Saturday, 5 January 2013

#OBBigBang Orangeberry Big Bang - It’s Just Lola by Dixiane Hallaj

Updated on 28th December 2012

Tell us a bit about your family Once upon a time, I met a handsome young Palestinian graduate student.  Three months later we were married.  After an eventful half-century together, we now live in rural Virginia among the deer, the wild turkeys, and our cat named Dog.  Among my greatest satisfactions is watching our three sons raise our many grandchildren.
What is your favorite quality about yourself? One of the things I like about myself is my ability to adapt to new places and new situations.  In that way I believe that I resemble my grandmother, the main character of my book It’s Just Lola.
What is your least favorite quality about yourself? I’m not telling.  I try to keep my less desirable qualities a deep secret from the world.
What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why? “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so,” attributed to Will Rogers.  An almost identical quote is also attributed to Mark Twain. I like this quote because so much of the trouble in this world is caused by deeply held opinions that have never been examined.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life? That’s an easy question.  I am most proud of having helped my three boys become three of the finest men I could imagine.  Of course I’m proud of having the ability and tenacity to earn a doctorate the year I got my Medicare card, and I’m proud of my writing—but seeing my values and my love carried on through the next generation overshadows all else.
What is your favorite color? That question brought to mind an image of a swirling rainbow of sparkling pastels.  Sorry, I don’t have a favorite.  Today it’s probably blue, but who knows about tomorrow?
What is your favorite food? Stuffed grape leaves with lamb meat and lots of lemon juice.  Labor intensive, but oh so delicious.
What’s your favorite place in the entire world? Following the ancient saying that home is where the heart is, my very favorite is wherever I happen to be with my loved ones, but that’s not really a single place.  This world is so beautiful and as far as we know, unique in the universe that there are countless places always bubbling to the top.  Snow covered mountaintops, sparkling blue waters, towering forests, plunging waterfalls, the ancient Nabataean city of Petra carved from the red rock of the mountains, the magnificent mosques of Istanbul, Damascus, and Jerusalem. Who can pick a favorite?
How has your upbringing influenced your writing? My father was military, and we moved often.  I think the exposure to different places and different people may have given me the ability to write about a variety of settings and characters.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? I have always been a voracious reader.  I loved being transported into someone else’s world and enjoyed the reading stories so much that I wanted to create my own.  I remember trying to write my first novel when I was in sixth grade.  I got as far as page 12 on a lined legal pad.  Other interests claimed my attention, and it wasn’t until many years later that I had enough motivation to do the heavy lifting involved in actually writing a book and getting it fit to print.
When and why did you begin writing? I started with essays and short stories.  Many of them were written to vent my own feelings, and were never intended to see the light of day.  It wasn’t until after my dissertation was so well received that I started taking my writing seriously.
How long have you been writing? About six years.
When did you first know you could be a writer? I got the idea for my first novel when I was reading the interviews with the refugee women over and over as I translated them.  I began to “see” little videos of what their lives had been, and even began to dream about living in the camps.
When I wrote my last novel, It’s Just Lola, I also had dreams where Lola came to life for me.  I live in my novels as I write.  I must admit that living through the twenties with Lola was a lot more fun than living in a refugee camp.
What inspires you to write and why? When I began writing, I wanted to tell people about the wonderful people of Palestine.  Now I write for the joy of sharing my stories with others.
What genre are you most comfortable writing? I am most comfortable with contemporary fiction.  I write books that women enjoy reading, although I don’t call my books women’s fiction per se.  This does not mean I intend to restrict my writing to contemporary fiction.  I am currently on the second book of a science fiction trilogy.  It has taken many years to write because it has yet to reach the top of my to do list.
What inspired you to write your first book? Palestine has the highest literacy rate of any country in that area of the world.  School attendance is mandatory for both boys and girls, yet I knew many wonderful, intelligent, strong women who could not read or write much more than their names.  I did research within the refugee camps for my dissertation and found that every single one of these women sent her children to school, and they had only left school due to circumstances beyond their control—usually political violence.  I wanted these women to tell their story to the world.  I wanted the world to see the Palestinians as I saw them, as bright loving individuals who cared deeply for their families and did their best to raise their children under impossible circumstances.  The only way I could do that was by showing them within their own homes, surrounded by their families, and coping with the problems that comprise their daily lives.
My readers tell me that I have accomplished that with my first two novels, Born a Refugeeand Refugee Without Refuge.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general? There are so many challenging things about writing a novel that I am reminded of the quote from John F. Kennedy, “We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  That being said, I believe the hardest thing about the process is staying with it after the story is told and the plot wrinkles are ironed out, reading and re-reading to polish and hone the individual sentences and paragraphs until it is the best manuscript you can make it.
Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it? I think every book teaches lessons.  I certainly hope that my ability as a writer continues to grow, because if you don’t keep growing and learning, you stagnate.  One thing this book taught me was how to be more ruthless in cutting out words, sentences, and entire scenes that do not advance the story.  I was aided in this process by my editor, Peter Gelfan of The Editorial Department.
Do you intend to make writing a career? I love writing and sharing my work with my readers.  I certainly intend to keep writing for many years to come.  Does that make it a career, or is it just my passion?  I write full time, and enjoy doing it.  I can’t live off my writing, but luckily, I don’t have to.
Have you developed a specific writing style? I try to write without unnecessary frills or lengthy descriptions.  I read my dialogue aloud to get a better feel for how natural it sounds.  My aim is to give my readers a story carried by the characters without any noticeable presence of the author.
What is your greatest strength as a writer? Can an author answer that question, or is it better left for the readers to answer?  Many readers have told me that I have transported them into the story with my words.  That is my intent, and I would consider this to be a very great strength.  I try to write with passion and belief in my work.
Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it? I don’t really believe in writer’s block.  I always have two or three works in progress.  There have been many times when the manuscript I’m working on gets stuck, and I move to a different manuscript, often in a different genre.  After a few days of living in another time, or on another world, I go back to the first manuscript with a fresh outlook.
Can you share a little of your current work with us? I am currently writing a fictitious story featuring my Aunt Nellie B.  Nellie B says she is much more interesting than Lola is.  She points to the fact that the divorce court judge calls her by her first name.  I pointed out that he has to because her last name keeps changing.  “Exactly,” she says.
This book is being told from the viewpoint of a child struggling to understand the intricacies of relationships as she listens to the women of her family discuss their lives.
How did you come up with the title? The title had to be about Lola because I was determined not to change her first name.  I went through many versions, searching both Amazon and Google to see what else would appear in a search.  Once I heard myself say the words “It’s Just Lola,” I knew that was what I wanted for a title.
Can you tell us about your main character? Lola is a very independent woman in an age when women in her position were not encouraged to do much beyond supervising the housekeeping and raising as many children as possible.  Lola took her marriage vows seriously, and when she loved, she loved wholeheartedly.  She was a resourceful, strong woman who held her head high in the knowledge that she stood fast and coped with adversity after adversity to keep her children safe and secure.
How did you develop your plot and characters? As biographical fiction, this book does not have a traditional plot.  Instead, it follows the course of Lola’s life.  The characters are based on my extrapolation of how the characters I did not know until many years later might have acted as youngsters.  Lola herself developed into a strong woman as I wrote.  I knew my grandmother as a loving, creative, and resourceful person, but I never imagined her as young and beautiful until I began to write the book.
Who designed the cover? Merrill Worthington, a professional photographer, helped design the cover.  He used an antique frame of his own to give the photo of Lola the feel of the times portrayed in the novel.  Unfortunately, it’s not a photograph of the real Lola.  We have no old family photographs; they were all destroyed by a hurricane years ago when my parents and I were living on the Florida Keys.
Who is your publisher? I published all my novels myself through CreateSpace.
Why did you choose to write this particular book? My mother had told me for years that she wanted to write the story of Lola, her mother.  She later confessed that she was unable to write the story because of the early seduction and the child conceived out of wedlock.  My mother wasn’t able to put on paper anything “shameful” about her own mother.
Several years ago, at age 95, my mother was in the hospital and was admitted to hospice care.  Believing she was going to die soon, she began to tell me the story.  It did not take long for me to be fascinated by the tale, and I began taking notes as fast as I could.
Initially I chose to write this story because it was something my mother wanted done.  After the first few pages, I found my interest and passion for the story itself growing by leaps and bounds.  Thankfully, my mother recovered from that illness, read the first draft, and was delighted to read the book when it was published in August 2012.
What was the hardest part about writing this book? The hardest part was writing consistently from Lola’s point of view and still trying to “show and not tell” things that she did not witness.  My wonderful editor, Peter Gelfan of The Editorial Department, helped me through many of these scenes.
How do you promote this book? Without the distribution channels of a traditional publisher, promotion is a daunting challenge.  Lola has her own website and her own email address and she carries on a conversation with her readers on Facebook (  She was the youngest of seven sisters, and often had to sacrifice her own needs to provide for her many children.  Now, as a forever-young character in a novel, she delights in being the center of attention.  She loves blog appearances, either as the center of the blog, or with a first person guest blog.
I am very fortunate to have a local bookstore that encourages local authors.  The store hosted my successful book launch.  Since the book takes Lola through the roaring twenties in San Francisco, the launch had a speakeasy theme, and the video of the launch as well as the book trailer and some book signings are all on You Tube and on Lola’s website.
Many of the people who came to the launch returned and bought multiple copies for Christmas gifts.  They have spread the word, and the bookstore continues to sell copies.  A friend in a neighboring town liked the book so much that she not only bought gift copies, but also directed me to another bookstore that agreed to carry my books.  I have several more book signings in the planning stage.
Lola has also begun to put her sayings up on Pinterest on a board called It’s Just Lola Speaking.  As a virtual person (by way of the ebook edition of her story), she is doing her best to find readers through the internet.
Will you write others in this same genre? I will continue to write in this genre and in others.  I am currently writing another book based on the women of my family, but this one is 99 44/100% pure fiction.  (Is there anyone else who still remembers that old ad for Ivory soap?)
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Lola faced many of the same problems that women of today must face.  As a single mother, she faced grinding poverty.  When she followed her third husband to the United States, she was faced with all the problems associated with living in a new culture at the same time she was dealing with an abusive husband, rebellious teens, and a need to supplement her husband’s income to provide the necessities for her family.
Through it all, she never gave up, and she never stopped loving.   I hope that she will serve as a role model for women everywhere as they face their own challenges.
How much of the book is realistic? I hope that it is all realistic.  The backbone of the story—family members, dates, and most places are not only realistic, but are real.  I changed the names to avoid any possible problems caused by secrets revealed or fiction inserted.  There is a lot of fiction, but I hope that it is all realistic enough to make a seamless blend of fiction and reality.
Have you included a lot of your life experiences, even friends, in the plot? As I said earlier, the family members are real, but since all of it took place long before I was born, none of the experiences came from my own life, but some were actual stories told to me by my mother, grandmother, and aunts.
How important do you think villains are in a story? Villains are essential to every story, although the antagonist may not always be an actual person.  It could be a force of nature, adverse circumstances, or even an internal dilemma, but conflict is a necessary part of any book.
Buy at Amazon
Genre – Historical Fiction (PG)
Connect with Dixiane Hallaj on Facebook or Twitter


