Interviewing Amal Baba

Interviewing Amal Baba, Author of Protocol

Why did you choose to talk about the Lebanese home in particular?

First of all, I find that the issues that are related to the Lebanese home very interesting and inspiring. Some of them represent social issues that we’ve been through or are still going through, including family ties, male preference over females, the method of marriage, etc… And because a lot of its details personally annoy me, as I don’t find them reasonable or convincing, I chose to often portray them in a humorous way.

Second, I can’t write about unrealistic events. The novel’s theme and content should at least be realistic and convincing, and to be realistic, it must be inspired by reality. But why the Lebanese home as a source of inspiration? I believe that in order to be convincing, authors must start from themselves, their surroundings and environment. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they should write about their own personal experiences, but the point is that they must start from things surrounding and affecting them. It makes their writing more honest. I, for instance, have never lived in wars, revolutions, or heroism. I’ve never joined a political party or lived in a detention camp. That’s why I don’t write national or political literature which have become quite popular nowadays; I see that they almost have a monopoly on the rest of the novels. These issues don’t really affect me because they’re not linked to my environment, and therefore I don’t believe I can create a credible plot. In fact, I think my writing would fail and be more of a claiming attempt. I was born in a Lebanese home and since I was a little girl I’ve been hearing tales and stories whether from my family or my friends’ families. It helped me develop my own views on this community as well as my own opinions on several matters. This home might be more perilous and dangerous than a battlefield. In short, I strongly believe in writing about reality…

If you decide to write a sequel for “Protocol”, will Maya be stronger? Or would she choose the wrong path because of the circumstances she’s been through?

If I choose to continue this novel, of course, the main character, Maya, can grow to become a strong woman. Fighting and demanding for her rights. She might, on the other hand, be negatively affected by the tragedy she’d experienced and therefore take the wrong path. Determining the path depends on the author’s taste in writing and the plot they aim to create. I personally tend to tragedy and unhappy endings. I don’t like for the main character to be an epic hero or a warrior who fights traitors and villains. I’d like him to make mistakes because (s)he is a human. It bothers me to portray the narrator as a perfect person. So, Maya will most likely take the wrong path.

Writing is not an easy thing. Why did you choose to write a novel and what inspired you?

I can’t determine one specific reason that made me choose to write a book. I’ve loved books and writing since I was a little kid. We had a large library and reading was something we did for fun. Reading novels was something I enjoyed much more than watching a movie because novels made me feel as though I was living them. When we were young and asked about what we would like to be in the future, my answer was always: an author and a poet.

I used to write a lot, with or without an occasion. I used to win all the writing competitions held, until I won the Cedar Literature Award in 2010 which published the winning pieces. So when I won, my very first novel was published by the age of 17, titled “A Fetus’ Diary” consisting of around 50 pages. It felt amazing to see my ideas immortalized on paper. I loved it and I wanted to continue doing it. Right after that, I went to university and took a creative writing class which was given by the novelist Dr. Rasheed Al-Da’eef who taught me everything and changed my views on writing and encouraged and urged me to continue writing and helped me publish my work. I’ve learned and am still learning a lot from him. He’s my inspiration, and a second father to me. I can talk for hours about his influence on my personality and my writing style.

I don’t consider writing as a fun thing to do. It’s actually pretty exhausting. But I need it. Yes, it’s a need. We talked earlier about the Lebanese home and how it inspired me to write and how several humanitarian and social issues emerge from it. Before I started writing “Protocol” I was writing a collection of short stories, but then I stopped and I started with the novel. I included pieces from the short stories in the novel, after modifying them of course, as they went very well with the atmosphere of the novel. But what’s the main inspiration behind the novel? I’m always asked this question but avoided answering it in the first year after the novel was published. I personally lived the experience of losing my mother to cancer in 2010, but not in the exact same circumstances that Maya experienced in “Protocol”, especially since I was older than her when the tragedy happened. But of course there are a lot of similar aspects, such as describing the effects of the disease and the deterioration of the health condition and the fears she had which I had, too. Let’s say I combined the Lebanese house tales with this incident.

How did you come up with the father’s character?

I used to spend a lot of time with my mother in the hospital where she was being treated and I met a lot of women who were also going through chemotherapy. She used to tell me about their stories and how their husbands treated them badly. I still remember the husband who wrote, prepared and printed an obituary for his wife before she even died. And there’s the husband who remarried while his first wife was still alive! In addition to many other stories that angered me and inspired me to write the father’s character. I did a lot of research and compilation and I introduced the element of exaggeration and dark humor in portraying the father. It’s a character that unfortunately exists among us, in our reality and society and not just a fictional character.

Are you currently writing a new title?

I’m currently working on writing a new novel that can be considered as a part 2 for Protocol or can be read as a standalone. I still haven’t made up my mind about that yet. It is Maya who chose the wrong path but the novel addresses different issues from the past, albeit in the same setting. The novel is about the effect of technology on human relations and life hardships.

If you could go back to the time before writing Protocol, would you change anything?

I was very lucky to write my novel under the direct supervision of novelist Rasheed Al-Da’eef, and thus did not fall into fundamental mistakes thanks to his advice and follow-up. However, I admit that it took me longer than it should to finish the novel. Meaning I wasted some time probably because I lacked faith in my ability to successfully complete the writing and publishing. I still waste time sometimes, but I work hard to fully concentrate on my new novel that I hope to publish early next year.

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