Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Interview with Naseem Rakha, author of "The Crying Tree"

Last week I reviewed The Crying Tree, a book that I found to be both compelling and relevant (my review). Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Naseem Rakha to The Book Chick, who was kind enough to answer a few of my burning questions.

The Book Chick: The Crying Tree deals with the difficult topic of capital punishment. Did you find yourself getting emotional while writing it?

Naseem Rakha: There are scenes in The Crying Tree that still tear at my heart. They can be simple scenes. The vagabond that Shep had come to know, pulling off his weather worn hat, and holding it to his chest as the hearse carrying Shep drives by. Bliss watching a plow dig up the earth and knowing that she had just dug up and discarded her best friend’s heart, the site of a hummingbird in a prison rec yard - a sign of beauty where no beauty is ever thought to be. When I wrote these scenes, they tugged on me, but as the characters grew and developed they developed even greater emotional weight. Some scenes still make me cry.

TBC: You mention in the "Reader's Guide" that you spoke with and interviewed people who were on death row prior to writing this book. Were there aspects of their personal stories and circumstances that you incorporated into the character of Daniel Robbins?

NR: Daniel Robbins is an amalgamation of many people I have met in prison, both death row inmates, or people who are serving life sentences. Many are artists, for example. Many care deeply about the environment, and notice things like birds flying by, or even the most subtle changes in weather. The men and women I have met in prison, so many of them, are struggling to figure out how to be better people. In this, of course, they are no different than any one else. But these people are fighting greater demons, and seem, many of them, to have achieved a higher level of self awareness than many people I have met on the outside.

TBC: Are you working on anything new? If so, can you tell us a little about it?

NR: I am, and I won’t. Sorry. In my house, I make rice in a pot. I boil the water, add salt, butter, then a nice aromatic Basmati or Jasmine. Then I cover the pot and tell everyone not to open it until it is done. “If you do”, I say, “you will let the magic out.” I use the same recipe, minus the butter, salt and rice, to write a book.

TBC: What is your typical writing routine like?

NR: I wake around 5 am, make coffee, and write. I do not read anything until after I write. I do not want any other ideas, words, or reality to break into that sublime world that exists between waking and sleeping. I write for about 15 minutes on a topic different from my novel. I consider it stretching - yoga for my brain. After that, I drink my coffee, check my email, and start my day, returning to the creative writing after I have my son off to school and the house back to myself.

TBC: What books are on your nightstand right now?

NR: Waiting for Columbus, Thomas Trofimuk. The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas, Crashers, Dana Haynes.

Thank-you so much to Naseem Rakha for stopping by. If you haven't already, please enter my giveaway for one copy of The Crying Tree. The contest is open to Canadian and US residents, no PO boxes, and runs until October 1, 2010.

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