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Books Sold - 6 Nov 2011 to 31 May 2012

Some of you have asked me for my total number of books sold to evaluate KDP Select so here it is. Bear in mind, that results will vary based on genre and author. Good luck and remember, Keep Moving Forward.

Total - 120,836

1. Excuse Me, My Brains Have Stepped Out
Amazon Kindle - 42,559
Paperback -
Smashwords -

2. Frequent Traveller
Amazon Kindle - 35277
Paperback -
Smashwords -

3. Dora's Essentials - Books, Blogs & Smiles 1
Amazon Kindle - 462
Smashwords -

4. Mirror Me Martha (Short Story)
Amazon Kindle - 281
Smashwords -

5. Drive On Hope (Short Story)
Amazon Kindle - 190
Smashwords -

6. Blog-A-Licious Directory 2012
Amazon Kindle - 1
Smashwords -

7. Pandora's Reading Room 1
Amazon Kindle -
Paperback - N/A

8. The Cat That Barked (Short Story)
Amazon Kindle -

9. Dora's Essentials - Examining Anxiety
Amazon Kindle -

10. Dora's Essentials - Books, Blogs & Smiles 2
Amazon Kindle -

11. Elevenses from Around the World
Amazon Kindle -

12. Genetically Modified Foods vs. Sustainability
Amazon Kindle -

Blog-A-Licius - Sherbet Blossom



Dealightfully Frugal

Blog-A-Licious - The Few, The Proud, The Wife


My Soul Slippers

Blog-A-Licous - Textbook Mommy

Blog-A-Licious - Blue Frogs Legs

Blog-A-Licious - Pretty All True

Pretty All True

Blog-A-Licious - tbaoo



Powered by

Blog-A-Licious - The Invisible Art

Blog-A-Licious - Rediscovering Domesticity

Rediscovering Domesticity

Blog-A-Licious - Quiver Full

Blog-A-Licious - Cori's Big Mouth

Blog-A-Licious - Great Fun


Blog-A-Licious - Busy Wife

Blog-A-Licious - Steps To Happiness

Powered by

Blog-A-Licious - Toby & Max

Blog-A-Licious - Amelie

Raising Amelie

Blog-A-Licious - Peas In A Pod

Blog-A-Licious - Riley

Blognostics - Poetry


My Awards - September 2010

My Awards - September 2010
Awarded By Jo Frances

My Awards - May 2011

My Awards - May 2011
Awarded By Alejandro Guzman

My Awards - May 2011

My Awards - May 2011
Awarded by Kriti Mukherjee

My Awards - April 2011

My Awards - April 2011
Awarded By Roy Durham

My Awards - June 2011

My Awards - June 2011
Awarded By Sulekha Rawat

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