Sorry - couldn't help it!
Warning: SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the trilogy, there is a reveal of story developments in this post.
The good news: I am just putting the finishing touches on a fourth book in the Katya and Nayir series.
You read that right. After all this time! But first, to all the people who reached out to me about continuing this series, I want to say a huge thank you—your emails and DMs have been an incredible source of encouragement and support. I appreciate you so much!
I had debated about this book for a long time. I originally started this series ten years after having lived in Saudi Arabia. In that decade, I kept waiting for someone to write about the country. In particular, I wanted to read fiction. There’s always been a heap of non-fiction about Saudi—about oil and kings and religion and culture—but I had lived there in a family, making friends, getting to know a neighborhood and a city and a diversity of cultures, and I wanted to read about that. About daily life in Jeddah, about people.
In that ten years, I was continually faced with the fact that people didn’t know about Saudi, and they fell back on stereotype. My experience there was so vastly different from the stereotypes I kept encountering that I felt the situation deserved some voice, and what better way than through fiction? Fiction is really good for making things come alive. So that was what kept this idea in my head, this constant encounter with not-knowing.
Finally, since the idea would not go away, I wrote the book myself. I’m not an Arab, but I was married in the culture, had lived there within a family, and even after my divorce, maintained ties with family and the place because of my daughter. I felt I could speak about Jeddah at least, drawing on the personal and the particular. I wrote my first mystery, Finding Nouf. It eventually got published in 45 countries. And editors wanted a second book, and a third, which turned out to be City of Veils and Kingdom of Strangers.
But the story I was telling was a love story most of all, about the relationship between Katya and Nayir, and by the end of the third book I had, shall we say, wrapped things up between them? I decided I had written a great little trilogy and that I was done.
A while later, I gave a talk at USF, and I mentioned this to Prof. William Edwards, former sociology star, who had invited me that day. He was encouraging me to write a fourth book and I said: “They’re married, so I think it’s wrapped up.” And he said, “Oh no no no, marriage is where the real drama begins!” I laughed—we both laughed—but he was very right.
However, my main reason for stopping wasn’t just that my story felt complete. It was that Saudi Arabia was changing so much. And I kept thinking: you know there are a ton of amazing writers out there who write fiction about this country. Surely, in these days when publishers are now actually eager to publish foreign voices, plenty will get published. Let’s hear from Saudis. I will diminish and go into the west, haha.
So another ten years has gone by and I’m happy to say that there is more fiction about Saudi (not as much as I’d like, but still). In that time, I dabbled around with writing more Katya and Nayir, but each time I started it, I’d get halfway in and it wouldn’t come together. This is what people call writer’s block, but the thing I’ve discovered is that you only get blocked when you’re on the wrong path.
I realize that I’ve spent the past years with the same “someone else should write that book” attitude that I had before. And, if we’re being woke, someone else probably should write that book. I won’t say that person should be Saudi, because one of the hallmarks of Jeddah is its sheer diversity of people. (It really makes San Francisco seem monochrome by comparison.) Just, it should be someone who knows and loves their subject matter.
In the end, for me, I came to miss my characters. I woke up one day and I felt this longing for them. Like: Where are they now? What have they been doing? Are they still living in Jeddah? And this time, when I started writing the book, the story didn’t hit a wall. In fact, it blossomed. I don’t know what it is about the whole “ten year” thing. It seems so extreme to me. I’d rather be Louise Penny and keep ‘em coming.
My new novel, which has yet to be titled, picks up with Katya and Nayir seven years after the end of my last book, Kingdom of Strangers.
This time, I’m not writing because I want to address the gross prejudice or not-knowing that circulates. There is still plenty of it, but there is also plenty to counterbalance it. In fact, you can even get a tourist visa now and go there yourself—huzzah! I’m writing because I love Katya and Nayir and I’m curious to see where their lives will take them in a beautiful city that has changed so much and that keeps on changing.
I will post again with updates about when and where you can find the book, so stay tuned!