Yusuf Toropov ::
American novelist, nonfiction writer, and playwright. My novel JIHADI: A LOVE STORY, about a US intelligence agent accused of terrorism, published by Orenda Books.
I was born a Muslim, but only realized that in 2003.
A man will only have what he strives for. 53:39
I am creating the possibility of harmonious acceptance in the Middle East, USA, and Europe via literature and a global conversation about coexistence. Twitter=@LiteraryStriver
She is on the cusp of getting a contract from Macmillan, but is being targeted
by adversaries with nasty reviews there because her #novel is too good. No
kidding. It's her #nanowrimo 2012 project, and it rocks. See for yourself.
... made me promise to post this remarkable video, THE ANIMAL COMMUNICATOR, about (among other things) the possibility of better communication between humans and animals. I'm glad she did. Watching it does consume some time, but then again, slowing down is part of the message here.
I can promise you that the time you spend watching this attentively will be among the wisest investments of your life.
As I move into the final four chapters of my novel JIHADI, I find myself in a particularly painful part of the narrative.
Among the unexpected things I've learned on this journey: One comes to love certain characters, even to mourn for them. After six years, 103,000 words moved into the Ready for Prime Time manuscript, and something like 300,000 words written but deleted, I really hadn't expected to experience anything but joy as I neared the finish line. I certainly hadn't anticipated experiencing personal sadness at the loss of one of my characters. But that's what's happening. Maybe I'm grieving for what we've become. (Email me if you would like to beta-read the manuscript so you can get a clearer idea of what I'm talking about here.)
It's important for me to say here, whatever happens with the novel, that it is not anti-American, but it is defiantly anti-rape-culture. We have a big problem with rape and sexual abuse in the US, particularly in our military. If you don't think this problem exists, or don't think it threatens our security as a nation, or don't think it threatens our security as individual citizens, one of the things this book is meant to do is to invite you to consider thinking again.
This article will give you an idea of how overwhelming and savage the problem remains within the US military.
This sickening real-life case gives you a glimpse of the legacy we have left behind in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
File this post under Yes, It's Fiction, but No, I Am Not Imagining This.
Four in the morning, and I presumed to write this email to a gifted writer friend:
Hey. I was up anyway. I realized there was something important
that you've not yet built into your story, or if you have, I've missed it. This
is what Martha Alderson calls "Thematic Significance." (It's in her
book THE PLOT WHISPERER, which you should buy.) Incredibly important.
"Stories show a character changing, at the least, and
transforming at the most profound. This potential for growth reflects meaning.
Meaning reflects truth. The thematic significance of a story shows what all the
words in each individual scene add up to. ... The thematic significance of a
story is a statement the story illustrates as truth."
Alderson goes on to point out that this theme needs to be refined
into a single sentence or two, and warns that this takes some work.
It's basically the LESSON the protagonist learns as a result
of the journey. You need to know what it is. You need to boil it down into a few words. This is a pain, but it's got to be done.
Alderson identifies the theme of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as:
"You never really know another person until you climb into his skin and
walk around in it." This is what Scout learns.
[Here I shared with my friend the Thematic Statement of my novel Jihadi -- what my protagonist Thelonius Liddell learns from the journey -- which you can get when you read the book.]
From there, you can create what I call a Thematic Cloud that
connects to your Theme Statement. (Alderson calls this grouping of words a Thematic Significance Bubble Template. I like Thematic Cloud better.) These are basically Lessons Each Individual
Scene Must Touch On. They can touch on more than one, if necessary, but they
have touch on at least one. So for my novel Jihadi the Thematic Cloud looks like this:
Just a little something for you to gnaw on in your spare
time. You might or might not decide make a Thematic Cloud, but I bet you need a
Thematic Statement that shows the lesson your protagonist learns from all his
It still boggles my mind how few males use Pinterest.
This HuffPost article says 72% of the site's users are female. To me, Pinterest is a seamless, easy-to-use visual platform that gives you instant access to images that connect to just about any topic, pursuit, or obsession you can name -- and then connects you with people who share the same interest. Nothing particularly gender-driven about any of that, at least not that I can make out. Perhaps women are more likely than men to share family-, fashion-, and hobby-related pictures?
Below, a picture of my #cat Paprika. She shows up on Pinterest, where I acknowledger her to be my faithful, if fitful, November collaborator as I bring the draft of Jihadi in for a landing. With her help, I might just complete it this month, but certainly by December 10, as scheduled, inshaAllah. 28 chapters down ... five to go!
The non-Muslim's answer to this important question usually sounds like
Qur'an was authored by a human being; it is not a literal revelation from God.
