Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Diana Abu-Jaber

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.

Ssshhh…today we’re giddily mucking about in the creative noggin of Diana Abu-Jaber, the brilliantly talented author of the novel Birds of Paradise (about which Ron Charles–book reviewer for the Washington Post–recently said, “This is a full-course meal, a rich, complex and memorable story that will leave you lingering gratefully at her table.”)

I’m grateful Diana opened the door to her writerhead because as you’ll see, it’s a rich, laugh-out-loud kind of place.

Enjoy! (And yep, my voracious readers, I’ve got one copy of Birds of Paradise to give away today so leave a comment to enter. Guidelines below.)

The Scoop About Birds of Paradise

“In the tropical paradise that is Miami, Avis and Brian Muir are still haunted by the disappearance of their ineffably beautiful daughter, Felice, who ran away when she was thirteen. Now, after five years of modeling tattoos, skateboarding, clubbing, and sleeping in a squat house or on the beach, Felice is about to turn eighteen. Her family—Avis, an exquisitely talented pastry chef; Brian, a corporate real estate attorney; and her brother, Stanley, the proprietor of Freshly Grown, a trendy food market—will each be forced to confront their anguish, loss, and sense of betrayal. Meanwhile, Felice must reckon with the guilty secret that drove her away, and must face her fear of losing her family and her sense of self forever.

“This multilayered novel about a family that comes apart at the seams—and finds its way together again—is totally involving and deeply satisfying, a glorious feast of a book.” [from amazon.com]

The Buzzzzzzzzzzzz

“Diana Abu-Jaber’s delicious new novel weighs less than two pounds, but you may gain more than that by reading it. If you know her cream-filled work—especially Crescent and The Language of Baklava—you’re already salivating. This Jordanian American author writes about food so enticingly that her books should be published on sheets of phyllo dough. Birds of Paradise contains her most mouthwatering writing ever, but it’s no light after-dinner treat. This is a full-course meal, a rich, complex and memorable story that will leave you lingering gratefully at her table.” ~ Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Abu-Jaber writes with wit and insight about her range of characters, and her sharp observation of setting makes Miami another character in the novel, from the sleek downtown high rises to the glimmering thump of the SoBe clubs, from the lush quiet of the Gables to the multilingual street life of less opulent neighborhoods. And, this being South Florida, there’s a hurricane….Her prose is often lyrical, rising into striking images like the spun sugar on Avis’ creations. But Birds of Paradise has satisfying substance, too, for anyone hungry to read about the many ways that modern families lose and love.” ~ Colette Bancroft, St. Petersburg Times

First Sentence

“A cookie, Avis told her children, is a soul.”


And now, Diana’s writerhead

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

It used to be a much more disconnected state than my usual operating mode. I had specific writing hours and times when I was at-work, and the rest of the time I was at-life, and the two states didn’t necessarily mingle all that much. As I’ve gotten, ahem, older, I’ve found that they seem to migrate into each other and I’ve become more adept at sort of flipping the switch, picking up on a writing project where I’ve left off, when and where I need to. That might be at my desk during “work hours” or it might be in the middle of cooking or at a traffic light or waiting at the dentist’s office. If I could just work out how to write WHILE getting cavities filled, I think I’d really have it all figured out.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

This is another before and after answer for me, as in: BEFORE I had a child, I might have been just a smidge diva-ish if my husband had stumbled into the office with an ad for a new boat; I might possibly have channeled my inner J-Lo and said something like, “Um, yeah? At work here? You know, work?” Nowadays, after 8 months of baby colic and a year of wee hour wakings and 2 years of animal cracker power struggles, I’m more like, “Honey, look! I made a word! A word!”

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

Okay, I think for me being in the writerhead is like going outside to see if it’s started to rain yet, and it hasn’t quite started, and you can just barely sense those first scant drops, so light you almost wonder if you’re imagining it, but you know if you just wait for it a bit longer, it’s absolutely going to come down, any second now.


Diana Abu-Jaber’s newest novel, Birds Of Paradise, is an Indiepicks selection.

Her novel, Origin was named one of the best books of the year by the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. Her second novel, Crescent, won the PEN Center Award for Literary fiction and the American Book Award. Her first novel, Arabian Jazz won the Oregon Book Award.

