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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Author Interview: Lestine: Writer Of Unbowed - On Honor Killing and Female Empowerment.

I am not a staunch believer in everything Ayn Rand said but definitely her theory on individuality. - Lestine

"Men have been taught that it is a virtue to agree with others. But the creator is the man who disagrees." - Ayn Rand

She wrote her very first story entitled: The Brave One, when she was around the age of ten or eleven, and it was published in her school magazine: The Beachcomber.  From then on, she was hooked on writing--going on to pen  poetry, lyrics and many more short stories.

Around the same time, books captured her attention. She became an avid reader.  She loves books because books have the quality of bringing her into direct and immediate involvement in the writer’s inner world--their thoughts, fantasies, perceptions—as it is reflected through their characters and story.  Books feel very intimate, to her -- like reading someone's diary.

 Her mother was a reader and she ‘dreamed’ of becoming a journalist, one day.  Back then, being a wife and mother was all most women aspired to. 

She remembers her bookcase contained works by Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, The Bronte sisters, the Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky, as well as a whole set of encyclopedias. She was a very inquisitive child.  When her parents couldn't answer her philosophical or scientific questions about life, she would search for the answers in a book.  And, sure enough, books never let her down.  No matter the question, somewhere there was a book that contained the answer or would point the way.  Books were her security blanket — her real teachers about the world.  So, in a way, books saved her.

 A very warm welcome Lestine from

Your real name and pen name?

 My real name is LESTINE and that’s also my pen name.
Many years ago, before computers ran the world, I legally changed my name to just one name.

Please share some of the best memories of your childhood


        Although I had plenty of wonderful friends, my best memories are traveling from Queens back to Harlem, a legendary neighborhood, where I was born, to visit my godmother on weekends.  This is because, she always took me to the movies, or to a concert or the zoo and would buy me my favorite sour pickle from the local sweet shop.
    I also loved the Sunday mornings when everyone in the family was home.  My father watched the baseball games with my brothers, while my mother made a late brunch for us of pancakes with butter, maple syrup, sausages and bacon.  She'd bring my plate to me as I lounged in bed reading the Sunday comics.  I must admit I was a spoiled child. 

About your education

I have an Associates degree in liberal arts—majoring in music and psychology.  After becoming interested in holistic health, I studied several types of body work and obtained a professional degree in Massage Therapy from the Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences.  More recently I obtained a Baccalaureate degree in Documentary Filmmaking and Creative Writing from the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City and was inducted into the International Golden Key Honor Society in 2002.

What career did you plan during your education days

    I wanted to be a singer and had already been singing with a girl group while still in my teens.  We recorded a record that was played on the radio, and we performed in a few clubs.
When I first graduated from High School, all I wanted to do was continue my singing career.  Fortunately, I got a job at a big record company right out of school and met many famous recording artists.  Music became the center of my life.
  As destiny would have it, a vacation in England turned into a much longer stay when I was hired as a professional singer with a few English pop/rock bands.  (see attached pic w/red top)  We traveled all over England doing ‘one-niters’ in clubs and colleges.  Soon we were booked in Switzerland and Germany doing larger venues, outdoor festivals and American and British army and air force bases. 
    College came many years later, for me.


What is your biggest source of inspiration in life

 My biggest source of inspiration in life is anything that moves me, emotionally.  Nature.  Other people, like the dedicated Egyptian woman activist, Nawal El Sadawi, (see pic attached) whom I fashioned one of my characters after. 
   Just scanning the planet and seeing all the amazing things human beings have created, invented, discovered and are still achieving—no matter the obstacles—moves me deeply. I’m lucky in that way.   For me Inspiration can come from a piece of music, a sunset, life’s unsolved mysteries or from my own unhappiness with my job which inspired me to do an exposé/homage-type documentary film about the corporate takeover of the healing arts, called Massage-An Inside Story.    I wrote, directed, filmed, and edited the 2-part DVD that is currently selling on the Internet. (see pics attached)
    Like many writers, I’ve also gotten inspiration from a newspaper article.  My novel, UNBOWED was inspired by a front page story in The New York Times article: Arab Honor’s Price: A Woman’s Blood, by Douglas Jehl.  It’s about women being held in jail cells to protect them from their own families who want to kill them.  That was the first time in my life that I’d ever heard of‘honor killing’.  The three page article left me speechless.

What hurts you most in this world

 The blasphemous contempt and disrespect for the female as demonstrated by such violent and shameful acts as honor killing, dowry deaths, infanticide, female genital mutilation and rape.

