On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, Debra Johanyak talks about writing her memoir about life in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis, Behind The Veil.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Debra Johanyak about her life, being inspired to write her memoir about life in Iran, Behind The Veil, and her creative process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Hi, I’m Debra Johanyak, author of Behind the Veil, my memoir of living in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
When I was 11 or 12, my teacher said I was a good writer, and I was excited to know that someone appreciated my writing and ideas.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I’ve written spontaneously most of my life, off and one. As a young mom, I found time to write a story about a dentist stepdad who has to learn how to get along with his new wife’s young son who is resentful of the marriage. It was my first sale, and the note was even better than pay: “Thanks,” the editor wrote, “you made my day.”
How long did it take you to complete your book from the first idea to release?
It took a couple of years to organize the manuscript from letters and diaries as well as my memories.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
My most recent book took about 18 to 20 months to complete; publication was delayed due to the publisher’s acceptance date and printing time.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Behind The Veil?
Behind the Veil was my second book and the one closest to my heart. It’s a memoir of living in Iran as a grad student, wife, and mother during the 1979-80 hostage crisis. I wanted to preserve our experiences for my children to read about when they grew up.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Behind The Veil?
The hardest part was opening our personal lives to share with unknown readers, but I was then able to share details and experiences that I thought readers would find interesting.
What was your research process for Behind The Veil?
Most of the research came from personal experience, letters, diaries, and subsequent interviews with family members. I also did historical research to fill the gaps about the Iran hostage situation.
How did you plan the structure of Behind The Veil?
I followed a chronological timeline, beginning with a chapter about my childhood and young adulthood and then moving through the key events of my experience.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Behind The Veil need?
The publisher provided the help of an editorial assistant, which I greatly appreciated. Although my writing style was coherent and engaging (I’m told), it’s hard to be objective when writing about yourself or your family. Plus another set of eyes on the mechanics is always a good idea.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
Define the message you want to share with readers. When you know that, the rest will fall into place.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’ve written an historical fiction book about Edgar Allan Poe titled In the Shadow of the Raven. It’s still being edited for publication. I wanted to emphasize Poe’s relatability and struggles between his personal life and professional development as a writer and editor.
I also have a completed drama-romance manuscript being edited, tentatively titled The Crescent Moon.
The Jude King Chronicles: Part I is about halfway written as an apocalyptic fiction novel.
As you can see, I love to write!
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I feel good about preserving the cultural and historical legacy of our family’s witnessing the Iran hostage crisis in that country. I encourage everyone to write their story for self-fulfillment and to share a theme or message with avid readers.
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