Sky of Red Poppies begins with a casual friendship between two schoolgirls coming of age in a politically divided 1960’s Iran under rule of the Shah. Roya, the daughter of a prominent family, is envious of the fierce independence of her religious classmate Shireen. But Shireen has secrets of her own. Together, Roya and Shireen contend with becoming the women they want to be, and in doing so, make decisions that will cause their tragic undoing. In the unraveling of family secrets, Roya begins to question how she was raised. Set against the backdrop of a nation forced to mute its profound identity, Sky of Red Poppies is a novel about culture, politics and the redeeming power of friendships.
Tell us something about yourself.
I am an Iranian-American woman whose home for the past four decades has been the US. A lifelong poet/writer, I also enjoy painting and gardening. Following decades of life in Chicago, where I taught at Northwestern dental school while practicing dentistry in Evanston, I moved to California in 2000 to be a full-time writer. My husband and I live in San Diego close to our three children. My work has won several awards, including first place in California Stories 2005 and my articles have appeared in multiple magazines.
I currently serves on the board of San Diego Writers Ink and am also a member of the Iranian-American Writers Association. My first book was published in my native language, Persian. I have another finished novel in English, The Moon Daughter, which will be released in the fall of 2011. A chapter of this novel was featured in A Year In Ink, the SDWI anthology 2009. A vignette titled Who Knew is featured in the audio release of the San Diego Dime Stories.
What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to tell the life story of a close friend and be the voice of one who would never raise hers. And I wrote it in English to broaden her audience.
How did you choose the title?
From the translation of a Persian verse: “. . . I sacrifice on your path one sky of red poppies . . .” The poppy serves as the perfect metaphor throughout the book; from its beauty, to vulnerability down to the dangers of its essence it represents my homeland and its people.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
I had no trouble finding agents, but they all had big dreams about it, and mainly presented it to the “big houses.” Considering the timing, I could no longer wait and decided on independent publishing. Readers seem to embrace this novel. It is now circling public libraries, book clubs and indie bookstores in most areas and I am happy to follow through and go where needed to promote it. Based on my records, close to 2,000 copies were sold in a matter of a few months. This has come about simply from readers’ recommendations and good reviews.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I’ve been a writer of both poetry and prose ever since I knew how to write. Writing is a vital need, I can’t imagine my life without it.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I sit down to write and at some point realize the day is gone!
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
Names need to be authentic, but they also should suit the character. I’m also mindful of readers and choose names that are easier to pronounce and/or remember.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
At the risk of repeating a cliché, I never gave up the dream. I may be yet another living proof to the fact that if you focus on your goal, you are bound to achieve it.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
I would not spend so many years doing dentistry!
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
I enjoy strong prose and learn from the masters. I also prefer fiction and among those, enjoy character-driven stories – Versus plot-driven.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I am currently doing several projects:
a. Persian translation of Sky of Red Poppies.
b. Polishing The Moon daughter, which is my next novel and it revolves around women’s issues, in particular those in the Middle East.
c. Began a new novel, but it’s too soon to describe!
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
If you commit to it, success is around the corner, however, that shouldn’t matter if you are a true writer. Write from your heart and remember this old Persian verse: “A word that rises from one heart, is bound to settle into another.”
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
Readers, who are either related to and/or close to an Iranian seem to enjoy it the most, but so far, literary book clubs have shown the most support. People show interest in the recent events in Iran and this novel may offer more than what the headlines show. My hope is to have opened a window for readers to have a glimpse into a place and time that will never be again.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
My web site is www.zoeghahremani.com I am also on Facebook and Twitter. My E-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org and I am available for talks at local libraries, indie bookstores and book clubs. The book is available on Turquoisebooks.org, Amazon.com, or readers may order it through their local bookstores. Regardless of where they obtain a copy, I hope to see their comments on Amazon!
It has been a pleasure talking to you and I thank you for giving me this chance.