The Arab Observer interviews Natasha Tynes


Natasha Tynes

It is always a pleasure to see a new Jordanian getting published, and it is double the pleasure when it happens to be one of the fellow old bloggers. I was first introduced to Natasha’ Tynes’s writings around 14 years ago through her blog which I enjoyed and admired back then. And, fast-forward to two years ago, I was honored to read the draft of her first novel when she approached me seeking advice on how to get it published. She didn’t need my advice, as she was determined and passionate, and proud of her work. Eventually she got it done, and successfully released last summer. A book that I enjoyed reading, and loved because it highlighted a space/time that is dear to my heart and is rarely covered in our cultural productions.

It has been a long time since I did any interview on my blog, but I am happy to chat with Natasha, and happy to present this interview that talks about her book, her experience in getting it publisher, and recommendations to aspiring writers. Hope you enjoy reading it!

They Called Me Wyatt

Fadi: Congratulations for the release of the 2nd edition of “They Called Me Wyatt”. I remember reading the draft before you released it and enjoyed all of the nostalgic references to Amman in the 80’s. But lets hear you, tell us more about the book for the readers of this blog. What is the story all about?

Natasha: My debut novel They Called Me Wyatt is a murder mystery set between Jordan and the US, featuring Jordanian student Siwar Salaiha who is murdered on her birthday in Maryland, but her consciousness survives, finding refuge in the body of a Seattle baby boy. Stuck in this speech delayed three-year old body, Siwar tries but fails to communicate with Wyatt’s parents, instead she focuses on solving the mystery behind her murder. Eventually, her consciousness goes into a dormant state after Wyatt undergoes a major medical procedure.


Fast-forward twenty-two years. Wyatt is a well-adjusted young man with an affinity towards the Middle East and a fear of heights. While working on his graduate degree in Middle Eastern studies, Wyatt learns about Siwar’s death, which occurred twenty-five years ago. For reasons he can’t explain, he grows obsessed with Siwar and spends months investigating her death, which police at the time erroneously ruled as suicide. His investigation forces him to open a door he has kept shut all his life, a spiritual connection to an unknown entity that he frequently refused to acknowledge. His leads take him to Amman, Jordan where after talking to her friends and family members and through his special connection with the deceased, he discovers a clue that unravels the mystery of her death. Will Siwar get justice after all?

Fadi: The book has a unique concept and does a great job highlighting issues of identity and rift between East and West. How much of that was built on your own identity as a person, being a Christian Arab and living in the US? I am sure there is a big space to tackle here when one is faced with different identity agencies. It is a rich material to work on and I think you have done it nicely in the book.

Natasha: My book is loosely based on my formative years, my childhood and coming-of-age in Amman, Jordan. My identity as an Arab-American and also as a Jordanian-Christian has definitely shaped my novel since I tend to write about what I know and how I see the world. However, I tried to stay away from the topic of religion in my novel. My main focus is the Arab identity as a whole, and the challenges faced by an Arab immigrant to the US.

Natasha signing her book

My book is loosely based on my formative years, my childhood and coming-of-age in Amman, Jordan.

Natasha Tynes

Fadi: I like mostly about “They Called Me Wyatt” that it captures a part of Amman we rarely see in Literature. The stories of west Amman that seem to fail to find a place in local literature, as if our stories don’t worth documenting because that part of the city is “too westernized” and doesn’t fit with the overall cultural image we have for the country? I also grew up in the same period of the 80s and 90s and I have experienced much of what you mentioned in the book about the life of Siwar. Unfortunately that period of time was dominated by conservative media and didn’t leave much space for such stories to see the light. What do you to say about this?

Natasha: I agree. You rarely see literature, especially literature in English, that tackles growing up in Amman in the 80’s and the 90’s. Amman has changed dramatically since then. I feel part of me still feels nostalgic to the old Amman, to the Amman of my childhood, that’s why I based my novel around it. Life back then was simpler. We really had nothing, but we had each other, the family, the cousins, the friends, the neighbors. We spent our days playing outside, not glued to a screen like kids these days. We had adventures, we formed friendships, we learned life lessons. It was wonderful. I deeply miss it.

Natasha reading from her book

Fadi: I remember the time when you were looking for a publisher for your book. Being a writer myself, I know how hard it is to find a publisher who is willing to adopt your work and support it, especially when it is your first one. You approached it as it is a full time job and were pretty much determined to get it done, and I applaud you for that. There are many writers out there who are struggling to get their first work get published, tell us about your experience and what would you advise them?

Natasha: My advice for you if you want to be a writer, is that you need to develop a thick skin and be ready to be rejected hundreds of times. Buckle up. Your soul will be crushed and you will constantly doubt yourself. Remember that what makes a good writer is not only talent but also persistence, resilience and hard work. Keep applying, keep submitting your manuscript to agents and publishers. Keep getting rejections until you eventually get the acceptance that you have always dreamt about.

My advice for you if you want to be a writer, is that you need to develop a thick skin and be ready to be rejected hundreds of times. Buckle up. Your soul will be crushed and you will constantly doubt yourself.

