Nahid Rachlin

How did you become a writer?

When I was an infant my mother, who already had seven children, gave me to my childless aunt to raise as her own child. Then when I was nine years old my father came to my elementary school in Tehran and forcefully took me back to live with him, my birth mother, and siblings in Ahvaz, a town miles away from Tehran. I was happy being an only child to my loving aunt and it was traumatic to be forced into living with my birth family, I hardly knew. This trauma led me to reading books to find answers to my questions. In turn reading led me to writing. In writing I could give shape to incidents that were painful, seemed meaningless or random, chaotic. I found that even if I wrote about a depressing subject, the process itself made me happy. Writing then became an ingrained habit, a need.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

When I was in high school, I found a bookstore with books by European and American writers in translation. I read almost everything I found in translation—work by Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Hemingway, Balzac. Of course, I also read books by Iranian writers. I probably absorbed some of the techniques used by the writers I read. I can’t say I was influenced by a particular writer.

One of my composition teachers in high school liked the pieces I handed in for assignments. She was unusual in that she believed women should have a voice and not settle for prescribed roles in the male dominated world I grew up in. She was a big influence on me, both in her encouragement of my writing and my development as a more independent person.

When and where do you write?

I try to write three hours in the morning. If appointments stop me from writing in the morning then I write in the afternoon. I like working at home. So I just go to my desk and start writing. 

What are you working on now? 

I am putting together a short story collection, that includes a novella. Also  I am working on a novel.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

No, I haven’t had a writer’s block, but in general I write slowly. I usually become interested in a particular character or theme and then it takes me a few revisions before I even know what details in the story would convey what I am trying to develop.  

What’s your advice to new writers?

If you become too self-critical, you may get a writer’s block. It’s best to just put words on the page, until something clicks. Then be prepared to revise until you are satisfied with the outcome of your story or whatever you are writing. It is also important to read a lot. Reading can inspire you and also show you some techniques that you may not already have.

Nahid Rachlin (http://www.nahidrachlin.comwent to Columbia University Writing Program on a Doubleday-Columbia Fellowship and then to Stanford University MFA program on a Stegner Fellowship. Her publications include a memoir, PERSIAN GIRLS (Penguin), four novels, JUMPING OVER FIRE (City Lights), FOREIGNER (W.W. Norton), MARRIED TO A STRANGER (E.P.Dutton-Penguin), THE HEART'S DESIRE (City Lights), and a collection of short stories, VEILS (City Lights). Her individual short stories have appeared in more than fifty magazines and of her stories was adopted by Symphony Space, “Selected Shorts,” and was aired on NPR’s around the country. She has been judge for several fiction awards and competitions, among them, Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction (2015)  sponsored by AWP, Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award sponsored by Poets & Writers. She has taught at Barnard College, Yale University and the New School University.