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TEN Questions with Ari Honarvar

1. Can you please introduce yourself and tell us something about your book 'A Girl Called Rumi'

Answer: I'm the founder of Rumi with a View, dedicated to building music and poetry bridges across war-torn and conflict-ridden borders. As a Musical Ambassador of Peace, I facilitate dance sessions and Resilience through Joy workshops for refugees and volunteers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. A GIRL CALLED RUMI is a tale of immigration, redemption, and the power of storytelling. The story weaves in the 12-century Persian mystic and poet Attar's Conference of the Birds and the 9-year-old Kimia, the main character, is drawn into this mythic tale and is able to tap into a mystical realm that sustains her through terrible circumstances. The book goes back and forth between past and present and multiple points of view as we learn what has become of her and her loved ones in America after a night that changes their lives forever.

2. When did you get the thoughts of writing this book? i read the book and i loved it, your writing style is commendable. You are amazing.

Answer: My husband and I wrote a version of this story as a screenplay when we first met 15 years ago. I took the essence and turned it into a novel in 2017. I wanted to incorporate the millennia-old myth, The Conference of the Birds, to address the omnipresent yearning for freedom from suffering. I also wanted to include the plight of people who are oppressed by dogmatic forces and offer the perspectives of children of war as I spent most of my childhood in the Iran-Iraq War. 

3. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Answer: For this novel, I pored over Attar's Conference of the Birds, Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, and other ancient Persian manuscripts. My mother is a Persian literature scholar and I asked her and a couple of other experts for help deciphering esoteric references. Because much of this book is based on my own experience and the stories my family and friends told me, I didn't have to research before I began. 

4. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

Answer: I didn't expect the characters to have such an adamant presence in my life—each with a distinct voice, whispering to me their ideas and perspectives.

5. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

Answer: I've had a few people asking for a sequel or a prequel (the tale of the storyteller). My other publication, Rumi's Gift, is an oracle card deck and book of Rumi's translations and meditations. I have other separate projects in the works but not sure what I'll commit to as my next writing adventure. 

6. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Answer: In my article, "When Savoring a Pleasant Moment is a Radical Act," I recall one night in my home city of Shiraz, Iran, during the war. While sirens blared and the electricity was shut off, warning of an imminent attack, my parents and I snuck to our rooftop to watch the anti-aircraft missiles shoot into the air. To my 7-year-old eyes, the brilliant red patterns in the pitch-black sky rivaled the most majestic fireworks display. But underneath the awe, there was a simmering terror of not knowing who the lottery of death was going to claim next. Was it going to be me? My best friend? My sister in Tehran? My teacher?

And then someone from another rooftop shouted a verse of Rumi’s poetry into the clear night air:
 Even if, from the sky, poison befalls all,
I’m still sweetness
wrapped in sweetness
wrapped in sweetness…

This was a poetic challenge to the bombers, but it was also a gauntlet thrown down to any Persian in hearing range. The verse soon was rejoined from another rooftop:
While others sing about love,
I am the Sultan of love!

Even as a young child, I could feel the ecstasy of these verses in my heart, radiating to every cell of my being. In an instant, my world not only became sane, but infinite and glorious. And what bomb could ever touch that?

7. Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

Answer: I receive kind letters and messages from my readers on a daily basis. Many say they could feel themselves in the story as if they were watching a movie.  I’ve had a number of readers tell me that this book reminds them of the Italian movie Life is beautiful or the ancient tale One Thousand and One Nights. In both of those examples, a story becomes a sanctuary in the midst of brutality and death.

8. How would you express your journey as an Author?

Answer: This verse, which I've turned into a calligram on the cover of A GIRL CALLED RUMI, describes my journey best:

Attar explored the Seven Valleys of Love
We are still getting around one corner

9. What other things do you love than this writing?

Answer:;I facilitate a weekly dance session with asylum seekers waiting to be processed by the U.S. authorities in Tijuana, Mexico. Dancing, being in nature, swimming, laughing, and savoring pleasant moments are some of my favorite things. 

10. And last, What advice do you have for writers?

Answer: I teach a writing workshop on Developing a Sustainable Writing Practice Through Joy. What is enjoyable is sustainable, so I encourage writers to tune into their own natural rhythm and temperament and develop habits and rituals that support an enjoyable writing practice.

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