Papa

Papa, not much has changed since you were gone. This old chap’s still sitting on the porch every afternoon with a whisky in his hand, drinking each glass in two gulps until his stomach starts hurting and he collapses on the tiled floor.

Papa, the city’s still warm and the buildings are still yellow. I still walk or drive around at night hoping to find something. But what exactly? I don’t really know. I tried looking for truths, I tried looking for distorted truths, but the city’s all mysterious and quiet and it reveals little about its streets.

We hold out for much but receive so little in return. I got into music because of a girl. I may have gotten into writing because of another. I guess it’s shameful for a man to get hooked to things, to be addicted to certain substances. But being led into life by a trail of lovely women who want you to fall for them is acceptable.

Papa, the words are still flowing out of me. Day in and day out they roar out of me unfiltered.

They’ve attracted hate, they’ve attracted mutiny and they’ve attracted unrest. I’m still learning not to get too attached to them in fear of losing them one day. And that day, I won’t really know who I am anymore. It’s true the words haven’t been with me for long but they’ve quickly grown on me.

And then there’s the merchants, there’s the college enthusiasts, there’s the criminals and bums and poor men. There’s the single moms still shopping for fruits and vegetables at local supermarkets. There’s the army men scattered at the borders fighting terrorism and what the government refers to as ‘The Big Evil’.

There’s cars and planes and the same airport and dock. There are still no trains but there are a lot of tourists. A lot of people who come here from all the hype believing they want to learn our methods and history and get invested in it. They want to get involved when all we want is run away to their countries and live like them.

The walls are still up but not for long. You can sense them slowly collapsing from the weight of the roaches and the rats living inside them, from the lies and the memories of wars and humiliation and debt and corruption that infiltrated them.

Heartbreak is still very much real. Death is very real but it got much easier and much less costly. Everything human has gotten cheap and that only makes us want to hold on to the rope a little longer before letting go for good.

Papa, your picture’s still up on my wall and I wonder if there’s a plan for all this. I wonder if there’s a plan for everything rotten to just pile up in a single place on this planet. I wonder if there’s a plan to our madness of standing on the sides and watching it all happen and go to waste.

How do we know we’ve done right? How do we know we’ve given enough life and love? How do we know we’ve invested enough of ourselves before we go?

Well, I still can’t tell. And it might be a while before I can. I wonder if you knew in those dark final moments you had lying on the white bed.

The only thing that’s clear for me now is this drink. It goes straight through me without asking questions. Even the sun at times appears mocking or deceiving. But the drink is always present for solace and forgetfulness. And truly, in these difficult times, what better thing is there than to simply forget?

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

 

Using Real Lebanese Society to Fuel Fiction [Q&A]

Hamline Lit Link

This is an interview with Hanna Abi Akl. 

Born on September 16,1993, and hailing from the small village of Bejjeh (North of Lebanon), Hanna Abi Akl is an aspiring young English author who devotes his time to writing poetry, fictional short stories and novels. His writing is inspired by real places and stems from a real environment; war-torn Lebanon and the mannerisms of Lebanese society often take center stage in his works. Hanna’s works have already appeared in many literary magazines like the RainPartyDisaster Society, TalkingSoup and CentumPress Publishing. He recently published his first novel, A Road Away From Home.

How did you get into writing? 

I got into writing by reading books. Words have always appealed to me, they always seemed to have a magical effect and were able to inflict all kinds of sensations and emotions I’d come across in my life: joy, sadness, grief, heartbreak. There…

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The Interview

A writer has been asked to sit down for an interview process following his meteoric rise to popularity by a local journalist.

The following is the captured text of the conducted interview whereby the journalist is referenced as ‘J’ and the author as ‘A’.

J: Thanks for taking the time to sit with me. I understand you don’t really tolerate going out in public or talking to people in general.

A: Uh-huh.

J: Tell me about your book. How did you get the idea to write something so gritty and raw? I took the liberty to ask some people who know you and have read it and they said it sounded nothing like you. Usually you strike them as calm and collected – some would even go on to say shy – but never as deranged as the characters you describe in your story.

