Launch: F.M. Deemyad’s The Sky Worshipers

INTERVIEW BY M.N. STROH

Born in Kermanshah, Iran, F.M. Deemyad grew up in the capital, Tehran, attending bilingual schools run by Christian and Jewish minorities. In her youth, she developed a love for classic literature under her father’s instruction. He was the son of a linguist who taught English literature in India and he introduced F.M. to the English language in her preschool years. F.M. received her Master’s degree in Writing from Johns Hopkins University in 2016. She currently resides with her husband in Maryland.

Among the many classic authors’ works F.M. has read, her greatest inspiration for The Sky Worshipers came from authors such as Wilde, Dickens, and Tolstoy.

Using the classic elevator pitch, how would you describe your book’s premise in two sentences?

In my novel, The Sky Worshipers, the Mongol era is portrayed through the eyes of three captured princesses from China, Persia, and Poland. They secretly chronicle the wars and their manuscript is discovered a century later by a queen.

Was there a particular draw to this setting and period that inspired you to base your novel in that time?

The Mongol invasions of the 13th century may be an unfamiliar subject to many Americans, but for regions such as China, Russia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, which were impacted by the invasions, it remains an unforgettable era. The Mongols ruled the largest contiguous portion of the earth ever conquered. Their transformation from one generation to the next, which eventually allowed them to become sophisticated administrators rather than mere warmongers, baffles historians. I believe that women, particularly educated women captured from foreign palaces, raised Mongol children and were instrumental in this transformation.

Whose point of view is the story told from? Was there special significance in this choice?

The main narrator greets the reader at the end of the introduction: “My name is Krisztina, but they call me Dounia which means ‘the world,’ and my story begins years before my birth with a princess by the name of Chaka in a land that is today called China.” Since the novel covers such a large portion of history, it became necessary to include multiple points of view throughout the book.

Did you face any particular challenges in the research for The Sky Worshipers?

Navigating the history of the 13th century was no easy task. It took more than five years of research and writing to weave my own narrative into the plot that history had already written. The key was to pay attention to the natural reactions of the characters to the circumstances they faced. At the same time, I did not want to write a book of horrors even though great carnage took place during this era. Following Tolstoy’s lead, I placed the events of the war in the background and brought interactions between individuals to the fore.

In the story, is there an element (building, object, or place) that carries meaning for you? Why?

Yes. I grew up in Iran, attending bilingual schools run by religious minorities there. I visited the historical Mosque of Goharshad and wondered about the queen who oversaw the building of this magnificent structure. Her amazing life and the challenges she faced inspired the story of The Sky Worshipers. She became a champion of peace although she was daughter-in-law to one of the world’s most fearsome conquerors, Tamerlane.

Have you found that your occupation or any particular life experiences aided you in deepening your characters or lending a special authenticity to your story world?

My command of the Persian language allowed me access to a treasury of authentic information written by Persian historians who were hired by the Mongols. Despite their obvious fear of their vengeful masters, they managed to convey the reality of the wars, allowing the truth to seep through their eloquent language. I also drew on Lady Goharshad’s life and accomplishments as recorded in Persian chronicles.

What first inspired you to write historical fiction?

I have always been fascinated with history. My father, who was born and raised in India, told me nighttime stories of places such as the Taj Mahal. There is something about ancient buildings and the people who built or lived in them that stir one’s curiosity. My father also instilled within me the love of English literature. I believe the English language is a great medium for conveying human emotions.

What is the last great book you read?

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

 

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