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Porochista Khakpour

Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran in 1978 and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area (South Pasadena, to be exact). Her first language was Farsi, her second (and luckily[…]

9/11 was a major kick in the ass, Khakpour says.

Question: What inspired "Sons and Other Flammable Objects"?

Khakpour:    My novel was mostly inspired by my own background as a new Iranian-American growing up in sort of unique circumstances in a suburb of Los Angeles.  And then 9/11 was a major kick in the ass for me.  So that in a way . . . maybe it was the prime inspiration.  But I also often joke that poverty and desperation were also big inspirations in writing my novel.  I was given a fellowship after getting my Masters degree at Johns Hopkins, and I knew that I’ve always been struggling to survive.  And I had a seven month, eight month period to write a long work.  We’re sort of encouraged to do that – not required, but you know sort of encouraged.  And I thought, “Wow.  I might never again in my life be paid to write like this.”  And I was working with a wonderful writer, Alice McDermott, at Hopkins, and I know she always sensed that I was a novelist.  And so I thought, “Let me just try it because I don’t have any other options.”  What am I gonna do?  Go back to New York?  Be a freelance journalist again?  Barely scrape by?  Am I gonna move to California with my parents, which I had never really done after college?  What . . . what can I do?  And what do I have the steam to write about, you know?   And so Alice McDermott used to tell me, “Write what you know,” and I always thought that was so gauche, and outdated, you know and pedestrian.  And I tried it, and I assumed the manuscript would be tossed, and that my actual published novel would come sometime later.  But it just so happened that I became interested in it, and I became more interested in my experience of 9/11, and my experience growing up as a wrote the novel.  So it was a strange chicken and egg phenomenon with the inception of the novel, I think, in my case.