Saffron Dreams – Author Interview – Shaila Abdullah

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Paperback Writer is pleased to announce today’s author Shailah Abdullah, author of Saffron Dreams as she virtually tours the blogosphere with Pump Up Your Book Promotion.

WIN A PRIZE:As a special promotion for all our authors, Pump Up Your Book Promotion is giving away a FREE virtual book tour to a published author or a $50 Amazon gift certificate to those not published who comments on our authors’ blog stops.

ABOUT THE BOOK:From the darkest hour of American history emerges a mesmerizing tale of tender love, a life interrupted, and faith recovered. Arissa Illahi, a Muslim artist and writer, discovers in a single moment that no matter how carefully you map your life, it is life itself that chooses your destiny.

After her husband’s death in the collapse of the World Trade Center, the discovery of his manuscript marks Arissa’s reconnection to life. Her unborn son and the unfinished novel fuse in her mind into one life-defining project that becomes, at once, the struggle for her emotional survival and the redemption of her race.

Saffron Dreams is a novel about our ever evolving identities and the events and places that shape them. It reminds us that in the midst of tragedy, our dreams can become a lasting legacy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Shaila Abdullah is an award-winning author and designer, based in Austin, Texas. Her creative work focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of Pakistani women and their often unconventional choices in life. Her debut book, Beyond the Cayenne Wall, is a collection of stories about Pakistani women struggling to find their individualities despite the barriers imposed by society.

Among other accolades, the book won the Norumbega Jury Prize for Outstanding Fiction and the DIY Festival Award. Abdullah received a grant from the Hobson Foundation for her new novel, Saffron Dreams which is about the trials and tribulations of a 9/11 Muslim widow.

Abdullah has written several short stories, articles, and personal essays for various publications, such as Dallas Child, Web Guru, About Families, Sulekha, Women’s Own, She, Fashion Collection and a magazine of the Daily Dawn newspaper called Tuesday Review, etc. She is a member of the Texas Writers’ League.

A Pakistani-American, Abdullah is also a seasoned print, web, and multimedia designer as well. See a complete bio at

Hi Shaila,

Welcome to Paperback Writer

Thanks for having me on your blog.

Will you share with us how you came up with the idea for this book?
SA: Saffron Dreams explores the tragedy of 9/11 from the perspective of a Muslim widow. In the novel, I have attempted to capture how ordinary Muslims were affected by the tragedy of 2001—the silent majority who lead very normal lives and are law-abiding citizens of this land. They are the ones we never hear about because their lives are too ordinary to be the subject of the nightly news. In the terrorist attack of 9/11, the shards of glass reached far and wide wounding the minds of Americans who had been very accepting of the melting pot their country had become. The event put them at odds with a community that had come to this country with very simple objectives: to work hard and lead honest lives. Saffron Dreams is the story of basic human desire to be accepted in society, no matter what your background, ethnicity, or race.

Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as you write it?
SA: As I get a little more disciplined about writing, I find that doing an outline helps tremendously. If you plot your scenes earlier on, you have a better handle on the story and can lead your characters gently toward the grand finale. You can build in the cues, insert conflicting emotions and events, and even make them miserable at times until they reach their goal.

Do you know the end of the story at the beginning?
SA: Yes, for the most part I do. In case of Saffron Dreams, I didn’t until I was three chapters into the book.

Do you have a process for developing your characters?
SA: Not really although I have heard there are really good tools out there. Just the other day, a coworker was telling me about Jeff Gerke’s Character Creation tool. I must admit I haven’t tinkered with it though. I do become obsessed with my characters. Once I develop a character, I try to analyze life from their perspective. That can be pretty draining at times and really throw you off as you start analyzing really unimportant details of their lives like what brand of cereal they prefer, would they wear a hat on a sunny day, would they be good Samaritans if there was an accident, etc

It is said that authors write themselves into their characters. Is there any part of you in your characters and what they would be?
SA: If the readers are not drawn to the characters or the plot, you will lose them halfway. Then again, as any author will tell you, when you start writing, sometimes your characters take a life of their own and surprise you. I will tell you this though, the character of the main protagonist Arissa Illahi, a veil wearing Muslim woman, kept me awake many nights wondering what she would do next. The novel is not autobiographical, although there are many similarities between the character and I. We are both writers and artists and had arranged marriages. We both have flawed sense of directions but I will tell you this, certain characters of the novel were modeled after members of my family. A cousin who died after three years of marriage, leaving a pregnant wife behind drove the character of Faizan. The cousin’s compassionate and loving parents inspired the characters of Faizan’s parents, who step in to help Arissa get back on her feet.

What is your most favorite part about this book?
SA: Baumgartner-Jackson , a reviewer at Reader Views compared Saffron Dreams to the Indian dish “Thali” because it has so many contrasts to it, and the fact that it goes from despair and heartbreak to humor and joy. It’s hard to pick a part that is my favorite since I had so much fun writing this book. If I were to select one scene, it would be where Arissa is standing on a pier overlooking the Hudson, conflicted about letting go of her headscarf. Something about the character’s conflicting emotions in that scene touched me deeply.

When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?
SA: As soon as I was done editing. Although I started compiling a list much earlier.

What struggles have you had on the road to being published?
SA: Not major ones, I must say I have been very fortunate. Getting published is a long, tricky, and thorny road and there are often roadblocks but if you keep your eyes on the prize and not get discouraged, you will eventually reach your goal. Perseverance is the key.

What has been the best part about being published?
SA: Letting someone else take charge. Of course, I am so detail-oriented that I did orchestrate certain events and played an active role in pulling a marketing plan together for promoting Saffron Dreams. Hearing from fans from far off distant places is also very nice. I try to be very good about responding to fan mails. The thing that surprises me is how fans think that you are suddenly on a pedestal because you have written a book.

What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your novel?
SA: I want the readers to discover that the best way to avert discrimination is to look it straight in the eye and do something about it. Remember to take the outstretched hand of those who want to help when life throws you off balance. Only then will you find your equilibrium. Know that certain choices we make in our lives are driven by our own individual circumstances; therefore, there is no point in defending them to the world. Don’t rush to condemn a community because of the acts of a few misguided souls. Last, but not the least, know that happiness comes in unexpected forms, sometimes not packaged to our specification but ultimately containing the perfect ingredients to make life worth living.

Do you have plans to write another book?
SA: Actually there are two books that I am currently considering. One is a novel about street children of Pakistan, a book that Arissa is shown working on in Saffron Dreams and another is a young adult novel about an Indian teen, torn between her passion for dancing and keeping the family business alive.

Would you care to share with us how the virtual book tour experience with Pump Up Your Book Promotion has been for you?
SA: So far it has been great. The team, especially Jaime, has been great to work with. I have learned a great deal from this experience.

Where can readers find a copy of your book? Do you have a website for readers to go to?
SA: You can find a wealth of information on my website at including a reading guide, excerpt, reviews, and buying information. For those with comments and questions, I can be reached at If you mention Paperback Writer, you will receive a free e-book called A Taste of Saffron, containing recipes of dishes mentioned in Saffron Dreams. Readers who sign up for updates on my website will get a free excerpt of my 2005 book, Beyond the Cayenne Wall.

Thank you, Shaila for sharing your book and characters with us today. It has been a pleasure and I hope you have had a successful virtual book tour.

Thanks for having me on Paperback Writer, and for your good wishes.

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