I wrote Disassociation, the first of many books that I intend to write, when I was nineteen and twenty. I was almost twenty when I started it. I had moved to Victoria to live with my dad for two months. When I lived there I created the plot and wrote at the same time. When I left Victoria to see my cousin Merranda who later passed away at fifteen (I dedicated the book to her), I had the essential manuscript. Then it took me about a year to revise and edit the manuscript.
The strange thing is that I can't remember at what point I decided to write it. There was a period of time when I was eighteen, and I started to write down the ideas that I had, but none of them related to the content of Disassociation except for one that occurs in the prologue of the novel - a car, with the protagonist Gabriel and his friends Guy and Narayan inside, screaming to a halt on the road that's blocked by some younger kids wanting to fight them. But I faintly remember taking the ferry to Vancouver island with writing in mind. There were two older men standing on the deck close to me when I first took the ferry from Vancouver, and they were commenting on the serene scenery. One of them said, "It'd be a good place...to sit down and write a book". I heard them, but I didn't respond - although they were talking about the goal that I had in my mind. But I personally think that where you live doesn't really affect the writing process if you're dedicated enough.
So I sat down and wrote it. There weren't any delusions of grandeur, or thoughts that I was going to get money and girls. I wasn't writing for a specific demographic/target audience. It was just what I thought was the right thing to do. I've always wanted to write. I still remember, about eleven or twelve years ago, trying to write a really long story. It was just two guys sitting down and telling very quick stories to one another. They would go back and forth. I had read The Bridges of Madison County at the time (because it was a popular book), and I was surprised at how short it was. I even thought to myself, "Maybe I can write something as long as this, at least". Obviously, the quality of a book doesn't necessarily reside in its length, but since I was only a little kid I felt competitive.
I can't remember how long the document was, and I barely remember the stories the two guys told to one another. I think one of them was about a spaceship. It's pretty funny. Unfortunately I couldn't find the document in the old computer my mother and I had at the time (which I still have right now). But that was my first memorable attempt at writing. I remember telling people ever since, "I want to be a writer". There was this one Arabic girl at my Uncle Fayez's house who said "I predict that Adam will be one of the great Muslim writers", and at this time (early adolescence) I replied by saying "No, no" because I didn't want to write about religious or ethnic subject matter.
Which is funny, because Disassociation is about realizing the plight of my ethnic (Arabic) identity in the world. It's something that I've always felt strongly about, and something that resided in the back of my mind throughout my childhood, adolescence and teenage years. But my own Arabic upbringing I'll save for another time.
I didn't contact an agent or traditional publishing house to release Disassociation. There was a publishing company in Victoria called Trafford, who sold your book online on Amazon, Indigo and Chapters, and gave you forty individual copies. So long story short, I paid them the fee to do this, and after many revisions due to little snags, they released it in November of 2006 when I was living in Ottawa. So after they sent me the copies, I started to go about Ottawa and do readings at different open mic venues, and I had copies in bookstores through consignment deals. This was new ground for me; I could read in front of audiences but they'd always been school audiences and therefore familiar, and I'd never even heard of 'consignment' before this.
I went into the Chapters downtown in Ottawa, and had a meeting with one of the sales reps who had his own office. We had a good discussion of the business of writing. He told me "Everyone's got a book in them", which is still sage advice. He told me that I might want to change the cover to include the subtitle "a novel" since that was standard practice, but I still like the cover nonetheless. So they put five copies on the shelf. At the end of my contract, only one had sold, another had been lost/stolen, and they returned the other three copies to me. They sent me a check for eight dollars, since the book sold for 16$ and the earnings were split in half.
As far as the initial readings, they went smoothly. I sold a fair amount of copies, but definitely not anything substantial. There was a bar (Avant-garde) I went to that was completely noisy and no one was really listening. I did another reading in the downstairs section of another bar, where I was the youngest reader there by far. I read some passages and described the book, and a lot of the people there were interested. There was one reading wherein I met an older female artist, Barbara Carlson. She said she didn't want to go up on stage after me due to how powerful the passages I read were. She created this huge book all about lint, of all things. She had a clear plastic box that had a couple of pieces of lint in it, and she asked me how long I thought it would take for the box to be completely filled. I guessed a year. Then she asked me for some lint - luckily I had some, and I gave it to her.
That's some of the interesting things that happened as I tried to 'publicize' my work. There was no coverage by any periodicals, though. I sent a copy to one literary magazine and they told me they couldn't review it because "It's too long, amongst other things" (it's 452 pages). That last segment "...amongst other things" was pretty bizarre to think of. I couldn't help but think that they wanted me to contact them back frantically, asking "What things? What things?" But I just left it at that.
One other small 'zine in Ottawa basically ridiculed Disassociation under the realm of satirical humor. I sent them a letter asking them if they'd review it, and I explained what it was about. I also noticed they were looking for freelance writers, so I asked if I could be eligible for the position. I didn't want them to print the letter in their letters column, but they did and responded to it but saying "Arabs...are those the ones that blow up buildings and beat up their wives?"
So after I saw that, I was angry, frustrated, humiliated knowing that this was the only public press my book was going to get, this public ridicule. I knew on one level that the didn't mean what they said and that it was for satire/shock value, but I still knew that there were people who weren't going to get it and feed off of the ridicule. So I phoned the 'zine and told them about this. The editor responded by saying that their audience was aware of their satire, and that he was Lebanese. So I left it at that. I tried to think that any publicity is good publicity and other hackneyed comforts like that, but the ridicule was still there. Even so, though, it's not something I get angry about.
I sold copies to friends, and gave some away. One Jordanian guy who was about my age asked me to sign the book for him. It was the first time anyone wanted me to sign their copy, it was nice. I also had a copy inducted into the Ottawa Public Library, in the Local Authors section. That took a long time, but the librarians were all very positive.
So when I moved here to Toronto, almost immediately I participated in the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, which was a very positive experience. Still low key, but that was fine. There were a lot of people showcasing their work, but I noticed that there was only one other man selling his own novel, and it was a horror novel. To sum the Fair up...there was a woman wearing a bunny mask/hat and walking around...one man who had his own table bought a copy of Disassociation. He gave me his card, and it had this picture of him clasping his hands together as if in prayer and smiling at the camera...I made about 100$...one man bought a copy and didn't want me to tell him what it was about at all, because he wanted it to be a surprise...there was a very nice woman who bought a copy and asked me to sign it To Reem, her daughter, and also said she'd try to make steps towards including it in the Toronto Public Library....many people were supportive, and surprised at my age for writing it...
I haven't done too many readings here. I recently went to an open mic night at the University of Toronto and read some passages, and the moderator of the event shook my hand and asked me to come back, which I didn't notice him doing for others. So. There have been literary events that I've attended here and there, but I don't go up to people and ask them to check Disassociation out or anything in that vein. I recently went to a fair for independent literary presses, and met the editor of Rampike magazine and showed him the book. He mentioned that if I wrote them a stoy they'd pay 25$ per page with a maximum of 4 pages. There's still the chance that it'll get rejected. It's a good magazine, with a lot of well-known people involved, so I'm currently planning out a short story for them, along with writing my next novel.
But this is what it's like for me, humble beginnings. Of course I stress out about this ever becoming a career. When I was in Ottawa, I used to have anxiety attacks in bed. Something would feel like it snapped in my head, and then my hands would tingle strongly. The feeling doesn't come as badly as it does now, which is probably partially due to moving out of the difficult building/neighborhood I lived in while in Ottawa, but that's something I'll discuss later.