Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Where Jasmine Blooms: a novel by Holly S. Warah

December 30th, 2016 8 comments

WHERE JASMINE BLOOMS: a novel by Holly S. Warah

At last! After many years of writing, revising, and querying, my novel Where Jasmine Blooms will reach its readers. My debut novel is scheduled to be published by Skyhorse Publishing in April, 2017.


To the Mansours, an Arab American family living in Seattle, love knows no borders. But despite our best efforts, sometimes love—and family—are foreign to us . . .

American-born Margaret Mansour wants nothing more than to rekindle the struggling twenty-year marriage to her Palestinian husband, Ahmed—but not if it means uprooting their home and children in America and moving halfway across the world.

Young and ambitious Alison Mansour has a degree in Near East Studies, but her American education and Syrian background are of no use when her new marriage begins to crumble under the weight of cultural and religious differences. The communication between Alison and her husband is already shaky; how will they cope with the arrival of their first child?

Zainab Mansour, the matriarch of her family, never expected to live in America, but after the death of her husband she finds herself lost in a faithless country and lonely within the walls of her eldest son’s home. She wants what’s best for her children but struggles to find her place in a new landscape.

Emerging from the interwoven perspectives of these three women comes a story of love and longing, culture and compromise, home and homeland. Exploring the complex political backdrop of the Middle East from a personal perspective, Where Jasmine Blooms travels from the suburbs of Seattle to the villas of Jordan and the refugee camps of the West Bank, on an emotional journey exploring what it means to be a family.

Where Jasmine Blooms

A Novel by Holly S. Warah

$24.99 / Hardcover / April 2017

304 pages / 6 x 9 / ISBN 978-1-62872-749-4



Holly S. Warah has traveled widely throughout the Arab world. She has lived in the region for seventeen years and been married into an Arab family for twenty-eight years. Her short fiction has won a national award, first place in The Writer magazine’s 2011 Short Story Contest, as well as several regional awards, including first place in the 2010 Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) Literary Contest and first place in the 2011 Southwest Writers Writing Contest. Holly has a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language and has taught for more than ten years in Seattle and Dubai, where she now lives.


“Steeped in the smells, flavors and customs of the Palestinian culture, Warah gives us a family quietly roiling under modern and time-worn conflicts. We watch as they, sometimes quietly and sometimes with riveting raucous, struggle to reconcile disparate cultures, harrowing politics and the place for individualism. The matriarch carries her anxieties like rattling chains, the western daughter-in-law waffles on whether her mixed marriage home is stifling or supportive, and a newer mixed marriage teeters even as it produces a child. This keenly told story of an immigrant family straddling two continents is a worthy read as we plod through a world grappling with pluralism.”

– Nadia Hashimi, internationally bestselling author of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell


 You can preorder your copy today from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or from your favorite independent bookstore.

Thank you,


Update on my Novel

October 8th, 2014 8 comments

House MansourAt last! My novel is complete and on submission.

House Mansour is a novel set in Seattle and the Middle East. It tells the story of a sprawling Arab family and the American women married into it.

I am represented by Lotus Lane Literary Agency. For any and all inquiries to House Mansour, please contact Priya Doraswamy at

Writing about Another Culture

January 27th, 2012 12 comments

When it comes to writing fiction about another culture, some writers are paralyzed, convinced they’ll get it wrong. Others write boldly, using whatever snippets of knowledge they may have. Meanwhile, others don’t even attempt to portray another culture—out of fear of offending.

Here are some suggestions that have helped me along:

Avoid stereotypes. Some examples of stereotypes are: the submissive Asian woman, the ignorant American, the black criminal, the drunken Indian, the Muslim terrorist or the Hispanic gang member. Granted, all of these stereotypes have a grain of truth to them; that’s how they came about. But what happens when readers come across these sorts of stereotypes in a story? For some, these generalizations will confirm their world view. However, other readers may think, Oh, here we go again. We’ve seen this before. Some readers may lose faith in the writer. Some may become offended. Others may stop reading altogether.

