Becoming a Writer: Khaled Hosseini's Unique Journey, September 2013

Becoming a Writer: Khaled Hosseini's Unique Journey, September 2013



it was made into an award-winning movie became mandatory reading at high schools and colleges and sold 38 million copies in at least 70 different countries for this Afghan born American novelist it opened countless doors doors that often had celebrities and dignitaries standing on the other side but Helen Hosseini wasn't even a full-time writer when the Kite Runner hit store shelves readers didn't know his name or the incredible story written on these pages so his book event crowds were much smaller than he sees today much much smaller I would go to stores it would be like three people four people it can be kind of a soul-crushing experience what a difference a decade and three successful novels can make Hosseini will tell you his latest book and the mountains echoed was his hardest to write but it's also his most narrative Lee and emotionally complex telling a poignant multi-generational tale of family bonds like his past novels this story begins in Afghanistan the same place Hosseini's wife began he lived there for 11 years until the Afghan Ministry moved his diplomat father and the entire family to Paris four years later Afghani violence would force the family to seek political asylum in the u.s. today Hosseini serves as a goodwill envoy to the United Nations often leading humanitarian missions to Afghanistan to build shelters for Refugees and award scholarships to women he draws inspiration for his writing from all of these experiences and if you read closely you might even notice Hosseini in some of his characters you live vicariously through your characters a little bit while his books do not have Hollywood endings Hollywood likes to turn them into films giving Hosseini an interesting perspective on his writing especially when he's standing on the film set the assistant director he was walking and I heard him distinctly say who wrote this seen whether he like put a very unchristian word okay here all of these stories plus answers to his readers question next in this revealing one-on-one with best-selling author halide Hosseini brought to you by Maryville university HEC TV left bank books and st. Louis Public Radio I thought that we would start off with the journey from your first book which was the Kite Runner yes when it came out in hardback five six people it it was stuff leading up to the publication you're your publisher so confident the books gonna be is enormous success and a part of you starts to believe it you're like what yeah this is gonna rock it's gonna be great and the book comes out and he'd realize it's just a little book in a sea of books and then you start kind of going to the bookstore and kind of you know stalking your own book looking at it you know the low point was when I went to I did a book reading in Fremont of all places in the Bay Area which is it not only it's my home but Fremont is like the hub of the Afghan immigrant community in this like this whole country there are more Afghans in Fremont in any one than anywhere else in the world with the exception of Afghanistan Iran and Pakistan so I was like this is a slam dunk I'm gonna but full house is gonna be great I'm gonna sell like 15 books or something I went and I sort kid you not there was one person I knew was this very nice I know there's so much thank you so much it was a hundred twenty-five hundred twenty some our chairs there was one person but you're kind of glad I went through all that because it well yeah I see these folks here and you know I'm very grateful I'm not I'm not being flippant about it I really I really am touched and grateful thirty-eight million of your first two books worldwide we're sold you know you're on the New York Times bestseller list for many many weeks and so when you have that after you've had the five or six people I mean do you ever have to pinch yourself and say oh my goodness this is yeah I life now I was pinching myself back it's very very strange and you know especially when for the longest time I just I thought when my book was coming out the first one I thought so my cousins will read it because if they don't read it I'm never gonna forgive him you know and then a few people were interested in Afghanistan's gonna be it yeah but you know came out in uh and it pretty much went like that although you know unbeknownst to me book clubs were reading it independent bookstores like left bank in st. Louis they were really championing the novel but it looked like nobody was reading it and then it came out in paperback it just took off and even so I just I refused to kind of believe it and then a couple of things happen where I said okay you know I got now it is it is one was I was on an airplane and I was sitting at my seat and there was a woman next to me and she was like reading my book and I know I looked over she's like oh my god she's reading my book and she's really she was really into it the second one was it was really bizarre because I was home when I was car keys channel surfing and I changed the channel literally perfectly in time to find myself as the answer to a Jeopardy quest so what do you mate I know I'm the guy the guy goes oh you wrote and I was like who is me at that point I said you know maybe I can um maybe you know maybe I can do this for a living now because you know I was still practicing medicine I was gonna say that was the next thing when I talk to you about you have come to this profession in kind of an odd