Saturday, September 26, 2015

Follow JIHADI: A LOVE STORY on Facebook

Click here for updates on the novel, due from London's +Orenda Books in February 2016!

JIHADI: A LOVE STORY (Publishers Weekly review)

 JIHADI: A LOVE STORY"Smart and searing ... a deeply felt depiction of morally fraught choices that result in devastating outcomes."

Publishers Weekly review during Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition (the book made the quarterfinals).

My debut novel is due out in February of 2016 from London's Orenda Books. Click here to preorder.

Freedom of Speech in Islam

Except for the very broadest strokes concerning obedience to the Prophet himself, peace and blessings be upon him, the Qur'an does not set down any specific system of government as obligatory.

Yet if we Muslims have a religious duty to speak truth to power, and clearly we do, we must address certain questions concerning government, citizenship, and freedom of expression. I want to begin that conversation. The protection of dissenting voices raised against political authority (or other elites) seems to me to carry an importance as weighty in our deen as it is in the United States Constitution.

I have no idea whether this position is a minority opinion or a majority one. I am not a scholar. But I know that bleary-eyed vigilantes in Bangladesh hacking people to bits for the "crime" of speaking their minds online stands for me as a nauseating contemporary example of sowing corruption in the land. The Quran says to turn away from vain speech. It doesn't say to execute those who engage in it.

Enough for today. I often skip long articles, I suspect you do too. More later. For a deeper dive, check out this excellent piece by Abdo and Lyons on freedom of expression.

 Freedom of Speech with Islamic Characteristics

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Here's the stunning cover for the Orenda Books release of my debut novel JIHADI: A LOVE STORY

What a wonderful piece of work from the gifted artist +Mark Swan ... and how brilliant is my publisher +Karen Sullivan for picking him?

Great to be able to share this at last. I've known how powerful this visual is for a month or so. The book is due out in February of next year. Stay tuned for information on how to follow it on Facebook!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Eid Al Adha and Coexistence

May Allah accept.

A while, awhile

The Mamet Rule

You know what? Having written about it elsewhere on this blog, I'm not going to define it here. It's a major professional advantage, and anyone close to me who writes for a living has already heard me yammer on about it at length. Anyone who isn't close to me who writes for a living and might benefit from its elucidation represents competition, and yes this is a business, so asking the competition to expend a little effort to dig up something this important, rather than receive it gift-wrapped, seems fair enough to me.

I will say this. David Mamet -- in a moment of pique! -- appears to me to have codified it, not invented it. Which is what I really meant to say today.

If Dickens followed it, if Turgenev followed it, if Hemingway followed it, if King followed it, then it seems likely enough that David Mamet expressed in his rant to the writers of THE UNIT a kind of enduring truth relevant to all genres, an equation about good scene-making. The Mamet Rule (as I call it) accurately reflects the physics of dramatic writing, in the same way that Einstein's famous equation accurately reflects the physics of spacetime. Einstein didn't invent spacetime. Mamet didn't invent this principle. But we should celebrate each man, I think, for the codification.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Beyond the probably unoriginal observation that the whole thing feels a bit like the denouement of a great lost episode of THE THICK OF IT (and if you haven't seen that show, proceed immediately to Netflix), I can add only this to the global storm of derision now descending on David Cameron: There is more to the story than a cheap laugh.

Tory unity appears to depend on certain rituals of depersonalization far more disgusting than the one now gracing the world's newsfeeds. Their aim is twofold: to create a network of shared secrets binding the British elite, and to destroy the possibility of empathy with those who aren't wealthy.

For an insightful examination of the complex, and troubling, class issues fueling the scandal, see Lawrence Richards's fine piece in The Leveller.

Top 10 Beatles Switcheroos

John: rhythm guitar. Paul: bass. George: lead guitar. Ringo: drums. Right?

Hmm. Not always. This fascinating article from Rolling Stone details some of the notable occasions when a bandmember laid down a track using an instrument not normally associated with him.

The Rolling Stone article is great -- do click on it and buy whatever its advertisers instruct you to buy -- but, truth be told, it takes a while to get to the (intense gerund here) point.

Below, a summary for those, like me, who are short of time, attention, or both.

1. SHE SAID, SHE SAID (George plays bass.)

2. ANOTHER GIRL (Paul plays lead guitar.)

3. MARTHA MY DEAR (Paul plays lead guitar and drums. And almost everything else.)

4. THE BALLAD OF JOHN AND YOKO (Paul plays drums. John plays lead guitar.)

5. THE END (During the sequence of traded lead guitar runs at the end, Paul and John play lead guitar -- in addition to George. If you're scoring at home, the order is Paul, George, John, repeat.)

6. STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER (Paul plays timpani.)

I was surprised that the Rolling Stone writer failed to mention:

7. THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD (John plays bass.)

8. GET BACK (John plays lead guitar.)

9. FOR YOU BLUE (John plays a slide guitar lead as George urges him on: "Go, Johnny, go!")

10. BACK IN THE USSR (Paul plays drums.)

Monday, September 21, 2015


"Action is the Life of all and if thou dost not Act, thou dost Nothing.’ 
(Gerrard Winstanley)

Is life something that happens to you ... or something that, by the grace of God, you make happen?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Chinatown again

The brilliance of this script (amply deconstructed here) is hitting me from multiple angles, and forcing me to ask good questions about my WIP. Just how important Robert Towne's work here really is has only begun to dawn on me.

Why I'm Here

I am creating the possibility of harmonious acceptance in the Middle East, USA, and Europe via literature and a powerful global conversation about coexistence.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Making dua for those on Hajj, and for all of humanity

May Allah accept and bring us all closer together within the global family of earthdwellers!

Fancy a JIHADI: A LOVE STORY Cover Reveal from London's Orenda Books?

Me too. It's coming later this month. The cover was designed by the gifted Mark Swan, and it's a jaw-dropper.

Unspeakably cool. I promise. I do wish I could show it to you. But I can't. In the meantime, a few words from +Karen Sullivan :

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Al Aqsa Under Attack

Are attacks on religious minorities and culturally and historically important sites despicable ONLY when carried out by Isis?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Spanish edition of my book SHAKESPEARE FOR BEGINNERS

 Spanish edition of my book on Shakespeare

When in Spain, or Amazon, for that matter, check out the Spanish translation of my illustrated, user-friendly, Shakespeare overview. It rocks! I think!

Day After

First and foremost, can I ask whether we stopped everything on December 7, 1955, to make sure that the words "Pearl Harbor" showed up above the fold on that morning's newspaper? I honestly don't know. I'm just curious. Is it fair to point out, though, that we're talking about fourteen years now? We are now as far away from September 11, 2001 as September 11, 2001 was from the Reagan Administration.

Second. How naive am I? I didn't imagine reactionaries the US would go so low as to exploit the human tragedy in Mecca for political points. In my holy city, a crane collapsed and killed over a hundred people. That's nothing to do with Al Qaeda zombies or any other variety of zombie. So stop the hate talk, please, about "karma" for the attacks on America, and acknowledge with me that lots of Muslims died in those attacks.

Third. Now that it's September 12th, can I say this and maybe reach a clearer collective head in the US? (Taps mike.) FOUR MILLION people have died in the so-called War on Terror. That is over a THOUSAND 9/11s.

Just something to think about.

No catchy picture on this post, sorry. I'm interested mainly in reaching people who are capable of processing [email protected]*+! written words, some of (gasp!) two or more syllables in length.


Watched this last night. What a masterpiece.

Polanski and Towne and Nicholson via Hawks and Chandler and Bogart. A memorable pre-cliche performance from Nicholson, but a big part of its magic comes from the clear knowledge of all involved (including the audience) that the lines have been written as though issuing from Bogart's mouth.

A major achievement and a great gift, especially to those of use who obsess about THE BIG SLEEP.

Friday, September 11, 2015

QI takes on Shakespeare

One of my favorite TV shows, tacking one of my favorite topics. What's not to like?

Back on the 1000-words a day track ...

... and never you mind what the second novel is about.

I generally get my 1000 done by 8am Eastern, and on those rare occasions I'm not able to do that, I top it off in the evening.

Glad to be hacking away at a big old slab of first-draft marble again.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Deconstructing "Oh! Darling"

Just a fascinating, lengthy extraction and separation of the multiple tracks that go into a masterpiece. I suppose you have to be a hardcore fan to enjoy the intricacies of a separated drum track, but I am, so ...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Belief and Truth

“Even the truth, when believed, is a lie. You must experience the truth, not believe it.”

― Werner Erhard

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Working on synopsis for the next novel

I have taken a bit of a detour around FREED, which moves to its "I will wait for you" mode while I attack this new hunk of marble.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Shakespeare's literary devices #5: ANTITHESIS

Antithesis means putting two words or phrases of opposite meaning near one another. Shakespeare uses this device quite a lot, often to convey complexity and interconnectedness in extremes of experience and emotion. Closely related to antithesis is binary opposition, which means defining or emphasizing an idea by mentioning its opposite.