The Language of Baklava, her memoir, won the Northwest Booksellers’ Award.

She teaches at Portland State University and divides her time between Portland and Miami.

Want to connect with Diana? Check out her web site (www.dianaabujaber.com). You can also greet her on Twitter (@dabujaber) or say hidy-ho on Facebook.


Q4U: Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos / Foodies / Miami-ites: When is the last time you channeled your inner J-Lo when interrupted while in writerhead? Come on…come clean.



Today—Wednesday, September 14, 2011—I’m giving away 1 copy of Diana Abu-Jaber’s Birds of Paradise.

RULES: To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment for Diana right here on WRITERHEAD. Tell her how much you loved her previous books and how much you’re looking forward to reading this one. Give her a virtual high-five. Share your own “inner J-Lo” moment. Ask a question about how she wrote Birds of Paradise or if she’s going to be giving a reading in your town. Tell her how smitten you are with her description of writerhead. (I am!) Etc.

*Comments must be posted before the clock strikes midnight on September 15, 2011. (That’s Eastern Standard Time U.S.)

**This contest is open internationally.

***Winners will be drawn on Thursday, September 15. Be sure to check back to see who wins.

****Though I welcome all charming comments, only one comment per person will be counted in the contest. (I know, I know…but this isn’t American Idol.)

*****The winner will be drawn randomly by the highly scientific method of my 3yo pulling a name out of a hat (or some other convenient container…blocks box, [unused] cereal bowl, sand bucket, etc.)

12 Responses to Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Diana Abu-Jaber

  1. Kristin, I love starting my Wednesdays at Writerhead. Particularly when the author’s response makes me laugh out loud, as did Diana’s “Honey, look! I made a word!”

    I need to nurture my inner J-Lo, because I tend toward the passive-aggressive response when interrupted, which only leaves my husband befuddled.

    Diana, I love reading stories about families and Birds of Paradise sounds particularly intriguing. Looking forward to it!

  2. Just like Julie said, I love beginning my Wednesday morning with a visit to Writerhead.

    What is it about getting older that makes us better able (or more willing) to blur those work/life lines? I used to consider myself the consummate uni-tasker and now I find myself, like Diana, scribbling notes for stories on the back of my grocery lists or while getting my hair colored (older, grayer…)

    Diana, thanks for making me laugh first thing this morning. I’m so looking forward to reading Birds of Paradise. I love novels about intense family relationships and I always love reading about food.

  3. I have to agree that “Honey, look! I made a word!” made me laugh out loud. Too bad I feel like that most of the time and I don’t even have the excuse of kids!

    Would love to get my hands on this book. Congrats, Diana!

  4. I recently found writerhead, and believe I will be stopping here on Wednesday mornings!

    I haven’t read Diana’s work before, but her book sounds amazing!!!

    I’m just starting to get my feet wet with writing and haven’t had a J-Lo moment. I, too have noticed with age (cough) I have an easier time multi-tasking, thinking outside the box, and like you said going back to what I was working on with ease.

  5. I love Diana’s delicious writing! I couldn’t help but laugh at the description of writing after having children. I remember thinking I would be able to get so many things done while my little darlings napped. Ha!

    Good luck with Birds of Paradise, Diana. It sounds like another fabulous book. 🙂

  6. I have enjoyed reading Diana’s books, particularly The Language of Baklava, one of my all-time favorite memoirs.

    Thank you, Diana, for letting us peak into your writer world. Love the metaphor of the pouring rain. And thanks for the chuckle about writing with children. The fact is, the child is the diva now.

    Looking forward to reading your latest, Birds of Paradise! Best wishes.

  7. Can’t wait to read Birds of Paradise–mainly because I loved Crescent and the Language of Baklava so much. But also because I’m the daughter of a pastry chef (though I never ran away…come to think of it, I was never crazy beautiful either!) and I can’t wait to read about Avis.

    So glad to have found Writerhead as well…adding it to my google reader right now.

  8. I adored language of baklava – loved the writing’s effortless melding of food & culture & personal history, cuz that’s how it works in real life, all smushed together. Totally psyched to pick up Birds!

    And happy to find a new (to me) blog here!