2018 Short Story Winners, Natasha is on the left
From the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival short story contest:
An interview with Natasha Tynes by Radhika Iyer
“To say it in a sentence, she is a journalist, social media manager, entrepreneur, podcaster, short story writer, ghostwriter, novelist, and mentor.”
At the 2018 F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival short story contest young writer Natasha Tynes won the 3rd place prize with her story, Ustaz Ali, a coming-of-age tale set at a Catholic School in Amman, Jordan, in the late eighties.
Natasha’s penchant for words and flair for writing was acknowledged as early as in her elementary years, and that was all the encouragement she needed to pursue her heart that has led to a lifetime of writing.
We indulge ourselves now by getting to know Natasha as an award-winning Jordanian-American author and a communications professional based in Washington, DC.
Like a tree that endlessly branches, Natasha, from a journalist with a degree in journalism for over 25 years, has contributed to major news outlets, and has appeared in television shows.
Her byline has appeared in the Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post, and the Jordan Times, among many other outlets. She has appeared on several TV programs, including Larry King Live, PBS’s Foreign Exchange, Paula Zahn show, CBS’s Morning show, Scarborough Country, BBC’s Up all night, among others.Her short stories have been published in Geometry, The Timberline Review and Fjords.
Natasha was gracious to spend an hour with F Scott Fitzgerald Literal Festival Member, Radhika Iyer and the following is what transpired on a breezy summer evening of June 2022.
Radhika sets the context:
“When we began talking, she had just come off teaching a cohort of students on digital marketing. She enjoys mentoring aspiring writers. She coaches a batch of students, every 6 weeks on writing pitch, getting published, the ins and outs of writing. On top of that, she mentioned she was ghost writing that day, and in a little bit, will be taking her kids to swim classes. My jaw dropped when she told me her youngest is 4 years old and her twins are 10, and that she does all the above on top of being a mom with a handful of kids. When my three children were this young, all I managed to do was run around them in circles.
Without further ado, let us begin the interview.
Question : Hi Natasha, I read your Huffington posts and was surprised at how much your journalism stories moved me when all I expected was a low down on facts.
For example, I read ‘The Story Of Howard, The World’s Best Cashier,’ and by the last one third of the article, I was in tears when Howard was reinstated, and I felt the power of your pen and how you brought this story of the everyday hero to us. Incidentally the concept of everyday hero fascinates me. I believe that we all are heroes, even if we don't make it to the newspapers of the world, as long as we make it into someone's heart. At what point does an incident like this resonate with you to pursue it and turn it into a journalistic story?
Natasha : Howard still works at Safeway, and I see him when I go there. I emailed Safeway and they said they will look into it. And I thought what else can I do? Others might protest outside, and for me, writing is the tool I have that I can make a difference with. I had a column with the Huffington Post then, and it made a difference. Because they started circulating the column on the Nextdoor website, and Facebook and, when Safeway saw the pressure in the news, they felt the pressure of the community wanting him back, and they went ahead and reinstated him. And that is where I can make a difference, I am a storyteller and that is what I do best. Tell stories.
Question : “Here is What happens when you take 3 year olds to polling booths” - in this article, when I read, "My son grabbed the card and ran away with it," I was laughing out loud. And then I was moved by the time you finished relating your voting experience in Jordan. After reading your two stories, I sat back and realized that you pull our heartstrings, and that can only come when you have your own heartstrings pulled, and you feel deeply. And since you fill your own well with feelings, your well surfeits and comes out as stories. Does that ring true for you?
Natasha : There are two things. I think my best writing happens when I feel it. Either when I am really happy, or when I am really angry or when I am really inspired.
At the same time I try not to wait for inspiration, I have a writing routine. Because if I feel I wait to be moved, I might lose my writing habit. I am always writing for clients, I am doing ghost writing, but in my creative writing - if I don’t give it the priority my heart wants to give it, then I will lose it, so I don’t wait for inspiration to happen. As for inspiration, I capture my thoughts when I journal where I let my mind wander, and then I pluck the points from there when I sit down to write creatively, but you are right, my best writing happens when I am moved, and when I feel it.
I use technological tools to capture those instances when I am moved. When I walk the dogs in the woods is usually when ideas come. I use the tool Otter, I start talking into it, and later I transfer it to note-taking tools like Apple Notes or Ever Notes.