So, how does one avoid cultural stereotypes?

Do your research. Go to the source. That is, don’t rely on the six o’clock news for your cultural information. Read literature and short stories straight from the culture. Sift through books with culture-related photographs. Watch films from the culture. Take notes and soak up details about the clothing, the music, the language, the setting, and the themes.

Plan an outing. Whenever possible, go to the spot you are writing about. If you can’t travel to the culture, go to Chinatown or eat at a Moroccan restaurant or participate in a multicultural festival. Attend a dance or music performance, a play, a book reading, a lecture, a cooking demonstration or a political event—anything that will shed light on the culture. Stay alert, ask questions, and take notes. You never know—a gesture, a piece of jewelry, a turn of phrase or a particular food could be the killer detail that helps create an authentic scene or character.

Strive for accuracy. Don’t take any detail for granted. For example, if you’re writing a scene involving a culturally-specific food, be open to learning more. Read a recipe in an ethnic cookbook; find out how the food is prepared, seasoned, garnished, served, and eaten. Talk to a cook. Aim for authentic and relevant details. One incorrect detail could cause a reader to pause or lose faith in the writing.

Keep an open mind. Don’t conduct research with the idea of simply confirming what you already believe to be true. Rather, set aside your filter and be open to new ideas that may contradict your current view.

Go beyond the obvious. Don’t settle for the first portrayal of the culture that comes to you. Avoid the easy and superficial plot lines. Dig deeper. Consider including issues of moral values, religion, rituals, family dynamics and taboos.

Include foreign words—but sparingly. Foreign phrases can add a wonderful cultural flavor to a story. It can be a lot of fun. That is, if the reader already knows the language. Readers who aren’t familiar with the language may stumble or become annoyed by lots of words they don’t understand. Select foreign words carefully. Consider including words and phrases the average reader may already know, phrases that can’t be translated easily, and phrases that will be used repeatedly throughout the story. Weave in the meaning of the phrase the first few times it’s used, but trust the reader will remember the third or fourth time it appears. I found that more than one or two foreign words per page can distract readers.

Emphasize universal themes. In my experience, the best multicultural fiction highlights a particular culture while at the same time developing universal themes that everyone can relate to, for example—longing for a loved one, the bond between a parent and child, sibling loyalty and rivalry, the desire to have a home of one’s own, and (my favorite) the tension involving a mother-in-law. Everyone can relate to that.

If you must include a stereotype—do so with a twist. Some writers insist that their plot requires a black maid or an oppressed Arab woman to make their story work. Okay. Fair enough. Those people do exist in real life, after all. To avoid creating a caricature, add an unexpected twist or two to make your character go beyond cliché and toward authenticity. Add multiple layers to create a more fully formed, fully human character.

Interview someone and get feedback. Talk to someone from the culture. Ask them or someone who knows the culture well to read your story or excerpts from your manuscript. Ask, “What parts seem authentic to you? What doesn’t?”

Regardless of the challenges, don’t shy away from multicultural characters. If you eliminate other cultures from your writing out of fear of offending, other problems crop up. A story that features only one dominant culture is unrealistic, repetitive and possibly offensive in a different way.

Remember that writing about other cultures is inevitable. Fiction writers can’t avoid writing from the point of view of characters of different ages, genders, socio-economic backgrounds or professions. In a sense, these are all different “cultures.”

Meanwhile, a multicultural world is not only the future, but it’s the present. As the world shrinks, our neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members are increasingly from different cultures. Our written stories should reflect this.

A Small Sample of Multicultural Fiction:

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Note: This blog post first appeared on the website, a site developed by my social media hero Johanna Harness.

To read a sample of my own multicultural writing, see my short story, “My Brother’s Wife,” set in Jordan and told from the point of view of a Jordanian girl, published in this month’s edition of The Writer magazine. You can read the story online.