Project Update: Granted Grants!

Astute followers of this blog will notice this logo now graces the website. I am so excited to announce that I have received a Recommender Grant for Writers from the Ontario Arts Council! The way the grant works: I sent a writing sample along with an application to recognized publishers in Ontario who then recommended the work be funded through the OAC. This is the first time I have been awarded a grant!

I had the support of many people, including my lovely followers on Twitter (you can follow me there @SoniaSulaiman). My friends and fellow writers Susan Muaddi Darraj, and Natasha Ranken beta read the application with me. I am truly grateful for their help.

The grant was awarded for a project tentatively titled ‘A Personal Paradise.’ It is a work that I have been writing on and off since 2006. It is a collection of free verse poems about cultural and personal reintegration, mapping a personal history of revision and healing. Palestinians are known among Arab communities as “the Poets of the Arabs,” and putting these stories into verse is one way of attempting to reintegrate a shattered family history and its legacy. The collection unfolds through the two main thematic threads of engagement with Palestinian folklore and generational trauma.

Here is the titular poem, the poem that started it all, first published in Whisky Sour City by Black Moss Press:

A Personal Paradise

Pistachios, pumpkin, watermelon seeds salted and fresh,

shelled with your teeth year round. Something to pass the time

when it’s too hot even under Walkerville maples and century elms;

the sun bakes their leaves before they fall.

Earl Grey strong and dark; it could stand up on its own

from its mounds of sugar. Thick, rampant, fresh spearmint

uprooted, plunged top-down and swished.

The wet leaves sticking like spinach as the tea slides down.

‘Too cold without, too hot without’ is a saying from Palestine

where tea is a treat for scorching days. Dad brought the habit

with his sandals, worn year round.

The mint patch outside the kitchen door fought back the chlorine stench

when neighbour kids cry ‘Marco Polo!’ over the fence

and the A.C. fan roars under the grape arbour’s shade.

In the next yard the little Sicilian fig tree turns its greedy leaves

to cup the sun before the autumn arrives. Soon Nicolo will dig its grave,

and bury it alive so it can be brought out again when the winter is past.

Lastly, in other news, today my application for a New/Early Career Artist profile was approved by the Canada Council for the Arts, meaning I can start applying for grants from the CCA as well. Very exciting!

Bible Tales in Arab Folk-Lore, 1928

The book in question, on my purse of many colours.

My newest acquisition! Bible Tales in Arab Folk-Lore by Joseph Meyouhas, translated from Hebrew by Victor N. Levi.

Once again, it is quotation time and once again, there is some disturbingly racist material in the introduction:

The modern Syrian Arabs are descended in unbroken, if not in racially pure, lineage from the Philistines, Canaanites and Amalekites, as the modern Jews are direct ‘children’ of the ancient Israelites. But the Arabs have allowed the centuries to flow past them; they have taken no part, for a thousand years, in the fret and enterprise, in the research and mastery of nature that we know as Progress. They have shepherded and tilled, bartered and believed as their ancestors, and they preserve to this day their primitive social customs and simple philosophic outlook.

Palestine is still peopled with the folk of the Bible, but they are passing.

Joseph Meyouhas, 1928

It goes on in this fashion: on the one hand asserting the indigeneity and historic continuity of the Palestinains (albeit in an Orientalist framing), and on the other lamenting the way these “folk of the Bible” are now driving trucks and wearing suits, and are soon to lose their ties to the Philistines et al. He would have found my grandfather alarming in the extreme.