It is a book created by human intelligence, like any other book. It was, as a
matter of historical fact, written by Muhammad, in the seventh century
If this is your
view, rest assured that you have plenty of company!
You should also
know, though, that this point of view is not without its difficulties. To
believe it, you must also believe that Muhammad, peace be upon him:
- Knew that the
Earth and heavenly bodies were once a single point, and were separated
Now, if you don't
believe that this man had access to special knowledge that made possible an extraordinary
prefiguring of the modern Big Bang theory -- a theory entirely unknown to the
Arabs of the seventh century -- you must conclude that 21:30 of the Qur'an is
merely an intriguing coincidence, a matter of getting something right by
passage is simply an intriguing coincidence. If it is, however, it is not the
This man, the
supposed "author" of the Qur'an, would also have to have:
- Known about
the relativity of time (22:47; 23:112-114; 32:45; 70:4), a subject similarly
unknown to Arab tribes of this period.
possessed some extraordinary source of knowledge allowing discussion of this
subject thirteen and a half centuries before Einstein ... or we are looking at
another intriguing coincidence.
Which is it?
non-Muslims will instinctively answer along these lines: "Even if it means
granting the text of the Qur'an a second striking coincidental feature, the
likeliest explanation is that both passages are merely examples of
the same author would also have to have known that:
The universe is continuously expanding (51:47).
Matter is created in pairs (36:36). (By the way, this discovery earned the scientist Paul Dirac the Nobel Prize in 1933.)
Life is water-based, as modern biological science has established (21:30).
Iron is not native to the Earth, coming instead from an extraterrestrial source (57:25).
The planet Earth travels in an orbit (27:88; 21:33).
The sun, too, moves in an orbit (37:38), as indeed modern astronomy proves that it does.
The Earth's atmosphere acts like a protective shield for living creatures (21:32).
The stages of human development in the womb unfold in a specific, describable sequence (23:14) that has been confirmed by modern experts in human embryology.
The roots of mountains extend deep into the earth and serve the function of preventing shocks (21:31).
The Earth's rain cycle functions in ways that that were mysteries to scientists until the twentieth century (30:48).
That bordering seas meet but do not mingle with one another (55:19-20), as modern oceanographic science has confirmed.
Oceans have complex subsurface wave patterns (24:40).
In communities of honeybees, only the females are workers (16:68-69. The Arabic verb forms can connect only to female beings).
In addition, this human author would have had to have:
Known to use the singular of the word YAWM (day) precisely 365 times in the text of the Qur'an, despite the fact that he lived in a culture that followed a lunar, not a solar calendar.
Known, seven years ahead of time, that the humiliated Byzantine Army of his day would rejuvenate itself and secure a major victory, which in fact it eventually did against the Persians (30:1-4).
Known, two years before he did so, that he would enter Mecca in triumph (48:27).
Known that the body of the Pharoah who had opposed Moses would be preserved for future generations (10:91-92) -- it is today on display in the Royal Mummies Chamber of the Egyptian Museum. Either that or this passage, too, must be regarded as an intriguing coincidence.
Known to refer (12:54) to the Egyptian head of state of Joseph's, peace be upon him, era as king (aziz-malik) and not as Pharoah, the word that appears erroneously in the book of Genesis.
Known that the fabled Arabian lost city of Iram (89:6-8) whose historical existence was confirmed by archaeologists only in 1990, was a historical reality.
Known that the ancient flood that had beset the southern Arabian people of Saba from their dam system (34:15-17), similarly confirmed by modern archeology, was a historical reality -- either that or this passage, too, must be regarded as an intriguing coincidence.
Known the name of Haman (28:38), a historical figure close to the Pharoah of the era of Moses, peace be upon him ... despite the problems that a) the name Haman does not appear in the Torah's version of the story, and b) the ability to translate the hieroglyphic language system of the Egyptians had been utterly lost for centuries at the time of the revelation of the Qur'an, and indeed would remain lost until the year 1799. After the discovery in that year of the Rosetta Stone, scholars were able to unlock the mystery of the hieroglyphs and, eventually, to confirm that there was indeed a Haman, unmentioned in the Hebrew scriptures, who was close to this Pharoah in this period, and who was involved in construction, just as the Qur'an says.
If we believe that human authorship is the only possible explanation for the origin of the Qur'an, we must assume either that Muhammad, peace be upon him, somehow had access to all this information, or we must classify all of the above as a remarkably long series of intriguing coincidences.
There is another possibility.
coincidences do we need to get the message?