A: The first thing you should know about writing is that it comes with a personality. A character. A bunch of traits. You can’t write as the person you are. You write as the writer that’s camping inside of you. Sometimes – most of the times – these two people are very different. Hence the shock some readers get when reading a novel by a person they know.

J: You mentioned the word novel – why exactly did you choose to write a novel? Some might argue it’s the toughest kind of writing there is.

A: It is the toughest type of writing. It’s grueling and excruciating. But after you sit down and start typing the first few sentences – after the words really start to click and you can hear them tapping wildly in your mind like a frenetic tap-dancer – then you’re hooked. The rest becomes easy from there.

J: And what about the sales? We know nowadays that most people refrain from reading – whether it’s books, newspapers, journals, even magazines. Aren’t you worried your book won’t do well on the market?

A (chuckles): It’s not about selling. It never is. The writer writes for the same reason the painter paints or the composer composes. If it were to make money, then we’d all be taking up high-paying jobs and enrolling in lengthy careers like lawyers and doctors and engineers. But an artist doesn’t care about money – at least, any decent one wouldn’t – the ones who do often spend more time marketing their work than actually concentrating on getting a good piece finished. You can never have both. You either go for the money and glory or you bask in the art.

J: And yet you’ve made it. You reached some form of glory now and you’re even getting coveted and paid by a couple of literary magazines to get your work published.

A: I didn’t make it yet. I’ll never make it as long as there are still words bottled inside of me. When the well dries up and the pipe is as dry as the Sahara desert, then that’s when I’ll have made it. When I’ve used up all the words and there isn’t a single one of them left for me to put down on paper, then that’s when I’m done.

J: You’re starting to acquire a fan base – and some of your readers would like to know what gets you going. What really inspires you to write.

A: Life. Anything we observe or see can be put into words. A writer’s greatest asset is his ability to observe – it doesn’t matter if he’s divorced, a transvestite, drunk – what matters is his ability to perceive everything around him. He doesn’t really need to fully understand them to write about them. These things can range from the simplest to the most complex. A butterfly can become a poem. A heartbreak can be told in a lengthy essay. The road to redemption can be traced inside the pages of a novel. Whatever the thing, no matter how brutal or naïve it is, if the writer has discerned it somewhere in the pockets of life, then he can put it into words.

J: A final note to end things. Perhaps a funny story you could share with us?

A: Uh-huh. I was down at one of the bookstores in Gemmayze. It’s actually one of the nicer places I’ve visited in recent times – a sort of complex coffeehouse with a few library shelves in the backend where people can buy brand new or used books. They’ve set up a nice collection of books and I’ve picked up a couple of them. Anyway, one time I was there probing the shelves when I notice a woman next to me. She was very pretty and she was carrying a book. I observed her closely and recognized the book in her hand. It was my book and she’d picked it up from one of the shelves in the bookshop. I approached her and told her, ‘Nice book you got there.’

‘Oh,’ she says with a timid smile and blushing cheeks, ‘have you read it?’

‘Actually, I wrote it.’

Her eyes dilated. I picked up my coffee, paid my check (left a 2000 lira tip) and exited the place. I don’t know if she ended up buying the book. But it was the way she looked at me – with amazement and praise and respect – that caught my eye. A way any contemporary writer living anywhere in the world would have been surprised by. They are often used to scorn and disdain and reproach from the working folks whose sole interests are paying their bills and then venting about them.

J: Thank you for your time.

A: Uh-huh. Now where’s that beer I was promised?

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

Messy Little Lives

As a person who lived his entire life in Beirut and dreamed of making it to America, john wondered about the nature of things in western countries. He wondered how basic concepts like love and romance played out there. After all, he had seen enough of them here to know these things tend to deviate from a single norm and don’t often follow a straight line.

Looking at love and finding love was like looking through different lenses at the same time. You could see different pictures, different scopes of the same image. Here was a girl counting the days till new years’ eve to finally get a chance to be with her man – a boy in his twenties who had enrolled in the army and was given permission to go home once every three months.

