When the News Takes Hold of Your Writing


Several years ago, I came across a news story about a young Iraqi-American girl who had been murdered by her father in an act of honor violence. My understanding of these crimes was vague. I had heard the term, but I didn’t really know what it meant. As I was drawn into the story of Noor Almaleki, every detail created new questions for me. How could a father murder his own daughter? Was this religious zealotry or something else? How could a life be worth so little?

I started to study the issue. I learned that honor violence is a crime in which the victim, generally a woman, is hurt or killed to cleanse a family’s honor for a perceived wrong by the victim. It is most commonly associated with people who practice Islam, but it occurs among people who claim to follow other religions, too. None of the religions on which it is supposedly based, however, condone honor violence.

I went even deeper into the story of Noor and other victims of honor violence to try to understand how it could happen. The real picture of honor violence, one that pits a strong group with unbending core rules against individuals who refuse to follow these rules, began to emerge. What also emerged, however, was a story told from the perspective of those who suffer most, in all of its heartbreaking reality.

Because I come from outside of the cultural type of community that I chose to base my story on, I was exacting in my research of that community. I made sure every statement that represented the group came from an actual news report of an honor crime that occurred within that specific cultural subgroup. I also ensured that I didn’t make any sweeping generalizations about the culture because these crimes occur within subgroups of ethnic and religious groups.

When my young adult story was finished, I worried about finding a home for it. Not only is the market for young adult short stories slim to begin with, but this was a culturally sensitive story as well. I didn’t hold out much hope for it to be published, but it was more than just a story to me. It was slinging a tiny arrow at a social injustice. It was a small tribute to the victims of honor violence to try to bring awareness to the problem. It was a story that mattered to me beyond just the words I had put onto the page.

Not only was I able to find a home for my story, but it found a home that was truly invested in its essence as well as its words. Sometimes I think that maybe I was just very lucky. More often, though, I think that finding a news story that wouldn’t let go of me and choosing to follow my heart with it led me to perfect outcome for my story.

Sabrina Fedel holds her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Sabrina’s debut young adult novel, Leaving Kent State, will 
be released on November 11, 2016 and will be available for pre-order on her website.  Her short story, “Honor’s Justice,” was published by Lunch Ticket and has been nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize. Follow her on twitter @writeawhile or find her on facebook. 


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