Mahyar Amouzegar, a New Orleans-based author and academic, joins us this week to talk about reading, writing and Zombie movies. Mahyar shares the story of immigrating to the United States shortly before the revolution in Iran, how he gets to know the characters in his books and what he would do in a Zombie apocalypse.
Mahyar 0:00 Hello, my name is Mahyar Amouzagar, my favorite thing is to read, write, and watch zombie movies.
Announcer 0:07 Welcome to the Finding Favorites podcast, where we explore your favorite things without using an algorithm. Here's your host, Leah Jones.
Leah Jones 0:19 Hello, and welcome to Finding Favorites. I'm your host, Leah Jones. And it is Sunday, November 14th. It is booster day in the Jones household. I got up early this morning, went to Jewel for my scheduled Pfizer booster and got my booster. And then mid-edit, made a mistake of sitting down in my recliner, and took a Pfizer booster nap. But I'm so happy to have the booster. Now, I'll admit, it could have also been a post-chemo nap. Friday afternoon was my first treatment of chemo. I got Taxol for my breast cancer, or it's my breast cancer treatment. And they pump you full of steroids every time you get an infusion. So, I definitely know that steroids are kind of winding down at the same time that the COVID booster is hitting my immune system. So, maybe I didn't plan that great. But the best time to get the booster is the time you got the booster.
Leah Jones 1:30 I wrote all about my experience of getting chemo on my Caringbridge account. So, I will just link to that in the show notes. Instead of going into it in audio form, as well. Already tired of telling the story of the first infusion, because it was a long, boring day until it was not boring. And then, it was a very exciting four minutes. And then, the day wrapped up pretty soon thereafter. But I'm here -- I'm feeling pretty good. It is pitch-dark out already. The time change last weekend really threw me for a loop, but I'm doing well. I'm really grateful for the incredible gifts of my community taking care of me since I got this diagnosis in June, and had surgeries in September and October, and now 12 weeks of chemo one down, 11 weeks to go in this part of the treatment.
Leah Jones 2:33 A question I've had is why chemo, if it was just stage one and they got all of it in the lumpectomy? And because of the combination of being estrogen reactive and HER-2 positive, though progesterone negative, the combination of markers in my cancer said the research currently says that chemo really helps stop it from reoccurring in the next five years. Northwestern has done the research; they've tried to do this one with surgery and radiation only. And that is not effective enough for my medical oncologist, and I would rather just have one bummer a year of cancer treatment now, than just do a lumpectomy and radiation and cross my fingers. That's why I chose to go ahead with chemotherapy. I know it's not the choice that everyone would make, but that is kind of where my risk tolerance is.
Leah Jones 3:45 So today, I have Mahyar Amouzegar on He is an author, professor, Provost, truly a man of the world. He grew up in Tehran and Iran, immigrated to the United States as a teenager in the 70s, right before the the revolution, and spent a few years in New Zealand. His daughters live there now, and now he lives in New Orleans. We are talking about his new book coming out in December and zombie movies, and it's a delightful conversation. I'm envious of the folks on campus in New Orleans who get to either have taken classes with him, or get to be on faculty with him.
Leah Jones 4:32 His book comes out December 4th. Yyou can pre-order it now from Bookshop, that is what I've done. I was reading the PDF and I am excited to get my hands on the paperback and start reading in a couple of weeks. So, enjoy this interview with Mahyar and please wear your mask, wash your hands, get your COVID booster, and get those kids vaccinated. What an exciting time to have access to vaccines. And with that, enjoy this conversation.
Leah Jones 5:21 Hello, and welcome to Finding Favorites. I'm your host, Leah Jones. And this is the podcast where we learn about people's favorite things, and we get recommendations without using an algorithm. Today I am joined by Mahyar. Amouzegar. He is the Provost of the University of North New Orleans. He is an Iranian-American writer, who lives both in the United States and New Zealand, which I'm very curious about. He's the author of three previous novels, "Dinner at 10:32, "A Dark Sunny Afternoon," and "Pisgah Road." His newest book is a selection of short stories, and called "The Hubris of an Empty Hand." It is available on November 18th. Mahyar How are you doing this evening?
Mahyar 6:06 Doing well, thank you.
Leah Jones 6:09 So you are the provost of University of New Orleans?
Mahyar 6:14 That is correct.
Leah Jones 6:17 How is what a weird time to be a university official? Is that an understatement?
Mahyar 6:29 Yes, I know it's been an interesting journey. We learned a lot about the campus. We learned a lot about our students. And I'm proud of the fact that our faculty, staff and students have done amazingly well in the past 18 months. Obviously, last spring of 2020, we were very worried at how we're going to function. But genuinely, they've been all been very good. Very surprised, and yet *pleasantly* surprised, at how well they've done in the system of nine universities. We've done the best in terms of COVID numbers. We've done really well in terms of making sure -- despite living online, pretty much -- we still keep a community together.
Leah Jones 7:25 So, the very beginning of my career, I was a hall director, and I thought my life path was going to be the housing to Dean of Students/Student Affairs path. And I found out after a couple of years, it wasn't where my life was going. But how did you -- because you are a mathematician, and engineer and a fiction writer -- how did your path come to becoming a provost?