route yes you were an internal medicine doctor so for all budding novelists here's my piece of advice and how you become a best-selling author first become a political refugee and go to a country you've never been in then spend about a year or two learning the language mm-hmm then go to school work really hard and do well and then choose something that will take you about ten years like medicine and then easy route yes and then at some point when you're a physician and you're you're in your career then start the in about writing and then write your first novel and then you know make sure you hit a home run with it and that's sort of my advice it's only a little bit about how being a doctor how has that helped with you being a writer have you found you really did it I mean I wrote this lesson I didn't like being a doctor I be very upfront about it I mean I was a good doctor and I had wonderful relationships with my patients I mean I loved my patients I just wish they weren't sick you know first day of medical school I you know orientation and I'm there's 140 kids in the class and I got to meet him and I kept seeing the other guys were like yeah you know my grandma cut her finger and a coffee lick my coffee can lid when I was 10 and we took her to the hospital the doctor sutured her up I was like aha this is for me and I was gonna everybody was saying I'm like oh my god that's not why I'm here you know I mean area beds don't know my family was on welfare for for a while you know and we had we were literally broken penniless back in the early 80s and I didn't want to go there again you know and it's sort of a cliche but a lot of immigrant families push their kids to do something so solid there's virtually no risk of becoming homeless and there aren't any homeless doctors that I know of and so I went to medicine house I can do this it's the long route and I was a very sensible kid I mean I was the first born my parents were sacrificed a lot I mean a lot for us to to study for us to even come to the US and the idea that I would reward them by saying you know thanks guys I think I'm gonna pursue creative fiction for you know it just it just didn't work yeah so um so I went for medicine for the wrong reasons and so it was kind of always kind of a tough fit for me well it's interesting that you just brought up they you know going into creative writing cuz this is a little bit like a mirror yes a kite Brennan right yeah except he does it you know he tells us that man I'm gonna write and he's that accepts it and so you make your characters do things that you live vicariously through your characters a little bit the characters that are in this book I think one of the things that I noticed when were you in your books is that you start to identify with them are you pulling from people you know experiences how are you getting well look there's there's a section in this book where a writer is being interviewed and that says well you know my problem with writing is that it's there's a there's an element of thievery involved in writing and I and I think if you're if writers were entirely honest they would tell you that it is because you know ultimately you observe things it leaves a mark on you you register and then sometimes subconsciously or consciously you just write it and you do take things from from people things that really don't belong to you really but you're not just taking because you are giving back in Afghanistan with the foundation that you've said it I know that you're doing it for many reasons but is that one of the reasons to kind of give back what you've been given well I I write I did my foundation because I wanted to give back to the people that I've been writing about I mean I I so lot of books and a lot of readers embraced my novels and embrace these characters and I feel like the least that I owe people who who've inspired these characters is something back and also because you know I love the country I love its people and I feel a sense of duty to do it I love how a jury says Kabul he describes as a thousand tragedies per square mile that's a line from a friend who works in the United Nations and I remember he and I were hanging out one night in in his guest house in Kabul and we had just watched Arsenal get their butt kicked which was his favorite team and he was kind of he was like what a tragedy it was but you know what we live in Kabul it's a thousand strategies per square mile and I was that lying kind of stuck with me so I used it in the book but it Reese is he's an example of a character that has a similar experience to me so he's an Afghan American physician who lives in the Bay Area and he goes to Kabul in March of 2003 which I did as well after some 25 years of being away which was also the case for me and when he goes there he has a very very powerful experience is that he feels completely lost he he feels this is home and then he feels it's not home because he's been away for so long he has a hard time really reconnecting he doesn't know how to engage the locals he feels good knives he feels guilty about his wealth he starts to question his whole set of ideals and the life that he's chosen to live it feels guilty about his good luck and then it seems to he seems to find his focus but then what happens that he decides well he's going to help this girl and and and some kind of philanthropic impulse wakes up in him and as time passes you know that emotional experience that he had there begins to wane and he sorts of gets a very hard lesson about the complicated nature of