Author Spotlight Interview: Hamour Baika
Today’s interview is with author Hamour Baika. His contemporary historical fiction novel is inspired by real events during a tumultuous period preceding the Iran Iraq war. Baika has crafted a memorable cast of characters of divergent and conflicting political allegiances, all who struggle to do the right thing in a morally complicated world. It was an honor to learn more about his writing journey, why this book is important to him and about his upcoming projects.
HG: How would you describe yourself to somebody who isn’t familiar with your writing yet?
HB: I’m an Iranian American author who writes about atypical characters and settings. Before growing roots in the Washington DC area, I lived in several countries as a refugee. Migration, whether internally or across international borders, is a factor in many of the pieces I’ve written or am writing. LGBT issues are also on the forefront.
As I write and plan my next books, a theme that is emerging is that I’d like to imagine a world that is slightly better than the one we inhabit. In general, I wish people were more open to opposing ideas and more interested in befriending others from different backgrounds. For me, the ultimate objective is to plant the seeds of a slightly more sympathetic attitude toward others, particularly marginalized individuals.
HG: I love that. You recently released your contemporary historical fiction, On The Enemy’s Side, congrats! Who is your audience and what can readers expect from this story?
HB: Thank you. I think my book would appeal to the readers of Butter Honey Pig Bread, Guapa, and The Stationery Shop. At its essence, On the Enemy’s Side is a love story. But the setting is such an integral part of the story that it’s also a period piece. Readers find out more about Iran, and its ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity. Most media outlets do such a poor job of covering Iran in the news that Iranians appear as monolithic religious fanatics with no free thinking and no creativity. I wanted to correct that misconception and tell the truth about the complexity of a portion of Iranian society. Reader reviews show they appreciate this.
HG: That’s fantastic. So tell us, why this book and why now?
HB: The main character was inspired by a real person: an Iranian young man who studied medicine in Rome but returned to Iran after the Revolution to serve his country. He joined the Revolutionary Guards Corps. At the same time, he sympathized with a socialist organization that supported the new government. However, because of his socialist ideology, the Corps considered him an infiltrator and spy. He was arrested and died in custody soon after. I was heartbroken to learn about his story. I wanted to imagine a world, in which he could live.
I started writing this manuscript in 2008. Yes, an embarrassingly long time ago. I had no idea that would become a novel manuscript. I spent years, reading old newspapers, political publications, and prison memoirs. Then the story started to expand and take shape.
HG: Wow. What feeling do you want to leave people with when they finish your novel?
HB: A lot of reader reviews indicate they enjoyed learning more about Iran and its diversity. They appreciate the research that went into this. I hope that implicit in their appreciation is an enhanced sense of empathy. The world needs more of that.
HG: Yes it does. For fun, if On The Enemy’s Side was made into a movie, who would you cast?
HB: Mehdi Dehbi, the Belgian actor of Tunisian descent, would play Hesam. He’s the same actor that plays Jesus in the Netflix show Messiah. For Banoo, I’d love to cast Shohreh Aghdashloo. But I love her so much that I’d expand Banoo’s role. I’m sure the audience would love that too.
HG: Awesome! Switching gears, tell us a little bit about your actual writing process. Did it change during the pandemic? When and where do you write?
HB: More than the pandemic, the change is related to me becoming a bit smarter. 🙂 No one should have to take this long to write one novel. Now, I don’t allow myself to research during the writing time. I just keep a note that such and such should be added and I keep going. More importantly, I improved the spreadsheet, listing all the scenes in the manuscript. The improved spreadsheet is taken from the Story Grid. But I’m going to simplify that and remove some of the columns that I tracked but didn’t use.
I write at home, after I have a general outline. Sometimes the plot crawls and goes zigzag, advancing very slowly. Other times, it flows and runs — I can hardly type fast enough to catch up. The pace is beyond my control. The funny thing is that, in the end, I can’t tell the difference between scenes that I had to drag out of my mind and scenes that just appeared out of thin air. Both require heavy editing. 😉
HG: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
HB: I research too much. My brain forces me to learn all the lessons the hard way. Once, I researched the bus route in Baltimore for a couple of hours so that my character would have an easy commute. Based on the results, I picked his place of residence. The readers are not gonna care which bus he takes. I just wasted two hours. But my protagonist saved time. So… maybe it was worth it?
HG: Haha, I love that. What has been your favorite thing to happen during the publishing process of your debut novel?
HB: Hearing from readers. Sometimes, they text me. Sometimes they email me. Sometimes they leave reviews online. I read them and try to learn from them. The very first feedback I received was so positive that I literally had to step outside with teary eyes and take that in for a few minutes.
HG: That’s awesome. What has been the most challenging part of your publishing journey?
HB: Time – the same challenge I have in other aspects of life as well. I’m interested in too many things and my mind runs in a million directions. I think in my previous life, I used to be a professional artist commissioned by the aristocracy, so all I had to do was to create art. Apparently, I messed up somewhere. And now, as a punishment, I’m back as a regular person who has to work a day job to pay the bills and do creative projects on the side to fulfil the heart.
HG: What do you like to do when not writing?
HB: Having realized I had too many hobbies and too little time, I’ve now narrowed down my interests to writing, painting (with watercolor but hoping to learn how to work with acrylic at some point) and playing the piano.
Of course, I need to be active because all these activities are sedentary, and “sitting is the new smoking.” I love to swim in the summer though I’m not very good at it. And there are always dishes to wash, and meals to cook, and laundry to fold. Did I tell you I have the main ideas of the next 13 books? Will I have time to write them? Can you remind me of the average life expectancy of someone from my background?!
HG: All the things! If you could ask your author idol one question about their writing, writing process, or books, what would it be?
HB: James Baldwin – I think there’s so much written about him that if I do proper research (oh lord), I shouldn’t have any outstanding questions. I’d just ask him to let me clean his house, or organize his papers, or complete any task in his presence. I’d do anything to spend a few hours with him. Maybe an iota of his brilliance would rub off on me.
HG: Great answer. What can you tell us about any projects you have in the works?
HB: My next novel, Stolen Moments of Joy, revolves around a young man from Afghanistan who lives in Baltimore. Sometimes, his boyfriend erupts in violent outbursts. But my protagonist doesn’t know he deserves better. I’m coaxing him and am trying to build his self-confidence. It doesn’t help that he’s witnessing so much racism and discrimination against himself and other minorities.
The book is coming out in early 2022. I’m currently incorporating the feedback of my sensitivity readers.
HG: We will be on the lookout! For readers that want to find out more about your stories and keep up with you, where should they go to connect or learn more?
HB: The best way is to sign up for my newsletter which comes out every other month where I provide updates on what I’m working on. I plan on consulting with my subscribers to help discover some of the background details about the characters of the next novel. Folks can go to HamourBaika.com and subscribe at the bottom of the home page. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram @HamourBaika. I’d love to connect.
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