Kathi Macias is a multi-award winning writer who has authored more than 30 books and ghostwritten several others. A former newspaper columnist and string reporter, Kathi has taught creative and business writing in various venues and has been a guest on many radio and television programs. Kathi is a popular speaker at churches, women’s clubs and retreats, and writers’ conferences, and was named 2008 Member of the Year by AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association). Kathi “Easy Writer” Macias lives in Homeland, CA, with her husband, Al, where the two of them spend their free time riding in Al’s new sunburst orange Corvette. You can reach Kathi or find out more about her writing and speaking at www.kathimacias.com. You can also visit her “Easy Writer” blog at http://kathieasywritermacias.blogspot.com/.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Kathi. Can you tell us what your latest book, People of the Book, is all about?
In a nutshell, it deals with the very real issue of honor killings. Here is a brief synopsis:
Eighteen-year-old Farah, who lives inRiyadh,Saudi Arabia, with her family, wants nothing more than to develop a deeper, more meaningful devotion to her Muslim faith. She sees the month of Ramadan as her chance to draw nearer to Allah, and she pursues that goal throughout the holiday. All goes well until the prophet Isa—Jesus—appears to her in a dream and calls her to Himself. At the same time, her only brother, Kareem, who has never liked Farah, actively seeks an opportunity to expose her for the sham he believes she is.
Meanwhile, Farah’s seventeen-year-old cousin, Nura, has begun to frequent an online chat room where former Muslims gather to discuss their new faith, based on their belief that Isa is much more than a Muslim prophet—He is actually the Son of God. While there, Nura becomes acquainted with an American girl of Muslim ancestry—now a devout Christian named Sara—and a friendship quickly develops. However, Sara has problems of her own due to her fifteen-year-old brother Emir’s involvement with a gang.
The lives of Farah, Nura, and Sara ultimately dovetail until each finds herself at a place where her faith is put to the test. Will they remain faithful to the end? Will God protect and keep them safe in the midst of persecution and treachery? Or will they be required to pay the ultimate price for their faith?
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
Farah is the primary character. She is an 18-year-old Muslim girl who is devout in her faith and dearly loves her family (parents and older brother). Her older brother, however, does not return the affection and watches her closely for a chance to discredit her. During the month of Ramadan Farah is determined to seek a deeper level of faith and connection to Allah, but when her seeking results in an unexpected encounter with Isa (Jesus), she is both thrilled and terrified, as she considers the possible results. Her entire future will hinge on her personal choices, and her faith is put to the test in a way even she does not expect.
Nura is Farah’s cousin, who is facing her own crisis of faith. Though her family reacts in a slightly different way from Farah’s, her life will also change radically—and permanently.
Sara is a high school student in America, whose former Muslim family has converted to Christianity. Her own crisis comes when she discovers her 15-year-old brother is involved in criminal activity. Her confession of faith, which she has been sharing over the Internet with her Saudi friend, Nura, is suddenly challenged to the point that she questions everything she has ever been taught.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
A: Both. Each of the four books in the Extreme Devotion series is based on actual events and real people, though I fictionalize the characters enough so they’re never recognizable. I use the motivational gifts in Romans 12 as my primary character development guidelines. It’s amazing how real and three-dimensional they become as a result.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
Again, I have to say both. I always have a starting and an ending point, but much of what happens in between is as surprising to me as it is to the readers. There may be certain scenes I want to be sure to incorporate, so I’ll jot them down as I think of them and work them in where they fit, but the rest is an unfolding of events along the journey.
Q: Your book is set in primarily in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?
I could have set the story in nearly any Mid-East Muslim nation/city, but I felt Riyadh is so fascinating—modern and mysterious, yet the epitome of a closed society for most women. Of course, that made the storyline more challenging to develop, as I needed my main Saudi character to be influenced by someone outside that setting. When I discovered how common it is for even girls and women to have Internet access there, I knew I’d found my connection.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
Absolutely! In fact, I chose the setting to enhance the story. I had to do a lot of research to put myself into this particular setting/culture, but I learned so much in the process.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
Two cousins, Farah and Nura, are on the verge of disclosing to one another the secrets of what is going on in their lives—secrets that could put them in grave danger if anyone else ever found out.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
The suqs were more crowded than the last time Farah and her mother and sister had browsed them after hours. Farah imagined it had a lot to do with the fact that the day had been a few degrees cooler than normal, and people were determined to get outside and make the best of it now that the sun had been down for a while. Instead of heading straight for the air-conditioned comfort of inside restaurants and cafes, shoppers seemed content to spend at least a little more time outside.
