The American Outsider: A Novel
Linbrook Press (2023)
Born in Tehran, Iran, Homa Pourasgari spent hours in her father’s home office, writing, reading and letting her imagination carry her to unseen worlds. She moved to Los Angeles, California at a young age. After graduating from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in business, she went to Paris for a year to study literature at the Sorbonne. Before becoming a fulltime writer, she ran her own boutique, worked at a bank and a CPA firm, was a personal trainer and even taught spinning and cardio kickboxing. When she is not writing, she is stumbling, miming and pointing to find her way in a foreign country. Her latest novel, The American Outsider, is based on her travels in Japan.
Hi Homa, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views! Tell us a bit about your novel, The American Outsider.
I’m glad to be here. The American Outsider is a story of an activist who travels from Los Angeles to Japan to protest the slaughter of dolphins. Along the way, she learns much about the Japanese culture and meets kind-hearted people who go out of their way to help her.
What was the inspiration behind your storyline?
A few years ago, I was reading a newspaper article about the abuse of dolphins in Taiji. The story took me back in time to the work of Ric O’Barry and the documentary, The Cove. Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin project does an incredible job protecting dolphins everywhere, and the staff are always asking people to support them whether through donations or getting the word out. And I wanted to help.
I knew that there were different ways to be an activist. Some people protest on the streets, others write petitions and ask people to sign them. Artists convey their messages through their art. Activist musicians sing about it. I decided to write a story about it.
I noticed Tessa Walker, your protagonist, has her own bio page on your website. I love her powerful personality and determination to do things her way. What motivates her?
Tessa loves her job. Her career is what motivates her to get out of bed every morning. But she hasn’t been feeling well lately. She is troubled by what she witnessed as a teenager and has been seeing a therapist, but it hasn’t been helping. She realizes that in order to heal, she needs to confront her fears and travel to Japan where her troubles started.
You are an advocate for human and non-human rights. Is Tessa an extension of her author?
Yes and no. Yes, I am an activist writer and I have joined peaceful demonstrations at home. And no, I’m not as brave as Tessa and wouldn’t break the law in a foreign country.
What can you tell us about the plight of the dolphin and when did you first become interested in advocating for these mammals?
To be honest, I had no idea how much dolphins suffered at the hands of fishermen until The Cove came out. Since then, I have been keeping up with the news on Twitter. And it wasn’t until a few years ago, that I decided to write a book about it. I wanted to write about something that mattered. And the plight of dolphins seemed to be the perfect choice. Because not everyone has seen The Cove or even thinks about dolphins. Writing about these mammals in fiction reaches a new group of people in the same way eBook, print or audio reaches different readers.
Your book is also a study of sorts of the Japanese culture. What kind of research was involved in preparing to write The American Outsider with regards to the Japanese culture and the plight of the dolphins?
I read newspaper articles, visited the websites of organizations such as PETA, Action for Dolphins and World Animal protection. I also watched videos regarding Japan and dolphins. I visited the websites of Japanese bloggers to learn about life in Japan.
I traveled to Japan and hired private tour guides to learn all that I could about their culture. I asked a lot of questions and observed people’s behavior, learned by interacting with them, and met many nice and helpful people. However, my experiences were not all positive. I was yelled at by train employees, not because I did something wrong, but because I was a foreigner and they just didn’t like me. And one day when I was crossing the street with my tour guide, this man punched me hard in the arm and hurt me. When I told my tour guide, she said that it was because he liked me. I thought, no way. That guy really hated me and that’s why he hit me. But you know, that’s how it is when you travel anywhere—you meet good people and crazy people.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
I was surprised to learn that with the exception of my Japanese tour guides who were used to hanging out with foreigners, the natives do not care much for non-Japanese. When I was there, people always asked: “How long have you been here and when are you leaving?” Japan is a homogenous society and foreigners are viewed as temporary guests who should eventually go home.
What are some of the key elements you hope readers take away from reading The American Outsider?
- I hope that readers would stop buying tickets to places that use dolphins as a source of entertainment.
- Scientists have only begun to find out about the intelligence of other creatures. It is presumptuous of us to think that we are superior to our non-human friends.
- It is beneficial to widen our horizons, learn about other cultures, and appreciate our differences.
What did you most enjoy about writing The American Outsider?
I enjoyed the research on dolphins, the Japanese culture and other topics that I cannot discuss here without giving away the plot. It didn’t feel like work because I was so fascinated by what I was learning.
And the least?
Going through all the red marks my editors made on my manuscript. Reading their comments and trying to come up with solutions was tough. But once I finished, I was happy to have a better product.
What do you like to read and which authors have inspired your own work as a writer?
I like to read fiction and some nonfiction. In nonfiction I like books about naturopathic medicine, the stock market, business and politics.
In fiction, I like books about other cultures such as The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar and The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See.
I also like some young adult books such as The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, and Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah.
In classics, I like books such as The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.
My favorite author is John Grisham.
It is hard to pinpoint which authors have inspired my work. I think reading has shaped my writing. I’m still learning every day from writers who surprise me with their amazing work.
What do you like to do outside of writing? What are some of your other passions?
I enjoy spending time with my friends and family.
I like to take ballet, Jazz and hip hop classes, although it’s been a while since my last lessons. When I was thirty, I was taking this dance class and I had to learn how to do cartwheels. It was Christmas at my mom’s house. So, I said: “Look mom. I’m learning how to do cartwheels.” And as I performed for her, I almost knocked over her tree. I have never let my age stop me from doing silly things.
I love anything fashion. Ask me to a fashion show and I’m in. If there is a fashion exhibit at a museum, I’ll attend it.
Although I can’t carry a tune or draw, I love art, music, and creating things. One time I tried to draw a horse on a canvas and it ended up looking like a donkey. I painted the donkey blue and it still looked awful. But my cousin wanted it and hanged it on his living room wall.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, as a writer, or regarding life in general?
Things feel overwhelming before you start. But once you start, you will realize that it is not as bad as you thought it would be.
What advice can you give to aspiring authors?
- Don’t be a perfectionist and write your book. The first draft is usually awful, anyway.
- Taking too many writing classes kills your creativity. The problem with some of these classes is that they expect you to fit in, and write in a way that they consider is the “right way.” But by trying to fit in, you become just another writer as you forgo your individuality and conform to the norm.
- Choose your editor carefully. Then, trust your editor because they want you to succeed.
- Don’t let criticism get you down. You can always learn from constructive criticism.
- There will always be reviewers and readers who will not like your work. It is not possible to please everybody.
The American Outsider is scheduled for release in January 2023. Do you have any events planned for your release that readers should be aware of?
Events will be announced before the end of December at: https://www.theamericanoutsider.com/events-1
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers today?
The mainstream society doesn’t always have it right. A handful of multibillion dollar organizations around the world spend obscene amounts of money to make sure that certain topics become untouchable and that there will be zero tolerance for a civilized discussion. As a result, many writers are ostracized. I think that it is important to keep an open mind, and do your own research.
Homa, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing a bit about yourself and your work. And congratulations on the upcoming release of The American Outsider
It’s been my pleasure. Thank you very much for this in-depth interview.
CONNECT WITH HOMA POURASGARI