FQ: It was interesting to learn you worked as a journalist in Iran earlier in your career. Please think of a specific project you worked on and the effect it had on your work.
VAKILI: I loved to be a journalist (still do) and enjoyed that very much. In that time I wrote an article about short stories and in that article analyzed Cat in the Rain by Hemingway. For the first time, I wrote my own views about using descriptions and dialogue instead of narration, especially in short stories. The article was famous in Iran at that time. When I was analyzing Hemingway's short story I found that he used that technique in some of his short works years before and his stories showed that we actually could elide the narration and make stories more dramatic.
FQ: In line with my previous question, I was surprised to learn you also wrote literary critiques and articles about stories. Do you have a specific formula you follow when approaching a body of work for review?
VAKILI: I do not believe in narration in stories, especially short stories. In this view we elide the narration but give its functions to descriptions (description of characters, atmospheres, and the sphere around us) and dialogue. When a writer uses narration, it means he imposes or forces his will on his readers. Therefore the readers lose their freedom or independence to think. But description is like a window the writer opens and the readers can see everything with their own eyes and decide for themselves independently. So I as a writer can tell my readers this or that character is evil or good but instead of saying that outright, I describe what the character is doing or saying or what behaviors he/she has. It means I show the readers everything and the reader can decide if the character is good or evil. Description, instead of narration, makes the stories more dramatic and the readers have more freedom to decide themselves about characters and meanings. I believe Hemingway, in many of his short stories, uses this technique well. Many years ago, I read a very short story in one of his collections with the title Cat in the Rain. This story was a good example of this technique. I really love his writing.
FQ: You have lived in some fascinating places in the world—Iran, Norway, and now the United States. How would you compare your adaptation to each? Was one more difficult than the other? Could you please elaborate.
VAKILI: Well, there are big differences between these three countries. As you know, Iran lies in a full-tension area; because of that, both the country and the people are in a very difficult situation. There are many who try to guide the country to the right path. I hope they succeed.
Norway is a small, beautiful, and very quiet country. Even though it's very cold, the people are very warm. I loved it there.
I was in the United States for almost five years. The first time I saw New York it reminded me of Tehran before the revolution, and I loved that. I still love New York and I hope someday I could return and live there.
FQ: The flow in Motherhood in terms of the storyline seems quite natural. Is this a story that has personal experience and knowledge and if it is based on real persons, was he/she able to recognize the similarities? How did you accommodate?
VAKILI: No, Motherhood is just a story created by my mind.
FQ: Without presenting a spoiler, why did you paint your main character as being a person who was adamant against being a mother (and what made you decide to turn this situation around)?
VAKILI: A few years ago, I saw an article about how divorce is growing and how many children are being lost. I thought, what would I do if I was a little child and my parents divorced? What would happen to me? Americans are familiar with the phrase "What if...?" It is your phrase. I imagined I was a little child and my parents wanted to divorce and every moment I thought to myself, "what if they don't?" and "what if this situation turns around right now?" Thus this story is more about the boy than the mother (Dr. Shahverdi), and I decided to use alternate reality instead of the daily reality.
This story isn't based on a reality that has happened before or happening now but a reality that must/could/should have happened before or must/could/should happen now or in the future. I believe those realities which have happened before are historic and those realities which are happening now are journalistic. But literature is about those realities that have not happened before or are not happening now but they could/should have happened before or must/could/should happen now or in the future. Dr. Shahverdi has left her family; her husband, her son, her parents and even her friends. But imagine what would happen if she had not left them? What if she stayed with her family and her son? I believe that is literature. When we leave something or someone without any hesitation how could we know what we would feel if we stayed? So this story is about an incident that has not happened before but it should/could have happened then or should/could happen now or in the future.
FQ: I am always interested to learn about other cultures and history. Could you please elaborate on the Persian New Year celebration: ‘Nowruz’? Is it like American New Year celebration? Are there specific traditions associated with it?
VAKILI: Yes, some of them are similar.
Nowruz is an ancient celebration. Nobody knows when it has begun. Iranian mythologies impute it to "Jamshid" who was one the greatest and most powerful Shahanshahs (Emperors) of Iran. His time, according to Iranian mythologies, was before "Noah" and he lived for 900 years.
Nowruz begins from the first day of the new year, on the first day of spring. We celebrate for thirteen days. In the first twelve days we celebrate, but on the thirteenth day we bring the celebration out into nature because this day is infelicitous and unlucky. But days before Nowruz we prepare for the main celebration, which is Nowruz. One of the biggest and most important preparations is "ShabeChaharShanbehSury," which means "The Evening Before Last Wednesday Celebration." We jump on seven piles of fire, dancing, singing, and eating cookies, sweets, chocolates, and nuts. Then we go door-to-door, hiding our faces, asking for cookies, nuts, colored eggs, and so on.
FQ: The exchange between Dr. Shahverdi and the Lieutenant was quite comical in that he was enjoying how frustrated the doctor became when it was apparent the Lieutenant had no intentions of taking the boy along with him. If you had to summarize how law enforcement deals with its citizenry in Persia, is this a fairly accurate account?
VAKILI: Actually, I do not know if such a law exists, so naturally I have never been a witness to such an incident. Nowruz holidays are 13 days but for administrations are only 4 days, therefore nothing works during these days, just like Christmas in the US. Nonetheless I do not know what would happen if such an incident would occur. However, about the situation between Dr. Shahverdi and the Lieutenant, you are right that it is a little comical and I wanted it to be like this because I did not want that the readers to feel off-put; I wanted them to feel close and friendly to the characters and especially to such an unnatural incident (sudden appearance of the boy) from the beginning.
FQ: This was a very quick and unpredictable read. How easy (or difficult) was it to write? Were there periods of drag and what did you do to overcome the drag?
VAKILI: I usually first think about my subjects and it takes a long time. When I have all the details ready in my mind, I begin to write them down. After that I polish it many times until I am satisfied. Of course, it is not easy and I cannot always reach a good result, and Motherhood was not easy to write at all. I'm not a woman or a boy and have never been a parent, either. I have also never been involved in or a witness to similar situations. So I used my imagination and all my knowledge and experiences to figure out what behaviors the woman and the boy could have in such a situation.
FQ: Thank you for sharing your story. I am curious if you have something new you are working on and if so, are you able to share?
VAKILI: I'm always working with something on my mind but it’s not always that I can write it down. Right now I make myself busy with reading. Thank you for interviewing me. These were good questions and I enjoyed answering them. Thanks again.