Patricia Dunn is the author of Rebels By Accident, a young adult coming of age tale that takes place in Egypt during the revolution that recently swept through the country. Patricia dropped by the virtual offices to chat about her book.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[Patricia Dunn] I am the tangential queen. When I tell a story I take you around the world to bring you right back to where we started only with some new discovery, hopefully.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Rebels by Accident?
[Patricia Dunn] It’s the journey of an Egyptian-American teen who in our post 9-11 world is very disconnected from her culture, and how she finally figures out what it means to be Egyptian and American. It’s also a love story. Not just the girl meets boy story, but a story that also includes falling in love with a place and a people, and friends and family. And let’s not forget that it’s about Revolution on the outside and on the inside.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
[Patricia Dunn] It didn’t start off as a choice. I was in a writing class with Cassandra Medley, at Sarah Lawrence College, she’s an amazing teacher and playwright. Through a series of writing prompts, the voice of Mariam started to come through. Someone once said it was like I channeled her. And I must have, because I’d never have consciously written in the voice of a teenager. Teens are tough. But whenever I tried to go back to a more adult narrator Mariam kept fighting her way through and winning. When I finally accepted Mariam as my narrator, I let her tell her story, and there were many variations. After the recent Egyptian revolution, I knew that was part of her story and so with the help of a wonderful editor, and my then publisher Evelyn Fazio, and with the help of my best friend and agent, this version emerged. And like any story I write, revision, revision, and revision, and trial and error, lots of it. The more I worked on this book, the more I learned about my characters and the more the story revealed itself.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What kind of research did you conduct for this project?
[Patricia Dunn] I’ve been to Egypt many times, so I could visualize a lot of the places I was writing about. But to get the events and the feel for a lot of the scenes at Tahrir square, I spent hours looking at YouTube videos and reading posts on Facebook and Twitter, and asking everyone I knew who was there or who had family there at the time. I also had many readers looking over the book and helping with fact checking. When it came to some of the Arabic translations, I made sure that these were checked and rechecked. I really tried to make sure that the transliteration was true to the way things are said in Egypt as opposed to other Arabic speaking countries. For example, in Egypt a “th” sound is used in a lot of words whereas it’s not used in other Arabic speaking countries. Oh, and I also talked to as many teenagers as I could to get a sense of what felt believable. I was constantly reading sections to my son and asking, "Does this sound like something a teen would say?" Or would your friends do this? Or would they do that? Then there was all the research around social media. It was amazing to me how the youth in Egypt were not only using Facebook to share news about fashion or friends but they were using Facebook to organize, to change the world.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Mariam?
[Patricia Dunn] Loyal, funny, gutsy
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Mariam would never have in her purse?
[Patricia Dunn] Mariam wouldn’t carry a purse, a backpack, but not a purse. Three things she’d never carry in her backpack are a romance novel (that’s Deanna, her best friend’s thing), a cell phone (her parents wouldn’t let her have one), and a red lipstick (Deanna wouldn’t approve of the color.)
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Mariam’s single most prized possession?
[Patricia Dunn] She doesn’t realize it until later in the book, but I would say it’s the dress that her grandmother gives her. The trim on the sleeve is not finished. Mariam likes it this way because as Sittu tells her, "It’s good to be reminded that nothing is perfect in this world, and still there is so much beauty in this imperfection." Or something like that.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?
[Patricia Dunn] I have to say my son does a lot to inspire me. Encourage me. Also, to kick my butt when he thinks I’m slacking off.
And the women of my writing group; they are tremendous writers who have so much care and love for their craft and each other that I’m always so grateful for their being part of my life.
My students. I have the honor of teaching at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. Most of my students have families, full time jobs, more obligations in a week than many have in a year, and yet they manage to write their five pages or more a week, and they come to class giving as much to the other students in the class as receiving. They are always an inspiration to me. How hard they work. How determined they are. No matter what, they keep writing. Sometimes watching them shames me because of the excuses I will use to not write, but more often, they inspire me.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?
[Patricia Dunn] 1. My Writer’s Group, or what I call my “writer’s support group.” We meet every week to talk about our writing and our lives. We have each other’s backs and we keep each other going. Let’s face it, writing is hard work, and often there’s not a lot of payoff.
2. One song that I can play over and over again. When I’m starting a new project, it helps for me to find a song that matches the mood of the book, and often to the dismay of those around me, playing it over and over again keeps me in the right head and body space needed to get me writing forward.
3. Time. I think this is true for all writers. I don’t mean just hours. I mean the kind of focused time where there are no external or internal distractions. I’m not thinking about paying the cable bill or scrubbing the toilet while I’m writing. I’m there in the world my characters have helped me to create.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?
[Patricia Dunn] There have been so many. As someone who teaches a novel class and who is always working with other writers, a lot of what I read are works in progress, or works not yet published. The book not yet published that most knocked my socks, and boots, off was Jimin Han’s novel. It’s beautifully written and suspenseful. I couldn’t put it down.
The last published book to do that to me was the Kite Runner. The story was honest and compelling. The pacing was marvelous. I loved how it starts off slow, slow enough for us to really learn about the character and the world he grows up in. The pacing felt true to the way I remember experiencing childhood. Summer days that go on forever. Then the pacing speeds up and you can hardly breathe, or stop reading, until you get to the end.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?
[Patricia Dunn] Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier. I remember pulling it off the shelf in third grade. Up until then, I had never heard about the Holocaust, or even much about World War II. This book was about how the war separates this family and what they do to survive and find each other. I don’t remember a lot of the details and, actually, I’d like to read it again. I will never forget how it made me feel. I was so caught up in the characters’ world that I worried for them even when I wasn’t reading the book, though I read every chance I had. I couldn’t stop reading. I had to find out what happened next. I even read when I could have been watching television. Now that says a lot about how engaged I was with the story and the writing.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
[Patricia Dunn] Travel. Having Netflix marathons with my son, like watching every episode of the Twilight Zone in three days. Acting like a local roadie for my boyfriend’s cover band. I never had any interest in being a roadie or a groupie when I was younger, but at 48 it’s fun to be a band’s number one fan, especially when the bass player is such a cutie. He doesn’t make a living at his music; that he does in other ways. He plays for the fun of it. And it’s so much fun watching him and the other guys play. I have to say watching others write isn’t quite as entertaining.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?
[Patricia Dunn] Website Patriciadunnauthor.com
and twitter @shewrites
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!
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About the book:
A Troubled Teen Sent to Cairo Finds Revolution is Everywhere, Including in Ourselves
When my first party ends in jail, I think things can’t possibly get worse. But then my parents send me to my grandmother in Cairo, and I’m sure my life is over. My sittu is Darth Vader’s evil sister, and I’m sure the only sites I’ll get to see in Egypt are the rooms in her apartment.
Turns out she’s not so bad. We ride camels by the pyramids and ice skate at a mall.
As Sittu says, “Sometimes a moment can change your life.” But it can change the life of a country too. When a girl named Asmaa calls the people of Egypt to protest, I find myself in the middle of a revolution, running from tear gas and guns.
Oh yeah, and I meet the cutest guy I’ve ever seen. Fall in love for the first time. And have my first kiss.