The girl waiting for him only knew him through text; they had chatted and flirted and made promises to be with each other over the phone, and she had made her own secret plans and personal promises of things she would do once they’d get the chance to spend a night together.

Over in the big city, Achrafyeh, the heart of Beirut, a man who had waited 5 years to tell his best friend he was in love with her has finally seen it happening to him. He couldn’t believe how his luck finally changed one fateful night and he now wakes up and walks the streets every day a man happily in a relationship. Every morning on his way to work (which happens to be downtown), he makes a stop in front of his girlfriend’s house and leaves a love note on the windshield of her sky-blue car.

Another couple found each other in college taking French class together. One day the boy realized he was facing difficulties with the language Rousseau and Sartre used to transmit their brilliance to the world and sought help from the girl who always sat next to him in class. Now they are unbreakable, going strong and a model of exemplary behavior and unconditional love among their peers and in their friends’ groups.

Then there is the dreamer. The poet. The guy who always falls in love with a girl out of his league and spends his time writing about her. He writes poems addressed to her and short stories about her and believes that if she is really the one, then she would be able to see through them and decipher them and love him back with the same fondness and ardor.

And of course, there is the young woman stuck in a corporate job. This woman unexpectedly finds love in the eyes of a handsome co-worker sporting a groomed beard and a flashy shirt. She chases him around the office and tries to sit with him through lunch in the company kitchen every day just to examine his eyes up close and observe his rugged face. But that same man is hooked to another girl – a girl two years younger than him with hazel eyes and a nose piercing.

These people are scattered and their love is scattered and no matter if you drink or pray or try to understand it you will never be able to piece this puzzle together – because the pieces are all there but sometimes they’re just not the right ones. Sometimes they simply don’t fit.

People chase people and people go after a love they think is theirs or a love they think they deserve. But love comes in different forms and stories and john wondered what the norm of it was. What was the rule to love and what was the exception? Or were all these cases exceptions and was the rule something we were still trying to postulate? There were people who fell in love with each other over phones and text messages. There were others that only took one moment to fall for each other – one gaze into each other’s eyes, one night out drinking and partying in a bar, one afternoon spent in the car watching the beautiful prairies in the North.

So which was it? Some people fell in love with artists, some fell in love with people who had a job or a house or a decent family. Some women fell for tough men and some men fell for tough women. Some were nice and some were charismatic and social and funny and good-looking. Some were shy and charming. Some took the only chance they had and others blew the many that were presented to them. And some never had a chance to begin with despite everything they tried and everything they set up to be. And while the world caught fire and burned and rose from its own ashes again, those were the ones observing it from afar.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

The Taxi

It’s the oldest story in the world: two high-school teenagers start out as friends, best friends before finally falling for each other and becoming strangers again. But we’re not going to get to that last part.

It was prom night and the boy had dreamt of asking the girl out as his date; dreamt of having that first dance with her; dreamt of that first kiss with her on the shores of the ocean where the after party was set; dreamt of sharing a ride back with her and calling her his girlfriend by the end of the night.

But things rarely come as scripted as this – especially if you’re a shy boy from a small town in the suburbs of Beirut. The only thing that came true for him was the final part of the plan: sharing a ride back home with the girl of his dreams.

She was the girl of his dreams – and he was certain of this since he’d already seen her many times in his dreams. These weren’t brief encounters where her face would suddenly appear to him; they were full-fledged reveries centered on her character.

But returning from the after party that prom night was anything but a dream. They were both drunk – but even that couldn’t stop him from admiring her long hair flowing all over her shoulders and thinking about caressing it. Back in the taxi that night he tried to sober up and gather what little courage he had to ask her out – after all, it was to be the last night they shared together as high school friends and the door of possibilities was wide open and looming for them to grab by the handle and explore.

Holding on to her wouldn’t be as easy anymore since the amount of time he’d see her or spend in her company would be significantly reduced now that they were no longer bound by the school calendar.