Mahyar 8:04 That's a good question. I think if I was born in the States, or if maybe my parents would have come to the States when they were much younger, I probably wouldn't have gotten to be a historian or be a creative writer. But when you're growing up in Iran -- and my parents never forced me -- but it was always implied that we either going to be doctors or engineers. So, I grew up thinking, "I'm going to be a doctor, engineer." I end up being neither -- more of a mathematician. But I always loved writing; I've been writing since childhood. But it seems as an immigrant, that that's their path to go to, to make money, be successful. So, initially, I thought, "Oh, I'm gonna be just a normal, mathematician, win a field medal, have my doctoral students, and just do normal academic thing, while writing for myself." But, just sort of zigzagging through life when I was a junior faculty, I thought, all the "suits" on campus never listened to me or anybody else. So, I thought when I wore those suits, and we come at leadership differently. So, it was more of a vengeance against the "man" to want to take this job, to show them how it's done.
Leah Jones 9:37 When did you come over from Tehran?
Mahyar 9:42 So, my brother and I came in 1978, about nine months before the revolution. I was almost 14; I'm now 57. So, it's been a while. It was -- initially my sisters were living here -- and the idea was just to come and visit. And something happened, and things went this way, and that family decided to stay. The idea was my parents will come as well, it didn't happen to come a long time.
Leah Jones 10:18 So, they didn't --
Mahyar 10:21 -- they didn't come, no --
Leah Jones 10:23 -- they weren't here on the vacation.
Mahyar 10:25 No, no, just me and my sisters, and my brother; my sister was living here already. The idea was my parents would come quickly, it just took 10 years or so for it to happen.
Leah Jones 10:39 I've done some support of a friend of mine, as a psychologist, who does -- he's an expert witness and immigration cases on the psychological pain of the immigration system. From that, I've learned some stories of people who maybe came for the first time 20 or 30 years ago, and what a struggle it is to immigrate to this to here, I mean, to most countries, but that's opened the door a little bit for me to have some imagination of what that decade would have been like and waiting to get your parents over.
Mahyar 11:25 I think my brother and I have had an easier time, I think it was easier to come to the country than people in modern day , more recent immigrants. But, you're right. But also in the '70s, I remember, when I got here, freshman year, ninth grade, nobody knew where Iran was. I remember standing up in front of a map showing to my class. Now, I think more and more people know who Iranians are, especially if you live in California, or New York, a lot of Iranians have made it so maybe *somewhat* easier in terms of people coming here. And when I moved to California, I remember, there were so few of us that when you hear Farsi in the street, you will stop and talk to each other. But now it's like, okay to come.
Leah Jones 12:18 Now, there's too many people.
Mahyar 12:19 Yeah, there's too many of us now. [laughter] Become a dime a dozen, for sure.
Leah Jones 12:25 And then how did New Zealand get folded into your world?
Mahyar 12:32 When I was getting my PhD, when I finished my PhD, we already married and had two children, two daughters, and were looking for jobs. And the only jobs -- that was in the mid '90s -- the only jobs that could find were either in Texas or Florida, which wasn't going to happen, I wasn't gonna go to Texas *or( Florida. And during the Los Angeles earthquake, all of us in family housing, we got out of our apartments. Then there were a couple of Kiwis, who are passing out orange juice, and just chatting. And they said, "Hey, one of my friends in New Zealand is leaving the country and the job is open." And she happened to be exact same field as I was. So, I applied. That was before Zoom before. Yeah. I got the job. never visited New Zealand. We packed up the whole family and moved to New Zealand.
Leah Jones 13:28 Wow. So how long were you in New Zealand?
Mahyar 13:32 We lived there for years, and then I got a job with the RAND Corporation. So, I really want to come back. But since then, we kept our house, every year, we go there for vacation. My daughter's started college. They went to UC Santa Cruz for one year, but I cajoled them to go to New Zealand. At first, a bit resistance, but they're there now, and they've been there for 10 years. They love it and aren't coming back. Hence, having two worlds.
Leah Jones 14:07 That's nice. It also must feel good, as a father, to have them in a country that's really handled COVID well.
Mahyar 14:20 Up until recently, they were pretty much left in the island -- literally and figuratively -- in a world that most people have an experience for the last 18 months that when I go there, when I went there in the past year is amazing. After the quarantine, you get out and you're free. You're back to normal countries living a normal life. And then you come back to The States and the whole masking issues.
Leah Jones 14:51 I have a friend who's a Kiwi and so he's just did the quarantine, and posting pictures of when they got to go to the yard to do their walks and the meals he was getting and the arguments he was getting with people during exercise time about masking and not masking and the benefits of quarantine, but it's working.
Mahyar 15:17 No, definitely. Yeah, they live really different lives than we do live.
Leah Jones 15:35 Tell me a little bit about this book where -- you're coming up, you're about a month away from publication day. I almost missed the Zoom, because I started -- this isn't a book review podcast. But I was like, "Oh, it's short stories, I'll dive in." And I was like, "You have to stop reading." I'm just reading the first one right now, with Imani and Dahlia, and Jackie, and I had to wrestle myself away from it.Why this time short stories, you've done novels in the past? Have you always written short stories?