generosity about the complicated nature of actual kindness and it's a sort of a very sobering moment for him to be able to see just sort of the humbling limits of his own capacity and will in nature in the last month Russia has become something abstract to him like a character in a play the connection has frayed the unexpected intimacy he had stumbled upon at that hospital so urgent and acute has eroded into something dull the experience has lost its power he recognizes the fierce determination that had seized them for what it really was an illusion a mirage he had fallen under the influence of something like a drug the distance between him and the girl feels vast now it feels infinite insurmountable and his promise to her misguided a reckless mistake a terrible misreading of the measures of his own powers and will and character something best forgotten he isn't capable of it it's that simple in the last two weeks he has received three more emails from her he read the first and then an answer deleted the next two without reading pretty brutal like I said it's something that I think a lot of us can identify with because it's it's aside we probably don't want to say that a lot of us have your thing to do that's part of what I think fiction does is it reflects things that we have felt as people whether flattering or not with a comfortable or not III think it's you know writers it's their job to write about things that those those uncomfortable things that truth that we have inside that we know about ourselves but I never want to say out loud that we hide them and then you see it in a book and it rings true and then you you feel all other people have gone through this as well other people have had this feeling and something you're not so alone with that feeling your books do not always have Hollywood endings happy Hollywood ending they don't oh this one doesn't either just so you know why why why did why what why can't we be happy why can't they just all in happily ever it wow I mean I'm I'm not producing an opiate for the masses you know I I think we go to fiction to experience something truthful something that reflects life as we know it I I am NOT interested in writing something that simply reaffirms kind of this fantasy that is often propagated by pop culture and always becomes a quasi reality in the back of people's minds you know I want them to read my books and and and be surprised and I tried with this book to reflect life to the extent of my ability as I've seen it in that there are rewards in life there is happiness in life this is maybe my most uplifting book of the three you would agree I would yeah I think so happiness we find in life is not always doesn't always come the way we expected it to and and the closures that we have in life aren't always the ones and frequently not the ones that we thought we were going to get and that's just the way life is life works it's it's it we rarely get what we think we're going to get and so in all of our lives there's a gap between how we long for life to be ie like a Hollywood film and how we have seen life as it has revealed itself to us so there's a gap and and so life is by definition it's a compromise much more real yeah at all I think so I think so so then that makes me curious about I mean you're the Kite Runner was made into a film so how did you feel about that well I I like the movie I thought the movie was a you know interesting on a few levels it's somebody else's vision of my thoughts and so inevitably there's going to be a gap and so you can't you have to be able to make you peace with that otherwise you probably should not let anybody make a movie you know you can't say well make a movie oh well you didn't include this and that well you know that's sort of the way the film works but I had I had a it was a fun experience for me I um I kind of served as a sideline consultant you know I just made myself available and you were in the movie right Oh it's not so real thank you my pleasure thank you turns out because I was actually speaking when they shot that scene and you can hear my voice that counts as dialogue and if I wanted to I can go get a sack card which act which waiters in La give would given left arm for right you know and I and I just happened to bat off I was just chatting with a guy and now I can get a Screen Actors Guild card but yeah at this I the point oh we went to China with I went to China with my dad and we hung out on the set for two weeks and we had a lot of fun you know we actually happened to be there for when they were shooting the big kite fighting scene which was a logistical nightmare to shoot I I had no idea that I mean I know movies were taught to shoot but this was incredible I mean I just closed off three city blocks and this was in western China where there's no movie industry at all and I just remember I was standing in the corner was like just chaos running around in all these fake tights are being flown and dubs the assistant director he was walking and he was by 30 but he looked like he was gonna use on a croak and he walked by and he was smoking and and I heard him distinctly say who wrote this scene whether he like put a very unchristian word I think how I kind of pulled back was it was a fun experience well we have to wait another six years for the horn arc I hope not I mean I didn't think it didn't take me six years to write this book I really didn't know I started writing it in November of one ein and it turns out to be about two and a half years same as my second book I just got around to writing