#Read More Arab Folktales

Yes. I  want YOU to read more Arab folktales. There’s been a lot of attention lately given to how #WeNeedDiverseBooks and increasing the number of diverse characters in film, and seeing more women directors etc. A strong subset of genre fiction, in particular fantasy and science fiction, is the retold fairytale or folktale.  I love these kinds of stories – Grimm, Anderson, Perrault and others. I’ve read the traditional ones as well as Russian, Hawaiian, Indian etc.  Granted, I will acknowledge I am blurring the lines between myth, folktale, marchen, and fairytales.  🙂

But what has always nagged at me is that I have rarely seen any Middle Eastern tales.  Where are the tales of the Beduin?  Or of Djuha? Or djinn and ifrits and ghuls? All I ever hear of is One Thousand and One Nights (Alf Layla wa Layla), “Arabian Nights” as many people call it. *sigh*  And while I love those stories, as I mention in “Why 1001 Nights Isn’t Your Best Multicultural Steampunk Reference” it isn’t exactly an unbiased source. Is that why no one references Middle Eastern tales – They don’t know where to get them? Is that the core question? What are good sources of Arab folktales?  Where can people get a chance to taste the very rich tradition of storytelling from my part of the world?

I hope that’s the issue.  Because I have an answer. From my library I just pulled my three favorite collections:

Arab Folktales – Translated and Edited by Inea Bushnaq

ArabFolktalesCoverThis is by far my favorite book.  I haven’t read any other of the Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library Series, but if this is anything to go by, it’s likely worth collecting the others.  I’ve lost three copies by loaning it to people and not getting my copy back.

“Out of alleys of Cairo and Bedouin tents, from the Moroccan laborers and Syrian peasants, this collection of 130 tales comes from Arab worlds from North Africa to the Holy Land.”

The stories are divided up into categories:

  1. Tales Told in Houses Made of Hair;
  2. Djinn, Ghouls, and Afreets;
  3. Magical Marriages and Mismatches;
  4. Beasts That Roam the Earth and Birds That Fly with Wings;
  5. Famous Fools and Rascals;
  6. Good Men and Golden Words; and
  7. Wily Women and Clever Men.

If you want to read Arab “fairytales” this is probably one of the best places to start.

Behind Closed Doors: Women’s Oral Narratives in Tunis – Monia HejaiejBehindClosedDoorsCover

“Tunis has a long history of city life reaching back to ancient times. The Arabic language is firmly rooted among its inhabitants and most embrace the morals and culture of Islam. Behind Closed Doors presents forty-seven tales told by three Beldi women, members of a historic and highly civilized community, the city’s traditional elite. Tale-telling is important to all Beldi women, and the book examines its role in their shared world and its significance in the lives of the three tellers.

“Tales are told at communal gatherings to share and pass on Beldi women’s secret lore of love, marriage and destiny. Ghaya Sa’diyya and Kheira tell stories which echo their life experience and have deep meanings for them. Their tales reflect accepted moral codes, and yet many depict attitudes, relationships, and practices that contradict established norms. Whereas Kheira presents a conservative and moralistic view of the role of women, Sa’diyya’s heroines are alive with sexual energy, and Ghaya’s stories also offer racy and rebellious comments on a woman’s lot. These contradictory visions offer a kaleidoscopic view of the position of women in the rich life of a historic North African city.”

Just a note, not all of these tales are…umm, kid-friendly.

Speak, Bird, Speak Again – Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif KanaanaSpeakBirdCover

“Were it simply a collection of fascinating, previously unpublished folktales, Speak, Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Arab Folktales would merit praise and attention because of its cultural rather than political approach to Palestinian studies. But it is much more than this. By combining their respective expertise in English literature and anthropology, Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif Kanaana bring to these tales an integral method of study that unites a sensitivity to language with a deep appreciation for culture.

“As native Palestinians, the authors are well-suited to their task. Over the course of several years they collected tales in the regions of the Galilee, Gaza, and the West Bank, determining which were the most widely known and appreciated and selecting the ones that best represented the Palestinian Arab folk narrative tradition. Great care has been taken with the translations to maintain the original flavor, humor, and cultural nuances of tales that are at once earthy and whimsical. The authors have also provided footnotes, an international typology, a comprehensive motif index, and a thorough analytic guide to parallel tales in the larger Arab tradition in folk narrative. Speak, Bird, Speak Again is an essential guide to Palestinian culture and a must for those who want to deepen their understanding of a troubled, enduring people.”

I love, love, love all the footnotes.  🙂


I will also say that these three books aren’t the newest out there.  There is likely something more recently published that is equally awesome.  If you know of any other great collections of Arab folktales, by all means leave a comment!  I want to know.  If you haven’t, I hope you’ll at least consider my recommendations and will “read more Arab folktales.”

