LAILA IBRAHIM: I WASN’T WRITER BEFORE I WROTE YELLOW CROCUS
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Laila Ibrahim’s debut novel Yellow Crocus rocketed to the sky. The novel was published in 2010, and still is one of the most wanted books. The readers praised the plot. They gave superb valuation of the story with av. 4.6 stars in Amazon from almost 4800 reviews.
Land of Books got an opportunity so chat with Laila Ibrahim about Yellow Crocus, her publishing experience around the book, and the future projects.
– Laila, Your book Yellow Crocus became huge hit. Did you expect the adventure of Lisbeth and Mattie to be accepted so well by the readers?
– I dreamed of it being this successful, but I didn’t expect it. I got so many rejections in the traditional publishing route that I didn’t know how I could get this story into the world. I’m grateful that Amazon and Createspace came into being just when I needed them. I find it extra satisfying that an Amazon imprint is the current publisher. They were so instrumental in getting Mattie and Lisbeth’s story into the world.
– You were inspired by Tiger Woods to write the story. Do you have a chance to meet him and if not, what would you like to ask him if you have a chance to chat with him?
– I haven’t met him and really never thought about that possibility. If I were ever to speak with him I’d like to know what tools he uses to handle the pressures of his life. And how the transition away from being a young prodigy to being middle aged is going for him.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– Having the courage to know that I could do it at all. I wasn’t a writer before I wrote Yellow Crocus. I was a reader, but not a creative writer. I felt very foolish undertaking such a daunting task when I didn’t even know if I could get it out into the world. Yellow Crocus is also a very person story for me and I felt vulnerable putting my views out into the world.
– Tell us something more about your main characters Lisbeth and Mattie? Are they close to someone from your real life?
– I was a child care provider for many years, so I know what it is like to love children than aren’t my own. It is a very tender relationship. I never came close to living what Mattie experienced but my experiences shaped the story. I studied attachment theory in undergraduate and graduate school. Yellow Crocus is a fiction account of attachment theory in action.
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to self-publish it? You are one of the indie authors, who were rejected initially by publishers. Would you share your experience with it?
– I thought of the story in 1998 when I was 33 years old. For years the characters haunted me. I was very, very resistant to taking on the daunting task of writing a novel. But after so many years I decided to do it in honor of my 40th birthday. So in 2005 I started writing it. I had a solid draft to pass out by 2008. I got a few nibble from agents but no takers. I asked one of the agents to refer me to an editor. I sent the manuscript to that editor who told me there was a lot wrong with the novel and I would have to entirely restructure it via an email. I was reluctant to hire him, but realized I needed to face the truth. I was at a point where I was going to either give up or self publish.
When I met with him he listed problem and problem with the story. He flipped to the end and started reading the postlogue as an example. He choked up after the first paragraph. By the third paragraph there were tears trailing down his cheeks. I started crying too. He had to stop and clear his throat as he kept reading. After he finished he looked at me and said, “That’s the ending isn’t it? It’s as good as it gets for them.”
I nodded and knew in that moment I had the courage and the obligation to self publish it. I realized that the book wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough if it could move this man to tears.
I think one of the reasons Yellow Crocus didn’t attract an agent is that it focuses on an unusual relationship in fiction. Many of the agents or publishers said to me that it’s a story that has been told many times, but when I pressed them for titles they could only come up with Gone with the Wind. Now we have The Help, but this was before that book was released.
I knew by self-publishing that I would have to do marketing, which I was reluctant to take on. But I realized that if I cared enough about these characters to write their stories, I cared enough to take the time to market the novel.
– Who are you?
– I say that I live in Berkeley so I can maintain the delusion I’m a moderate. I have very strong opinions about how our world should be, but I don’t want to have ‘sides.’ We’re all on this planet for a brief time. We’re all divine creations. I think our job is to create as much joy, love and justice as we can for all beings.
I’m a mom, a wife, a compound mate, a Unitarian Universalist, a writer, an artist, a radical evolutionary and a world traveler.
– What are your writing habits?
– I like to go away for a few days to get started on fresh writing. I find I do best when I have no distractions for days on end. I can edit writing at home or in a coffee shop for an hour or two, but to write a new chapter I need lots of fermenting time with the opportunity to stare out the window or doodle.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of the book?
– I’m very satisfied by the sales. Since it was re-published by Lake Union on August 19th it has sold around 200,000. Those are numbers I could only dream of. At the same time I know there are many more people, probably millions, who would be grateful to read Yellow Crocus. There are a lot of people in the world. And most of them have not read it .
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– At this point I can still say yes to book clubs, interviews like this and podcasts. I just love taking the time to talk with people about it. Lake Union (Amazon) does an amazing job with promotions. They do specials, emails, advertisements on Kindles. I get a little thrill every time someone tells me it popped up on their Kindle.
– I read your interview from 2012 and you are saying that the next novel is on the way. When we will see it?
– I plan to send a draft of Living Right to my acquisitions editor at Lake Union next month. If she likes it and decides to publish it, she thinks it will be out in September. If she doesn’t’ want it I’ll have to decide if I prefer to self publish or if I want to look for an agent. I’ll cross that bridge in March. I’d prefer that it be a Lake Union book just like Yellow Crocus. And I have faith that the right path will unfold for Living Right.
– Unitarian Universalism is the religion that you are following. How did you find it and what were the major changes in your personal philosophy after you start to use its principles?
– I was raised adamantly nothing. My father had been Muslim (he’s from Egypt) and my mother had been raised Catholic (Irish-French in Indiana, USA). I always had spiritual longing, but was puzzled by religions dividing people into ‘saved or worthy’ and ‘unsaved or unworthy.’ I had relatives that were Evangelical, Catholic, Mainstream Protestant, Atheist and Muslim. I never understood believing that god/God picked and chosen ‘chosen people’ when all of us are god/God’s creation. So in some ways the only religion I could ever be is Unitarian Universalists which holds that god/God is a Unity and all people are saved (Universalism) though we don’t have a concrete understanding of what happens after we die.
Being a devout Unitarian Universalist is a bit like being a devout moderate. However, my faith calls me to be thoughtfully engaged in creating a more joyful, just and loving world. It sounds simple, but it’s not. Joseph Campbell says, “Live joyfully in the pain of the world.” As a Unitarian Universalist I’m called to do that and more. I also have to do what I can to undo the human made systems of oppression that keep us separate from one another.
– You are living with your wife. Do you think that same-sex marriage is becoming more and more accepted by the society?
– Absolutely. It really is exciting and surprising how fast there has been societal change on this issue. Rinda and I had a wedding in our church in 1991. I never thought I’d get a marriage license. When marriage equality became an issue about 20 years ago I sent in my $20 a month to the Human Rights campaign and attended a few rallies, but I thought it would be a much, much longer battle. I’m very compassionate towards people who are out of step with this issue. It is a huge sea shift. I think one reason for the fast change is that it’s an issue that cuts across all race and class lines. People with a lot of privilege are/were at the forefront of change.
– As a children educator your personal observation on how important is for the kids to read book to form their character?
– There is no doubt that reading books opens children’s horizons and stimulates their minds and spirits. Children develop empathy and reasoning through hearing stories.
– Is there a milestone with Yellow Crocus that you hope to get to?
– I want to see someone reading Yellow Crocus in public and take a picture with them and the book. Whenever I’m riding on a subway I look around. Since most of the sales are on Kindle, it may that someone around me is reading it, but I just don’t know it. I’d also LOVE to have Yellow Crocus be on sale at Costco! Thank you for the opportunity to answer these interesting questions and for all that you do to promote reading. I’m so grateful.
Take a look at her book: