Anne-Rae Vasquez authored Gathering Dust – a collection of poems, published by AR Publishing Inc. and Teach Yourself Great Web Design in a Week, published by Sams.net (a division of Macmillan Publishing). She wrote the novel and screenplay and directed Almost a Turkish Soap Opera, an award winning feature film and series produced by Joseph Khalil, Sababa Emporium Film Productions (http://www.sababaemporium.com) produced the feature film and series.
1. Can you please tell us a little about Almost a Turkish Soap Opera?
Almost a Turkish Soap Opera is about Adel and Kamil, two young good-looking Turkish men who use arranged marriages as the ticket to immigrate to Canada. Betrayals and affairs turn their lives into a Turkish soap opera.
I wrote Almost a Turkish Soap Opera to focus on the challenges that people face when trying to immigrate into a country—all in the style of a Turkish soap opera.
Three years ago I approached Joseph Khalil, Sababa Emporium Film Productions, with the first draft of my novel, and he was impressed with the story. He believed in my work and said he would support me in producing it into a feature film. The independent feature film and web series have since won awards and screened in festivals in the USA and Canada.
2. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Without the support from your family, friends, colleagues and knowledgeable people, writing can be quite isolating. I learned very quickly who my real friends were. For those who I consider my “social” friends, they wrote me off their invite list when I kept declining invitations to their weekly house parties. None of these “friends” understood that I had a goal to accomplish and very little time to do it. Let’s just say that I can now count the number of my real friends on one hand. If it weren’t for the support of Joseph Khalil, Sababa Emporium Film Productions, who believed in my work and encouraged me to complete the novel and make it into a feature film, I don’t think I would have accomplished as much as I have the past 3 years.
On a side note, another hard part about writing the book was making sure I got the kids in bed by 8 o’clock every night so that I could have some alone time to focus on writing. It was difficult to be juggling a full time job, motherhood, writing and a filmmaking career all at the same time.
3. Do you have a favorite excerpt from the book? If so, could you please share it with us?
My favourite chapters are where Yonka, the main character Adel’s arranged wife, is plotting and perpetrating her devious plans. Here is one of my favourite excerpts below:
Excerpt from Chapter 29: Never Underestimate Yonka:
Convinced that Adel had finally fallen asleep, Yonka gets up from the bed. She lets her hair out of the ponytail and slips off her dress to reveal the lacy red lingerie underneath. She sits beside Adel and removes his shirt. He tries to push her away but his arms are limp.
She pulls down his pants and tosses them on the floor. When she turns back she notices that he is wearing a Turkish brand of underwear, Hike Sport, a knock-off of the popular Nike brand. She wonders how his lady friend reacted when she saw him in them. Was she polite or did she laugh in his face?
She reaches down and removes his socks, careful to use only two fingers. She makes a face as she tosses them on the floor. She reaches for her cell phone on the nightstand. She holds the phone up with the camera pointed at herself and Adel. Still holding the camera up, she puts her face close to him and kisses him on the cheek. She takes a picture to capture the moment. Next, she turns his face to hers, posing seductively while taking a few more pictures. Later she reviews the photos on her cell phone. She smiles to herself, pleased that the photos turned out perfectly. Anyone looking at them would be convinced the man and woman in the pictures were sharing an extremely intimate moment together.
4. What do you hope readers will take away after reading the book?
I wanted my story to shine a light on the popularity of Turkish TV series and their popularity in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. The Turkish soap operas are full of drama, action, romance and cultural conflicts which I’m certain North American readers will find entertaining. I also wanted to reveal the struggles of new immigrants as they try to get the basic things in life.
5. What was your writing process while writing this book?
Due to my full time job and already busy schedule, I created a project timeline with a goal to have my novel completed within ten months. I drafted out the story line and created a Table of Contents by dividing parts of the story into chapters. I did all this before even writing one sentence of the story. I learned this process of planning out your book before you write it when I was commissioned by Sams.net/Macmillan Publishing to write “Teach Yourself Great Web Design” in the late 1990s. The publisher had very strict deadlines and needed a very structured way to determine what I was going to write for them and when they would be receiving it. From my calculations, I had to write approximately 4 chapters a month to achieve my goal. Using project planning and management principles helped me tremendously to complete my writing on time and later to help me with the making of the film.
6. Who or what was the inspiration for the book?
A few years ago, an older couple from the Middle East stayed as guests in my home for a couple of months. I was interested in learning the Arabic language and I thought this was a good opportunity to immerse myself in the language and learn more about the culture. During their stay, the wife seemed very homesick. I asked her in broken Arabic if there was any way I could help her feel better. After a few minutes of miming what she wanted, along with help of her husband’s basic English, I was able to figure out that back at her home, she usually watches her favourite Turkish soap operas or TV drama series dubbed in Arabic on a daily basis. I did a bit of research online and was astounded at the popularity of the Turkish soap operas in the Middle East, Europe and even Asia. It was not long when I discovered the MBC (Middle Eastern Broadcast Centre) website and found links to her favourite soap operas.
She was ecstatic and soon both of us started watching the Turkish soap operas online together. I personally do not watch American soap operas because I find them to be quite cheesy so my intention, at the time, was to learn Arabic and keep her company. Her husband told me that he had no interest in watching these silly shows but soon enough, he was sitting with us, criticizing the characters and the previous episodes—almost word for word repeating scenes’ dialogue. It made me smile to see the both of them discuss, argue and laugh together as they watched the stories. For me, I was intrigued about how the shows gave me a sneak peek at the Middle Eastern culture of which I knew very little of. It was fascinating to see generations of a family living in one household for both the rich and the poor. I enjoyed the cultural humour and drama and was amazed that similar issues we face here in Canada are also encountered in their society, such as affairs, betrayals, divorce, political and religious differences, etc. I learned about arranged marriages with cousins, a practice that is still common in Arab speaking countries and in Turkey. The stories, I was told by the husband, of course, are exaggerated with mafia encounters, action, guns, murder and provocative kissing scenes. Each episode is full of colour, drama, tears and excitement, all against the beautiful backdrop of either Istanbul’s seaside or a smaller quaint Turkish city. Even when my guests finished their visit, I couldn’t stop watching the shows. Soon I realized that I was quite addicted to the soap operas. My addiction was contagious and soon close friends would come over to watch them with me. The series usually run up to 70 or more 50 minute episodes a season.
7. Have you had a mentor? If so, can you talk about them a little?
I can’t say enough about Joseph Khalil, the producer of my film and one of my truest friends. He told me that I wasn’t getting any younger and that I should go for my dreams. The only regrets in life are lost opportunities where you don’t even bother trying.
8. I have heard it said in order to be a good writer, you have to be a reader as well? Do you find this to be true? And if you are a reader, do you have a favorite genre and/or author?
I agree that a good writer has to be a good reader. I love reading. Whenever I have a moment to myself, my nose is deep in a book or lately my Samsung tablet. My favourite genre is cultural or historical literary fiction. My favourite author is Anita Daimant, most known for The Red Tent. I also like Khaled Hosseini’s work, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Recently I read the works of an independent author, Owen Choi. His work,Tendrils of Life, is one that I thoroughly enjoyed and call a literary gem.
9. Is there anything else you would like to share?
When I’m not busy writing, cooking, filming, you’ll find me writing on my blogs, tweeting the universe, and or uploading videos to my YouTube channel. You can find my blog at www.anne-raevasquez.com, follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/write2film, watch my web series on YouTube (www.youtube.com/3arnb9/), or follow me on GoodReads at http://www.goodreads.com/annerae .