Outside Posts Brought Home: #Diversity and Writing the Neutral that Never Was

Color PencilsSo, one of the fun things about writing a novel, and part of the promotion of it, is getting the opportunity to guest post on other people’s blogs.  And lately, I’ve had some amazing opportunities to meet some fabulous people. Of course, the down side of that is that I find I don’t always have as much time to blog on my own website.  However, I recently put together a post on author Anne E. Johnson‘s site that I would love to highlight here.

The subject:  Diversity and Writing the Neutral that Never Was

The post is in some ways inspired by a recent article by Valerie Alexander titled: World Cup Soccer Stats Erase The Sport’s Most Dominant Players: Women

I thought she made some very good points and poignantly hit the reader in his/her assumptions. :-)  But I wanted bring it into the writing realm.

We’re taught to think to the default and that default is white, male, and heterosexual.

A great example via Valerie Alexander: In the World Cup, commentators regularly referred to Landon Donovan as the “all-time U.S. leading goal scorer.” He has 57 international goals. Abby Wambach has 167. The second highest scorer is Mia Hamm at 158 and Kristine Lilly at 130. Notice something? They’re all women. When we talk and think about the sport, the “neutral” is men’s.

So what does that mean when we write characters?  Authors don’t want be told they have to include diversity. Many complain that we’re encouraging tokenism and check-boxes.  At the same time, not doing anything, is saying something.  It is writing to the default, and that default isn’t neutral.

Writing a book set in another part of the world with characters of a different ethnicity in “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn” was a conscious effort to try and escape that kind of limited thinking. In some ways, I think we didn’t quite push far enough and in others, I think we were more successful than we ever anticipated.

Check out the full post at Jester Harley’s Manuscript Page.

Four Questions for Writers – WIP Meme

Four questions for writers.

This is my reply for the “four questions for writers” meme that I just got from A. Thurman over at Inspired Melancholy. Moving forward, as I tagged Linda Adams, Wayland “Beegs” Smith, and DL Thurston last year for a similar meme, I shall spare them this time. ;)  And as N.R. Brown is away on vacation, I’ll be passing this along to CVS writers Anthony Dobranski and Jennifer Brinn. Can’t wait to see what y’all have to say!

And now to the questions:

What are you currently working on?

Right now, I’m in a bit of a jumble. I am doing promotion for my young adult novel, “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn,” have a horror-ish short story due at the end of the month, am 1/3 of the way through the subject of my “Next Big Thing” WIP post of about year ago, Pigeonfall (trying to sort out a tangled plot-subplots issue), and working on Draft Zero of a Venetian science fiction novel with N.R. Brown. Which basically means all  of these projects are fighting for my time and attention.

How does your work differ from others in the genre?

It is tough to answer the question as the three novel-length items I listed are so diverse – YA Steampunk, Weird West, and Science Fiction. Like A. Thurman, I’d have to say, “I’ll let you know when I figure out my genre!”  In truth, the only thing I can say is that I (not truly unlike other authors) love research and I thoroughly enjoy including “Easter eggs” in the larger works, particularly involving unique historical elements or figures. I include them in interviews and collect several in my “Book Secrets” blog posts.

Why do you write what you do?

I love the fantastical and I love even more the fantastical that has some sort of anchor to our world.  It is the world of, “What if?” It inspires the imagination but is close enough to our own world that it urges us to look critically at our own societal and cultural mores and values.  I also have very strong feelings about diverse characters and diverse worlds so purposely seek out cultures and ideas, and build environments that challenge our perspective, even if only a little bit.

How does your writing process work?

In truth, I’m still experimenting with a variety of processes.  I’m a slow and inconsistent writer.  Great for a hobbyist but not so useful for a writer with deadlines.  I’m always open to suggestions!  (Just not “Write every day.”  I’ve tried that.  It didn’t work.)

When it comes to the writing itself, I research as I go to ensure I stay authentic to the world I’m building and to the characters with strong “anchors” to a reality that is cohesive and makes sense to the reader.  I tend to write dialogue first, with action, and then go back and add description.  I’m  a big proponent of looking at larger themes such as faith, redemption, fate etc. and how we as people struggle against and fight for the things we believe.

Old brown books on a shelf

Image by Stephanie In love

Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn – Book Arrival

I wrote a book! Yes, I did.  I really did. I’m excited to have completed “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn.” We had a great pre-launch at Balticon over Memorial Day weekend and Dark Quest, my publisher, sold out of their copies.  So why am I so excited today?  Because in all this time, I somehow never managed to get my hands on a copy of my own book!  Hearing that, the owner of Dark Quest, on their second printing, mailed me a copy.  ;)  So here it is, a picture of Baba Ali in my very own hand.  Is it inappropriate to kiss the book?