Part I

  • The Creation
  • The Creation of Adam
  • Noah, the Prophet
  • Job and His Household
  • Lukman the Wise (A Kinsman of Job)
  • Ibrahim Khalil Allah (Abraham The Friend of God)
  • Ibrahim and Nimrod
  • Ibrahim in Hebron
  • The Last Days of Ibrahim
  • Lot
  • The Patience of Lot
  • Isaac and Yakub
  • Yusef the Righteous
  • Yusef in Egypt
  • The Meeting of Yusef with His Brethren
  • The Death of Yusef
  • Moussa
  • The Miracles that Moussa Did in His Childhood
  • Moussa in Midian
  • Zipporah Bears a Child
  • Moussa in Egypt
  • The Mission of Moussa to Pharaoh
  • The Nine Plagues
  • The Flight of the Beni Israel Out of Egypt
  • The Giving of the Law
  • The Death of Aaron
  • The Inheritance of the Land
  • The Last Days of Moussa

Part II

  • Joshua
  • Samuel
  • Taluth (Saul)
  • The Battle of Taluth and J’Aluth (Saul and Goliath)
  • Daoud and J’Aluth
  • The Last Days of Taluth
  • The Cunning of Daoud
  • The Kingdom of Daoud
  • Daoud and Uriah
  • The Last Days of Daoud
  • The Kingdom of Suleiman
  • The Wealth of Suleiman
  • Suleiman and the Woman of Sidon
  • Suleiman and Bulkeis, Queen of Sheba
  • The Last Days of Suleiman
  • Alhadr (Elijah)
  • Isaiah, the Prophet
  • The Prophet of Uzair (Jeremiah)
  • Yunes Ibn Matta (Jonah)

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop and… Poetry

Have you ever noticed that while there’s a seemingly endless amount of books on the craft of writing novels there’s comparatively little about poetry? Now, I suppose one reason for this is that many new writers imagine that novel writing will be their ticket to fame and fortune, while poets are unfortunate souls who live in poverty. I say this as a poet. It’s true that I find more people who dream of writing a novel than those who aspire to publish a book of poetry.

Even if you don’t want to be a poet, writing poetry can be beneficial to your prose crafting! It’s all about language. So, for this month’s #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, I’m going to throw some poetic inspiration your way!

No, I’m not going to run you through drills on meter and forms. The best way to learn that, imho, is to read John Hollander’s Rhyme’s Reason. The explanations for each form are themselves examples of the form! Ingenious and highly entertaining. Much better than anything I could provide.

To get us primed, here’s a performance that really highlights of the language of poetry, the music in it.

If you don’t know where to start, try this! Christopher Gilbert provides an exercise he calls “Que Sera, Sera” and Other False Premises.’ You will need a poem for this- you can use ‘Bean Meditation’ by Laura Lamb Brown-Lavoie if you like. Take an assertion from a poem and regard it as a false premise. Write about how this false premise impacted or will impact you. This isn’t about writing a poem based on this premise as a prompt; it’s planting a seed. Like a bean!

Writing the Other: a book recommendation for #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

I have a book to recommend for this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop. I’ve lost count of the number of times this month I’ve come across some variation of anxiousness over a writer who earnestly wants to do right by cultural material and characters that are not their own. I always recommend this book: Writing the Other by Cynthia Ward and Nisi Shawl.

Seriously, you should all read this book. It came about out of an incident at the Clarion West workshop, when a student lamented that she felt there was no right way for her to write about non-White characters. Shawl and Ward have their own workshops tackling the problem, and this book grew out of these workshops.

It is full of practical advice and exercises. Here’s one of them to whet your appetite:

The book refers back to a collection of characteristic they call ROAARS (Race, Orientation, Ability, Age, Religion, and Sex). Another key concept is the Unmarked State, which denotes a state of possessing only those traits which are unremarkable. Choose a celebrity–any celebrity will do. Now as that celebrity, write a brief description of someone with radically different ROAARS. Take 4 minutes to write this description.

Some follow up questions:

  • Was one of the characters closer to the Unmarked State?
  • In which respects did they resemble/differ from the Unmarked State?
  • How did what you wrote from the pov of the celebrity differ from your own pov?
  • Did you find yourself using cliches or abandoning them?

If you gave the exercise a go, let me know in the comments. I’d also love to hear your views on writing those different from ourselves!

Writing with Tarot Masterpost for #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Welcome to my first post for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! Today I am going to be presenting some of my all-time favourite tips for generating writing prompts: using tarot cards. I’ve already shown you how to use them to create three-act plot structures and expanding upon that into Freytag’s Pyramid but there’s so much more you can do with them. Using tarot to beat writer’s block and just rediscover the fun of writing as play is easy and endlessly rewarding. So let’s get started!

