As first generation Assyrian Americans, Josephine and Mary had one goal. They wanted to share their vision of Iraq with the world through the stories that molded their minds throughout their upbringing so people get a chance to see that Iraq is more than a place riddled with war, destruction, poverty, and terrorists.
The sisters were born and raised in the North Park area of Chicago, Illinois, for most of their lives until they moved to San Diego, California. They shared their lives with each other until they got married and now live on opposite sides of the country. This didn’t stop them from creating Before There Were Borders.
The creation of Before There Were Borders started when Josephine wanted to write a book, a goal she wanted to mark off her bucket list. She wanted to write a story about her culture so people could understand that Assyrians are more than just a chapter in history books. She wanted to show that the Assyrian community is still alive in today’s modern world. Then she decided to reach out to her sister, Mary, and ask for her feedback. Once Mary came on board with the project, the story came alive. Mary’s creativity helped make the story and characters blossom and reach its true potential.
Josephine and Mary overcame lots of challenges over the course of three months, in addition to living across the country from one another. But this didn’t stop them from completing their mission. Josephine and Mary’s writing routine consisted of waking up early and being on the phone several hours as they formulated scenes and character development while fulfilling their marital and maternal duties. This went on back and forth until the story was edited and finally complete.
In December 2018 Before There Were Borders was published. The novel is a coming-of-age story about an Assyrian-American female named Sara Georges, who shares her experiences growing up as a young girl in Iraq and how she dealt with its culture, patriarchy, and limitations. She tells her story to her American-born granddaughter, who is unaware of the harsh truths of her grandmother’s homeland.
Quite ambitious, the sisters were able to accomplish their goal despite their busy schedules. Josephine studied English at the University of San Diego and specialized in medieval literature along with philosophy and history. She is fluent in several dialects of Aramaic. She can also read and write classical and modern Aramaic. After college, she moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she lives with her husband, Victor, and two young boys. Josephine has a decade of experience in the building industry and project management. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Public Administration at Central Michigan University. Her passions include volunteering in the community, training for races, spending time with her family, reading books, writing, and cooking.
Mary has been married to Zaid for almost a decade and together they have a daughter and son. She currently resides in a well-manicured suburb of San Diego. Mary lives a life that consists of constantly improving herself spiritually, intellectually, and physically. She hopes she can reach one person and make a positive change in his/her life, which would be enough for her. She’s first and foremost a humanitarian and believes change starts at home and with those within her reach. She tries to contribute to making a big difference in little ways. Mary’s passions include reading books and watching movies, listening to all kinds of music, cooking, decorating homes, and hosting big family gatherings. She is artistically talented with an unforgettable sense of humor.
Since Mary lives in California, I interviewed Josephine on my show about her journey. Here are some insights she had about the writing life.
What inspired you to start writing?
I was inspired to write since I was a little girl. I used to read all the time and was fascinated in getting lost in a story. It was always a goal of mine to write a book ever since I was young. This also attributed to my English major at the University of San Diego.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I was a little girl, but have been “professionally” writing for over thirteen years.
When did you start writing?
Believe it or not, I started writing Yelp reviews when I was twenty years old. Then, I was asked to write movie reviews for new releases. I finally shifted to getting creative with different types of writing from screenplays, poems, list stories, and full-on research papers.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I have always wanted to be a writer. It’s a definitely a “calling” since I was 8.
What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?
First, you have to read. Reading gives a writer mental exercise.
I suggest finding your voice through journaling. Start out with a small goal like writing one word on the first day. I promise that you will end up writing more. I recommend getting yourself somewhere comfortable with limited distractions and the writing will come. Try to sit in the same place at the same time and before you know it, you will be writing effortlessly.
Once you find your voice, you can practice executing your voice by writing reviews or writing letters to your friends and loved ones. Then, get creative with whatever writing style that calls you.
How do you come up with the titles to your books?
I came up with my title while I was exercising. Running and exercising stimulates me.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I considered myself a writer when I became a Yelp “Elite” member and got “Review of the Day” (LOL true story).
Describe your writing space.
My favorite current writing space is in my kitchen with the shades open. On my kitchen table. On the table is a cup of tea. And the shades open so I can watch the sun rise whilst listening to acoustical classical music.
What time of the day do you usually write?
I usually write first thing in the morning before I look at my phone or talk to anybody.
Describe a typical writing day.
A typical writing day starts around 4 AM before I get influenced by anything. I wake up, force myself out of bed, and go downstairs to my kitchen.
I drink some water, make some tea, and put my laptop on the kitchen table with my journal. I review my affirmations of the day, start some initial journaling expressing gratitude, and review my schedule in my planner.
Then, I open my laptop and start writing once I hit play on my music playlist. It’s called “Focus on Work”, which consists of: Alan Shavarsh Bardezbanian, Bach, Beethoven, Café del Mar, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Mozart, Lindsey Sterling, Rossini, Thievery, Vivaldi, and so many others. Music is essential for my creativity.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
The difficult part of writing is continuing where you left off when life throws a curveball at you.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
My work schedule is flexible since I am currently raising my boys and helping my husband with his businesses. But, since my boys, husband and household are my job, I have to focus on writing early in the morning before anybody wakes up and needs me.
What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?
To me, success means doing what you love whilst positively impacting the lives of those around you. The definition of success is working on a goal you are passionate about and getting it done. Success is simple. We complicate it.
To learn more, visit https://beforetherewereborders.com/