Welcome to the blog, Anthony! Could you tell us a little bit about your book?
Thank you for inviting me, Rachel. It's a pleasure to be here.
Sons of the Great Satan is framed around a teenage coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a cataclysmic event: Iran's Islamic Revolution of 1979. I wanted to tell a compelling story that explored the revolution through intersecting story lines and multiple viewpoints. Most Americans of my generation think of Iran as the nation that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Few Americans knew the history of Iran or the reasons behind the revolution. It was my desire in Sons of the Great Satan to tell an epic character-driven tale of empire lost and show both the political upheaval as well as the personal tragedy.
The 'Sons' of the title are the expatriate teenagers, like myself, who lived in Iran prior to the fall of the Shah, and of course, 'the Great Satan' is United States of America, the Shah's strongest Western ally. The book follows a number of characters and story lines through the revolution: Americans expatriates, Iranians on both sides of the struggle, innocents caught in the crossfire, a British journalist covering the unfolding events, major political leaders such as Shah Pahlavi, President Carter, and the Ayatollah Khomeini, and our main protagonists, Joey Andrews of Peligrosa, Texas and Farhad Zadeh or Tehran, Iran. It is through the friendship of Joey and Farhad that we experience the bloody revolution and the Shah's ultimate downfall. The bond between the Iranian boy, Farhad, and the American kid, Joey, comprise the moral center of the novel, and it's their story that pulls all the other threads together.
You actually lived in Iran during this upheaval. What led you to write your experiences as a novel instead of a memoir?
There are several reasons why I chose to write a historical fiction novel instead of a memoir. First, I wanted to tell a bigger story than what happened to me and my family during our years in Tehran. The expatriate lifestyle is certainly a big part of Sons of the Great Satan, and draws on my experience, but I also wanted to delve into the politics of the revolution, both internally in Iran and through the major political players of the day.
Secondly, my personal story in Iran ended in the fall of 1978 just as my senior year started. There was unrest in the country and many people were leaving, but it was still a couple of months before the forced evacuation of all American citizens from Iran. My mother, sister and I left Iran about 4 months before the Shah left on his 'vacation'. My father stayed until late February 1979, a month after the Shah's departure and two weeks after the triumphant return of Ayatollah Khomeini. My personal story ended in Iran as things began to fall apart, but before the evacuations and the Shah's departure, which were essential to my novel.
Lastly, I love grand epics. When I was a teenager in the Middle East, my mother was an avid James Michner fan, and I made my way through most of his catalog. There's plenty of time for reading when there's no television or radio. Movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, The Man Who Would Be King, Lonesome Dove- these films captivated my imagination. There's a lot of love for tragic heroes in Sons of the Great Satan, as well as the human side of history.
How did your experiences shape the plot of Sons of the Great Satan?
I always planned on SOTGS being bigger than my personal story but there are many tie-ins. The most obvious is the 'Sons' themselves, which are composites of the guys I used to hang around with in Tehran. There is no one-to-one character correlation, but the camaraderie the boys share is the same. I've had a number of classmates read my book and there are many touchstones that ring true for those who were there. One of the dedications for the novel is the 'Class of '79, Tehran American School': my senior class that never graduated due to the fall of the Shah.
A number of incidents portrayed in the book draw on my experiences in Iran; such as the parties the boys attend, being a student at Tehran American School, camping trips, the drug use, the obsession with rock'n'roll, and in the later part of the book there's a riot that Joey witnesses that is based on one of my most vivid memories from my last summer in Iran.
A cornerstone element in the novel is the disintegrating relationship between Joey Andrews parents, Terry and Diane. My own parents separated in Iran and later divorced when we returned to the States. That created a lot of personal turmoil for the family but for a writer, I mean, c'mon - a revolution and a marriage dissolving in the process? From my earliest plans for the novel I knew that had to be a central part of the story. Now if I can just convince my parents that it's all fiction! As I told my father, "Terry Andrews is not you, Dad. He's me. In fact, everyone in the book is me!"
The greatest experience that shaped the novel was my love of the years I spent in Iran. I've been asked, "How can you love a country that drove you from its borders and then took your countrymen hostage?" There's no easy answer to that. My emotions toward Iran are complicated and filled with anger and resentment along with a loving nostalgia. Strong emotions like that might wreck havoc on your psychiatry bill, but they're great fodder for a novel. Outside of time travel, Sons of the Great Satan, was my chance to revisit that place and time if only in my imagination.
Do you have any other books in the works?
Yes, I have several project in process. I'm plotting a sequel to Sons of the Great Satan entitled The Will of God, which will cover the aftermath of the Islamic revolution and into the Iran/Iraq war. Many of the characters that survived Sons will make return appearances in the sequel.
I've also written three short stories and a novella compiled in Four Trails: A Quartet of Country Tales. You can download Four Trails for FREE at Smashwords.com. I'm currently writing a book of short stories which I describe as 'Gothic Redneck'. Each story in the book deals with a dead body. I should have the first draft of Dead'r Than Elvis completed within a couple of months.
And lastly, I'm plotting out a fantasy trilogy set in modern day Hawai'i. Imagine Lord of the Flies meets Lord of the Rings and you're almost there.
What is the best advice you can give to writers?
Keep writing, but know why you're writing. Be true to your work, but don't be too defensive. As incredible as it seems, other people have good ideas too. You can accept those ideas or reject them, but it never hurts to hear them, and it just might help.
Thanks for stopping by, Anthony!
Anthony can be found on his blog, Facebook, and Twitter @YoBigTony!
Sons of the Great Satan can be found on Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.
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