Interview with Shaila Abdullah, Author of Saffron Dreams

6:31 AM

I'm extremely excited to be able to introduce you to, and interview Shaila Abdullah today. Shaila is the author of the absolutely wonderful novel Saffrom Dreams. Shaila is on a virtual blog tour this month with Pump Up Your Book Promotions and graciously agreed to answer a few questions. She'll be here again tomorrow as a guest blogger and you'll get to read my review of Saffron Dreams on Tuesday. Thank you Shaila for taking the time to let us get to know you a little better!

1. Would you like to take this opportunity to introduce yourself and your
book to those who aren't familiar with it?

Thanks for having me on your blog, Marta. I am a Pakistani-American author based in Austin, Texas. My creative work focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of Pakistani women and their unconventional choices in life. I have been writing on and off since 1993. My new novel Saffron Dreams explores the tragedy of 9/11 from the perspective of a Muslim widow. I received a grant from Hobson Foundation for that body of work. My 2005 debut book, Beyond the Cayenne Wall is a collection of stories about Pakistani women struggling to find their individualities despite the barriers imposed by society. The collection won the Norumbega Jury Prize for Outstanding Fiction and the DIY Festival Award, among other accolades. I also work for a nonprofit as a media designer.

2. In your opinion what is "Saffron Dreams" about? Is that any different
than what your readers think "Saffron Dreams" is about?

Readers may conjure up thoughts of Pakistani cooking, spices, and brides in red by looking at the cover. No, Saffron Dreams is much more than that. It is the story of basic human desire to be accepted in society, no matter what your background, ethnicity, or race. The novel itself is sprinkled with symbolism. Saffron is a rare and exotic spice derived from the stigmas of the saffron flower and is used in popular Pakistani desserts for its color and distinct flavor. In the novel it is used symbolically to represent the extraordinary encounters and experiences in life. The protagonist of the novel, Arissa Illahi, is a veil-wearing Muslim artist and writer in New York. Pregnant and alone after the tragedy of 9/11, she discovers the unfinished manuscript of her husband and decides to finish it as a tribute to him. Her unborn son and her husband’s legacy provide a renewed sense of hope to Arissa as she struggles to put the pieces of her life back together. Having a child with disability compounds her fear of discrimination and forces her to make some tough choices as we find out in the novel.

4. What surprised you most about your book and/or characters as you were writing? Did anything turn out radically different than you'd originally thought it would?

Not really, although Arissa astonished me with some of the things she made me write. Yes, after awhile the characters are holding your hand and driving the story. In the end, it was exactly how I wanted it to start and finish.

5. What's your favorite scene from the book? Or, which one has changed the least since you first came up with it?

In the opening scene, the protagonist discards her veil––the symbol of her faith that had become a scarlet letter for her following the attacks of 2001. In the novel, it is shown as her own personal decision and not one that all veil-wearing women must follow. Arissa’s decision was triggered by her own unique circumstances and in her own words, she transferred “her veil from her head to her heart.” I read an interesting commentary on that topic by Rabea Chaudhry on altmuslimah where she said that for some Muslim women losing a veil happens in "a moment of surrender to a combination of social, political, cultural, and self-imposed pressures." That is true in Arissa’s case. There are many occasions in life where we choose to surrender under pressure. I am sure your blog readers can relate.

6. What's the most recent "gotta recommend it" book that you've read?

Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. It has been a life-changing book for me and has allowed me to slow down a little and reflect on the important things in life. Roy’s God of Small Things was an extremely interesting read. Segments of Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa haunt me to this day. The language is just breathtaking in Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam. Those are the kind of books that make you pause and applaud the creators.

7. What are you working on now, and what new release(s) can we expect to
see from you down the road?

I get that question a lot. There are two books that I am currently considering. One is a novel about street children of Pakistan, a book that the protagonist is shown working on in Saffron Dreams and another is a young adult novel about a Pakistani teen torn between her passion for dancing and keeping the family business alive.

8. The design of the book cover is gorgeous! Did you design the cover
yourself? And if so how did you come up with it?

I deeply appreciate the fact that Modern History Press took into consideration my desire to design the book cover for Saffron Dreams. The cover shows a woman with her face half hidden by her arms. In the novel, the protagonist struggles with her identity after the event of 9/11. I have tried to convey that through the cover.

9. Do you have a particular writing process or any writing rituals?

Most of Saffron Dreams was written during night because my days are usually so packed with a full time job as a designer, my family, my freelance business, and numerous voluntary activities. My study backs to my 5-year old daughter’s room and there were many mornings where she would plead with me that I click just once that night and not so many times. Poor girl! Jokes aside, I do believe that if you are passionate about something, the universe finds a way for you to pursue it. I also type with two fingers since I never earned to type, you might have read that in my guest post for Book Stacks.

10. What book is on your nightstand at the moment? What's your favorite

I have three. A collection of stories by Pakistani authors called And the World Changed: Contemporary Stories by Pakistani Women, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, and The Notebook. Of course, my favorite genre is multicultural fiction. Culture is always a fascinating read and with the right ingredients for a great story, marinated in complex characters, it is always a delicious concoction.

Thank you and thanks to the readers of Marta’s Meanderings. For those with comments and questions, I can be reached at If you mention this blog, you will receive a free e-book called A Taste of Saffron, containing recipes of dishes mentioned in Saffron Dreams. Readers who sign up for updates on my website will get a free excerpt of my 2005 book, Beyond the Cayenne Wall.

Reading Guide for Saffron Dreams

Read an Excerpt of Saffron Dreams

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Every year we lose more people to AIDS. It hasn't disappeared and it's not going away anytime soon. I urge you to seek out and support your local AIDS Organizations. Encourage everyone you know to practice safe sex and to get tested once a year. Even if you don't think you are at risk, get tested. I didn't think I was at risk either, and I almost died before I was diagnosed.


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I'd be happy to review your book. I post at many locations in addition to here on my blog. Please CONTACT me with any questions or concerns. I'll look forward to hearing from you!

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