First thing’s first: you don’t have to use the standard tarot card deck. What we’re aiming for is something called aleatory writing: writing which uses a randomizer of some sort. This could be dice or cards. There are a range of storytelling dice games such as Rory’s Story Cubes, and card games designed with storytelling or writing in mind. Story Forge, and the Storymatic are the most writing-focused of the bunch.

Story Forge cards in action.

But tarot is unique. It is a system which contains all of the core elements of character-driven narrative. The 78 cards allude to every facet of human nature and experience that you really need to try hard not to form them into a story, which is probably how they came to be used for divination in the first place!

So how do you get started with using tarot in your writing practice? We all love a good book on the writer’s craft and, thankfully, Corrine Kenner has written Tarot for Writers, the perfect primer for anyone new to this fascinating engine of prompt creation.

But what if you already know a fair bit about tarot? Kelly-Ann Maddox has a great video on what she calls “the Bardic Technique” or “Storytelling Technique” for using tarot:

Will you be using tarot as part of your writing practice? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Folk-lore of the Holy Land Moslem, Christian and Jewish, 1907

Folk-lore of the Holy Land by J.E. Hanauer is available in full at the wonderful Sacred Text Archive where it was digitized in 2006. Both the archivists commentary and that of the author himself are very fraught and racist. It is a difficult read for this reason, and yet there is some fantastic material here.

It contains an even mix of Moslem, Christian and Jewish lore; often a given tale will draw from multiple traditions, and sometimes it is hard to distinguish a point of view.

John Bruno Hare,

This quote in particular jumped out at me all those years ago when I first started finding Palestinian folktales. I thought it was so odd that he should be trying to “distinguish a point of view,” as if there isn’t one which, like the narrative, is represented by a people who are a blend of all those who have lived in the Holy Land.

The only folktale my (Muslim) Palestinian father ever told me has been recorded as “Israeli Jewish” in my research, but comes from the 13th century Gloss of Accursius. In other words: my father related Medieval Florentine commentary on Roman law to me as a funny little folktale. Isn’t that amazing?

I. Saints, Sinners, and Miracles

  • I. A Learned Moslem’s Ideas On Cosmogony
  • II. Our Father Adam
  • III. Noah and Og
  • IV. Job and His Family
  • V. Abraham, ”the Friend of God”
  • VI. Lot and the Tree of the Cross
  • VII. The Deaths of Moses and Aaron
  • VIII. David and Solomon
  • IX. El Khudr
  • X. Simon The Just
  • Notes

Legends and Anecdotes

  • I. Bâb El Khalìl, The Jaffa Gate at Jerusalem
  • II. Turbet Birket Mamilla
  • III. En Nebi Daûd
  • IV. Bâb el Asbât
  • V. Detective Stories
  • VI. Scraps of Unwritten History
  • VII. Judgements of Karakash
  • VIII. The Saragossan Purim
  • IX. Sultan Mahmûd’s Autograph
  • X. The Right Answer
  • Notes

Ideas and Superstitions

  • I. Folks Gentle and Simple
  • II. The Secret of Success
  • III. Origin of Three Well-Known Sayings
  • IV. Moral Tales
  • V. The Angel of Death
  • VI. The Underground Folk
  • VII. Nursery Tales
  • VIII. Satire
  • IX. About Women
  • X. About Animals
  • XI. About Plants
  • XII. About Coffee
  • XIII. Some Magic Cures
  • XIV. A Popular Calendar and Some Sayings
  • Notes
  • Translation of a Jewish Amulet

Pearls on a Branch, 2018

Today we’re looking at the youngest collection of tales that I’ve come across so far: Pearls on a Branch: Oral Tales by Najla Jraissaty Koury, translated by Inea Bushnaq.