   It also hurts to know that millions of young girls are robbed of the chance to live richer fuller lives as individuals, by not being educated.  Imagine if all women had the exact same access and quality of education that fathers, husbands and brothers have—without intimidation—at every level.  When girls are not taught the necessary skills to make them employable, or to help them support themselves when they grow up, they are forever dependent on someone else to take care of them.  Then, their families have to hurry and marry them off as ‘child brides’, so their husbands can take care of them—just like my heroine, Basma, in my novel, UNBOWED

   While in college in 200l, I interviewed quite a number of educated young immigrant women who were pressured into those loveless, arranged-marriages, before graduating.  But, at least, these women had more options by having an education and more of an opportunity to realize their ambitions and make their own dreams come true.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced? How did you overcome it?

 Back in 1983, I discovered a large lump in my breast.  A doctor told me he would schedule a biopsy and if the tumor was malignant, he’d cut my breast off.  I was horrified.  I nearly fainted in his office.  I asked him about alternative therapies that are less extreme. He didn’t know of any. 

 As it turned out, the tumor was malignant.  But luckily, I didn’t show up for the biopsy with that particular doctor.  A year later, after several holistic therapies and a lot of inner (spiritual) work), I had a profound healing experience that I will share, one day, in a book.  Yes, it was THAT profound.  The method I used to heal from cancer challenges the beliefs of traditional science, most religions, Big Pharma, and the entire medical establishment.  I always knew I’d have to be ready to take all that on.  When I get to that book, I will be ready.

If you had to live a day of your life as one of the living or dead personality, who would it be and why?

 I would like to experience being Oprah Winfrey for a day.  As Oprah, I would have her awesome power of influence and the power that two billion dollars gives you.  That way, I could create, fund, and supervise many global projects to alleviate the inequities of poverty, inadequate health care, and illiteracy many women and children, the world over, have to contend with.

What is your favorite genre and why?

I guess my favorite genre is fiction, more specifically, Science Fiction or speculative science.  I’m fascinated by the imagination and its ability to create whole worlds, characters, creatures and scenarios that no human has ever actually witnessed before.  Science Fiction writers of the past have inspired and shaped our present day lives, profoundly, whether through space travel, satellite technology, computers, microwaves ovens, smart phones, genetic engineering, robotics, nano tech, virtual reality and many other thought-provoking possibilities. 



What is the purpose of your writing?

Although I read a lot of non-fiction, I prefer to write fiction because of the sheer freedom it gives my imagination and my intellect to express ideas and concepts, and to explore the complicated issues we all struggle with. And, what better way to connect to other human beings than through the art of storytelling within the intimacy of a book?

Which of your work has been published so far?

My first novel, UNBOWED, was just published. (see pic of cover attached)

 Would you like to share a synopsis of your work?

     One unwitting decision leads obedient wife, Basma Abseh, into a forbidden love affair.  Soon, she’s marked for death.  Will she escape?  Is her life worth it? 
     When terror strikes one of her safe houses, activist Dr. Neelam Sethi seeks to expose the shocking brutality inflicted worldwide on females by their families.  But, is she just an idealist who has taken on more than she can handle?
      A rescue gone wrong transforms beautiful journalist, Zafeera Hasni, into a chador-wearing gladiator, carrying an AK-47, with a jaw-dropping mission.  Is she a new action hero or just mad?
      Set in present day cosmopolitan cities of New York, London and Paris with their burgeoning immigrant populations and spanning other international locales, UNBOWED weaves together three plot lines to illuminate the violent extremes some patriarchal cultures have gone to—in reinforcing absolute power over women and girls—and the equally extreme, yet opposite, paths these women embark on to change the game.

                                       _________              
     Several pages can be read, free, through the Amazon com ‘look inside' book feature’ by clicking here, or just going to Amazon.com and entering: UNBOWED by LESTINE.


What are your forthcoming writings?

 My next novel is called: A Romance with the Sun.  Using the backdrop of a highly charged interracial love story, A Romance with the Sun explores the brave-new-world of genetic engineering and recoding to challenge our concepts of race.

 I also plan a sequel to Unbowed and a non-fiction book about my healing from cancer.

What are your future plans?

 Unbowed, began as a screenplay many years before. After a professor of mine suggested I turn it into a novel, the original story expanded with more characters and a third plot line, giving it even more cinematic qualities.  I still want to makeUnbowed, the movie. 


What four top most things you take care of while writing a book?

 I guess, the top four things I take care of when writing a book are:
1.     Clarity of purpose—why am I’m writing this, and what do I want to say.  I don’t worry about what other people will say because I know there are always varying opinions about everything.  I do like to engage the mind, though.
2.     Having a good story to tell is key.  Something different to explore.  The kind of story that warrants being carried around in my head every single day for years and then spending years to flush out.
3.     Research, research, research.  And, did I say research?
4.     Always carry a notebook or writing pad and pen wherever I go.  When away from my computer, I prefer using a pen and pad over a Blackberry for note taking or for inspired prose.


