Welcome, Anne. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel.
ALO: My novel, Deep Deceit, revolves around a young girl named Tamara who gets kidnapped in Dubai and her mother Celeste’s mission to find her, despite the numerous roadblocks she faces. Celeste engages the help of a fellow expat named Susan whom she meets at a beach boot camp. The two women launch the search that the authorities will not, because at 18, Tamara is technically an adult.
The clues to Tamara’s whereabouts take Celeste and Susan down a dark alley of deep deceit. From exotic nightclubs and high-class call girls to mysterious Saudi palaces hidden behind ominous walls, they follow each lead while uncovering the unthinkable. As they come closer to finding Tamara, the secrets Celeste and Susan uncover threaten not only her daughter’s life but everyone in their families as well.
What is the theme of the story and what prompted you to write about this subject matter?
ALO: As I contemplate this question now that I’ve finished my second novel, I can see a common theme has evolved in my writing that will actually appear again in my next novel. The protagonist, a 40-something female, faces what she perceives as an insurmountable challenge but finds an inner strength she never knew she had for various reasons. In Celeste’s case, she has been oppressed by her first and second husbands, who have both taken advantage of her vulnerabilities, convincing her that she is incapable of independent thinking and that she needs a ‘big strong man’ to take care of her. The story arc highlights the relationship between Celeste and Susan; the strong bond that grows very quickly in the intensity of the circumstances; and the strength that women can draw from each other. The theme of female oppression is also explored when comparing the cultural differences between the Arab and Western worlds. However, I feel like it’s presented in a balanced way. One of the rescuers, a character named Aliya, is a Saudi woman married to a very forward-thinking husband, who fluctuates between his loyalty to his very old-fashioned father and what is ‘right’ in his own mind. The other ‘hero’ is a Western educated Arab man who is secretly in love with Celeste. A sub-theme that came out in the story is how a mental illness, especially those that go undiagnosed, untreated or improperly treated, can impact people’s lives. I honestly don’t know what has prompted me to write about these themes. The story ideas tend to come first and the underlying themes seem to follow naturally. I don’t make a conscious decision to write about certain subject matter. My focus is to write a compelling and evocative mystery/thriller with strong female characters.
What research did you do for this book?
ALO: My initial ‘research’ was on the ground! I lived in Dubai for four years and a lot of the geographical descriptions, locations and scenarios are from personal observation and experience. I have family and friends who have lived in, traveled to and/or worked in Saudi so I interviewed them for their perspectives and continually asked for ‘reality checks’. I also used references and resources I found on the Internet to help flesh out details, such as what happens at an Arab wedding and to fact check certain things like the correct names for traditional Arab clothing, for example.
How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?
ALO: When I’m writing character descriptions and scenes that need to draw readers in, I tend to sit back and close my eyes and begin to imagine details in my mind’s eye. I put myself into the scene and turn slowly around to get a 360-degree perspective. Once I can ‘see’ it clearly, I start writing. Sometimes I will search for photos on the Internet to spark ideas. I did that when writing the description of the wedding dress and also when trying to decide what Ryan’s office building looked like as well as the majlis in the palace where Tamara was being held.
Do you prefer to write one sex or the other? And, if so, why?
ALO: That’s a very interesting question and one that found me at a stand still about halfway through writing Deep Deceit. I was having a hard time writing Ryan because he was such a narcissistic creep. I found myself deeply disliking him and that’s not a good thing when you have to spend so much time with your characters while writing a novel. On the other hand, I loved writing Mitch as he’s a warm and loving, wine-pouring, spaghetti-making hubbie that was a pleasure to conjure up. In order to get back to writing and be able to continue developing Ryan’s character, I had to come up with a back-story that would justify his sociopathic behavior. Being able to understand your antagonist is important but you don’t necessarily have to like him. As an author, how you feel about your characters will come across to the reader. I was very pleased with the ‘realness’ of Ryan’s character in the end once I fleshed him out and I hope that comes across. I guess the answer to your questions is, I enjoy writing certain character types better than others rather than male versus female.