As with some other collections, it is unclear which stories originally had Palestinian tellers. The tales were gathered via a traveling theatre troup who toured Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon among other places. No mention is made of the source for each story, although I do recognize a number of tales found in older collections of Palestinian tales (ex. the Green Bird, the Mouse that Wanted a Husband). Apparently the translation comes from a transcription of audio recordings–some 100 in all, although 30 tales are presented in this collection. The Arabic original was published in 2014.

Unlike nearly all of the collections I’ve come across, Pearls on a Branch replicates the formal style of Arabic storytelling, which includes a special poetic prologue called a ‘mattress.’ The editor notes it is ‘a long stretch of fantasy and nonsense rhyme’ named for the soft bedding that would be rolled out.


An old woman,
Who looks like a hag
With grey hairs that sag
And a comb in her bag,
Walks with a limp and a hop
Till she comes to a grocer’s shop.
“Young man, what is your name?
You set my heart aflame.”
Says the young man:
“They call me Taktakan.”


  • The Farsheh
  • Ahaa
  • Abu Ali the Fox
  • The Sun Her Mother the Moon Her Father
  • A House Without Worries
  • The Prince and the Goatherd
  • Lady Tanaqeesh and the Eggs of the Tawawees
  • The Olive Pit
  • The Fly
  • Pearls on a Branch
  • Two Sisters
  • I Palace Beautiful! O Fancy Friend!
  • Who Ate the Wheat?
  • The Vegetable-Seller’s Daughter
  • A Cow Called Joukha
  • The Girl Who Had No Name
  • The Frog and His Wife
  • Jubayna the Fair
  • Baldhead in the Garden
  • King Solomon and the Queen of Birds
  • Sitt Yadab
  • Bir Brambir
  • The Green Bird
  • The Singing Turd
  • The Mouse that Wanted a Husband
  • The Drinking Fountain
  • Thuraya with the Long, Long Hair
  • When Queen Mother Died
  • The Nightingale that Speaks
  • The Day it Rained Dumplings

Freytag’s Pyramid Tarot Writing Prompt

The other day, we looked at a basic tarot trick for creating writing prompts. You can make an Aristotelian three-act story structure from the cards. Now we’ll take it a step further and look in depth at expanding our structure to incorporate what’s known as Freytag’s pyramid.

Here is today’s sample spread. Instead of three cards for acts one, two, and three, there are five cards–one for each step in Freytag’s pyramid. I will be using my idiosyncratic positions on the steps rather than the usual ones, so be aware of this if you plan to use this to teach yourself about Freytag’s analysis. As you can see, it’s not that complicated but you can mine a lot out of just these five cards. Let’s see how:

What You Will Need:

  • Your tarot deck of choice.
  • Writing tools (pen, notebook, napkin, etc…)


  1. Spend a moment settling your mind so you can approach the exercise with clarity and openness.
  2. Shuffle the cards.
  3. Draw five cards from the deck and place them face down in front of you. You can place them in a line or in an inverted ‘V’ as shown above. It’s up to you.
  4. Turn over the first card on the left. This is the Exposition card.
    1. Exposition: Answer the questions of where, who, and what this story is about here. Introduce the setting and characters, and state the central dramatic question. This is always a yes/no question, btw. (ex. Will Odysseus have his homecoming or not?).
  5. Write.
  6. Turn over the next card. This is the Rising Action card.
    1. Rising Action: Answer the question of how your story will answer the central dramatic question. Never lose sight of it. The Rising Action is the series of events that make up the plot. (Ex. Odysseus angers Poseidon who prevents his homecoming; Odysseus begins his wanderings).
  7. Write.
  8. Turn over the next card. This is the Climax card.
    1. Climax: Answer the central dramatic question. (Going back to our example, Odysseus returns home to Ithaca). Looking back, you can see all of the events that brought us to this moment (card #2).
  9. Write.
  10. Turn over the next card. This is the Falling Action card.
    1. Falling Action: Answer the question of what the consequences are of the answer to your central dramatic question (Ex. Odysseus kills the suitors).
  11. Write.
  12. Turn over the last card. This is the Dénouement card.
    1. Dénouement: Answer the question of how the central dramatic question is resolved. We know the question’s answer, but be specific here about the world state and what has changed internally and externally for our characters. (Ex. Odysseus is restored as King of Ithaca, and reunited with his wife Penelope. He hasn’t learned to be any less egotistical.).
  13. Write.