The message is
simple: no human intelligence could have produced this book in the seventh
that there are many, many more such "coincidences" in the Qur'an. I have listed
here only a few that do not require advanced knowledge in such topics as
Arabic, mathematics, Islamic history, or classical poetic forms. Even with the
brief list I have provided, there comes, I think, a point at which one is
obliged to evaluate the Qur'an's message carefully, closely, and respectfully.
These supposed coincidences are, I believe, clear signs to humankind that the
Qur'an's message is of a special quality, and must not be ignored.
repeated exposure of the individual human heart to the Qur'an's message can settle
such a momentous question as "Who wrote the Qur'an?"
If you believe that there is no such thing as a divinely inspired
revelation, the question is: how many coincidences does it take for you to
consider that such a revelation to humanity may be possible?
On the other hand, if you believe that there is such a thing as a divinely inspired
revelation, the question is, how many coincidences are you willing to ignore
before considering the possibility that a particular text presents such revelation?
that I am NOT interested in any debate about the possibility that any ONE of
these verses I have cited is just a coincidence, or is for some other reason
unpersuasive to you.
remarkable thing is that ALL of these features should present themselves in a
text supposedly composed by human intelligence. Consider the profound unlikelihood
you now know about these supposed coincidences, do you honestly believe that
the Qur'an is simply the product of human intelligence, a book like any other
book? Or does it seem more likely to you that its message is of a special
quality? Take a listen yourself and make your own decision.
My novel #JIHADI is about an American citizen accused of terrorism.
With 27 of 33 chapters of the novel complete, there is just no doubt about it -- I am pulling into the final stretch, and will, Godwilling, have a presentable COMPLETE draft of my novel #JIHADI on or before December 10, 2013. #Alhamdulillah, #praisethelord. Looking like 115,000 words now. Every day I write the book in the wee hours of the morning. (Cue #ElvisCostello.)
So .... everyone whose G+ handle I'm about to mention has been ridiculously generous with time, attention, critique, and/or moral support over the past year or two as I've taken my bulging, half-decade-old file of notes and false starts and turned it into (gasp!) a manuscript that people can actually read.
The purpose of this blog post is twofold. This post is here to...
a) Thank you, all those whose names appear below, for your generous support and encouragement of the project thus far and
b) Ask you: Do you want me to send you a PDF of the full draft of Jihadi when it's ready ... in return for a brief (five sentences or more) written critique sharing your feedback?
You can email me, or reply via the blog, with your response. (And if your name doesn't appear in the list below, and you'd like to beta-read the complete draft of Jihadi, you can email me about that.)
LAST BUT NOT LEAST: +Elvis Costello and +Fiona Apple, you have provided many words and chords of encouragement along the way -- even though I haven't actually corresponded with you yet. So have you, +Paul McCartney, now that I come to think of it. So if any or all of you three Muses would like to look at the PDF of the novel, just let me know.
It occurs to me, upon review the last few months' worth of posts, that I haven't written about the single most important factor in the transformation of my novel #Jihadi from "good idea I am working on" to "life-changing possibility." That would be my participation in the Landmark Forum in April of this year.
This is to take nothing away from the support and encouragement of my great critique partners like +L. T. Dalin , +Richard Gibney , and +Adella Wright , but only to say that my relationship to the project, and to other people, and to my own past, got a whole lot clearer once I did Landmark. #Jihadi wouldn't be in the shape it is now if I hadn't gotten my head screwed on a little straighter, and that was thanks to Landmark.
I am planning on taking Landmark's Advanced course in 2014. If anyone reading this is in #Charlotte, North Carolina area (+Hannah Levinson comes to mind as one such) and would be interested in coming to a free #LandmarkForum preview on the evening of Tuesday, November 19th, please email me.
Below, a list of celebrities who appear in the video for this week's favorite writing music. (I am now on chapter 24 of JIHADI, by the way. Nine to go.)
You may find more celebrities. I'm a Beatle freak, not a celebrity freak. The album from which "Queenie Eye" comes, NEW, is astonishing.
The "Queenie Eye" lyrics appear to me to be a set of instructions for excellence. I have shared them as such so far with +Richard Gibney and (obliquely) +Adella Wright, two standout beta readers of the past month. Having posted this, I intend to follow the "Queenie Eye" instructions and get back to work. Er, play.
CELEBRITIES APPEARING IN PAUL MCCARTNEY'S "QUEENIE EYE" VIDEO
Paul McCartney (and in alphabetical order...) Laura Bailey Gary Barlow
Lily Cole James Corden
Johnny Depp Alice Eve
Tom Ford Jeremy Irons
Jude Law Giles Martin Kate Moss Sean Penn
Chris Pine Jack Savoretti Meryl Streep
Remaining mysteries: The first dancing woman? The woman reading the red book? Feel free to pitch in.