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6Qs with Writer Alicia Erian //

byMarwa Helal

aliciaHer highly acclaimed debut novel, Towelhead, stirred readers and critics alike. Later, it was adapted into film. She’s an author, writer, screenwriter, and professor — Alicia Erian has many titles. But what’s obvious from our 6Qs with her is that she values storytelling more than anything else.

Favorite Word:
Most recently, “contraflow.”
Favorite Place to Write:
Public Library
Coffee or Tea:

1. What was the book that made you want to become a writer?
In college, I really liked a short story collection called Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill — she writes about sex, unappealing scenarios, and low self-esteem very interestingly, very bold.

2. What brings you more joy teaching or writing?
Writing. It’s not that I don’t like [teaching], it’s a lot of work and I don’t like having less time to write, but it is also rewarding.

3. Was writing a choice?
No, I felt it wasn’t a choice because there wasn’t anything else I knew how to do, or ability and talent. And I did write a lot,

it’s like exercise, you don’t really enjoy doing it, but you feel good afterwards — it’s such a wretched activity.

4. Towelhead was a very complex book, what was the process of writing that book like?
That was my first novel and I didn’t really know how to write a novel. I wrote 100 pages of it and then I threw away all those pages because I realized that the voice was wrong, my editor helped me find that out — I was trying to sound really literary with that version but it just wasn’t right, so I started over and started writing in this depressed teenage-girl way and that was much better. No writer sits down and decides, I want this to be complex, they just sit down and decide they want to tell a story.

You just have to tell the best story and the best story is a complex story. It helps to have some elements laid out in the beginning, and have a general idea of what you want but you have to really be able to surprise yourself. You’re the first audience member, so you have to be able to surprise yourself.

5. What can your readers look forward to next?
Another novel and a memoir, slowly but surely I’m trying to get them done. I really like writing screenplays and I’m interested in writing a television show.

6. What are the traits that make a good writer or storyteller?
Succinct, funny…you should be willing to let your stories be ugly, let ugly things happen. You should never be boring, people spend money to buy books, there’s nothing I hate more than buying book and then I can’t get through it, I feel like I should get a refund.

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