This page is dedicated to Linda Jamilah Kolocotronis for her loving family and the hundreds of readers of her Islamic fiction Echoes series. Jamilah and I met when she joined the Islamic Writers Allaince, an International Muslim organization dedicated to the promotion of literacy and support for writers and individuals working in all segments of the book and writing industries. First we became friends and then I becme the publisher (Muslim Writers Publishing) of her 5-book Echoes series. Through the years we formed strong ties of respect and I came to love her as my dear sister and friend. Below is an interview I did with her. If you would like to leave a comment about Sister Jamilah, please do. I know her family would appreciate your thoughtfulness in doing so. Linda Delgado aka widad
An Interview with Jamilah Kolocotronis
As Salaam’Alaykum Jamilah
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I am sure the many reader fans of your wonderful Echoes series will enjoy reading your responses to my questions. Let’s get started.
Q. Please tell the readers about yourself.
I am the mother of six and the grandmother of three. So far I have seven published books, including one non-fiction about jihad and six fiction. The last five books are all part of the Echoes Series, which follows the life of Joshua Adams from the time of his conversion to Islam, as an immature young man, to struggles he faces decades later with his grown children and his aging body.
My husband and I live in Lexington, Kentucky, though we’re hoping to be able to move to Florida sometime fairly soon. We’re looking forward to an empty nest, his retirement, and more grandchildren.
Q. When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
When I was in fourth grade, our teacher told us to go home and find a poem, one that already been written, to put in a class anthology. That night I decided to go beyond the assignment and write a poem of my own. It was fairly basic, about what you would expect from an eight-year old, but everyone raved over it. My mother, who had written some poetry when she was in high school, encouraged me. That was when I knew I wanted to be a writer.
Q. Are you writing any books at present or working on any special projects?
I’m nearly finished with the rough draft of my newest novel. The working title is “Mary,” the name of the main character, but I know this will change. I’m anxious to finish this first draft so I can go back in and start on the revisions.
I’m also planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, insha Allah. A few months ago I began writing a story that has been playing around the edges of my mind for some time now. I wrote just a little more than a page and never got back to it because I wanted to concentrate on “Mary.” But I’ve decided to make that story my focus for NaNoWriMo.
This past week, I also discovered a new approach for a story that I worked on for months but wouldn’t quite come together for me. The working title for that is “Free.” I don’t like writing more than one book at a time, but “Free” is technically past the first draft stage. Right now I’m just adding a few paragraphs each day.
Q. Who were/are some of the people that have influenced you and your writing?
My first influence, of course, was my mother. One of my first memories is of her reading to me. We also played imaginative games each morning in the days before my younger sisters were born. She couldn’t drive when I was little, but we walked to the library at least once a week.
Two teachers had a strong influence on me. One, Mrs. Straussmeyer, taught me everything I needed to know about grammar back in elementary school. She had a way of teaching grammar that made it fun and easy. I will also never forget Mrs. Vignery. She taught a high school AP class on composition. I went in there thinking I knew everything I needed to know about writing. But when Mrs. Vignery gave me a C on an assignment, and I questioned the grade, she taught me much of what I didn’t yet know.
These are the women who personally influenced me. I’ve also been influenced by my favorite writers. Nikos Kazantzakis is foremost among those.
Q. What are some of your thoughts on why we need to read and how does Islamic fiction fulfill that need?
I cannot imagine not reading. To me it’s as natural as breathing, if not quite as necessary. When we read we learn and grow, we expand our minds and challenge our imaginations. There have been times when I’ve thought about how nice it would have been to have lived in an earlier, simpler time. But I would not want to have lived in a time or a place without books.
I first felt the need for Islamic fiction while I was raising my boys and teaching social studies at an Islamic school. The library had books about people in different countries, or people who lived in different time periods, but they had almost nothing about Muslims, and the non-fiction they did have was sometimes erroneous. As my own sons grew older I searched for appropriate and interesting books for them to read, and I was very happy to find the “Invincible Abdullah” series by Br. Yahiya Emerick. But other than that, I found nothing.
We want our children to cherish their Islamic identities. We give them good names and raise them around other Muslims. The next logical step is to provide them with stories about other Muslims.
Q. What do you think parents, educators and leaders in Muslim communities can do to support Muslim authors?
The first thing they can do, of course, is to buy books written by Muslims and keep these in their family libraries. Parents can also write reviews of books written by Muslims and correspond with Muslim authors to show their support. Educators can try to use the books in their schools. Leaders can form masjid book clubs and invite authors to speak.
Q. What are some of the challenges writers of Islamic fiction and non-fiction encounter in getting published?
When dealing with Muslim publishers, we run into a shortage of funds and sometimes a lack of interest also, especially where fiction is involved. All of my books, with the exception of one self-published novel, were published by Muslims, and in both cases (with fiction and non-fiction) they treated me well. But resources are limited.
Q. What are some of the stories/themes you would like to see authors writing about?
I think we should consider any topic. Muslims living in the West are bombarded by non-Islamic images and ideas, and we must learn how to navigate. Fictional characters can make this task somewhat easier. And I have learned that Muslims face so many different situations, some of which I never could have imagined a few years ago. We need to write about real life.
Q. Have you considered trying to get your work published by a mainstream publisher? If yes, what challenges to you think or have you encountered?
I’m currently working on a book that I plan to submit to literary agents when the work is more fully developed. I did change my approach to writing about Islam in this book, though Islam is still a major theme. At this point I’m not sure what to expect. I’ll have to wait and see.
Q. What do you think about the ebook publishing trend and are you considering getting your work published in ebook format?
Personally, I don’t like the ebook format, and even my kids prefer real books over ereaders. Sometimes I wonder if this whole trend will be simply a flash in the pan. But I am thinking about ways to join it, for now. One advantage is that it will be easy for my books to be read in other countries, without worrying about high postage rates.
Q. What advice can you give to young people who wish to become a writer?
The best advice I’ve heard (and I can’t remember who said this originally) is read, read, read, write, write, write. In his book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient in something. So start writing. I wrote an entire novel when I was in high school, a work that will never see the light of day. But I like to think it was good practice. And I believe you need a bit (just a touch) of arrogance in order to succeed as a writer. There are so many people writing these days, with millions of pages being produced each year. But if you have enough confidence (or arrogance—just a touch), you will believe that you can produce something better, something truly worth reading. So go do it. Oh, and don’t worry about your first drafts. No one has to see them so you can make as many mistakes as you want. Just write. Then you can go back and revise.
Q. How did you learn about the IWA organization and what prompted you to decide to become a member?
Several years ago I was reading through the website IslamOnline (now called OnIslam) when I came across an article about a Muslim convert. The first thing that struck me about her story was that she was in her fifties when she converted. Most converts I knew had been in their twenties, and I was surprised someone would be willing to make such a drastic change at that age. Also, her name was Linda, the same as mine. And she was a writer. Somehow through that article I found her contact information and emailed her. That convert, Linda Delgado, also known as Widad, is the one who introduced me to the Islamic Writers Alliance. And once I learned of the organization, how could I not become a member? I’m a Muslim. I’m a writer. That’s enough.
I enjoyed visiting with you, Sister Jamilah. Thank you for this interview.
Linda Delgado, IWA Founder and Past Director
Note –Don’t forget to leave your comments for Sis Jamilah’s family.