I am happy to introduce my next guest author to you all! Please help me welcome Alison Glick! Let’s take a look at her bio and then find out more about her writing and the story she has brought today.
Alison Glick traveled in the early 1980s to Israel, where she lived in a kibbutz and in a town near Haifa. After studying Middle East History at Temple University, she returned to the region and lived in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Syria for six years, working as a teacher, human rights researcher, and freelance writer. Alison’s writing has appeared in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Arab Studies Quarterly, and Mondoweiss. The Other End of the Sea is her first novel.
Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?
Alison: That’s a bit of a convoluted story. For a long time, I resisted writing about anything connected to the Middle East. I tried and failed to write about other things in my life—my family, other things happening in the world. No matter what I wrote about, somehow things came back to the Middle East and my experience there.
In an essay-writing workshop I took several years ago, the teacher’s feedback on my piece was, “I’m not sure what this is but it’s not an essay. It might be a book chapter. I think you need to write a book.” So, finally, I gave up resisting and started what I thought would be a memoir, because I always thought of myself as a non-fiction writer. When he saw the manuscript, my editor at Interlink Books encouraged me to fictionalize it. He thought my literary writing style would lend itself to telling a story that was broader, more universal than that of a memoir, which is technically more bound by what “really” happened. One of my goals was to write a book that would be read by someone who didn’t know much about the Middle East, or who was curious about exploring other ideas. I think a novel is more likely to be picked up by such readers.
At first the thought of reworking the manuscript as fiction was terrifying because of how I had defined myself as a writer. Once I embraced the fear of the unknown and decided to trust the process (and my editor), the experience was liberating. I could create characters, tweak scenes in ways that added to the narrative, and craft a story that I hope appeals to readers beyond those interested in the Middle East. I drew on my experience in the region and on relationships I had with people, so it was also important to do what I could to respect the privacy of those individuals. Creating a work of fiction allowed me to do that, and to write a love story that reflects the experiences of others in very different situations.
Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?
Alison: The character of Rebecca Klein arrived developed in many ways, mostly because her narrative arc is based on my own experiences in the Middle East. But one of the most meaningful byproducts of reworking the book to be fiction was being able to rethink the meaning of my own experiences and actions, refracting them through the point of view of other characters in the story, particularly Zayn and Amira – Rebecca’s husband and daughter, respectively. Developing these characters, their arcs, and writing the denouement gave me the gift of resolving certain personal conflicts in a way that only strengthened relationships with loved ones.
Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think so?
Alison: I chose to stay with first-person narrative as a way to bring and keep readers in the story who otherwise might be hesitant, anxious and overwhelmed by the politics and history in the novel. This made Zayn’s character particularly difficult because telling the story of a relationship that is unraveling, for a variety of difficult reasons, in the voice of one character could easily have made the other the “villain.” But it was particularly important for me that his character be seen as a sympathetic one to the very end, so I had to relay his character’s point of view and inner life largely through Rebecca’s thoughts and actions. I hope I was able to achieve this; I think I did.
Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?
Alison: In creating the origin story of Zayn’s family, I researched villages that were destroyed and whose inhabitants were driven out by the advancing Israeli army in 1948. Depending on where the villages were located, their inhabitants became refugees either in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or outside of Palestine. There were many such villages that met this fate throughout the country, so getting the political geography right was important. I also researched some of the immigration issues that were an important factor in what ultimately happened to Rebecca and Zayn’s marriage.
Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?
Alison: While writing this book, I would read the work of someone whose writing style I really admired before sitting down at my desk, just so I would have in my head the reverberations of what good writing sounded like. Not that I was interested in imitating that writer – what’s the point of that? Rather, it was a habit that was akin to stretching and warming up before exercising – you’re preparing your mind and body for the real work ahead. Speaking of exercising, one ritual I had on Fridays (when I had a 4-day work week), was to go to an early morning exercise class, then drive to a nearby coffee shop to write for as long as I could. This became an end-of-the week treat for me – until the day my car was towed for parking in the lot too long!
Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?
Alison: In this book it is a telling list: face flushed; throat tightened; beads of sweat; thud; like prey
Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?
Alison: In writing, Tobias Wolf, because his memoir, This Boy’s Life, exemplifies a memoir writing style that does not sacrifice literary craft. And in writing and life, Arundhati Roy because her prose is exquisite – whether she’s spinning a fictional world in the Indian subcontinent or writing an essay about COVID that simply slays – all the while being a fierce activist for social justice everywhere.
Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?
Alison: I live in a row home in Philadelphia, which is a type of house that isn’t known for bringing in much light. So, I’m very fortunate that my home office has a skylight above and a slim window to my right (as I write this, I’m looking out onto the greening Tulip Poplar on this beautiful spring day). When I emerge from the intensity of writing about life in the Middle East, it is good to be able to look up and see the blue sky or hear the mourning doves cooing in their nest.
Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?
Alison: I’m currently working as an administrator and project manager in a Progressive Pre-K-6th grade school, and I love it! I occasionally have the opportunity to substitute teach and being around these interesting young people is invigorating (if sometimes exhausting!) on many levels. I’m fortunate to have warm colleagues who care so much about educating children as whole human beings. And they have been incredibly supportive of my writing by giving me time and promoting my book events. Could you ask for more?
Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?
Alison: Writing a book that brings readers who may not know much about the Middle East into a world they can identify with – a world where people court, fall in love, face challenges, laugh and cry together.
Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?
Alison: Oh, there are so many! While he is not with us anymore, I would have loved to have dinner with James Baldwin. He is someone who, like Roy, wrote so prolifically and beautifully in different genres, while steadfastly remaining a social justice activist. It would be interesting to talk to him about living and writing outside the United States, and about his controversial writings about Jews and Blacks in the U.S., much of which is misunderstood, I believe.
Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?
Alison: I am successful as a writer if I’m able to bring to life stories that cause people to re-evaluate how they thought about something or someone. If I’m able to write in a way that leads someone to say, “I guess that person who I thought was different from me – maybe was my enemy – isn’t”, then I am a success.
Summer, 1981—Following the death of her father, Becky Klein, an adventurous, naive young woman from the Midwest, sets out for the Middle East, in search of her Jewish roots. She discovers something more, in a Gaza garden near a refugee camp by the sea. There she befriends the garden’s owner, a Palestinian activist who has served time in Israeli jails. As their relationship grows, Rebecca finds herself drawn into a story of roots unlike the one she had imagined.
The West Bank, Cairo, Yarmouk, Benghazi, Beirut—before long, their romance careens across a region in flames, child in tow, wrestling with conflicting maps of love, family and home.
Thanks, Alison, for sharing your story and your writing process with us. I appreciate you stopping by and wish you all the best with your writing!
Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories
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