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Danny Ramadan: On Exploring the Multitudes of War in Literary Fiction

Award-winning author Danny Ramadan discusses the themes at the center of his new novel, The Foghorn Echoes.

Danny Ramadan (He/Him) is a Syrian-Canadian author, public speaker, and advocate for LGBTQ+ refugees. His debut novel, The Clothesline Swing, was shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award, longlisted for Canada Reads, and named a Best Book of the Year by the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star.

His children book, Salma the Syrian Chef, won the Nautilus Book Award, The Middle East Book Award, and named a Best Book by both Kirkus and School Library Journal. Ramadan’s forthcoming novel, The Foghorn Echoes (2022), and his memoir, Crooked Teeth (2024), is to be released by Penguin Random House.

Through his fundraising efforts, Ramadan raised over $250,000 for Syrian LGBTQ+ identifying refugees. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and currently lives in Vancouver with his husband. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Danny Ramadan: On Exploring the Multitudes of War in Literary Fiction

Danny Ramadan

In this post, Danny discusses the themes at the center of his new novel, The Foghorn Echoes, his hope for readers, and more!

Name: Danny Ramadan
Literary agent: Rachel Letofsky
Book title: The Foghorn Echoes
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada – Canongate UK and USA
Release date: August 30 (Canada), September 1 (UK), November 8.
Genre/category: Literary Fiction – LGBTQ+
Previous titles: The Clothesline Swing
Elevator pitch for the book: Childhood trauma separates two queer Syrian men, and impacts their future even when they’re continents apart.

Danny Ramadan: On Exploring the Multitudes of War in Literary Fiction

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What prompted you to write this book?

There are two themes that I wanted to navigate through writing this book. First of which is the concept of war: War with your neighbor, war with your enemy, and the lies we tell ourselves to justify the terrible acts we commit in the name of war. Most of all, the mistakes we make as we are in war with ourselves, our identities, and our desires.

Secondly, I wanted to put two identical men through one trauma and see how they differ in their response to it. Traumatic responses are unique and flowing, and healing can change you just as much as the crisis did.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

The idea was born on the morning of December 17, 2017. I woke up in my new home to the sound of a foghorn, which was a new experience for me. The sound, similar to the sirens of war, triggered back memories of airstrikes. My husband woke up to my shivering body in bed, and had to calm me down. Hours later, I sat down and wrote the first scene in the book. The book comes out almost five years later.

The idea felt solid since the moment I came up with it: The narrative drive felt like a strong and capable engine. I changed the body around the story, added more themes and found little details to enhance it, but it remained the driving force behind the book.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

I think the biggest surprise is how collaborative writing a novel truly is. When I wrote The Clothesline Swing, it was a solidary work with no safety net, and no support other than my own drive to finish a book. With the Foghorn Echoes, I had a mentor to support me, an agent who figured out the best for me, an editor to guide my words, and my husband to pour me coffee and wine. It truly takes a village to write a book.

Danny Ramadan: On Exploring the Multitudes of War in Literary Fiction

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

The most challenging thing about writing this book was falling in love with my characters, even when I am completely aware of their flaws and their downfalls. It took a couple of drafts for me to drop the judgement in my own words against these characters and learn to love them.

Hussam, even at the depth of his addictions and harshness, remained quite pure of heart deep down inside, and that endeared me to him. Wassim, even when he had caused so much pain and suffering in his path to finding himself, truly meant no harm. Finding the love for these two characters was a journey for me as I wrote them.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

Back in 2018, and in one of the panels I had about The Clothesline Swing, someone asked me about my upcoming book. I explained that the book will follow two queer Syrian refugees in their search to finding home. The man then commented that this is a very similar narrative to The Clothesline Swing.

This irks me: There is no one narrative to the stories of queer Syrian refugees. I am hoping that I can write a million stories about queer Syrian refugees and that each of them would be as unique and individual as the one before. I am hoping that the readers will finish this book and see the characters in it as one of the many echoes of the queer refugee experience, and not a full representation of it.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

I would invite other authors to be kind to their words. We forget when we are writing that kind voice, and instead we harshly judge every sentence, as if we need to pour wonder on the page from the depths of our souls with every word.

It really doesn’t work this way: Accept the sentences that are trying to evolve on your page. Let them grow. Hopefully, something beautiful will burst through them over time.

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