Mahyar 16:21 No, no, no. In fact, every time I started a short story it ends up being full -- turns into a novel, because I can't stop writing. And this one wasn't meant to be a short story, and ends up being one set of short stories. I was never trained as a writer, so I try to emulate good writers that I try to read. So every time I start a new one, I try to write it as organically as possible. I generally spend a year with my characters before even I write a single word. Every night I go bed, start a conversation, sort of continue with that conversation. And then I challenged myself with something that I've never done before.
Mahyar 17:18 For this one, I thought, for the longest time -- I spent a lot of time with Jackie, in particular -- just a lot of conversations about what does she want. And then a challenge myself, if I could write a set of short stories that a reader can read as independent short stories, if you put them together, you can read as a novel. So, I'm hoping there is an arc that covers the whole book. But it's a novel, and then you also read each of the stories independently and not sequentially. So, I don't know if that was successful, but that was the goal.
Leah Jones 17:59 How much of this was written during COVID?
Mahyar 18:08 Little bit of it? Not too much of it.
Leah Jones 18:10 Okay. I'll be interested to see what art comes out of this time. If the time ever ends.
Mahyar 18:23 I think it's too early to start writing already. But yes, by the time I finished, the book was already finished. And it was with the publishers for edits and other things.
Leah Jones 18:37 Are you able to have an in-person launch in New Orleans? Are you going to do -- what sort of launch events are you able to plan this year?
Mahyar 18:48 We are hoping to have an in-person launch early December in Octavia bookstore. A supporter and local bookstore. So, we're hoping to be in person. We're gonna require vaccination proof, of course. We tried to do the last book two years ago. And of course, as soon -- that was in April of 2020 -- of course, everything was canceled.
Leah Jones 19:20 Yeah. It seems like things seem to be trending that way.
Mahyar 19:25 Yeah, New Orleans is doing well. Speaking, the mayor has done a good job, I think.
Leah Jones 19:33 I feel really great, I'm in Illinois, our governor is J.B. Pritzker, who -- we had a billionaire Republican governor who destroyed the state. And then I really half-heartedly voted for J.B., because I don't think what we need is more billionaires in public office. But truly every step of the way, he's impressed me. And there is something to be said for a billionaire who *can't* be bought, just following the science and actually doing the right thing. So Illinois, kind of despite ourselves, got through pretty -- we've had good leadership, I feel pretty safe. Chicago has got a pretty high vaccine rate. I'm lucky to work somewhere -- I've been working from home since March of 2020.
Mahyar 20:36 COVID, like everything else, for people like ourselves, it wasn't horrible. Because we can work at home, you get a paycheck. Obviously, for a lot of people, it's not the case. As usual, and that's what we see with our students.
Leah Jones 20:57 So, as a provost, how have you stuck it to the man? You said, "When I'm in wearing that suit on campus, I'm going to do things differently?" Do you think you have a different type of relationships with your students or faculty than you saw when you were a student or faculty?
Mahyar 21:19 I'm hoping so. I do say, "I'm trying just to stick it to the man," and my staff say, "You're the man." So, I'm trying to stick it to myself, I guess in some ways. As I said, ]when I was younger, and I was just starting my career, the idea is that I wanted to be part of a team. You may know my ideas, but at least hear my ideas. So, I try as much as possible to listen to faculty, staff, students. Before COVID, I used to have weekly lunch with faculty and staff, they will self-select themselves. 12-13 of them every week, couple of lunches, three lunches, and no agenda, just chat. That was my way of saying, "I want to hear what you have to say. Tell me. I might not be able to do it, but I want to hear you." So, I've tried. I don't know what -- if you ask my faculty and staff what they would say, at this time.
Leah Jones 22:18 Yeah, it's so hard; I'm so far from it now. I'm about 20 years out from working in student affairs, but it's just so different. And I can't imagine -- the campuses have changed so much since I was a student in the '90s. And since I was on staff in 2000, 2001. You know, I had students in Colorado, who were Columbine survivors, who came straight from Columbine to their freshman year at Fort Lewis. But it was still such a outlier event. It wasn't something that had traumatized a whole generation of students and now this -- COVID. I'm a huge believer of the on-campus experience, and the value of that. But the ability of faculty and administration to make that pivot to online to help people keep moving forward was tremendous.
Mahyar 23:35 People have done a great job. Again, part of it in New Orleans is because they experienced Katrina. So, they had to sort of go online at that time. In some ways, we were ready for it, because we're always ready for hurricanes and moving everything online. In some ways, it was somewhat easier for us. As I mentioned earlier, I realize there are so many so much seems and so between what we thought our students have, and what they don't have. I think everybody will tell you this, the gap between the haves and have-nots became even more clear during COVID But it was opportunity-- a silver lining is -- an opportunity for us to do things that we wouldn't have done before and to help students, to help staff, etc.
