A Brand New Novel
Josephine Baker, the early-20th-century African-American dancer, comic, and singer–hugely famous in Paris. Did you know that she was also a spy for the French Resistance during WWII?
Traveling to foreign countries, being on TV and the radio, it all sounds so glamorous! And it is … but it’s also very hard work.
I arrived in Stockholm at about 4 p.m., to greet my publisher Shadi Bitar of Earbooks, waiting for me bearing a sign with his own name on it (a security precaution). After a warm handshake he drove me to the Rival Hotel, a truly wonderful place (especially if you like Abba and hot baths) where publicists Camilla Silfvenius and Zandra Thuvesson waited to talk about the week ahead. Over a glass of wine we discussed “The Jewel of Medina,” which was about to debut there, security, the interviews coming up, and the debate/discussion planned for me at Kulturehuset on free speech and women’s rights in Islam.
Although they tried not to work me too hard, even giving me a day off, I’d been asked by Bjarke Larsen of Pressto, my Danish publisher, about getting over to Copenhagen for interviews to promote my sequel, “The Sword of Medina,” scheduled for publication in October. Dutifully I reported my day off — on my birthday — and he sent me a ticket. I flew over on the afternoon of Sept. 9, had a delightful birthday dinner, then on the morning of the 10th did interviews with Weekendavisen and Information, as well as a photo shoot at a local museum’s Islamic Art exhibit.
Back to Stokholm on the 10th, I walked to my hotel from the train station, enjoying the rare sunny day along with crowds of others. At the hotel, I had just enough time to shower and change before meeting Zandra and my bodyguard in the lobby for the ride to Kulturehuset. After a tour of the very impressive cultural facility — with a music and video lending library and listening/viewing room, several art galleries, a chess area, several cafes including one serving sustainably produced food, an auditorium, a small art-film theater, and more — I enjoyed an hour’s discussion before an audience of about fifty people with feminist editor Lawen Mohtadi, cultural editor Bjorn Wiman, and Bjorn Linnell of Swedish PEN followed by a delicious dinner with a big group.
On our last day, we finally got to relax with a sailboat ride provided by Shadi and co-publisher Ninos Malki. The day was gorgeous and we got lovely views of Stockholm from the water.
Early the next morning it was off to Belgrade, where Beobook publisher Alexander Jasic (“Sasha”) greeted me and drove me to a TV station for an interview. Talk about not letting the grass grow under my feet! At the IN Hotel I conducted another interview and got my photo taken with the hotel manager. We had dinner that night at Tabor, a traditional Serbian restaurant with a strolling band playing everything from Serbian folk to “My Way,” which I’ve adopted as my personal anthem.
For the next four days I worked and worked, doing 11 interviews on the same day as I went to the nearby town of Novi Sad for a booksigning. I talked and talked about both my books, which are now available in Serbia (Serbia was the first country in the world to publish “The Jewel of Medina.”) Big crowds showed up for both my signings and I had a number of TV, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews, including an interview and photo shoot for Cosmopolitan. That’s right! I’m a Cosmo Girl in Serbia.
Everywhere I went, I found the people to be very warm and friendly. And the reporters! In Denmark, they’re still talking about free speech and those infamous cartoons. In Sweden, reporters were skeptical of the need for security and generally asked very challenging questions about my intentions and my right to write about a culture not my own. In Serbia, most everyone wanted to talk about women’s rights. Luckily, I have strong opinions on all these topics, and also a healthy sense of humor!
On our last night, we slipped free of our police escorts and went to Plastic River, a techno nightclub floating on the beautiful Danube River. It was a great chance to go “anonymous” and work out some of the kinks, mental and physical, I’d acquired in two weeks of virtually non-stop work.
Glamorous? Well, yes. Exciting? You bet! Easy? No way! Now, gearing up for the release of “The Sword of Medina” in October, I’m all warmed up and ready to talk. And, especially, to write my next book, about which I am very, very excited.