An Egyptian city planner, a timid Saudi pilot, a boy from the United Arab Emirates who worshipped sex, not Allah, and a young Lebanese student who had gone to a Christian school: How did these very different men with very different ideas come to fly the 9/11 planes? How did the plot develop, and who developed it?
“Marwan,” a novel by Aram Schefrin, is a taut, well-paced exploration of a key episode in contemporary history. It is suspenseful, illuminating, and brilliantly balanced between the compelling narration of known facts – from the group’s first coming together in Hamburg, Germany, to the moments before the jets they were to hijack took off – and an imaginative response to unanswered questions.
Welcome to Paperback Writer
Q. Will you share with us how you came up with the idea for this book?
After 9/11 I realized I knew nothing about the people who had perpetrated the attacks, or the reasons they had done it. I hadn’t even heard of al Qaeda – and I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about international affairs. So I started reading, and I followed the press reports. Many of the events that led up to 9/11 happened near me, in Florida. I went to see the places where the hijackers had lived – and I couldn’t understand how anyone who had experienced America as they had could harbor such hatred for us. The more I researched, the more I understood that – while public discussion was focused on religion as the cause – there was a lot more to it than that. Once I put together enough of the little details from press reports to get the flavor of the people and the events, I decided that non-fiction couldn’t possibly get deep enough into their heads. So much had to be deduced and imagined. That made the story perfect for fiction.
Q. Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?
I don’t usually use formal outlines. On this one, I just sequenced the research, integrated it and fleshed it out fictionally when details weren’t available and I had gotten to know the characters well enough.
Q. Do you know the end of the story at the beginning?
Obviously I did with this one. I also knew at the beginning where I was going to end the book. I didn’t think dealing with the actual hijackings would have added anything to what I had to say.
Q. Do you have a process for developing your characters?
I usually let them develop themselves. They do a better job with that than I would.
Q. It is said that authors write themselves into their characters. Is there any part of you in your characters and what they would be?
I don’t see how you can write characters without putting yourself into them. As much as you understand other people, there are always areas that baffle you, and your own experience can fill the gaps. Besides, we all fascinate ourselves, don’t we? There is a lot of me in Marwan, and maybe some in Jarrah – I tend to see myself as a kid, and I thought of both of them that way. With reason, considering how young they were.
Q. What is your most favorite part about this book?
I like chapter 5 best, where Marwan and Atta first start learning to fly, because I like the flow of the language and I had a chance to be humorous.
Q. When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?
I had an agent when I wrote the book. He circulated it as soon as it was finished.
Q. What struggles have you had on the road to being published?
Rejections, like everyone else. I hate them.
Q. What has been the best part about being published?
As you know, this book is self-published. The best part of publishing it was that I didn’t have to argue with anyone.
Q. What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your novel?
I think it’s critical that people understand that the so-called “clash of civilizations” is not inevitable; that there are things that could have been done, and still could be done, to avoid the likelihood of more 9/11s. We must understand the enemy to protect ourselves, and that particularly includes understanding what drove them personally – their frustrations, their humiliations, their unmet needs, etc. Why were they so willing to kill themselves? Or were they really willing? Why did they turn to extreme religion? Et cetera. I think I have explained some of that.
Q. Do you have plans to write another book?
I have another book coming out in the spring, and another one behind that – and I expect to write more.
Q. Would you care to share with us how the virtual book tour experience with Pump Up Your Book Promotion has been for you?
I find the interview questions challenging, and I really like answering them. I’m very devoted to the web anyway.
Q. Where can readers find a copy of your book? At the usual online megastores – Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Or they can come to Florida, where the local bookstores have it. The book is available as an e-book, too. I have all the sources I know of listed on my website.
Q. Do you have a website for readers to go to?
Thank you, Aram, for sharing your book and characters with us today. It has been a pleasure and I hope you have a successful virtual book tour.