Former Hoboken resident Patricia Dunn’s debut novel, “Rebels By Accident,” will be published Aug. 16. It concerns an Egyptian-American teen on a journey of self-discovery in Egypt during the onset of a revolution.
In “Rebels By Accident,” author Dunn takes readers into the world of a teenager named Mariam who has grown up in a post-Sept. 11 world. Her understanding of what it means to be Arab-American has been shaped by stereotypes portrayed in the media. After landing in jail following her first teenage party, Mariam is sent to live with her grandmother in Cairo, Egypt, where she witnesses the rise of a revolution and in the process falls in love for the first time, and undergoes her own transformation.
Exploring internal teenage conflict
Mariam and her friend Deanna land in Egypt at the onset of events known as the “Arab Spring,” which inspired demonstrations in Libya, Syria, and other parts of the world. Mariam experiences a political revolution led by young men and women who use Facebook to organize protests to overthrow their corrupt government.
“The [revolutionary] event is a character in itself,” said Dunn. “It was a chaotic, meaningful experience…in my mind that is what you go through as a teenager.”
She said that for teenagers there is a revolution within and a lot of change both internally and externally.
“The challenge was to get that feeling of the teenager here and the teenager [in Egypt].” – Patricia Dunn
Dunn has a teenage son, Ali, who is Egyptian-American and has been bullied for being Muslim.
Dunn was inspired to write a novel that explored the Egyptian-American experience to dispel cultural myths and stereotypes and to provide a positive Muslim role model for youth.
“I hope this book helps Muslim teens like my son, or any teens who have ever been bullied or ostracized because of others' ignorance, understand that they are okay and it’s the bullies who need to change,” said Dunn.
Understanding the teenage voice
Dunn began writing the novel seven years ago when she was in a writing class taught by Cassandra Medley at Sarah Lawrence College.
“[Mariam’s] voice just started coming out,” said Dunn.
Spurred by a series of creative writing prompts during a class at Sarah Lawrence College, Dunn said the voice of the main character surfaced and flowed onto the page. While many variations of the story manifested, the voice of Mariam always stayed the same.
Dunn conducted a lot of online research and talked to every single teenager she knew in the process of writing the book. She shared her writing with high school students to get a teenage perspective on the novel.
“It was helpful to get that sense of what they felt was real,” noted Dunn. “The challenge was to get that feeling of the teenager here and the teenager [in Egypt].”
While she didn’t employ much teenage language, she wanted to make sure that the dialogue was right in both the United States and Egyptian settings.
Dunn also drew from her own experience growing up in the Bronx in a predominantly Italian American neighborhood. She said that as someone who was of Italian, Irish, and German American descent, she stood out as the “American.” Her friends all spoke Italian.
“I grew up feeling like an outsider,” said Dunn. Like her protagonist, she also took a trip abroad as a teenager, which was the first time she was out of the country. She visited Italy with her friend’s family and said that the trip “totally changed my life.” Experiencing another culture and discovering the differences and similarities she had with Italian teens taught Dunn “that there was this whole world to see.” She also fell in love for the first time, which also happens to Mariam when she is in Egypt.
Book release and tour
Dunn’s book is published by Alikai Press, a company she started with her agent and friend Alexandra Soiseth after her original publishing house, Westside Books, went up for sale.
“It has been a grassroots effort,” said Dunn of starting her own independent publishing company. “Now is probably the best time ever for writers to get there work out there in the world but it is really hard to do it on your own.”
Alikai Press has seven titles for release this year, which Dunn described as great stories about people on the margins who represent the majority.
Dunn was raised in the Bronx, has spent time living in Los Angeles, and lived in Hoboken in the 1980s. She has traveled throughout the Middle East and lived in Jordan and Egypt before settling down in New York, where she lives with her son.
She was the managing editor of Muslimwakeup.com, an online magazine, from 2003 to 2008. She has an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College, where she also teaches.
Dunn heads off for a book tour visiting libraries and schools starting on the West Coast before returning east. “Rebels by Accident” launches on Aug. 16 but is already available on Amazon.com. For more information, visit: http://www.patriciadunnauthor.com/.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.