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If you like Khaled Hosseini's story, you might also like:
Benazir Bhutto,
Mohamed ElBaradei,
Joan Didion,
Carlos Fuentes,
John Grisham,
John Irving,
Hamid Karzai,
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Wole Soyinka,
Amy Tan
and Gore Vidal

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Khaled Hosseini
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Khaled Hosseini
Khaled Hosseini
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Khaled Hosseini Interview (page: 9 / 9)

Afghanistan's Tumultuous History

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  Khaled Hosseini

Does having a medical background help you in any way as a novelist?

Khaled Hosseini: To some extent. I never really thought about it that way.

I think writers have the ability to kind of get out of their own skin for a while and imagine what it would be like to live in somebody else's skin. And for me, there were periods where I imagined what it would be like to be wearing the burka and to see the world through that grid. Okay, so imagine you are standing on that street corner with five or six kids to feed and that's the life you have. What is your next move, what do you feel, what are you thinking? There is some element of that, and maybe writers have slightly a better ability of doing that than people who aren't writers. I don't know, but once I made that leap that I discussed, it seemed far more natural for me. I had also the benefit of talking to my mom and my wife and consulting them now and then on things, and they were very helpful, they were very helpful. But I met women in Afghanistan and I heard their stories. I mean, you can't walk up to a woman in a burka on a street corner and talk to her. I don't want to give that image, but I spoke to women who work for NGOs, who were taking care of those women who are fully covered and who won't talk to men. You know, and I heard a lot about their lives, about what they go through and the hardships and the challenges and what is the hope. And what I found is, by and large, the things that they want were very modest in scope, basically a roof for their kids and water. And so I always keep honing back on that and to come back to the idea. And these characters, these women Mariam and Laila, were not based on any individuals that I met in Kabul, but rather they are created out of that collective experience of those collective voices that I heard during that trip.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

It takes tenacity to survive a bad first draft. If you feel like you have to write Nobel Prize-winning prose when you begin, it can be paralyzing. How do you find the patience to go through all of those drafts?

Khaled Hosseini: Writing a book, as I said earlier, is largely an act of perseverance, and you have to stick with it. The first draft is very difficult to write, and it's often quite disappointing. It hardly ever turns out to be what you thought it was, and it usually falls quite short of the ideal in your mind when you began writing it. But what I would say is a first draft is just really a sketch on which you can now add layer and dimension and shade and nuance and color.

So I use the first draft purely as a frame on which to build the actual story. So a lot of my writing is done through rewriting. And I don't become discouraged by the notion that my first draft is not going to win any prizes or that it's not going to be -- I understand that it's going to be lousy, but I want all of the essential elements to be there. The heart of the story has to be in that first draft, and then I can use that to create something and discover things about the story. When I wrote, for instance, The Kite Runner, there were a lot of things in that first draft that stayed, but some things in that first draft were tossed, and the transformation in some passages were very dramatic. I wrote an entire draft where the two kids were not brothers, and it really wasn't until a subsequent draft when I realized that the kids, suddenly the idea came -- well, what if the kids are brothers, and that changed the whole tone of the story. And when I rewrote it, writing it with that knowledge, it changed everything. And so you can get discouraged. Writing is largely about rewriting, and I abhor writing the first draft. I love writing subsequent drafts because that's when I can see the story getting closer and closer to what I intended and what my original hopes for it were.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

What other advice would you give young fledgling novelists?

Khaled Hosseini: I have met so many people who say they've got a book in them, but they've never written a word of it. I think to be a writer, you have to write. You have to write every day, and you have to write whether you feel like it, whether you don't, and be stubborn. And you also have to read a lot. Read the kinds of things you want to write, read the kinds of things you would never write. I find I learn something from everybody. I would never say I've been influenced directly by a given writer, but I feel like I've learned something from every writer that I have read. And I read with kind of a different -- I read to pay attention to the voice. I pay attention to how they write dialogue. I pay attention to how they resolve conflict, how they form structure, the rhythm of a story. Sometimes with a critical eye, often with an admiring eye with really great writers. And so keep writing and -- probably the best advice that I can give is to write for an audience of one, and that is yourself. The minute you start writing for an outside audience, that immediately taints the entire creative process. I wrote both of these books because I was telling myself a story. I really wanted to find out what happens to Amir after he betrays his friend. Why does he go to Afghanistan? What does he find there? I wanted to find out for myself how the relationship between these two women changed. You really have to tell it to yourself, and then when you are done with it, hope that other people will enjoy it, and just shut everybody else out during the writing process and put yourself in a mental bunker.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

Khaled Hosseini Interview Photo
Do you think that the more you can do that, the more others will respond to it?

Khaled Hosseini: Well, you hope so. Sometimes it doesn't happen, and I'm sure a day will come when that won't happen for me, but I've been lucky twice now.

What is in your future? Are you working on another novel?

Khaled Hosseini: I hope to be starting on a new novel very soon. I have mentally been working on it for some time and turning ideas over, but hopefully I will start something quite soon. But that's all I can say.

What do you think of the American Dream? Do you have a conception of that?

Khaled Hosseini: I feel like I'm the poster child for it, whatever that phrase means now.

I came here basically penniless, with a suitcase of clothes, a family of nine people. I find myself now having written these books, and even well before the books, I was already a poster child because I had a very successful career as a doctor, I had married a great woman, had healthy children. But certainly, anybody who writes an article about the American Dream today should call me. I feel like I am a good example of it.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Is it about accomplishing something you couldn't even imagine?

Khaled Hosseini: It's about discovering what you can be and giving yourself the chance to do it and be open to the possibility that it will actually happen and taking a risk. For me, writing these books, I am taking a chance with them and hoping that it will be perceived the way it eventually was received. I mean, it is a dream, whether it's an American dream or a personal dream, but for me certainly the entire thing has a dreamlike quality about it, these last five, six years.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Thank you very much.

Khaled Hosseini: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

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This page last revised on Feb 04, 2010 12:44 EDT
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