Sunday, April 3, 2022

Diana Abu-Jaber

Diana Abu-Jaber is the award-winning author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, including Crescent and The Language of Baklava.

Her new novel is Fencing With the King.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

That's an interesting and tricky question for this novel. There is a literal fencing match with the king of Jordan--which the story events are leading up to. But it's also a kind of metaphor for the relationship between a monarch and their people. While the duel is only one of several climatic moments in the novel, in a sense, each of the characters is "fencing" with their own desires and fears, so I think it hits at the heart of the story.

What's in a name?

Character names are super intuitive for me. They have to not only sound right but somehow feel right. I just knew my character Gabe had to be a Gabe- sort of angelic, yet sort of casual and down to earth. And I've always loved the name Amani - it wasn't until I was deep into writing the novel that I realized how closely it echoed the name of the setting - Amman.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I would probably be pretty darn surprised. When I was younger I was very much into fairy tales, myths, magical realism, as well as language - a heightened, almost lyrical approach to writing. Over the years, I've become much more interested in story-telling, a kind of detailed, natural, clipped narration, and painting big stories on broad, real-world canvases.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Oof - both are tough! I re-wrote both my beginning and ending for Fencing With the King. But there's a kind of natural energy and momentum that can help carry a beginning - once you hit on the right one. I feel like endings have to do an awful lot of heavy-lifting -- you usually have to answer some questions but it shouldn't feel too neat or pat. Somehow it should feel satisfying, but conveying a true sense of closure can almost seem mystical and at times near-impossible for a journey of hundreds of pages.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I'm inside of all my characters - that seems almost inescapable to me. If you really want to convey layered, human characters, you can to draw on your own well of emotional layers. Some of the details and circumstances might come from real life as well, but if you do your job correctly, I think characters eventually grow themselves and their own natures -- a bit like children eventually grow their own lives, distinct from that of their parents.
Learn more about the writer and her work at Diana Abu-Jaber's website.

The Page 99 Test: Origin.

The Page 69 Test: Fencing with the King.

--Marshal Zeringue