Question : After reading a couple of stories, I felt that you want the world to work in terms of that shape we call it heart. These stories I read were from 2014, 2015. If you could let us know if your storytelling has evolved from then to now, and how ?
Natasha : Definitely, the more I write and the more I read, the better I become. My writing is more poetic than before, I use better images, it resonates better with others, let me share with you my latest writing, it is available at https://natashatynes.medium.com/that-damn-accent-that-beautiful-accent-2ddb7f0665e8
The above article about accent came about, as I am always asked this question when people hear me talk; they ask me as to ‘Where am I from?’
Question : In the article “The Scary World That Is Arabic Twitter,” you pose a question - Did ISIS succeed in instilling fear in me? I thought it was incredibly brave to write this article. To write this even needs gumption. To be a journalist is to be brave, what are your thoughts on this?
Natasha : I’ve been doing this since I was 19 years old, now I am 45. So you can very well imagine the amount of material that I might have written that people didn’t like or got me in trouble, or it has got negative feedback, so one develops this thick skin.
Not everyone is going to like what you write, and you are always in the public sphere. So, people in the public sphere are not always liked and so for me, was I worried ISIS would come? Maybe it crossed my mind, but I thought they had other things to do than worry about an article on the Huffington Post. I wrote this as this story needs to be told, and so I told it.
Yes, and it is tricky, if you play that gamble you will be burned. I do write controversial topics, I wrote an article on virginity - The Utopian take of a hymen-less world.
I am used to being on the firing line. Many people like my writing, some others do think I push the boundary too much, but that comes with the territory.
My advice is not to be controversial for the sake of controversy. Sometimes a benign article I write turns out to be controversial, and other times, when I thought this article would stir up the mud, it didn’t turn out to be. We never really know how things will turn out once it is out there.
The issue is also the danger of cancel–culture. But being an independent writer I am protected from that. Because if you are employed, and if the employer does not like it, then your article is dumped, I am independent now, so I have the freedom to write about what I want and not have a boss tell me what I can and cannot write about.
Also being independent, it helps me be in charge of my time, I have flexibility around having a family, it also means I don’t have to be a writer for only one publication, I have the freedom to write full-time. I also love to teach ‘writing’, I run it as a creative business, and I am the happiest career-wise now, as my life centers around the different facets of writing.
Question : In the article “Parenting Revelation: I Get to Live an American Childhood With My Kids for the First Time” you have written at the end - "It is true that having kids can limit your life in so many ways. My career, for example, took a very different turn after the birth of my twins. However, the new experiences and adventures that I lived through because of them definitely outweigh any of life's limitations. Here's to parenting."
If you would like to walk us through your career timeline, how you have evolved from doing one or two things to all these things you are doing now. How much of it was planned and how much was it was serendipitous, as the painter Bob Ross often says 'happy accidents.'
Natasha : I've been writing since I was 19 years old. It has been a long time, over 25 years. I knew writing is what I wanted to do. I got my Masters in Journalism, I did reporting and wrote for columns in Jordan. People like what I wrote, I continued being a journalist, blogging on the side and building a community.
But then, I had a period where I was writing on and off, and then I started podcasting and having a youtube channel during the pandemic.
I felt like I had paid my dues to corporate journalism. I have the experience, I have the networking, I have the talent and will to become an independent writer.
Now I coach, I provide writing services, I sell digital products and ebooks, and I try to diversify. I am serious about it, it is a registered business, an LLC and it is a dream come true, and I am working on my dream. I continue to be creative and do the fun side of writing as well.
Question : I read your article ‘Salman Rushdie, up close and personal’ - and just like Salman, I see that you also have this casual way of writing about you which puts people at ease, like you are a real person, like one of us. We do have to adopt multiple personas in our daily lives, and what do you think about having a professional persona and a personal one.
Natasha : I sort of blur the lines between both. When I took a course about coaching through Online Cohorts, they said that there are two kinds of coaching, one is of an academic nature and one is of an entertaining nature. I would like to think I am a mix of both, I feel in this age and time, authenticity and transparency is what matters, and what you see is what you get. I have always been that way.
About the different writing hats I wear - I am aware of the different structures, how to structure a news article, how to structure a creative article, how to structure a memoir, and this is something that comes with practice, so my mind automatically switches to the structure I am going to work on. So if I work on a journalistic piece, you will not hear much of my voice as I am reporting but if it is a creative non-fiction, it will be in my voice, in podcasting, I listen more than I talk. I love podcasting, creative writing, and teaching. And the rest is work.