it much later than I thought I would I got involved with a couple of projects you know got involved it I started a couple of books why did I just say that so and it didn't work and one of them I invested quite a bit of time with it in like 17 chapters and and you just had to scrap it cuz it wasn't going yeah I just lost my interest in it and I it became I was I know when it's not working because I dread the morning I usually very excited like but this book I was really excited to get up and get to work yeah with that book I was just kind of like ah okay I gotta I gotta get back to that thing you know and that's no way to write you got to be really excited about it the writing process is it difficult for you or do you find that it just it doesn't depend on the day no it's difficult every day every moment there's nothing easy about writing everything it's all a struggle yeah but don't we have a question yes please thank you for your writing thank you just uh I was in the middle of a deployment with 2500 Marines when I read The Kite Runner and all I could think about was these Marines that I was helping to train were on their way to Afghanistan so I want to be political what is your perception as a very committed American and Afghan citizen and your work with a UNHCR what is your perception of how we are pulling out of Afghanistan and returning these areas to the local police the local politicians thank you for your question my perception is the same as that I suspect of many Afghans in that there's a there's a nervousness I mean there's a really upcoming a period of uncertainty we don't know what we're leaving behind in Afghanistan in terms of a state I mean we have an idea and I think it's very reasonable to be skeptical about the Afghan state and its ability to protect its people I mean as far as the the the Afghans are concerned you know their first priority is avoiding doomsday I mean that's really the big priority and by doomsday I don't just mean the return of the Taliban which would be horrible but even the worse by I mean the return to the militia wars of the 1990s there are Afghans who make very compelling arguments that that is a fair accompli that that's going to happen that when NATO and the US pull out it's going to be all out you know all hell's going to break loose and then there are others who don't think so I mean I happen to be of the latter camp because I just I it's been 12 years now and and those folks who were party to those conflicts in the 1990s have had 12 years of relative peace now during which they've become very wealthy and if for if for nothing else then at least for selfish reasons they would see that there's a dividend to be paid in a peace process this is a softball question I was so impressed in The Kite Runner especially at the beginning of the story of the beauty of the country and the richness of its into of the intellectual life of that country it's something I had never associated with Afghanistan because the pictures we see look like it's the moon so I would like to hear a little more about the beauty of Afghanistan do you feel glad that people like this lady have that experience that they can see what couple yeah outside of the news that's what most of us see of Afghanistan I mean she's correct and because you're always seeing you know Tora Bora and I mean you know if you go to the northern part of the country it's just gorgeous I mean there's valleys beautiful rivers gorgeous orchards there's forests and woods where where you know there's a lot of beautiful trees I remember the book signing this lady walked up to me and said I didn't know Afghanistan had trees and I didn't blame her because all this show is sand and mountains and I guess where all the fighting is and I get that hi mr. Cheney thank you for coming to st. Louis and thank you for your pleasure um I have two questions related to the writing process how did you develop your writing up to the point that you first wrote Kite Runner and then the second once you start writing a book what is your daily process look like I've never had any training and writing so I you know I was always in the science Department of their school I mean I pre-med and all that so whatever I know about writing it's totally self-taught but my process as you put it you know I take my kids to school then I sit at my computer and hope something happens more or less that's more or less true because I don't plan anything out May I don't have an outline I don't have I don't I don't do no cards or oh god no I don't even know what's going to happen that day let alone how the book is going to end it's it's completely anything is possible well anything is possible and so as I'm writing um I just allow a room for spontaneity for surprises characters never ever go what I thought they were gonna go my books never end the way I thought they were gonna end and so I don't bother outlining it's a waste of my time you know it works for a lot of other writers it doesn't work for me I feel a prisoner of the the outline I feel just a sense of duty that now I've chosen this path I got to go down it whereas I really like just the open air whatever happens happens and and often I'm so surprised by what happens and and I love those moments he's not the only one readers can't get enough of his writing while this first book catapulted him on to the global literary stage his next two established his rightful place there lucky for us he decided to leave an established medical career to pursue his love of writing oh thank you so much thank you

