Who are your biggest personal influences?
In terms of writers, I definitely have to say I am greatly influenced by writing that I love. Mikhail Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita), Gabriel García Márquez, and Hemingway. In terms of people that I know, my grandmother and my mother are huge influences on my writing life because they are both massively supportive and always have been of my career.
What do you want to explore with your writing? What themes do you find yourself coming back to?
I am very interested in place, and the influences of place on characters. What inspires me most to write is the act of traveling. I like to explore the idea of common conflict in perhaps a more amplified environment in my writing. Human conflict is human conflict I guess anywhere, but I like to explore the interactions of people with place and how place influences characters’ decisions, and their conflicts with one another, and also with the place itself—that’s something that I enjoy exploring.
What is your relationship to Africa in particular? Had you ever been there before writing “The Laugh”?
I grew up in Egypt, but I had never been to sub-Saharan Africa. It was a huge dream of mine, and continues to be a huge dream of mine, to actually go to Kenya and to Tanzania. But I guess the way the story came about was I had moved to Ithaca, New York, and I had this long-standing, very distant love affair with the African wilderness and it was winter and it was a very cold, horrible winter and I was inundated with National Geographics, both the magazine and the channel. They did a series on the great migration and I was sitting in the snow thinking about Africa and that’s how it came about. I did a lot of research to make sure it was as reasonably authentic as possible, but I had never actually been to Tanzania, or to Ngorongoro, where it takes place.