R.J. Zarkani is an Iraqi-American published poet that lived through the Iraq war and survived to tell the tale. I had the pleasure of asking her some questions about her and her writing style.
Join me in reading more from this talented poet.
What is the name of your current book?
R.J. has a published book called Stranger Paths, The Magic in The Madness. It is a self-published poetry collection about war, hope, inspiration, and growth. Sharing my journey from Iraq to America, from a child’s view to the woman that I am today.
Where can we follow you and purchase your book? Do you have any social media profiles you’d like readers to follow?
Amazon paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1728741637
Amazon ebook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07JVV9FL8
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/strangerpaths/
Author Website: https://strangerpaths.com/
What inspired you to first start writing? Is your motivation to write now different or the same as before?
I started writing poetry after I read one of my mother’s published poems in a newspaper. I was maybe 8 or 10 years old at the time. Then I looked for things in my surroundings for inspiration. Nature was a big influence at the time and as I grew to my teenage years, I started thinking of the reason we were put here on earth or why we chose the life we chose I looked at scripture from Al-Quran and the Bible and saw the similar stories told. That inspired more philosophical writing. After moving to America, my writing, that used to be in Arabic, changed drastically. Now I write in English, playing with new words and combining them to tell my life story. The Iraq war became a big inspiration, after moving to America. I had time to reflect on the events that took place and realized that it wasn’t as normal as I thought it to be. So I share my story throughout my book and share a bit of the magic and the madness that got me through it all.
Writers are projected as loners or introverts. Is this true for you?
I was never an introvert or a loner. I get inspired and energized when I’m surrounded by people. I had a huge family in Iraq, and being alone was never an option. So I grew to love being surrounded by people.
What genre do you like to write in? Why?
When it comes to poetry, no genre is off limits. When it comes to novels, I prefer fiction and science fiction with a dash of romance and humor.
How often do you write and what schedule to you like to keep?
I write when I am inspired to write. Never had a schedule for writing. Poetry needs to be inspired, needs to reflect a state of mind and a feeling.
What is the easiest part of writing to you?
The easiest part is that there’s always something near to write with. You don’t have to be rich to be able to write. During the war, when we had no electricity I’d use a pen and paper and light a candle and write my own reality. While I am inspired, I don’t have to think and it all flows smoothly and it takes me to a world of my own.
Can you share any tips on inspiring other writers to pursue their dreams?
Write and save your writings, the one you love and the ones you don’t love so much.
Read your writing aloud to yourself, then to someone else and share parts of it with the world through social media. This will build your confidence and get you closer to publishing.
Look into self-publishing.
Never let bad critic stop you or make you feel inferior.
What is your favorite thing about being a writer? Why?
My favorite thing is having the ability to transform reality, to add the magic that we lost down the road, to be able to be forever a child wide-eyed looking into the world with wonder.
Who would you compare your work to? What differences set you apart?
That’s a difficult question. At first, my writings were in Arabic, I read Gibran Kahlil and other Arabic writers when I was young. I guess I transformed that experience to English poetry.
Does a bad review affect your writing?
Never. I write for me and for those that understand my poetry. A bad review usually means that the reader and the writer are not in harmony. Meaning my book is not for this particular person.
What did you want to be when you grew up as a child?
I wanted to be an ice cream seller, a truck driver, a teacher, an engineer, a doctor, a writer, and wildlife photographer! Now I am a doctor of pharmacy and a published author. Need to work on the rest!
What book have you read that has been the most life changing?
The Law of Attraction by Abraham Hicks and Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts.
Are you working on anything right now? If so, what can you share?
I am currently working on a short story, a novel, and a screenplay.
My short story is about Ghost, Soul and Other and their journey out of the body after death.
My novel is a post-apocalyptic story following Lana, a medical school student, as she realizes that final exams are permanently cancelled.
Who is in your support system? How do they keep you motivated?
My family, mother, father, and sisters are a huge support system. But my boyfriend Sean has to be the greatest supporter of my writings. He encourages me by reading my writings, helping with formatting and grammar, and also he is a financial supporter that helped me promote my book on Amazon.
Do you keep a blog or a journal? How does it help you as a writer?
Yes, I have hundreds of drafts. I use WordPress, Microsoft Word and pen and paper depending on what’s closest to me. My book is a collection of poems I’d written in my journal.
Do you have any daily mantra’s? What do you tell yourself to keep your inspiration alive?
Look for the magic beneath the reality. Find the extraordinary in the ordinary, if you can’t find it. Make it up!
What is one thing you want people to know about you as a writer? A person?
The writer I am and the person I am is always changing and growing. I like to add humor, magic, fiction to reality. I am a positive thinker and a true believer in dreams. Nothing is off limits. Dream a good dream while you’re dreaming!
What are your career goals?
I am a pharmacist and an author. In both, I strive to inspire and uplift my patients and my readers.
How will you handle fame if/when you reach that level? How do you think it will change your writing?
I don’t think it will change much. It might make me question whether I am as good as people will as I am, but I’ll get over that… hopefully.
What advice would you give your younger self about writing?
Write more, the boring days the great days. Write about them as they are or as they can be. My war journal is precious to me today and I wish I’d written more then.
Have you ever considered writing an autobiography?
Yes, but poetry is a more interesting way to tell the hard to tell stories. I can hide behind the rhyme to lessen the impact of the words.
How did/will you celebrate the launch of your book?
I went out with Sean for a date night.
If given the chance, what author would you interview? What is the most important question you would ask?
Neil Gaiman. I’d ask: “Do you ever get sick of writing?”
Have you experienced writer’s block? How do you handle it?
I have. I usually step away from the piece and daydream. I never pressure myself into writing.
What would you tell others who are considering traditional/self-publishing? Any advice?
Find a trusted publisher if you are publishing traditionally, look over the rights you are giving away and the fees you have to put out front.
I chose self-publishing because I did not want to convince anyone that my book is worth publishing. It saved me money and time.
My advice is to research your options. Always be involved in promoting your work, even if you hire others to do it. Be invested in yourself and your work.
What do you want to be remembered for as a writer? A person?
A source of inspiration and uplifting, a helping hand, a trusted friend.
Thank you, RJ for allowing us a glimpse into your writing process and sharing your inspiring story. We wish you success and hope to see more work in the future.