Question : Writing makes you brave. When I started as a writer, I was afraid of exposing myself, but as I wrote, the braver I got. Is courage still a major factor when you choose topics to write about? Whenever you have been courageous, has it paid off, that people have come and said ‘this has helped me,’ that you felt that it was worth it, not only from your standpoint, but from others’ standpoint also ?
Natasha : If you come from places where people are already stereotyped, where women are oppressed, and in many instances women are still oppressed in the parts where I come from. This is an existential question, and I am not trying to solve a problem here, I am telling a story that is unfolding, I do not worry about the big problem of solving stereotypes, my standpoint is to start from where I am, a single individual being true to the story and telling the story. If it happens to solve a bigger problem, great, but I start from my standpoint, which is true to me, and true to the story I am telling.
Question : What are your techniques for reading? When do you read?
Natasha : It depends. I have a podcast on Friday, and I need to finish reading for that. And that is the beauty of working for myself. Some days I will just read, some days, I wake up early just to read. Sometimes I listen to audible, read on kindle. I get up early or stay up late to read, when the house is silent. And my phone is on sleep mode when I am reading so it doesn’t ping me.
I prefer reading contemporary, though nowadays I am reading Russian classic authors. The best part of writing is that you have to read, that is the best part.
Question : What is your writing regimen, how do stories come to you? Do you have allocated time to sit down and write short stories based on prompts, etc.
Natasha : I am working on my second novel. I have allocated an hour from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. to work on it, and on most days I keep my date with my creative writing, my novel.
Question : Ustaz Ali - I loved the way you never openly told us about Ustaz Ali, but instead you showed us how the girls and the narrator swooned over him, and you offset that with how the boys were equally charmed by him. If we thought he was a vile guy one minute, we took it back the next, on reading further, but immediately we went back to thinking he was vile again. The opening of the story itself presented a reverse shock. Your end of the story again, was not a typical end with a ribbon on top. You left us to believe that this is how things have been for eons, and this is how things will be in the future, and we are best trying to navigate this pathway. It was marvelous the way you finished the story.
Natasha : Ustaz Ali is a coming of age story. It is basically how these events shape the main character, the narrator Nadia. This is not a story of solutions, this is the way life is in the era she lived through, and we can anticipate how that might affect her choices in the future. It is a slice of time in her life where we get to see friendships change, and the dynamics that happen due to politics, religious and cultural reasons and how that in turn affects the dynamics of the school children, in this case, in this story.
Question : Who are your favorite authors, and how did you adopt them?
Natasha : I am a big fan of Jhumpa Lahiri. She writes on topics of identity and relationships, her writing is very powerful, and it kind of mirrors my writing style. I like Rushdie, Gary Shteyngart. I read a lot, I read unpublished manuscripts, I don’t like to focus only on the best sellers, as Murakami says, ‘If you read the same books everyone is reading, you will end up thinking the way everyone is thinking,’ I read non-fiction also about productivity, and spirituality.
Currently, I am reading Think And Grow Rich. I am a ghost writing for a client and Napoleon Hill is the one who influenced him the most.
As part of my book club, I am reading City Of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, a fantasy series based in the fictional Cairo, is about djinns and spiritual beings.
I read both in English and Arabic. I write in Arabic, but not that much nowadays. I do have a client for whom I write blogs in Arabic. I did my Masters in Journalism in City University in London on full scholarship. My first degree was in the University of Jordan, in Science and Biology.
Question : What is your favorite book on writing?
Natasha : Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Question : Which author would you like to meet for a dinner and a conversation
Natasha : Elizabeth Gilbert.
Natasha, I am delighted to have spent this time with you. Your words have been revelatory of a writer’s mind and filled with keen insights. We thank you for your generosity and kindness in sharing yourself and your time with us, and we wish you the very best as you tread this adventurous path with courage and creativity.
About Radhika Iyer
Radhika Iyer is an award-winning writer-poet based in Michigan, USA. Her writings can be found at the Poetry Society Of Michigan, East By Northeast Literary Magazine, Beyond Words Literary Magazine, Sterling Clack Clack Literary Journal, India Currents, and the news section of F Scott Festival Website. Her favorite authors are F Scott Fitzgerald, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Proust, Borges, P.D. Ouspensky, Annie Dillard, the list goes on...She loves to garden, read, write, and spend time with family, friends and her dogs.