Leah Jones 24:41 Great, well, Mayhar, we're here to talk about -- for me to grill you about life as administrator and your new book. But we're also here to talk about your favorite thing. So, what is something that you love or a favorite thing that you would like to talk about a little bit tonight?
Mahyar 25:00 I think my favorite things would be -- and if you don't mind saying more than one -- my favorite things to do is reading, writing, and watching zombie movies.
Leah Jones 25:18 Reading, writing and watching zombie movies.
Mahyar 25:23 I get a great delight in watching Zombies, because at heart, I would have wanted to be a historian. Sociologists love the sociological aspect of the world, understanding Zombies, obviously, that's not possible, but the world that they've created. Just fascinates me, human behavior. And in a dystopian world, will it work?
Leah Jones 25:52 What's the first zombie movie you remember seeing?
Mahyar 25:56 Oh, that's a good question. Probably "Dawn of the Dead" or maybe "Night of the Living Dead," Romero's original. I think I remember watching it, maybe as a child, but I don't think it impressed me as much as-- the zombie thing is more of a recent phenomenon for me. So, I remember watching it, but it wasn't as impressive. Who gets to use zombie movies. Then re-watching it again. So Romero's, I know that his movies not the first zombie movie, there are a thousand before him, but he's set the tone. And the fact that it's black and white. It's not really about the goriness, but more about the interaction of human beings, sort [garbled]. Yes, that was my first, I'd say.
Leah Jones 26:54 And what are the pieces of world building in zombie movies? Do you think there are some things that if it doesn't have this, it's not a good zombie movie? What are the things that you think the really good stories in zombie stories and those dystopian futures take into account?
Mahyar 27:19 For me, in general, and I can't give you specifics -- to me, any science fiction movie has to -- by the same fact that it's science fiction, so it would be something fictional. As long as there's consistency in the laws, and policies and regulations, and everything else they do. If you want to get rid of gravity, fine, but Israel gravity tool, you cannot have both here and there. So, with zombie movies, the consistency in terms of how they create it, and how are we behaving? Rather than just sort of making it up to help the plot to move forward? Sometimes bad ones do, sometimes they're funny, so it's fine. But one of the reasons, for example, "The Walking Dead" TV show, is because they're very amazingly good and consistent about the rules they follow. In some ways, you can put aside the zombie part of the movie. That they're there, the danger and but the consistent are hard are dangerous to us. How we human beings are behaving in respect to what has happened? This is what's fascinating -- to me that makes it great Zombie movie. The ones who are not funny, like "Shaun of the Dead," which is a comedy, right?
Leah Jones 27:31 So, you want consistent rules.
Mahyar 28:34 Nothing worse than science fictions that don't follow the rules.
Leah Jones 28:58 Yeah, cause it's very unsatisfying. When at the end of a book or a movie, there's a deux machina. Something happens, and it's like that doesn't follow any of the rules of the world you just ignored to finish writing.
Mahyar 29:17 I think in movie business, there's a term for it. But I don't remember the term but all of a sudden, somebody by accident sees this message that they wouldn't normally see, but they see it because otherwise the plot won't move forward. Versus spending some time to make it more clever. With zombie movies, as well. Sometimes I think writers or directors or whoever, they get lazy about the process, and they just want to stick it in there. So if the zombies can run fast, great, even though I'm not a fan of that, it goes against a traditional zombie.
Mahyar 29:53 But the one Brad Pitt movie, they were moving really fast. That's great. "World War Z." That's fine, but they were consistent about that. And the rationale why they can run fast that never was sort of clear. Why they're running fast -- what are they thinking, why are they doing this? It's like explain why did you decide you give them this kind of characteristic?
Leah Jones 30:20 With The Walking Dead, did you read the comic books along with it or you're TV?
Mahyar 30:26 Not at all, I'm TV. What I like about Walking Dead is they kill off favorite characters all the time. They're very good about that. They're ruthless about killing people that you have grown to love and I hated it at the beginning, but I got used to it. So, I didn't want to read about it.
Leah Jones 31:00 With Walking Dead, did you not start watching it from the beginning?
Mahyar 31:03 I did. So, the first -- you know how they do half and half season -- so, the first year yes, I watched it weekly and I got tired of it because I was too anxious for the next one. Okay, control myself, and not watch it for half a season, wait for it to be ready, and then I can binge watch it in one day.
Leah Jones 31:26 And then you keep your nightmare to just a couple of nights, instead of week to week.
Mahyar 31:31 Yeah, it gives me weeks to think about it.
Leah Jones 31:37 What is your plan for surviving a zombie apocalypse?
Mahyar 31:46 That's a good one. Get a gun, for sure. Another program for some but I already have a grand plan -- grab the first SUV you can, drive as fast as you can to the gun shop, raid the gun shop as much as you can, then go to a grocery store and raid the grocery store, and then start thinking about where you're going to be, if you get surrounded by zombies for months at a time.
Leah Jones 32:16 Yeah, food, location.
Mahyar 32:21 Location, yes
Leah Jones 32:26 Can you kill a zombie with a gun or is that to kill other people before they take your food?