Your dream destination on Earth?

 Places like Thailand or Tibet which are rich in spirituality.

Your origin of birth and other countries you have visited/ stayed.

 I was born in New York City and I’m a real city girl.  However, I love to travel to distant lands.  I’ve lived in England, Germany and Switzerland.  I’ve also visited France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Scotland, Greece, Canada, Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Barbados and India.

What best things you liked in these countries around the globe?

 Besides the beautiful landscapes and romantic villages, France and Italy have the best food, hands down.  The quaint streets in the city of Bern Switzerland remind me of the many enchanting fairy tales I read as a child. Every place has its own special quality and I’ve enjoyed every single place I’ve visited.

   Rather than getting to all the tourist destinations in a country, I really prefer meandering through town and getting lost—exploring on my own, so that I can connect with the locals and experience their city or village more through their eyes.  Eat where they eat.  Often, I’ve been fortunate enough to engage in philosophical conversations with a total stranger that I happened to have met in passing.  This happened several times in Greece, and in Zurich (that time it was with a man from Afghanistan who spoke English.  We met by a fountain and talked for hours).  Life is filled with these magical opportunities for people from, totally, different cultures, religions and ideals, even, to have a real connection.

    But, when I want to be surrounded by cultural and social innovation: the arts, music trends, the fashion world, theater, cinema, multiple ethnicities and freedom of personal expression and individuality, America and England are my choices.

Your favorite time of the day?

Nighttime. When everyone and everything has settled down, and there are no demands on me, my mind is free to fly.  I do my best philosophical musings then.  I usually start writing at midnight and continue until daybreak and beyond.

Your zodiac/ sunsign?

I’m an Aquarian.  I live in my head and I’m concerned about everything.  Especially those things I have no power over. :)

Your favorite color and why?

 Turquoise: the color of the waters in the Caribbean.
  For me, that’s the color of joy.

Your favorite book and why?

I wouldn’t say I have a favorite book, per se, but the first book that blew me away as a child was ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte.  Her form of storytelling was intimate and when she actually addresses the reader, directly, at the end, I was amazed. I’d never experienced that before or since.  

  A few years ago, Atlas Shrugged, written by Ayn Rand in 1957, did the same for me.  It’s a great book, and a good read. I was fascinated and intrigued by Rand’s bold philosophical ideas about the importance of individuality and the moral imperative to create or produce something meaningful in one’s life.  The book continues to spark controversy to this day because of it’s radical views of government and its championing of capitalism.

   Ayn Rand was born in Russia and grew up under a socialist regime.  She gained a strong hatred and mistrust of government, as a result, and this comes out in Atlas Shrugged.  Interestingly, few people mention the book’s heroine, Dagny Taggart, who Rand depicts as a powerful, assertive, financially independent, and sexually liberated woman.  Remember, this book was penned in the 1950’s!


Your favorite food?

  I’m a vegetarian who enjoys cooking and eating all kinds of international cuisines, especially Indian, Italian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern.
   Sounds crazy, but I believe my favorite food, however, is probably chickpeas.  I love anything made from chickpeas: salads with chickpeas, the Indian-style “chana marsala” cooked with tomatoes, onions and spices or any of the Middle Eastern dishes that use chickpeas like falafel or hummus.  
  On the otherhand, a delicious blueberry muffin from Zucker’s Bagels in NYC, along with a light hazelnut coffee, no sugar, is the very best thing in the world to eat when writing.  It gives me energy for hours.


What three words come to your mind for each – Technology, Life, God, Humanity, Terrorism, Racism, Childhood Abuse, Love, Parenting, Old age

Technology: awesome, Alien, caution
 Life: Eternal, miraculous, gift
 God:  Absolute, Source, Everywhere
Humanity: evolving, connected, One
Terrorism: ignorance, heartless, insanity
Racism: ignorance, fear, separation
Childhood Abuse: ignorance, heartless, insanity
Love: Unconditional, Creator, Power.
Parenting: necessary, difficult, intuitive
Old age: unnecessary, reflect, renegotiate.

State your signature line/ tagline/ best quote

“The Story Arts have become humanities prime source of inspiration, as it seeks to order chaos and gain insight into Life.  Fiction gives life its form." –quoted from the book, Story, by Robert McKee.

The last line of your autobiography would be…

 “Nevertheless, from the simple to the complex, I’m glad to be here.”