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I talked Monday with writer Dara Naraghi about his Kickstarter campaign for his new graphic novel Persia Blues, which will be published by NBM next summer; the book is done, and the Kickstarter is to pay his artist Brent Bowman. In addition to the campaign, we also spoke about the genesis of the book and the creative process, and I decided that part of the interview would be more at home at Robot 6. To accompany this part of the conversation, Dara has sent along some exclusive art from Persia Blues, which is set in two eras and drawn in two different styles.
Robot 6: Let’s start with the elevator pitch: What is this story about?
Dara Naraghi: At its very core, Persia Blues is the story of a smart, independent young woman trying to define herself and her place in the world, in the face of family obligations and societal pressures. More broadly, I’ve been describing the book like this: Minoo Shirazi is a rebellious young Iranian woman, struggling to define herself amidst the strict social conventions of an oppressive regime, and the differing wishes of an overbearing father. Minoo Shirazi is also a free-spirited adventurer in a fantasy world, a place where aspects of modern America and ancient Persia meld into a unique landscape.
And yet, neither of these women are the true Minoo Shirazi.
On her journey(s) of self-discovery, she will encounter diverse elements from Iran’s rich culture and history, both real and mythological, and eventually solve the mystery of her world(s).
Why did you choose a female protagonist?
A few reasons: First, I try not to default to the types of characters that I’m more familiar with and find easier to write. Being a guy, and having experienced some of the things I’m writing about in the book, it would have been easier to choose a male protagonist. But I wanted to challenge myself and try something different. Second, the setting of modern Iran, under the rule of a fundamentalist Islamic government, offers a whole set of challenges and conflicts that are unique to a woman’s experience. So by writing a female protagonist, I have an opportunity to play her off against those situations, such as the morality police enforcing the rules of hijab, to better show who she is and what she’s made of. And in the process, hopefully expose my readers to certain daily struggles that may be totally foreign to them.
On a more personal note, I have a teenage daughter, and I thought it would be nice to write a character that although she may not be able to relate to 100 percent, she can definitely identify with.
What are the challenges of telling a story with two different settings?
The biggest challenge is balance. How much of the story takes place in each setting? What’s the right amount? And do the actions in each setting carry the overall story forward? I did something similar in my Witch & Wizard: Battle for Shadowland series from IDW, so I’ve had some experience tackling this style of storytelling. Of course, in the case of Persia Blues, there’s the added challenge for my artist, Brent Bowman, in that we’re depicting each setting in a different art style as well. He’s doing a much more involved, detailed style for the fantasy scenes, which requires more time. So there’s a scheduling and time management aspect too.
You mention that you are Iranian-American, and this story takes place in both modern Iran and ancient Persia. What has been your experience of the U.S. and Iran — how much of your life have you spent in each country, and how has this given you a unique perspective?
I was born in Iran several years prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution, and was there through those times and the early years of the Iran-Iraq war. My family moved to the US when I was 12, so I still had very strong memories of my birthplace, as well as a sense of identity. Of course, growing up here, including graduating from high school and college, I am more comfortable in my “Western” skin. So I think the term Iranian-American describes me pretty well, since I’m a product of both cultures and experiences.
As for a unique perspective … I don’t know, it’s hard to qualify. Certainly, having a strong connection to a different country and culture — especially one that is often portrayed in a negative light in the media — makes me notice and think about situations differently than someone who doesn’t have that background. Things like our preconceived notions of people “different” than us, or attitudes towards politics and cultural norms. When it comes to creating characters and storylines, I try not to just fall back on what’s familiar; what I see all the time in popular culture. As a consequence of the revolution and subsequent exodus, I also have family scattered all over the world, from the U.S. to Europe to Australia, and even some relatives still in Iran. I’ve always appreciated how people are able to adapt to such turbulent changes in their lives, and carry on successfully; it’s another theme I keep in mind when writing fiction.
What is your working relationship with Brent? Do you give him a script, thumbnails or more? Do you meet or work remotely?
Brent and I have known each other for about 6 years. We’re both Columbus residents, and are in the same comic book writers/artists collective, known as PANEL. The group self-publishes two anthologies a year, and we’ve worked together on those books as well as a few other smaller projects. So we’ve had a good working relationship and mutual respect for each other’s work going into this project. I work in full script, but always leave the door open for him to alter and improve, trusting his storytelling skills. Between seeing each other at PANEL meetings and just getting together whenever we need to, the process has been very collaborative and very smooth. These days, it doesn’t happen very often that your collaborator is a 10 minute drive away, so that’s definitely been a huge plus for our project.
One of your Kickstarter premiums is a set of Persian recipes. How did you come up with that idea, and what do you think they add to the Kickstarter?
I wish I could take credit for the idea, but it actually came from my friend Nand. He’s a big proponent of Kickstarter (mostly in the design and technology areas) and I was picking his brain, trying to come up with some good ideas for my campaign. I shared that I didn’t want to offer a bunch of gimmicky items or trinkets like mousepads and keychains, wanting to keep the focus mostly on art and writing. We started talking about something that would be personal, and would tie in with the themes or settings of the book, and he mentioned recipes. I was sold! I called up my mom and asked if she would be willing to share some of her recipes for various Persian dishes, and she agreed. My dad even got in on the action, helping with the staging and photography.
I’d like to think that the recipes are just a fun reward all around. They give backers of the project a glimpse into the culinary corner of a culture they may not be familiar with, and also an excuse to try their hand at cooking some delicious food. Along the same lines (and based on another great suggestion from my friend) I’ve also set up several boards on Pinterest, specific to the book. I see them as another bonus for readers, an extra complement to the story, providing a glimpse into the background of the various settings and elements of the story. For instance, there are boards devoted to modern Iran, Persian cuisine, The Ohio State University, and other settings from the book.
You’re quite prolific for someone who has a day job. How do you find time to write?
Easy, I don’t have a life!
OK, kidding aside, it comes down to time management and prioritizing what’s more important in your life. I have a full time day job, and a house, and a family, so there are responsibilities I need to (and want to) devote my time towards. Outside of that, I try to keep the drains on my free time to a minimum, so I can devote more energy to writing. I spend some time on Facebook catching up with friends and colleagues, but aside from that I stay away from other social media and time wasters (Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, message boards, etc.) I don’t watch a lot of TV, and don’t play video games. I don’t go out drinking every weekend. When you take all of that into account, it’s surprising how much time is freed up to write.
What other projects do you have in the works?
Not a whole lot, as I’m concentrating most of my time and energy on Persia Blues right now. I did have an autobiographical short story in Dark Horse Presents #18, which came out in November, and I’m talking to Mike Richardson about doing more of those, possibly as a one-shot. I’m also working on a short story for the 20th volume of the PANEL small press anthology that I self-publish with my Columbus friends.