Mahyar 32:31 That's going too dark -- it's just to kill the zombie. Let's hope I'll be kind of human being that won't kill other human beings. Although I can see why movies like that, they do that. I'm one of those people who watch a movie and find try to find faults all the time. Missed continuity, I love to catch those. With The Walking Dead, it's like "Oh, my God, why haven't you fortified your building yet? Because a year has passed and you have done nothing to fortify?" You haven't dug a big ditch to drop them there?
Leah Jones 33:21 Do you think it would be better to be in a high rise? Or would you rather be in a country house? That you can see them coming from all around you and like dig a moat?
Mahyar 33:27 Yeah, I want to be on a hill. And not in a high-rise, because you're trapped. I want to be in a hill with enough time and enough people around me to dig a moat. But also think about how you can escape that area. Some drawbridge or something, so you have to have escape plan.
Leah Jones 33:56 Have you ever read the book "Station 11?"
Mahyar 34:00 No.
Leah Jones 34:01 Okay. It's a book about an illness, a plague that kills most of the population in a matter of weeks. But one of the main characters, a friend calls him from an ER and is like, "Go to the store and buy everything." And it's a story of this guy in a snowstorm with like, 11 carts of groceries and water, and kind of in the middle of the night, taking it up to his apartment in a high rise building, and trapping himself in the building until it seems that like it's safe to leave and go see what happened to the world. So your plan, according to that author, works well.
Mahyar 34:50 Yeah, I've watched enough movies to know high rises don't work. I should read the book; I just took an oath to read it.
Leah Jones 35:00 It's also an outstanding audiobook. If you're a book listener, the audiobook of that one is very well done. When you're trying to get someone into watching zombie shows, because at this point, the Walking Dead is intimidating; it's a lot of seasons. What's an entry point for someone who's like, "Maybe I do want to watch a zombie movie?" Or, what's an entry point to the genre?
Mahyar 35:32 I think I'll go with a comedy one like "Shaun of the Dead." Because it's light-hearted, it's funny. It has lots of the elements of what zombies would do. and can do. A good one is "28 Days Later." Yeah, it's not really about zombies that much -- it is, but it's not. But the one I really like, if somebody says "I hate zombie movies," it's called "The Cure," it's an Irish movie. It's about zombies who are actually cured. They got some medication, they are no longer zombies -- it's a love story. With sort of a not so happy ending, but it's a love story. So, the love story is a dominant part of the movie. The baseline is all zombie, and zombie issues. Without really zombies running around and biting you. So that's a fantastic way of looking at the world, post-zombie apocalypse.
Leah Jones 36:41 When zombie becomes a chronic illness that you manage.
Mahyar 36:46 Obviously, it has a power loss to everything you do, but I thought it was a lovely low-key movie. And it's a great love story. And everybody loves a love story. So it's like, "I hate zombies," watch this one.
Leah Jones 37:03 Does your does your family get in on zombie night with you?
Mahyar 37:07 Not *at all.* [laughter] It's a solo project; it's me and myself and Zombie movies. That's not their thing.
Leah Jones 37:24 I like that you've recommended a comedy and a love story. Because I do think, I mean, zombie stories get pretty violent.
Mahyar 37:32 Yeah, that's what other movies who sort of use zombies as a setup, versus -- I think that's what the Walking Dead has evolved into. I know in the beginning, you have to really go crazy with it, but I think they do less and less of it now. It's more about how behaving towards each other then dealing with zombies.
Leah Jones 37:58 How you reconstitute your society after a disaster.
Mahyar 38:02 Reconstitute society, people take advantage of each other. We become more of a tribe -- tribalism to the extreme.
Leah Jones 38:12 I had a friend who did some of her master's thesis about zombie movies and the zombie movies in different eras, and what they were like really commenting on? Is it racism? Is it -- to me, it sounds like if there's a cure for zombies, and then there's a love story, to me, right away that feels like it's an HIV commentary. But that also might be a product of when I was a teenager. Did those themes jump out to you when you watch them? Or does that sink to the background for you?
Mahyar 38:59 No, it does. I mean, "The Cure" was like, whenever she does, obviously, pre-COVID, but post-HIV, mega think. But I can see, whoever wrote this, that they were thinking about how we will behave toward other groups, the otherness of society. Because they had to carry a card, they were sort of a second class citizen, even though we're pretending that they were not. I do look at the social aspect of it in the zombie movies, and I know my wife, Maria, thinks, "It's all gory, it's disgusting." If you pass the goriness of it, there's good ones. There are lots of bad ones, and I've watched them all. So, I don't necessarily discriminate -- I watch everything. I go through Amazon or Netflix, and just search for zombies to watch.
Mahyar 40:05 Yeah, but the good ones, and they're rare, but the good ones can be really deep. Say something about our society in general, and the direction the society is taking. You can think of climate change, and how climate change will change and impact us. And the population decline, which is coming up in the next 30, 40 years. It's growing now, but it's going to decline and the climate change and the population changes, and the aging of our humanities, yes, that's as close to a dystopian that we can be without really being in a zombie. So, that's what interests me -- how we are going to behave towards each other, and how are we going to build a new society? Not necessarily for my daughters or my daughters' children, because they're gonna be hello world. It's gonna be a complex world by then.