Natasha Tynes

Fadi: Soon after your book got released, you were faced by a stupid incident that costed you your publishing agreement. I remember being on the goodreads page of your book. Initially I was surprised that you had a thousand reviews in such a short time, which I thought wow, Natasha’s book has picked up, but when I started reading the reviews, I felt shocked with the amount of hatred you received. They were giving you one star review and attacking you personally rather than objectively assessing your work. It must have been a tough time for you. Tell us about the incident and how did you handle it. Did the bad publicity help you in any way or form? You know what they say “bad publicity is good publicity”, you may beg to differ.

Natasha: I was involved in a Twitter controversy after I tweeted about a DC metro employee breaking the rules on the job. In retrospect, I should have used a more private manner to complain, and if I can take this back I would. To my shock, I was seen as racist since the metro employee in question is African-American, although I never mentioned the color of her skin! In addition to all the death threats I received and all the derogatory comments, my novel’s Goodreads page was attacked by thousands of people who left one-star reviews without reading the book, and who also left personal attacks. I contacted Goodreads numerous times, but they never took action. Thankfully, a new publisher picked up the book after my old publisher caved to the online mob and dropped the book. This was really hard on me and I sunk into deep depression. Thankfully, there was a happy ending with the book being republished. The only way the “bad publicity” helped me was that I got a better publisher

Fadi: Do you plan on translating the book and publish it in Arabic? As I mentioned before, I feel that we miss these stories in our local literature. It’s actually part of the reason I started writing myself. I felt that our lives are rarely represented accurately in literature. It would be nice to have your book translated. Do you write in Arabic? Have any plans of writing any of your future work in Arabic?

Natasha: I definitely would love to see my novel translated into Arabic, I have already talked to a number of Arab publishers in the region, but there is nothing concrete yet.

Fadi: I know from experience that working on promoting the book takes same time and effort of writing it. How did you promote your book? You once gave me a good tip to approach “Instagrammers” for reviews. That was brilliant. What other things do you recommend?

Natasha: These days authors do the bulk of marketing, so you need to spend a big chunk of your time marketing your work. Here are some tips:

  1. Create your own newsletter and send it to your subscribers at least once a month. Keep them updated with your latest news. Newsletter is a must!
  2. Approach people who run podcasts. There are tons who interview authors and review books.
  3. Contact bookclubs (there are a number of virtual ones) and ask them if they would be willing to read your book and host you as a guest to answer questions.
  4. Join a writers group Facebook group. They are usually very supportive and offer a lot of help and advice.

Fadi: Who are your favorite authors? and what’s your favorite book?

Natasha: I love the work of Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, Ahdaf Soueif and Dave Eggers. I think my favorite book is The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Fadi: Are you working on a new story? What is it about?

Natasha: I’m working on a novel set in Amman, Jordan. It’s about a building whose residents all immigrate to the US and all end up facing unfortunate and sometimes tragic events. They all wonder if these unforeseen harsh circumstances were a result of their bad luck, or if they were actually all cursed. Was there a hex (a’mal in Arabic) in the building that never left them? Or was it their own choices?

I am look forward to reading more of Natasha’s work and wish her all the best. For more about her and her work, visit her website http://natashatynes.com/

7 years passed, still a best seller – Aroos Amman (The Bride of Amman)


Yesterday, an old time friend of mine, took a photo for “Aroos Amman” (The Bride of Amman” that shows the book in the best selling section of DNA Lifestyle Store in Al Abdali Mall.

I was happy to receive the photo and rushed to share it on all of my social media channels. The fact that “Aroos Amman” keeps on appearing in best selling lists after 7 years of its release, speaks volume. This is not the first time or place for it to be a best seller, in fact it was one of the top best selling books on Jamalon in 2012, the year it got released. It continuously appears in the best selling books section in the famous Jordanian bookstore “Reader”. It has been a best seller and a “recommended to read” at Virgin megastore for months. The audio version, made it to the most listened books list on storytel and the ebook is part of Abjjad’s all time most read books!

In Virgin Megastore Amman

The book been translated and published to English in 2015, and currently is getting translated into the French language, planned to be released next year.

Jamalon best selling list 2012

It has opened so many door to me, including securing an MA scholarship from the British Council to study in the UK in 2012. Invitation to different conferences and events in global cities from London, to Berlin, Salzburg and Pune

I have always wondered about the reason behind the success of this book. Why it ticks with so many people? It was my first to write, even before doing my MA in Creative Writing and Critical Thinking. It wasn’t perfectly crafted, and critics would point out the simplicity of its language or the shortages of the plot. Yet, it keeps generating strong reactions that surprises me till today, not just from my fellow Jordanians whom I mainly address in the book, but also from Arabs and foreigners from different countries.