Sample Spread:

Our spread is above, using the Every Day Tarot once again (so handy for writing exercises given its small size and concise iconography).

Exposition: Ten of Cups:
Rising Action: Ace of Wands
Climax: Queen of Cups
Falling Action: Page of Cups
Dénouement: Nine of Cups

If you find this exercise helpful, leave a like and comment below!

Palestinian Folktales Project Update

Two years ago I began writing a collection of Palestinian folktales. I finished the rough draft of volume one: retellings of Palestinian fables and animal stories when I had to change computers. I was using Scrivener and *thought* I had responsibly backed up the file. I had not. It was gone.

Undaunted, I started over. In praise of beat sheets, I had kept a notebook filled with beats for each and every story in the collection so rewriting them was more pleasure than pain. There’s a property of revision I like to call ‘pancaking.’ If I write the same piece over a few times, not editing–completely rewriting it–I discover new angles that enrich the piece. Still, it was just a bit disheartening to have the whole book ahead of me, again.

Until now, because I found the draft! I can finally fully move on to the second draft phase. I’ve refilled my pen with Noodler’s Antietam, which is a amusing shade of red that is very like blood (I sent some to a friend who was then forbidden to use it at work because smears looked a little disturbing).

As it stands, the restored draft is ninety pages long, and contains fourteen short stories based on Palestinian fables and animal stories. Most of the sources come from the Ottoman period, but there are one or two from more recent collections. Additionally, there are a dozen or so pages of pancakes that will get folded in. They’re good pancakes.

It’s editing time! And… time to fret over the illustrations. Be sure to follow this blog to hear more about the process of bringing this book together!

Abu Jmeel’s Daughter and Other Stories: Arab Folk Tales from Palestine and Lebanon, 2002

The teller of these tales is Jamal Sleem Nuweihed, but we are also given a lineage of tellers she received the stories from over the course of her life, with each given a short bio!

The Palestinian Lady: Sitt Nuzha
Aunt Jamal wrote:
This lady was the most entertaining of all the storytellers. Her memory was extremely sharp, and she could sing the popular muwwals (folk songs) and the eulogies of the Prophet. She could interpret dreams, too, and tell peoples’ fortunes with the aid of her rosary. Above all, she was a wonder in her knowledge of human nature and its secrets, very skillful in describing anything she wanted to… We all loved her.

Before I delve too deeply, I should address how not all of these stories are Palestinian. The book provides no information on which tales were told by whom. Although I think it would have been interesting to compare the tellers and their tales, the ambiguity here speaks to the messy nature of a living folktale tradition where stories were freely migrating, just as Mrs.Nuweihed did, from country to country.

  1. Clever Hasan
  2. Rummana
  3. Qamar al-Zamaan and Shams al-Dunya
  4. Nani, Daughter of Nani
  5. Jubaybani
  6. The Shrieking Nightingale
  7. Sitt al-Boudour from beyond the Seven Seas
  8. Amina
  9. Women’s Wiles Beat Mens’ Wiles
  10. Mine to Use, As I Choose
  11. The Fawwal’s Daughter
  12. Marzouq the Woodcutter
  13. Hassan al-Waqqad
  14. The Black Goat
  15. Hajji Brumbock
  16. The Poor Cousin
  17. Sons of the Wealthy, Daughters of the Poor
  18. The Most Eligible Bachelor
  19. Abu Jmeel’s Daughter
  20. The Cat of Cats
  21. Never Betray the One Who Trusts You
  22. The Patient Woman and the Peevish Prince
  23. The Midwife’s Daughter and the Bandit
  24. Prince Naas
  25. Aunt Zaynab
  26. The Tailor’s Daughter
  27. The Golden Shoe