So back in that taxi sharing the backseat with nothing but a little plush heart hanging from the ceiling to separate them, they started talking about their future hopes and dreams and the ambitions they harbored and wanted to achieve after school. She wanted to use her education as a springboard for a more serious degree – a degree in communications engineering always looked nice on any Lebanese résumé and any Lebanese lips – and she hoped to take the big schools in France by storm while touring Europe.

He had a more candid view of the world – a naïve vision that pushed him towards chasing his most burning desires wildly and passionately. He wanted to become a writer (language was the only thing that’s been kind to him over the years) and write great stories about beautiful women and miserable men and perhaps even one day a great book that people would read.

So their paths seemed conflicting from the get-go and the only meeting point for them was here and now: at a very late hour inside a taxi driving them back home.

The boy observed the little wobbling heart-shaped plush swaying left and right between him and the girl he loved. It was his heart; his one-and-only source of life. His heart swaying between him and her, caught between the devastation of revealing the truth of his emotion and the aberration of preserving that slumbering love.

As they neared the girl’s house, the boy felt his clock ticking. Time was suddenly unwinding, and the flashbacks of an entire school year – recesses and afternoons spent in the library studying each other’s movements and waiting for that decisive premier pas to be made.

He thought about those things, how those were the important things in life, the things worth looking back on, the things worth retaining after one of the good chapters was finally closed.

The boy suddenly felt the girl’s hand grabbing his own and gently caressing it. ‘You’re a good friend,’ she said.

‘Yeah,’ he told her. ‘A friend.’

‘I wouldn’t have made it without you this year. Everything we’ve been through…I don’t know what I would’ve done if you weren’t there.’

Hearing those words coming out of her mouth – sometimes all it took was the sound of the spoken truth to recognize it. Those words were always there in his mind, right from the start. They were etched in his soul like an undying certainty that controlled his behavior and helped him keep his emotions towards this girl in check. They initiated the sacrifice; the sacrifice of love for friendship, of romance for brotherhood and intimacy for trust.

He held her hand firmly and looked into her eyes. ‘And I would’ve done it all over again if I had to.’

Situations dictate the state of things. Some things seem less important at times and more crucial at others. Love, for instance, that eternal answer to man’s darkest conundrums, was at times able to belittle itself and make room for friendship. And on the night when he was promised to fulfill his own heart’s desires, the boy gained a lot more by letting go of love in favor of a lasting friendship. He learned that not all roads follow the same path, and not all of them are made of stone. Some are softer but slippery. Others are harder and more arduous. And some are just narrow fillings that lead you to your destination much faster than the others if you know when to take them – and tonight, he had taken that narrow road that led him out of that chapter, out of that page, out of that book.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

 

The Confessional Letters – Introduction

Dear Writer,

All good things need an introduction. And the reason why they need an introduction is because they are not only good things – they are the best of things.

Great concepts, great ideas, great works require a presentation before they can make a home deep in the confines of our minds.

Today I will talk about writing. Writing is a good thing. It’s one of the good things. No, it’s one of the best things. But I won’t introduce writing.

You see, writing is one of those things that require no introduction. It’s a huge thing – call it a concept, an idea or a great work if you will – but it does not abide by the standard things in life nor does it answer to the proper rules of doing and defining them.

Writing is its own thing. Writing is vague. Writing cannot be delimited or outlined. So how can we talk about it? And more importantly, why do we talk about it?

Well, we talk about it simply because it’s there. Just like the air we breathe, it will never cease to exist. It’s something that might surge out of us at any moment with no predefined triggers.

It’s also unpredictable and varies from one person to another. Not all of us are born or blessed with the touch of the writer, but the very few of us who are (and who recognize it) belong to a special circle.

That’s why I’m addressing you, dear writer. I’m addressing you because I think you’re one of those few who acknowledge the tremendous blessing they have been so lucky to receive. Don’t think of me as a friend or a counselor or a guide – think of me as that small voice in your head pushing you toward the word. Always pushing and pushing until you pick up the pen or typer or any other instrument and start writing.

Because that’s what writing is: a continuous movement. It flows and goes and comes back and extends and shrinks and embeds itself in everything around us and comes bouncing right back at us. It’s unpredictable.