Leah Jones 41:01 Another I'm trying to -- there was another series I read, there's a word in a computer program that is like the automatic go. I don't think it's psuedo.
Mahyar 41:19 You don't mean pseudocode?
Leah Jones 41:20 No. By the time I do this, I will fix this in the show notes. But it was, I think, a trilogy. I spent a year where I just kind of read dystopian fiction. I started with Neil Stevenson, and I went from there. And I think this was a Daniel X, something. And this was a world that posited -- there was a billionaire, and he had this program set to start when the Google alert with his obituary got published. And so his death set the domino chain of catastrophic world events. But the second book in the series was, what happens when you rebuild the society? And it had stuff about agrarian culture, or after a giant wave of violence, what can come from it? I've gotta look, I got to do a little Google, this is killing me.
Mahyar 42:40 I know nowadays, something goes your head, you have to look it up.
Leah Jones 42:52 Daniel Suarez, the first book is called "Daemon." And the second book is called "Freedom." So, it was about how do you rebuild society? And I feel like there was a good bit in there about -- isn't there in Iceland, a special place where we keep heirloom seeds?
Mahyar 43:16 Yes, we do.
Leah Jones 43:19 How do you get access to those heirloom seeds? And, how do you elevate indigenous agrarian culture, or practices that we've ignored for so many generations in the Western world? As a way to try and stabilize society?
Mahyar 43:42 Imagine us re-learning how to -- just imagine that there's no electricity and because without electricity, there's nothing. Actually, I think it was a TV series about that -- electricity just goes. Yeah, we need re-learn -- a lot of us will die -- but we have to re-learn how to build things, plant things, grow things.
Leah Jones 44:07 I won't do well.
Mahyar 44:11 Nor do I.
Leah Jones 44:12 I don't have a lot of practical skills for a zombie apocalypse.
Mahyar 44:16 No, no, no -- I think I'll be eaten first.
Leah Jones 44:22 As you look at your radar of characters you're getting to know, is there a zombie screenplay in your future?
Mahyar 44:32 No, I cannot write science fiction. I love reading science fiction. I cannot write science fiction, I'm too much of a scientist to be writing science fiction. Whenever I write, I think about people and how they interact with each othe, and the way I write is very organic; I don't set up the environment. And I think for a good science fiction, you just spend a lot of time to set up the world first. So, my brother has asked me to write a book with him, because he has this idea about how the future might look like. Yeah. And as you probably know, the birth rate is falling, but also there have been some impact on the egg production women and the newborn boys have become a smaller penis, and forever materials is in all of our bodies, so it is impacting how we are.
Mahyar 45:35 So, he was thinking, maybe in the future, everyone is asexual; there's no sex at all, no sex drive. So, we obviously we have to create babies, somehow, and that's probably possible. Anyway, I'm trying to write that for him. Just because you have to set up that world, maybe 2, 3, 400 years from now, maybe earlier -- I've been struggling with that. So I've been writing, but I'm writing it as, I'm writing it as more of a relationship story. And I'm leaving the technical part of it, to build the world around the characters I'm writing. So, I've realized it's not for me, it's not me. I don't have it in me to write it.
Leah Jones 46:22 I don't, either. When I've -- because I do enjoy science fiction and to some extent, dystopian futures, which I enjoy them less now than I did six years ago. But, I really appreciate good -- I think that good strong world-building -- an author, I think, who does it well, is Jasper Fforde.
Mahyar 46:52 Oh, yes. I love Jasper Fforde.
Leah Jones 46:55 The "Thursday Next" series, which is such a reward if you grew up, or if you're a reader, he just writes gifts for you.
Mahyar 47:04 Yes, he does. He's a writer's writer.
Leah Jones 47:10 I think he does such strong world-building and I really hope that -- the because the sequel to "Shades of Grey", I don't think was ever released, or maybe I've missed it. But that's the one where the social hierarchy is based on color blindness. I just think he's such a powerful world builder.
Mahyar 47:35 He's -- so, I reached out to him to say how much I loved this book, and he wrote back. I wrote him, I said, "I know you're probably not going to answer, probably one of your staff's gonna respond, but I just want to say how much I love your book." And then recently, "The Rabbit," I forgot the title of it [The Constant Rabbit.] I'm like, "Oh, my God, I was so disappointed at that ending; ;I wanted the love story to be fulfilled." He writes back and says,"What staff? I have no staff," but I thought that was so him. So, Jasper Fforde, his "Thursday Next" books are just amazing. So good.
Leah Jones 48:20 Yeah, they're so good. It is often -- when people are looking for a summer read, and I know that they're readers -- start with "The Eyre Affair." Everyone else in the world had -- I had not actually read Jane Eyre. So, there were some of the things in the manuscript that I didn't recognize what the problem in the story was? But "Jane Eyre" is enough in pop culture, that I wasn't too out of the loop.
Mahyar 48:50 Obviously, his literary references are amazing. I've read "Jane Eyre," but because of him, I had to go back and look up stuff.
