Friday, July 5, 2019

#59 Inside the Emotion of Fiction "THE ALLSPICE BATH" by Sonia Saikaley

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****Sonia Saikaley’s THE ALLSPICE BATH is #59 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? My new novel is entitled “The Allspice Bath”. I had originally called it “Maza of Memories”, maza representing my Middle Eastern heritage because the first draft was a series of the protagonist’s memories and the small plates of maza that are often served before a main course signified this collection of memories. However, things evolved as I worked on various drafts of this story and in the end “The Allspice Bath” was a better title for the novel. Keeping in line with a Middle East connection, allspice is perfect because this spice is often used in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Fiction genre?  Ex science fiction, short story, fantasy novella, romance, drama, crime, plays, flash fiction, historical, comedy, movie script, screenplay, etc.  And how many pages long? “The Allspice Bath” can fall under the following categories: contemporary women’s fiction; family life; literary fiction and Middle Eastern Studies. The novel is 309 pages.

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no.   If yes, what publisher and what publication date? My novel was recently launched in Toronto. It was a lovely gathering celebrating new books by women. I was thrilled to share my work with the enthusiastic and supportive audience and it was an honour to read alongside such talented writers such as Harriet Bernstein, Arianna Dagnino, Valentina Gal, Vivian Meyer and Giovanna Riccio.
     My publisher is Inanna Publications. https://www.
They are a fabulous publisher and I would encourage other writers to check out their submission guidelines. Inanna produces beautiful and thought-provoking books.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I began writing this novel a few years after I graduated from university which was around 1997 and completed the first draft within a year but then I rewrote it many times and had the final draft completed around 2006-2007. 
For several years, I had submitted the manuscript to publishers and agents but everyone kept saying ‘no’ to the novel and eventually I stopped submitting and set the manuscript aside. Almost twenty years later after beginning “The Allspice Bath”, I attended the Toronto launch of my poetry collection “A Samurai’s Pink House” and met the amazing Editor-in-Chief Luciana Ricciutelli of Inanna Publications. She asked me if I had any other manuscripts for her to consider. “The Allspice Bath” was sent to her shortly after that meeting and to my delight Luciana loved the story. So for those who have a dream that hasn’t yet been realized, keep at it because you never know when you’ll find those people who will equally believe in your dream. 

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail.  And can you please include a photo? I am not the type of writer who writes well in public settings such as cafés or libraries. I love people watching so I get easily distracted. For the first draft of “The Allspice Bath”, I did most of my writing in bed, either sitting up or lying down. I had hurt my back and for a couple of months the only comfortable way to write was on my back with pillows propping up my head. I raised my knees and rested my Hilroy coil notebook against my thighs while I wrote longhand. I wrote in bed (Right) sort of like the way the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (Below) painted in bed. The entire first draft of “The Allspice Bath” was completed longhand. When I was feeling better, I typed the draft on my computer while at the same time rewriting the novel.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? As noted above, I wrote the first draft of this novel using a pen and many notebooks. I wrote around a day job and the care I gave my ailing father. I wrote in silence with the exception of the voices of my family and the birds that would sing in the early morning hours. In a way, the writing of this novel was therapeutic and helped me come to terms with the sorrow I was feeling during my father’s illness and after he died.  
What is the summary of this specific fiction work? Crisscrossing between Ottawa, Toronto and Lebanon, “The Allspice Bath” is a story about the cultural gap and the immigrant experience. Told from the perspective of a remarkable young woman, the reader experiences a journey of possibilities, healing and forgiveness. Spices are scattered throughout the novel as the reader dips pita bread in olive oil, celebrates, belly-dances and smells herbs on the pages of this tale of tradition and the weight children of immigrants sometimes bear while trying to find a balance between the old and new worlds. Adele, the protagonist, searches for her identity while living in two cultures. She falters many times but she’s tough, smart and compassionate. Yet the question remains: can she find her freedom without losing part of herself in the process?
Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? In the below excerpt, Adele is now in Lebanon. She has travelled there with her family. In this scene, she is in Beirut with Elias, a man whom she’s starting to develop feelings for. While they are in Beirut, a street bomb explodes and this is the first time Adele has ever witnessed such horror. Shock overwhelms her then tremendous pain as she observes a wounded woman and child. Elias holds Adele while she tries to come to terms with what she has just witnessed.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.
     She swallowed and watched the fire dying down with the tide of water spurting from the emergency crews’ hoses, embers burning on the streets. She had never experienced any of the violence in the Middle East firsthand, though she had witnessed it many times on Canadian broadcasts, and read about it over and over in the world information section of newspapers.
       The noon sun rose above the haze and cries. She suddenly became aware of how hot it was. Beads of sweat trickled down her ribcage. The intense sunlight made her raise her hands to her eyes, protecting her pupils from the brightness.
       Some distance away, she saw a woman on her knees clutching a child. The boy jerked a few times, then remained still in his mother’s arms. Blood was on the woman’s hands and on her son’s face. She pulled him tight to her chest, her wails drowning out the sirens. Adele hated the light that now hit these victims. She saw the torn look on the woman’s face—her eyelids swollen, cheeks disfigured by shards of flying glass—and Adele cried out at the stranger’s grief, and her loss. She turned away, stepped back from the noise, the sun. Burying her face in Elias’s hard chest, she felt him stroking her head as she wept. (Page 214)

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? I found this excerpt emotional to write because the death of a child is such a tremendous and painful loss. I was also grieving the loss of my own father and could empathize with the character of the grieving mother. While writing this scene, I could feel myself tearing up and the physical signs of grief overwhelmed me to the point that I had to take deep breaths while creating the scene. The scene stuck in my mind for days after writing it and still sticks in my mind when I think about this novel.
Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. I can’t recall any deletions from this excerpt and, unfortunately, I no longer have my marked-up rough drafts.

Other works you have published? I have published a novella called “The Lebanese Dishwasher” and two poetry collections entitled “Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter” and “A Samurai’s Pink House”.

Anything you would like to add? It took a long time for this novel to enter the world but with hard work and perseverance and the support of some amazing people in my life, Adele’s story is now out there and I hope it resonates with many readers. I am so grateful to my readers and thank them for their support. And thank you, Chris, for reaching out to me to participate in this exchange. The work you do helps writers introduce their books to a wider audience. Thank you, merci, shukran!

Sonia Saikaley was born and raised in Ottawa, Canada to a large Lebanese family. The daughter of a shopkeeper, she had access to all the treats she wanted. Her first book, “The Lebanese Dishwasher”, co-won the 2012 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest. Her first collection of poetry, “Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter”, was published in 2012 and a second collection, “A Samurai’s Pink House”, was published in 2017 by Inanna Publications. She is currently working on a novel called “Jasmine Season on Hamra Street”. A graduate of the Humber School for Writers, she lives in her hometown of Ottawa. In the past, she worked as an English teacher in Japan.


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