One famous example of antithesis comes from ROMEO AND JULIET:

"My only love, sprung from my only hate!" (I, v)

Below, what looks like an authoritative list of such pairings in ROMEO AND JULIET, compiled by the Actors' Shakespeare Project.

The six books I am reading, September edition

What books am I reading these days, you ask?

Les Miserables, again
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, again
Good Poems, compiled by Garrison Keillor
Contemporary Fiction, astonishing compilation of 20th century short stories
The Stand, Stephen King
The Holy Qur'an, translated by Yusuf Ali

It's not the cover

The image below is not even a "placeholder" cover for my forthcoming novel, JIHADI: A LOVE STORY, due next spring from London's Orenda Books.  It's a puzzle I put together last summer, displaying the faces of people referenced directly or indirectly in the novel. How many can you identify?

The cover itself, commissioned by Orenda Books and designed by the gifted Mark Swan, is so unspeakably cool that I must wait until I am  given permission from the publisher to show it off. But I promise it will be worth the wait.

In the meantime… Who's who?


Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Simple Thing You Can Do to Help Syrian Refugees

Please take part in the global conversation about tolerance and healing.

Help Syrian refugees by clicking here.

About Those Marriage Licenses

Like a lot of good stuff on the Internet, this carries no authorship credit. Whoever wrote and posted it -- thank you. You've captured my sentiments perfectly.

Friday, September 4, 2015

This Is Martha Alderson's PLOT PLANNER

It comes from her book, THE PLOT WHISPERER, which you need to buy if you're writing fiction. Do so by clicking here.

I have never met Martha. Nevertheless, Martha is the BOSS. Check out her YouTube channel here.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

This is it, right now, and it's perfect.

From nothing, who I am is the possibility of coexistence, healing, acceptance, resourcefulness, prosperity, and creativity.

I believe the written word has the power to bring people together and create a collaborative future that inspires and sustains everyone.


Having revised, rewritten, re-fussed-over, re-edited, and reread (aloud!) JIHADI: A LOVE STORY for an hour or so a day over the past seven months, I sent that manuscript off Monday to She Who Must Be Obeyed, +Karen Sullivan, publisher at Orenda Books. The book is slated for a 2016 release.

Back in January, Karen gave me great, penetrating, tough notes on that book. I didn't think executing her suggestions would take me the better part of a year, but I'm glad it did.  An incremental, paragraph-at-a-time approach to this latest edit allowed me to get ruthless about what needed to go, what needed to stay, and what needed to be reimagined.

From a high point of 125,000 words, the novel is now down to 110,000, and I believe they are, most of them anyway, the right words. We'll see what Karen has to say.

Now it's back to FREED, the WIP I put on hold. Target word count today is 600. There is something liberating about returning to the world of writing first-draft fiction, of not being sure yet where something goes, or whether it will go anywhere at all.

It's another one with a cat.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Novel Like a Good Album

With both of them I'm trying to get to a level where various elements are, at first glance, disconnected at a surface level, but in reality are deeply interconnected via the themes set down (consciously and otherwise),  And by interconnected, I mean interconnected to such a degree that the reader wants to come back and repeat the emotional journey. Like playing a good album again.

Consider THE WHITE ALBUM's running themes of multiformity, violence, sexuality, chaos vs. order, and childhood. I'm not saying anyone in the band set these ideas up ahead of time consciously, and who cares whether or not they did. I'm saying they're there, and they help to make this seemingly chaotic assemblage appealing and magnetic. As a listener, when you encounter these ideas, when they pop up subtly again and again, in a certain order, you end up wanting to go back and take that journey again. In the order the album prescribes. Those themes are part of the reason why.

Or consider BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER. (Yes, I'm a Boomer, deal with it.) Did you ever wonder why that album hangs together as well as it does? Could it have something to do with the fact that almost every song has something to do with a farewell?

Of course, as a writer of fiction, you still need a protagonist, a turning point, an objective, all of that. You still need a climax, and you still need a lesson learned. An album doesn't need those things. But maybe one difference between a novel you read once and a novel you want to read again and again can be the reader's assembly of its seemingly disparate, sequential "tracks" into a coherent whole. This kind of book makes the reader a kind of collaborator.