association. It made me examine the lives of ordinary Muslims around me a bit more closely who were angry at the attacks, their hearts bleeding for the citizens of their adopted land.

2) What inspired you to write a story about a Muslim woman's life after 9/11 after the loss of her husband?
Saffron Dreams explores the tragedy of 9/11 from the perspective of a Muslim widow in an attempt to capture how ordinary Muslims were affected by that event - the silent majority who lead very normal lives and are law-abiding citizens of this land. They are the ones we never hear about because their lives are too ordinary to be the subject of the nightly news. In the terrorist attack of 9/11, the shards of glass reached far and wide wounding the minds of Americans who had been very accepting of the melting pot their country had become. The event put them at odds with a community that had come to this country with very simple objectives: to work hard and lead honest lives. Saffron Dreams is the story of basic human desire to be accepted in society, no matter what your background, ethnicity, or race.

3) How much does your main character Arissa reflect your own life and personality?
The novel is not autobiographical, although there are many similarities between the character and I. We are both writers and artists and had arranged marriages. The character's challenges are many and greater. In the novel, the veil-wearing protagonist frequently encounters challenges about her faith and is forced to make some adjustments in her life to ward off the negative attention brought on by wearing symbols of her faith.

4) In your book, there is the statement: "Our flaws are what makes us unique." How do your flaws define your life? What advice do you have for those who consider their flaws in a negative light?
I think of every shortcoming as an opportunity to succeed in life. Our flaws make us more human, more memorable in some way. Think back to third grade: do you remember the quiet girl who sat at the back of the class and never answered questions or the rowdy, energetic boy with a big mole on his nose who disrupted the class often? Our shortcomings - physical, social, emotional, even moral - are given to us in life as advancement opportunities. The key is how we deal with them once we accept them.

5) When they first meet, Faizan (Arissa's future husband) tells her that she is not the sort to read "sad books." What sort of books do you prefer and recommend?
Contrary to the character, I love reading and even writing tragic stories. I think it's the sadist in me that is sometimes quite merciless to her characters. My author friends find this fact fascinating. Some come to me for advice when their character need a reality check. We have to remember that life is not easy, and if we want to develop characters based on reali life, they need to fail every now and then. A Fine Balance was one of my favorite books. It does not end on a happy note and most all characters fail. Despite that, I loved the richness of the author's writing and the colorful characters with all their flaws and failures.

6) What is the significance of the phrase "saffron dreams"? Have you experienced such a dream?
Saffron Dreams is sprinkled with symbolism. Saffron is a rare and exotic spice derived from the stigmas of the saffron flower and is used in popular Pakistani desserts for its color and distinct flavor. In the novel it is used symbolically to represent the extraordinary encounters and experiences in life. Since the novel revolves around Arissa's unusual plan of fulfilling her dead husband's wish, I decided to call the book Saffron Dreams. We all dream in big ways or small. I guess I am one of those rare individuals who had all her dreams realized in this lifetime. At present, I am looking for a new dream to go after and embrace.

7) I find the cover extremely fascinating and beautiful! Can you tell us how it came about? Also, there are faint patterns on the woman's arms - is that how the printing turned out, or are those deliberately placed there for a reason?
I deeply appreciate the fact that Modern History Press took into consideration my desire to design the book cover for Saffron Dreams. The cover shows a woman with her face half hidden by her arms. The faint marks on her arms are the variables in her life that are beyond her control, dictated by light, shade, and patterns around her that shape her appearance. In the novel, the protagonist struggles with her personal appearance and identity after the event of 9/11 and the cover is an attempt to convey that.

8) Does Arissa's story end here? What sort of future do you foresee for Arissa and her son Raian?
Arissa's story ends on the last page of Saffron Dreams. The future of the mother and child in my mind is a blissful one, punctuated by mini struggles.

9) What is your next project?
I am currently considering two projects: one is a novel about street children of Pakistan, a book that the protagonist is shown working on in Saffron Dreams and another is a young adult novel about a Pakistani teen torn between her passion for dancing and keeping the family business alive.


A big THANK YOU to Shaila for taking part of this Q&A and providing such great insight about Saffron Dreams!

Visit for a wealth of information including reading guide, excerpt, reviews, book video, and buying information.

Email comments and questions to shailaabdullah(at) If you mention The Epic Rat, you will receive a free e-book called A Taste of Saffron containing recipes of dishes mentioned in Saffron Dreams.

Readers who sign up here for updates will get a free excerpt of Shaila's 2005 book Beyond The Cayenne Wall.


Giveaway reminder!
Thanks to Pump Up Your Book Virtual Blog Tour, I am hosting Shaila Abdullah later this month for Saffron Dreams which is about a Muslim woman living in a post-9/11 America. In lieu of this as well as Women's History Month, I will be giving away my copy of Saffron Dreams at the end of March.

Leave a comment here on what books you prefer and your email address if you would like to enter.

For extra entries and giveaway rules, go here

Saffron Dreams Blog Tour Participants
* = review; & = guest post/Q&A; $ = giveaway
The Plot& | BC Books& | The Home Sweet Home Writing Challenge for Authors& | The Book Connection*& | As The Pages Turn& | Rebecca's Reads*& | The Book Stacks& | A Garden Carried In The Pocket | Literay Safari*& | The Writer's Life& | divine caroline& | 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews* | Paperback Writer& | The Book Rack | Marta's Meanderings | S. Krishna's Books | Book Publication Secrets of Authors& | The Book Czar* | The Book Tiger | Fiction Scribe | the epic rat*&$


  1. Great interview! I look forward to reading this book.

  2. You won an award from me! :D

  3. Great Interview!

    Come stop by our site. We have something for you!


  4. Wonderful interview! It's the kind of interview that if a review didn't convince you to read a book, the interview will.

  5. stacybuckeye: Thanks, I hope you get a chance to read it! :)

    Yan & JYTBB: Thank you for the awards! :) I am really thrilled because you both rock far better than I do!

    lilly: Awesomest! (I know, not a word.) Does that mean you might try it sooner than later? ;)

  6. Fantastic interview. This book is now a must have for me!!!

  7. Great interview... I can't wait to read the book.



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