BookLife Talks with Homa Pourasgari
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'The American Outsider'
What’s the story behind this book—why and how did you write it?
I am an activist writer and write about topics that are important today. There are many subjects that I feel a reader would enjoy. So before starting a project, I brainstorm about various things. Then one of those topics jumps out at me, and I cannot stop thinking about it. The plight of dolphins was something that I could no longer ignore. The American Outsider is not just about dolphins, though, but is also about how nonhumans feel when we keep them in captivity.
The main character, Tessa, experiences a culture wildly different from her own. Did you draw from your own experiences as an “outsider” in a different culture?
Some of the things that happened to Tessa were drawn from the experiences of activists, bloggers, YouTubers, and journalists. The rest were drawn from my own experiences. I have traveled a lot and lived in different places temporarily. It is difficult to adjust to different cultures. Even when I travel as a tourist, I am an outsider and have to do my best to learn what to do and what not to do before planning a trip. I often make mistakes because I’m used to doing things a certain way. For example, when I flew from Japan to Hong Kong on a five-hour flight, I had to adjust quickly. The Japanese are implicit and reserved, and the Hongkongers are explicit and outspoken. In Japan, there is a lot of order. In Hong Kong, there is a lot of pushing and shoving. In Japan, I had to go to extremes to make sure that I hadn’t offended anyone. In Hong Kong, I had to learn to push and shove back. Also, the way I interacted with the Japanese was different than the way I interacted with the Hongkongers. Add to that my Iranian American background, and you can see how complicated things can get.
What kind of research did you do to ensure cultural accuracy?I visited museums about life in Japan and the Japanese culture. I read blogs of people who live in Japan, visited numerous websites that discussed the cultural differences, read articles by activists and journalists, and watched the channels of well-known YouTubers. I traveled to Japan, hired private tour guides, and asked a lot of questions. I observed and interacted with the locals when I was by myself. I then verified the information I had collected.
What is the one thing you most want to tell readers about you or your book?
Because of the topics of my last book and this book, I have often been asked why I don’t write nonfiction instead. First, for now, I prefer writing fiction. Second, when readers read nonfiction, they are an observer, but when they read fiction, the story draws them in and gets them involved in the tale. And third, fiction, nonfiction, and even documentaries and movies are created for the same reason e-books, print, and audiobooks are created—they are various channels for reaching audiences of different tastes.
Can readers expect another book from you soon?
Revised editions of my previous books, Lemon Curd and The Dawn of Saudi, are coming out on February 14 and March 8, respectively. I have also started working on a new book.