Leah Jones 49:04 Yeah, I enjoy playing with the idea that whatever happens, the original manuscript trickles down. And the idea that the characters -- they have a whole life when they're not being read, I just love the idea that there's this whole other world of the characters hanging out and it's like, "Oh, no, wait, my page is coming up." and running on stage of the book. It's fantastic.
Mahyar 49:30 I think you will recognize -- in the last chapter of my new book, influence of Jasper Fforde. Because I said I live with my characters, but like his book, my characters when they start, are faceless and genderless in some ways, and I'm just talking to them and they're just doing stuff and little by little, grow, like his books. and Even sometimes when the book is over, they stay with me. Because they complain to me about "How come I didn't give them more lines?" It's either a sign of insanity, and that's fine, I'm insane, I'm sure. Also, they keep sometimes they're -- or when the editor takes out the whole section. Obviously, I'm angry, but it manifests itself in a character coming yelling at me for --
Leah Jones 50:30 -- letting them down.
Mahyar 50:32 Yeah, letting them down. So, the last chapter is sort of a dedication to them.
Leah Jones 50:38 I'm excited to read it.
Mahyar 50:40 So, I'm not Jasper Fforde, obviously.
Leah Jones 50:46 And you also said -- I mean, obviously, we've jumped into books, reading and writing -- what is on your bedside table or what's your current to read? Are you one book at a time, or do you read in parallel?
Mahyar 51:02 I do two books at a time. So, what am I reading right now? I'm reading "Sorrow and Bliss," by Meg Mason. She's a Kiwi that lives in Australia. And I'm also reading this short stories and novella. It's called "The Office of Historical Correction," by Danielle Evans. She's also a wonderful writer, which I just discovered, so I'm reading them both at the same time. I love reading both at the same time. For work, obviously, I'll read boring nonfiction books.
Leah Jones 51:48 Are you a paper, are you digital, audio?
Mahyar 51:53 Definitely paper. I get my newspaper in paper, and I get my books. I love books, I love I love that I can go back and forth in the books I can find the places. I get the idea of digital, obviously it's great. And my iPad is full of books, and it's great to carry it with you when you travel. But, it was rare for me to read something on the iPad.
Leah Jones 52:22 When you write -- so first, you have you talk to your characters for a year, you get to know them? Then, do you write on legal pads? Are you into paper, or you're at your keyboard?
Mahyar 52:39 Definitely keyboard. Because although I'm not a medical doctor, but I write like a medical doctor. So, no one can read my handwriting, including myself. If I write longhand, I would have no idea what I've written. Sometimes, I take notes, I'm like, "What did I write here?' So, I stopped doing that because middle of the night you wake up and think of something, now I just wake up and take my phone and write a note on my phone. I have my little Macbook Air for writing only, and I have it with me. I try to write at least a sentence at night; I write every day. I have a day job and my day job sometimes, it's just annoying and tiring. Bbut the pleasure is when I go home, I can just write a sentence or two, just random thoughts that I may have had about some other book I'm writing, or a conversation I had the night before.
Leah Jones 53:35 A question that kind of consumed my social group, our Fireside Chats this summer -- because of COVID, we got a fire pit and spent a lot of time around a fire pit in the last year and a half -- is I've learned that some people don't have an inner monologue. When you are talking to your characters, do you hear your characters or do you just kind of feel them?
Mahyar 54:04 Most often, I hear them. Sometimes, it's just a feeling or location. But most often, as I've been talking to you, I'll just talk to them; visualize the world as much as I can. So think like a movie; I love movies. Just see this world they're in, and as I said, most of my characters began with just generic, and then take shape.
Leah Jones 54:38 So, in your mind's eye, you can see Imani and Dahlia's apartment, and walk in and walk up the steps and go to the kitchen.
Mahyar 54:46 Right. Realistically, there's obviously some real life -- I've seen it somewhere yesterday. I'm imagining But, initially I was thinking about what their house looks like, what kind of books they had in their bookshelf, waht kind of tables they have. What kind of rug they have like a Persian rug, because it's full floor of colors. That was just in the beginning. As I think about their home and how would live in this home. It keeps me sane, I so don't have to kill my faculty and stuff. No. [laughter]
Leah Jones 55:29 No, it's lovely. And you said that you'd been writing -- your biography said that you were writing as a kid before, when you were growing up in Tehran?
Mahyar 55:41 I've been writing forever.
Leah Jones 55:43 When you were going to Elementary in Tehran, did you study English? Or you studied Farsi, and then started learning English here?
Mahyar 55:55 Wwe studied English -- that was English as a second language in year one -- but not really well. I came to the country with almost nothing. Basic ordering food, type thing. And then, after I arrived on Thursday, I was in school on Monday. My sister was told about that. And you know, it was a struggle, obviously. First year, it was definitely. And my brother was a few years younger. So, he was 11. There's that age, that sweet spot, and he came right at that spot. So, it was very easy for him to learn the language. And some people have a better brain for it than others. I'm not pretty good at that; I'm very shy. So, all that combined ,made me very hesitant to speak. So it took me a while.
Leah Jones 56:52 Do you ever do drafts in Farsi? Or, you're literate, you do your writing in English.