For me it was a work of activism and I am more than happy to see it reach such heights. I wanted the voices of my characters to be heard, and they got heard. I wanted to give our youth hope, and for many I did. I remember a gay guy once told me that he keeps the book with him all the time, and place it next to his best when he goes to sleep as he feels protected by having it close by. That’s something I am so proud to hear. I remember a young woman once sending me a long letter stating how empowered she feels after reading the book and promising to stand up for her self and her rights. That’s also something I am so proud of. Even yesterday, after posting the photo of the book in the best selling list, I received a message from a guy who said it is his favorite book ever and that he remembers how he skipped his university classes and stayed home super excited to read it.

رواية عروس عمان بين الكتب الأكثر مبيعا في مكتبة ريدرز
Readers Bookshop

I don’t know what the magic in “Aroos Amman”. Maybe it has to do with giving a voice to a gay man that hasn’t been heard of in our society before, or hearing a Jordanian woman standing up to her body rights and sexuality, or maybe its magnifying our issues of gender and heavy social heritage, and showing how they have been affecting our lives negatively. I always say, I wrote it from my heart, and maybe that’s what made it tick. And I guess, thats what others see in it, like what a friend commented yesterday on the Instagram image, stating that it is successful because it is “honest” and “different”.

Thank you for all of the honest and different people who supported me and supported this book into such success. Hopefully we will seeing it reaching more people and maybe soon we will watch it as a movies on the big screens.. fingers crossed!

London launch for The Bride of Amman

Haya: On Netflix’s Bonding and Laila and the Lamb


Hello people!
Have you missed me? I am sure you did.
And I am talking to those who were following this blog years back
Like in 2007! (omg feels like ages ago)
Those who know that The Observer is not the only author here
And that I am the infamous “Haya” have actually contributed more engaging and exciting content to this blog.
So Observer but this is true
Whether you agree with it or not!
Yes more “exciting”!
If you don’t believe me, go back and “Google me”
Wait, don’t go and google me as you won’t find anything about me
but search this blog for my older posts.
I promise, you will enjoy reading them.

Anyway, since The Observer started blogging again two weeks ago and I have been itching
I want to blog too!
For new readers, please let me introduce myself
I am The Observer’s female alter ego
The first female voice he used in this writings
Long before those 4 “wanna be” brides in his first book
and long before that boring Janna in his second
who keeps whining and whining about how unhappy she is at a time where she is back to her youth and have all what she wishes for at her fingertips!
What the hell?! Seriously Janna? Just wake up.
If you want Kamil, just go after him and be happy! (rolling my eyes)
And yes, long before his latest dominatrix protagonist – Laila
What the fuck?! How did you get there Observer?

Don’t get me wrong guys, I am all for women empowerment
And yes, there are aspects of Laila’s character that I admire
And I did enjoy reading the book
But that intro page! OMG!
What were you thinking??!
A Jordanian woman wearing a jockstrap and fucking her boyfriend!
SERIOUSLY?
Like SERIOUSLY?
Are you NUTS? Observer?
And then you go all the way and get surprised because the book got banned in Jordan!
Duh!
Did you really expect it to pass censorship? Like really?
It is a book habibi! A printed one! Not your blog!
And you needed to get a reality check!
But hey, I admire your courage
You actually went that far into writing it!
And getting it published!
And talking (shamelessly) about it!
Bravo!
I say bravo although it is not something I would have ever agreed to
If you have consulted me
But anyway, the book is out
And it is banned in Jordan
And people are finding a hard time to find it
Happy?
Enough with berating you
As I actually understand what you were trying to do with that book
I disagree with the means but under where you are coming from
And you people, stop categorizing the book as “pornographic”
Because IT IS NOT!
Yes it has a shocking opening
And few sexual scenes
But IT IS NOT PORN
It is not more of a porn than this new mini series on Netflix called Bonding
If you read Laila and enjoyed it, then you must watch it
It builds on a similar concept
(No Observer, Hollywood is NOT stealing your ideas)
Bonding is a more of comedy series of a dominatrix sex worker with a gay assistant
Intriguing, no?
Original? Despite Observer’s opinion, I’d say yes!
Entertaining? Definitely!
And I have to admit, it feels like it originated from the same line of thinking The Observer had
As in challenging mainstream stereotypes of women’s role in bed
And that’s good – a noble cause I’d say
And while the show taps onto some “disgusting practices”
It does it in a light fun way
Far from the serious tone of Laila
And there is NO SCENE that shows Mistress May (the protagonist of the show) fucking any of her men with a dildo!
(maybe in the second season?) – I bet!
But anyway, there are two things that I want to highlight here
FIRST: I understand that The Observer introduced that scene to provide a critical read for the entire act. He does it clearly towards the end of the story. And to be honest, it is a needed thought provoking read.
SECOND: (*spoiler alter*) Bonding ends with a crime, one that Mistress May commits, and articulates that she can’t report to the police because no one would believe her. That sounds exactly like Tarek’s dilemma in Laila’s story. The same concept of how someone would react when he is doing something wrong in the eyes of the society and ends up in much worse situation. Come clean or run away?

What would you do?
Have your read Laila and the Lamb or watched Bonding?
If not, then you should.
And when you do. Come back here and let me know what you think!

Sincerely yours,
Haya