It also requires something special, beside a small grain of talent: a spark of insanity to be able to see things and portray them as viciously and brutally as possible.

As a writer, you’ll never have to fill in the role of peacemaker. You’ll never have to spare anyone from critique or harm or keep everyone happy or safe from danger. There are heroes for that. Writers are not heroes – they are the martyrs of truth and beauty and revelations and carry those pillars like crosses on their backs.

They are mutilated, they are looked down on, they are scorned for what they do.

So why do it? What is the motivating factor to answer the calling and become a loyal servant to this noble cause?

It’s because, like I already mentioned, writers are insane. I am insane. The greats were all insane. You might be a little insane too. We are unstable, but it’s that same instability that makes us perceive things all the more clearly and write about them with ample detail.

We communicate things other people don’t see or hear or feel. We transcribe things from other worlds that are yet to be known or visited. We channel sensations people often feel but cannot name or describe.

We lay foundations for others. Think of writing as a long list of general guidelines on every little detail recorded since the beginning of humanity. It’s like a dictionary, a reference for others to dive into and look up whatever they’re going through and have something relatable in their hands.

That’s as much of an introduction as I can give you to the craft. Think more of it as a series of pointers that will light your way as you go. It is a bumpy road but all the greats are smiling at you now that you’ve joined their illustrious circle.

As for me, you don’t need to know me, just think of me as that little voice in your head pushing you deeper and deeper into the world of the word…

And remember, all good things need an introduction.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

The Confessional Letters – Boy Meets World

Dear Writer,

You know that butterfly people encourage you to chase sometimes? That butterfly that swings by you when you’re quietly studying in your room for a college course and wondering what the purpose of it all is? That butterfly that flutters around you when you’ve taken a girl out and she leans really close to you and you’re unsure what to do?

That same butterfly that passes by when your parents are having an argument? Or when you’re out working at a job you hate just to pay the bills and end up with no money at the end of the month?

Well, that butterfly’s got a name – and it’s not happiness.

Here is where your mind is thinking, well damn, he’s going to turn this into a speech about writing. Well, not yet. But we’ll get to that part later.

But let’s go back to our butterfly for a second. I haven’t revealed its name to you yet. That butterfly’s called passion.

And passion gets thrown around between every one or two sentences today. In our world, in a highly demanding world, a lot is expected from us. And as such it’s only natural for us to sometimes come up short. So we start searching for the easy way out: the blame. We scramble and fight and struggle to pin the blame on someone – or something – just to wash it off our skin. And passion is one of those things that blame gets pinned on.

We go around advertising that we haven’t found our passion and that’s why our performance hasn’t been optimal. But do we really mean it? Do we really believe in that argument?

Here’s a secret: very few people do. And even fewer people actually have the guts to do something about it.

Here’s a kid that dropped out of college and gave up on his education just to become a writer. Crazy? Probably. Gutsy? Most definitely.

I’m not saying this so that you drop everything and follow your imaginary dream of becoming a rock-and-roll legend. But out there, there are people who were willing to closely monitor that butterfly, observing every one of its movements and even listening to the sound the fluttering of its wings makes.

Those people were rewarded with a certain passion. And those people invested in it and made it their entire lives.

This is just a heads-up, kid: the world is a scary and unforgiving place, and no matter how much they tell you that the truth is far worse and scarier. You’ll be held accountable for things you didn’t know you had to plan for beforehand and you’ll face consequences you never knew existed in the first place. Once you drown, there’s no way to get back to the surface.

So forget about drowning. Forget about the water. Forget about the butterfly.

If you think your heart’s set on writing, think about the scenarios I talked to you about at the beginning of this: how would writing improve your situation when you’re at home cramming for that course? What good will it do you if you strike out with that girl you went out with? How will it help you mend the hours you burned on a job you don’t even like?

Think about those things. And think about the value of writing in those cases. Will it make up for coming up short or the bad performances you’ve put in those scenarios?

If you find an answer to that question, then maybe there are the makings of a writer somewhere inside you.

And just in case, keep an occasional lookout for that butterfly.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl