AMERICAN HISTORICAL NOVELS discussion

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Welcome Laila Ibrahim

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message 1: by Ann (new)

Ann Creel | 80 comments Mod
Thank you for joining us this week, Laila. How did you come up with the storyline for Paper Wife?

My research into historical events lead to the storyline in Paper Wife. I knew I wanted it to be about an immigrant through Angel Island. My research taught me more about Paper Wives (as well as sons and daughters.) Reading the stories from actual immigrants gave me great ideas that I pieced together to make a coherent story…and I made up a lot too.

Who were your inspirations behind the story?

I was inspired by Dorothy Eng, our family friend, as well as both of my parents. Dorothy mentioned to me that she was in her mother’s uterus on Angel Island. I new immediately that she had an interesting immigration story. A few years later I went to the Angel Island Immigration Detention Center which was renovated and turned into a museum in 2009. I was struck by the powerful images and history that I knew so little about. When Lake Union gave me a two book contract—for Mustard Seed, the companion to Yellow Crocus, and whatever else I wanted— I knew that I would dive into a book about an immigrant that traveled through Angel Island.

Both of my parents were immigrants; one for a short time and one permanently. My mother immigrated to Egypt after she married my father. Six years later my father immigrated to the United States where he lived the remainder of his days.

Do you outline books ahead of time or are you more of a by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer?

I am an outliner.After the outline I do a synopsis and then I do a very short draft with the entire story arc using dialogue and not much else. Those first drafts are around 12,000-15,000 words. I like to layer in details later, but I want to have a very solid frame before I start making coherent scenes.

How do you select the names of your characters?

I have a few methods. I might search for popular names in the era that may characters are born, then pick the ones I really like. I often name people after my friends and family if those names are appropriate for the era. And sometimes I have names that come from historical people, or have meanings that feel right or are companion names to each other such as Biblical names, or geographical places.

What was your hardest scene to write?

The saddest scene for Paper Wife was her leaving her family. Knowing it was a forever good-bye made it heartbreaking for me.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

I don’t know that I can speak on behalf of other writers, but for me the biggest traps are:

Thinking it is going to be great or really good in a first draft.
Thinking I am writing for ‘everyone’ or my ‘biggest critics’ or ‘the haters’, rather than the people who want to read what I write.
Rushing.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I think I learned it so young that I don’t remember the moment I learned that writing is both time travel and ‘life’ travel. I felt like I was in conversation with a person from another time and another place. It really is magical. As a writer I feel that way as well.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

So much research!! I doubt I would have been a writer before the internet. I don’t have the patience for library and museum research, but I love internet research.

When I'm starting a new novel I spend hours reading the front pages of newspapers. For Golden Poppies (which comes out in March 2020) I read through the Oakland Tribune from 1895 using the search term “suffrage.” What a miracle that I can do that! From that information I shape a personal story around historical events that are obscure but so interesting to me.

I learned that the California State Legislature voted on giving women the right to vote in 1895. The State Senate voted it down, and instead put it to a popular vote in 1896. It lost, but was reintroduced as a State proposition in 1911 and passed. Previous to this research I had no idea that women were given the vote in California 8 years before the 19th amendment to the US Constitution was passed in 1920.

Thank you so much for inviting me to be part of American Historical Novels. I enjoyed reflecting on my writing. And thanks for all that you do to support books and reading. I look forward to this week.


message 2: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (drpowell) | 376 comments I love that this story is about immigration through Angel Island -- sometimes I think it gets forgotten for Ellis Island. Sounds like an interesting story!


message 3: by Rebecca, Champagne Widows, 2021 (new)

Rebecca Rosenberg (rebeccarosenberg) | 270 comments Mod
I am downloading Paper Wife now-- fascinating story. I enjoyed the interview, too. I'm with Lake Union, too. :-) Rebecca


message 4: by Laila (new)

Laila Ibrahim (lailadibrahim) | 8 comments HI Rebecca,

It's nice to meet you. Let me know what you think of Paper Wife. It was a fascinating book to research and write.

I'll look into your work too! Whose you're editor at Lake Union? I'm with Jodi Warshaw. Terry Goodman picked up my first novel. I've been working with Jodi since he retired.


Laila


message 5: by Laila (new)

Laila Ibrahim (lailadibrahim) | 8 comments Hi Amanda,

I agree that Angel Island is one of the hidden parts of US history. Actually a lot of West Coast history is unknown. That seems to be where my interests are heading.

Laila


message 6: by Rebecca, Champagne Widows, 2021 (new)

Rebecca Rosenberg (rebeccarosenberg) | 270 comments Mod
Hi Laila, My editor is Chris Werner-- I'm on the 3rd draft of CHAMPAGNE WIDOWS-- which I hope to present them in January 2020-- I need a new agent, though, as mine quit. Who do you have? Thanks! Rebecca


message 7: by Laila (new)

Laila Ibrahim (lailadibrahim) | 8 comments Hello

I've only had an agent for a few months--Annelise Robey with Rotrosen. So far I've signed all of my contracts without an agent.

That must be strange to have your agent quit.

Laila


message 8: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (drpowell) | 376 comments Laila wrote: "Hi Amanda,

I agree that Angel Island is one of the hidden parts of US history. Actually a lot of West Coast history is unknown. That seems to be where my interests are heading.

Laila"

Yes! We have such rich documents from the Eastern seaboard, which makes sense since the earliest settlements in American history were there. I am glad some writers are diving into the topic!


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