23 Comments

  • Nancy G. Ahmadzai says:

    Read the book, watched the movie " The kite runner", fell in love with Afghanistan, met an Afghan man from Kabul on Facebook, married him two years later. I'm an American, but now consider myself more Afghan, love Afghanistan, love my Afghan husband, and I'm very happy with him, thanks for writing this wonderful book. Long live Afghanistan !!

  • Anuja Pathak says:

    His books are so sensitive and valuable. The fact that he doesn't plan his writing is wonderful

  • Ali Akbar says:

    As Hazara I didn't like in kite runner what he write about Hazara. Peasent words is all times used for my people.

  • Malou Reno says:

    My favourite writer from now on. Even listening to his answers made me cry just like it did while reading his ''And the mountains echoed''. Please, never stop writing. Our generation need writers of your kind. I am from Uzbekistan and I was able to feel for your characters in full, and I felt blessed by that. No novel has been able to turn me upside down so much but yours (And the Mountains echoed). Thank you for this masterpiece!

  • annie howell says:

    Khaled Hosseini is my favourite writer as he creates these amazing characters and pulls on my heartstrings but he never gives the reunions you want. you might say that's real life but I have had to come out with different endings to stop myself from grieving. its taken me a while to get over his books and they are still all with me now. In kite runner I so felt like Hassan should know that Amir cared so much and they should see each other happily again, in thousand splendid suns I so wanted Mariam to know that her father did care, did regret and gave her the snow white and seven dwarfs in rememberance. not that just Laila got it not knowing the significance, and in the mountains echoed i so needed Pari to know the meaning behind the feather, how close Abdullah and her were, that Abdullah pretty much brought her up and that nothing made either of them happier than being together and about the dog shuja and their father telling stories and their mother with pari's goodness in her. it seemed cruel that they never truly realised the truth. my one saving grace is that i believe in heaven so i say it'll b all right in the end. yes, i know its not real but when characters enter my heart they become real.

  • Claudia del Río says:

    Una historia estremecedora que es capaz de conmover, tan profundamente, aludiendo a una realidad que resulta tan lejana desde aquí, Chile.

  • Sajid Khan says:

    Such a pride for my country;Afghanistan!
    Love you houssaini saib.
    The RUNNER got me completely.

  • GetHappyGetSuccess says:

    Loved the interview. Inspiring video. Thanks for sharing.

  • Noria Danish says:

    I’m from Afghanistan and proud of such a writer. I wanna follow his footsteps ( a doctor and a writer)

  • Kashif Nasir says:

    I love reading his books

  • Imran Sahir says:

    Although I live in Pakistan, Afghan neighbor, but I did not learn as much from media and Afghan refugees as I learned from Hossieni's novels. He's an amazing author.

  • Aron Dariab says:

    Arsenal loooool

  • Afson Za says:

    He is one of the best author of the history

  • nanda aravind says:

    love his works!!! ♥ ♥

  • Seagull B says:

    a wonderful wise writer.

  • Seagull B says:

    i found his novel next to my mother's bed after her death"a thousand suns"and i have read all his novels since.He is a shining light.a sensitive writer and a true humanitarian.

  • Fiza A says:

    What an amazing interview! Learned so much about this guy and I'm amazed by the fact that he doesn't plan his writing and that shows that he is a free writer.

  • sohaib ahmed says:

    Dang surprised when he said he doesn't plan or anything he just sort of lets it happen.

  • Antonio Scoppa says:

    Hosseini..the besr writer in the earth

  • Barnamala says:

    a real philanthrophist..admiration! respect 🙂

  • Spongebobfan179 says:

    i love this guy

  • Dilee S says:

    I will go to sleep trying to shake off the thought of a woman was reading Khaled's book in an airplane, sitting right next to him, totally clueless of who he is

  • Dheeraj Reddy says:

    25 minutes….. well spent

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