You grew up in Morocco before attending college in England and graduate school in California, and are now raising your daughter in Portland, Ore. Why did you choose to write a novel [Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits] about four desperate Moroccans struggling to cross the strait of Gibraltar in hope of a better life in Spain?
I was reading a newspaper article about immigrants making the crossing on inflatable boats. I hadn't gone through anything like it—I'm an immigrant by chance, but these people were immigrants by choice, and they were making a dangerous choice. I kept wondering why they were driven to do something like that. Even though it wasn't my experience, it was in a way, because immigration is really part of Moroccan culture now.
Have any authors had a particular influence on you?
Ahdaf Soueif, she's cool. She was almost the one who gave me permission to write in English. When her characters speak, I can hear them speaking Arabic, but it's all written in beautiful English.
How does it feel to write in English?
This is not my native language, and it's not a part of my culture. I only learned it after living for years in England and coming to the U.S. I'm fluent in Arabic, but it's not my literary language. When I was growing up, I would write in French. But I couldn't really find my voice. Then, when I was writing my dissertation, it started coming in English. But when I write in English I revise and revise and revise.
On your blog (www.moorishgirl.com), you recently expressed frustration with a Los Angeles Times article about how the success of TheKite Runner and Reading Lolitain Tehran have spurred an explosion in novels and memoirs about the Middle East and Afghanistan. What should publishers do differently?
I'm cautious because there are so many stereotypes in the news that it's hard to present an alternate point of view. I don't want to just hear stories about the veils, the bombs and the billionaires. My book isn't about any of those things and that's kind of cool.
How much do you think your blog helped you get published?
When my agent sent the manuscript, I don't think my editor or the publisher had heard of my blog. That made me feel good, because it meant they were responding to the prose and the story. But I can't say the blog has hurt. I get anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000 unique hits a day from readers all over the world, and maybe those readers will be there for the book.