All three of the women had donned the coolest abayas they owned, as they always did when going out during the hottest times of the year. When Nadia complained to her mother that she was still uncomfortable, she was quieted and reminded of the need for good Muslim women to be modest when in public. For the first time in her life, as Farah listened to her mother’s admonitions, she found herself questioning the requirement, though she quickly scolded herself and dismissed the thought.
Why would my dreams about Isa or my discussion with Nura make me think differently about my religious practices? Of course I should remain modest in public; all women should! My body must be completely reserved for my future husband—whoever he might be.
She knew enough from her studies and her Internet browsing, as well as from reading books and talking with others, that not all women lived as they did in theSaudiKingdom, not even all Muslim women. Farah had always thought that a great tragedy, as she was certain the restrictions imposed upon them in the kingdom were for their own protection. It unnerved her to realize that now she was questioning those long-held certainties.
After nearly an hour of walking and shopping, the women arrived at the restaurant where they had planned to meet Sakeena and Nura. Farah’s heart rate escalated when she realized the two weren’t there, but by the time Farah and her mother and sister had been inside for a couple of minutes, their companions arrived.
The five were soon seated in a booth with curtains drawn and were able to remove their head coverings so they could sip their coffee and enjoy their pastries while they talked. Once again the conversation centered around shopping and clothes, with the two older women carrying the majority of the discussion and Nadia jumping in when she got the chance. Farah and Nura sat nearly silent, pretending to be absorbed in munching on their sweets while desperately trying to telegraph messages to one another with their eyes. At last Farah excused herself to go to the restroom, hoping that Nura would join her but that Nadia and the others would stay behind. Much to her relief, it happened exactly that way.
Farah and Nura, their head coverings back in place, quickly and silently made their way to the facilities. Once inside, they remained silent while the room’s only other occupant washed her hands before exiting. And then they were alone.
“I thought she’d never leave,” Nura whispered, removing her head covering as Farah did the same. “Thank you for thinking of this. I was so anxious to talk with you!”
“So was I,” Farah agreed. “But this is not a good time or place, do you think? Others will be coming and going, and we just can’t take the chance. Maybe you can talk your parents into coming over again tomorrow night, or to invite my family to your house, which might be even better. Kareem is a lot less likely to be snooping around at your place.”
Nura nodded. “You’re right. I’m worried about what he might have heard. He’s always frightened me a little, even though my friends are jealous that I’m his cousin. They all think he’s so handsome…which I suppose he is. But…” She paused before continuing, her expression troubled. “Has he said anything?”
“Nothing,” Farah assured her. “Not yet anyway. But I catch him glaring at me all the time. We’ll have to be really careful not to let him hear us.”
“Not to let who hear you?”
The question seemed to come out of nowhere, and both Farah and Nura spun toward the sound at the exact same moment they realized they were no longer alone. Though the intruder was dressed in a full abaya and head covering, her familiarity made it apparent that the one who had walked in on them was Nadia. The wording of Nadia’s question led Farah to believe her sister hadn’t heard any of the previous conversation, but that small consolation didn’t help her heart rate slow down any.
“Nadia,” she said, “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“That’s because I just got here—and because you were too busy worrying about someone else hearing you. Who were you talking about? Kareem?”
Farah swallowed. How much could she trust Nadia? Very little, she was sure. Taking her into their confidence was not an option. But what choice did she have? And then one very faint hope surfaced in the flurry of her mind.
“Nura and I were just talking about…Kareem,” Farah ventured, sensing her cousin grow tense beside her. “We were saying how we’d like to surprise him some time by making his favorite food when he least expects it. What do you think? Would that be a good idea?”
Nadia took off her head covering, revealing a puzzled expression. “I didn’t think you even liked Kareem,” she said, directing her words at Farah. “Why would you want to do something special for him?”
Farah wished she had left her own head covering in place to hide her flaming cheeks. “Of course I like him,” she said. “He’s my brother.”
“He’s mine too,” Nadia answered. “That doesn’t mean I think he’s very nice.” She paused, and a smile lit up her eyes. “Because he’s not, you know.”
Nadia laughed then, and the others joined in, though Farah noticed Nura’s laughter sounded as nervous as her own. But if Nadia had believed their story, then they would be all right—at least for now. It was obvious, though, that they would have to be more discreet in the future.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Kathi. We wish you much success!
Thank you for allowing me to join you and to share my thoughts with your readers.