Author Interview: I.J. Sarfeh

beyondthethirdgarden-5001. Can you tell us a bit about your most recent novel?

Beyond the Third Garden:

Iran; November, 1950: Ten year-old Reza can’t remember what happened on that fateful night. Without warning, gruesome images of the event flash through his mind. Now living in a Tehran orphanage, he is obsessed with running away from the hell where bullies and physical punishment rule. In another part of the city, Paree Windom, a middle-aged Iranian woman, lives alone, separated from her English husband. She, too, is tormented by recurring images of a horrific incident that happened years before. Seeking relief from anguish, she falls prey to the allure of alcohol.

By chance, the two meet in a rain-drenched forest at the foothills of the Alborz Mountains. As their turbulent friendship develops, they embark on a journey to search for deliverance from the prison of tormented souls.

2. When did you decide you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

I pursued writing after retiring from surgery. The profession brought me much personal satisfaction and the wonderful feeling that my skills in the O.R. alleviated suffering. But time and stresses took their toll, and I still felt there was another career left in me—my passion for writing. So a hobby became a second career.

3. Can you give us a brief rundown of your writing process?

I write down the skeleton of the story, which more often than not comes to mind in the middle of the night. The following is a typical outline; it represented one of my earlier novels, The Final Victim:

Genre: Medical mystery/suspense.

Theme: Stem cell research.

Main characters: Protagonist 1. Greg Dostoyov, a surgeon, Russian-American in his late thirties. Shy, reclusive, courageous when pressured to act. Protagonist 2: Kate Adams, aggressive, forthright, but with hidden fears. A biologist in her early thirties.

Antagonist: Jules Morton, a PhD in his late fifties, embittered by a years-past catastrophic event that shattered his life.

Points of view: Greg Dostoyov and Jules Morton.

Plot: The surgeon operates on a famous athlete. Six weeks later, the athlete is dead of a mysterious cause. The media blame the surgeon for the death. Plot driver: Searching for facts behind the mysterious postoperative death.

Settings: Minnesota, Utah, Southern California, Scotland.

Once I have the basics of the plot and characters, I start writing the first draft—anything that comes to mind within the outline; no editing, no going back—just keep writing until it’s done.

4. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?

The hardest part for me is developing characters that are not clichés. It almost seems as if every character I dream up has been done before.

5. How has your career in medicine influenced your writing?

Medicine permeates through all my novels, either dominating the theme or lurking in the background. After all, medicine is what I know.

6. You’ve recently moved from writing mystery/suspense novels to literary fiction. What advice would you give to an author preparing to try writing in a new genre?

Read as many best-selling books in your new genre as possible. Then start your journey.

7. Why did you choose an ebook publisher over a traditional publisher?

A friend had used this publisher (Musa) previously, and she sang its praises. Also, it seemed to me that ebooks would be the wave of the future. Time will tell.

8. What methods have you found most successful for marketing your work?

Family and friends have been fantastic, promoting the novels among their friends and acquaintances, and submitting the works to book clubs. Thus far, I have been to a few book signings, which were useful although embarrassing. I’m still unclear as to the benefits of social media.

9. If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Persist, persist, persist—despite multiple rejections from agents and publishers. In the end, you’ll find the right fit.

10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

The novel is titled From the Ashes of Strife. The story is about a family caught in the crossfire of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, their escape to America, and their adjusting to a different and somewhat hostile (toward Iran) culture.

Author Bio:

I was born in Tehran, Iran, to a Persian father and Russian mother. When I was nine years old, my parents sent me off to an English boarding school — I think they thought the British system would correct my unruliness. After spending the formative years there, our family moved to America, where I studied medicine, became a board-certified surgeon, and ended up on the faculty of the University of California. In 2000, I retired as Professor Emeritus to pursue my original passion before being lured into medicine: creative writing.

You can purchase a copy of Beyond The Third Garden here.