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ISNA 54 Convention 2017

I’m at ISNA 54 in Chicago, where I spoke about the power of fiction to challenge stereotypes and broaden people’s horizons, and in particular to influence the American view of Islam and Muslims – and where of course I promoted my novel, Pieces of a Dream. Umm Zakiyyah, a popular author, was originally scheduled to be my co-speaker but could not attend. At the last minute I found two other published authors to share the stage.

Najiyah Maxfied is the author of the young adult novel Sophia’s Journal. As an editor at Daybreak Press and an online writing coach, she is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about writing and publishing.

Sommieh Stephanie Flower (author of Eye of the Heart) comes across at first as sleepy, until you realize that she has done more in one lifetime than most people would do in two, and that her apparent state of relaxation is a mixture of sauve and world-weariness. Originally a convert from Judaism, she has – among other things – founded schools here in the USA, and a teaching academy in Islamabad. Eye of the Heart is her memoir. She also has a fictional novel on the drawing board.

About 100 people attended, which I felt was a solid turnout. Najiyah moderated the session and did a good job tying our three talks into a single theme.

A young attendee in the front row turned out to be an author herself. So we invited her to share the stage for the Q&A. Her name was Ayah. Raven haired and a bit Muslim-punkish in appearance, only a slight tremor in her voice betrayed her apparent confidence. She had some pointed things to say about overcoming inner doubts and actually writing (“Take a long walk… there has always been a relationship between writing and physicality.”)

A woman in the audience wanted to know why there weren’t more events like this. She said there should be writing workshops at every Islamic event. I hear you, sister.

A middle aged man asked what we authors are doing to promote our books. Sitting there on the stage, I had a brainstorm: I need an agent who specializes in Muslim fiction! Someone who knows where to promote and sell my novel, how to make it available in countries like Pakistan and Malaysia (where I’ve had inquiries from interested readers) and how to get it carried by Islamic bookstores. I don’t actually think that any such person currently exists. Hello, if you are reading this, there is a seriously unfilled niche in the writers’ agent field.

On the whole I felt our session was well received and appreciated. Many readers stuck around afterward to talk to us speakers, especially sister Najiyah. “We make a good team,” she enthused to me later. “We should take this show on the road!”

I brought twenty copies of Pieces of a Dream and only sold seven, which is better than nothing but still disappointing.

I brought my daughter along because I thought she’d enjoy seeing one of these big conventions and visiting Chicago for the first time. I’ve seen flashes of interest or enthusiasm on her part, and there are rare moments when she laughs at one of my jokes, but for the most part she’s been overwhelmingly negative,

In spite of all this, I cannot say I made a mistake bringing her. She is my child and I love her. The only choices I have are to continue to try to engage with her and care for her, or to abandon my efforts and leave her to her inner demons. The right choice is obvious.

I spotted a friend named Sarah on the up escalator of my hotel as I was on the down, descending from the mezzanine. I met Sarah in 2013. At one point it seemed something serious might develop between us. In the end it did not work out, and we stopped communicating.

We sat in the lobby and chatted for a few minutes. She is a beautiful and intelligent woman and I wish her well.

Tomorrow Salma and I will check out of the hotel and meet up with my cousin, who lives here in Chicago. We’ll spend a day sight-seeing or just visiting family, and fly back to California Monday afternoon Insha’Allah.