and now you’re not.

Life is fast-paced, and if you’re an author who hopes to tell a story full of real-world nuance, you’re going to have to keep up.  The world can change on you pretty quickly.  Current events in the Middle East have me constantly pouring through my manuscript, checking the wording here, removing something there, adding a little sumfin’-sumfin’ there.  It’s tricky, no doubt.  For instance, when I was creating Aliyah‘s character, (pronounced: Ah-LEE-Ah) I was taken by this news story

Excerpt from:  Operation New Dawn; The Official Web Site of United States Forces – Iraq

Women join Iraqi police

Story and photos by
Petty Officer 2nd Class John J. Pistone
Multi-National Security Transition
Command – Iraq

IRBIL, Iraq — Women’s rights might not be the first thing one thinks of when someone mentions Iraq, however, some officials in the Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq would like it to be.

According to Irbil Minister of Interior Karim Sinjari, equality is very important for the residents of the Kurdish provinces.

“We are working very hard to be progressive and set the standard for human rights in Iraq,” he said.

The story was already old news by the time I surfed in, but it fit into Aliyah’s back story nicely, so I went with it.  Irbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan and, according to this bit of propaganda, a place that hoped to set the standard for human rights in their country. 

Now fast forward to something more current, written by someone who hopes to tell another side to this story.

Excerpt from

Women’s Rights in Iraq: Decreasing by the Day

by Sarah Menkedick · April 14, 2010

Just as arguments claiming that Afghan women were “better off” under the Taliban are controversial and in my opinion, misguided, so are arguments claiming that Iraqi women were “better off” under Saddam. My idea here certainly isn’t to glorify these regimes, but rather to show that foreign occupation is messy, destructive and harmful and that in many ways it worsens women’s situation and further inhibits their ability to demand rights. Such is certainly the case in Iraq.

The Iraqi constitution now contains a clause stating that no law can contradict the “established rulings of Islam”, and law and politics are increasingly under the control of conservative Islamic groups with the support of the Iranian government. Women are losing rights by the day. They now risk their lives going to work, going to school, and simply leaving their homes. Surges of tribalism have led to regional control by radical groups who beat women for not covering themselves, and rape is increasingly used as a weapon by warring tribal factions.

Of course, a good story is told by layering a complex tapestry of “the real.”  Contrasting these two articles raises some meaningful questions about life as an Iraqi woman.  A good friend (whom I won’t embarrass by naming here) was very helpful in providing further reading to help me breathe some life into my action hero.    Among them:

Honour & Shame: Women in Modern Iraq, by Sana Al-Khayyat

Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems, by Fatema Mernissi

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, and , Embroideries, by Marjane Satrapi  

Authors who have laid good internal foundations for their characters will have a far easier time adapting a story to mesh with current events as the world continues to spin.  After all, the world changes every day, and we continue to develop and react to current events.  In the case of large change (Egypt anyone?) we can look for pervasive attitudes which are more stubborn in reacting to change.  Those attitudes speak to the foundation you’ve created in your character’s motivations, fears, hopes and dreams.  By their very nature, attitudes offer a host of story-telling opportunities and back doors when you find yourself modifying your novel to keep it strongly rooted in current events.  I’m very proud of Aliyah Khoury.  If you haven’t done so already, click here to get to know her a little better.


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