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?
Responses to my most recent post have me feeling like a whiner, even though my intention was to talk about how reading can inspire a writer. Lest I be accused of ingratitude, let me pass along the remarkable, fabulous highlights of my life since the controversy over THE JEWEL OF MEDINA catapulted me to fame, or infamy, depending on your point of view.
In August, the story of my book’s fear-based rejection by Random House made the news, and my phone started ringing with calls from reporters around the globe. Email requests for interviews poured in more quickly than I could answer them. I started a blog to try to contribute to the conversation, and to my amazement people from all over the world read it and responded to it. I was on radio talk shows, on BBC World Service, on CNN and FOX. Even Michael Savage talked about my book. (You know you’ve made it when…) It was quite exciting to be asked about my experiences and for my insights into Islam, censorship, and the presidential campaign. (My own mother will tell you I’ve always been sort of a know-it-all.)
Publishers requested “The Jewel of Medina,” and a lot of them liked it. Offers came in from Poland, Denmark, Germany, Brazil — twenty-one foreign publishers in all. After the arson attack on my British publisher’s home office, UK publication plans fell through, but we’re working on that now.
As a result of all this fuss, I’ve been traveling. I got to go to Norway in September to speak on censorship at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference, where I met amazing, smart, courageous reporters from all over the world, some of whom I’m still in contact with.
In November, I flew to Rome for four days of interviews and one glorious day of sight-seeing, plus a lot of amazing food (risotto with black truffles!).
In February I went to Madrid and Barcelona, where handsome men with guns accompanied me everywhere I went and met my every need — almost. I worked so hard that I only got to see one sight — a Gaudi museum in Barcelona — but I had some of the most delicious food I’ve ever tried and I met some of the world’s most brilliant journalists, most of whom wanted to talk about Islam and feminism.
In March, it was Denmark, where I “debated” a Muslim imam about the propriety of fictionalizing sacred people such as Muhammad both in Copenhagen and Aarhus. I place “debated” in quotation marks because the imam, Abdul Wahid Pedersen, agreed with me on almost every point and gave me a signed copy of his book! (Too bad I can’t read Danish — yet.) Amazingly delicious food in Denmark, by the way. And, the highlight of the trip for me, I got to know Pressto publisher Bjarke Larsen, for whom I developed a fond admiration and the greatest respect. An activist, a freethinker, and a man of the highest principles, he is someone I hope to know for a very long time.
In the U.S., I’ve had some very rewarding experiences, as well. I’ve become, to my astonishment, a public speaker. At my first-ever bookstore reading, here in Spokane, 300 people filled the upstairs rom at Auntie’s to hear me, then waited in line for an hour for me to sign their books. In Helena, Mont., I gave a speech on self-censorship to about 350 people as part of the Carroll College President’s Lecture Series — and I hung out with the inimitable Dr. Barry Ferst. I traveled to Austin, where the media were strangely unreceptive to interviewing me but where I met Daniel Kalder, journalist and author of the quirky new travel book STRANGE TELESCOPES.
Most recently, I traveled to New York for Book Expo America, where a crowd lined up for signed advance reading copies of my forthcoming sequel, THE SWORD OF MEDINA. I also was privileged to meet book-industry people galore including that literary lion Peter Mayer, who sat resplendent in his silky white hair and pale suit and, right in the middle of the Javits Center, pulled an ashtray from under his table and smoked a cigarette. Now THAT’S chutzpah.
And here in Spokane I read at the perfectly-named Get Lit! literary festival and met one of my own literary heroes, Jane Smiley. When she shook my hand and congratulated me for my courage, I thought I would shoot through the ceiling.
This summer, life continues to thrill and surprise me. If all goes well, I’ll be traveling to New York again soon for an interview with my favorite national magazine. I’m going to Stockholm in September to promote THE JEWEL OF MEDINA and to give a talk on free speech and censorship at Kulturehuset, which hosted Salman Rushdie and Roberto Saviano this year. I’m also going to Belgrade, Serbia, to talk about THE SWORD OF MEDINA, which debuted yesterday. In October, THE SWORD OF MEDINA debuts in the U.S., and Beaufort Books plans a U.S. tour for me.
I’m privileged to be able to write and speak about free speech, and have my voice heard. I’m pleased to be able to talk about women in Islam, about the Prophet Muhammad’s egalitarian attitudes, how he helped women and would not like to see them oppressed in the name of Islam. I’m happy to be able to spread a little love by speaking out against racism. All the troubles associated with THE JEWEL OF MEDINA have enabled me to be able to make a positive difference in the world.
It truly doesn’t get any better than this.