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Author Interview: Hend Hegazi

Today's interview is with debut author Hend Hegazi, author of Normal Calm.  Hend is a freelance writer, whose work has appeared in notable Muslim magazines such as Azizah and SISTERS.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Massachusetts, USA. I graduated from Smith College with a degree in biology and shortly after, moved to Egypt where I have been for the past 13 years. I’m married and have 4 children. I’m a freelance writer for SISTERS magazine as well as a couple of online magazines. Recently, I’ve delved into the role of freelance editor, which is an endeavor I’m really excited about.
 
Can you share with us a little about your publishing journey?

I have always loved to write, but I didn’t become disciplined about it until I realized that those millions of published authors out there are no better than me! Some are exceedingly more talented and their stories are far better than mine, of course, but the opposite is also true. Authors are just regular people who simply make their writing a priority. When I accepted that truth, the idea of finishing my novel shifted from being a dream to being an achievable goal.
Once I finished it, I did all sorts of research on how to get published. Naturally, I learned that unsolicited manuscripts get no notice from most publishing houses and most authors make use of agents. So I set about doing my research into which agents may be interested in an Arab American story, and queried a bunch. A whole bunch. And although a few showed interest, in the end they all declined, saying it was a tough sell. Between the actual rejection letters and the no-reply rejections, I hold under my belt more than 100 agent rejections. Although I mention it with humor, at the time it was discouraging. I decided I would no longer pursue it: if it was meant to be, then God would make it happen.

I stopped actively researching agents, but if I learned of an Arab American published author, I would skim her acknowledgements page, searching for the mention of an agent. If I found one, I would query the agent, if not, I sent the query directly to the publisher. And that’s how I found FB Publishing. I sent them my manuscript, and they saw enough potential to publish it, Praise God.
 
What inspired your story, Normal Calm?

There were two things: First, I really hated the Arab mentality of blaming rape victims for this horrendous crime which was committed against them. During my research on the subject I have learned that victim blaming is really an international crises, one that all ethnicities struggle with. In Normal Calm, I felt the need to stand up and clearly say that rape survivors are the victims and should never be criminalized.

The other motivation was a desire to give people a window into the lives of Arab Americans. I wanted to show people that although we have religious and cultural differences, we are really more alike.
 
What was on of your biggest challenges, if any, while writing Normal Calm? And, how did your overcome that challenge?

The biggest challenge I faced was how Amina, the main character, would deal with the rape. In my earliest version, she reports it to the police. That’s what I wanted her to do, so that any readers in her position would be encouraged to take that same route. But when it came down to it, I realized that the novel would take a different path from the one I originally had planned: the police report would lead to a trial, and sentencing, and all sorts of things which, I felt, would pull the story away from the social repercussions of her rape. The thing which made her NOT file a report is the fact that her rapist flees the country. Don’t get me wrong: I encourage any victims of rape to report it to the authorities, but for the purposes of this fictional story, having him leave just made more sense.
 
Tell us about your favorite scene in your story, without giving us too much of the story.

There is a scene when one of her perspective suitors basically calls her promiscuous, and she tells him off. I love her brashness in that scene, partly because it comes as a shock, even to herself. It shows that we are capable of strength beyond our own awareness.
 
What is the most important thing you want your readers to take away after reading Normal Calm?

That even when there is a lack of support from people you love, being honest and staying true to yourself will always be rewarded with goodness.
 
Do you have any other projects you are working on that you can tell us about?

I’ve finished writing my second novel, Praise God, although I still have no news of publication. Along with my freelance writing and editing, I’m developing some ideas for my next book and hope to begin writing that soon, God willing.
 
If you could share one piece of advice that you wish you had been given at the beginning of your publishing journey, what would it be?

Do not overlook the small, niche publishers. For example, there are Muslim publishers out there, even though they may not easily turn up during your search. Facebook is a super resource to help locate and connect with people, and that includes niche publishers.
 
This question is for Amina (book character) ... If you could say or share one thing with rape victims around the world, what would it be?

Many rape survivors experience self-blame, but just as it is ridiculous to think of blaming the victims of theft for that crime, it is even more ridiculous to blame rape victims. It may not be easy to find a partner who will understand and accept your circumstances, but if you are honest and true to yourself, God willing, HE will reward you with goodness.
 
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule and sharing your writing journey with us.

It is my pleasure. Jazakum Allahu khairan for giving me the platform to share my journey.

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