Mahyar 57:00 I do, because my Farsi schooling is eighth grade writing. And it's been a couple of decades since I've read a book or newsletter in Farsi. Mmy language skill in Farsi is, in a formal sense, is dead. Mostly I'm fluent, I can speak, so conversationally, I'm fine. Could I give a lecture? No. I was actually giving a talk to an Iranian scholarly society in Los Angeles -- I cannot do that in Farsi; I don't have the language.
Leah Jones 57:41 You have 1977 teenager Farsi.
Mahyar 57:46 Which is like, order food, chat with my parents.
Leah Jones 57:53 Has there ever been a window when you've been able to go back?
Mahyar 57:57 No, I could never go back. My brother has gone back; I couldn't go back. Initially, neither of us could go back, because of the war with Iraq which lasted 10 years. Then, I got into national security work in the U.S. I don't think it's smart for me to go back.
Leah Jones 58:14 No, no, a lot of people would have a lot of questions about that trip.
Mahyar 58:20 Exactly. Not necessarily the U.S. side, I think the U.S. wouldn't care. I think Iran would think I know more than I do. And they want to know what I know, which I don't know. I cannot tell, anyway. So, that could be an issue. My older brother who came much later, they work for the defense. He was like, "Nope, you're not going to Iran." But, my siblings go back and forth.
Leah Jones 58:50 Are there any any dishes or foods that transport you home? Transport you to Tehran?
Mahyar 59:00 It's been such a long, long time. What I remember the most is cream puffs. Cream puffs -- that's only a good memory, because my mom used to buy 'em for me. But, I only moved to New Orleans five years ago. So, before that, California -- California is full of Iranians now, right? Every product you can think of that would be in Iran is in Los Angeles. There's nothing more -- you don't miss anything because everything's there. Los Angeles is called "Teherangeles," because there are so many Iranians there.
Leah Jones 59:42 I went to a Jewish conference, and it was called "Jewlicious." And there were a lot of Persian Jews there. I'm a Jew from Chicago, so it's not a part of our community that I have a lot of exposure to. And we got there and it was one of the most diverse Jewish conferences I went to, because it was mostly college age. And it was really super fun.
Mahyar 1:00:15 In Los Angeles, there's a large number of Jewish people. My publisher, Abraham, he grew up in Beverly Hills. I think their first language is Farsi.
Leah Jones 1:00:27 I believe it, I believe that. Great. Well, Mayhar, is there anything about your book or zombie movies that I haven't asked you about? That if we hang up, you'd be so disappointed?
Mahyar 1:00:40 No, but, thank you so much. Because as I mentioned, I was very nervous about this whole thing. So, I just looked up like "My God, it's an hour." You're a fantastic interviewer. I'm glad you started the book, and I'm glad you liked it. And I was floored that you know Jasper Fforde. Because I love him, and it's great -- it's nice to meet somebody that also loves him as much. To me, writing a book has always been a personal thing. It was always for me and I hardly showed it to anybody except my wife. My wife was the only one who actually read any of my manuscript. And it wasn't until five, six years ago that I became brave enough to actually show it around, and shop it around. So, the whole thing is very new and scary to me. For a person with English as a second language, Master position, engineer, let's say, coming to the world that is so foreign. I could be doing okay, I'm happy. I'm happy with what I'm doing and the fact that others outside of my family are reading it. That's perfectly good.
Leah Jones 1:02:04 To be on your fourth work of fic --- published work of fiction is really exciting.
Mahyar 1:02:09 It is definitely exciting. I hope whoever reads it likes it, especially this one. Because I've tried to make short stories that connect with characters coming in and out of each book and story. I hope it works. I read it. I like this one the best. The previous book was more about me and my friends, and my family and I don't like to write about ourselves too much. No, no, this has been great, so thank you.
Leah Jones 1:02:51 Thank you. And do you want people to follow you online? Are you on Twitter? Instagram, Tik Tok? Any of the social?
Mahyar 1:03:00 I'm not on Twitter. I'm not on Facebook, but I'm on Instagram. Okay. And it's almost a got underscore author
Leah Jones 1:03:08 All right.
Mahyar 1:03:08 I started with "eggs and bacon," because it's a fun thing to have. Then recently I thought okay, it's silly, I should I give it up, I had a few thousand followers, believe it or not -- a few thousand followers for "eggs and bacon," which is crazy. It was the most crazy thing. I'm like okay, "That's silly. I'm gonna most people will actually want to read this quit a new one."
Leah Jones 1:03:36 So formerly "eggs and bacon." MayharAmouzegar_author will link to it in the show notes so people can follow.
Mahyar 1:03:46 Thank you so much.
Leah Jones 1:03:48 You can follow me I'm @ChicagoLeah on Twitter and Tiktok, @chiLeah on Instagram. Finding Favorites is @findingfavespod on Twitter and Instagram. And please follow, like, and review.
Announcer 1:04:04 Thank you for listening to Finding Favorites with Leah Jones. Please make sure to subscribe and drop us a five-star review on iTunes. Now go out, and enjoy your favorite things.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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