I read The Walk-In Closet last summer as part of the BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge and it was one of my favorite books from 2014 (click here to see my full review.) After reading the book and getting completely swept up by the story, I was dying to know more about the author and what his inspiration for the book was.
To celebrate the success of his novel, I sat down with Abdi and asked him questions about his book, writing process and what he has coming up next.
Thank you so much for participating in a Q&A session with Karen’s Korner. What was your inspiration for The Walk-In Closet?
I started writing the novel on the cusp of turning thirty, and the novel is very much inspired by that transition. The lead character in the novel, Kara, has spent over a decade pretending to be the girlfriend of her gay best friend, Bobby Ebadi. Although the romantic element of their relationship is a fabrication, Kara is deeply in love with Bobby, his family, and his culture. However, now that she is on the cusp of being an adult, she is wrestling with the kind of life she wants to lead, and trying to find the correlation between honesty and happiness. For me, the novel is an exploration of the messy process of growing into a true adult. I also wanted to write a novel that represented modern Iranian-American culture, which I feel is woefully underrepresented in the media.
How long did it take you to write The Walk-In Closet?
I wrote the first draft in a year or two, and then put it on a shelf for a long time. It wasn’t until I returned to it years later that I decided to devote more time and energy into it. I felt that the emotions in it were authentic, and that it deserved to be read.
What has been the best compliment you’ve received about your book so far?
The most moving responses have come from within the Iranian-American community. Iranians have a long way to go when it comes to discussing, let alone accepting, homosexuality. One incredible Iranian ally hosted a book club in her home. I expected a handful of people. Instead, forty impeccably dressed Iranians walked in. The resulting talk was incredible, and made me feel that the novel may play a small part in opening hearts and minds in my community.
I loved the cover of The Walk-In Closet! Who designed it and how many different ones did you go through until you found the right one?
Thank you so much. The cover designer is Greg Mortimer. When we began working together, we brainstormed about what the book was about, and what kind of imagery the cover could incorporate. We both loved the Persian “evil eye” as a central visual image. Inspired by the circular blue eye, Greg created different circles, each giving us a peek into a different aspect of the narrative. I loved it, because so much of the novel is about living a compartmentalized life, and I think the cover depicts that in a fun, colorful way. I think we tried four or five variations on the cover before settling on the final version.
What is your writing process like? Do you write an outline and do you write every day?
My primary medium is screenplays, and I generally do outline screenplays. However, with novels, I find that I prefer to see where the characters take me, and then back into an outline from there. I wish I wrote every day, but between fatherhood and the business of being a writer, I find that it doesn’t always work out that way. I write emails every day! How’s that for productivity?
Do you have a favorite author and what authors have inspired you to write?
That is such a hard question. I would have to say my favorite author is James Baldwin. His writing is passionate, political, emotional, and timeless. It had a huge impact on me when I first read it in college. So many other authors have inspired me, from Oscar Wilde and John Steinbeck, to Amy Tan and Meg Wolitzer. I’ve also been inspired by many screenwriters, particularly Pedro Almodovar, who is a master of merging different genres into one cohesive narrative.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
I suppose my first piece of advice would be to write from a place of honesty. I used to teach screenwriting at UCLA, and I found many writers were looking outside to emulate someone else’s voice rather than digging deep within to find their own. I wrote a whole first novel that I have put on a shelf because I was basically trying to be Armistead Maupin!
Once that work is done, I suppose I would also advise writers to find a discipline that works for them. Some writers write best in the morning, some at night. Some writers write a little bit every day, some in marathon stretches once a month. I think the key is to keep it fun, keep it personal, and keep it up.
Do your children love to read and do you read with them a lot?
They’re still too young to read on their own, but they do love to be read to, which is of course one of the most integral parts of my job as a parent. Our house is quite literary. I was reading them Rimbaud poems when they were infants (in French!). Now they have many favorites of their own, from the Knuffle Bunny series to We Need A Horse to Where the Wild Things Are. A friend of mine once asked my son if he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. He smiled big, and responded, “Dr. Seuss!” I was a proud Daddy that day.
If you’re allowed to tell us, what can your readers expect next? Are you currently working on anything new?
I’m a restless soul, so I’ve been simultaneously working on the book for a stage musical, a new novel, and two screenplays. I’m not sure which will see the light of day first. Projects tend to have their own, highly unpredictable, path. I just try and focus on the work at hand, and let whoever is controlling the universe do the rest.
Connect with Abdi:
To celebrate his novel, Abdi has graciously provided Karen’s Korner with two Kindle copies of The Walk-In Closet for a giveaway. Enter to win via the Rafflecopter bellow:
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