I was born in the 70’s, when there was no internet, no video games except a couple, and no satellite channels. Where I lived, there weren’t many TV channels either. Right after my birth, there was a revolution in my country, and right after the revolution, there was a war which lasted for eight years. I remember there were blackouts for hours, no grocery in supermarkets, sometimes no supermarkets at all; we had shortage of food and gas and smiles and hope… One thing, though, we had a lot: books.
My mother was a reader; she had books from her college days, novels, French literature, Russian literature, short stories; all translated into Farsi. She also had Persian literature, which was not easy to find after the revolution. Two of my uncles, my father’s brothers, were into books as well. My youngest uncle died of cancer when he was in his thirties and he left us his books and his writings. My oldest uncle, he lived a long life, and thanks to him, I had access to an open library with all kinds of books; fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, magazines… He was a collector too, and always let me play with his stamps or matches collections. His small library was my Disneyland when I was a kid.
Many bookshops and publishing companies went out of business in war, like many other businesses. When your life is at stake, you hardly think about reading, I guess. I don’t remember buying many books when I was small; there weren’t many books to sell, after all. Instead, I remember inheriting books, either from people who were dead – like my young uncle – or people who were alive. They knew I was a bookworm, so anyone who had a bookshelf, opened their doors to me and I started to discover more relatives with magical shelves in their homes, my cousin one of them. The first book she gave me, I fell in love with its main character and cried for hours when he died at the end of the story. I used to borrow two or three books from her every week and finished them all in one day. I read them so fast my mother believed I didn’t read them thoroughly! I somehow broke the record of finishing books in the family. 400 pages in two or three hours!
Unfortunately, children’s books were short and they finished soon. I must have read each of Tin Tin’s comics more than a hundred times. I had read all of my brother’s and cousins’ books, so I started reading the books my parents kept by their bed. I somehow read my father’s pharmacological magazines too, and it was when I decided that I just loved to read, no matter what. Fortunately, French and Russian novels were never short!
It was war outside, but inside my world, there were stories from all over the globe. I sat for hours in a corner with a book from Dumas, or a story about the Forbidden City in Beijing, a love story in Moscow, and I grew up in all these different countries far from mine. When I was in middle school, I started writing cheesy love stories that I hid from my mother. I had a secret book club in my school where I – the huge nerd with thick glasses – was a celebrity! My classmates read my stories and encouraged me to write more. It was when I met my first muse, who had just moved to my hometown with her family. We became best friends. I wrote, she read, and eventually, we started a story together that happened in Italy, about a handsome young man called Alberto, and a young teenage girl called Laura. It was 1990, when Mahshid and I started our longest story that never ended. We were in high school and the story hadn’t finished yet. When we were 18, I moved to Tehran to go to college and she stayed in our hometown. We stopped writing our story but continued to write letters to each other; no email then. A year later, I heard she had a suitor and was thinking to get married. Her father was in another city so she was going to see him with her mom to get his permission for getting married. It was April. I was in Tehran, going to college. A windy day, and I tried to keep my scarf on my head in the wind; suddenly I heard a crash. Horrified, I looked around for the accident. Nothing but the wind. But I could swear that I had heard a car crash close to me.
The same evening my mother called. Mahshid and her mother had been in a car accident, she told me. Their car had crashed a tree on the road when they were going to see her father.
I was frozen. I had written this, her accident. In my story, in our story, I had killed a character just like that: on the road, with their car hitting a tree, but I had let a little boy live. A boy named Paolo.
Every year, on the third week of April, I mourn her. It’s been twenty years, but it feels like yesterday, that windy morning when I was walking to Tehran University and I heard a crash. Two days later, I stood by her grave and made a promise, to her and to myself, that I finish our story and read it to the world; every year, I go back there and telling her that I’m still on my word.
All our friends who were there in that secret book club still live in my hometown; they have these parties every month when they gather and talk and have a good time. I hadn’t heard of them in a long time, until one of them found me and I finally found the courage to go and meet, after twenty years. They had all grown up, gotten married, were moms, whereas I felt to be the same eighteen-year-old who had last seen every one of them in Mahshid’s funeral. We talked about her a bit, shared old memories and we shed tears. They were happy to know that I was pursuing my dream, mine and Mahshid’s. I was still their little celebrity!
As you see, this piece was not about writing. Or perhaps it was. Or maybe I just told you a little story about how I became a writer. And of course, now you know where my weird author’s name comes from. Almost!
But I want to draw your attention to something that I did there, which I owe to my drama classes in college. If you haven’t noticed, when I was telling you my story, I followed a pattern: first I began with an introduction (when I was born), then I gave you a little background and history (the war), I threw you a small conflict and engaged you (the books situation), you met a few characters who helped me get through the conflict (my mother, uncles, cousin), then I jumped to another story which could be a subplot (my secret book club), I introduced you to a leading character (Mahshid) and I engaged you in a second conflict (writing a never-ending story), until my beloved character died in a tragic way – a car accident. I didn’t finish there, though. And you kept reading to see how I survived after her.
This, my friends, is the classical pattern to write a story. You begin with an introduction, there is one, two, or as many conflicts as you wish, but remember to resolve them all by the end of your story. You need a peek, which is usually the breathtaking moment, where the cliffhangers work at their very best, and then it’s time to descend and move toward the ending.
This, the plot structure is what we’re going to discuss soon!
Until then, read more wisely!