Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. No, not that Marsha. Marsha Mehran was born in Tehran (an Iran province), grew up in Argentina and currently divides her time between New York and Ireland with her husband Christopher (a.k.a. Annoying Irish Husband). After pursuing such gigs as a model, personal assistant and waitress she has settled into her role as author having written professionally for the last five years. Her first release, Pomegranate Soup, is an amusing tale about “three sisters, an old box of recipes and a new exotic café in a small Irish town”. I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting to know this new author.
Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?
Marsha Mehran: I did have an epiphany of sorts, a definitive indication that I should be a writer. It happened one winter’s night in 2000, on the wobbly Millennium Bridge in Dublin, Ireland.
My husband, Christopher, and I had moved to Dublin in late 1999. I was working as a receptionist in an office that helped filmmakers with funding, and Christopher was running one of the busiest pubs in the city center. So I found myself alone and lonely during most nights after work, reading voraciously and wiling the hours away on the computer. One night I began to write a letter – a seemingly innocuous email to my younger brother, who was living in Australia at that time. Before I knew it, the email had grown into a short story, a complete history of our family, and then it turned into a novella.
I would rush home over the Millennium Bridge (one of the many bridges spanning the River Liffey) every night and sequester myself in our little bedroom to finish this story. I no longer felt lonely in the new city; I had a friend in the computer.
My realization, the moment I knew I was a writer, came to me one of these nights. The thought popped into my head as though it were a voice. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared out into the lights on the river, stunned by what I had heard. Then, I opened my mouth and said, “I’m going to be a writer!” Out loud! I hurried home and began to write in earnest. From that day on, I was determined to make writing my career.
So, in answering the second part of your question, I guess it was a little bit of both: writing chose me, and I decided to follow.
Moe: Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager? Etc.
Marsha Mehran: Looking back, I think I was a good writer as a child. I won an essay competition when I was seven, the grand prize being the opportunity to read the piece on the school PA system! Glamorous, indeed! I hated writing essays, though, mostly because I was inclined to slip into fiction whenever I tried… funny how it never occurred to me back then I should pursue it as a career.
Moe: What inspires you?
Marsha Mehran: Beauty, in all its shapes and forms. Looking back at my crazy life, and all the fabulously quirky individuals I have met so far.
Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Marsha Mehran: Writing my first book, Pomegranate Soup, was a feverish, crazy affair. I wrote mainly at night, starting at five in the afternoon and finishing at seven in the morning, eating, eating, eating, all they way through. It was like a pregnancy of sorts, that luckily only lasted six weeks (first draft, that is). Any longer and you’d have to roll me out of the house!
But, in writing my second novel, I find myself craving daylight. I wake up and do all the breakfasty things, walk the dog, etc, then sit down with a coffee at around ten a.m. I stare into space, chew the ends of my hair, have a zillion bathroom breaks, then find my groove at around two… then I write. I am currently outlining the book, which is quite fun.
Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
Marsha Mehran: With this second book, I am outlining extensively. It is longer, more suspenseful, and requires different consideration than it predecessor. After the first draft is finished, I will read it to my husband, Christopher. Then my agent gets a peek.
Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?
Marsha Mehran: Not type of reader, but the Reader in general. My primary concern is how to keep the Reader interested in the story to the very end. Each sentence and image must move toward this goal. Seduction is necessary in a storyteller. I’m often reminded of Scheherazade, the Persian princess who saved her life by spinning the most seductive of tales…
Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?
Marsha Mehran: I approach research on a need-to-know basis. I will return to the library and Internet as I write my outline and first draft, whenever I feel I need to enhance my imagination with factual information. With my first novel, Pomegranate Soup, I did a lot of research on the Islamic Revolution and Iran before and after the upheaval. Although I was born in Tehran right before the revolution, I was too young to experience much of the violence and confusion. For this I returned to books on that period, as well as the stories of my parents and extended family’s experiences.
Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?
Marsha Mehran: I am not conscious of drawing on real individuals for my characters—they just announce themselves as I work through the first draft. I don’t really draw the line between reality and imagination when I follow these characters on their merry way. One thing is important above all else: when it comes to writing through your characters you must love them all. Even the nasty ones. Especially the nasty ones.
Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?
Marsha Mehran: I have experienced writer’s block on several occasions. Mostly, it arose from instability in my outer life, or stress of some kind. I have learnt how to be at peace with these moments- how to sit in front of a computer for an entire day without writing a single word—knowing that it will eventually come. The worst thing for writing is to panic. Fear sets in motion too many thoughts.
Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
Marsha Mehran: Joy. Hope. A connection to one or more characters/situations.
Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
Marsha Mehran: No one will be a bigger fan of your book than you. Don’t expect the publisher to do all your publicity work for you—you have to get out there and let the world know about your particular, and wonderful, story.
Get yourself a good agent. Someone who you can trust.
Publishing is not about hitting the NY Times bestseller list and making gazillions on your advances. It’s about the story. It’s about your connection to the Reader. Pursue that and you can never go wrong.
Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?
Marsha Mehran: I try to answer all my fan mail personally. Not only has someone taken the time to read the book and appreciated it, even loved it, but they have also sat down to write to me. The least I could do is write them back.
Most fans write about how Pomegranate Soup filled them with happiness. That after having read the book they were left starving for the food described in it. One reader in particular stands out in my mind—she wrote to tell me that after reading the novel she was so inspired that she invited her sons, one whom she had not talked to for quite some time, over for dinner. She was hopeful that they could reconcile over a bowl of soup!
Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?
Marsha Mehran: I am currently working on my second novel. It is a story of Iranian mothers and their Iranian-American daughters. A very female-oriented book, filled with feminine power and magic. I am very excited about this story.
Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?
Marsha Mehran: I love the old Russian dudes (Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin) as well as Beckett and Genet for their madness. I ADORE Patrick Dennis’s novels, in all their campy, bewitching glory. I want to go for an unforgettable ride when I read. A world that I would not want to leave.
Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Marsha Mehran: Eat copious amounts of ice cream and watch romantic comedies.
Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Marsha Mehran: Have patience with yourself. Listen to the rumblings in your belly. That is your voice. Follow it.
Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
Marsha Mehran: Working on films. Directing and producing.
Moe: What is your favourite word?
Marsha Mehran: Labyrinth
Originally published 10/26/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.